Josef Kramer (November 10, 1906 – December 13, 1945) was the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Dubbed "The Beast of Belsen" by camp inmates; he was a notorious Nazi war criminal, directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. He was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Hameln prison after World War II.
Kramer was born in Munich and joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and the SS in 1932. His SS training led him into work as a prison guard and, after the outbreak of war, as a concentration camp guard.
In 1934, he was assigned as a guard at Dachau. His promotion was rapid, obtaining senior posts at Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen concentration camps. He became assistant to Rudolf Höß, the Commandant at Auschwitz in 1940 and later the Commandant of Natzweiler concentration camp in April 1941.
In 1940, he accompanied Rudolf Höß to inspect Auschwitz as a possible site for a new synthetic coal oil and rubber plant, which was a vital industry in Germany given its shortage of oil.
Kramer was promoted to the rank of Hauptsturmführer in 1942 and, in May 1944, was put in charge of the gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau compound. He was to hold that position until December 1944, when he was transferred out as Commandant of Belsen.
At Auschwitz, Kramer soon became notorious among his subordinates as a harsh taskmaster. One of the defendants at the Frankfurt Trial, Dr. Franz Lucas, testified that he tried to avoid assignments given him by Kramer by pleading stomach and intestinal disorders.
When Dr. Lucas saw that his name had been added to the list of selecting physicians for a large group of inmates transferred from Hungary, he objected strenuously. Kramer reacted sharply: "I know you are being investigated for favouring prisoners. I am now ordering you to go to the ramp, and if you fail to obey an order, I shall have you arrested on the spot".
In August 1943 Kramer received 80 inmates who were to be killed with gas. He had the women stripped and, once naked, had them herded into the gas chambers.
He later testified "When the door closed they began to scream. I put in a small amount of salt through a tube and looked through a peephole to see what happened. The women breathed about a minute before they fell to the floor." Kramer repeated this until all were dead. When asked how he felt about this he said, "I had no feelings in carrying out these things because I had received an order."
In December 1944, Kramer was transferred from Birkenau to Belsen, near the village of Bergen. Belsen had originally served as a temporary camp for those leaving Germany, but during the war had been expanded to serve as a convalescent depot for the ill and displaced people from across north-west Europe.
Although it had no gas chambers, Kramer's rule was so harsh that he became known as the 'Beast of Belsen'. As Germany collapsed administration of the camp broke down, but Kramer remained devoted to bureaucracy.
On March 1, 1945, he filed a report stating that of the 42,000 inmates in his camp, 250-300 had died from typhus. On March 19, the number of inmates rose to 60,000 as the Germans continued to evacuate camps that were soon to be liberated by the Allies. As late as the week of April 13, some 28,000 additional prisoners were brought in.
With the collapse of administration and many guards fleeing to escape retribution, roll calls were stopped, and the inmates were left to their own devices. Corpses rotted everywhere, and rats attacked the living too weak to fight them off. Kramer remained even when the British arrived to liberate the camp.
He remained indifferent and callous and took them on a tour of the camp to inspect the 'scenes'. Piles of corpses were lying all over the camp, mass graves were filled in, and the huts were filled with prisoners in every stage of emaciation and disease.
Trial and execution
Josef Kramer and 44 other camp staff (including 15 women) were tried in the Belsen Trial by a British military court at Lüneburg. The trial lasted several weeks from September to November 1945. He was sentenced to death on November 17, 1945, and hanged at Hameln jail by Albert Pierrepoint on December 13, 1945.
The Belsen Trial
"Whilst at Birkenau I have seen Grese making selections with Dr. Mengele of people to be sent to the gas chamber. On these parades Grese herself chose the people to be killed in this way. In one selection about August, 1944, there were between 2000 and 3000 selected. At this selection Grese and Mengele were responsible for selecting those for the gas chamber. People chosen would sometimes sneak away from the line and hide themselves under their beds. Grese would go and find them, beat them until they collapsed and then drag them back into line again. I have seen everything I describe. It was general knowledge in this camp that persons selected in this way went to the gas chamber." Deposition of Ilona Stein regarding Irma Grese who was on trial at Lüneburg.
