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

The Trial (Opening Speech For The Prosecution)
Colonel BACKHOUSE - May it please the Court. Each of the charges in this case are that when the accused were members of the staff of one or other of these two concentration camps, and as such responsible for the well-being of the prisoners interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war they were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of the persons interned in the camp, and by that ill-treatment they caused the death of some and they caused physical suffering to others.

As it is the first case of this kind to be tried I shall put before the Court the grounds on which we claim jurisdiction to try these charges We base that claim on International Law as set out in the Laws and Usages of War in the Manual of Military Law. Chapter 14, paragraph 449, says that by the Laws and Usages of War any person committing or alleged to have committed a war crime may properly be dealt with by a Military Court or such Court as the belligerent may determine.

His Majesty the King has given a Royal Warrant[11] which is to be found in Army Order 81 of 1945, setting out : "Whereas We deem it expedient to make provisions for the trial and punishment of violation of the laws and usages of war committed during any war in which we have been or may be engaged at any time after the 2nd day of September, 1939, Our will and pleasure is that the custody, trial and punishment of persons charged with such violations of the laws and usages of war as aforesaid shall be governed by the Regulations attached to this Our Warrant." Regulation 2 of that Warrant provides: "The following persons shall have power to convene Military Courts for the trial of persons charged with having committed war crimes," and includes inter alia any officer authorised so to do under the Warrant, which are set out in the previous paragraph. The Royal Warrant has been directed to the Commander-in-Chief, British Army of the Rhine, and he in turn has given a delegated Warrant to the General Officer Commanding 30 Corps, and it is by this Warrant that the Court is convened to-day.

The Prosecution say that the acts set out in the charges are undoubtedly war crimes, if they are proved, because the persons interned both at Auschwitz and Belsen were, amongst others - we are not, of course, concerned in this trial with atrocities by Germans against Germans - Allied nationals. You will hear that there were a great number of Allied nationals in those camps; they were either prisoners of war or persons who had been deported from occupied countries or persons who had been interned in the ordinary way. They were all persons who had been placed there without a trial, either because of their religion, or their nationality, or their refusal to work for the enemy, or merely because they were prisoners of war who it was thought might conveniently be used in such places or exterminated in such places.

The Laws and Usages of War provide for the proper, treatment not only of prisoners of war but of civilian citizens of the nations which are occupied by a belligerent. Everyone knows what the proper treatment of a prisoner of war is - he cannot be starved, beaten, arbitrarily punished, killed, and none of these things, in any event, can happen to him without proper trial. So far as the inhabitants of occupied territories are concerned, who are the majority of witnesses in this case, Chapter XIV, paragraph 383, of the Manual of Military Law says, "It is the duty of the occupant to see that the lives of inhabitants are respected, that their domestic peace and honour are not disturbed, that their religious convictions are not interfered with, and generally, that duress, unlawful and criminal attacks or their persons, and felonious actions as regards their property, are just as punishable as in times of peace. Chapter XIV, paragraph 59 (f) reads, "Women shall be treated with all consideration due to their sex," to quote from the Hague Convention of 1907, to which Germany was a signatory, "Family honour and right, individual life and private property, as well as religious convictions and worship must be respected."

Again, to quote from the Manual of Military Law, Chapter XIV., Section 441 reads, "The term ‘War Crime’ is the technical expression for such an act of enemy soldiers and enemy civilians as may be visited by punishment or capture of the offenders." Paragraph 442 reads, "War Crimes may be divided into four different classes," the first of such classes being violations of the recognised rules of warfare. In the following paragraph are set out the most important violations, two of which are ill-treatment of prisoners of war in occupied countries, and although the words "inhabitants in occupied countries" are used, it is quite obvious that that should and can properly be extended to "all inhabitants of occupied countries who have been deported from their own country," the deportation, in fact, being a further infringement. Perhaps it is put most clearly in an article by Professor Brierly, the present Professor of International Law at Oxford University, "Most of the difficulty disappears if we imagine the sort of question which the Court will have to answer: Can this killing which would normally be murder, this injury which would normally be unlawful wounding, this taking of property which would normally be theft, be justified as an act of war? If not it will be a war crime."

When the Court have heard as to what happened both at Belsen and at Auschwitz, the Prosecution will ask you to say that the treatment of these Allied nationals in each of those camps was such as to leave you no doubt whatsoever that a war crime had been committed, that murder had been committed, for which those who you find responsible should be punished as war criminals within the jurisdiction of this Court.

