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

The Trial (Evidence For The Defence - Major Smallwood)
Ninth Day-Wednesday, 6th September, 1945

Major CRANFIELD - There is an application I should like to make. It has been arranged with the Prosecuting Officer that a witness for the Defence be interposed at this stage. The witness is Major Smallwood, late of the judge Advocate General's Department, who took a number of the affidavits in the summary.


Major GEOFFREY ARTHUR JOHN SMALLWOOD, sworn, examined by Major WINWOOD - In April of this year I was a member of the staff of the judge Advocate General's Department and was put in charge of a small team appointed to investigate the alleged atrocities at Belsen. There was no fixed plan when we got there. Some investigations had already been made by members of the Military Government and statements had been taken, but no sworn affidavits. We obtained some interpreters amongst whom two ex-internees, Czech Jewesses called Traute Neumann and Charlotte Duschenes, were extremely good. One had been interned for four years and the other for five years, in different camps, which included Auschwitz and Belsen, but as they had only come to Belsen ten days before the liberation they had escaped the full horrors and were therefore in pretty good health. There were thousands of people there and it was difficult to know where to begin. We got them to bring in their friends who were in a fit state to give evidence and, with the aid of the Military Government, we got various members of different nationalities to send people along. The procedure at first was that the witness was brought in and we explained that what we wanted was evidence of definite acts committed by definite people on, as far as possible, definite dates. We wanted specific instances of specific atrocities, and we got a whole lot of statements from various witnesses. Speaking for myself, I took rough notes as we went along. The witness went away and I put these notes into ordinary affidavit form. The witness then returned and the affidavit was read out to her and translated sometimes small alterations were made - and then the witness was sworn and signed it. I was there for about three weeks.

Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD - Were a number of the affidavits framed from statements taken by other persons and handed-to you? - Certainly, because after a bit, in answer to appeals, we got sent some sergeants of the S.I.S.

Did you devote yourself exclusively to framing affidavits from statements taken by other people? - Substantially, yes.

Had those sergeants any legal qualifications? - Technically, no, but I think every member of the S.I.S. had been a member of the police force in ordinary life, and most of them detectives.

As far as translations from Polish and German were concerned, were you entirely in the hands of the two interpreters you have mentioned? - Polish and Czech, entirely. I got to learn a very few words of German.

Was any effort made to obtain people who would speak in defence of the accused? - No, but on two occasions a witness did volunteer when shown photographs that so and so was kind to them.

At this time were the accused themselves in custody and was your task to find evidence against them? -Yes.

Were all prospective deponents told quite clearly that what you wanted was a specific charge against a specific person whom they could identify? - Yes.

Is it not true to say that you yourself had, in practice at the Bar, by far the most experience of all the officers taking these affidavits? - I do not really think I can say that. I have practiced at the Bar for nearly twenty years.

Were you succeeded by Colonel Genn? - Yes, and he had with him a Major Champion.

Cross-examined by Captain ROBERTS - Is it true that an affidavit was never drafted immediately, but that you always made some rough notes at the interview and then made the affidavit from those? - Substantially, yes. There may have been exceptions in the very first ones we took.

Cross-examined by Captain FIELDEN - If it appeared from a statement that some other person might be in a position to corroborate the statement, were any efforts made to obtain such corroboration? - Yes, if possible. We used to send the witness out herself or the interpreter to find the other person who was named.

Cross-examined by Captain NEAVE - If a prospective accused had heard statements being made and taken down against him, or at a later date affidavits, was he then given an opportunity of making a statement himself? - None of the accused was ever present when these statements were made.

If an accused had made a statement, would that statement have been preserved in the same way as the affidavits? - I think so. If any such statement is not before the Court now I have no idea where it may have gone.

Cross-examined by Captain PHILLIPS - With regard to the photographs, were the people making the statements shown the photograph first, or did they make the statement first and then see the photograph? - We did not have any photographs at all during the first five days, but after that I used to hand them the whole lot of photographs and get the interpreter to say, "Look at those and tell us if you recognise anyone in those photographs who has done a particular act or more than one particular act." We had photographs of the whole lot who were in custody at Celle Prison, and I think I am right in saying they were all members of the S.S.

There was not included among them any person you knew to be innocent, or probably innocent? - No. The official photographer took photographs of all the S.S. who had been placed in custody in Celle Prison by the British when they liberated Belsen.

