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

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)


Major Cranfield invited the Court’s attention to that part of the charge-sheet in which an allegation of killing Allied nationals was made. He asked the Court to consider why there was included in the charge the names of specific Allied nationals and why it was not sufficient to charge the accused with causing the death of Allied nationals whose names were unknown. The answer, he suggested, was that unless the killing of a specifically named person was included, the charge would be a bad one on the charge of vagrance. Counsel then went through in detail the names of individuals alleged to have been killed and submitted that in several instances they had been killed by persons not before the Court. Where a Hungarian subject was involved she could not be treated as an Allied national, because a state of war existed between Great Britain and Hungary, which had not been terminated by a Peace Treaty. Further, in the case of seven persons to whom death certificates were stated to relate, the cause of death was not stated, and in Counsel’s submission they had died from natural causes. Furthermore, the dates of death given in those cases were prior in several instances to the dates before his accused had come to Belsen. If Counsel was correct, then he had struck out of the Belsen charge all the specific persons whose deaths were alleged to have been caused by the persons he represented, and the charge then would read "Allied nationals unknown," which he considered insufficient.

The evidence against Klippel was very simple and consisted of the deposition made by Anna Jacubowice, who said that she identified Klippel as the cook in charge of the cookhouse at Belsen where she was employed as a cook, and that she had seen him frequently beat women who approached the kitchen in search of food. But she did not say which cookhouse, and she had better opportunity of identifying Klippel than any of the ordinary internees. Again, she said that on two occasions during March she saw him shoot a woman dead, but evidence had been given by Colonel Champion that the internees were very vague about dates and often did not even know the year, but Klippel in the witness-box, and supported by four witnesses, gave evidence that from 1st January to 5th April he was over 100 miles away, at Mittelbau. Major Cranfield asked the Court to accept Klippel’s story entirely in every detail, as it was fully corroborated and hardly challenged.

Major Cranfield then turned to the affidavit evidence against Grese. It was stated by Diament that Grese had been in charge of working parties both at Auschwitz and Belsen, but the evidence of the accused and others had proved that she had been Arbeitsdienstführerin in the camp and had not been in charge of such a party. At Auschwitz she stated that she had had a vegetable Kommando for a month or two, and there was some disagreement between the Prosecutor and himself as to whether or not she had a Strafkommando; apart from these two working parties she had been on duty in the camp the whole time. Counsel alleged that Diament’s accusations about the severity of her treatment of the internees was exaggerated and was language which had obviously been led by the interrogator. Dunklemann had stated that the chief S.S. woman who dealt with her was aged about 30, but at that time Grese would have been 20 and they had heard from a witness that in a concentration camp a woman of 20 looked twice her age. Dunklemann alleged that Grese hit the internees with a rubber truncheon and kicked them - denied by the accused - during Appelle for not standing still or other trivial matters on the parades. How could this woman, who standing on the parades herself and was not in charge, know what punishment was inflicted for? Four other affidavits by young women aged 20, 26, 20 and 27 corroborated what Dunklemann said. Counsel wished to refer again to the circumstances in which these joint accusations had been made at Belsen, and that while Dunklemann identified the accused in person the others did not, and they indeed were only at Auschwitz for three weeks. A month after the time they made their first affidavit they made a second, identifying Grese by a photograph. Klara Lebowitz alleged that the accused was in charge of the Appell which took place twice a day and sometimes lasted three or four hours. Did the Court believe that anybody who had to take a roll-call would allow those parades to last for eight hours a day? Was that not absolute nonsense? The deponent then stated that Grese often made the internees go on their knees for hours on end. Grese had admitted making internees on occasions kneel down at Appell, but the reason was to make counting easier. Did the Court consider it a war crime to order internees to kneel down so that they could be counted?