The persons who the Prosecution allege suffered these injuries, who were killed, who were ill-treated, came from ten different nationalities.

Britain is the country who is controlling this zone of Germany and holds these accused. Britain has accepted the responsibility of this trial with the concurrence of the United Nations War Crimes Commission on which all these nationalities are represented, and observers have been invited from each of the countries who had nationals in this camp. There were not many British persons in that camp. You will have the advantage of hearing the evidence of the only one of them who is alive as far as we know. When you have heard the evidence the Prosecution will ask you to say that there was in each of these camps a complete disregard for Regulation 46 of the Hague Convention, a complete disregard for the principles set out in the Manual of Military Law, of the way in which the inhabitants of an occupied country should be treated and, in particular, the way in which women should be treated a complete disregard for the sanctity of human, life and for human suffering, and we shall ask you to say, that that disregard was shared, by each and every, one of the accused.

I shall ask you to say that the conditions which were found in Belsen, and the conditions which you will hear of with regard to Auschwitz, were brought about not only by criminal neglect but that they were caused by deliberate starvation and ill-treatment, with the malicious knowledge that they must cause death; that such starvation and ill-treatment as occurred was bound to cause the death of many and to cause lasting physical injury to many more. In respect of Auschwitz I will go further and say that not only, will the Prosecution ask you to say that it was done with the deliberate knowledge that the conditions would cause death, but that there was deliberate killing of thousands and probably millions of people, quite deliberate cold-blooded extermination of millions of people in that camp, and that each of the accused who, was serving at Auschwitz and is charged in the second charge had his or, her share in this joint endeavour in this group of persons who were carrying out this policy of deliberate extermination. In respect of Belsen, there will not be an allegation that there was a gas chamber or that persons were herded by their thousands to their death, but there will be an allegation that by the treatment that was given to the people at Belsen, every member of the staff at Belsen who stands before you bore their share in that treatment which they knew was causing and would continue to cause death and injury.

I shall ask the Court to view the evidence as a whole and I shall ask them to say that each must bear his responsibility not only for the actions of his own hand but for the actions of this criminal gang who were working together. Nevertheless, lest there should be the slightest doubt, no person has been brought before this Court against whom the Prosecution will not produce some evidence of personal acts of active and deliberate cruelty and, in many cases, murder. If you view these separate acts separately, you must, of course, decide each individual case against each individual accused, whether he is guilty or not guilty, but in to considering the separate evidence of these individual acts of cruelty I ask the Court to bear them in mind not only as individual acts but as acts of one of the members of this group, which is evidence not only against himself but against every single one of the persons who were working in that camp as part of that group taking part in this concerted ill-treatment.

The most convenient way of opening this case is to deal first of all with the conditions which were found at Belsen when that camp was over-run. You will hear that in the second week of April of this year there arrived at 8 Corps Headquarters certain German officers asking for a local truce, because they said we were about to over-run a camp containing some 60000 prisoners where typhus and other infectious diseases were rampant, and that the truce was necessary if typhus was not to spread throughout both the armies fighting there. After certain negotiations a truce was agreed to in which, amongst other things, it was agreed that the administrative N.C.Os. and officers of the S.S. who were in charge of the camp would remain with certain Hungarian guards who were there, and that the S.S. would be given an option after eight days of leaving and being taken through the lines.

On 15th April, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a Lieutenant Sington was the first British officer to arrive at the camp. He arrived with a loud-speaker van with a view to making an announcement, and he was followed shortly after by Lieut.-Colonel Taylor, Officer Commanding 63 Anti-Tank Regiment, who, together with one of his batteries, moved in to take over the direction of the camp. They in turn were followed by a Major Berney, Headquarters 8 Corps, and by Brigadier Glyn Hughes, who was D.D.M.S. of the Second Army. The account which I propose to give you of the conditions which were found there is virtually the sum of what these officers found, although, of course, they did not find everything by any means on the first day.

