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

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)


Lieutenant Jedrzejowicz pointed out that the conflict between National Law and International Law on which Colonel Smith had addressed the Court did not concern his clients, who were all Poles and were alleged to have committed crimes against Poles and other nationalities. In his submission there was no case of admission of a war crime.

Against Starostka the Prosecution had produced 13 witnesses, all of whom had recognised her in the dock as being the Lagerälteste in Auschwitz No. 2, called Birkenau. Of these witnesses only Szafran, Ilona Stein, Glinowieski and Lasker had brought any allegation against the accused, and the other nine never said anything against her, not even that she had been a bad Lagerälteste. The written evidence consisted of three statements by Szparaga, Szymkowiak and Synowska, who all described the accused as being a sort of monstrous murderess in Auschwitz Szparaga said she was the right hand of the S.S.; that she killed and tortured 1000 women; she killed thousands of Polish women; she beat and tortured women; she had a worse reputation than the S.S. men; she denounced women; and that in August, 1943, she became a Lagerälteste as a reward for extermination. She was worse than the S.S. men. Synowska said that Starostka was the only master in the camp, a beast in a human body, perfect in causing slow death, and that she exterminated ill and old people, ill-treated little children and caused the death of thousands of Polish women. Szymkowiak said that she was the torturer of the camp, and that all ran away as if they had seen the devil. She was a beast. Only two general allegations had been brought against her by the live witnesses. Stein had said, "So much beating that I cannot tell," and Lasker had said, "We were much more frightened of her many times than of the S.S. people; she was like the S.S."

The Court would undoubtedly notice the unusually strong expressions used in the statements, and would realise how often they were contradicted even in the same statement. Somebody who accused a person of killing thousands of people should at least be able to name one specific instance, giving the name, date and description of how it happened, but only Szparaga and Szymkowiak alleged mass murder. If the accused was indeed a killer responsible for mass murder, if she had indeed made. selections for the gas chamber over a period of years, if she was really a beast in a human body and the only master in the camp, those 13 Prosecution witnesses would have all said the same and brought forward more or less the same instances, but the verbal allegations had been nothing as compared with the written ones, and the three statements, as the Court had probably noticed, were unsworn. Two of the deponents and the witness Szafran had stated that Starostka, either as Blockälteste of Block 26 or as Lagerälteste, had made selections, but the Court would realise how unlikely, or even impossible, it was for a Blockälteste or a Lagerälteste to make her own selections for the gas chamber. Obviously, owing to the position she held, Starostka had had to be present during selections at Auschwitz No. 2. These she could not avoid, and the witness Rozenwayg had stated that she had taken down the numbers of those who were later sent to Block 25. Dr. Klein had told the Court that the selecting was done exclusively by doctors, and Dr. Bimko, in evidence, had said that she did not think that Starostka had been in a position to choose victims for the crematorium. If she had been allowed to carry out selections for the gas chamber on her own, any other Blockältesten and Lagerältesten at Birkenau would have had the same right, and if they had been doing the selecting then why did the German authorities bother to make their own selections; why did they force a doctor to attend; why did they try to keep the whole thing secret; and why did Dr. Klein then confess he was one who made the selections? Szafran had said that authority to send people to the gas chamber was granted to everybody in the camp who wore an armlet on their arm, which would mean that even Stubendienst and camp policemen would have been allowed to make selections, which was obviously ridiculous.

It was not the duty of Starostka to write down the numbers each time there was a selection as that was the job of the Schreiber, but she got permission to write those down because she wanted to get more time before handing this paper to the Rapportführerin and thereby give time to friends and relatives of the victims to come and ask her to miss a number out here and there. Dr. Bimko had said that she had been doing exactly the same thing in hospital, and nobody ever thought that Bimko was responsible for any guilty part in a selection. The witnesses who had been called on behalf of the accused had all mentioned an example of the part Starostka really had taken in the selections and that she had been able to do a lot of good for the prisoners. Counsel believed that the Court would attach more weight to the testimony of the Defense witnesses and the accused herself than to an allegation like that of Synowska, who simply said, "She exterminated ill and old people because she did not like that sort of people."

