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

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)


Captain Fielden drew the attention of the Court to the words "together concerned as parties" in the charge-sheet. He submitted that the charge therefore was, that the accused severally, were actively involved with the other accused of ill-treating the internees in Belsen Concentration Camp. There was no evidence that the accused whom he represented were jointly implicated with the other accused, and if the Court accepted that, then each individual could only be held responsible for such acts of ill-treatment as were proved against him personally. Before acts of ill-treatment could be considered a war crime it had to be proved that each particular case the victim had been an Allied national. Counsel’s accused were bound by German law, which stated, in effect, that Poland as a sovereign State had ceased to exist and that previous Polish nationals from that part of Poland annexed by Germany were as a result German nationals. With very few exceptions the internees at Belsen came from countries annexed by Germany by conquest. A German could not commit a war crime against another German, and, if those facts existed, then no war crime had been committed on which a conviction could be obtained in that court. In establishing the perpetration of a war crime the accused must know, or be reasonably expected to know, that the nationality of his victim was that of an Allied national. A war crime was essentially an act which the victor punishes to safeguard the lives of his own nationals and of his allies. He has no concern with crimes against neutrals or those not allied to him, and it followed therefore that a German could not commit a war crime against a person who was not an Allied national. A war crime prosecution was not held to avenge an alleged crime but to act as a warning and deterrent to others not to act in a similar way in the future. It was brought to secure legitimate means of warfare for the future, and if it then appeared that on reasonable grounds it was thought that his victim was not an Allied national it would be clear to the prosecuting power that no damage had been intended against him or his allies and he should admit such a defence as valid. Captain Fielden said it was part of his case that the Prosecution had to prove that the accused knew that his victim was an Allied national, as otherwise he could not be guilty of a war crime, and it was also the basis of his defence that the Prosecution’s affidavit evidence was substantially unreliable and that an accused should not be convicted on such evidence when the Court had not had an opportunity of testing the veracity of the statements made.

Most of the acts alleged against Pichen were connected with No. 1 Cookhouse, of which he was in charge. Gutman and Zamoski had identified Pichen as being an S.S. man at Belsen and at Dora, where he was in charge of the bath-house. The opening paragraph of their affidavits was absolutely identical; they were both the same age, both Jews, both arrested on 15th November, 1942, and from then until their arrival in Belsen they had been at identical concentration camps during identical periods. The dates and years in these other concentration camps were complete, but they were delightfully vague as to their arrival at Dora. Five witnesses who had been at Dora had either failed to recognise Pichen or had said that he was not there, and that evidence was overwhelming and showed that Gutman’s and Zamoski’s was false. With regard to the alleged shooting outside No. 1 Kitchen on the day of the S. S. men's parade on 13th April, Wajsblum in her affidavit directly implicated Pichen by name and the witness Litwinska said that the S.S. man in charge of that cookhouse was responsible. Counsel then described the discrepancies between Litwinska’s affidavit and her evidence in the witness-box and pointed out that she had not identified Pichen as being the man concerned in that particular incident. Was it conceivable that she would not have accused him there and then when she was in court if in fact he had been implicated in the shooting? As a result of a wound in the hand Pichen had three stiff fingers permanently at right angles to the palm - a very obvious disfigurement, but Litwinska had been unable to say whether or not any of the men she connected with the alleged incident had had any physical deformity. Pichen’s own account of this incident was that on being told that the S.S. men had to go on a parade he locked up the cookhouse, told the girls who worked there to wait outside, and went on the parade. During the parade he had not felt well and at the end he had handed the key to the assistant cook and had gone back to his own barracks.

