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

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Helen Hammermasch)
HELEN HAMMERMASCH, sworn, examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - I am a Jewess, born in Poland, aged 25. Before the war I was a student of medicine, and ran away to Hungary when the Germans entered Poland. In 1941 I was deported back to Poland and given into the hands of the Gestapo. In 1942 I escaped to Hungary, but was arrested once again and, in 1944, I arrived at Auschwitz. There was a selection immediately we got out of the train and some people were sent by vehicles to the crematorium, I being one of the few to be sent to the camp. At this first selection there were present Dr. Klein, Dr. Mengele and Kommandant Kramer.

Will you look at the persons in the dock and see if you can recognise any of them? - (Witness identified several of the accused in the dock.)

Have you seen either Kramer or Klein at any other selection? - I have not seen Kramer, but I did see Klein. At this first selection Kramer chose people and helped to load them into the vehicles. He beat them if they cried. There was no method in the selection, which was done according to the whim and fancy of the people concerned. Klein also chose people.

Were you put to work at Auschwitz? - After four weeks in so-called quarantine I worked in the leather factory. They treated us very badly there. We had two overseers called Pfor and Otto Graff. Graff beat us every day and once a girl called Marilla Dombroska was so severely beaten that she was taken away dead. He kicked her and beat her with a rubber truncheon. For no reason he sometimes made us undress and beat us with the rubber truncheon. He spoke about the crematorium, where he was engaged half the day, and said that women's bodies were more suitable for burning than men's. The other overseer, Pfor, behaved in a similar way, and on one occasion he beat a French girl so much that she was taken away dead. She lay there the whole day and only died towards the evening.

What can you tell us about Hoessler? - Before we were moved to Belsen he ordered six girls to be hanged at Auschwitz. I saw four of them hanged, and, although I did not see the other two, by the time we had returned from work the hanging had been done. Our Kommando came in from work and we were sent straight away to an Appell, where we were formed up in fives and the execution took place. Hoessler read out some accusation. I did not hear what it was and I only know that they were accused of stealing from the factory "Union."

Did you work at all in the hospital while you were there? - No, but I had friends of mine working there. They told me that patients in the hospital instead of receiving glucose injections were injected with petrol and lysol. Persons who received such injections died after a few minutes.

After the British arrived in Belsen did you assist the British doctors there? - Yes, and we worked in one block and did all we could for the numerous sick. Together with the doctors we made a search of all the hospitals and in one of them we found a case full of medicine which we took back to the block. There were various pills and bottles. One bottle, which was labeled" Glukose " and was sealed, was later opened in the presence of a British doctor and was found to contain petrol. On the order of a British doctor I had intended to make an injection with this bottle, but by the smell and by pouring a small quantity on the table and setting it alight I knew it was petrol. I remembered that it was a popular practice in Auschwitz and, before making use of it, I thought I would make sure that it was not petrol. In Auschwitz there were various experiments. I was told by one of my friends, who worked as a nurse in the hospital, that in Block 10 there were young women on whom experiments were made with artificial insemination. The victim was hung up by her legs and was injected in order that her blood might circulate freely. She then received an injection in which the sperm was introduced. After a short time the victim was in great pain, and quite often, not long after, died.

When did you go to Belsen? - At the beginning of January we were evacuated from Auschwitz to Belsen and quite a lot of people met their death on the way, for anybody who could not keep up was shot. We marched on foot day and night without receiving food and we were beaten at every step by the S.S. After eight days we were loaded on to open. trucks, and, as the weather was cold and frosty, a large number of women died. At Belsen we were chased into the frost with just a night - dress on and had to parade for the shower-baths. We stood about outside lightly dressed for a very long time before we received any soup, and then we were sent to an empty hut. We should have received three-quarters of a litre of soup each day, but actually we only got half a litre, which was normally issued towards evening, and a crumb of bread. At the beginning we got this bread daily but later on not at all.

Did you see any persons beaten at Belsen? - One evening I saw how a young woman was being beaten, Kramer, Volkenrath and another female being present. She was kicked and beaten with a wooden stick. in the bath-house I remember how a woman officer beat the naked bodies of the women there with a rubber truncheon. I also saw Volkenrath and two others - one of whom I recognise as No. 8 (Herta Ehlert) - undress and severely beat a girl in a small hut where two Blockführerinnen slept.

