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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Erich Zoddel)


ERICH ZODDEL, sworn, examined by Captain CORBALLY - I am a dairyman, born on 9th August, 1913, at Berlin, and 1941 was sentenced for theft to one year in prison, and then into a concentration camp at Sachsenhausen at the end of 1942, where I stayed for 14 days. I then went into the works of the Heinkel Aircraft Factory at Oranienburg, where I remained until the end of October, 1943, when I was transferred to Buchenwald for a fortnight where I had my hair cut before going to Dora. From the end of November, 1943, until 27th March, 1944, I remained in Dora, on which date I was sent to Bergen-Belsen, where I remained until 18th April, 1945.

When you came to Belsen did you get any position in the camp? - I was amongst 1000 prisoners from Dora, and apart from the interned Jews we were the first prisoners there. After three days I became Blockältester in the hospital. We were sent there because we were all sick prisoners. I remained in the hospital block until January, 1945, when I became third Lagerältester in Camp No. 1.

What were your duties as Lagerältester? - I was responsible to Arbeitsdienstführer Rau for the general order and tidiness of the whole camp, that the working parties went out, that the numbers of those who came back were checked, and I had to see that the food was distributed in a fair way. I was not given any instructions about my job when I was selected for it.

In what way were you responsible for the distribution of food? - A Kommando of 18 men were responsible for bringing the food from the kitchen and distributing it to the different blocks. If the food was insufficient, one litre being the real ration for each person, I had only to write a chit and sign it with my name and more food was brought from Kitchen No. 1. There were several people in whom I had utter confidence, and if they said 100 or 200 litres of soup were missing, then I believed them and signed the chit for the necessary quantity. I, myself controlled several people, and I went to the blocks to see that the distribution was fair. Sometimes I went to the blocks for the sick people to see that the orderlies really did distribute the food to the sick patients, or sometimes I went to the blocks for working people.

The witness Glinowieski said that your behaviour to the internees was very bad, and that once you accused a friend of his who was queueing up for soup, of pouring the soup out, and you beat him terribly with a very big stick, which he described as thick a his arm. Is there any truth in that? - No.

Have you ever had to beat people at the distribution of food? - Sometimes I assisted at the distribution, although really it was not my responsibility but was the duty of the Kapos or the Blockältester, and I must say that sometimes, if people were behaving like animals and trying to get to the containers, I might have beaten them perhaps with my hand or a stick. I have never beaten people so hard that they fell down to the ground, nor have I beaten them again and kicked them when they were lying there.

What sort of a stick had you? - Until about the beginning of April I had a walking-stick because my legs were very bad at that time. Later on I left this stick in my room in Block No. 4, and now and again I took it out. The food was distributed from Block No. 3, which was about 25 metres away.

When the food was brought from the kitchen, did each block draw their own and distribute it, or was it brought to some central place in Lager No. 1 and taken away from there? - All the food came from Kitchen No. 1, and then between Block No. 1 and Block No. 3 it was centralised until all the food which had been cooked for about 3000 to 4000 prisoners was there, and from that point it was distributed to the different blocks, and what remained was for the working parties who came back later in the evening.

Who ensured that there was some left for the working parties? - The three Blockältesten of Blocks Nos. 1, 2 and 3, where the working parties mostly were living, had to give the numbers of those on working parties, and these rations were retained.

What happened if insufficient rations were retained? - There was a sufficient quantity, but they could have reported to me and I would have gone to the kitchen to see that they got their rations.

Was the walking-stick you had the only stick you possessed in Belsen? - Yes, it was a common walking-stick, and at the end there was a knob.

Zuckermann says in his affidavit that you were Lagerältester in No. 2 Compound, and that he tried to get a second helping after the food had been served in the open in No. 1 Compound. When he approached the food containers you jumped on him and struck him several times very hard with a stick. He started to run, but could not go very fast and you ran behind him beating him the whole time. What do you say about that? - It is not true.