Katherine Neiger stated that the Appell started at 0300 hours and went on for six hours. Would anyone start a roll-call in the dark and allow it to carry on for six hours if she had to attend it? That was obviously untrue, and the Court must accept the evidence of the accused and of the witnesses that parades started at 0600 hours and never went on for these very long periods. Neiger had been at Auschwitz for only ten days, but she said people were kept in Camp C for about a fortnight only. How could she possibly have known that? Trieger, who, when she went to Auschwitz, would have been 17, said in her affidavit that Grese was at Auschwitz from June, 1942, but the accused, when in the witness-box, said she arrived in March, 1943, and that was not cross-examined on by the learned Prosecutor. Triszinska alleged that the accused had a dog, but Grese denied that and her denial had been corroborated by other of the accused and other witnesses from Auschwitz. Her name had not been given in this respect by Koper when in the witness-box. Triszinska also alleged that she had seen Grese at Block 25 assisting and using force to load the women into the lorries. Grese had denied that she was ever in Block 25, and Volkenrath had said that that block was out of bounds to all Aufseherinnen. Koper, in her statement, said that Grese had arrived at Ravensbrück in 1941, and when in the witness-box she put it even earlier - 1940. This was inconsistent with the accused’s story when she said she had arrived at Ravensbrück in 1942, and that had not been challenged by the Prosecutor. Koper alleged that Grese had been a Blockführerin at Auschwitz but in evidence, she said that she had carried out parades of all the blocks. It was perfectly clear what a Blockführerin was. How could Koper, with all her experience, reasonably have made a stupid mistake like that? In evidence, Grese had said that she had been in charge of the punishment Kommando for two days only and in charge of the Strassenbaukommando for two weeks, but Koper alleged that she had been in charge of the punishment Kommando from 1942 to 1944, and in charge of the punishment company working outside the camp for six months. He had tried to get Koper to reconcile these two statements, but she had been unable to do so. The accused’s story was that during that period she was doing telephone duties in Camps A and B, but when this had been put to Koper, Koper had said that only men did these duties. If that had been true, would Grese have come there and told a very stupid lie with no object in it? Counsel submitted that the punishment Kommando of which Koper spoke was the Vistula Kommando, and in that Kommando was Lohbauer. At no time had Grese anything to do with the Vistula Kommando. Would she have been in charge by herself, the only Aufseherin, of a Kommando 800 strong, with an S.S. man, according to Koper’s story, under her? Koper went on to describe how prisoners were ordered to go over to the wire and were shot by the sentries at the rate of 30 a day. Was it likely that any internee could mistake the challenge of a sentry, and if 30 prisoners had been killed each day, would there not somewhere have been some corroboration of that story? Counsel then went over further parts of Koper’s statement which he maintained were nonsensical and only proved that she was a vicious liar and that not a word she said could be relied upon for one moment, let alone be used as evidence against Grese.

With regard to the oral evidence, Szafran alleged that she saw Grese beat a girl in Belsen with a riding-crop. That was the only allegation of any beating by her at Belsen. Grese had been perfectly frank and had said that she had hit internees with a stick and intended to hurt them but that at no time at Belsen had she carried a stick or struck an internee with anything other than her hand. There was no mention of this incident in Szafran’s affidavit. Ilona Stein had given evidence of the shooting of three people during a parade when they tried to hide. Grese noticed the attempts and ordered one of the S.S. guards to shoot. But in her affidavit only one woman was talked of, and Counsel suggested that this was a muddle of two or three incidents and was not the kind of evidence sufficient to support a charge of murder. Apart from that, was it likely that an Aufseherin had had any power to give an order to an S.S. guard to shoot a woman? The second matter which Stein had spoken of was about a mother and daughter who were speaking over the wire from one compound to another. It was possible that if Grese had seen two women doing something contrary to the camp regulations she would have gone up to them and might have struck them, but the evidence in the affidavit was that she tore off her leather belt and beat the woman with it. That leather belt had been produced to the Court, and it was so light and flimsy that one would hardly have known one was being stuck with it, let alone beaten.

