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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Antoni Polanski)


ANTONI POLANSKI, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I am a Pole, born on 24th October, 1914, in Nuszyna [Muszyna], and served in the Polish Army against the Germans. I was taken prisoner and was sent to a factory, from which I escaped and returned home in November, 1939. My mother, father, brother and sister were arrested, and as it was announced that if I did not report to the Gestapo within five days 15 hostages and my family would be killed, I reported to the Gestapo on 24th April, 1941. My family and I were sent to Auschwitz, where I stayed until 10th March, 1943.

What did you do at Auschwitz? - For the first few weeks I was employed inside the camp in building part of it; later on I was transferred to a Kommando working in the fields, and when I left Auschwitz was sent to the concentration camp at Neuengamme.

What did you do in Neuengamme? - For the first months I worked in a Kommando employed on unloading boats with sand from the river and then in another Kommando loading in sand. I was an ordinary prisoner. In December, 1943, I went to Hanover [Hannover]-Stecke, where I worked in a factory until we were evacuated to Bergen-Belsen. I arrived on 7th or 8th April, 1945, about 2200 hours, and was put in Block No. 12 for two days along with 100 others.

Where did you go then? - As we did not get any food for the first or second day, I went to my friends in Block No. 16, who were employed on digging mass graves and who got food distributed three times a day in front of the block. I helped them in the digging.

Did you have morning Appell while you were in Block No. 16? - Yes, when we were going to work.

Did you take part or did you help anybody in getting the prisoners out when there was a parade? - No.

Did you help any member of the block staff in food distribution? - No.

Did you see prisoners dragging corpses to those mass graves? - I had to do it myself, so, of course, I could see it.

Josef Deutsch says that you were assistant Blockführer in No. 12 and that two or three days before the British liberated the camp, while there was an Appell going on, you beat him and his father, who is supposed to have died as a result? - That is a lie. During my whole stay in the camp I have never beaten anybody.

Pavel Burger again says in his deposition that you were an assistant Blockältester in Block No. 12 while you lived there? - I had no function, and would not have accepted any if it had been offered to me.

He says that you were trying to get people to work, and as they had to pass in front of you, you beat them very hard with a leather belt, and that while you were supervising the dragging of the corpses you hit a man called Jacobovitsch who died on the spot? - That is not true.

Sandor Engel alleges that when forcing people to leave the block to go to work you had a leather belt in your hand to beat them, and when they fell down you kicked them? - During my stay in the camp I forced nobody to work.

What did you do when the camp was liberated? - I reported to the Polish committee and helped them in their work. They employed me as a medical assistant in Belsen, where I worked till the evacuation of Belsen camp to Bergen, when I helped the Blockältester in the Polish block for about three weeks.

When were you arrested by the British? - On 30th June, 1945.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - How were you treated at Auschwitz yourself? - Very badly.

How did the S.S. men behave to you? - Worse than to animals.

Was your father put into a Strafkommando? - Yes. It was a special Kommando formed in 1941, where usually Jews were sent who tried to organise something, and it is known that they were sentenced to death and were usually no longer there than one month.

Are you and your father Jews? - No.

How did he come to be sent to this Kommando for Jews? - He was employed with 100 old men near the railway, and they were all sentenced to the Strafkommando for laughing when a train from the East came with wounded German soldiers.

You were never in the women’s camp? - No.

How were you treated at Hanover [Hannover]? - We had to work very hard 12 hours a day.

Were you practically all Poles? - Poles, Russians and Frenchmen.

Was Schlomoivicz there? - No.

When did you first meet him? - In Block No. 12, after the British troops arrived.

Do you know Sompolinski? - Yes, in Block No. 12.

Do you know Aurdzieg? - I met him during the second day of my stay in Block No. 12. He served soup to the prisoners.

I thought you did not get any food in Block 12, and that is why you left? - During the second day I got half a litre of soup.

Was Aurdzieg taking money for it? - I did not see it.

Was he distributing food fairly? - I think so.

Do you remember Schlomoivicz acting as a Kapo there? - When I was there for two days I did not see any Kapo.

Do you remember him acting as Blockältester there? - Only after the British troops arrived.

Let me suggest to you what was really happening in that block. Did not a little gang of you Poles who had come from Hanover [Hannover] start extracting money and anything else that people had in exchange for food, and start beating them until you got it? - It is possible, but I did not take part in it.

Is it not that which Aurdzieg and his friends were doing? - I did not see it.

I suggest that Schlomoivicz was the Blockältester and that you and Aurdzieg were his two Stubendienst? - After the British troops arrived I went to the Polish committee and tried to find out what people thought about Schlomoivicz, and they unanimously told me that they thought he was very good.