You wish to tell the Court something about Kramer at Belsen? - When I first came to Belsen I noticed that a kind of children's building was being erected. At this work some Jews, Polish Aryans and Russians were employed, and I saw that Kramer beat these people, and on one occasion he kicked a Russian with his boots so severely that he fell down on the ground and could not stand up any more and was left lying in the snow. I remained at the place for another fifty minutes and the Russian did riot stand up. From that I deduced that he was dead.

Cross-examined by Major WINWOOD - How long were you in Auschwitz? - From the beginning of 1944 until January, 1945.

Is it not true that these selections were made to divide people into those fit for work and those not fit for work? - I know only that if selections were held, they were held for the purpose of sending people to the gas chamber.

Is it not the case that nobody was sent to the gas chamber until he or she had been chosen by a doctor? - The doctor and the Kommandant chose the men. It was really not choosing, but only trying to find out as many people as possible.

If this was the object, why were they not all sent to the gas chamber? - Because some people were needed for work.

On this first occasion when you arrived was there some difficulty in getting people who had been chosen into the trucks? - There was some difficulty caused by the fact that the people selected were aware of the fate that awaited them and therefore they tried to escape and jumped out of the trucks.

When you were at Belsen did the conditions in the camp with regard to food and accommodation get worse gradually or suddenly? - They deteriorated gradually. By the beginning of March things had got into a very critical state.

Is it true that many of the people were very ill, and that many arrived dead with the transports? - No, when they arrived at Belsen they were alive, but after a short time many of them died.

With regard to the occasion on which you allege the girl was beaten in the presence of Kramer, did you not know that she had been brought back to the camp because she had attempted to escape? - I know only from what she said herself, that she was not guilty, and she wanted only to save herself, to escape.

If she had attempted to escape and had been caught, do you not think it is in the province of the Kommandant to punish her? - I do not know whether he was entitled to do so, but I know he did so on many occasions.

When you found this bottle on which "Glukose" was written and in which you allege was petrol, how many other bottles of a similar kind were there? - Amongst those bottles I brought to my room, it was the only one. They were all sealed. The case from which I took this particular bottle was not sealed, but it was tied up with string.

Cross-examined by Major MUNRO - Did you know these women you told us about who were hanged? - I used to see them but I did not know them. They were Jewesses from Poland.

You say that they had been accused of stealing. Did you learn when the offence was supposed to have been committed? - I did not know anything about them.

Can you remember when the hanging took place? - It was in winter, about March.

At Belsen you told us about two cases of beating, one at which Kramer was present, and another one. Who is this woman (indicating No. 7, Elisabeth Volkenrath)? - She was the senior supervisor at Belsen and was present at the beating that took place near the Blockführer's room. I saw her hitting the woman. She was also Present at the other beating. I used to see her very frequently at Belsen and also at Auschwitz.

Do you know if she has a sister? - I do not know.

Do you recognise this woman (indicating No. 8, Herta Ehlert) as being present throughout the incident? - As long as I was there she was there.

With regard to the other occasion you spoke of, do you say that both these women were present then also? - Yes, when the young girl was beaten. It was about two days after the first incident and took place in the block where the Camp Aeltester and the Service Aeltester lived. It was not far from the Blockführer's room. It was inside and I saw it through the window. I stood there for a few minutes. I saw both of them hitting the girl, first one of them and then the other. There was a third person there, but I did not see her face.

Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD - How well do you understand German? - My knowledge of German is moderate, not very good.

Did the S.S. men, Graff and Pfor, whom you say were at Auschwitz, speak any German? - Yes, they talked to me in German.

How were you able, with your limited knowledge of German, to depose on oath in your statement to conversations carried out by these men in German? - I do not know the German language perfectly well, but I can always express myself in it.

With regard to the alleged attack by Pfor on a French Jewess, you told the Court that this woman died on the day she was attacked. In your sworn deposition you stated that the woman died two weeks later as the result of her injuries. How do you account for the difference between these two sworn statements? - When I made my first written statement I said that the woman died on the same day. I suppose that the officer who took my evidence misunderstood me.

Re-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Could the British officer taking your affidavit speak Polish? - No.

Who acted as interpreter? - I do not know the person personally, but she was a previous witness from the camp. I do not know her nationality. I made two statements, one of which I signed under oath, and there were two different interpreters.

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Helen Hammermasch)