Commandant Josef Kramer was arrested on April 15, 1945, the same day that British Army troops entered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the adjacent German Army Training Center, after a cease-fire agreement had been voluntarily negotiated by the German Army in order to allow the British to take control of the camp. Although most of the camp personnel had escaped the day before, 80 of the staff members remained at their posts in order to help the British, including Commandant Kramer.
On April 17th, 1945, 47 other staff members at Bergen-Belsen were arrested, including 12 of the Kapos who were trusted prisoners appointed by the guards as camp supervisors. The next day, the staff members, who were now prisoners themselves, were forced to bury the dead bodies, that were lying around in the camp.
Twenty of these 80 guards died after the British took control, according to Eberhard Kolb, the Chairman of the Academic Advisory Council for the Extension and Redevelopment of the Memorial Bergen-Belsen. Kolb says that most of them died of typhus, but others died of ptomaine poisoning from eating food provided by the British.
The charges against three of the staff members (Nikolas Jenner, Paul Steinmetz and Walter Melcher) were dropped, but Josef Kramer and 44 others were brought before a British Military Tribunal on September 17, 1945 at Lüneburg, a city that is a few miles north of the camp. One of the 44 staff members, Ladislaw Gura, fell ill and was not tried by this court, leaving only Kramer and 43 others in the dock at Lüneburg. They had been charged with war crimes by a British Military Court under a Royal Warrant of June 14, 1945.
Bergen-Belsen was the only camp which came under the control of the British Army, so the British Occupation did not have jurisdiction over any of the war criminals who worked in the other camps. All the defendants at The Belsen Trial were provided with defense counsel. Eleven of the defense attorneys were British and one was Polish.
There were two counts listed in the charge sheet: Count One for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen and Count Two for crimes committed while the guards were previously working at Auschwitz Birkenau. Commandant Kramer, who was the commandant at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II camp, prior to being transferred to Bergen-Belsen, was charged with both counts, as were 11 others who had worked under him at Birkenau. Out of the 12 defendants who were charged under Count Two, there was only one defendant, Stanislawa Staroska, who was not also charged with Count One, which was crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen. He was found guilty of Count Two and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The 12 defendants who were charged with both counts were Josef Kramer, Dr. Fritz Klein, Peter Weingartner, George Kraft, Franz Hoessler, Juana Bormann, Elisabeth Volkenrath, Herta Ehlert, Irma Grese, Ilse Lothe, Hilde Lohbauer and Heinrich Schreirer.
Two of these 12 defendants who were charged under both counts were acquitted of all charges: George Kraft and Ilse Lothe.
Thirty-two of the 44 defendants were charged only under Count One or crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen. Out of this group of 32, who were charged only under Count One, 12 were acquitted. The total number of defendants who were acquitted of all charges was 14. Thirty of the 44 defendants were found guilty.
The 12 who were charged only with Count One and were acquitted were Josef Klippel, Oscar Schmedidzt, Fritz Mathes, Karl Egersdorf, Walter Otto, Eric Barsch, Ignatz Schlomoivicz, Ida Forster, Klara Opitz, Charlotte Klein, Hildegard Halmel and Anton Polanski.
Of the 30 who were found guilty, 6 were found guilty on both Counts One and Two. Five of them were hanged: Josef Kramer, Dr. Fritz Klein, Peter Weingartner, Elizabeth Volkenrath and Irma Grese. Hilde Lohbauer, the sixth defendant who was found guilty on both counts, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Twenty-four of the 30 guilty defendants were found guilty of only one count. Of this group, four were found guilty of only Count Two, which was crimes committed at Birkenau: Franz Hoessler, Juana Bormann, Heinrich Schreirer, and Stanislawa Staroska. Schreirer was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Staroska was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Hoessler and Bormann were both hanged.
The twenty others who were found guilty only of Count One, which was crimes at Bergen-Belsen, were Herta Ehlert, Karl Flrazich, Otto Calesson, Anchor Pinchen, Franz Stofel, Wilhelm Dorr, Erich Zoddel, Ilse Forster, Herta Bothe, Frieda Walter, Irene Haschke, Gertrud Fiest, Gertrud Sauer, Hilde Lisiewitz, Johanne Roth, Anna Hempel, Helena Kopper, Vladislav Ostrowoski, Medislaw Burgraf, and Antoni Aurdzeig.
