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

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Lidia Sunschein)
LIDIA SUNSCHEIN, sworn, examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - I am a Polish Jewess aged 23, from Lodz [Łódź], was sent to Auschwitz in March, 1943, and transferred to Belsen in January, 1945. (Witness then identified several of the accused.) Kramer punished some Russian girls, caught attempting to steal bread, by making them kneel all day and depriving them of food for 24 hours. Weingartner was leader of a Kommando for the River Vistula in December, 1944. There were 1000 girls employed in regulating the river and carrying sand from the river and loading it into lorries. I was in this Kommando as an overseer to supervise the work, but as I treated the people too leniently I was punished by being sent at first to work at the lorries and later on to work near the river with the water reaching my knees. Weingartner told me to treat the people badly and to make them work as quickly as possible. He himself either beat them, or, if he was not satisfied with their work, withdrew a special additional ration of half a loaf of bread twice a week which the prisoners used to receive. The work we had to do was seven or eight kilometres from the camp and the road leading there was a very difficult one, covered with mud and small rivers. just before we reached the place where we worked there was an arduous hill, and dogs under the charge of a special guard were set on us to chase us so that we had to run all the time upwards. Weingartner was in charge of this guard. Sometimes it so happened that when we had to cross this hill Weingartner, when an old woman was ill or weak, pushed her from the hill downwards with a stick, and on many occasions women fainted. Before he arrived it was considered quite a good Kommando, but after he took charge it became the worst Kommando in the camp and every day tens and tens of People were taken ill to hospital. In Belsen he was a Blockführer.

How were you employed in Belsen? - I was a cookhouse Kapo. About two months before the arrival of the British troops the personnel in the kitchen was changed and about 1000 volunteers who wanted to obtain work arrived on a certain day. Weingartner and another man called Kasainitzky tried to make the crowd of people line up and used force and physical orders. They tried to do it with a stick and beat many of the women present. When they did not succeed in keeping order, Weingartner shot into the air. At that moment I said in German, "I do not want to stay in the Kommando because I do not want to die here after having persevered in so many sufferings." Weingartner heard me and gave me about 15 blows with a rubber truncheon on my head, so that I fainted. When I recovered he told me that unless I went with the Kommando to work he would put me into prison and consider this as a refusal to work. I went to work all day, but at night had a high fever of about 40 degrees and could do no more. I was taken to my room where I spent ten days and was visited by Dr. Bimko who stated that I had a nervous breakdown. I was replaced by another Kapo. Weingartner was extremely cruel in his treatment of prisoners.

The next person you mentioned was Hoessler? - I remember him taking part in the selections at Auschwitz and choosing people for the gas chambers. On one occasion he organised a selection on his own initiative because he found a pyjama outside our block. At the very sight of him the whole camp was frightened. Hoessler was in charge of the Kommando "Union." There were six girls who were employed in the demolition of one of the crematoria and therefore we had some powder and instruments to cut wires.

Were these girls caught in possession of the powder and the cutters? -They were caught not with these things on them and I do not know in which way the whole attempt was disclosed, but eventually four of these six girls were punished with death by hanging. I did not see it myself as at that time I was already in Belsen. If I had been in Auschwitz I would have been hanged myself. I was told about it because my friend informed me that the Germans tried to find the other two girls - they could not find the fifth, and I was the sixth.

Would you tell us about other persons you recognised? - Bormann, I remember at Auschwitz. She was always with her dog and people were terrorised when she came. Volkenrath was in the parcel department in Auschwitz. I used to go to her store to get bread and I have seen her beat people when she suspected them of having stolen something. Ehlert was always at the gate at Belsen when Kommandos were going to work. She beat the prisoners for things like having a scarf done improperly or bootlaces wrongly made up. She hit people mainly with her hands. I can say very little about Grese at Auschwitz, but in Belsen, where she was Arbeitsdienstführerin, she behaved very badly. On one occasion, when our Kommando was coming back from work, one of the girls lost a piece of rag from her pocket. As a punishment the accused made the whole Kommando run up and down kneeling and rising for about half an hour. I do not know anything about Lothe in Belsen, nor do I know anything particular about Lobauer except that she was in Auschwitz. Francioh came to the same cookhouse as I worked in to learn the job. He was a short time there and beat the personnel terribly. No. 41 (Gertrud Sauer) was the Aufseherin in my cookhouse and she was terrible. She used to beat the girls in the cookhouse very frequently and pull their hair, and one or two days before the arrival of the British troops one of the girls was caught with a piece of mangel in her hand and she got a terrible beating. No. 44 (Anna Hempel) was even worse than No. 41. She was also in No. 2 Cookhouse and she used a rubber truncheon. On one occasion, when some girls were caught in front of the cookhouse with remnants of turnips in their hands, she took them into her room and beat them till blood was visible. There was an incident with regard to a Frenchman called Jean. The accused wanted to flirt with him, but he was reluctant, therefore she beat him on various occasions and smacked him on the face. About No. 46 (Koper), the only thing I call say is that she was known as the informant in the camp.

