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

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Captain Derek [Derrick] A. Sington)
Captain DEREK [Derrick] A. SINGTON, Sworn, examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - I am a Captain in the Intelligence Corps and on 15th April, when I was commanding No. 14 Amplifying Unit, I went to Belsen Camp, simultaneously with the leading elements of the occupying troops, for the purpose of making announcements. I was also to act as interpreter for Lieut.-Colonel Taylor. At the gate I met a group of officers, some of whom were S.S., some Wehrmacht and some Hungarian. Accused No. 1, Kramer, was in that group. I asked him how many prisoners there were in the camp and he told me about 40000, and a further 15000 in Camp No. 2, further up the road. The types of prisoners in the camps were described by him as "Habitual criminals, felons and homosexuals." On my asking whether there were any political prisoners he answered, "and there are also the Häftlinge." Kramer told me that the inmates were calm at that time and I informed him that I proposed to take my loudspeaker car into the camp to make an announcement. One of the Hungarian officers said, "I would not advise you to do this. Seven people a day are dying here of fleck typhus." On Colonel Taylor’s arrival I got the order to go straight into the camp, which I did, although Kramer had told me he could not allow it without authorization from the Wehrmacht commander. We made an announcement several times at different parts of the camp.

When you made the announcement what was the effect? - Men who had been mainly near their huts or blocks came towards the barbed wire, some of them cheering, and a few minutes after they came through the gateways out of the compounds on to the main roadway of the camp. There was quite a crowd of them in front of the van, and a Wehrmacht soldier shot into the air repeatedly, lowering his revolver gradually until it reached an angle of about 30 degrees, at which point I walked up to him, covered him with my revolver and told him to stop shooting.

Did anybody else interfere with the internees? - A number of them, recognizable from their blue- and white-striped concentration camp clothing, started running about, striking various inmates with flat pieces of wood. These people, I found out, were inmates who were given special disciplinary powers over the others. They had various names, such as "Lagerältester, Blockältester, Stellvertreter and Kapo." They used very considerable force and the blows made a sickening noise. I saw one inmate lying on his back still being struck while he was on the ground. He was very thin and looked in rather a sick condition. There was not the slightest necessity for this use of force and it was perfectly possible to control the inmates without it. We went round the camp telling the inmates by loudspeaker that they must return to their compound before any food would be distributed. In the evening I went into the camp with Colonel Taylor and Brigadier Glyn Hughes and we had some conversation with Kramer about the conditions, the amount of food and the water supply.

Did Kramer indicate his own position in the camp? - He said he was the Kommandant of the camp.

Did you ask what food the prisoners had and about the water supply? - Yes. He told me they got food twice a day, consisting of turnip soup, and bread whenever possible. He was very vague about the issue of bread. He told me that the main supply of water was completely cut off, because of damage to the Hannover electric power system, and that there were a number of tanks of static water, in the camp. On enquiring whether the water was taken round by water-carts he said no, and that all inmates had to get it the best they could. I saw the concrete basins which appeared to be filled with extremely dirty, water and foreign bodies. I did not see any water available for drinking or washing in. I was told by one medical officer, that at least one dead body had been found in one of these basins.

What was Kramer’s general attitude? - In his office he sat back in his arm-chair, tilted his hat back, and was generally confident. He expressed no emotion about the camp. I told him to produce a nominal roll of all S.S. personnel and asked him whether there were any personal documents of the prisoners in the camp. He replied that the documents had been destroyed on orders from Berlin, with the possible exception of those referring to perhaps 2000 prisoners - but these were never found.

Shortly afterwards, did a Wehrmacht officer come to the office? - We were talking outside in the compound when a Wehrmacht officer came to tell us that the kitchens were being stormed. We went there and found very few people in the neighbourhood and one S.S. inside. I asked him in what way his kitchen had been interfered with and he replied by lifting the lid of the covered cauldron and pointing out that the level of the soup inside was about a foot below the tap. I asked Kramer if that was the extent of the unrest and he told me that the potato patch had been plundered. On going there I saw a woman on her knees turning over the straw, apparently attempting to unearth the potatoes. I suggested to her that she, should go back to her compound, and Kramer, pointing to her, said, "You see what I mean." There were three S. S. men about and I saw a man lying on the ground with blood on his face and rolling his eyes. There were a number of camp inmates walking about and kneeling down, attempting to unearth potatoes.

