The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Excerpts from The Belsen Trial

Part 3 of 5:
Testimony of Josef Kramer

At this point begins the Belsen conditions as Kramer saw them.

Josef Kramer is questioned by his defense council, Major Winwood (pp. 157-158):

When you arrived at Auschwitz who was the Kommandant of the whole camp?

-- Obersturmbannführer Hoess. It was a very large camp and was subdivided into Camp Nos. 1, 2 and 3. I was Kommandant of Camp No. 2, Birkenau.

Will you explain to the Court how it is that, in the first statement you made, you said the allegations referring to gas chambers, mass executions, whipping and cruelty were untrue?

-- There are two reasons for that. The first is that in the first statement I was told that the prisoners alleged that these gas chambers were under my command, and the second and main reason was that Pohl, who spoke to me, took my word of honour that I should remain silent and should not tell anybody at all about the existence of the gas chambers. When I made my first statement I felt still bound by this word of honour which I had given. When I made the second statement in prison, in Celle, these persons to whom I felt bound in honour -- Adolf Hitler and Reichsführer Himmler -- were no loner alive and I thought then that I was no longer bound.

Did Kommandant Hoess say anything to you about the gas chambers?

-- I received a written order from him that I had nothing to do with either the gas chambers or the incoming transports. The Political Department which was in every camp had a card index system of prisoners and was responsible for personal documents and for any sort of transports or incoming prisoners. At Auschwitz the Political Department was also responsible for all the selections from incoming transports for the gas chamber. In the crematorium the S.S. and prisoners -- Sonderkommando -- were under the command of the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Hoess. As the place where the transports generally arrived was in the middle of my own camp I was sometimes present at their arrival. The people who took part in supervising and who were responsible for the security were partly from Auschwitz No. 1, and partly from my own camp at Birkenau, but the selection of these people who had to supervise was done by the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1. The actual selections of the internees were made only by doctors. Those who were selected for the gas chambers went to the different crematoria, those who were found to be fit for work came into two different parts of my camp, because the idea was that in a few days they were to be re-transferred to different parts of German for work.


What did you think of the whole gas chamber business?

-- I asked myself, "Is it really right about these persons who go to the gas chambers, and whether that person who signed for the first time these orders will be able to answer for it?" I did not know what the purpose of the gas chamber was.

Now on to his cross-examination by Major Backhouse (p. 174):

I suggest to you that you went on lying about the gas chamber until you were shown a photograph which had been taken of one at Natzweiler, and that was the first time you admitted the existence of such a thing?

-- It was not so, because between the two statements I was not asked any more.


What was the purpose of the Natzweiler camp?

--To let prisoners work in a quarry near by?

Were the prisoners not regularly supplied from that camp to Strasbourg for experiments?


Was there no gas chamber there before you arrived?

-- No.

Was it constructed under your instructions and did you quite deliberately gas 80 prisoners in that gas chamber?

--Yes, on the orders of Reichsführer Himmler.


Did you force these people into the gas chamber yourself?

-- Yes.

Did you actually put the gas in yourself and watch them inside as they died through a peephole you had made?

-- No.


Did you not describe that the women continued to breathe for about half a minute?

-- One could hear that. It was not necessary to observe.

Were you not chosen as Kommandant of Birkenau because you had proved yourself willing to do this sort of thing?

-- No, I do not think so, because I got a special order that I had nothing to do with either crematoria or transports.

When Kommandant Pohl demanded your word of honour not to talk about the gas chambers, why was it that you could not tell anybody if it was all legally proper and above board?

-- I do not know. Nothing could be said about concentration camps in the outside world.


Was the purpose of the gas chambers not a part of the determination of your Party to try and exterminate the Jewish race and all the intelligent people of Poland?

-- I do not know.


Kramer, under questioning about Belsen by the Prosection's Colonel Backhouse (p. 178):

Did you watch these people slowly starving and dying?

-- Yes. That is to say I did not look at it, but I saw from the daily reports how many people were dying every day.

Did you see these people gradually dying of starvation and thirst?

-- Yes, I mentioned these facts in my letter to Glücks.

And in spite of the fact that these people were starving and dying you ordered them out to Appell? [roll call]

-- Not the sick people.

Are you seriously suggesting that two doctors could certify the sick in that camp?

-- With these two doctors there were a certain number of doctors coming from the prisoners themselves. It is not my fault that I did not get any more S.S. Doctors.

Is it true that these people stood for hours on Appell fainting and being left where they lay in the snow?

-- It is not true. With the arrival of so many transports it was practically impossible to hold roll-calls, and at the utmost only two roll-calls were held each week.

How far was the river from the camp?

-- 400 to 500 metres.

Why did you not pump water from the river?

-- I had no apparatus or material.

Do you know that British troops did it with the material that was in the camp?

--Perhaps in the Wehrmacht barracks, but not in my camp.

Did you ever march some prisoners down to the river and let them get a drink?

--No, I was told that the water was not fit for drinking. The pumps worked with other water.

Do you know that is the water that has been used for the camp ever since?


You were using water out of the concrete tanks in the camp. Do you know what filth was found in those cisterns?

--No, I only know that when these ponds were pumped out for the first time there was dirt in them.

Was the reason you did not go to the General and tell him exactly what was happening because you were frightened to tell any decent person what was going on in your camp?

-- No.

There was a bakery in the Wehrmacht barracks capable of making 60,000 loaves a day. Do you not think that the General or any other decent person would have helped you with food if you had told them of the way in which these people were dying and shown them the living skeletons that were in your camp?

-- The General could not have helped me as the food that was in the stores could only be obtained by means of special indents and I could only get my food from civilian administration. He was not allowed to give me anything.

Did you ever ask him?

-- No. The food that was stored there was only for the Wehrmacht and the only thing I received from them was 10,000 loaves every week.

Did you not get vegetables from the Wehrmacht stores?

--No, but Camp No. 2 received some.

Is not the truth of the matter that you never tried in any way to help these people at all?

-- That is not true. I have written to the several firms to get additional food.

Kramer is questioned by the Judge Advocate (p. 181):

When a Jew was gassed and cremated at Auschwitz was any official record made in the records of the country of that person's death?

-- I do not think so. All these things were done by the Political department of Auschwitz No. 1.

Colonel Backhouse cross-examines Mrs. Rosina Kramer, the wife of Joseph Kramer (p. 183):

You said that Hoess had been sent to Auschwitz for the incoming transports. what transports were these?

-- I believe these were the transports which were destined for the gas chambers.

You knew about the gas chambers, then?

-- Everybody in Auschwitz knew about them.

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