Cross-examined by Major WINWOOD - Is it not true that at all the selections at which Kramer was present there was also a doctor present? -Yes, I was present at many and I think that Kramer is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, he and his gangsters.

When Weingartner took over command of Kommando "Vistula" had you to work much harder and much quicker? - Yes, and I can call Weingartner a murderer because he killed many people. I was in that Kommando for several weeks.

Was this extra ration of bread given to those people who worked satisfactorily? - Everybody was entitled to this special allowance, but the accused wrote down the numbers of those whom he considered worked unsatisfactorily.

How many dogs used to go out with this party? - About seven or eight.

I suggest that Weingartner was only responsible for organization? - I saw him punish people for what he considered unsatisfactory work and it had nothing to do with organization. His job was to guard the work party.

You stated that Kramer made some Russian girls kneel for a whole day. I suggest that is a gross exaggeration? - I saw them kneeling myself, They knelt the whole day in a special block surrounded by a wire.

It must have been difficult to control 1000 people all crowding round the cookhouse trying to get a job? - Yes.

Were the blows Weingartner gave you on the head with a rubber truncheon hard? - They were so strong that I faulted and eventually got a shock of my brain.

Cross-examined by Major MUNRO - Was it very unusual for people on a gas chamber selection to be dressed? - No, that was frequent. Selections were several times made on the roll-call parade. There were various kinds of parades during my stay in Auschwitz.

What did you say this woman's name was (indicating No. 7, Volkenrath)? - I said Weinniger but I know there were two sisters very similar to each other. One was Weinniger and the other was Volkenrath.

You saw No. 8 (Ehlert) standing at the camp gate. Did she ever hit you? - Yes. I reported too softly how many people were present at parade and she beat me with her hand several times.

Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD - Were the dogs at Auschwitz trained police dogs? - I suppose so, because they used to bite the women and tear pieces of flesh.

Did you see any S.S. women other than Bormann with these police dogs? - In 1945 I saw many women with dogs, but when Bormann was there only one or two beside her.

Have you ever seen Grese at Auschwitz with one of these police dogs? - No.

Were you a Kapo at Auschwitz or Belsen? - In Belsen only. One of the chefs of the cookhouse saw me and insisted that I should be chosen for this job. I did not want to accept it, but was compelled to.

Cross-examined by Major BROWN - Was this man, No. 18 (Fritz Mathes), in charge of No. 2 Cookhouse in Belsen? - I do not know this man.

Cross-examined by Captain BOYD - Were special diets given out from Cookhouse No. 2 for children and sick people? - Yes. There were milk soups, but no vegetables specially prepared.

Is it correct that this woman, No. 41 (Sauer), was only occasionally in that cookhouse? - At first she was only occasionally there, but later on she was permanent.

When you said that she beat the girls, did you mean with her hand? - Yes, because they tried to get remnants of turnips or other food.

Cross-examined by Captain MUNRO - Were people beaten every day in No. 2 Cookhouse? - Yes.

And yet there were normally 300 volunteers, and on one specific occasion 1000 volunteers, to work in that cookhouse? - Yes. In spite of running the risk of being beaten the people preferred to work in the cookhouse because there they did not suffer such great starvation as in the camp.

Were you as a Kapo in the kitchen of No. 2 Cookhouse the only person that did not beat anybody? - None of the prisoners beat anybody.

Was not the job in the cookhouse a very safe one in Belsen? - It was the best one from the point of view of food, but apart from that we had to work 18 hours a day. It was certainly safer than a work Kommando.

What was the job of No. 41 (Anna Hempel)? - She was the most important Aufseherin in the cookhouse. She deputised for the chief, but was not a cook. Sometimes she beat people in the cookhouse, sometimes outside, but most frequently in her own room. It was a very small room with two windows and we could see everything through them. Apart from that we used to hear the girls yelling terribly.

Re-examined by Major MURTON-NEALE - Do you know if there was a No. 2 Cookhouse in the men's compound at Belsen? - That is the one I am talking about. There were several cookhouses in the women's compound.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - You are not sure whether the woman in the dock is Weinniger or Volkenrath. Is that right? - I am not sure.

You told us that a woman was in charge of the bread store at Auschwitz and a Rapportführerin in Belsen. Did you intend to refer to Weinniger or Volkenrath? - I am sure it was the same woman who is sitting now in the dock, but I do not remember exactly her name. They resemble each other very much; they are sisters.

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Lidia Sunschein)