The next group of allegations were those of general ill-treatment. Starostka had explained to the Court why, in her opinion, it had necessary to have recourse to beating. She had never denied it, and asked the Court to understand the conditions prevailing in Block 26, how difficult it was, and how important it was, to have the criminal types under control. The witness Synowska alleged that Starostka beat prisoners in Block 7 until they lost their senses and so caused their death. The Defence witness Janicka had said that when she was sent to Block 7 she was told that it was the worst block in the camp because of a very bad Blockälteste, but that during her stay there she came to the conclusion that that was groundless because Starostka was very good and energetic and tried hard to maintain order and secure a fair distribution of the food. Komsta had given evidence to the same effect. It was quite possible that when Starostka was transferred from Block 26 into Block 7 she had a very bad reputation, and when she came to Block 7 the internees there might have been afraid of her, but during her stay in the block there had been no reason whatever to beat prisoners and she had not done so. Did the beating which the accused admitted having administered really amount to ill-treatment in the criminal sense of the word? Had she beaten prisoners to satisfy a kind of cruel and brutal instinct of hers, or was it only as a reasonable means of control? On the one hand there was the evidence given by the Prosecution witnesses, who submitted the allegation that this witness was unjustified and brutal in her actions, and on the other hand there was ample evidence in what the Defence witnesses had said that it took place only when justified, and in the interests of the majority of the internees. The Defence witnesses had said, and this was corroborated by the accused, that when she had beaten internees she only used her bare hands, and no Prosecution witness had alleged otherwise.

Szparaga had accused Starostka of torturing internees to get out of them information about the secret relief organization, but if she had done so, then some of the other witnesses would have corroborated the statement, as it would soon have been known throughout the camp. Szparaga had said that it happened many times, and that all women prisoners could prove it. Where were those witnesses and those examples? Synowska had said that the accused used to push girls against the electrified wire and kill them in that way, but the witness Sompolinski had stated that the wire was never electrified by day because the prisoners were away from the camp, and it was only during the night that the wire surrounding the compound or the camp was loaded. Litwinska had told the Court that there was a rather deep trench inside the wire and it was not easy to get across. To this the accused had added that not only would it have been difficult to get somebody across the ditch, but that she herself and the prisoners would probably have been shot by the guards, who would not have known what was going on. Synowska also spoke of an incident when a woman was forced by the accused to keep her head in a bucket of water in the month of October because Starostka had not liked the way the victim was wearing her hair. In cross-examination, Litwinska had stated that all women, irrespective of nationality and religion, had had their hair clipped at Auschwitz, and the accused had said that it was not impossible that she had done this, but that as she was responsible for delousing she might have washed the girl’s head in water with a solution to kill the lice.

Allegations that she denounced offences committed by the prisoners to the German authorities had also been rebutted by the accused and her witnesses. Starostka had told the Court the story of her life in a concentration camp and the amount of good she had succeeded in doing. She had explained why she had wanted to become a Lagerälteste, and it must be realised that it was not possible for her at the time to let anyone know that she had obtained improvement in the camp from the Germans or had succeeded in saving people from the gas chamber, that it was she and nobody else who had done that, and that she was the prime mover in it all. Wojciechowska had told about the rescuing of 20 girls from Block 25 and also how Starostka had caught her with a letter which she had advised her to destroy. Janicka had spoken of the warning given by the accused before a selection and the reason why no girls in that block were selected. Nowogrodzka had related how the accused got permission for the girls to wear winter clothes longer in the spring. Starostka herself had been punished for helping prisoners.

