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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Vladislav Ostrowski)

Forty-third Day - Monday, 5th November, 1945


VLADISLAV OSTROWSKI, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I was born on 27th June, 1914, in Lodz [Łódź], am married and have one child. By occupation I was a painter. I was called up into the Polish Army in 1939, fought on the Russian front, was wounded on 18th September, 1939, and in April, 1940, was detained by the Germans. For four months I was imprisoned by the Gestapo in Lodz [Łódź], seven months in a transit camp in Radugoszoz [Radogoszcz] and then I was taken to a prison at Sieradz. At the end of 1942 I escaped and went to Berlin, where I was arrested by the Gestapo on 20th October, 1944, and sent to the Moabit Prison. After a few days I had to go to the concentration camp in Gross Rosen, where I stayed until 6th February, 1945, when I was sent to Dora.

What did you do in Gross Rosen? - After two weeks I was sent to Aussenkommando B 12, four kilometres from Dora, where I was employed in building a tunnel. After four weeks I had an accident and was transferred as Stubendienst to Blocks No. 19 and 18.

When did you arrive in Belsen? - I was sent by train with a transport which left Dora on 2nd April and arrived in Belsen on the 10th. I was put in Block 26 and on the following day went to Block No. 19 along with the sick. It was a block attached to the hospital and I remained there until the British troops arrived. An internee doctor said I had tonsillitis and I had no duties to do.

On your way from Dora to Belsen, did you stay for a short time in a small camp called Elrich? - When we arrived at that railway station some trucks with other prisoners were attached to our train. The men did not leave the train.

Peter Ivanow in his deposition says that you were a Kapo on this journey and beat between fifteen and twenty prisoners, injuring and  knocking them to the ground? - It is a lie. I was too short a time in the camp to be a Kapo.

While you were in Block 19 in Belsen, did you help the block staff with the food distribution? - No.

Did you at any time in Block 19 help the block staff to get prisoners out on Appell? - No, never. There were some fit and strong persons from Camps No. 1 and 2 who came to our block to chase the prisoners, not for parade but for the purpose of removing dead bodies.

Kalenikow says you were a camp policeman and that during food distribution you walked down the line of waiting men and beat them, and you are also alleged to have killed a Frenchman who was sick and who could not leave the block, by hitting him with the iron handle of a soup ladle? - I was sick myself and I had no function in Belsen.

Njkrasow said that you withheld food and gave it only to the strong and healthy prisoners so that the sick were starved to death? - Firstly, I was sick and, secondly, I had no responsibilities in the block.

Sulima says that he was ill with typhus and asked you for food, and instead of giving him food you beat him across the shoulders with a stick? - That is not true. There were no parades in the camp and no sick people would attend parades.

Promsky says that after you arrived in Belsen you beat prisoners who did not hurry on to parades, sometimes with a wooden stick, a spade or a rubber truncheon? - That is not true. I never had a stick, truncheon or spade. I was sick in the same way as the other prisoners, and no sick prisoners attended parades.

He says that when the prisoners fell on the ground you kicked them in the neck with the result that many died? - That is not true.

What happened to you after the British liberated the camp? - As the hospital in Belsen was overcrowded I went to the town of Celle and applied to the town council. I was given written permission to go to the hospital, which I did. My illness was recognised as typhus and I was taken back to Belsen. New patients, seriously ill, were expected in June, and therefore I had to leave the hospital although not completely recovered. When I recovered I was standing in front of the cinema when several Russians approached and started shouting that I was an S.S. man, and when I said that I was not they said I was a Kapo. The Russians gave me a severe beating, but British troops arrived and defended me. I went to the police to complain and stayed in prison there until this trial. One of the Russians was Stubendienst in Dora and was in the same Kommando with me.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Were you a Kapo at Gross Rosen? - No, I worked in a quarry and was treated very badly. From time to time an S.S. man would come and see how many stones I made and if the number seemed insufficient he would give me a beating. The forewomen and Kapos also behaved badly.

Were most of the forewomen and Kapos Poles? - Germans. They had green triangles.

When you got to Dora did you not become a Kapo? - No, only Stubendienst.

