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

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Dr Charles Sigsmund Bendel)
Thirteenth Day - Monday, 1st October, 1945

CHARLES SIGSMUND BENDEL, sworn, examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - I am a Rumanian doctor living in Paris and when I was arrested on 4th November, 1943, I had lived in France for ten years. The reason for my arrest was because I did not wear the Star of David the Jewish star, which I was forced to wear. I was taken to a camp called Drancy, near Paris, and then on to Auschwitz on 10th December, 1943, where I worked as a stone mason in a part of the camp called Buna. On 1st January, 1944, I was transferred to the main camp, and on 27th February, 1944, into the Gypsy camp in Birkenau, where I worked as a doctor. The senior doctor was called Dr. Mengele. He was in charge of the whole medical side of that camp, particularly infectious diseases in which Professor Epstein from Prague and myself assisted. Dr. Mengele engaged in the research of injections in the crematorium. These were injections which were supposed to produce instantaneous death, and in the Gypsy camp he worked mainly on research tests against twins. He continued to make all sorts of tests on those twins, but it was not enough. He wanted to see them dead, to see what they looked like. When first I went to that camp there were 11000 occupants, but at the end of July, 1944, 4300 had gone to the crematorium. Prior to that, 1500 had been selected for working parties and all the others had died of natural causes or of some other sort of death in the camp. Those who went to the crematorium never left it alive - they were gassed.

In June, 1944, was your employment changed? - Indeed it was changed. Dr. Mengele gave me the honour to attach me to the crematorium. The men who worked there were called Sonderkommando, a Special Kommando numbering 900. They were all deported people. Just as there existed a Sonderkommando amongst the prisoners so there was a Sonderkommando also amongst the S.S. They enjoyed special privileges, for instance, in alcohol, and were completely separated from the other S.S. There were about fifteen S.S. in this Sonderkommando, three for each crematorium. The prisoners amongst the Sonderkommando lived in the camp in two blocks which were always locked, and were not allowed to leave them. Some of the S.S. of the Sonderkommando were on night duties and others did their duty in rotas. They were always relieved by the others. At first I lived in the camp with the other prisoners, but later on in the crematorium itself. The first time I started work there was in August, 1944. No one was gassed on that occasion, but 150 political prisoners, Russians and Poles, were led one by one to the graves and there they were shot. Two days later, when I was attached to the day group, I saw a gas chamber in action. On that occasion it was the ghetto at Lodz [Łódź] - 80000 people were gassed.

Would you describe just what happened that day? - I came at seven o'clock in the morning with the others and saw white smoke still rising from the trenches, which indicated that a whole transport had been liquidated or finished off during the night. In Crematorium No. 4 the result which was achieved by burning was apparently not sufficient. The work was not going on quickly enough, so behind the crematorium they dug three large trenches 12 metres long and 6 metres wide. After a bit it was found that the results achieved even in these three big trenches were not quick enough, so in the middle of these big trenches they built two canals through which the human fat or grease should seep so that work could be continued in a quicker way. The capacity of these trenches was almost fantastic. Crematorium No. 4 was able to burn 1000 people during the day, but this system of trenches was able to deal with the same number in one hour.

Will you describe the day's work? - At eleven o'clock in the morning the chief of the Political Department arrived on his motor cycle to tell us, as always, that a new transport had arrived. The trenches which I described before had to be prepared. They had to be cleaned out. Wood had to be put in and petrol sprayed over so that it would burn quicker. About twelve o'clock the new transport arrived, consisting of some 800 to 1000 people. These people had to undress themselves in the court of the crematorium and were promised a bath and hot coffee afterwards. They were given orders to put their things on one side and all the valuables on the other. Then they entered a big hall and were told to wait until the gas arrived. Five or ten minutes later the gas arrived, and the strongest insult to a doctor and to the idea of the Red Cross was that it came in a Red Cross ambulance. Then the door was opened and the people were crowded into the gas chambers which gave the impression that the roof was falling on their heads, as it was so low. With blows from different kinds of sticks they were forced to go in and stay there, because when they realised that they were going to their death they tried to come out again. Finally, they succeeded in locking the doors. One heard cries and shouts and they started to fight against each other, knocking on the walls. This went on for two minutes and then there was complete silence. Five minutes later the doors were opened, but it was quite impossible to go in for another twenty minutes. Then the Special Kommandos started work. When the doors were opened a crowd of bodies fell out because they were compressed so much. They were quite contracted, and it was almost impossible to separate one from the other. One got the impression that they fought terribly against death. Anybody who has ever seen a gas chamber filled to the height of one and a half metres with corpses will never forget it. At this moment the proper work of the Sonderkommandos starts. They have to drag out the bodies which are still warm and covered with blood, but before they are thrown into the ditches they have still to pass through the hands of the barber and the dentist, because the barber cuts the hair off and the dentist has to take out all the teeth. Now it is proper hell which is starting. The Sonderkommando tries to work is fast as possible. They drag the corpses by their wrists in furious haste. People who had human faces before, I cannot recognise again. They are like devils. A barrister from Salonica, an electrical engineer from Budapest - they are no longer human beings because, even during the work, blows from sticks and rubber truncheons are being showered over them. During the time this is going on they continue to shoot people in front of these ditches, people who could not be got into the gas chambers because they were overcrowded. After an hour and a half the whole work has been done and a new transport has been dealt with in Crematorium No. 4.