In the cross-examination of Nowogrodzka it had appeared that Starostka as a Lagerälteste had treated Christian Poles better than Jewish Poles, and the Court might feel that she was a member of the Polish gang, acting in Birkenau for the benefit of Poles only and to the detriment of Jews. Counsel wished to warn the Court against any such impression. Of the 13 Prosecution witnesses who identified Starostka, only the three who made the statement were Poles, and of the live witnesses the Jews brought forward the far weaker allegations against her than the Poles. There was no case on her part of acting against the Jews, though it was quite natural to expect her to be more concerned with the Poles. Starostka had told the Court under what conditions she worked, that she had not sought the job of Lagerälteste at Auschwitz but that her friends had advised her to do so, and that the same thing had happened at Belsen. Dr. Bimko had said that when she arrived at Belsen the prisoners expressed a wish for her to be Lagerälteste instead of the old one. Counsel suggested that the accused had been advised and influenced by her friends to try to get the job and that she had not been a Lagerälteste. She had never ceased to be a prisoner, but whilst she was helping the prisoners she had to retain the confidence of the Germans, and that was why she had had to keep up the impression among the Germans and the other internees that she was severe and strict, and she had to give a certain amount of formal satisfaction to the Germans, who otherwise would have quickly dismissed her.

Helena Koper was accused only of ill-treating prisoners while she was a Blockälteste and camp policewoman at Belsen. She denied beating prisoners whilst Blockälteste of Block 205, but she agreed that as she had to get prisoners on Appell and had to enforce order and discipline because she was responsible for food distribution, that beating took place then. Güterman had said that Koper had forced her to kneel down during a parade, but the explanation given by the accused was that that was because she had stolen some marmalade and poured water in what was left, which was supposed to be distributed to the prisoners. It was very unlikely, as Güterman alleged, that when an S.S. Aufseherin had come on the spot and asked why Güterman was kneeling and told her it was time she stood up that Koper had replied that she was there to keep order and that the woman would kneel as she told her to. It was very unlikely for even a Blockälteste to say such a thing to an S.S. Aufseherin of such importance as Ehlert was. Another incident related by Güterman was that a woman called Fisher was supposed to have been forced to kneel in wet weather during an Appell, with the result that she died three weeks later. She might well have died from typhus or from starvation or from any other disease. Koper had said herself that she had forced prisoners to kneel, and Counsel submitted that the explanation was that she herself whilst in Auschwitz and in Ravensbrück had been forced to kneel down very often, and the Prosecution witnesses had made reference to this and had said that it was the custom. The third incident alleged was about a woman with swollen limbs who was forced to attend Appell, but here discrepancies arose between the different witnesses. Güterman said that the girl was forced on parade by Koper, fainted after a short time, lay on the ground until the end of the parade, and afterwards was taken to hospital, where three days later she died. Singer, in her statement, said that this girl had fainted on parade, and that they had asked Koper if she could be allowed to return to the block. This was not agreed to, but she did allow a chair to be brought on the parade where the girl sat until the end, and it was only after that that she was taken to hospital.

In her affidavit, Fürstenberg said that a sick woman missed her food and asked Koper for it, whereupon she was beaten over the head, and three or four days later she died. Koppel had said that she had come from hospital, missed her food, and was beaten until she lost consciousness, and Counsel submitted that these two incidents were the same. The important thing was that Koppel did not die - she was a witness. It seemed to be a general feature that every woman alleged to have been ill-treated by Koper had died three or four days later. Referring to another beating, Koppel had said that when a woman during an Appell asked to be excused, Koper refused, beat her, and this woman died; but Singer, Güterman, and Fürstenberg all lived in the same block as Koppel and they said that the woman had died three days later and did not refer to any incident where a woman died on the spot, which was an incident, if it had taken place, which would have remained far longer in the memory of a witness than an alleged death which took place three or four days later.

When Singer had been asked whether Koper had distributed food fairly, she replied that it varied. The Court had heard the evidence of Ehlert, who said that she had sent people to search Koper’s room, where they found a colossal amount of foodstuffs hidden - bread, bacon and cheese. Ehlert had said that this food did not come from the prisoners cookhouse, and was food which the internees usually did not get. Counsel submitted that what Koper had said about the unfair food distribution should be believed, because if she was able to obtain food from different sources than the food which the prisoners received, she would not be interested in depriving her fellow prisoners of what they got, and would be far more likely to have recourse to bacon or cheese than to turnip soup.

