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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Medislaw Burgraf)


MEDISLAW BURGRAF, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I was born in Czescochowa [Częstochowa] and was employed on the State Railway System. On 5th August, 1940, I was arrested by the Germans, spent two weeks in prison and was then transferred to Buchenwald Concentration Camp; where I dug ditches from 22nd August to 10th December, 1940. From there I went to Neuengamme on 12th December, 1940, was employed on building a canal and left for Drütte Concentration Camp on 12th March, 1943. At first I worked as an ordinary worker and at the end of May, 1944, became a foreman. My duty was to see that the prisoners at the working site did not go away. There were 60 in the Kommando which was employed on manufacturing grenades. I wore a black armlet on my left arm with the word "Vorarbeiter" on it, which means foreman, and my superior, the Kapo, wore a yellow armlet.

When you left this camp, where did you go? - On 8th April, 1945, we arrived at Celle. About 1700 hours an air raid began and nine of us spent the night in the woods. On the following day we went to the nearest village and were stopped by a German policeman, who asked what we were doing there. We said that we were dispersed and did not know where to go, so he gave us a written pass with an order to report to Bergen-Belsen, which we reached on Monday, 9th April, 1945, at about 1600 hours. I was sent temporarily to Block No. 16 and transferred on the next day to Block No. 19, where I was employed as an ordinary prisoner, although I was appointed unofficially by the Blockältester to assist in food distribution.

What were your duties during the food distribution? - To stop prisoners getting a second helping and to keep men from other blocks coming into our block to get food. Sick people would get their food inside the block and the fit prisoners queued up outside and got their food in the doorway. After getting the food the men in question had to fall in in fives in order to prevent people from coming through the window and queueing once more outside. I was guarding the windows and doors.

Adam Marcinkowski says that he recognised you as a Kapo from Drütte Camp and Stubendienst of Block 19 at Belsen? - I was neither.

He relates an incident in which you hit a man called Grabenski with a table leg and killed him? - That is not true. I do remember another incident. A man called Adam Marcinkowski came from Block 21 to Block 19 and demanded food for the second time, and I told him he was not entitled to get it in this block. He said I was a very bad Pole because I cared only for other nationalities, became very aggressive and started swearing and shouting at me. We started to fight, and during that fight he got beaten.

He goes on to accuse you of beating the prisoners indiscriminately with a table leg during food distribution and asserts that you killed about 50 persons over a period of four or five days? - That is not true.

Kobriner says that in February, 1945, you beat a friend of his called Wachtel and when he was brought back from the factory he went out of his mind, was taken to hospital and died two days later? - I admit that he died, but it was not caused through the beating. We were on the night shift and at about 2100 hours an air raid began. We went into the shelter, and when the all clear was announced about 0400 hours we were told to parade. After the parade I was informed that Wachtel was ill and I went to see him, but he told me he could not speak either German or Polish, only French. We took him to the First Aid Post as we saw he had a high temperature. The man in charge of the work party asked the medical orderly whether it was true he had a temperature and the orderly said no, so the man in charge of the Kommando took some cold water and put it on Wachtel’s head, hoping be would regain consciousness. Then another man came and said that Wachtel had been beaten up in a tunnel during the air raid by Russians and he had received a hit on the head. The medical orderly and I took him to hospital after we had finished our work and I was told a few days later than he had died.

Kobriner says that you and a Kapo named Zieger, beat a man called Plakiewicz until he lost consciousness? - I do not remember this incident.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - When you were acting as foreman was it part of your duty to see that people got to their work? - Yes.

Were you responsible for the output of the people under you? - No, the Kapo was.

How many Kapos and foremen were there? - Seven or eight Kapos and about 30 foremen. 

Are you quite sure you were not a Kapo? - Yes.

Did Kapos carry sticks? - I cannot say.

Did the Kapos do a lot of beating? - Not without grounds.

Did they beat them quite often? - No.

Did you beat people when you thought you had grounds? - Yes.

Why? - To avoid collective punishment. If a man from a Kommando left the place of work without reporting and it was found out, the whole Kommando was punished by the withdrawal of the additional food for a whole day.

Did you have a thick square stick? - No.

Kobriner says you had a thick square stick and Marcinkowski says you had what looked like a table leg? - And another says that I had some iron pieces in my hand.

When Wachtel died he got hit deliberately or accidentally to such an extent that he died as a result of it, did he not? - I suppose so.

Was he absent when you paraded again after these air raids? - He was present.

Do you think he was fit for work? - Judging by outward appearances he was fit for work, but what he said did not make any sense.

Did you not beat him up because he could not get on with his work, and then when you had finished did somebody throw cold water in his face to try and bring him round? - That is not true.

What exactly was your Kommando doing? - Laying grenades on the table to enable the painters to paint them.

Was there a small wire partition place in the factory you were working? - Three, one where the painters were working, in another the plumbers and in, a third German civilian controlled personnel. We were not allowed to go near that compartment.

Kapos, I suppose, could go either into where the painters or plumbers were working? - Yes.

If Zieger was in charge of the plumbers, then he might very well be found in one of these wire cages where the plumbers worked? - Yes.

There would be quite a few iron pipings there, would there not? - Only spare parts for the machines.

I suggest that you and Zieger took this man into that plumbing cage, put him across a box face downwards and beat him with iron bars until he lost consciousness? - That is not true.

Do you remember the procession during the last few days in Belsen dragging the corpses away? - Yes.

Did you have to drag these corpses too? - Block 19 was excused this because it was a so-called hospital block and people were suffering from typhus.

Were you suffering from typhus? - No. 

