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

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Dr Fritz Leo)
DR. FRITZ LEO, sworn, examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - I am a German, a doctor of medicine, from Dresden, and was first arrested on 3rd May, 1935. Without interruption I have been continuously in confinement until Belsen Camp was liberated. I arrived at Belsen on 7th February, 1945, and worked as a doctor there, with the exception of three weeks when I had typhus, until the camp was liberated. Dr. Schnabel was the S.S. doctor there until he left at the end of February, when Dr. Horstmann and Dr. Klein arrived. I was a doctor in Men's Compound No. 2 and when I arrived the total number there, including my transport, amounted to about 6000.

What hospital facilities were there in that compound? - For the first eight days nothing at all. Then after a week we got three huts which were in an indescribable condition - the roofs were leaking and they were filled about a metre high all sorts of rubbish.

Did an S.S. doctor inspect the premises? - On 20th February Dr. Schnabel made an inspection. He was terrified about it and said, "I shall not go on with this." Through our own efforts these three blocks became much cleaner, and Dr. Horstmann was very anxious about the minor details of cleanliness.

What was Dr. Klein's attitude? - He did not bother very much about our affairs.

What medical supplies and facilities had you? - Nothing at all at first; after a fortnight we got always a small amount of medicine or bandages. We had to do all our operating on top of a small wooden bench and were confined to small operations through lack of facilities. We had a small stove for the distillation of water and so on. If someone had, for example, appendicitis, he had to die through lack of facilities to operate, although we had enough surgeons who could have done the job very well.

Did you see anyone in hospital suffering from bullet wounds? - We had a number of patients with bullet wounds, every week three or four at least. Only the smaller wounds could be treated. There were people who tried out of despair to go through the barbed wire and were shot at, and also those who approached the kitchens and tried to get a potato or a turnip. I have seen a great number of people who were shot dead or wounded by the warders.

Were you able to treat tuberculosis? - We had nothing for the treatment of tuberculosis, neither laboratories nor the possibility of isolating people. We had no X-ray apparatus nor could we provide people with the sort of diet which they needed. The number at first was small, but as each new transport arrived it increased. I am sure there were at least 100 in our camp who suffered from acute tuberculosis.

Could you treat dysentery? - Only a small quantity of diet was received and very often at such late hours at night that it could not be distributed early enough, and so we had to keep it till next day, when it was too bad to use at all. There was such a lack of accommodation for this number of many thousands who suffered from dysentery or stomach diseases that they had to lie where they were and continue to suffer there.

What was the position with regard to typhus? - Typhus was rampant in Men's Compound No. 1 early in January and in No. 2 early in February. It was spreading very strongly through lice, and against lice we had absolutely nothing, neither water, clean clothes, bathing facilities or delousing powder, so from the end of February typhus was spreading like fire through the whole camp and consequently nearly everybody in our camp got it.

What was the position with regard to water supplies in the camp? - We could get water from some tanks sometimes for two or three hours a day, but then for whole days no water at all was available. In No. 2 compound there were no facilities at all for bathing. Three or four some of the doctors and nurses had the possibility of having a bath. Our compound got no fresh clothing or underclothing at all, although supplies were available in the stores.

What was the position with regard to latrines in the camp? - The situation was a real catastrophe. We had a few latrines which were soon blocked and in spite of all our efforts we could not get them cleared. The people were too weak to build new ones. These weak and dying people simply defecated wherever they stood or wherever they lay about. They were too weak to move and so the whole camp became very soon almost a latrine itself.

What happened to people who died in the camp? - The first week they lay about for days and slowly were dragged away and put in the crematorium where they were burned, but soon the crematorium was not big enough to cope with them and then they started to put up bonfires. They put the corpses into high piles to burn them wherever they were. Later, wood became so scarce that those high piles could not be dealt with in that way, as we heard that the Administration of Forestry prohibited the use of wood for that purpose, and consequently the bodies simply lay where they were. As every day the number of people who died was over 1000 the result was that every day several thousand bodies were lying about in the camp in a terrific state, green and swollen through the heat, some of them stinking. Later, they were put in a stone block, and only before the liberation by the British troops did the S.S. start digging big graves for these people.

What was the food in the camp like? - About half a litre of turnip soup per man per day in the beginning; about 300 grammes of bread were issued; later, however, less, and in the last few weeks no bread at all. Under no circumstances were those rations sufficient to preserve life. Even those who came in in a fit and healthy state lost their strength after a few weeks and those who came in a weakened state died in a few days or weeks.