Out of the 20 who were convicted only on Count One, or crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen, four were hanged: Karl Flrazich, Franz Stofel, Anchor Pinchen, and Wilhelm Dorr.
Only one prisoner, Erich Zoddel, was sentenced to Life in Prison; he was convicted only under Count One, crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen. The shortest sentence was given to Hilde Lisiewitz for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen; she was sentenced to one year in prison. Three of the defendants were sentenced to 15 years for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen: Herta Ehlert, Otto Calesson, and Helena Kopper. For crimes committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Heinrich Schreirer was also sentenced to 15 years.
Eight defendants were sentenced to 10 years in prison: Hilde Lohbauer, Ilse Forster, Herta Bothe, Irene Haschke, Gertrud Sauer, Johanne Roth, Anna Hempel, and Antoni Aurdzeig. Of those who received 10 years, only Hilde Lohbauer was convicted of both Counts One and Two. The other 7 were convicted only of Count One, crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen.
Frieda Walter was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for crimes at Bergen-Belsen and Gertrud Fiest was sentenced to 5 years, also for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen.
According to Robert E. Conot, author of "Justice at Nuremberg," the idea of bringing the Nazi war criminals to justice was first voiced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 7, 1942, when he declared: "It is our intention that just and sure punishment shall be meted out to the ringleaders responsible for the organized murder of thousands of innocent persons in the commission of atrocities which have violated every tenet of the Christian faith."
On December 17, 1942, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told the House of Commons: "The German authorities are now carrying into effect Hitler's oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe."
On October 26, 1943, the United Nations War Crimes Commission, composed of 15 Allied nations, met in London to discuss the trials of the German war criminals which were inevitable. That same year, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin issued a joint statement, called the Moscow Declaration, in which they agreed to bring the German war criminals to justice.
The charges brought by the British against the defendants at The Belsen Trial differed from the charges brought by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, against the camp personnel of Dachau, Buchenwald and other camps, in that the Belsen defendants were charged with murdering specific individuals who were listed by name in the charge sheet. At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, the war criminals were charged with participating in a "common plan" and there were also specific charges, but none of the defendants were charged with the murder of a specific individual.
The British accused the defendants in The Belsen Trial of being "together concerned as parties to" specific crimes, but they also brought specific charges for the murder of inmates who were named, as well as others who were unnamed. The charges at The Belsen Trial were as follows:
Germany, between 1 October 1942 and 30 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), Heinrich Glinovjechy and Maria
Konatkevicz (both Polish nationals) and Marcel Freson de
Montigny (a French national), Maurice Van Eijnsbergen (a
Dutch national), Maurice Van Mevlenaar (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 of other persons
interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to
Harold Osmund le Druillenec (a British national), Benec
Zuchermann, a female internee named Korperova, a female
internee named Hoffmann, Luba Rormann, Isa Frydmann (all
Polish nationals) and Alexandra Siwdowa, a Russian
national and other Allied nationals whose names are
At Auschwitz, Poland, between 1 October 1942 and 30 April 1945, when members of the staff at Auschwitz 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 Rachella Silberstein (a Polish national), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to Eva Gryka and Hanka Rosenwayg (both Polish nationals) and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.
The two most important defendants in The Belsen Trial were Commandant Josef Kramer and Dr. Fritz Klein, each of whom was charged under Counts One and Two. Both had worked at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II death camp in what is now Poland, before being transferred to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944. The most serious charges against Kramer and Dr. Klein were that each of them had selected prisoners to be sent to the gas chamber. Neither of them denied that prisoners had been gassed at Birkenau, but they both denied being responsible for selecting the victims.
The following was excerpted and edited from the documentation of The Belsen Trial regarding the closing argument of Major Winwood in defense of Commandant Josef Kramer and Dr. Klein:
Major Winwood did not dispute the fact that Kramer, Klein and Weingartner were for certain periods members of the staff at both camps and therefore, to a certain degree, responsible for their administration. The degree of their responsibility should be considered according to the period during which they were at the camps and the positions which they held.
