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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Herta Bothe)


HERTA BOTHE, sworn, examined by Captain PHILLIPS - I was born on 3rd January, 1921, in Teterow, Mecklenburg, and did housework until August, 1940. From then until the end of September, 1942, I was working in a hospital training to be a nurse. In the middle of October I was directed to Ravensbrück as an Aufseherin, where I stayed 10 or 12 days before going to Strutthoff [Stutthof] near Danzig. I remained in Strutthoff [Stutthof] until the end of July, 1944, and was then in Bromberg until 21st January, 1945, when we were evacuated. We marched for four weeks to Oranienburg, and then after two days went to Belsen, which we reached about February.

What did you do when you first got to Belsen? - For three days I had no duties and on the third night I was in the bath-house.

Were you in charge of the wood Kommando inside the camp? - Yes, there were 60 internees in a Kommando which was under the charge of an S.S. man. I was the Aufseherin. The internees were practically all Russians, and were in quite a good state of health. Big tree trunks were fetched from the woods into the camp and the male internees cut them into smaller parts, and the women into even lesser parts. Whilst I was working with this Kommando I had nothing to do with the other ordinary prisoners.

Did you ever have a pistol? - No.

Where did you sleep at Belsen? - In the billets of the Aufseherinnen with Klein and Rheinholdt.

Wilhelm Grunwald in his affidavit says that he saw you shoot with your pistol two female prisoners who were carrying a food container? - No.

Schifferman in her deposition says that she saw you beat a Hungarian girl called Eva with a piece of wood until she was dead. Is that true? - No.

Have you ever beaten anybody at all? - Yes, with my hands, because they stole wood and other things. I have never beaten anybody with a stick, a piece of wood, or a rubber truncheon.

Triszinska in her affidavit states that she has seen you severely beating internees and causing their ultimate deaths when you were charge of the vegetables? - I was never in charge of a vegetable Kommando, and I have never beaten prisoners. I had nothing to do with the internees. I had my wood Kommando and that is all.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Volkenrath told us there were no baths in the bath-house after the 4th April because there was no fuel. Was that wrong? - I do not know whether there were any baths, but I still brought wood until the 9th or 10th. After that I did not bring any more because we had very little, and the Kommandant’s orders were that it should only be delivered to the kitchens. I stopped delivering wood to the S.S. billets at the same time.

It was still pretty cold then, and the only places that were warm after that were the cookhouses? - Yes.

You were working just by the side of Kitchen No. 4. Who was the S.S. man in charge of that kitchen? - I know him by sight, but I am not sure about his name.

Who was in charge of the S.S. kitchen? - Sturmscharführer May, and he had two S.S. men working under him.

Did your Kommando also deliver wood to the kitchen? - Eight out of the sixteen of the Kommando distributed it under the charge of Rottenführer Bartel.

When you went to Ravensbrück in October, 1942, were you trained there for 10 or 12 days? - No, I immediately got a Kommando and was with another Aufseherin who taught me my duties.

Did you learn there to beat prisoners quite regularly? - No.

You were nearly two years at Strutthof [Stutthof] as an Aufseherin. That was a rough camp, was it not? - No.

Did you have a very uncomfortable march from Bromberg? - Yes.

When you got to Belsen did you proceed to get your own back on the Russian prisoners who were working under you? - No.

While you were in charge of that Kommando in Belsen did you not beat those women very regularly and very hard? - No.

Did they get the same food as other prisoners in the camp? - No, they got a little bit more.

On the amount of food these women were getting, do you really think they were fit to do the work at all? - I could not say that it was too much for them.

Did you go into Kitchen No. 4 every now and again just to warm yourself by the fire? - No, that was not allowed.

But you had always got a good excuse taking the wood round? - No, that was more the job of the S.S. men who told me where the wood was to be delivered.

But when you delivered wood to a kitchen do you mean to say you did not go inside and have a word with the Aufseherin there? - No, I never went in. There was a window in the kitchen down to the cellar where we left the wood, and usually there was a Kapo there and I told him that the wood was there.

When you went to have your lunch in the canteen did you never call for the girl in the kitchen on the way? - No, because the Aufseherinnen only went into the kitchen when their duties permitted.

If you were walking across to the canteen you would pass the kitchen door? - No.

If you went to the bath-house you would pass the kitchen door? - Yes.

I suggest that on one of the days when you were going past that kitchen you saw a girl taking some turnip peelings, and you got the girls in the kitchen to bring a stick or a piece of wood and you began to beat her with it? - No.