So, whoever a witness picked out must inevitably have been in Belsen? - I think so, yes.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - You have been asked about your own and other people's experience at the Bar? - Yes. Major Bell was probably longer there than I, and Colonel Genn was employed on the SHAEF Court of Inquiry and was in charge of No. 1 War Crimes Investigation Team.

Were the members of the S.I.S. all senior N.C.Os.? - Yes, sergeants or above.

How long have you been in the Judge Advocate General's Department? - About four and a half years.

Have you regularly had dealings with the Special Investigation Branch of the C.M.P.? - Yes, they are very experienced in taking statements and I have found that I can rely upon them.

Can you remember what languages the various people gave their evidence in? - The majority were Poles and Czechs, but we took statements from practically all nationalities, from Greeks, Belgians, Poles, Czechs and Germans. It was difficult to control the flow at times.

In taking the affidavits you had to take down the parts which you thought were important and leave out the parts which you did not think so? - Yes, if we had taken down everything we were told, it would have taken a very long time indeed. The S.I.S. were inclined to take down perhaps too much rather than too little.

A lot of the witnesses may have known. a great many things that happened in these camps which were never included in their affidavits? - Yes.

It may well be that where you have one of the worst offenders, quite lot of the statements do not include evidence against him, because you already found you had enough? - Yes. For example, in the Volkenrath case we stopped taking evidence against her after about ten days.

Did you find considerable difficulty in tying witnesses down to dates, and so on? - Yes. They could not remember dates unless there was something like, for example, Christmas, to bring it to their minds. There was also difficulty in finding which year it was that something happened.

Did the interpreter Neumann, who was a Czech, speak Polish fluently? - As far as I can tell, yes. She seemed to speak Polish as the Poles themselves and that is saying a good deal.

In some of these affidavits there might be some details which are perhaps not entirely correct? - That might be so.

But so far as the actual occurrence and identification of persons are concerned, did you insist that these were correct before you passed the affidavit? - As far as identification is concerned, I looked at the photograph at the same time as the witness and got her to point out the particular person. I had to do all my work through my interpreter, but is far as I could see she was extremely good. With regard to French, I could check her statement more or less as I understood a little French and she seemed to be doing it completely honestly.

In other words, just as this Court is in the hands of the interpreters so were you? - Yes. I only wish the interpreters I had when sitting as judge Advocate were half as good as the interpreters at Belsen.

When one of these witnesses recognised somebody in the photograph did she always know the name of the person? - Oh, no. She was shown the photographs - we, of course, knew who the people were - and I used to put in the name and the number which I identified immediately afterwards. They sometimes knew the Christian name.

How many of you were available to take statements? - To start with, four, and this number increased to about eight or nine. I do not know how many persons were in Belsen, but there were certainly over 20000.

All you could do was to take statements from those persons who presented themselves to you? - Yes, and those who were brought in by the interpreters. Of Course, when we first got there a very large number of people were quite incapable of making statements at all.

Re-examined by Major WINWOOD - When you took these statements I assume you knew there was going to be a trial later. What steps were taken to keep these witnesses available for the trial? - As far as I know, none, because the condition of Belsen was extremely fluid then. The fit ones were sorted out and got back to their own countries as soon as possible.

How many affidavits were really made? - I do not know at all. At a rough guess, I myself took about thirty.

When you took the statements and framed the affidavits did you impress upon the witnesses the importance of being on oath? - I explained to them that we did want the truth and said they had to be prepared to stand by what they said.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - In some cases, I gather, a British sergeant took down a statement from an internee in writing in English which had been translated from some other language. Was that statement supposed to be made on oath? - No.

Do you know if it was read over to the deponent at that time? - I should think probably, but I do not know.

Was it a typed statement or some sort of rough notes? - It was nearly always in manuscript in the form that the police take statements in their notebooks.

And was that document passed to you? - Yes, I read it and took out what I thought were the salient parts and put them into more or less legal shape in the form of an affidavit which I had typed. Then I either called the deponent before me or went to see her. The statement was read out and translated to her in my presence, and if she agreed, she signed it.

What sort of an oath did you administer? - The ordinary witness's oath, slightly adapted to suit the cases.

The Trial (Evidence For The Defence - Major Smallwood)