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

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)


Captain Munro asked the Court to consider the status of the accused he represented in Belsen. Roth had been a prisoner of the Gestapo since 1941, and had only become a functionary in the camp in the last days of March. Hempel was an Aufseherin in Cookhouse No. 2, and Hahnel had been a sort of second-in-command in the peeling section of Cookhouse No. 1. These three accused, holding such insignificant positions, had played no part at all in bringing on the terrible conditions in Belsen or the killing of thousands of people in Auschwitz. They were part of the small number of people who stayed in the camp all the time in Belsen and had taken the same chance of dying as any of the internees. In a camp where life and death depended upon a piece of bread or an extra cup of soup, these three accused were persons who had actually tried to hand that cup of soup to the internees and had made some positive effort to correct the chaotic conditions. The internees in No. 1 Camp at Belsen were either hungry or very sick, and the beatings given to them were solely corrective beatings and not sadistic. In Counsel’s opinion the witnesses who had come to the court had grossly exaggerated the nature of those beatings, and he submitted that the people who stayed in No. 1 Camp had had to administer corrective punishment to gain some degree of control over people who undoubtedly were maddened by hunger.

Johanne Roth had told the Court of the weary journeys she had made from concentration camp to concentration camp as a prisoner until she had arrived in Belsen on 27th January, 1945, and up to that time she had been as much a prisoner of the Gestapo as any of the Prosecution witnesses. In March she had been transferred to Block 199, where there were between 800 and 1000 people, many of whom were sick. The conditions there were completely chaotic. When Kramer saw these transports arriving at Belsen - people who were sick and starving, who carried typhus and were lousy and filthy - he had to increase his staff, and people like Roth were made functionaries. In a block there was a Blockältester in charge, an Arbeitsdienstführer who was in charge of collecting together the working parties, and the Kapos who took the working parties out of the camps. The Stubendienst was the person who stayed behind and looked after the block, her duties including the feeding of all the internees in her block. Roth was made a Stubendienst and had said that it was a hard, thankless job and that she had not wanted it. She had no idea of authority and no more control than a child but she was expected to control these people in the way the S.S. wanted her to. She was not supervised and had to do her job in the best way she could. Functionaries were literally the only people who had stayed at their job when typhus was rife in Belsen. The only live witness to make an allegation against Roth was Helen Klein. She had said that Roth was a notorious night guard, but the accused had said that she never had been one. Klein, although she lived in Block 199, had said she did not sleep there, so she certainly would not know about a notorious night guard.

Klein accused Roth of hitting people with a broom or anything that was available, and in particular the sick woman Ida Friedman, who had died the next day. She quite definitely stated this in examination but when cross-examined all her facts changed and Counsel suggested that this was nothing more or less than an attempt to pin a murder on the accused, and was therefore quite worthless. Both Ehlert and Ilse Lothe had known Ida Friedman and had talked with her long after the event described by Helen Klein. Luba Rormann, in her affidavit, said that Roth had beaten a Polish girl who eventually died, but there was no confirmation as to this death at all. Rosenzweig had said that Roth had to get the women out of bed to attend Appell, and that because she felt too ill with typhus to get up the accused had beaten her with a wooden lath taken from a bed, and that in her opinion Roth tried to please the S.S. too much to the detriment of the internees. This was categorically denied by Roth, but it was obvious that this farm girl, a prisoner for five years, to be in charge of 800 people had had no idea how to deal with these people at all. She had intentionally beaten people, but, not, Counsel submitted, with the savagery that Rosenzweig’s affidavit suggested.

Anna Hempel was a married woman of 45 years of age, with a son. After having had a job in a factory in Silesia she got some preliminary training and arrived in Belsen on 17th February, 1945, where she worked in Cookhouse No. 2 for 14 to 16 hours a day until 8th April, when she went to hospital with typhus. In that cookhouse she cooked for 17000 and had under her 43 women internees and 18 men. The cookhouse was situated virtually in the centre of the camp, and yet only two former prisoners had identified her in the court. Hempel had said that food was scarce, and Charlotte Klein had stated that Hempel had gone to her for more bread and that when she could she gave it to her. Counsel asked the Court to imagine the position of one Aufseherin with those internees working under her cooking for 17000 people every day for 14 to 16 hours and to imagine a mature woman’s reactions to the death and suffering around her, and her agitation and anxiety when food was not being cooked properly or quickly enough. Helen Klein had said the same thing as Diament and Triszinska, that Hempel had beaten people because food was being stolen, and she stated that she ill-treated the personnel in the cookhouse in a terrible way. She alleged that the accused kept in her office a special riding-whip which she always used for beating any of the prisoners who approached the cookhouse in order to get hold of a piece of turnip. That was the only allegation referring to a riding-whip, which Hempel denied. The other affidavits against Hempel amounted to the same thing, and the accused had said that she did beat people because they were stealing food, which was precious to Cookhouse No. 2 and invaluable for the feeding of these 17000 people; but, Captain Munro submitted, everything she had done had been exaggerated by the witnesses in these affidavits and by Sunschein and Klein.

Hahnel was another of these factory girls who had been given a uniform and told to control internees, but she was charged on the same charge-sheet as the Kommandant of Belsen Camp. Litwinska had been the only person to recognise her in the court, and Counsel submitted she could in no sense be guilty of being concerned in any way. Colonel Smith had called the people in the dock obscure people, and Captain Munro suggested that Hahnel was the most obscure of them all. In her affidavit, Stempler had accused Hahnel, whilst in the bath-house at Belsen in February, 1945, of beating girls with a whip whilst they were naked because they did not dress quickly enough, but from the evidence that had been called it was obvious that Hahnel was not in Belsen at the time and had not arrived until April. Pichen, Ilse Forster and Volkenrath had all said that Hahnel was never in charge of the bath-house, and Sauer, who was in charge, had agreed. Pichen, corroborated by Forster, had said she had worked exclusively in his kitchen and not in the bath-house. Everything about this affidavit of Stempler was wrong. Could Hahnel legitimately be convicted merely because by some accident she found herself at Belsen when the British arrived? Could she be said to be part of a bigger conspiracy? And, finally, could she be said to have committed any war crime at all? Captain Munro with great sincerity asked for her complete acquittal.

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)