He drew a distinction between Auschwitz and Belsen. At Auschwitz thousands of people were killed in the gas chamber; at Belsen thousands of people died.
Counsel submitted that orders regarding the gassing of victims at Auschwitz came, not from Kramer as Kommandant of Birkenau but from the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1. There was a political department at Auschwitz No. 1 which was responsible for the incoming transports and there was evidence that a member of this department used always to be present at the selections of the incoming transports. The political department was the organization responsible within the camp Auschwitz, under the Camp Kommandant of Auschwitz, for bringing internees into the camp and for their ultimate disposal. Over this disposal, Kramer had no authority, and his real position should be compared with that of a Commanding Officer of a transit camp, whose responsibility was confined to the administration of the people inside the camp until a posting order was received. Reference was made to the evidence of Kramer, Dr. Klein, Dr. Bendel and Hoessler in this connection.
On behalf of Klein, Counsel pleaded superior orders. The accused had admitted that, acting on orders by his superior officer, he made the selections of the incoming transports. He further said that he never protested against people being sent to the gas chamber, although he had never agreed with it. One could not protest when in the Army. The order which he was given and which he carried out, was in itself lawful, namely to divide prisoners into those fit for work and those unfit for work. If he had refused to make the selections himself other doctors would have done it. A British soldier could refuse to obey an order and he would face a Court Martial when he had an opportunity of contesting the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the order which he had been given. Dr. Klein had no such protection.
The names of many doctors had been mentioned in connection with experiments but nowhere had the name of Dr. Klein been mentioned, and he himself had said that he had no direct knowledge of such experiments. Klein had said that the actual selecting was done exclusively by the doctors. Kramer admitted that he often, in the course of duty, stopped and watched the selections, and he denied categorically that he himself made the selections, and he also denied that on behalf of his S.S. staff.
As to the extent of Kramer's responsibility, Counsel said the quarter-master side of the administration of Birkenau was carried out by Auschwitz I. The issue of food, clothing and everything else was the responsibility of the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1. What could be laid at the door of Kramer was what actually happened inside Birkenau from the point of view of the administration of that camp. The evidence of Grese, Bormann and Weingartner showed that beating was done without his authority and without his knowledge. Counsel invited the Court to consider the many difficulties that arose in the course of roll-calls and the people who had to cope with them, and to accept Kramer's word against the uncorroborated allegations contained in Rosenthal's affidavit
As to Kramer's responsibility for conditions at Belsen, Counsel maintained that the Court had had placed before it sufficient evidence to have a picture of Belsen during the period of December, 1944, until the liberation, when the order which Kramer established changed into disorder, and when disorder changed into chaos. Belsen, in itself, was an example of what was happening to Germany as a whole country. More and more people were sent to the camp and Kramer was inadequately provided with medical facilities. Even when he closed the camp in order to avoid further sick people from contracting typhus, which existed in the camp, he was ordered to keep it open. On the 1st of March, he realised that nothing was going to be done, and so he wrote a dispatch to his superior officer, Glücks, telling him what the present position was at that date and prophesying a catastrophe. Volkenrath's evidence supported Kramer's claim to have written this letter. Counsel submitted that if blame could be attached to anybody in these chaotic months before V.E. day, it should be laid at the feet of the men at Oranienburg who left Kramer in the lurch.If the evidence regarding food shortage was analyzed it would be clear that the witnesses were nearly all speaking about the period from about the last week in March to the date of the liberation. At the beginning of April, food was scarce in Germany as a whole; transport had broken down and chaos had started. The numbers entering Belsen were meanwhile ever increasing; Müller issued the food to the cooks who cooked it and issued it to the internees, and once it left the cookhouse it became the responsibility of people other than the S.S. to distribute it, as Francioh, Bialek and Szafran had shown. The Court had heard that when Kramer came to Belsen the roll-calls began. Roll-calls were a part of concentration camp life and it was the only way of being able to make out a strength return for rations, and the return which had to go to Oranienburg, especially when transports were coming in at the rate at which they were coming in. Counsel pointed out the evidence of Grese, Ehlert, Synger, Kopper and Polanski which showed that roll-calls were not unreasonably frequent or oppressively administered Regarding beatings, Counsel claimed that certain force was necessary to restrain the internees, particularly when the shortage of food came. He suggested that the story of Bimko and Hammermasch with regard to the kicking of the four Russians and the possible death of one was a pure invention thought out by these two witnesses for the sole purpose of exercising revenge on Kramer, their former Kommandant. It was also for this reason that these two witnesses accused him of taking an active part in the selections at Auschwitz. Klein was a locum at Belsen for ten days in January and when he returned he was under Horstmann's orders. He was not the senior doctor. He had said that Dr. Horstmann specifically allocated to him the task of looking after the S.S. troops and S.S. personnel and that it was only three days before the British came that Dr. Klein did become the chief medical officer and the only medical officer at Belsen concentration camp.