If Koper was a spy, and the prisoners understood that she was spying for the S.S. and reporting offences committed against discipline or the rules laid down, what kind of spy would she be if everybody knew? Would anybody commit an offence knowing that Koper would go and report it? Would she probably not be afraid to complain about Kapos, or other functionaries, because she would know that nothing more unpleasant would happen to her than was already happening. Asked to give a specific incident of reporting, Szafran had said that Koper had worked in various Kommandos in order to inform the German authorities, and that when she left these Kommandos several of the internees found themselves in penal Kommandos. That was no explanation at all.

Koper had told the Court a different story about the beating she received by the other Blockältesten from that told by Ehlert, and the Court could judge for themselves where the truth lay. After a hard time at Ravensbrück Koper arrived at Auschwitz, and after nearly four years she came to Belsen and became a Blockälteste, a position for which she was not suited. She herself had said that she had asked Gollasch and Starostka to remove her from the job. Starostka had said that in her opinion Koper was the least suitable person for that job, because through the great sufferings and hardships she had had to endure in her long stay in concentration camps she was in a state of complete exhaustion and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and that she, Starostka, had told her that she should stop her hysterical behaviour during the parades. The Court would remember that once she got a less responsible job, that of camp policewoman, she changed considerably, and Frieda Walter had said that she had never seen Koper beating anybody whilst she was a camp policewoman. Bialek, in her statement, said that as far as she knew Koper had not inflicted any serious injury on those whom she had beaten. Koper was a very nervous person and would probably lose her temper when something went wrong, or when something happened that she did not like, and she probably started hitting the girls with her belt or her hands without causing any serious injury. Counsel asked the Court to find that she was not guilty of willful and malicious ill-treatment of prisoners, and that at the time she was not responsible for what she was doing because she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The next accused, Polanski, was alleged to have been an assistant Blockältester in Block No. 12 from 4th till 15th April, 1945, and was accused of beating prisoners when they were leaving that block to go to work. All the inmates and functionaries of Block No. 12 who had been in court giving evidence had denied that Polanski had ever been in Block No. 12. Schlomoivicz had agreed that he himself was Blockältester of Block 12 for the last three days before the liberation, and denied that Polanski had any function at all in his block. Sompolinski said that the accused had never been assistant Blockältester, Stubendienst, or anything else. The witnesses for the Defence all said that when they arrived in Belsen Polanski had been in Block No. 12 for two or three days and then had moved into Block 16. They were quite definite that he had never had any function in either block, whilst the witnesses Rakoczy and Krajewski had said that for the last few days before the liberation they were all dragging corpses into the pits. If Polanski had held the position of Blockältester, assistant Blockältester or even Stubendienst he would not have been dragging the corpses. Lieutenant Jedrzejowicz submitted that there must have been either malicious invention on the part of the deponent against Polanski or an error in persona.

The Defence had shown that Polanski was a good and kind man to his fellow prisoners both before he came to Belsen and after the liberation Why should he have changed? Why should he, while he himself was dragging corpses, go on beating other people who were working too slow or trying to avoid working at all? The Court ought to believe the Defence witnesses, and even the Prosecution witnesses, because they all had proved themselves reliable on that point.

The Prosecution had tried to get from some of the Defence witnesses information about the Polish Committee which was functioning and which apparently did not have anything against Polanski. This was not the only committee which was operating, and Counsel referred to the evidence given by Captain Sington, who had said that there was a committee of prisoners in the camp called the International Committee, who were asked to state and produce cases against those people who had behaved in, a brutal manner. It was obvious that there was an international committee in operation in Belsen, and this probably consisted of other national committees, and if Polanski was in touch with this committee for a considerable time he probably was a man whom nobody in either Block 12 or Block 16 had anything against.

Ostrowski was accused by six Russians of beating prisoners in Block 19 during food distribution, or beating internees to force them to leave the block to go on Appell, and of beating to death a Frenchman or a Belgian called Albert. Ostrowski, in evidence, supported by the witness Salomon, had stated that be was in bed in Block 19 from the time of his arrival at Belsen until the British liberation, that he had no function whatever, and did not even help with food distribution. Burgraf said he had never seen Ostrowski helping with food distributions and that he was ill in bed in the main part of the block. Salomon had also stated that the bed was not behind a partition, and as the Court knew that all the functionaries were living in a space behind a partition, then if he was not sleeping there he was not a functionary or a member of Block 19.