Were the S. S. men making any attempts to assist the man lying on the ground? - No. There were several other men lying about, apparently in a very critical condition, and I ordered Kramer to pick up one of the bodies and carry it away himself.

Did you notice the prisoners moving in any direction? - No. There was a general strolling about of prisoners. I told Kramer to stand in a gateway and dissuade them from going out. He said he would not be able to do this without firearms and that his revolver had been removed from him. A British soldier managed to keep the people from going out.

What was the general state of the camp? - The general state was one of unbelievable congestion when one went into the blocks. There were masses of dead, placed for the most part away from the main thoroughfare of the camp. I used to see people walking about, and then, one by one, they would lie down, and the verges of the footpaths were littered with people, still living, but who never appeared to move. There was a complete lack of sanitary facilities. Whenever one went into certain blocks there were always cries for help from the women in there.

What was the general appearance of the inmates? - With few exceptions one of extreme weakness and in the majority of cases an almost unbelievable lack of flesh on the bones.

Cross-examined by Major WINWOOD - When you asked Kramer about the types of internees did he mention "Schutzhäftlinge"? - Yes, in answer to a direct question of mine.

You mentioned that the British troops had little difficulty in curbing the internees. Would you not agree that that was entirely due to the fact that they were friends and that they had a loudspeaker? - That they were friends was certainly a very important factor, and the loudspeaker was also a factor, but on several occasions the organization and feeding was carried out without the use of the loudspeaker and without any force being used.

How many water-tanks did you actually see? - Five, three of them were fairly full.

When the German soldier fired the shots is it not true that there was a crowd of internees making their way towards the cookhouse? - It is possible.

Is it true that in fact food was cooked on 15th April before you arrived, and was issued out? - Apparently it was cooked. I did not see it being issued.

Were you present in the evening when a German truck with bread arrived? - No. I saw bread in the camp on the following day.

Cross-examined by Major MUNRO - When you arrived did the Hungarian troops appear to be under the control of their own officers and N.C.O's? - Yes.

Did you have much to do with them yourself? - Subsequently they were used to form labour parties, and in that capacity I used them, but they were not very satisfactory workers.

When this crowd approached your truck what sort of aspect did it appear to bear? - Very enthusiastic. In the women’s camp the noise of weeping and laughing was so loud that the announcement from the loudspeaker was inaudible.

Might the appearance of that crowd surging towards you have been mistaken for a menacing attitude? - No.

Were the shots fired over the heads of the crowd? - Yes, at least twenty to thirty shots.

You did not stop the soldier firing until you saw that the next shot might hit somebody? - I stopped him as soon as I could.

Later that night were there any disturbances by the internees? - Yes, judging from the appearance of the camp next morning. Although the store was still full with quite a lot of meat, bread and flour, a good deal of clothing was apparently removed by the inmates from certain stores in the camp.

Do you know how these disturbances were stopped? - By British soldiers simply talking to the people. This was the first and last night on which large-scale looting took place.

How many male guards were in the camp when you arrived? - Kramer told me, as far as I can remember, 400 or 500.

How many S.S. male and female guards were there? - Approximately 55 male and, I believe, 12 or 15 female. They were not guards but were supposed to be the administrative staff.

Cross-examined by Major CANFIELD - Kramer told you that the camp contained habitual criminals, felons and homosexuals. Have you any reason to think that that was not so? - No. I also have reason to believe it was an incomplete statement.

On the arrival of the British troops, did a transformation take place in the camp? - Yes.

Cross-examined by Captain ROBERTS - Was the figure of 55 S.S. men at the camp just an estimate? - It was the result of a nominal roll supplied by Kramer, but I do not know if it was ever checked.