Both Kramer and Dr. Klein were convicted on Courts One and Two. Both were sentenced to death by hanging. They were both hanged at Hamelin Prison on December 13, 1945.
The military tribunal took only 53 days to hear both the prosecution and the defense cases and then to make a decision on all 44 cases. Each defendant wore a number in the court room for easy identification in such a whirlwind trial. Josef Kramer was Defendant No. 1 and Dr. Fritz Klein was No. 2. On the 54th day of the proceedings, which was November 17, 1945, the sentences were handed down. The sentences were then reviewed by Field-Marshall Montgomery, the commanding officer of the British Occupation, and clemency was denied to all those who had been found guilty. There was no appeal process.
The trial was eagerly followed by the press and the defendant who attracted the most attention was the notorious 21-year-old Irma Grese, who was accused of participating in selections for the gas chamber at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II death camp. Despite her young age, Irma had achieved the rank of Oberaufseherin or Senior SS Overseer by the fall of 1943. In this role, she was in charge of supervising around 30,000 women prisoners, mostly Polish and Hungarian Jews, at Birkenau. She was transferred to Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, only a month before the liberation, yet she was also charged with beating prisoners in that camp.
Some of the inmates at Bergen-Belsen had been transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau, so they were able testify against the defendants with regard to both Counts One and Two. Grese was the highest ranking woman among the defendants at The Belsen Trial, but also the youngest, and she was, by far, the most hated by the former prisoners who testified against her.
Quoted below is Irma Grese's testimony, under direct examination, about her background:
I was born on 7th October, 1923. In 1938 I left the elementary school and worked for six months on agricultural jobs at a farm, after which I worked in a shop in Luchen for six months. When I was 15 I went to a hospital in Hohenluchen, where I stayed for two years. I tried to become a nurse but the Labour Exchange would not allow that and sent me to work in a dairy in Fürstenburg. In July, 1942, I tried again to become a nurse, but the Labour Exchange sent me to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, although I protested against it. I stayed there until March, 1943, when I went to Birkenau Camp in Auschwitz. I remained in Auschwitz until January, 1945.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors testified that Grese habitually wore jack boots, carried a plaited cellophane whip and a pistol and that she was always accompanied by a vicious dog. The prisoners claimed that Irma was sadistic and that she derived sexual pleasure from beating the women prisoners with her cellophane riding crop. Witnesses claimed that she had beaten women prisoners to death and shot others in cold blood.
The accusations of murder were made in affidavits, and none of them was corroborated. It was even claimed that there were lamp shades, made out of the skins of three women prisoners, found in her room at Birkenau. The most serious charge against her was that she had been present when inmates at Birkenau were selected for the gas chamber and that she had participated by forcing the women to line up for inspection by Dr. Mengele.
Grese denied having a dog, beating prisoners to death or shooting anyone, although she did admit to hitting prisoners with her cellophane whip even though it was forbidden for the Overseers to beat the prisoners. She stated that she continued to use her whip even after being ordered not to by Commandant Kramer. She also admitted to being aware that prisoners were gassed at Birkenau; she stated that this was common knowledge in the camp and that she had been told by the prisoners about the gassing. She admitted that she was present when selections were made and that she had helped to line up the prisoners, but she denied making the selections herself.