The camp itself was about 15 miles north of Celle, and the most convenient way of describing it is to say, that if you approach the camp it is almost like a very small Catterick. When you first arrive you see magnificent barrack blocks, a beautiful theatre and hospital and beautiful messes, but you find that that was the Panzer Grenadier training centre, and you go about a mile down a track from there and that is where you find what was Belsen Concentration Camp. It is roughly a kilometre and a half long and 300 to 350 metres wide. It was surrounded by wire, and in, that compound there were about 60 wooden huts or thereabouts. About 15 of those were used for guards and about 45 for the internees. It was split again into five compounds, apart from the administrative compound, three for the men and two for the women. There were found in the men's compound approximately 12000 men and in the women's compound 28000 women. For the whole of this camp there were five cookhouses, two for the men, two for the women, and one mixed one. For water supply there were two or three concrete ponds or tanks. Situated about the camp there was a block of administrative offices, and in there there were 15 shower-baths and four large disinfectors, which could have coped with about 60 suits in one and a half hours. There were some prison cells and a small crematorium which had not been used for some little time. Each compound was separated from the others by wire, and there were guard towers at the corner. But the conditions which were found in that camp were quite indescribable; I know of no words which would begin to paint the picture. There was a dense mass of emaciated scarecrows, simply living skeletons, lying, sitting and shuffling about the place.

Captain Sington will tell you that although that is a description which is given of the camp by the medical officers, they did not see it until a great change had taken place. He says that after he had arrived and made his announcement that they were free, although the position was still this dirty collection of living skeletons in rags shuffling about and not properly understanding what was happening, that was indescribably better than the condition when be went in there before they knew they were free. He cannot find words at all to begin to indicate the conditions. In the men's quarters in the first camp typhus was on the wane, but in the second camp there were 266 cases of typhus amongst 8000 people there, and it was still continuing. In the No. 3 Men's Camp there were no hospital huts at all. In the No. 1 Women's Camp there were 23000 women and some 500 children. Of these 2000 were acute hospital cases but there were only 474 bunks amongst them all. There were 250 cases of typhus. In the No. 2 Women's Camp there were 5000 women; there was a hospital hut, but it had no bunks at all, and there were 300 cases of typhus not even segregated from the remainder.

It may fairly be said that there were ten people in the space that could properly, be occupied by one, and that is even on the more crowded scale of accommodation which the German Army accepted as opposed to the accommodation which we normally accept. In an ordinary hut where we would say that there was sufficient room for 80 there were from 600 to 1000 crammed in. In the huts the living and the dying and the dead were all together. Lying about the camp there. were no less than 13000 corpses unburied, and you will hear that for the last few days before the British came into the camp, when it was obvious to the accused that before long the British would be there, there had been a continuous procession of these wretched skeletons, four of them to a corpse, dragging them for 12 hours a day: 2000 men dragging corpses for 12 hours a day, burying them in large pits. But there were still 13000 corpses lying waiting for burial. The condition of the corpses was something which cannot be imagined. They were so thin that it was easy for a normal man or woman to carry one, but the living were in such a weak and dreadful condition that it took four of them to drag one.

There were virtually no latrines at all. There had been some, but the water supply was not working and they were totally inadequate. The only provision for men and for women had been some pits with a pole across, but in fact the internees were too weak to drag themselves to them and you will hear that whilst this dreadful procession of corpses was taking place they were not even allowed to go to the latrines. The result was that there was excreta all over the place, because do not forget that something like 80 per cent. of these people had dysentery. You will hear that they were locked in their huts at night so crowded that it was quite impossible to lie down even on the floor; they had to sit jammed to each other. Some of the stronger ones and more enterprising would get boards and put them across the rafters and get up there. You will hear that some of those who did so had dysentery, and it was quite impossible to move from below them.

These were the conditions at night, and it is not to be wondered at that when the medical authorities had time to check up properly on the persons in that camp they found this position, that of the 12000 men 2242 were acutely ill, a further 7000 required treatment, and there were 59 new cases a day. Of the 28185 women, 2000 were acutely ill, 18,600 required treatment, and there were 125 new cases a day. In addition to the 13000 corpses found lying there, within the next six weeks with all the care and attention which could be rushed to their assistance, no less than 13000 more died, and indeed, in addition to that 13000, there were still six weeks later 11000 in hospital and 54 died on 27th May - an arbitrary date, but they were still dying then.