Which section in Belsen were you Lagerältester of? - Compound No. 1.

Were you ever Lagerältester of Compound No. 2, and did you wear a green triangle on your blouse? - No.

Did you ever beat people at the distribution of food? - No. I may have boxed their ears when there was some crushing and crowding, but I never gave them a real beating.

If you caught a person trying to get a second helping would you beat him? - No, because I had nothing to do with the distribution of food. It was the job of the Kapos.

Lozowski states in his deposition that he frequently, saw you beat prisoners, and that you carried a wooden stick, on the end of which was fixed a piece of iron piping; is that true? - No.

He then says that about the end of March, 1945, he saw you kill another prisoner by striking him heavily across his head with the metal end of the stick, causing a wound of about six inches, and that this man was carried into the camp hospital where he died? - If this man had had a wound of 15 centimetres on his head he would not have been taken to hospital; he would not have got up any more.

Were you present when the Kapos were parading the working parties? - I looked at them when the working parties left the camp. The Blockältesten paraded the people who were still left in the blocks.

What happened if somebody fell out from a parade under the Kapos when they went out to work? - If he was really ill he would either have reported earlier or would have been sent back to parade with the other people, and the Kapo would have left the camp with one man less.

From which Lager were outside working parties at Belsen taken? - Only Kommandos from Compound No. 1.

Have you ever had to beat people on Arbeitskommandos? - No.

What were your reasons for sometimes beating internees with your hand or boxing their ears? - Now and then in the camp everything was not in order, or people were trying to push the sick away to get a helping of food first, and there were some other reasons for which it may be necessary to box their ears.

Thirty-fifth Day-Friday, 26th October, 1945

ERICH ZODDEL, cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Were you an ordinary prisoner both at Oranienburg and Dora? - Yes.

How were you treated? - In Oranienburg it was quite fair in general, but in Dora it was very bad, with very long working hours. The food was quite good, but people were unable to eat because of the long hours.

How did the S.S. treat the prisoners at Dora? - We did not see very much of them.

Were you at one of the outside working camps? - No, I worked for 12 hours a day, at a drilling machine digging a tunnel in the town.

When you came to Belsen whereabouts were you housed? - I lived in Block No. 4, but we were housed in Blocks No. 1 to 8 in Camp No. 1. The Jewish internees who were already there were housed separately on the left-hand side behind us and we had nothing to with them.

When the Jews were moved out in May, 1944, did you hear where they were moved to? - No.

When you first went there Belsen was not a bad place, was it? - No. We had organised everything ourselves because nothing was ready when we arrived.

Kramer came as Kommandant in December, and you were made Lagerältester in January, 1945. The job of Blockältester or Lagerältester was a good one for a prisoner? - No.

You did not have to go out and work 12 hours a day any more? - In Belsen there was no proper forced labour. There were working parties going out on a voluntary basis.

You were in charge of the distribution of food and had a room of your own? - We were nine prisoners together in one room.

That is a big improvement on sharing a room with 600 to 1000? - Yes.

You had a bed? - In Blocks No. 1 to 8 everybody had a bed. There were 300 to 400 people in each block.

Were the people in those blocks the fittest people, the people who went out to work? - From Blocks Nos. 1 to 3, yes, but the others belonged to the C.R.S., and if they did not want to go they did not need to.

If you wanted some more food you wrote a chit for it. Did that apply to all the prisoners or merely to the ones that were going out to work? - That was general in my camp right up to the end, and anybody who wanted to have food had it.

Was there only a wire fence between your compound and the next? - Yes.

Then nobody in your camp died of starvation at all? - No.

What did they die of? - Normal diseases - lung trouble, stomach ulcers, T.B., etc., and later, of course, when typhus broke out.

When the British arrived I suppose in your compound they found everybody well fed and quite different to the others? - They could not find them quite all right because there was a great scarcity of bread, and for the last four weeks we had very little. They got their ration of soup, but it was impossible to eat it because it was so bad, thin and dirty.