Did the girls in the kitchen not shout to you, telling you to stop, and you said that you would beat her to death, and you went on beating her until eventually she died? - No, that is not true.

Did you not order some of the women, including Schifferman, to carry the body away? - No.

When prisoners were caught stealing they generally got a pretty severe beating, did they not? - When the prisoners working in my Kommando were caught stealing, then I slapped their faces.

Did you not beat them hard with a stick? - It was very rare that I caught somebody. I slapped their faces. Generally one was on guard and the other stole, and whenever I arrived they had run away already.

When these girls stole things from the S.S. barracks, did you search them? - Yes, I searched them before they distributed the wood so as to know what they had in their pockets, and I searched them afterwards.

The first duty you were given to do at Belsen was in the bath-house. How often did you do that? - Once or twice.

The witness Hammermasch has said you beat a naked woman in the bath-house with a rubber truncheon? - That is not true.

Was it quite a regular thing for a newly arrived Aufseherin to be put on for a night or two in the bath-house before she got a job? - Yes.

What was the nationality of most of the prisoners you brought with you on your march from Bromberg? - Hungarian Jewesses.

Did you have a revolver when you were in Poland? - No.

Had you not got a revolver when you got to Belsen? - No.

The men at Belsen wore revolvers? - Yes.

Was it only the men who were in danger from the prisoners? - I do not know.

In those last two or three days at Belsen you were very short-handed, and it was really a case of everybody trying to help and doing the best they could? - Yes, but there were still Hungarian troops and troops from the Wehrmacht available.

They had nothing to do with the administration? - No.

Of course your Kommando had a lot less to do? - Yes, but they had to carry on and cut as much wood as was available.

I suggest you had a pistol in these last days, and that you used it? - I never had a pistol in my hand.

There was quite a lot of shooting in those last few days? - Yes, from Hungarian troops. I do not know about the S.S.

Were there guards by the kitchens and the potato patch? - I do not know.

There was a lot of shooting around the kitchens? - No, I never heard it.

Of course by that time you had got used to seeing dead bodies lying about the camp? - I have never seen dead bodies lying about the camp.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - Was there any difficulty in getting wood at Belsen? - No. There was a wood four or five kilometres away from the camp, and there was a Kommando to fetch it.

You said that some of the people in your Kommando stole property from the S.S. men’s billets. Did you not consider that that was a most serious crime in this concentration camp? - Yes.

Do you say that all you did as a punishment was to give them a box on the ears? - I should have made a report to the Kommandant, but I thought that as it was theft from the S.S. personnel it would have serious consequences, so I slapped their faces.

When you were being trained as an Aufseherin were you not told what you were to do when you found somebody working under you was a thief? - Yes, to report.

Why did you disobey your orders in this way? - I knew that they would have severe punishment and they asked my pardon. I slapped their faces and generally those people did not steal again.

When an S.S. man lost his property did you get it back for him? - Yes. He told me that if he got his things back it would be all right with him.

How many articles do you think you recovered for the S.S. men which were stolen by the Kommando? - About four or five.

GERTRUD RHEINHOLDT, sworn, examined by Captain PHILLIPS - I was conscripted into the S.S. on 1st July, 1944, and went to Belsen between 20th and 25th February, 1945. I knew the accused Herta Bothe at Belsen, and slept in the same room with her. I have never seen Bothe with a pistol, nor, as far as I know, did she ever have one.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Had you been in the same camp before with Bothe, and did you arrive at Belsen with her? - Yes.

What was the first duty you did at Belsen? - The first actual duty was going out with a working party to the wood to get parts of trees. I was on a different Kommando from Bothe.

When were you taken ill? - On 7th, March. I went to hospital on 10th March, and was released on the 29th.

Did you come back and sleep with Bothe again? - Yes, I was still sharing a room with her when the British liberated the camp. I had no duties.

Did you go into the camp to help? - On the last day before the British troops arrived I had a working party cleaning up the courtyard in the S.S. barracks. Before that I spent most of the time in my billet, and now and then went to the bread store to talk to Charlotte Klein.

Was there any heat in your billets? - Yes.

Did your friend Bothe ever tell you about things being stolen from the S.S. billet? - No.

What do you think would have happened to a prisoner who stole something from an S.S. billet? - We had to report him and he would have been punished, but I do not know what kind of punishment he would have got.

You, Bothe and Charlotte Klein were old friends, were you not? - Yes.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Herta Bothe)