FIRST Interrogation statement of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp Commander who replaced Fritz Hartjenstein and was kommandant of Birkenau from 10th May 1944, till 29th November 1944.
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"Auschwitz was an enormous camp to which many smaller camps in the vicinity belonged. As the responsibility for the whole camp could not be taken by one man, it was split, and I was put in charge of one part of the camp [Birkenau
I was Kommandant of that part, but as I came under the supreme commander of the whole camp, who was my superior officer, my duties were those of a Lagerführer, though my appointment was called Kommandant.
I had under me in my part of the camp [Birkenau
] the hospital and the agricultural camp, which was an enormous camp and contained many thousand acres. The number of prisoners under my immediate control varied between 15000 and 16000 and 35000 and 40000 comprising male and female.
There were between 350 and 500 deaths a week. The death rate was higher among the men, the reason being that the influx from the working camp consisted mainly of sick people. When I speak of the death rate in Auschwitz, I mean that all these people died of natural causes, that is to say either from illness or old age. The death rate was slightly above normal, due to the fact that I had a camp with sick people who came from other parts of the camp. The only reason I can see for the higher death rate, not only at Auschwitz but at all concentration camps in comparison with civil prisons, was that prisoners had to work, whereas in civil prisons they had not to work.
In Auschwitz the prisoners went out to work at 5 a.m. in the summer and returned at 8 p.m., sometimes even later. They worked seven days a week, but on Sundays they returned at 1, 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The work was of an agricultural nature and all the work there was done by prisoners. The whole camp contained about 90000 to 100000 prisoners, but this is only a rough estimate. My superior officer, and the Kommandant of the whole camp, was Obersturmbannführer Höß. There were men, women and children in the camp. The majority of prisoners under my immediate control were Easterners, i.e. Poles and Russians. I have no reason to believe that there were any prisoners of war among them, although there might have been without my knowing it. As far as I can remember there were no British internees. I think the British prisoners were in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen and in another camp near Hamburg called Neuengamme. It is possible that there were some French people in my camp, but I cannot say for certain. There were more women than men prisoners.
I had three companies of S.S. under me to guard the camp. Some of the guards were men of the Waffen S.S., and there were women employed by the S.S as wardresses. There were roughly 420 male S.S. guards and about 40 to 50 women guards. The men and women prisoners who were outside the camp in the agricultural part were invariably guarded by men. The women guards only guarded the prisoners within the compound. There were about 10 to 14 doctors for the whole camp, out of which two were detailed to my particular part of the camp. I cannot say exactly how many beds there were in the hospital; this depended on how close you could put the beds together.
Prisoners were housed in wooden buildings with three-tier beds. The men were separated from the women and the children were with their mothers. Married people were separated. There were 150 buildings all told, men and women camps together; about 80 or 90 were for men and about 60 for women; 25 or 20 buildings were set aside for the hospitals. The camp was only being started, and it was planned to enlarge it considerably.
All prisoners who died were cremated. There was no sort of service held when they died. They were just burnt. The cremations were carried out by prisoners. All I had to do when a prisoner died was to inform Obersturmbannführer Höß and he would deal with it. I had no administration in Auschwitz. All the prisoners were known by numbers only.
There were four or five cases of people trying to escape whilst I was there. These attempts were made separately. Some of these prisoners got away. No prisoners were shot trying to escape in my part of the camp. No prisoners were flogged; there were no executions, shootings or hangings in my part. I went through the camp frequently on inspections. The doctor alone was responsible for certifying the cause of death if a prisoner died. The doctors changed continuously. One of these doctors was Hauptsturmführer Mengele.
I carried out inspections of the bodies of people who had died through natural causes in my capacity as Kommandant when I was wandering round the camp. Whoever died during the day was put into a special building called the mortuary, and they were carried to the crematorium every evening by lorry. They were loaded on the lorry and off the lorry by prisoner.
They were stripped by the prisoners of their, clothes in the crematorium before being cremated. The clothes were cleaned and were re-issued where the people had not died of infectious diseases.
During my inspections I never saw prisoners who had died through physical violence.
When a prisoner died, a doctor had to certify the time of death, the cause, and the details of the disease. A doctor signed a certificate and sent it to the Central Camp Office. These certificates did not go through my hand.
The two doctors worked daily, from 8 o’clock in the morning until 8 or 9 at night.
All efforts were made by these doctors to keep the prisoners alive.
Medical supplies and invigorating drugs were applied. Two different doctors took charge of my part of the camp every day. I remember one very well, because he had been the longest period in my particular part of the camp and be had also served under my predecessor, Hartjenstein. I do not know how long he had been there. His name was Hauptsturmführer Mengele, as mentioned before.
The camp wire was electrified and the dogs were only used outside the camp compound to guard prisoners who were working on agricultural jobs. It was never reported to me that prisoners had to be treated for dog bites. No interrogations were carried out in the camp, and I have never done any interrogating at all whilst I was Kommandant. I sometimes sent people away for interrogation to the criminal Investigation Officer, in which case they went to the Central Camp Office and were brought back after the interrogation had been completed. I do not know who did the interrogating.
I have heard of the allegations of former prisoners in Auschwitz referring to a gas chamber there, the mass executions and whippings, the cruelty of the guards employed, and that all this took place either in my presence or with my knowledge.
All I can say to all this is that it is untrue from beginning to end.
(118) STATEMENT OF JOSEF KRAMER (German, aged 39)
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The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Josef Kramer)
Major Winwood (Defence counsel):
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, whereas in your second statement you said that they were true?
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 be 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 longer alive and I thought then that I was no longer bound.
Did Kommandant Höß 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.
Major Winwood: 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.
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Cross-examination by Major Backhouse:
Major Backhouse: 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?
Josef Kramer: It was not so, because between the two statements I was not asked any more.[...]
Major Backhouse: What was the purpose of the Natzweiler camp?
Josef Kramer: To let prisoners work in a quarry near by.
Major Backhouse: Were the prisoners not regularly supplied from that camp to Strasbourg for experiments?
Josef Kramer: No.
Major Backhouse: Was there no gas chamber there before you arrived?
Josef Kramer: No.
Major Backhouse: Was it constructed under your instructions and did you quite deliberately gas 80 prisoners in that gas chamber?
Josef Kramer: Yes, on the orders of Reichsführer Himmler.[...]
Major Backhouse: Did you force these people into the gas chamber yourself?
Josef Kramer: Yes.
Major Backhouse: Did you actually put the gas in yourself and watch them inside as they died through a peephole you had made?
Josef Kramer: No.[...]
Major Backhouse: Did you not describe that the women continued to breathe for about half a minute?
Josef Kramer: One could hear that. It was not necessary to observe.
Major Backhouse: Were you not chosen as Kommandant of Birkenau because you had proved yourself willing to do this sort of thing?
Josef Kramer: No, I do not think so, because I got a special order that I had nothing to do with either crematoria or transports.
Major Backhouse: 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?
Josef Kramer: I do not know. Nothing could be said about concentration camps in the outside world.[...]
Major Backhouse: 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?
Josef Kramer: I do not know.[...]
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The tactics by which such retraction of uncoerced testimony was achieved and replaced by self-incriminating accounts is detailed here
General Pohl was forced through torture to sign false and self-incriminating affidavits written by prosecution officials that were later used against him in his own trial.
As he recalled:
Whenever genuine documents did not correspond to what the prosecution authorities wanted or were insufficient for the guilty sentences they sought, "affidavits" were put together.
The most striking feature of these remarkable trial documents is that the accused often condemned themselves in them.
That is understandable only to those who have themselves experienced the technique by which such "affidavits" are obtained.