Quoted below is her testimony regarding the gas chamber selections, under direct examination, by her defense lawyer, Major Cranfield (page. 249 in the trial transcript):
Where did the order come from for what we call "selection
Grese: That came by telephone from a RapportFührerin or from Oberaufseherin Dreschel.
Cranfield: When the order came were you told what the parade was for?
Cranfield: What were the prisoners supposed to do when the whistle went?
Grese: Fall in fives, and it was my duty to see that they did so. Dr. Mengele then came and made the selection. As I was responsible for the camp my duties were to know how many people were leaving and I had to count them, and I kept the figures in a strength book. After the selection took place they were sent into "B" Camp, and Dreschel telephoned and told me that they had gone to another camp in Germany for working purposes or for special treatment, which I thought was the gas chamber. I then put in my strength book either so many for transfer to Germany to another camp, or so many for S.B. (Sonder Behandlung). It was well known to the whole camp that S. B. meant the gas chamber.
Cranfield: Were you told anything about the gas chamber by your senior officers?
Grese: No, the prisoners told me about it.
Cranfield: You have been accused of choosing prisoners on these parades and sending them to the gas chamber. Have you done that?
Grese: No; I knew that prisoners were gassed.
Cranfield: Was it not quite simple to know whether or not the selection was for the gas chamber, because only Jews had to attend such selections?
myself had only Jews in Camp "C."
Cranfield: Then they would all have to attend the selection for the gas chamber, would they not?
Cranfield: As you were told to wait for the doctors you would know perfectly well what it was for?
Cranfield: When these people were parading they were very often paraded naked and inspected like cattle to see whether they were fit to work or fit to die, were they not?
Grese: Not like cattle.
Cranfield: You were there keeping order, were you not, and if one ran away you brought her back and gave her a beating?
The following was excerpted and edited from the documentation of The Belsen Trial regarding the closing argument of Major Cranfield on behalf of Irma Grese and others:
Major Cranfield's Closing Address on Behalf of Klippel, Grese, Lohbauer and Lothe
Directing the Court's attention to the parts of the Charge Sheet which alleged the killing of Allied Nationals, Major Cranfield asked why there were included in this charge the names of specific Allied Nationals, and why it was not sufficient to charge the accused with causing the death of Allied Nationals whose names were unknown. He suggested that the answer was that, unless the killing of a specifically named person was included, the charge would be a bad one on grounds of vagueness and generality. Counsel proceeded to examine the names of the persons alleged in the Belsen charge to have died in that camp, reminding the Court that his accused were charged with being together concerned in causing their deaths.
He submitted that the evidence proved that Meyer was shot by a man not before the Court. The evidence proved that Anna Kis was killed deliberately by a man not before the Court. She was a Hungarian and, in his submission, if she was a Hungarian she could not be an Allied National. It was a matter of which the Court must take judicial notice that a state of war existed between the United Kingdom and Hungary, which had not been terminated by a peace treaty. Some reference had been made to an armistice. Counsel argued however that there was an armistice with Italy, but it could not be suggested that an Italian was an Allied National. It was, he thought, agreed that the names of Kohn, Glinovjechy and Konatkevicz had been wrongly included in the Belsen charge.
Referring to the death certificates relating to the remaining seven victims Counsel said that in each case the cause of death was stated to be death from natural causes. The dates of death were given, and the dates when these persons were alleged to have died were in a number of cases dates before his accused came to Belsen. One of the seven, Klee, was said by the Prosecution to be a British subject from Honduras, but Counsel for the Defense called for further proof of her nationality since the death certificate stated that she was born at Schwerin in Germany. The evidence that these seven persons were ever in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was extremely flimsy. It seemed that he had now struck out of the Belsen charge all the specific persons whose deaths his accused were alleged to have caused, and the charge now read: "Allied Nationals unknown," which was, as he had already submitted, insufficient.
