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

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Sophia Litwinska)
Seventh Day - Monday, 24th September, 1945

SOPHIA LITWINSKA, sworn, examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - I am 29 years of age, from Lublin Poland, where I was arrested on 19th May, 1940, because I was a Jewess. I received no form of trial, was first kept at Lublin for a year and then was sent to Auschwitz, where I arrived in the autumn of 1941. My husband, who was not a Jew, was a lieutenant in the Polish Army and was arrested also. At the camp all our personal belongings were taken away. We had to leave our clothes behind and we were taken into a shower-bath. As my hair was cut very short I asked for a cloth to put round my head as I was freezing, and a Kapo who was in charge of the shower-bath started to hit us very severely. The clothes we were given consisted of a long sort of coat and a silk blouse without any sleeves. We had already had a number tattooed on our arms. For a whole day we were left naked in that sort of shower-bath, and then at last we were led into Block No. 25. There were sort of cages in three parts in this block and very often we slept seven or eight in one part of this cage, getting one blanket issued amongst eight persons. There were no mattresses or palliasses. 3.30 a.m. was the normal time to get up in the morning.

What happened when you got up in the morning? - Everybody had to leave the block for a roll-call which lasted until eight or nine o'clock in the morning. We had to stand to attention in lines of five, and if we moved we were hit in the face or had to kneel down holding a heavy stone in our arms. For the first six weeks we did not work at all as we were in a sort of quarantine. Whilst I was fetching food one day I fell down and broke my leg, and was taken to the camp reception station, and was in hospital at Christmas, 1941.

What happened on the day before Christmas day? - There was a big selection in Block No. 4, the hospital block. Over 3000 Jewish women had to parade in this selection, which was under the charge of Hoessler. We had to leave our beds very quickly and stand quite naked to attention in front of him and the doctors, Enna and Koenig. All those who could not leave their beds had their numbers taken, and it was clear to us that they were condemned to death. Those whose bodies were not very nice looking or were too thin, or whom those gentlemen disliked for some reason or other, had their numbers taken, and it was clear what that meant. My number also was taken. We stayed in Block No. 4 for a night and the next day were taken to Block No. 18. About half-past five in the evening trucks arrived and we were loaded into them, quite naked like animals, and were driven to the crematorium.

When you reached the crematorium what happened there? - The whole truck was tipped over in the way they do it sometimes with potatoes or coal loads, and we were led into a room which gave me the impression of a shower-bath. There were towels hanging round, and sprays, and even mirrors. I cannot say how many were in the room altogether, because I was so terrified, nor do I know if the doors were closed. People were in tears; people were shouting at each other; people were hitting each other. There were healthy people, strong people, weak people and sick people, and suddenly I saw fumes coming in through a very small window at the top. I had to cough very violently, tears were streaming from my eyes, and I had a sort of feeling in my throat as if I would be asphyxiated. I could not even look at the others because each of us concentrated on what happened to herself,

What was the next thing you remember? - At that moment I heard my name called. I had not the strength to answer it, but I raised my arm. Then I felt someone take me and throw me out from that room. Hoessler put a blanket round me and took me on a motor cycle to the hospital, where I stayed six weeks. As the result of the gas I had still, quite frequently, headaches and heart trouble, and whenever I went into the fresh air my eyes were filled with tears. I was subsequently taken to the political department and apparently I had been taken out of the gas chamber because I had come from a prison in Lublin, which seemed to make a difference, and, apart from that, my husband was a Polish officer.

After you came out of hospital how were you employed? - In the beginning I was employed in cleaning the room of the Blockälteste and in washing in the laundry. Later on I was employed on latrine fatigues. With my own hands I had to clean whatever was in the latrines and there were no brooms or brushes or any sort of cleaning material given to me. It was considered a good job because sometimes we would warm ourselves near the stove, or even wash a shirt. Our food consisted of coffee in the morning, half a litre of vegetable soup for lunch, sometimes only a quarter, and in the evening a ration of bread, sometimes something with it, other times without, and sometimes coffee. For a few days I worked in the kitchen, but as the work was too hard for me I was put on a working party called "Kanda" which consisted of sorting out the belongings which came from other people who went to the crematorium. I got this through the influence of the Blockälteste with whom I was working previously.

Were you subsequently transferred to Belsen? - Yes. I left Auschwitz in the autumn of 1944, and, after being at other camps, reached Belsen approximately three months before the liberation by British troops. The first two days at Belsen I worked in the hospital. Then the Lagerälteste, Stanislawa Starostka (No. 48), put me to work in Kitchen No. 2 in the men's camp for a few days, after which I was transferred to Kitchen No. 1 where there were two S.S. men, one Aufseherin, a supervisor, and a Jewish Kapo with the Christian name Hilde.

Do you remember an occasion shortly before the British arrived when the cookhouse was closed? - I do. The man in charge of the kitchen told us he was going to lock up for an hour or two. All the S.S. men had a meeting, and we waited in front of the kitchen. Near the kitchen there were remains of vegetables and one or other of the prisoners tried to get a potato or two. At that moment the S.S. men returned and started shooting, and many of the prisoners were killed.

Witness then identified several of the accused in the dock.)

Have you seen any of the persons whom you have recognised beating anyone? - No. 33 (Ilse Forster), who was in charge of Kitchen No. 1. A girl took a potato and this girl saw it and took her into the kitchen. There she started beating her so severely that the poor girl could not help herself and defecated. I could not look longer and ran out of the kitchen. She dragged the girl out of the kitchen and continued to beat her until her very death. I saw shooting at Belsen every day.