Major Cranfield, in dealing with the affidavits of alleged beatings by Lohbauer, admitted that she had been the Lager Kapo but maintained that the allegations were exaggerated, and even assuming that the accused had given a hard blow, that could hardly be held to be a war crime. It was alleged that Lohbauer had forced old women to work, but the evidence laid before the Court by the Prosecution had been that old women were hurried away into the gas chamber, and so if she had made these old women go out on working parties it could only be described as a kindness. Almost every one of the young women, when they were making affidavits or giving evidence, started of by talking about rubber truncheons, but in the end these truncheons disappeared. The only piece of rubber, which was a bit of hose, which had ever been proved to have been used was the one in the hands of Weingartner. The deposition of Elisabeth Herbst was an allegation amounting to murder and was uncorroborated by any other witness, although, if true, there must have been any number of witnesses. It was a peculiar story, and Lohbauer denied it absolutely. It was for the Court to judge between the uncorroborated affidavit and the evidence of the accused. The oral evidence against Lohbauer amounted to nothing. Only five of the witnesses who had come to court had recognised her, and of these, two only had said anything against her at all. Stein’s evidence amounted to practically nothing, and Jasinska had said that she had assisted in transporting people to the crematorium. The accused had said that she had had nothing to do with Block 25, and she certainly had had nothing to do with the gas chamber.

With regard to the accused Lothe, Major Cranfield said that the evidence against her was contained in the three affidavits by Gryka, Rozenwayg and Watinik. The affidavits were all made on the same day before Colonel Champion and translated by the same translator, and the Court would remember the circumstances in which they had come to be made. Counsel submitted that the intention to accuse Lothe had not arisen until the three girls had found themselves in the war crimes office and that then they had decided that they were not going to let this German Kapo get away. He drew the Court’s attention to the similarity in the wording and description, and stated that such a coincidence was inconceivable unless there had been collusion between the three deponents. He submitted that these three young girls had made up their story together, had gone into the office and had then told different stories which had the same details in them.

In reviewing the evidence as a whole, Major Cranfield said that by far the greater part of the witnesses who had come to court were uneducated and few of them had any intellectual attainments. He asked the Court to consider the mental condition of an internee in Belsen after the liberation. Colonel Johnson, in his affidavit, had said that it would have an effect on their mental capacity. Major Berney had told them that there had been a block set aside for mental cases. Mr. Le Druillenec said that he had just come out of hospital, and Schlomoivicz had thought that the extraordinary way in which he had been accused by two of his friends was because they had recently had typhus. All through the case the evidence had been embroidered and exaggerated. What Litwinska had said was inconceivable when compared with the evidence of Dr. Bendel. Where had she got it from? In Counsel’s view she had first of all heard from her friend Bimko what she, Bimko, had seen when she went over the gas chamber; then she had heard the story about the girl having been saved from the gas chamber by Hoessler; and she put the two together and had produced this stupid and unreal story. She had been prepared to recognise anybody, although when pressed with regard to Klippel she had said that it might have been a mistake.

The witness Klein had said that Grese had given them half an hour of making sport, i.e. physical training, at Belsen, and alleged that while this was going on she had beaten them and inflicted various tortures. In cross-examination these had amounted to nothing, but had been put in to make the story better. All through the case this exaggeration had been in evidence and when challenged had amounted to nothing. The beatings spoken of by Bimko had turned into a box on the ears. Three or four times Bimko had been asked a perfectly simple question in cross-examination - and she was one of the few with intelligence - and she had prevaricated and refused to answer in case she should say a word which might be thought to be in favour of any of the accused.