You were Stubendienst in Block 19 first of all? - At first I worked in a tunnel and later on I was in Block No. 19.

The rest of the block, apart from the Blockältester and the Stubendienst, were working in the tunnel, I suppose, both day and night shifts, and then came back to the block when they finished their work for their food? - Yes.

Was it your job to distribute it? - It was the duty of the Blockältester, and I assisted him.

I suggest that when these men came back you did not distribute the food fairly at all? - The Blockältester was responsible for the fair distribution of food and my duty was only to fetch the food containers. It was brought in a truck from Elrich, 14 kilometres away.

Did you ladle the food out with a big metal soupspoon? - It was the Blockältester who did it.

I suggest that you regularly beat people with your soup spoon? - That is not true.

And that you used to amuse yourself by wakening people up during the night shift if they were on the day shift and during the day if they were on the night shift? - I did not.

When you left Dora to come to Belsen, did you not have to march into Elrich first to make up the transport? - No.

How many of you were there at B 12? - 1800.

What station did you get the train from? - A railway station near the Kommando.

I suggest that for the last day or two before that train set off for Belsen small parties from some of the small camps outside were collected at your camp to get on the train and that just as Elrich itself was part of Dora you were part of Elrich? - I do not know.

Shortly before you left did you not gather some extra persons into that camp and some of them were posted to live in Block 19? - I do not know.

I suggest to you that when these outside people began to arrive into. your camp you beat them just to teach them how things were going to be run? - If it was really how you say, people coming and going like running water, what was the use of me teaching them discipline?

Were you ever beaten in the block by your Blockältester? - Yes. 

Did you not pass it on to the Russian prisoners under you? - No.

You had been wounded fighting on the Russian front. Are you sure you not take it out of the Russian prisoners? - War is war.

In Belsen, after you had been in Block No. 26, you were transferred to Block 19? - A hundred men were transferred.

Were you not put in charge? - No.

Did you not go on behaving precisely as you had behaved before and beating people in that block ? - That is not true.

There are six people who actually came to see you, and who say that you were beating them and ill-treating them in Belsen? - Yes, but one of them says that I was a Blockältester, another that I was a Kapo, and a third that I was camp police.

Did you not, in fact, have the job of getting people out of the blocks in the morning to work? - No.

Do you remember people dragging corpses away from the square just outside Block 19? - Yes, I do.

Do you remember all the prisoners being forced out of the blocks to drag them away? - I did not see it.

Were people not forced out of their blocks before it was light to start this digging? - No. This block was a hospital block and all the inhabitants were ill.

Who fetched the food for your block? - Prisoners detailed by the Blockältester.

You say there were never any parades at all in Belsen? - I know that in our block there were none.

How was your block counted and reported? - Sick prisoners would sit in fives and the others would stand in fives inside the block.

Did you not have a broken soup ladle when you were in Belsen and hit people with it regularly? - That is not true. Firstly, I was sick, and, secondly, I had no position entitling me to beat prisoners. After the liberation it was forbidden to leave Belsen as the camp was in quarantine.

Why did you go? - I was not the only one who did it.

Were the ones who left in those first two or three days the ones frightened to stay? - No.

How did you get past the guard? - There were Hungarian troops on guard and their rifles were not loaded. A truck was coming into the camp and I passed on the other side so that the guard did not see me.

How did you get to Celle? - I started on foot and then I got a lift.

When these Russians outside the cinema said who you were, you were, as a matter of fact, taken to the police station? - I was not taken. I went of my own accord. The British treated my wounds and supported me because I was very weak with typhus. 

By a Member of the Court - When you were wounded on the Russian front, were you taken prisoner? - I was in hospital in my uniform and the Russians let me stay there. I was three months in Russian hands, was sick and was treated quite well.