Do you remember Block 10? - Very well. It was the worst block which I experienced during all the ten years I was in camps. One day a transport of 2000 came from the southern part of Germany and during the voyage 400 of them died, the others being so weak that they had to be helped at every step. All these 1600 people were put into the smaller part of Block No. 10. This block should have remained isolated because of the danger of typhus. In these small stone rooms they lay about on the stone floors. People were so weak that they could not go to latrines, but simply stayed there and defecated in those stone rooms which very soon were covered with slime, excrement and humidity, and there was such a terrific stink that I myself could only stay there for two minutes. Amongst these people there were quite a number who had become seriously ill, who had high temperatures, and had open wounds, whose legs or hands were frozen and who were waiting for operations, to be amputated. The food for these people was even worse than for the others in the camp, and hunger became so terrible that no account can be given. It was in this block where cannibalism started. I was called to the block and shown a body which had a cut near its liver and the whole liver taken out. Another five such cases were told to me. Then, in consequence of the general feeling of hunger, cannibalism was rampant in the whole of Men's Compound No. 2. They were so desperate that they were crowding round the containers which contained food and were fighting with each other and pushing each other.

How many bodies on which cannibalism had been practiced did you see personally? - I myself have witnessed 200 or 300 cases of cannibalism. All the pieces which were cut off were done so because the prisoners wanted to eat them raw immediately, or they could cook it after and eat it then. I myself have seen several with pieces of human flesh either in their pockets or in their small cooking utensils where they hoped to cook them later on. If the S.S. got to know anything about this they gave orders either to hang these people or to kill them by beating.

What was the general attitude of the S.S. guards towards the internees? - The S.S. leaders, well knowing about the conditions of our camp, did not hesitate to throw in more and more thousands of persons. Obergruppenführer Pohl came with several high ranking staff officers in March for an inspection at which Kramer was present. They went round the whole camp, including Men's Compound No. 2, looked at some blocks, and through the windows they could well see in what sort of condition these blocks were. In my compound they did not enter any hut, but through the windows they could quite clearly see everything which went on inside. They did not enter my hospital.

Did Kramer ever come into your hospital? - No. He was Kommandant at the camp during the whole time I was there.

What parades were the internees required to attend? - Every morning at six o'clock there was a roll-call which generally took about four to five hours. Sometimes a similar roll-call was held in the afternoon which took an hour or two. They had to stand to attention and if somebody moved he was pushed or beaten, although generally discipline was not so severe. A great part of these people were too weak to stand for such a long time and had to sit down or lie down. After every roll-call 50 or 100 were either dead or in a sort of dying condition, and through the very long roll-call parades these people grew weaker and weaker.

Were any persons admitted to your hospital as the result of beating? - Many people came to our hospital covered with blood, with big wounds on their heads or with brain concussion. Some of them died in consequence.

Do you remember an Englishman called Keith Meyer [Mayor]? - I known him for a long time before he came to Belsen, in Sachsenhausen. He came to Belsen at the beginning of February and, in March, he had typhus and was brought into the hospital in Block No. 18. One day Dr. Horstmann came into our hospital and asked where the bed of Keith Meyer [Mayor] was. He was shown, and went and examined the patient superficially, something which he had never done before. On the same evening Keith Meyer [Mayor] was brought into the room of Blockführer Stuber and was shot - killed.

Was there any gas chamber at Belsen? - A gas chamber was in preparation. A very trustworthy and good Kapo, a Czech called Bellenech, told me that in the middle of March he had orders from his S.S. building contractor to build a hut underground which was to have been covered entirely with earth and kept air-tight. When Bellenech said to this S.S. contractor, "I know perfectly well for what purpose this underground hut is being built," the S.S. man looked at him and said, "Well, I think you are right." It was quite clear to all of us that plans for a gas chamber had been prepared.

Cross-examined by Major WINWOOD - What position did Dr. Klein take in the camp? - He was either senior or second camp doctor. After Dr. Horstmann left he was the only camp doctor.

Is it not true that Dr. Klein was the doctor for the S.S. troops and only looked after the internees two or three days before the British came? - No, Dr. Klein took over from Dr. Horstmann and it was very clear that he had something to do with the prisoners.

When Dr. Klein took over from Dr. Horstmann what was the first thing he did? - He gave Red Cross parcels, which were in the stores, to the doctors and medical orderlies, but for the patients themselves he could do nothing at all. He told the nurses and people in the hospital that as there were no medical supplies they ought to sit near the beds of the patients and try to tell them nice stories about their families.

When Dr. Klein took over as medical officer did he not hold a meeting of the doctors among the internees? - Yes. it was quite clear that he would be asked as to his responsibility in a few days. That was the first day on which he had sole responsibility on the medical side and I was present at the meeting. He let us know the rations that the doctors and medical orderlies would get, and told us there would be no fighting in the camp. He told us nothing about medical supplies for the patients that we did not already know.