The causes of death were mainly starvation, thirst and ill-treatment, beating to death and shooting, but the starvation was killing every person in that camp. If a man did not die directly of starvation, he was so weakened that he had no resistance whatsoever to disease. If he did not die of either, he died of overwork or of the beating he received. You will hear, for example, that in Block 13 the average life of a man there was 12 days from arrival. The food position was such that the ordinary rations in a concentration camp, quite apart from any peculiarities which may arise, was a cup of weak ersatz coffee for breakfast, some turnip soup with sometimes a little bread for midday meal, and the evening meal did not exist. The English witness will tell you that the sum total of the food he received during the first four days, for the whole of four days, amounted to less than half a litre of soup and no bread and half a mugful of water. During the last five days before the liberation he received neither food nor water, and he was being required, with the other prisoners in the camp, to work 12 hours a day, dragging corpses. Although they had not the strength to move them they had to move fast; not really fast, but it seemed fast because the moment they faltered, they were beaten about the head with sticks, and as they passed various places if they faltered they were shot. There was one guard standing there and every man who was a yard in front was shot - the guard did not like them. They fell by the wayside, and you will hear that that was normal.

It is proposed to show a film which was taken when the British authorities went into the camp, and that will give you some idea of the conditions and the degradation to which the human mind can descend. You will see the thousands of corpses lying about and the condition of those bodies. You will also see the well-fed condition of the S.S. who were stationed there. You will see people fishing for water with tins in a small tank. What you will not see is that the water was foul and that there were bodies in it. That was all the water that was available to drink. You will see the dead; you will see the living and you will actually see the dying. What the film cannot give you is the abominable smell, the filth and squalor of the whole place which stank to high heaven. If there is any one of the accused who suggests that he did not know what the conditions were, if you will merely draw the only possible inference when you have seen the film, the Prosecution will ask you to say that it is a hopeless lie for anyone to suggest that he did not know what was happening in that camp.

So far as one knows, Belsen was originally a small camp, a transit camp, but at the end of November of last year Josef Kramer, who had been in the concentration camp service throughout the period of Nazi ascendancy, having joined as a volunteer in 1932, was called to Berlin. He had been the commander of a portion of Auschwitz. In Berlin he saw the head of the concentration camp service and was told that Belsen was to become a convalescent camp for sick persons from concentration camps, factories, and farms, displaced persons from the whole of north-west Europe. He was told to go and look at the camp and if he found any difficulties he was to report back. He went there, and from 1st December he was the Kommandant of the camp and in sole charge. There were no standing orders from Berlin; the administration was left to him, and the Prosecution will ask you to say that he is primarily responsible for everything that happened in that camp. He was assisted by an officer in charge of administration, who I regret is not before the Court, by a criminal investigation officer, a doctor, a dentist, and the rest of his staff, apart from the guard commander, who did not come directly under him, were Warrant Officers and N.C.Os. of the S.S. numbering some 60 to 70.

You will find in Belsen, as in every other concentration camp, two classes of persons exercising authority. There are the S. S. men in charge of the kitchens, the blocks, the working parties, the roll-calls, and so on, generally known as the Lagerführer, Blockführer, or the Kommandoführer. Wherever you find the word "Führer" you may take it that it is the S. S. men in charge. In addition to that there were appointed virtually prefects amongst the internees. Perhaps the Court may know that in English law we have a provision which is hardly ever put into operation that if a man becomes an habitual criminal, provided the court are satisfied that he has adopted a life completely of crime, and he is sentenced to penal servitude, then at the end of his sentence he may be held for a period in preventive detention. Concentration camps were used for such persons as well, but they, you will find, were generally made the prefects or Lagerältesten, one to each block, to each room, and, as a rule, to each Kommando. They were very often more cruel than the guards. Some of them, of course, you will find amongst the accused, but that in no way exempts the guards for their conduct. In this case you will find that they were working together and were part of this system.

Reveille was normally at four o'clock in the morning. No one was exempt at all; sick or dying had to be dragged out and then they were required to stand and very often they stood for hours. Anyone who moved was punished by being beaten on the head with a stick, and very often beaten and kicked on the ground and in many cases left dead. Of course, you must realise the condition of these people. It is one thing for a healthy man to be struck on the head with a pole and kicked on the ground, but it is a totally, different thing for someone in a bad state to be beaten because with a slight push he will be down on the ground, sometimes never to get up again.