That was the evidence against the accused, and Counsel submitted that the accused when in the witness-box had compared very favourably with the witnesses for the Prosecution. Their answers had been straightforward, and they, of course, were the only people in the case who knew what had taken place at Auschwitz and Belsen and how these camps had been organised. Only in the case of Klippel had Counsel been able to produce witnesses for the Defence, as far as his accused were concerned, and he asked the Court to agree that they were honest witnesses who gave honest evidence. With regard to his other accused, the lack of witnesses should not be counted against them. The accused were in a very difficult position. Many of them, Grese amongst them, lived in what was now the Russian zone, from which people could not be obtained, and there was a natural hesitation on the part of people who could have given evidence to come to the court and do so. Major Cranfield stated that in a number of cases the Prosecutor, when the accused had gone into the witness-box, had said to them at the outset, "You are a dishonest witness," and had then at a later stage said, "Well, now what about so and so, or what about such and such," and he obtained evidence which might be useful to his case. He asked the Court to disregard any evidence so obtained. It was for the Prosecutor to cross-examine a witness and get evidence from him, and if he was not satisfied with what he had got then at the end to go for the witness's credibility. He could not have it both ways. Either the witness was a liar, as the Prosecutor said he was, in which case the Court must not believe the rest of the evidence, or he was not.

Forty-seventh Day - Friday, 9th November, 1945


Major Cranfield stated that a large amount of documentary hearsay evidence and opinion had been let in by the Royal Warrant, and it was for the Court to decide what weight should be afforded to that evidence. Paragraph 5 of page 70 of the Manual of Military Law said: "The answer to the question why particular statements, verbal or written, should be excluded from evidence in judicial inquiries is that their exclusion has been found by practical experience useful on various grounds, and notably on the following: (1) It assists the jury; (2) It secures fair play to the accused; (3) It protects absent persons; (4) It prevents waste of time. It assists the jury by concentrating their attention on the questions immediately before them, and preventing them from being distracted or bewildered by facts which either have no bearing on the questions before them, or have so remote a bearing on those questions as to be practically useless as guides to the truth, and from being misled by statements or documents, the effect of which, through the prejudice which they excite, is out of all proportion to their true weight. It secures fair play to the accused, because he comes to the trial prepared to a specific charge, and ought not to be suddenly confronted by statements which he had no reason to expect would be made against him. It protects absent persons against statements affecting their characters. And, lastly, it prevents the infinite waste of time which would ensue if the discussion of a question of fact in a court were allowed to branch out into all the subjects with which that fact is more or less remotely connected."

That paragraph in the Manual of Military Law was an admirable summary of the reasons for the rules of evidence according to English law, and the Court should be slow to consider secondary evidence and only take that into account where there were special reasons for so doing. Counsel asked the Court to proceed on the assumption that no proper preliminary investigation had been carried out, as would have been the case in civil cases or Courts-Martial. With regard to Klippel, no inquiry had been made with regard to witnesses who said he was not at Belsen and supported his story. Again, in the case of Barsch, two doctors had said that he had been the medical orderly at the Wehrmacht Barracks, and so had supported his story, that he had not been in charge of the cookhouse. In the case of Stofel, one of the Prosecution witnesses had said in his statement that he could show where the bodies alleged to have been shot were buried, but although the route lay in the British zone no steps had been taken to prove or disprove this statement. Counsel went even further and said that from the evidence of the affidavits and also from what had been led in court, the atmosphere at Belsen in which the case had been prepared was one of "Hang the lot of these S.S." The Court would remember the paragraphs which had been. struck out of Colonel Johnson’s affidavit at the very beginning of the case. Did the Court believe that Colonel Champion in his private practice would have allowed a deponent to talk about a mass murder in a statement coming before a Court trying the question? Counsel asserted that ordinary care had not been taken in this case. Was the result not simply to inflame the spirit of revenge and hatred which they already had, and to lead to exaggeration and embroidery which ran right through the Prosecution’s case?

Major Cranfield said that in summing up the evidence there were four points. First, the Prosecution witnesses gave the Court the private soldier's view of what went on at Auschwitz and Belsen and what they said must be considered in that light, and the incidents which had been put forward were a telescoping together of various happenings out of which one incident had been made. Secondly, Counsel said that when accusations had to be made at Belsen there were only a limited number of S.S. personnel to accuse, as a large number had gone away, and so these internees, having suffered so much, pinned the incident on to one of those people in custody. When the photographs were shown around the camp and the evidence was taken, there was great temptation for these young ill-educated girls to identify a man, and that, he thought, might be the explanation of the wrong identifications which had been made. Thirdly, an affidavit should only be accepted by way of corroboration either of oral evidence or some other proved facts. An affidavit alone, if the accused went into the box on oath and denied it, could not be relied on. The last point Major Cranfield made was that one could not take an incident described in the witness-box and say, "I do not believe that," continue in the same way with other incidents and then at the end say, "I did not really believe any of them, but there is a general impression." Each incident had to be considered and accepted or rejected.

