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

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)


Captain Neave opened his remarks by saying that he wished to adopt the arguments by Colonel Smith on International Law and the remarks by Major Munro on concerted action and collective responsibility. Two live witnesses had been produced against Schlomoivicz - Sompolinski and Zylberdukaten. Sompolinski had told the Court that he had known the accused at Auschwitz for about a year and that he had arrived in Belsen some eight days before the liberation. He confirmed Schlomoivicz’s appointment as Blockältester of Block 12 in Belsen two or three days before the British arrived, and had said that the accused had behaved very well towards the prisoners. Zylberdukaten had recognised Schlomoivicz and said that she knew him as having behaved very well after the arrival of the British. In addition, the Prosecution offered two affidavits by Judkovitz and Basch, both Czechoslovakian Jews. They had been friends and their depositions showed remarkable similarity. They made allegations against Schlomoivicz of beatings at Belsen in March and April, 1945, whilst he was a Kapo, but no live witness had shown that the accused ever was a Kapo at Belsen, nor had he arrived until 8th April. None of the alleged victims of these supposed beatings had been named, nor were their nationalities given, and Counsel submitted that the reason for that was that the victims they talked about were figments of over-taxed mental capabilities due to privation and physical and mental suffering during their concentration camp life and very little weight should be given to their testimony.

Schlomoivicz, in his defence, had told the Court of his concentration camp life since 1939, how he had come to Belsen late at night on 8th April, 1945; and that for three days he had had no duties whatsoever; and that due to the illness of the Blockältester then in charge he was appointed Blockältester on 13th April. He told the Court that his main duty was to distribute what food there was, and he had been the only clear witness as to how much food there was to distribute. He had suffered much hardship and pain himself in concentration camp life, and he said that he gave strict orders to those working under him for these two days that the beatings which undoubtedly, had been going on were to cease. He admitted that it was sometimes necessary to hit with the hand, which was understandable, but he denied having beaten anyone with a rubber truncheon or stick, and had pointed out that out of 1000 people in his block only two had come forward to accuse him. He continued as Blockältester till 20th April, when he was removed to hospital suffering from typhus, and he had told the Court of that remarkable visit by his two accusers, who brought him cigarettes and chatted with him. When asked by the Court if he could suggest any reason for these two men having made accusations against him, he said that they themselves had been so ill with typhus and were in such a low state mentally and physically that that must have been the reason for them making those wild and completely unfounded accusations. Blickblau, in an affidavit, had said that he knew Schlomoivicz in one or two camps and as Blockältester in Belsen for two days; that he had never seen him hit anyone, although he had heard of it. Blickblau also said that Schlomoivicz often gave away his own food and allowed members of his working party to hide themselves if they were in a sick condition.

Ilse Forster, Ida Forster and Klara Opitz had all been working in factories in Silesia. Labour was scarce and much heavy work had to be done by forced foreign labour unfriendly to the Germans, so that the factory owners, responsible for the security of the workers, had to provide their own guards. The only source from which those guards could be found were from among the factory hands themselves - all women. These women were conscripted by the State, and from then onwards, through none of their own doing, they were branded as S.S. women.

Ilse Forster was identified in the affidavit of Regina Bialek as an Aufseherin in Kitchen No. 1 at Belsen without any date being mentioned. The usual wild allegations were made of beatings by the accused with blood, unconsciousness, wheel-barrows, and hospitals, and the affidavit concluded with the normal insidious type of sentence, "I do not know whether any of them died as a result of their injuries, but many were covered with blood," The accused did not deny that she beat prisoners and she even had told the Court that she had a small stick, but she did deny beating prisoners until they were unconscious, or whilst lying bleeding on the floor. Captain Neave submitted that this affidavit a complete over-statement and so full of untruths as to warrant no weight being attached to it whatsoever. Lippmann, who worked Kitchen No. 1, deponed the usual extremely exaggerated account of beatings by the accused with a rubber truncheon. Ilse Forster had at no time tried to make out that she was any kind of fairy godmother going about the kitchen with a wand in her hand, but Counsel wished to remind the Court of her responsibility in the supply of food in her kitchen, and that there was nothing she could possibly have done to increase the supplies or prevent some of the internees from starving. She had told the Court, and her statement had been backed by the evidence of Charlotte Klein, that she had done what she could for the internees working in her own kitchen.

The last affidavit bringing in the name of Ilse Forster was that by the accused Ehlert, and that had to be coupled with the evidence given by the latter in the witness-box. The sum total of Ehlert’s evidence was that there had been a great deal of stealing in and around Kitchen No 1, that Ilse Forster had reported it to her when she visited the kitchen - and that was all. It was very doubtful whether there had ever been such a person as the young Rottenführer in No. 1 Kitchen at that time. Litwinska, in her affidavit, had made a specific allegation of shooting against Ehlert which must have stood out very vividly in her imagination, but when she came to court to give evidence she had made no such allegation against that accused and, in fact, when asked if she had ever seen Ehlert beating anybody, she had answered "No." When Litwinska was in the witness-box he had accused Ilse Forster of a particularly foul murder, one which she had never mentioned in her affidavit and which, if it had ever taken place, would have stood out in her much more clearly than Ehlert’s alleged shooting. Captain Neave submitted that neither incident had the slightest foundation in act, and that that evidence should carry no weight at all. In the witness-box the accused had given her answers truthfully, and he submitted that what she had said should weigh very strongly in her favour compared with anything that Litwinska had said or anything to which Bialek and Lippmann had signed their names. She had denied ever using a rubber truncheon, and she had denied the Ehlert incident in which she was supposed to have said she was excited because she had been beating prisoners. With regard to the allegation by Litwinska of the murder of the young girl, she completely denied the story and said that on that day she had found someone stealing in the peeling part of her kitchen; that she was the N.C.O. on the spot and had dealt summary punishment. Everybody had been quite satisfied and the girl had turned up for work the next morning.

The total evidence against Ida Forster was that of Ilona Stein, who had identified the accused in the dock and had said she had known her in No. 2 Kitchen at Belsen, and that on one occasion the accused had run out from the kitchen and started hitting a prisoner so badly with a rubber tube that she had to be carried away by ambulance. Of course, the accused had always worked in Kitchen No 3. Stein could remember no dates at all, and it was just an incident out of the blue. Ida Forster had denied hitting anybody at Belsen, and had told a quite truthful story that her work was inside the kitchen and that she had 38 female internees working under her.

Klara Opitz had been recognised in the dock by Litwinska, who, however, had made no allegation against her. The case against her was contained in the two affidavits by Dr. Makar, who accused her of beating girls. In one he had said "Frequently," in the other he had said "Once." Captain Neave submitted that even if the Court accepted both the affidavits, the sum total was that the deponents had once seen the accused strike a girl. Was that a war crime?

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)