The affidavit of Anna Jakubowice said of Klippel: "I have seen him frequently beat women". She arrived at Belsen on the 1st January, and the British arrived on the 15th April. Counsel's submission was that the allegation of frequent beating must relate to the whole period from 1st January to the 15th April. Again, the alleged shootings were said to have taken place during March, 1945. A number of witnesses supported Klippel when he said that from the 1st January to the 5th April, so far from being at Bergen-Belsen, he was over one hundred miles away in Mittelbau. Counsel denied that Klippel was part of Hoessler's unit, or of Kramer's staff.
The evidence of Diament against Grese regarding the latter's responsibility for selecting victims for the gas chamber was vague. Regarding Lobowitz's allegation against Grese, Counsel asked whether, however conscientious the accused was, it was not absolute nonsense to suggest that roll-calls went on from six to eight hours each day? He also threw doubt on the credibility of Neiger's words.
Apart from the question of the truth of Trieger's evidence Counsel pointed out that the victim of the alleged shooting by Grese was a Hungarian and not an Allied National.
As against Triszinska's allegation concerning Grese's dog, the Court had heard the accused deny that she ever had a dog, and that has been corroborated by others of the accused and by other witnesses from Auschwitz.
Regarding Kopper's story of the punishment Kommando, Counsel referred to Grese's evidence that she was in charge of the punishment Kommando for two days only, and in charge of the Strassenbaukommando, which was a type of punishment Kommando, for two weeks. The allegation of Kopper in her affidavit was that she was in charge of the punishment Kommando in Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944, but in the box she said that the accused was in charge of the punishment company working outside the camp for seven months. In the box she failed to reconcile those two statements. Was it probable that Grese would be in charge, the only Overseer, of a Kommando 800 strong, with an S.S. man, Herschel, to assist her? If 30 prisoners were killed each day, should there not have been some corroboration of this story?
Counsel asked the Court to disbelieve Szafran's story about the shooting of the two girls, in view of Hoessler's statement that the windows of the block in question were fixed windows. The story was told neither in Szafran's affidavit nor even during her examination; she produced it on re-examination.
Commenting on the allegation of Ilona Stein, Counsel asked whether the Court believed, in view of the evidence, that an Overseer had any power to give an order to an S.S. guard? He pointed out that the witness, in her affidavit, said: "I did not hear the order". He doubted also whether Grese could have beaten anyone with a belt as flimsy as that worn by an Overseer at Auschwitz, one of which was produced as an exhibit.
Eleven witnesses had recognized Grese in Court. Of these eleven five made no allegation of any kind against her. This fact threw doubt on the evidence of those witnesses who said that she was notorious, a ferocious savage and the worst S.S. woman.
Even though Major Cranfield did a good job of defending Grese, she was nevertheless convicted under both Counts One and Two and was sentenced to death by hanging. After the trial, the 11 who had been sentenced to death, 8 men and 3 women, were taken to Hamelin jail in Wesfalia to await execution. (Hamelin is the town famous for the story of the Pied Piper.) An execution chamber was constructed right in the prison by the Royal Engineers of the British Army. It was located at the end of the corridor where the condemned prisoners were being held in a row of tiny cells.
Since the prisoners could hear the sound of the trap falling as each of the condemned was hanged, it was decided that Irma Grese, as the youngest, should go first to spare her the trauma of hearing the others being executed. The three women were hanged separately, first Grese, then Volkenrath, then Bormann. The 8 men were hanged in pairs to save time. The hanging was all finished just in time for the mid-day meal.
In recent years, Irma Grese has become a cult figure among the neo-Nazis. She is considered by them to be a heroine because of her stoicism at her trial and the perception that she showed great courage in going bravely to her death. She is regarded by the neo-Nazis as a martyr, who died for her country, since they don't believe that she was the sadistic, sexually-depraved killer that she was portrayed to be by her accusers.
Albert Pierrepoint, an experienced professional hangman, was flown over from Great Britain to hang the 11 condemned prisoners. On December 12, 1945, the condemned were weighed and measured so that the hangman could calculate how to adjust the gallows for each one. Pierrepoint wrote an autobiography in which he described the circumstances surrounding the execution of Irma Grese.