The Court had first of all to decide what were the facts about the selections for the gas chamber at Auschwitz and what actually had happened, and then they had to determine the legal position and who was and who was not responsible. The selections took place at the railway station when transports arrived, at the hospital, and in the camp when the prisoners were formed up outside the blocks. The order for a parade was received by telephone or verbally from the Oberaufseherin or the Lagerführer, and then the whistle was blown and the Blockältester paraded the prisoners and reported them present to the Aufseherin on duty or to the Rapportführerin, who in turn reported to whoever accompanied the doctor. The prisoners were then marched past the doctor - in the case of gas chamber parades usually only Jews - and the doctor indicated who was fit and who was unfit. Beside the doctor would be a Lagerführer or the senior officer present, and an Aufseherin or S.S. personnel to marshal the prisoners. One of these Aufseherinnen or SS. men would have to take the numbers of the groups, and at that stage it might become known to them what the object of the parade was. The majority of the prisoners chosen for the gas chamber were chosen at the railway station when the transport first arrived, and at that time the prisoners had no idea what was happening. At the selections in the camp, Counsel suggested that the prisoners who were old hands might well have got prior knowledge of a gas chamber parade and they were the people who tried to escape, and it was obvious that those who tried to escape were very few among the thousands paraded. General knowledge among the people paraded was out of the question, as otherwise there would have been a stampede.

From the evidence it appeared that the usual grounds for inferring people had been gassed was that they disappeared, but the same thing would have happened if they had been sent away to a factory or to another camp. With regard to Block 25, it might well have been that that block was used as a staging block for any party that was to leave the camp after a selection. When parties had been chosen they would obviously have to be segregated until they got away. Witnesses had spoken about people staying in Block 25 for days. If the authorities had decided to have a gas chamber selection they would not have done that unless they knew that the gas chamber was ready to take the people selected. Would they have selected 1000 people for the gas chamber and put them in Block 25 and kept them there for three days? If a party had been selected for a long-distance Kommando, it would have been put in Block 25, the staging block, and they would eventually have gone of from the camp on their fatigue. An ordinary prisoner, moving about the camp might well have thought they were going to the gas chamber. Block 25 was walled in and out of bounds to the Aufseherinnen, and once a selection was over Grese, Lohbauer, and Lothe would have had nothing to do with the prisoners selected.

If an accused did something which in view of her knowledge at the time of the act she could reasonably consider to be an innocent act, then she had not the necessary guilty intent to make her a criminal. Therefore it was necessary to consider the question of superior orders and whether the accused could be expected to know International Law and was not bound by her own domestic law. Counsel submitted that the question to be decided was who was responsible and who was not. The view of the Defence, as put forward by Colonel Smith, was that they could only be responsible if they had their will free, and their will was guilty if they had a criminal intent. The Court might well think that to arrive at a decision it would be necessary to compile a list with Himmler at the top, running down through Pohl, Glücks, etc., until, one got right down to the very bottom, to some cook or clerk in the office at Birkenau. Having compiled that list, somewhere on it a line would have to be drawn and those above the line were responsible and those below were not. If the Prosecution suggested that the line should be drawn right along the bottom and everyone held responsible, surely that was wrong. The principals in the first degree, those who actually committed the crime, were the Sonderkommandos, and two of them had been witnesses for the Prosecution, who did not deny that they personally committed the crime. Their only defence could be coercion and lack of intention, but if that applied to them it applied to the accused, and the mere fact that the accused were Germans and the others were not had got nothing to do with it.