Breakfast consisted of one cup of coffee, which was followed by another roll-call at half-past five. Then those inmates who were fit to move at all were divided up into working Kommandos or parties for collecting wood, road repairs, tailor room orderlies, food-storemen, and so on. Their working hours were 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the winter and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer, with an hour for lunch, such as it was - half a pint of turnip soup. Sometimes they had bread; the most it ever was was 300 grammes a day, but latterly, no bread at all. During the night they were locked in the huts, but if by any chance someone was missed the whole lot were brought out on parade at two or three in the morning and were kept there the rest of the night whilst they tried to find the missing one.

Wherever they went and whatever they were doing, you will hear of this regular and systematic beating. Every guard carried a stick, a rubber truncheon, a whip, or a revolver. They used anything that came to their hands, iron bars, fists and feet, and as a rule beat them on the head and continued the merciless beating after the men had been knocked to the ground. Men and women alike were killed by such beatings. Latterly, towards the end, the internees were beginning to scramble for bits of potato peel, swede, anything. People were hanging round the kitchens to try and get a meatless bone out of the swill or try to get the peelings from the swedes. You will hear again and again of beatings and shootings of such persons. They were driven to try and steal anything at all because they were starving.

Finally many of them resorted to cannibalism, and they were driven to the length of cutting flesh from the dead bodies and eating it. You will hear from Mr. Le Druillenec, a British subject who was in the camp, that when he was engaged in this miserable process of dragging the corpses away, as many as one in ten had a piece cut from the thigh or some other, part of the body, which had been taken and eaten, and he saw people actually doing it. That was the length to which they had been brought.

Mr. Le Druillenec was arrested in Jersey one day before D-day, because his sister had helped a Russian officer to escape. He was put into various prisons and concentration camps and finally came here to Lüneburg by train, and from Lüneburg he was taken by truck, arriving at Belsen about half-past ten at night on 5th April, 1945. In a concentration camp you are not very sure of either date or time because you have no belongings of your own - everything you try to keep, even your pocket handkerchiefs, are taken away from you and you are beaten for having them. You have no name; that is why you find few of the prisoners know the names of others. You have a number tattooed on your arm and you are known by that number. When Mr. Le Druillenec arrived at the camp he was offered some soup. He was posted to Block 13 and was offered some soup in exchange for any cigarettes or bread he had brought, and anyone who could not produce such articles got no soup. He was locked in there with 600 others. The floor was wet and indescribably foul, having been used as a latrine by people who were too weak to move. They were so overcrowded that he had to sleep sitting up because he could not lie down. They were kept locked in there during the night. Eight or nine of them died there that night, and died every night he was there. The corpses, of course, were not taken out ; they stayed there with the living. At 3.30 in the morning he was called out, being assisted out by the usual beating. They went out on to their miserable parade without anything to eat. They were then kept standing at attention till eight o'clock. Anybody who moved was beaten. Some fell, and then they were kicked and beaten on the ground. If they could get up they did, but if not they lay there.

The first day they did little. The next day they were dragged out again at an early hour and divided into fours. They then set off in groups of four, and had to drag the corpses and put them in the large burial pits to begin with; but eventually they piled the corpses up because there was nowhere to bury them. They did that in order to clear, the camp before the British arrived. Every guard carried a stick or a piece of wood and the orderlies or Blockältesten, whom I term prefects, lined the road armed with sticks and rubber truncheons and anybody who faltered was beaten, and for twelve solid hours that miserable procession dragged itself round. Their only food was an ordinary British Army mug less than a quarter full of turnip soup. They passed one of the water reservoirs, such as it was, each time they went round and you can imagine the dust as they dragged these corpses. They were not allowed to stop, and they were not allowed to have a drink at all throughout the day. If they faltered a yard or so behind the man in front they were beaten till they got up. That is how he spent the first four days, and that is all that he had to eat during these four days. The last five days he had neither food nor water. The one and only thing that kept him alive was the fact that he could hear the guns, and he felt that if he could keep alive for one more day then possibly, someone would come. All day you would hear shots going off about the camp and you would see the guards amusing themselves by shooting the internees for no apparent reason at all. For the last three days the shots were more or less insistent.

