The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Excerpts from The Belsen Trial

Part 1 of 5:
Opening Statement and Charges


Excerpts from The Trial of Josef Kramer and 44 others: The Belsen Trial, Edited by Raymond Phillips, M.C., M.A., B.L.C. (Oxon.), Barrister-at-Law, William Hodge and Company, London, 1949.

There were two charges Kramer was under during the trial (pp. 4-5):

COMMITTING A WAR CRIME IN THAT THEY

1st Charge:

At Bergen-Belsen, Germany, between 1st October, 1942, and 30th April, 1945, when members of the staff of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the persons interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Keith Meyer (a British national), Anna Kis, Sara Kohn (both Hungarian nationals), Heimech Glinovjechy and Maria Konatkevicz (both Polish nationals), and Marcel Freson de Montigny (a French national), Maurice Van Eijnsbergen (a Dutch national), Maurice Anvlenaar (a Belgian national), Jan Markowski and Georgej Ferenz (both Polish nationals), Salvatore Verdura (an Italian national), and Therese Klee (a British national of Honduras), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to Harold Osmmund le Druillenec (a British national), Benee Zuchermann, a female internee named Korperova, a female internee named Hoffmann, Luba Rormann, Isa Frydmann (all Polish nationals) and Alexandra Siwidowa, a Russian national and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.

2nd Charge:

[...]

COMMITTING A WAR CRIME IN THAT THEY

At Auschwitz, Poland, between 1st October, 1942, and 30 April, 1945, when members of the staff of Auschwitz Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the prisoners interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Rachella Silbersein (a Polish national), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particualrly to Ewa Gryka and Hanka Rosenwayg (both Polish nationals) and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.

From the opening speech for the Prosecution (Colonel Backhouse speaking, p. 21):

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, farms, displaced persons from the whole of northwest 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.O.s of the S.S. numbering some 60 to 70.

Backhouse continues (p. 24):

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 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 Birnie [Burney], who arrived on the 15th of 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 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, 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 of a fully stocked bakery in the Wehrmacht Camp with a terrific grain supply and capable of turning out 60,000 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 S.S. quarters 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 on to every kitchen, and within five days, with the assistance of only 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.

Backhouse continues (p. 30):

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.


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