Cross - examined by Major MUNRO - I understand you arrived at Auschwitz about December, 1941, and were selected for the gas chamber on a parade held on the 24th December, 1941? - I do not remember exactly the date. It must have been a few days before Christmas time. We had been hit so severely I simply cannot remember exact dates. Apart from having broken my leg I was perfectly healthy at this time.

Did you see anyone being taken off a lorry on the way to the crematorium? - No.

How long were you in the gas chamber in all? - Only for a short period, a minute or two perhaps.

When you were taken out were you suffering severely from the effects of the gas? - Yes, I felt quite giddy in my head and a sudden blackness descended on my eyes and a heavy load on my chest.

When you got outside was the man who took you out wearing a gas mask? - I do not know. I was in such a state that I myself did not know what had happened to me.

Do you remember a Kommandant at Auschwitz called Hoess? - I have heard his name, but have never seen him.

In which of the smaller camps there were you? - I was in Birkenau, the Kommandant of which was Kramer. Birkenau was divided into smaller Lager, A, B, C, B 2, and a gipsy camp. The only Kommandant ,whom I know was Kramer. I do not know any of the others

Cross - examined by Major CRANFIELD - When you were liberated from Belsen were you in a condition of extreme emaciation caused by starvation? - We were not to be recognised. We had the aspect of old women of 60 and 70 and our faces were lined, although we were still young.

I want you to recall the most serious beating you received. Who gave you that beating? - No. 33 (Ilse Forster), who was in charge of Kitchen No. 1. She hit me with a rubber truncheon. My head was swollen and my arms and back were quite blue and green because of these blows.

If this was such a severe beating and you knew the person who had given it to you, why did you not mention it to the British officer taking your statement? - I did not know her name at that time, but I did recognise her from photos which were shown to me.

I suggest that your account here to-day is exaggerated and untrue? - Only a person who has gone through it and who has suffered it has a right to speak about it, and not somebody who does not know anything about it.

Have you ever seen this man before (indicating No. 12, Josef Klippel)? - I have seen him in a kitchen in Bergen-Belsen, but what his functions were, I cannot say. He might have been there or not.

I suggest that the same thing applies to the rest of your evidence and that you are a thoroughly unreliable witness? - What I have seen and what I have said there are thousands of others who can say exactly the same thing.

Cross-examined by Captain FIELDEN - With regard to the incidents which you say took place after Kitchen No. 1 had been closed down, did any shootings take place in the vicinity before the return of the S.S. men? - I cannot say exactly. Shots were heard every moment. Then later, when the S.S. men did arrive, shots were coining from all sides around us.

How far away from the kitchen were the S.S. men when the shooting started? - They were very near to the kitchen; they shot quite indiscriminately and did not bother whether anybody of the kitchen personnel was killed or any other prisoners.

Had either of the two S.S. men in Kitchen No. 1 any physical deformity? - I cannot say.

Do you know where the clothing store was in Belsen? - Not very far from the kitchen in the men's compound in the vicinity of the food stores.

Cross - examined by Captain NEAVE - Did you recognise No. 33 (Ilse Forster) on the photographs when you made a statement before the British officer? - Yes.

Why did you not say anything about her in your statement? - If I told everything that we had been going through and suffered in Auschwitz or in other concentration camps, it would take months.

What nationality was the girl you say you saw killed by No. 33? - She was a Jewess, but whether Hungarian, Polish or German, I do not know.

Did you see the girl die? - Yes.

I suggest that the girl was working in No. 1 Kitchen on the following day? - The girl had never been working in the kitchen.

How long did the girl take to die? - She beat her until she was dead and when she died she still kicked her with her feet. Then she returned to the kitchen and laughed hysterically. We went out later and saw the girl, and two men came and dragged her away, whether to the crematorium or to be buried elsewhere I do not know.

Cross - examined by Lieut. JEDRZEJOWICZ - Before reaching the wire surrounding Auschwitz Camp did one have to get across a ditch? - Yes.

Could a prisoner easily get across the ditch? - It was not easy. In parts of the camp the ditch was inside the barbed wire and in other parts. In compound A in Birkenau, where I was, it was inside.

When carrying food containers from the kitchen to the distribution point at Auschwitz were you or others ever swarmed by prisoners or approached by individual prisoners trying to get food before distribution had started? - Yes, often prisoners came and begged for food, but we were not allowed to give it. it was very difficult to keep them away. Sometimes Russian girls, in particular, came with their small mugs and stole a few drops of soup.

Did the women prisoners have their hair always clipped or not? - For a short time Aryan women kept their hair long, but they changed that and everybody had their hair clipped. At the end of 1944 Aryan women could keep their hair long and it was not clipped.

At Auschwitz or Belsen did you see a prisoner stealing food or some other odd things from another prisoner? - Yes.

If you saw your fellow prisoner during distribution try to get food for a second time, and by doing so depriving you of your share, would you blame the Blockälteste if she hit that prisoner? - If a Blockälteste hits the prisoner badly, then I prefer to go without food myself

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - Have the Jews any particular date in their calendar which they pay special attention to? - Yes, the Jewish New Year.

Can you say how many New Years you think you spent at Auschwitz? - We did not know what date it was. We did not know whether it was New Year or not. We were living like animals and not like human beings.

Can you say how long you were in prison before you went to Auschwitz? - I was arrested on 19th May, 1940, and I remember that I had been more than a year in that prison at Lublin.

How long was it after you had come to Auschwitz that you broke your leg? - Perhaps five or six weeks.

How long was it before the British came to Belsen on 15th April 1945, that you say this young girl was beaten to death by Isle Forster? - Perhaps a month or five or six weeks.

Have you any recollection of any other similar incident at all where a woman was supposed to have been killed when she was attempting to get some potatoes or vegetable? - No.

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Sophia Litwinska)