That is the picture of what Belsen was like. It may be that it will be put to you that what was happening was that transports full of people were coming in from other camps, that they were over-run and it was impossible to get food owing to the British having smashed up the transport. Kramer says that he did everything he could to try to provide food for these poor people, to try and provide water for them and to see to their health and well-being. You will hear Major Berney, who arrived on 15th April with Colonel Taylor. The next morning he went off to a Wehrmacht camp which was about a mile up the road and saw the quartermaster. You will hear that that is where the food for the concentration camp came from. Kramer will tell you that the reason he could not get food was because it came from Celle and Hanover [Hannover], but it in fact came from the Wehrmacht Camp. In that camp there was any amount of food which could have been distributed to these poor people. Kramer, of course, says that it was impossible to get bread, but he tried his best. You will hear that there was a fully stocked bakery in the Wehrmacht Camp with a terrific grain supply and capable of turning out 60000 loaves a day which it did immediately afterwards and continued to do so with the same staff and from the same stock of grain.

There were vast quantities of medical supplies which have not been exhausted yet. You will hear that in the administration block in No. 1 Camp there were about 100 wooden boxes of tinned milk and meat which were in the S.S. quarters and marked "Hungarian." They were Red Cross parcels which had been sent to the Hungarian internees by the Hungarian Red Cross and had been stolen by the S.S. guards. With regard to the water supply, although the camp had been without water for from three to five days and that all there was were these foul concrete tanks with bodies in them, as soon as somebody started to try and do something, within two days, with the equipment which was already in that camp and with no addition to it, there was an adequate working water supply laid out to every kitchen, and that within five days, with the assistance only of the local fire brigade, there was a complete and proper water system running throughout the camp. So much for the story that this was a breakdown of organization due to war conditions. You will hear that there was nothing lacking to provide full water and sanitation in that camp had anybody wanted to do it at all.

When the investigation began going into details of the conditions it soon became quite obvious that most of the internees who were still alive had come from other camps. As you will probably realise, the life of an internee in Belsen was not a long one. Most of the internees had come from other camps, and a considerable number came from Auschwitz. Auschwitz is about 50 miles S.S.W. of Dachau in Poland, and Kramer states that he first went there in May, 1940, when it was a small camp of about 3000 or 4000 people who were building it. They were then living in wooden huts and were building stone ones. There was a guard at that time of 40 or 50 S.S., and the death rate of the internees was about 36 a week. Kramer left in November, 1940, and did not go back till May, 1944, when it had become the biggest concentration camp in Europe, a huge place with a number of subsidiary camps.

Kramer became Kommandant of one section of the camp, and was called a camp commander although his duties were those of a Lagerführer for his section of the camp. According to him, he had 15000 to 40000 internees in his portion of the camp. There were 80 or 90 huts for men and 60 for women, and there were 25 to 30 hospital huts. At about this time there were 450 to 600 deaths a week he says. You will hear that in Auschwitz there was very much the same routine as at Belsen - up early in the morning, persons beaten at the slightest excuse and sent out on hard working parties. But there were some incidents which one had not heard of at Belsen. You will hear that some of these S.S. women amused themselves by having large hounds which they set upon persons, deliberately letting them tear the persons to pieces - bite them and tear them till they died. That was one of their amusements, but the real purpose was the quite cold-blooded determination to exterminate all who were not fit to act as beasts of burden for Germany. You will hear that in Kramer’s camp alone there were five gas chambers. When you went inside one you came to what appeared to be a changing room ; there were hooks all round to put clothes on. Unsuspecting persons were taken there and told by loud-speaker to strap their clothes up carefully all ready for when they came out from their bath, Then, naked, they were taken to the next room where there were five rows of apparently 20 sprays. The door was then locked. It would hold about 1000 people at a time. The place was gas proof, and gas was turned on and these persons were gassed deliberately and killed. There was a door at the other end, a trolley and rails, and the bodies were loaded on the trolley and taken straight to the crematorium. These chambers were used for the extermination of all unfit persons.

You have got to try and imagine the type of men that were prepared for this mass murder of every person unfit to serve the Reich. There were occasions when selections, as they were called, were made on arrival. The transports arrived and before people were posted to their blocks, selections were made, and the old, children, pregnant women, weak or sick, or those showing signs of unfitness, never went into the camp at all - they were loaded on lorries and taken straight to the gas chambers where they were scientifically murdered. Everyone in the camp knew about it, Every one of the accused who was at Auschwitz knew about it, and you will hear that the majority of them took an active part in the selection of victims for the gas chamber. In November, 1944, in one transport of 1400 people only 400 were accepted and the remainder were taken and gassed straight away. In another transport of 5000 persons, 4500 were gassed. 45000 Greek Jews were taken to that camp, and when they were evacuating the prison only 60 were left out of that number.