Then your prisoners were reduced to rushing and pushing to try and get it? - Well, they were very hungry.

Where did you get this stick with the rubber knob which you used to carry? - From another prisoner.

Are you sure it had not a piece of iron piping on the end instead of a rubber knob? - No.

There was a lot of beating of prisoners at Belsen after the beginning of 1945? - When the transports from all parts of Germany arrived in Belsen - everything and everybody came to Belsen.

Including, of course, the transports from Auschwitz and the new Kommandant? - Kramer came in December, or November, and the prisoners came from Auschwitz, Gross Rosen and everywhere.

Did not most of the Kapos provide themselves with sticks or pieces of wood? - No, they had no sticks.

Was Mr. Le Druillenec not right when he told us that the ordinary language in the camp was a blow on the head with sticks in the hands of the Kapos? - I agree with many things he says, but if he says that beating was continuous then I think it is exaggerated.

As Lagerältester did you help to supervise the procession dragging away the corpses in the last three or four days? - No.

Was Mr. Le Druillenec’s account of that right? - Yes.

I suggest to you that throughout your time as Lagerältester you maintained your position by frequent use of your stick? - No.

Up to the end of March you carried your stick constantly and then sometimes you carried it, and after that sometimes you kept it in your room? - Yes.

As Lagerältester you worked as an assistant to the S.S., giving orders for working parties? - There was no question about assistance to the S.S. I did it because it was my job, and also to help the prisoners.

Are the allegations made by Lozowski wrong, then? - Yes.

Were there quite a lot of men who pretended to be sick to try to avoid going out to work with working parties? - On the contrary, they wanted to work because they got double rations through that.

I suggest that you met this man Lozowski speaks of coming away from the working party, and without waiting to enquire why, you started to beat him about the head and split his skull open? - No, that is not possible.

Do you remember Kurowicki saying that he had seen you as Lagerältester ill-treating prisoners and beating them with a stick? - No. I was myself a prisoner and know what I had to suffer in Dora.

Why were people badly beaten in Dora? - Not all were beaten, but I myself received in one single week 280 blows.

Zuckermann says that you wore a green triangle on your blouse? - No. In Bergen-Belsen we had neither triangles nor numbers. We had numbers on small discs round our necks, but nothing on our tunics. I wore a green triangle at Dora, but everything we had was taken away when we arrived in Bergen-Belsen.

When food was served did prisoners never try to get second helpings? - Very frequently.

Do you really mean to say that you never hit anybody who did that? - I myself was not concerned very much with food distribution and was hardly ever present. It was more a Kapo’s job. It might have happened that I saw somebody try to get a second helping and I boxed his ears or slapped his face, but I never beat anybody with my stick during the distribution of food.

The witness Glinowieski, although he did not recognise you in the dock, gave this description : "A senior camp Kapo and Lagerältester of Camp No. 1, known by the name of 'Erich'." You are the only person who would fit that description, are you not? - Well, I have been Lagerältester in No. 3.

Is not the truth of the matter that you got tired at Dora of being an ordinary prisoner and that when you got to Belsen you sold yourself body and soul, to the S.S.? - No, I always felt great hatred against the S.S. and I would not sell myself for any sort of advantages.

Re-examined by Captain CORBALLY - What was the condition of the internees who arrived with the transports at the beginning of 1945? - I remember one transport arriving about mid-March with 2000 prisoners, out of which 600 were dead and half the remainder so sick that they had to be transported on trucks because they could not march any more. I was present when the transports were unloading, because I volunteered for that job as I wanted to see with my own eyes what was happening.

Apart from yourself, how many other prisoners were there in men’s Lager No. 1 who held a position of some kind, such as a Kapo, Blockältester and so on? - About 60 or 70.

Of those 60 how many attended the distribution of food in various places in Lager No. 1? - One man, and then the hut orderlies came and fetched the food for the different blocks.

Were you generally known through the camp as "Erich"? - No.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Erich Zoddel)