Did you go round tying to beat up Germans? - No.

Were you not, in fact, acting as assistant Blockführer for these last few days? - Nothing of the kind.

Do you remember Engel and Fuchs? - Yes, the latter was an interpreter.

When these two found you in kitchen No. 6 did you not begin to run away? - No, I did not. It was in the corridor that a British soldier came and asked me whether I was ever an Aeltester. I said "no" and he brought me to the police.

Did not most of the functionaries try to get jobs in the hospitals, kitchens and so on, as soon as the British arrived? - I do not know.

Was it not the best way of keeping out of sight of prisoners who might have recognised you? - I held no position of authority and had no reason to be afraid.

Could you get easily from Block 12 to Block 16 when you decided to change? - Yes.

Were you not registered in Block No. 12? - Yes.

Would it not throw all the prisoners out if you just went from one block to another when you felt like it? - I had to save my life, and had to take the risk.

Were the people in Block No. 16 very glad to see you and to share their food? - In Block No. 16 we had more food than in the other block.

Were you called out of your block at about three o’clock in the morning to start dragging these bodies? - It was about seven o’clock, and it was light.

Were you beaten as you came out? - The prisoners were beaten by the camp police and Blockführer, but I, by chance, avoided it.

By camp police, do you mean prisoners? - Yes, they assisted the Blockführer in chasing the people out of the blocks.

Did the Blockältester help? - I have not seen it.

One of his jobs was to get his block out on parade, was it not? - I have never been a Blockältester and do not know.

Do you really mean to say that after four years in concentration camps you do not know that it is the Blockältester’s job to get his block out on parade? - I know it was his duty in normal camps, but not in a camp like Belsen, which was in a state of complete chaos.

When the people were dragging these bodies to the mass graves, were there both S.S. men and functionaries along the way beating them on if they faltered? - Yes.

Did you have to pass the kitchen and did some prisoners try to pick up an odd bit of potato or turnip peel? - Yes.

What happened to them if they did that? - They were shot on the spot.

Did you have to pass one of the concrete water tanks? - Yes, in the vicinity of Kitchen No. 2.

Did some of the prisoners try to get to the water? - They tried, but it was impossible because they were shooting at them all the time.

Were you not one of the people who was beating these men instead of being one of the people who was being beaten? - No.

Why should Deutsch recognise you as the man who beat and killed his father? - It is not true, perhaps he was inspired by his friends.

Were you not one of the people standing outside the door of the block beating people? - No.

How do you think Engel, who says the same thing, recognised you? - I do not know, I have never seen him before.

Both he and Burger say that you beat Jacobovitsch to death? - That is a lie.

A lot of people died on the way round on that procession, and a lot of people were killed by being beaten, were they not? - A great many died, but I do not know whether it was caused by beating or by emaciation, or by typhus.

Were a lot of people trying to use bits of cloth to keep their hands from coming in contact with those bodies? - Yes, everybody used these.

Did you not take a piece and push it into Engel's mouth? - No, I would never do that.

Is the truth of the matter not that Schlomoivicz and Burgraf and you sold yourselves to the S.S., for the extra bit of food and comfort that you got? - No, never.

Re-examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - On the second day you were in Block No. 12 when you saw the accused No. 32, Antoni Aurdzieg, is it fair to say that he was not distributing soup but was only serving it? - Yes.

Did many ex-internees go away from Belsen after the liberation? - Yes, all the ex-functionaries who had a guilty conscience ran away.

Could you have gone away from Belsen yourself or were you in a certain way tied up to the camp? - Yes, I could have run away.

SIEGMUND KRAJEWSKI, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I am a Pole and was arrested in August, 1940, by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz on 12th August, 1940, where I remained till 10th March, 1943, when I went to Neuengamme. I stayed there nine months and then went to Hanover [Hannover]-Stecke, where I worked in a factory. I arrived in Belsen on the night of 8th or 9th April. I first met Antoni Polanski in Auschwitz in 1941, and he was with me all the time until the liberation. In Belsen I was in Block No. 13 and he was in Block No. 12 for two days or so and then in Block No. 16. He did not do anything there because he used to come to my block to see me.

Do you remember prisoners in Belsen dragging corpses to the pits? - Yes, I did it myself along with Polanski on 12th, 13th and 14th April.

Cross-examined by Captain STEWART - You spent nearly three years in Auschwitz. How were you treated there? - Worse than a dog, the German prisoners in the camp treated us as badly as the German staff. I was beaten very frequently.

When you arrived at Belsen and went to Block No 13, did you receive any food? - From time to time, but it was very difficult to get any.

Was there any difference as far as food was concerned whether you were in one block or another? - In all the blocks there was a great shortage of food.