In addition to the selections when people arrived, there were held two or three times a week selections to weed out people who had become unfit for work, and you will hear that on one occasion when that happened the camp band was playing while the selections were made. Those taking the selections included Dr. Klein, No. 2 of the accused, who admits freely and frankly that he did so. Kramer, No. 1, states in his first statement that he never heard of such a thing, that there could not have been a gas chamber in the camp; he must have known about it, and says in his second statement he saw it on his first inspection of the camp, although, of course, he says he had nothing to do with it, it was the responsibility of his senior officers. It was made clear to him that he had no control over the gas chamber. But there are plenty of witnesses who will tell you he was there taking an active part in these selections. At other times people were selected in hospital. For instance, on 1st December, 1943, there were 4124 women in hospital, 4000 were taken out and gassed, patients were made to run naked round the hospital and those who could not keep up were taken to the gas chamber. In May, 1944, you will hear that the gas chambers were being used so fast that the crematoria could not keep up with them and the bodies had to be thrown in ditches and burned, One of the men who worked in one of the crematoria will tell you that in three months in one of the five chambers alone 20000 people were gassed, and you will hear from a witness, herself a doctor, that from records she has seen there were no less than 4000000 people cremated in that camp. You will hear an actual account of what the gassing was like from two people who were sent into the gas chamber and rescued at the last moment, and you will hear that the victims foamed at the mouth, turned blue and finally died. You will hear that Kramer, Klein, Hoessler, Volkenrath, Grese and Lobauer all took an active part in the selections, and if the Court believes that evidence I shall ask the Court to say that they are satisfied that every one of the guards at Auschwitz who is brought before you was plainly guilty of what is mass murder, deliberate mass murder.

As you appreciate, although this trial is by Military British Law, under the regulations there have been certain alterations made in the laws of evidence, for the obvious reason that if there were not, so many people would be bound to escape justice, because of movements of witnesses in this country. As you are aware affidavits may be put before the Court. Now in Belsen there were some 40000 people when we took over, 28000 women and 12000 men. Many of these were hospital cases, and a great many more were anxious to go away as fast as they could. They spoke almost every language under the sun, and the investigation of a case like this was tremendous because nobody there was interested in investigating a war crime while there were still people whose lives were in danger. Everybody’s services were used first of all to try and save the lives of those poor unfortunates who were still there. What was done was to take affidavits as far as possible from witnesses, and you will have most of the evidence by affidavits and those supplied by way of abstract. But a great many of these people disappeared; it was impossible for us to keep 40000 people in check, and the result is that there are not many still here. I will call those available, and then I shall put the affidavits before the Court and ask for that evidence to be accepted.

There is one last thing I would like to do, and that is virtually to introduce the accused to you. They divide themselves into two classes, and the first group are S. S, who were at Auschwitz as well as at Belsen. No. 1 is Josef Kramer, who was Kommandant at Auschwitz and subsequently Kommandant at Belsen. He joined the S.S. as a volunteer and has been a concentration camp guard all his service at one camp or another, gradually going up. No. 2, Dr. Klein, is a Rumanian who joined the Waffen S.S. voluntarily in June, 1943. He was a recruiting doctor in Cracow [Kraków] for a time and from December, 1943, onwards, he has been in concentration camps. First of all he was in Auschwitz, and you will hear from several witnesses that he took part usually in the selection of victims for the gas chamber - he makes no secret of it and admits it freely. He came to Belsen in the middle of February and his own story is that he was only in the camp three days before the British arrived. That does not agree with the evidence of other witnesses. He realised the conditions and what view any honest people would take finding that camp, and he will tell you that he told Kramer that the British, on their arrival, if they had any sense, would put himself and Kramer against the wall and shoot them.