Why then did the six Russians accuse him of ill-treating and killing his fellow prisoners? Obviously one of the deponents must have had a sort of personal grievance against this man. They had started to fight, and Ostrowski was brought by the police to the police station, where he was put into a cell, and then the military police started investigating as to why this man had been beaten and what the men who had beaten him had against him. This ex-Stubendienst of Block 18 was one of the first to being an allegation against him and to identify him in prison. Then the others were brought in to corroborate the statement of the first two, knowing already what the others had said. Even then there were discrepancies, some saying he was a camp policeman, others that he was a Blockältester of Block 19, and others saying he was a Kapo. There was also considerable discrepancy with regard to the dates of the arrival of the transport in Belsen in which they alleged that they had been with Ostrowski. Sulima alleged that Ostrowski was a Kapo in his block at Dora, and Njkrasow stated that he was a Kapo in his working party. If Ostrowski had been a Kapo on the block, probably Stubendienst, he could not have been a Kapo on the working party. Because Ostrowski had been fighting on the Russian front in 1939 and had been wounded, the Prosecution had tried to suggest that that might have been the reason why he had treated Russians less well than the other nationalities when he was a Stubendienst at Dora. That could work both ways. If he had been fighting on the Russian front, then these six Russians might have been doing so as well, and it was equally as probable that the Russians had not liked him any more than he had liked them.

Burgraf had been recognised as a Stubenältester of Block 19 and was alleged to have killed more than 50 prisoners over a period of four or five days during food distribution. Burgraf and the witness Trzos both denied this, and said that he was not a functionary but had been asked by their Blockältester to help in preventing people from getting into the block and trying to get a second helping. Trzos said that Burgraf was not the only one to have this job and that the Blockältester posted men at the doors and windows to prevent those prisoners who, having once had their mug of soup, left the block through these openings and tried to rejoin the queue. Apparently it was while carrying out these duties that Burgraf was alleged to have killed those 50 prisoners. From the plan it could be seen that Blocks 19 and 21 were neighbouring blocks, and it was fair to say that while prisoners were getting food in Block 19 the internees in Block 21 were getting theirs at the same time. Counsel submitted that it was very doubtful that the deponent of this alleged killing had been really watching the food distribution in Block 19, because he himself was probably trying to get food twice or prevent others from doing so in Block 21. If Burgraf had killed these 50 internees, why was it none of the prisoners from his own block, 19, had seen it? The murder of 50 people in such a short space of time just before the liberation of the camp must surely have been remembered by the inmates of Block 19 if it had in fact occurred, yet not a single allegation was made against him by an inmate of Block 19; it was made by someone who was in Block 21.

With regard to the specific allegation about the killing of the man called Grabenski, Burgraf had said in evidence that he remembered hitting a man who tried to get food from Block 19, although he was not an inmate. He said that he had endeavored to explain to the man that he could not be allowed to draw food from that block, and that the man had got rather aggressive and a fight started. The accused did not remember an incident when he hit and killed a man. When the witness Trzos asked the man why he had accused Burgraf he said that it was because once when they were unloading grenades Burgraf had hit him in the face, and that, he had also been kicked because he smoked a cigarette. He further stated that he had seen Burgraf hit a man on the arm in such a way that the man died. It would appear from this that the deponent considered it more important to accuse Burgraf of having hit a man across the face than of having killed a man. Again it was improbable that a man would die as the result of having been hit on the arm. In the affidavit it was said that the man had been hit on the back of his head and had died after three hours, and there was a discrepancy in the whole of this statement. When a colossal crime, the killing of 50 persons over a period of four or five days, was alleged, it was a very serious accusation, and it was clear that the deponent was not treating it with the seriousness it deserved, if in fact, it had happened.