There would not have been much point in leaving one block for another? - There was a difference, not from the point of view of food but hygiene. For instance, Block No. 12 was very dirty and Block No. 16 was cleaner.

As a simple prisoner could you have gone from one block to another block just because you thought it was better there? - At that time the camp was in chaos and everybody could do whatever they wanted.

If Block No. 16 was so much better, why did you not go there too? - Because I had more friends in Block No. 13.

Am I right in saying that the procession for dragging corpses was supervised by the S.S. who had remained there, and that prisoners were beaten constantly to make them work, and that if they approached any of the cookhouses or any of the heaps of turnips or potatoes and tried to pinch something, they were instantly shot? - Yes.

Is it right that the S.S. drove people with continuous beating? - Yes, when I got a beating with a stick on my shoulder I did not even pay attention to it, because it was such a frequent occurrence. There was not a single prisoner dragging corpses who was not beaten.

How was it that Polanski was never beaten if he was with you? - I do not know.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - When you were in Belsen did you notice that a very large number of the people who had been there before you were dying and were almost like skeletons? - That is exactly what they were.

Had you any of these people in Blocks No. 12, 13 or 16? - Hundreds of them until the British troops arrived.

You were pretty fit and strong? - Yes.

What chance had these skeletons of getting any food if it was a question of scrambling for food when there were such a lot of fit and strong people like you? - The people employed as functionaries in the block tried to bring the food to them when they were lying in bed.

Was anybody trying to keep any order to see that everybody got a fair share of soup, if any? - Yes. But in spite of that there was no possibility of securing fair distribution because the amount was not sufficient to serve all of them. Whoever managed to push into the front got the bigger portion.

Did you get any water in that last week? - No.

By a Member of the Court - Who supervised the procession to the graves? - There were Hungarian troops, German Wehrmacht, some people from the S.S. and the prisoners who acted as functionaries.

Were there many S.S. there? - No.

Do you think that all the S.S. in the camp were mobilised to superintend that procession? - Yes.

Do you think they were drawn from their other employment to supervise this march? - I do not know that.

Roughly, how many S.S., were seen during that procession? - About 20 or 30.

Forty-first Day - Friday, 2nd November, 1945

WLADISLAW RAKOCZY, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I am a Pole, aged 24. l was arrested by the Germans in December, 1939, and sent to Auschwitz, where I remained until 12th April, 1943, when I went to the concentration camp in Neuengamme. I arrived in Belsen on 9th April, 1945. I have been with Antoni Polanski in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He was treated in the same way as the other prisoners. In Belsen he lived in Blocks Nos. 12 and 16, and visited me very frequently. I have never heard that he held functionary position in any block or in the camp. When the prisoners were dragging the corpses to the pits Polanski worked on the same job.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Was it virtually impossible to avoid being beaten in a concentration camp? - It was quite impossible.

Did the S.S. men, Lagerältesten, Blockältesten and Kapos carry, sticks or whips and beat people? - Yes.

What was the first work you were employed on in Belsen? - Dragging the corpses. I started about four days before the arrival of the British troops.

Were you beaten when you came out of your block in the morning? - Certainly.

Would it be surprising in a concentration camp not to be beaten as you came out of your block? - It was very painful for the German personnel if they could not beat prisoners. It did not matter whether there were any grounds for it or not. In each block you had a Blockältester with one or two assistants.

One of their functions was to get prisoners out on parade in the morning? - Yes, to beat them and to chase them away as quickly possible.

In return for that the Blockältester and assistants had a fairly easy time? - They managed to keep their position because they murdered people.

Provided that you were prepared to play the S.S. game and beat prisoners you had a much better time if you were a functionary; got a better share of food and had a bed? - Yes.

Who looked after the block during the day? - The Blockältester.

That was a very much more comfortable job than going to work with a working party? - Certainly.

The Lagerältester was the senior prisoner of the whole camp would have to be pretty friendly with the Germans to get that job? - Yes.

If a Lagerältester had not beaten prisoners or treated them in the same way as the S.S. and Kapos, could he have ever held his job for a week? - No.

How did you and Polanski manage to stick together like this? - It was pure accident. We were taken from the list and always sent together to an other camp.

Was there a fair amount of bribery in a concentration camp to get good jobs or extra food? - I have not heard about it.

There was nothing like enough food to go round the whole block was there? - Whoever was stronger could get more, and whoever was weaker could not. The stronger Germans managed especially to get more.

During the procession of dragging the corpses, were there functionaries more or less lining the route making you keep your place and beating people who did not keep up? - Yes, there were also S.S. men.

Up to what time in the evening did this procession go on? - We worked in two shifts, one party working until late at night when we went to sleep, and another party replacing us.