Then what were you doing in Block 19? - I was attached to the whole transport.

Why do you think the Blockältester and Stubendienst of Block 19 picked you as being the best man to stand in the doorway and guard the hut from other people at food distribution? - It was not only myself; there were about 15 or 10, because one man had to stand at each window.

Did a lot of people try to get into the block? - Certainly.

Did you not provide yourself with the same stick that you had had at Drütte in order to keep them out? - I had no stick in either Drütte or Belsen.

Most of the Blockältesten and Stubendienst had sticks at Belsen, had they not? - As far as I could say, nobody.

Did most of the Kapos at Belsen carry sticks? - I have never seen any Kapos at Belsen. There were no working parties and no need to have Kapos.

Were there a lot of camp police? - I noticed them for the first time during the dragging of corpses.

During that corpse dragging were they doing a lot of beating? - I do not know. They were passing by the block, but my windows did not face that road.

Did you never look at the procession? - Never, because it was difficult to look at things like that. I stood with my back turned to the road.

You would be a magnificent guard, would you not, with your back to the way people might come? - I stood at the doorway with my back turned to the road, but not to the prisoners coming in.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - How did you come to be arrested? - I fell ill with typhus and was in hospital. On 15th June, when I left the hospital, I was asked to go and see somebody who was ill. I entered a room, and as soon as I was in the door shut and Marcinkowski and his friends gave me a severe beating so that I was bleeding when I left. Downstairs a British soldier noticed the blood pouring from my face and asked me what had happened. I said I had had a fight with a friend of mine and Marcinkowski told me not to tell stories to the British as we could go to the Polish Committee and have the whole thing judged by them. On our way to the Polish Committee I was just at the doorway when Marcinkowski hit me with a knife and inflicted such a wound that I had to stay in hospital for two months. I was then sent by the British Police to the same room as an SS. man was sent, on the doorway of which was a sign, "War Criminals."

By a Member of the Court - While you were in Block 19 were you very short of water? - As far as I can remember we only had water once for half an hour on, I think, 11th April.

JOSEF TRZOS, sworn, examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - I am a Pole, aged 23, and was arrested by the Germans on 18th January, 1940, and after being in various prisons I was sent to Auschwitz, Neuengamme and Drütte. I know the accused Burgraf. I first met him in Neuengamme and left with him for Drütte, where he was a foreman. We left Drütte together for Belsen but dispersed during an air raid. I arrived at Belsen six or seven days before the British troops and was put in Block No. 19. Burgraf arrived there one day later and at first was in the camp police but later on was assistant Stubendienst. He had to maintain order at food distribution to prevent prisoners from getting food twice and to see that they got their proper portion. Apart from that he had to see that all the bodies from the block were removed outside.

How did he behave to the prisoners in the block? - He was very keen to secure order, and if there were 1000 prisoners present and rations only for 800 he beat those of them who tried to push themselves forward to obtain food.

Do you know a man called Adam Marcinkowski? - Yes. I met him a week ago and asked him why he accused Burgraf. He said, "Because once when we worked together during unloading of grenades Burgraf hit me in the face," and he said that he was hit by Burgraf because he smoked a cigarette at that time. I said to him, "For one hit like that you accuse a man?" and he answered, "Yes, because apart from that I saw the accused Burgraf hit a man on the arm in such a way that the man died."

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Where and when did you see Marcinkowski? - Last Saturday week in Block 19 in Belsen.

He said that he had accused Burgraf because the latter had killed a man by hitting him? - Yes.

When Burgraf was made one of the camp police, what were his duties? - To guard the windows and the stores to prevent prisoners from other blocks from climbing in and getting food, and to see that prisoners from the block itself did not get food twice.

Who actually removed the bodies? - He detailed some fit prisoners and gave them additional food for this additional work.

Where did they take the bodies to? - They dragged the bodies along the road and I think they were buried in a grave.

Did you see quite a lot of bodies being dragged along past your block? - Yes, the whole day long they were dragging those corpses.

Living in a block like yours, Block No. 19, you simply could not miss seeing it? - No.

If you looked out of the windows you could see they as they passed, and when you went out of the block you could see them going very close to you? - Yes.

And further, people beating the prisoners as they went? - If somebody could not keep up he would be beaten.

Do you know accused No. 31 (Ostrowski)? - Yes, I do not know whether he was ill or not, but whenever I saw him he was lying in bed.

Had you all got beds in your block? - There were only a few beds.

Did the Blockältester have a bed? - Yes.

Did the assistant Blockältester? - Only the Stubendienst and the clerk had beds.

And Ostrowski? - Yes, but with this difference, that the Blockältester had his bed in a room of his own, whereas the, accused was sleeping in the same hall as all the other prisoners.

Did the people who were guarding the windows and the door and so on have sticks to try to keep people from coming in? - Not special sticks, but if it was very difficult to maintain order they would use the handle of the soup ladle.

That was what Ostrowski used? - I did not see him on food distribution.

How long have you known Ostrowski? - One week; I did not know him personally. A friend of mine called Rozga knew that he was a boxer in Lodz [Łódź] before the war.

How long have you known Burgraf? - I met him in 1942.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - Was there enough food to go round in these last few days? - No. We received only 300 litres of soup for 800 men in our block.

How was it possible for anybody to give extra food to anyone? - Those employed on dragging corpses received it.

What about water? - The water situation was very bad indeed. Only those who managed to enter the cookhouse and were not caught could drink the water from the drainage system. Occasionally we had for a short time a supply of water in our block, but it was very seldom.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Medislaw Burgraf)