Who was the Kommandant at Birkenau at this time? - Kramer. I have seen him several times near the crematoria.

Have you seen any S.S. doctors there? - Yes, Dr. Klein on one occasion when gas was being brought by the Red Cross ambulance. He came out from the seat near the driver. I have seen him also on several other occasions.

Do you remember 7th October, 1944? - Yes, it was the day when 500 of these Special Kommandos should have been going away because they were told to work somewhere else, but it was clear enough to us that they were going to their death. They did not want to go away. On that day 100 from this Special Kommando in Crematorium No. 1 and 400 in Crematorium No. 3 were killed. In No. 3 they were killed one by one with a fatal shot in their neck from a gun. The other hundred were put in rows in lines of five and one single S.S. man passed by and gave them a shot in the neck. Kramer was Kommandant of the camp at the time and was present at these killings.

Do you remember an occasion when four girls were hanged? - Yes, in the women's compound in Auschwitz in December, 1944. They were accused of passing on dynamite to us for the purpose of exploding the whole crematorium. They were working in a munitions factory called "Union." It was a public hanging ordered by Hoessler, who was Lagerführer at Auschwitz. I do not know Hoessler by sight, but I recognise No. 1 (Kramer). I do not recognise anybody else.

Cross-examined by Major WINWOOD - Who was the head doctor at Auschwitz when these experiments were carried out? - In Birkenau the senior doctor was Dr. Mengele. The head doctor for the whole camp was a Dr. Wirtz, whose rank was Stabsarzt.

Did Dr. Mengele receive his orders from Dr. Wirtz? - I do not know.

Did you yourself take part in these experiments? - The doctors amongst the prisoners did not participate in these experiments.

Under whose authority was the Sonderkommando? - Hauptscharführer Moll. Only Kramer was above Moll.

Was the Sonderkommando under a Political Department of the Auschwitz camp? - Yes.

Was this Political Department the Gestapo? - I do not know. The orders for the Sonderkommando came from the political section.

Is it true that the orders did not come from the Kommandant of Birkenau? - I only know that they came from the Political Department of Birkenau.

On 7th October, 1944, is it not true that the crematorium was set on fire? - We set fire to Crematorium No. 3. Five hundred people took part in this revolt. They had firearms in Crematorium No. 1, but because of a misunderstanding they could not be used, for the people of No. 1 Crematorium saw No. 3 burning too late.

Do you know who was the Kommandant of the whole of Auschwitz on 7th October, 1944? - I could not say.

You said that a number of people from the Sonderkommando were shot. Was there any senior S.S. officer present? - There were a number of S.S. present during these killings. A whole company of S.S. came specially from Auschwitz. I do not know about senior ranks, but the main killer was Rottenführer Barowski.

Was not Hauptsturmführer Baer, who was Kommandant of Auschwitz, there with that company of S.S. men? - I do not know.

Cross-examined by Major MUNRO - Were the four women who were hanged accused of providing explosives to the Sonderkommando? - Yes.

Were these explosives in fact supplied? - I could not say, because the people who, allegedly, had some dealings with these women when I arrived at the crematorium, had already been killed.

Were the explosives used during the attempted escape? - No.

Do you know whether the four women were brought to trial by the Germans? - I have no idea.

Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD - Was the crematorium kept a secret? - It was not a secret as a crematorium, but it was tried to be kept secret what happened inside.

When a party arrived for the gas chamber, was it brought down by one of the doctors? - No. There was one S.S. in front and one at the back. That is all.

Did these parties usually arrive in trucks? - It varied - some prisoners arrived marching ; on the other hand, sick people arrived in trucks. These trucks were so constructed that they could be tipped over, and the drivers found amusement in doing so, and throwing the people out.

Did the people coming from Auschwitz camp, as opposed to those coming from the railway station, usually arrive in trucks ?-Yes.

Cross-examined by Captain CORBALLY - When the gas chambers and the crematoria were going to start working, and a new transport had arrived for gassing, did the chief of the Political Department come to the Sonderkommando and give them their orders? - He did not arrive to give orders, only to report the arrival of a transport.

Cross-examined by Lieut. JEDRZEJOWICZ - Have you ever heard, in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, of anybody being released from the gas chamber? - No, it was impossible.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - How many crematoria were there? - Four, and one which was called the "bunker," which was eventually a gas chamber. They were all in Birkenau.

How many gas chambers were there? - In each crematorium there were generally two gas chambers.

When you went to the Sonderkommando, what sort of duty were you supposed to perform as a doctor? - In case somebody had a wound amongst the people of the Sonderkommando. I remember one case, when one man was working, and he burned both his feet in the human, searing fat, which was so hot. It was my duty to give him a dressing.

The Trial (Evidence For The Prosecution - Dr Charles Sigsmund Bendel)