Halota deponed that two male prisoners started taking turnips from a pile outside the kitchen whilst Pichen was standing there, that he saw them and immediately pulled out his gun and shot both of them from a distance of 25 metres. The two men fell to the ground, Pichen walked away, and four hours later the two bodies were put on a stretcher, one having been hit with a bullet on the back of the neck and the other under the right shoulder blade. Counsel submitted that that was absolutely first-class shooting to say the very least from 25 metres, and that Pichen himself had said that he had never had much practice with pistol. Litwinska, in cross-examination, had said that she had no knowledge of any other shooting incident in which S.S. personnel in No. 1 Kitchen were supposed to be implicated, and she worked continuously in that kitchen. Pichen denied that the incident had ever occurred, and had said that he never carried a pistol whilst working in the kitchen, that he never shot at any prisoners, and that he went on to the S.S. men’s parade about noon on 13th April - exactly when this incident was alleged to have taken place.

Wajsblum alleged in her affidavit that about three weeks before the British came Pichen searched a man walking next to the wire separating No. 1 Kitchen from the men’s compound and founds some food on him. The girls in the kitchen had denied having given this food to the man, and Pichen went back to him and when five metres away pulled out his pistol and shot him. This the accused denied, and in any case he was not in No. 1 Kitchen at that time. From 27th until 31st March he was Camp No. 2. Both Ilse Forster and Hilde Lisiewitz had stated in evidence that they had never seen Pichen shoot anyone at any time in or near No. 1 Kitchen.

The Prosecution had contended that Pichen’s appearance had changed since his photograph was taken. The Prosecutor had very kindly invited the attention of the Court to the accused's very prominent ears and eyes, which appeared equally prominently in the photograph, but in spite of this unmistakable facial attribution Zamoski and Litwinska had not recognised him, although Anni Jonas had not had the slightest difficulty in doing so. The prominent eyes, the overhanging brow, the thin pointed chin, all of which appeared in the photograph, were equally apparent on the man still, and there was quite definitely a trace of the moustache of the same shade on the photograph as there was on the man at that moment. The difficulty that witnesses had in identifying the man whom they alleged to be guilty was, it was quite obvious, that Pichen was not that man whom they themselves had identified in their minds with the man who they alleged had committed the shootings.

The only specific allegations made against Otto were that he had beaten the deponent Stojowska outside Block No. 213 in Belsen, because she was attempting to get a bed away from it. The second incident was alleged to have occurred in Block 201 where the deponent lived, and where she was Blockälteste in one part and a Hungarian Jewess in the other. Two days after the first incident Otto was supposed to have gone into Block 201 and very severely beaten the Hungarian Jewess. The deponent said that Otto was an Unterscharführer and a Blockführer, but Bimko in evidence said that he was never a Blockführer in the women’s compound, and Kramer had stated that S.S. men on the administrative staff could not also be Blockführer. Otto himself denied that he ever was a Blockführer, or that he ever went into the women’s compound until the beginning of March, at which time Block 213 formed part of the isolation wards for typhus. He said that the first time he went into Block 201 was about 10th or 11th March to do some repair work. Roth had said that Block 213 was occupied from 27th January for the following six weeks and that there never had been any beds outside it, whilst Starostka, the Lagerälteste, said that it was never empty, and confirmed that it had become subsequently the isolation ward into which S.S. men were not allowed to enter without the permission of the camp doctor. She also said that she would certainly have heard if a Blockälteste of Block 201 had been beaten. Koper, although she had heard that a Slovakian Jewess who was a Blockälteste had been beaten, said that she had never heard of Otto beating anyone and had added that he was very good to the prisoners. Otto had been in Auschwitz from October, 1940, until January, 1945, and yet there was not one single allegation of any ill-treatment whatsoever against him although he was what could be termed one of the old originals.