No. 3, Weingartner, was a Blockführer of one of the women's camps at Auschwitz, and had some 1000 women under him. At Belsen he again became a Blockführer. No. 4, Kraft, was an S.S. guard at Auschwitz and again at Belsen where he looked after the bread and ration store. No 5, Hoessler, was a Lagerführer at Auschwitz, which really means the head S.S. man under the Kommandant in the camp. He joined the S.S. as a volunteer in January, 1933, and had served in concentration camps during the whole of the Nazi regime. He was in charge of the women’s camp under Kramer, and after he left Auschwitz he went to another camp called Dora, and from there he came to Belsen where he became Lagerführer of No. 2 Camp. No. 6, Bormann, was in charge of the clothing store first of all and later of the working parties at Auschwitz, and you will hear how she took part both in the amusement of setting dogs on women and in the selections for the gas chamber. When she came to Belsen she was in charge of the pig-sty, where she continued her course of conduct. No. 7, Volkenrath, regularly took part in the selections for the gas chamber at Auschwitz, and she inflicted many personal cruelties on people. When she came to Belsen she was placed in charge of all S.S. women as the head woman in the camp by Kramer. You will hear again of her many cruelties at Belsen. No. 8, Ehlert, was an S.S. guard. She claims to be a conscript to the S. S. which she joined on 15th November, 1940. After a career in various concentration camps she eventually arrived in Belsen, after a spell first of all at Auschwitz. She was the second in command of the women, and, like so many others, considers the conditions there were a shame and disgrace, but, of course, were caused by everybody other than herself. No. 9, Grese, was the Kommandant of working parties, and for a time was in command of the women’s punishment quarter at Auschwitz. She has been described as the worst woman in the camp, and there is not one type of cruelty which took place in that camp for which she has not been known as being responsible. She regularly took part in the selections for the gas chamber, made up punishments of her own, and when she came to Belsen she carried on in precisely the same way. She, too, specialised in setting dogs on people.

No. 17, Gura, was a Blockführer, and you will hear of at least two murders by him there. No. 26, Schreirer, was a Blockführer, and you will hear of his regular cruelty. These are the S.S. members who were in Auschwitz. The remaining three persons charged in respect of Auschwitz are No. 10, Lothe; No. 11, Lobauer; No. 48, Starostka. Who were these persons? They are referred to as Kapos, which is a universal, term applied to prisoners placed in authority, or as Blockältesten or Lagerältesten. Lobauer was in charge of the women’s working parties and she was just as cruel as any of the S.S. women, and encouraged them to turn dogs on internees. Lobauer was Lager-Kapo and took an active part in the selection of victims for the gas chamber, and in many other cruelties. Starostka was first a Blockälteste and later a Lagerälteste, and took an equal part in the cruelties. These are the prisoners concerned with Auschwitz.

With regard to the others. At Belsen No. 12, Klippel; No. 16, Francioh; No 18, Mathes; No. 22, Pichen; No, 28, Barsch; No. 33, Ilse Forster; No. 34, Ida Forster; No. 39, Haschke; No. 42, Lisiewitz; and No. 44, Hempel - all worked in the kitchens and you will hear how each and every one of those people behaved to the internees. When you have considered the way in which they behaved a each of these kitchens I will suggest that the Court can no longer have the slightest doubt that there was concerted action, because it could not be coincidence that each of them should behave in the same callous way.

Of the remainder, two are Blockführer, No. 23, Otto, and No. 47, Polanski; and there are a number of what I might call miscellaneous administrative staff. No. 14, Schmitz; No. 21, Egersdorf, who was in charge of the bread store; No. 35, Opitz, who was in charge of a working party; No. 36, Charlotte Klein; No. 37, Bothe; No 38, Walter, who was in charge of the garden; No. 40, Fiest; No. 41, Sauer; No. 45, Hahnel, who was in charge of the bath-house. There are two persons who came with the transport from Dora, an S.S. man, No. 19, Kulessa, and No. 31, Ostrowski, one of his Kapos. Two more came with the transport from Nordhausen, No. 25, Stofel, who was in charge, and No. 27, Dorr, his second in command. The remainder may all be introduced as Kapos of one kind or another - No. 20, Burgraf; No. 29, Zoddel; No. 30, Schlomoivicz; No. 32, Aurdzieg; No. 43, Roth; and No. 46, Koper.

If you are satisfied on the evidence that these conditions did exist in Belsen and in Auschwitz, then the Prosecution have amply made out a case against each one of those prisoners who took an active part at either of those camps, however small it may be. It is the duty of the Prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond any reasonable doubt, and unless the Prosecution have fulfilled that burden of proof then it will be your duty, to acquit any one of these persons you may be in doubt about; but if you are satisfied that they in fact acquiesced in and took part in the atrocities of which you will be told, that they created conditions which you will see in so far as they can be seen on a film, that they were responsible for the mass murders both at Belsen and at Auschwitz, then the Prosecution say they have made out their case, and that the charges which have been put before you have been fully proved.

The Trial (Opening Speech For The Prosecution)