Were the S.S. personnel placed under, any restraint the first day you arrived there? - They were informed by Colonel Taylor that for any inmate of the camp who was shot one S.S. man would be shot.

Were they confined to camp or put in prison? - They were confined to camp, but I understand it was their duty to co-operate with the British in handing over the camp. On the following day Kramer was driven round the camp in a jeep, handcuffed and stripped to the waist.

When you visited the kitchen and the episode of the soup took place, was the cook armed? - I do not remember.

Do you know if any S.S. guards came back or were brought back to the camp after you arrived? - I never heard of any being brought back.

Cross-examined by Captain FIELDEN - Do you know whether any system was in force to restrain movement from one compound to another? - The inmates of the camp informed me that segregation as between the men’s camp and the women’s camp was strictly enforced, but I cannot speak as to movements from one compound to another.

Were there any guards posted at the entrance between the compounds? - No.

Cross-examined by Captain NEAVE - How many of these internees did you see running about dealing blows? - In this particular throng about twelve.

You state that these people had some special powers. What did the inmates tell you that these powers were? - I was told that the Blockältesten were responsible for carrying out roll-call in the morning, discipline inside the huts, and the supervision of the distribution of food.

Did the information you got from these internees make you think that the Blockältesten and so on were members of the camp staff? - No. They were definitely internees and prisoners nominated and exploited by the camp staff. I was told that a large number were professional criminals, thieves or murderers, who were being used in this particular way.

To be a Blockältester, then, was to hold a purely honorary position in every sense? - Except that I understand there were certain bonuses, for instance, in the distribution of food an unscrupulous Blockältester could very often improve his own conditions of living.

Can you recognise any of the accused in the dock as being amongst the people you saw rushing about hitting prisoners? - No.

Cross-examined by Lieutenant JEDRZEJOWICZ - Have you any knowledge, while being in Belsen Camp, of any acts of revenge on the part of the prisoners against their fellow prisoners called Blockältesten or their assistants or other lesser functionaries? - I saw several dead bodies in a mutilated condition in the overflow camp, No. 2, on the first morning, and it was reported to me that they had just been killed by the inmates. I also received complaint from a girl in the camp that she had just been beaten by a Stubendienst, and she showed me a bruise which was very considerable. Subsequently the girl she accused admitted what she had done.

Can you assume, then, that the bad types amongst these Blockältesten would have been dealt with by the prisoners themselves? - I found no indication of that in Camp No. 1, except for reports that certain prisoners had secured arms for the purpose of taking revenge. I never heard of a case of such revenge being actually taken in Camp No. 1. In order to avoid such spontaneous action we carried out an enquiry to find out who were the worst of the Blockältesten, to try and arrest them so as to prevent such disorders.

Was it known to all the prisoners at the time that it was possible to produce accusations or depositions against the senior prisoners? - There was a committee of prisoners in the camp which was called he International Committee, and they were asked to produce accusations against such people who had behaved in this brutal manner.

Would most of the prisoners require a hospital cure before being able to remember anything against any single person? - That would undoubtedly be so in a great many cases, as there were many prisoners who went mad after typhus, and there was a block set aside for people who had become mentally deranged.

Was there a committee in each block or compound? - On the first day it consisted of three or four representatives of each nationality in the camp. It was a spontaneous committee and was not nominated by us.

How long would you say the senior prisoners were allowed to carry on their previous functions after liberation? - Many of them were replaced the first week. The better ones, I should say, carried on their functions until the whole camp was evacuated to the reception camp.

Re-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Is the number of 55 S.S. men that Kramer gave you the number who were still in the camp when the British arrived, or is it the number there had been altogether? - The number when we arrived, but I did not see it on paper.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - You went to the camp for the first time on 15th April. Did Kramer arrive there about five months before? - Yes.

By being present on the 15th you can speak from your own knowledge of the difficulties the British had to face with regard to the conditions. Have you any knowledge of the difficulties that Kramer had to meet in these five months and the facilities given to him by his superiors to meet such conditions as there were? - No.

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Captain Derek [Derrick] A. Sington)