Two paragraphs from Pierrepoint's autobiography are quoted below:
"At last we finished noting the details of the men, and RSM O'Neil ordered 'bring out Irma Grese. She walked out of her cell and came towards us laughing. She seemed as bonny a girl as one could ever wish to meet. She answered O'Neil's questions, but when he asked her age she paused and smiled. I found that we were both smiling with her, as if we realised the conventional embarrassment of a woman revealing her age. Eventually she said 'twenty-one,' which we knew to be correct. O'Neil asked her to step on to the scales. 'Schnell!' she said - the German for quick."
"The following morning we climbed the stairs to the cells where the condemned were waiting. A German officer at the door leading to the corridor flung open the door and we filed past the row of faces and into the execution chamber. The officers stood at attention. Brigadier Paton-Walsh stood with his wrist-watch raised. He gave me the signal, and a sigh of released breath was audible in the chamber. I walked into the corridor. 'Irma Grese,' I called. The German guards quickly closed all grills on twelve of the inspection holes and opened one door. Irma Grese stepped out. The cell was far too small for me to go inside, and I had to pinion her in the corridor. 'Follow me,' I said in English, and O'Neil repeated the order in German. At 9.34 a.m. she walked into the execution chamber, gazed for a moment at the officials standing round it, then walked on to the centre of the trap, where I had made a chalk mark. She stood on this mark very firmly, and as I placed the white cap over her hand she said in her languid voice 'Schnell'. The drop crashed down, and the doctor followed me into the pit and pronounced her dead. After twenty minutes the body was taken down and placed in a coffin ready for burial."
According to the trial transcripts, Elizabeth Volkenrath testified under direct examination that she arrived at Auschwitz No. 1 in March, 1942, and was transferred to Birkenau in December, 1942 where she worked in the parcel office and bread store till September 1944. From then until the 18th of January, she was in charge of a working party in Auschwitz No. 1.
Gertrude Diament, a Jewess from Czechoslovakia, testified that during 1942 she had seen Volkenrath make selections. She would give orders that prisoners be loaded onto lorries and transported to the gas chamber
In her testimony, Volkenrath denied having herself made gas chamber selections. She said she attended selections during August 1942 because she had to be present as she was in charge of the women's camp, but she had merely to see that the prisoners kept quiet and orderly. Volkenrath said she had seen lorries on the road, but whether they went to the gas chamber she did not know. Her answer to the allegations of beatings made against her was that she only slapped faces.
On direct examination by her attorney, Volkenrath testified that she arrived at Belsen on the 5th February, 1945. She had only been there a few days when she had to go to the hospital, returning to work on the 23rd of March 1945. At Belsen she was an Oberaufseherin and had to detail the Overseers to their various duties. She testified that at Belsen, she never did more than slap prisoners' faces. Her explanation of the events referred to by the witness, Hammermasch, was that a prisoner was brought back from an attempt to escape and was beaten by Kramer. She was present but did not beat the girl.
Volkenrath was found guilty of war crimes in both camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. She was the second person to be hanged on 13 December 1945, following the execution of Irma Grese.
In her testimony at the trial, Juana Bormann denied that she was ever present at any gas chamber selections. She admitted that she had a dog at Auschwitz, but she said that she never made this dog attack anyone. She claimed that she might have been mistaken for another Overseer named Kuck who also had a dog. She said that she would have been severely punished if she had set her dog on the prisoners and that the beating of prisoners by an Overseer was strictly forbidden.
After working at Birkenau from 15 May 1943 to the end of December 1943, Bormann testified that she came to Belsen in the middle of February 1945, and was engaged in looking after a pigsty. At Belsen she did not come in contact with prisoners beyond her own party of prisoners. When prisoners disobeyed orders she boxed their ears or slapped their faces but never violently, she claimed.
On December 12, 1945 when the hangman made his calculations, Bormann was measured at 5 feet tall and she weighed in at 101 pounds. She was acquitted on the charges of beating prisoners at Bergen-Belsen but was convicted of war crimes at Auschwitz-Birkenau and was the last of the women to be hanged, right after the execution of Elisabeth Volkenrath.