So that for the last three days really this procession was going on day and night? - Yes.

Did you actually see Polanski on this procession? - Yes, about three times.

Was it quite impossible to avoid being beaten on that procession? - There was not a single person who avoided being beaten during that work except those who did the beating.

On that procession was there a good deal of shooting from a cook-house near by which you passed? - Certainly, by S.S. and Hungarian troops.

Were the S.S. men in the kitchen joining in the shooting? - They were shooting whenever they noticed anybody trying to get food.

There was another cookhouse on that same road. Did prisoners try to get near the food round that too, and were the S.S. men shooting there as well? - Yes.

Did S.S. men all go about armed? - Yes, they used their weapons frequently.

Was that common to all the concentration camps you have been in? - Yes.

When you were working at Auschwitz in the outside Kommandos did the S.S. women have dogs? - Yes, to set on the female prisoners.

When did Polanski find time to come and visit you in these last few days? - At that time I was transferred from Block No. 13 to Block No. 1 and he managed always to find time to come and see me. I was transferred two days before the arrival of the British troops.

Unless he had managed to procure some functionary position he would hardly be able to get from one compound to another? - It was quite possible. You could say to the prison guards, "I am going to see my friend," and they would not mind for a short time.

How did you get from the one compound to the other? - Along the main road.

Do you really mean that a prisoner was allowed to wander along there by himself? - It was really forbidden to do so, but if someone wanted to take risks he could do it, especially during the period of dragging corpses.

MARIAN TATARCZUK, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I am a Lieutenant in the regular Polish Army, was made a prisoner of war in 1939, escaped and was arrested by the Gestapo in Lublin on 15th June, 1942. On 13th May, 1943, I was sent to Auschwitz, where I remained until 1st September, when I was transferred to Neuengamme. I then arrived in Hanover [Hannover]-Stecke on 30th March, 1944, and went to Belsen on 7th April, 1945. I first met Antoni Polanski in Hanover [Hannover]-Stecke and came to know him very well because we lived in the same block. He was a good friend, a decent man, very calm and self-controlled. In his spare time he acted as barber in the block and for remuneration received additional soup or bread from the Blockältester. I met him frequently in Belsen, where we were in neighbouring Blocks Nos. 12 and 13. Later I was transferred to Block No. 1 and he to Block No. 16, but I used to meet him in the camp.

Have you been, after the camp was liberated, in contact with any relief committee? - Three days before the British troops arrived I managed to get to the drug store of the camp and distributed drugs to the prisoners. After the British troops arrived the Polish Committee was formed, and I worked in the drug stores with the medical section of that Committee. I myself participated in enquiries concerning crimes committed by former functionaries in Belsen and in other camps and I have not heard of any allegations against Polanski.

Any allegation could have been freely brought to your committee? - Yes, I am sure that during the two months during which Polanski remained in the camp no allegations were made against him.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - What is your present unit? - Polish Liaison Officer attached to the Polish Liaison Officer at Bergen-Belsen.

What effort have you made to report yourself to your Government or any proper Polish military formation? - I reported to Major Moguscki, who is in charge of the military camp at Unterluss [Unterlüß].

Were you a member of this Polish Committee which was investigating war crimes? - No, I was only working in the drug stores. The Chairman of the investigation team was Doctor Kuk and the Prosecutor was Barrister Ladnowski. If anybody knew about any incident that could be considered as a war crime we would take the necessary steps and see that statements were made.

How long did this Polish Investigation Team function? - For five weeks till the time when they were transferred from Compound No. 1 to Compound No. 3.

Do you know if they ever sent any of the results of their investigation to the Polish War Crimes Liaison Officer? - I know that they sent the result of their investigation to the British Investigation Team in Camp No. 1 at Belsen.

How many Kapos do you think they sent reports about? - I suppose about 30.

In Belsen were prisoners allowed to pass freely from Compound No. 1 to Compound No. 2 and back? - The ordinary prisoner who was not a functionary or had no special work to do outside his own compound was not allowed to leave the compound, but those on functions were entitled to go from one camp to the other.

In Compound No. 1 Blocks Nos. 1, 2 and 3 were for the fit people who were going out on working parties, and the Lagerältester was Zoddel? - Yes.

How was it that Polanski was not transferred when the rest of you were sent to Block No. 1? - Only the Germans or those of German origin, the doctors and the members of the band were transferred.

Then how did Rakoczy come to be transferred? - It depends when he was transferred.

I suggest to you that those who were fit for working were transferred to Compound No. 1 unless they had some function in Compound No. 2? - No. I had a right to move freely in the camp because I was a member of the camp band and, apart from that; was working in the drug stores.

Were you a functionary too? - Yes.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Antoni Polanski)