Did he not say that you had to ask and you would get what was available? - We already knew that. We had asked very often, but very much was not available and the other things the stores did not give us. We wanted to have opium and other medicines to help us against diarrhoea, but these were not available.

Would you say that the general deterioration was a gradual deterioration of conditions, food and accommodation, or did it happen suddenly? - Gradual.

What was the situation with regard to food about half-way through the time you were there? - Absolutely insufficient, and not enough to keep people alive. At that time they received about 300 grammes of bread a day.

Was the situation regarding food critical? - I am not in a position to decide about that. I only know that at the same time in other camps near Hanover [Hannover] they had quite a lot of bread.

Did not bread, in fact, come to this camp from Hanover [Hannover]? - Bread arrived in trucks but I do not know where it came from.

What was the situation regarding beds in the camp? - Nine-tenths of all the people in the Men's Compound No. 2 had no beds at all.

Was there not a delousing machine in the camp? - There was a small one, but people never got a chance to go there.

What was Obergruppenführer Pohl's position? - As far as I know he was on the Inspectorate for Concentration Camps, but I do not know whom he was directly responsible to nor why he paid the visit to Belsen. He must have received a good idea of the conditions in the camp from what he saw.

Did you hear about a visit from a Dr. Lolling of Berlin before you came? - I know that one time there was an inspection by the Hygiene Committee, but the result was everything remained as it was.

Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD - With regard to the shootings, did you mean that they were done by the persons guarding the camp or the staff inside responsible for the organization? - The guards round the barbed wire and the patrol on the Lager street.

From the middle of March until the liberation was Belsen Camp grossly overcrowded? - Yes.

Were large transports arriving frequently with the majority of the persons in a dying condition? - Many transports arrived every week. As a rule one-third of the people were dying or dead.

Was Belsen during this period a Krankenlager? - In general, Belsen had already officially been announced in all other camps as a Krankenlager, yet not the most elementary preparations to deal with sick people could be found there.

You have told us that typhus was raging. Were the conditions, in general, chaotic and quite out of control? - All of it was general chaos.

You have told us about cannibalism. Did the Häftlinge behave like animals? - Hunger made the prisoners into animals.

Were the conditions at Belsen during the last month far worse than anything you have experienced before in your ten years in concentration camps? - I have witnessed many chaotic situations in the camp at Buchenwald, but Belsen was by far the worst of all.

Have you ever been in a camp where they had a daily roll-call at 0300 hours? - In Buchenwald the waking-up of the prisoners started at 0300 hours and roll-call usually began at 0600 hours.

Were you ever yourself beaten at Belsen? - No, I have not been beaten in Belsen, but I have been in Buchenwald.

Cross-examined by Captain PHILLIPS - How long would you say it had taken the camp to reach the condition it was in at the time of the liberation? - As far as the men's camp is concerned the very bad conditions, as far as I know, only started in February. Conditions in the women's camp were a bit different and I had been told that before that the camp had known some very bad periods.

Would you agree that an S.S. Aufseherin arriving at the camp at the end of February would find conditions very much the same as they were at the time of the liberation? - No, it became worse every day - the food became worse.

Re-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Did you see any attempt on the part of any of the S.S. to improve the conditions? - Yes, certainly attempts had been made, but they were very insufficient and could be compared with a drop of water on a hotplate. They were made by the camp doctors and now and then by the Lagerführer when proposed by us. Most of our proposals were not accepted by the S.S. leaders. Dr. Horstmann made some attempts and Dr. Klein also some small efforts in the last period, when they were wearing white armlets, about eight days before the British troops arrived.

Was any attempt made to clean up the camp in these last few days? - Dr. Horstmann made very strenuous attempts. He was very keen on having all the corpses away before the British troops arrived, keeping his watch in his hand and looking at it hourly and chasing the people to hurry to get the corpses away as soon as possible.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - Do you know how Keith Meyer [Mayor] came to be in the hands of the Germans? - Yes. The English [British] told me that after a raid on the Norwegian coast they had been taken prisoner. They had not been taken to a prisoner of war camp but to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. I do not know exactly whether he had been a soldier, sailor or a civilian.

You told us that a very large number of persons were dying each day in your camp. Supposing there had been no typhus, what percentage of the people who died do you think would have remained alive? - Nine-tenths of the people did not die of typhus, but of starvation, diarrhoea and other stomach troubles. Typhus did increase the difficulties, but the other things were more important.

If reasonable and proper steps had been taken to prevent the spread of typhus, how many people who died of typhus would have died? - Several hundreds.

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Dr Fritz Leo)