Antoni Aurdzeig was accused sometimes of being a Stubendienst and sometimes a Blockältester in Block 12, and in this capacity of having killed a man called Grünzweig on 12th April,1945, and a Russian in five minutes through beating. He was also accused of having killed hundreds of prisoners for not giving him gold and valuables when he asked for them. In the first place it had been proved that Aurdzieg had never been a Blockältester of Block 12, and Polanski had said that he was merely one of two junior Stubendienst in his block. The senior Stubendienst was a man called Adam. Aurdzieg’s duty had been to bring the food containers from the cookhouse to the block, to distribute food to the prisoners who were sitting on the floor in rows of five waiting to be served, and to wash up the mugs. He was also responsible for cleaning the floors. None of the witnesses had said that they saw any transaction in gold and valuables having been done in Block 12 by anybody, nor had they seen any gold during the time they were in Belsen. None of these witnesses had said that Aurdzieg had beaten or ill-treated prisoners. The accused had agreed, and this was confirmed by Andrzejewski, that when a strong prisoner tried to get a share of food destined for a sick prisoner he would give him a box on the ears or a slap on the face to keep him quiet. He was very much more concerned in carrying out his duty of feeding the prisoners than with going round the block hitting people because they had no gold to give him.

The Blockältester, Schlomoivicz, had said that never, while he was in the block, had there been any beating which resulted in death committed by the accused Aurdzieg, and these statements against him were very similar to the statements against Ostrowski. Aurdzieg was recognised in Hanover and was put in prison on 4th July, 1945. The same day Filo Pinkus made a statement to a functionary in this police office, and while he was doing this three other Jews were present. Instead of four affidavits there was one, and three statements which said, "I was present at the interrogation of my former fellow prisoner Filo Pinkus. The statements correspond in every way with the truth and I confirm them as my own." If they were not present during the interrogation of Pinkus, the Court might have thought that perhaps the four statements would not correspond as well as they did now. Aurdzieg had told in great detail about the very strange interrogation by the French officer and his sergeant interpreter. The accused had never denied that had signed the written confession, but he had denied that he signed it freely and voluntarily. If the Court looked at this confession and compared it with the statement made by Pinkus, they would see that the confession had been forced upon the accused. Point after point and paragraph after paragraph of the statement made by Pinkus corresponded with the confession. There was another document attached by the Provisional Government, namely, the deposition of Bialkiewicz and Melamed Chaim. The former had apparently been sworn in, but the document was not signed either by Captain Pipien or Sergeant Le Fort. Melamed Chaim was not sworn, and one did not really know how this document was obtained. Counsel submitted that the Court should not attach any weight whatever to this bundle of documents produced by the Prosecution and should instead accept the evidence given in court by the different witnesses and the accused himself.

With regard to the accused he represented, Lieutenant Jedrzejowicz said that of these Koper, Burgraf and Aurdzieg were functionaries in Belsen. Burgraf and Aurdzieg were helping in the distribution of soup; during these last days in Belsen Concentration Camp, would they not have been more guilty of helping the prisoners to starve and to die by allowing them, mad from hunger, to get themselves their food, to get it the way they liked, and the amount they wanted? Could these three, who had arrived at the end of March or the beginning of April, be held responsible for the conditions which there were in the camp or in the block? Could they control them? Could they really help the prisoners to survive? Polaris and Ostrowski, although alleged to have been functionaries at Belsen, had denied it, and they were supported by witnesses. Starostka, on the Auschwitz charge, had told her story of why she wanted a job as Lagerälteste, and in this respect she had been proved right by her witnesses.

The collective responsibility, as the Prosecutor intended to use it in this case, did not and could not work upwards and downwards along the different lines of the functions as carried out by any of the concentration camp staff. It was accepted in all civilized countries that one was allowed to disobey a superior order if the carrying out of that order entailed the commitment of a crime. But why was the subordinate allowed to disobey such an order? In Counsel's submission this was because in all civilized countries he expected to get protection - he knew where to go for protection, and he was sure that in the end he would be protected. It would be absurd to apply this rule in a concentration camp, especially in respect of prisoners who were functionaries. Were they really in a position to disobey an order entailing a crime and to seek protection from somewhere above and really get it? The answer was obviously "No."

The Trial (Defence - Closing Speeches)