D. SALOMAN, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I am from Cracow and was called up by the Gestapo for use of the German troops as a tailor. In January, 1945, I was sent to Gross Rosen, where for about four weeks I was employed on odd jobs inside the camp. Then I went to Dora, where, after a week, I was sent to Kommando B 12 for two months. Between 7th and 9th April I arrived in Belsen and was put into Block No. 1. I recognise Ostrowski. I met him first in Kommando B 12, where, to begin with, he worked in the tunnel. Later on he became a Stubendienst and behaved very well to the prisoners. He never beat them, and, on the contrary, was beaten by the Lagerführer because he did not punish the prisoners for very minor offences. It was only very seldom that he distributed the food, because usually the Blockältester did that himself. On the occasions when he did do the distribution he was very fair. I saw him frequently in Belsen, but he was very ill and was most of the time in bed.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Were you and Ostrowski together in the same block in B 12? - Yes.

Was he Stubendienst all the time you were there or was he working in the tunnel first? - As long as I remember him he was Stubendienst.

Shortly before the camp was evacuated did some more people come to it? - No.

About how many people went on the train? - About 700 from our camp marched off to Elrich, where we waited several hours.

Did the whole of your Kommando march to Elrich, including Ostrowski? - Yes.

When you got to Belsen had the train become quite a large one by then, because it had been joined by other Kommandos? - I do not remember how long the train was, but I do remember that a great number of people marched off from Belsen Station to Belsen.

In B 12 there were more than 700 people, were there not? - When I arrived there I think there were about 950, but when I left the place there were only 700, the rest having been killed in the usual manner doing their work, by beating, starvation and cold.

Were the punishments in your camp very severe? - Yes. For instance, negligence and falling asleep during the work brought terrible punishment. One man fell asleep in the tunnel during the night shift, was caught by the guards and got seventy strokes, then he was brought to his block and the Blockältester tied his legs and hands at the back with a wire and left him lying on the bed. The next morning he was unfit to go to work because he was tied up and one of the Kapos came and killed him.

If people misbehaved in the blocks was the whole block very often punished? - Yes.

Do you remember an occasion when the whole of your block was made to squat down outside for an hour or more? - Yes. I remember that incident.

You got to the camp about the beginning of February. Was Ostrowski the Stubendienst of your block then? - Yes.

He says that he worked in the tunnel for the whole of February? - I do not remember the exact dates, but I know that he was my Stubendienst for a long time. My memory is not very good after typhus.

Did all the other Blockältesten and Stubendienst do quite a lot of beating? - In all the other blocks they beat the prisoners very frequently, but our block was an exceptional one, because neither the Blockältester nor the Stubendienst beat prisoners.

That was quite an extraordinary thing in a concentration camp? - Yes.

Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I now wish to put in the affidavit of Rumauld Weber, exhibit No. 1, which reads as follows: 

"1. I am 43 years of age and am a Polish Jew. I. was arrested by the S.S. in July, 1944, for political reasons, and taken to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. I remained there for about two weeks and was then transferred to Mauthausen Concentration Camp. At the end of 1944, I went to Gross Rosen Concentration Camp and in February, 1945, to Dora-Elrich Concentration Camp. I camp to Belsen on 9th April, 1945.

"2. I knew a Polish Jew named Ostrowski whilst I was at Gross Rosen. We were in Block 6 together and he was an ordinary internee like myself. He never held a responsible position there. We were sent together to Dora Camp and were both in Block 34. Ostrowski and I worked in the air tunnel there and again did not hold any position of trust. Ostrowski and I were then sent together to Elrich Concentration Camp and it was in this camp that Ostrowski was made Stubendienst of Block No. 2. We were both transferred to Belsen together. Ostrowski occupied Block 14 and I was in Block 36 and later Block 37. All the time I was at Belsen I was very ill and could not get about. I cannot say anything about Ostrowski whilst at Belsen because I was too ill to know his movements or activities.

"3. All the time I have known Ostrowski I have never seen him beat anyone, nor has he, at any time, called Appell parades. I have  always known Ostrowski as a good man. I can remember an incident where all the men of a certain block had to squat down in a sitting position as a punishment, but Ostrowski had nothing to do with this at all. It was ordered and carried out by the S.S. I was one of the men in that block and heard the Kommandant of the Camp order it and he and another S.S. man made us carry it out. The Kommandant was tall with a long thin face and straight nose, fair hair, clean shaven, piercing blue eyes, aged about 35. The other was aged about 35 and 5’ 6", square build, fair hair and wore a Luftwaffe jacket."

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Vladislav Ostrowski)