War Crimes Trials - Vol. II The Belsen Trial. 'The Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty Four Others'

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Otto Kulessa)
Thirty-first Day - Monday, 22nd October, 1945


OTTO KULESSA, sworn, examined by Major BROWN - I was born 4th September, 1892, at Rastenburg in East Prussia, am married and have three children. On 23rd May, 1944, I was conscripted into German Army. I went to Strutthof for training and on 15th September, 1944, was transferred to Mittelbau Concentration Camp. Two days later I was transferred to the S.S. and went to Nordhausen. I had nothing to do with Dora Concentration Camp, but on 4th April, 1945, I went back to that camp and was told that we were going to Neuengamme Concentration Camp. We went there by train and travelled on to Bergen-Belsen, where we arrived on 10th April. Oberscharführer Hartwig was in charge of the train and I had a coach to myself because I had several instruments with me necessary for levelling work.

When you arrived at Bergen-Belsen where did you go? - To Bergen.

What were your duties in that camp? - I was put in charge of Block 88 and the first day was spent trying to accommodate 600 prisoners in this block. For the next few days I went for walks. I was not detailed to assist in cleaning up the camp, but there was plenty of cinder lying about so I gave an order to the prisoners to try to get rid of it.

The witness Zamoski stated you were in charge of the transport and that when he asked you for some water you replied, "You can get some water with my pistol." Did such an incident ever happen? - No.

He said that in one wagon there were 190 men, and that by the time you arrived at Belsen more than half of these men had died. He said that you stood at the door of the block and beat people. Is any of that true? - No.

Müller in an affidavit makes certain statements regarding a journey from Dora to Belsen, and refers to you shooting a man who was trying to get some carrots? - I do not know anything about it.

He says that you beat a number of prisoners who were going out of Block 87 to clean up the roads? - There were no roads to be cleaned, because they were clean in Belsen. I had nothing to do with Block 87 at all.

Raschiner states that you were in charge of his transport which arrived at Belsen from Dora about 2nd April, and that you shot a man who was trying to get some water? - On 2nd April I was at church in Nordhausen.

Have you ever shot any prisoners or hit them with an iron bar? - No.

Have you ever ill-treated prisoners? - No, but once when a Wehrmacht officer wanted to inspect Block 88, and I saw that one room was not clean, I hit one of the prisoners on the backside with a broom.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Was Strutthof a concentration camp? - Yes. I instructed people there.

Who was the senior, you or Hartwig? - Both equal.

On this train on which you left Dora what food did the prisoners have? - Each prisoner when he left Dora got blankets, 1 loaf or 1½ loaves of bread and 1 kilogramme of meat.

Did the Jews get any? - Everybody.

What arrangements were made for water on the journey? - The water situation was very bad. We had no water ourselves and whenever we stopped and tried to get some water from the houses round about the answer was always that there was no water because the water-works had been destroyed.

The journey took five days. Did the prisoners get any water at all? - When there was some water in the ditches they got that water.

How often were prisoners allowed out of the train? - When we stopped anywhere for a long period they left the train.

How many wagons were there? - Perhaps 35.

How many prisoners did you cram into each? - They sat quite nicely and comfortably about 100 in each wagon.

Were the prisoners famished by the time you got there? - They were very hungry, yes, but it was not our fault.

How many S.S. men had you on the train? - 124.

When the train stopped what precautions did you take to see the prisoners did not escape? - In each wagon there were four S.S. men responsible and when the prisoners left there was a chain of S.S. guards put round the train. There was another Hauptscharführer from a guard company and he was responsible for the security of the whole train.

Do you remember on the third day after you had started, the train pulling up and the prisoners being allowed out? - I do not remember that because the train stopped very often.

I suggest to you that on the third day when some of those starving prisoners tried to pick some carrots by the side of the railway you shot one of them and killed him? - No, that is not true because on the third day they could not have been very hungry because they still had food left. There were no carrots there, and apart from that it was never my habit to shoot prisoners who were without weapons.

Do you remember any prisoner coming and asking for water? - Many prisoners asked me for water and I even gave them hot water from the engine driver.

Quite a lot of prisoners died on that journey, did they not? - No, very few. At one station another transport of 1700 women joined us and they had already some dead. Hartwig told me that at a station some other dead prisoners were lying who belonged to another transport which he had to receive with ours.

People were dying on all these transports, were they? - Well, now and again people died, yes, but out of our transport of about 5000 prisoners 42 died.

When you arrived at the station at Bergen-Belsen were the prisoners paraded in hundreds? - I do not know, that was Hartwig’s duty. I unloaded my own wagon, took my bicycle and went.

Accused No. 14 (Schmitz) told us there were piles of carrots there on the far side of the line. Is that right? - It is possible, I do not know.