With regard to the charge of ill-treatment at Auschwitz, this must be judged on the general standard pertaining amongst all these people and the punishment the accused underwent themselves and of the difficulties of the accused in handling the internees. The behaviour of the prisoners might very well have been forced upon them by circumstances, but no one could doubt that they were difficult to control and fought amongst themselves. Kramer and others had said that beating prisoners in any degree was against the German regulations and Counsel was prepared to accept that, but he suggested that a distinction should be drawn very sharply between a deliberate, wanton and cruel flogging and a quick cut with a stick because the prisoner had done something wrong. In theory, any regulation against that was a dead letter, and that was the accepted thing in concentration camps by the authorities and prisoners themselves. Could an impromptu beating of a prisoner in a camp be a war crime It had been suggested that because there was total war then everybody was concerned with it, but if one man picked the pocket of another man in Berlin or London during the war was a war crime? If one man assaulted another man in a V2 factory, did the mere fact that it was a V2 factory and thereby connected with the war effort make it a war crime? If an undesirable alien was imprisoned in England and an offence was committed against him by the warder of the prison during the war, was that a war crime? In Counsel’s submission it clearly was not. They were civilians, not members of S.S. or the armed forces, so how could they commit a war crime unless they had done something which came under the well-founded category of committing illegal hostilities? Could the allegation that they beat somebody in Auschwitz be considered illegal hostilities committed by civilians, thereby bringing them within the ambit of a war crime? A lot had been heard about shooting in the camp at Belsen, but very little about that at Auschwitz. The only suggestion that anybody been shot at Auschwitz were the accusations against Grese. Compared with Belsen, Auschwitz was a normally organised and competently run camp, and there was no corroboration of the shooting incidents at all. Counsel’s accused were at Belsen for a very short time, and owing to chaotic conditions of the camp there were very few working parties; his three accused at Belsen were all concerned with working parties. What was going on at Belsen during March and April, 1945, was beyond anybody’s control. Transports were streaming in, the whole place was hopelessly overcrowded, the area was rapidly becoming a battle area and communications must have been in absolute chaos. To attempt to make local purchases of foodstuffs for the extra thousands and to get extra doctors to cope with the typhus was quite beyond Kramer or anybody else on the spot. Counsel’s accused were one Aufseherin, aged 21, and two prisoner functionaries in the camp, and he invited the Court to accept the proposition that they were in no way responsible for the conditions.

It had been suggested that there was a special gang who had been brought together at Belsen by Kramer so that he could run that camp in the same way as he had run Auschwitz. That again was an assumption. In Germany there was a limited number of concentration camps, and there was a Concentration Camp Service in the S.S. In April, 1945, various concentration camps, on account of the approach of the Allied armies, had to be closed, until Belsen was almost the last. It was not, therefore, astonishing that in view of the limited number of concentration camp personnel a number of people in the dock had been together in Auschwitz.

Klippel had come to the Wehrmacht Barracks, which had been called Camp No. 2, and Hoessler had gone to Kramer, as the senior officer in the S.S. on the spot, for assistance. Prior to that Hoessler had gone to Colonel Harries for water carts, food and so on. In Counsel’s view Hoessler did not come under the orders of Kramer and was independent. Klippel had come from Mittelbau, where the whole situation was in chaos. His Kommandant was Hauptsturmführer Brenneis, of the same rank as Kramer and a rank above Hoessler, and he reported to him and was told to help in the food store. That night Brenneis had gone off to Neuengamme and eventually went out of the war altogether. The next day Klippel was found by Hoessler and roped in to work in a cookhouse, and he had wanted to leave at the same time as all the guards but had been stopped by Hoessler. In Counsel’s submission the position of Klippel was quite a sensible one. He had nothing to do with Hoessler, was a private soldier in the S.S. and if in a situation like that, with his unit in disruption, he was told by an officer to stay behind and do a job of work, then he had not got very, much option. But to suggest that he was part of Hoessler’s staff was wrong, or to say he had anything to do with Kramer or of the staff of Bergen-Belsen was fantastic.

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)