With regard to the march from Kleinbodungen to Belsen, none of the Prosecution witnesses had agreed as to the number of prisoners in the transport when it started off, and Captain Fielden submitted that the Court should accept the statement of Stofel, who was in command, supported by the oral evidence of Dorr that there were 610. Gruhmann, in his affidavit, said that after the first day’s march, near Osteröde, Dorr shot two men near a stable and the bodies were buried there. Poppner said Dorr shot three men in the morning. Gruhmann said that, on the morning of the 6th, Dorr shot the remaining four men out of the six in the Nordhausen party and that the bodies had been left under the straw in the stable. He also said that all the prisoners had been able to keep up the pace for the first two days of the march, whereas Poppner said two men had collapsed on the first day. Gruhmann went on to say that he had seen Dorr shoot at least four to six prisoners on the march, but Poppner only referred to shootings on the first two days and did not allege continuous shootings all along the line of march. He made no reference to the nine prisoners Gruhmann said were shot at Belsen station. Gruhmann said some 65 men were killed during the march, whilst Poppner stated that he heard that 36 were not accounted for. As Gruhmann had stated that he could point out the various places where the bodies of the men shot by Dorr could be found, why had there not been evidence before the Court as to where those bodies were? All the places traversed on the march were in the British zone, yet the only substantial evidence which had been produced of any shooting on that transport had been produced by the Defense. As regards the affidavits of Mocks, Poppner and Gruhmann, it was obvious that they had not been read over to the deponents before they were sworn, and the only evidence as to their truthfulness which the Court had was the statement by the interpreter that the affidavit was a correct translation of the evidence previously given by the deponents, therefore these affidavits should not be received by the Court except with considerable reserve. One striking point was that there was no mention in any of the allegations of any shooting of prisoners at Gross Hehlen, where the accused, together with other witnesses, confirmed that certain prisoners were shot. Counsel submitted that although the deponents knew that the shooting had taken place at Gross Hehlen they had not mentioned it because it was not done by S.S. guards commanded by Stofel, and they had taken the opportunity of accounting for the losses which had occurred at Gross Hehlen by making up stories of other shootings on the line of march.

Captain Fielden suggested that the witnesses Neumann and Steinbusch had been given a lift from Mittelbau to Grosswehrter by Stofel and Dorr, where they had got orders to go to Belsen and, as they were far from well, had been very glad to get a lift over any part of the journey. Stofel, knowing that the immediate destination of his transport was Herzberg, had agreed to taken them there at least. After the bombing of Herzberg station Stofel had decided to march his transport to Belsen, and only then had his transport become in any way connected with that camp, which would account for the impression that these two women had that on the day they met Stofel and Dorr the latter knew they were going to Belsen. Various differing descriptions had been given as to the manner in which the prisoners and the guards had left Gross Hehlen village on the evening of 10th April, but Counsel submitted that if such a large body of people were sent away in a hurry, independent witnesses would see different aspects of the incident, an as a result some would move out at a normal pace and others might be chasing up to catch them. It was quite definite that the transport was ordered to move out of the village by the local commander because it was a front-line area, and a certain amount of objection by Stofel the prisoners had been taken away under the command of the men of the Waffen S.S. unit stationed in the village. It was whilst the prisoners were so controlled and guarded that there was the only substantial evidence that any of them were shot, and Stofel could not be held responsible for the safe-keeping of the transport from the time it left the barn where the prisoners had been about to be fed until the time he took over command at the airfield, and consequently the deaths of those prisoners could not be laid at his door. The officer and men of the Waffen S.S. unit were quite definitely responsible for these, and it was upon their heads that the blame should be laid for the deaths of such of the prisoners as were killed during that time.

In the Wehrmacht Barracks at No. 2 Camp a roll-call was taken and the number of prisoners was found to be 590. Stofel accounted for the discrepancy of 20 through five having escaped at Salzgitter and the remaining 15 having been shot or escaped at Gross Hehlen. Stofel had, in fact, reported the shooting to Hoessler, and he had told the Court that he himself had not heard nor seen any prisoners shot by his guards, nor had he given any orders for internees to be shot. As far as Stofel was concerned, the inclusion of his name in the Belsen charge was quite wrong. He had never been in the concentration camp proper, and to suggest that he was ever a member of the camp staff was equally erroneous. On the evacuation of Dora he had been ordered to march his prisoners to Herzberg, where after the bombing he had decided to go to Belsen, and there were no allegations of ill-treatment against him after his arrival there.

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)