Did you not go up to the camp with the prisoners? - I had nothing to do either with the transport or with the prisoners.

You said you got hot water, out of the engine. Where did the engine get the water from on this six-day journey if there was no water? - On the railway stations, because whenever the engine was exchanged then the new engine was ready, including water of course.

Why did you not get water, for the prisoners then? - Because the amount of water was very small, even at the railway stations. Although they had all their own water-works, even the necessary amount for the engines was difficult to obtain.

How many rivers and streams did you pass on this journey? - Very many.

Then why on earth did you not stop the train and get some water for these people who were dying of thirst? - Because the engineer had his own time-table and it was impossible for somebody to interfere with that and tell him to stop.

But as this train kept on stopping, another stop would not make any difference, would it? - When the train stopped near a ditch or small river, of course we fetched water, but most of the time it stopped in the open.

I suggest that when you arrived at Belsen station the starving prisoners broke across the line and tried to get at that pile of carrots, and that you pulled out your pistol and shot and wounded one of them in the leg? - I do not know anything about it. I was in charge every day of 8000 prisoners at Nordhausen and if I wanted to beat anybody or shoot anybody I would have had plenty of opportunity to do it then.

If you were in charge of 8000 prisoners why did you tell the Court that you had nothing to do with the camp? - They were working in the mines, and I was in charge of instructing them to use the machines. I had nothing to do with the camp.

Who did you report to when you got to Bergen-Belsen Camp? - Obersturmführer Hoessler.

Did he put you in charge of several blocks, including Block 87? - No.

Hoessler has stated in his evidence that you were responsible for several blocks? - I know that he said that, but it is wrong.

Hoessler, met you at the station, did he not? - I did not see Hoessler at the station.

Was not one of the first jobs that you had to do when you got to the camp to put your men into four blocks? - No. Hartwig told me that he was now Rapportführer, and was responsible for the distribution of the blocks, and that I would be put in charge of 88.

Zamoski said that you stood at the door of his block and beat, with an iron bar, prisoners who were too weak to move quickly. Did you or did you not stand at the door of the block seeing men in? - No.

Is it not a fact that, as he says, a lot of men who were injured were taken to hospital? - I do not know.

Did you not kill a man called Leibl Naidan that day by hitting him on the head with an iron bar? - I would not dream of hitting anyone with an iron bar.

Do you really mean that you spent the next two or three days going for walks? - Nobody was able to give me any sort of jobs because I did not belong to that company.

Were not Kramer and Hoessler so short of men they were trying to borrow some? - No. We had so many S.S. people that on the 12th or 13th a large party of them had to be sent away.

Were you told by Hoessler to see that the place was tidied up? - No.

Then everything Hoessler has told us about you is untrue, is it? - I do not know.

Did you start wearing a white armband? - Yes.

Did you not go into Block 87, order all the Jews to go outside and start cleaning up the road, and stand by the door as the prisoners went out, beating them on the head and body with your stick? - That was not my responsibility. Nobody in Block 88 was beaten.

You kept a broomstick? - I do not call that beating at all. I told them to sweep the place, and I just hit them with the broomstick and they laughed about it. I call it hitting if one gets either wounded or has some bruises.

Did you not have a steel rod amongst the things you brought with you? - No.

Are you sure you did not have one in your hand as you got up to the block to put the prisoners in? - No.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - How many people do you say there were on this journey of five days? - I do not know exactly, but certainly more than 4600, because, apart from these few, smaller transports joined us.

Were they enclosed or open trucks? - Our transports were open and the trucks with the 1700 women were closed.

You say 42 died on the journey. What was causing their deaths? - I do not know, they might even have been sick when they boarded the trains. The majority of my transport were fit men at the start.

How many of those died on this comparatively short journey of five days? - I do not know.

You do not think that to lose 42 people on a journey of that kind extraordinary at all? - If they belonged to my transport that would be a very big number indeed, but they did not do so, and I heard from Hartwig that at a station a few bodies were also loaded. We took all the bodies with us.

Why did you want to take the dead and the living together on a journey of five days? - We could not leave the bodies just on the open road or on the rails. When anybody died they were moved into another wagon. It was an open truck covered with canvas.

Did you ever feel worried as to whether, when you got to Belsen, somebody might ask why so many as 42 people had died on this journey; or did you feel that nobody would bother at all, that it really did not matter, and that you had no responsibility whatsoever? - That was the duty of the man in charge of the transport, Hartwig, and he reported the number of dead when we arrived, and they were loaded into the trucks.

Did the man in charge of the train never come and ask you what you thought you ought to do to stop these deaths which were occurring on this journey? - No.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Otto Kulessa)