THE SWORN STATEMENTS OF KRAMER

Evidently, the sworn statements of Joseph Kramer hold a central place in our documentation. At the time of the liberation, the most important was the situation at Bergen-Belsen, since Kramer was captured after the liberation of that camp. Kramer had also once been commandant at Auschwitz. The aspect of the survivors of Bergen-Belsen was so spectacular that anything else Kramer had done previously had relatively little importance: he had let tens of thousands of prisoners die, without taking any care to provide them with water, and without using a stock of food sufficient for more than a month of feeding the detainees.

These deaths were 300 times more numerous than those of the gassing at Struthof. It is probable that Kramer took little heed of the lives of Jews or of the condemned; however, one can if one wishes excuse the deaths at Bergen-Belsen as Kramer's supposed stupidity or incompetence; this is impossible for the gassing at Struthof which is incontestably a wilful intent.

We therefore give below excerpts of the sworn statements of Kramer taken from the work of Pressac on Natzweiler. We have the excerpts of the original sworn statements in French or in German, fairly exhaustive but incomplete, and we prefer to give this English source (Pressac having been able to access primary sources with a relaxation of the rule of 60 years [embargo] usual in these matters). The comments of Pressac are in italics.

Extracts from interrogation of JOSEF KRAMER by Major Jadin, military investigative judge with the Military Tribunal, in Strasbourg on the 26 July 1945:

In the month of August 1943, I received an order from the camp of Oranienburg, or rather from SS Supreme Headquarters in Berlin which had the order transmitted to me by the Oranienburg camp commandant, to take in approximately 80 prisoners from Auschwitz. In the letter accompanying the order, it was specified that I should immediately get in touch with Professor Hirth of the Faculty of Medicine in Strasbourg.

When I went to the Strasbourg Institute of Anatomy where Hirt was working, he told me that he had been informed of a convoy of Auschwitz prisoners bound for Struthof. He made it clear to me that these people were to be executed in the Struthof gas chamber by means of asphyxiating gases, and that their corpses were to be taken to the Institute of Anatomy and put at his disposal.

At the end of this conversation, he gave me a flask containing approximately a quarter of a liter of salts, which I believe to have been hydrocyanic salts.

(We show the witness Volkmar's book [note-book] found at the camp of Strufhof, and placed by us under seal no. 11.)

The witness: I have no trouble recognizing the book that you are showing me: it is a diary that belonged to Volkmar. The book is written in his hand, but I cannot decipher the hand-writing. I can see that the words "hydrocyanic gas" ["Gas Blausaüre"] appear.

The professor indicated to me the approximate dose I should use to asphyxiate personally the prisoners coming from Auschwitz, whom I have just mentioned.

So at the beginning of August 1943, I received the 80 [87] prisoners to be killed by means of the gases given to me by Hirt, and I started with a first group of about fifteen women, taken to the gas chamber one evening, at about 9 O'clock, in a delivery van. I told these women that they were going into a disinfection room [and not for a shower or a bath, as has often been claimed since], without letting them know that they were going be asphyxiated.

Assisted by several SS-men, I had them take off all their clothes and pushed them into the gas chamber once they were completely nude.

As soon as I locked the door, they started to scream. Once the door was closed, I placed a fixed quantity of the salts in a funnel attached below and to the right of the peep-hole [a glass covered observation aperture]. At the same time, I poured in a fixed amount of water which flowed, together with the salts, into a pit made inside the gas chamber under the peep-hole Then I closed the opening of the funnel by means of a tap, fitted into the bottom of the funnel, which ran into a metal pipe. This metal pipe took the salts and the water into the pit inside the gas chamber, which I have just told you about. [If he had proceeded this way, J. Kramer would have asphyxiated himself.] I illuminated the chamber's interior by means of a switch located [at the same level as and to the right of the peep-hole] near [above] the funnel, and I observed what was happening inside the chamber through the outside peep-hole.

I noted that the women continued to breathe for about half a minute, and then fell to the ground. When I opened the door, after having simultaneously switched on the ventilation inside the air circulation flue [not likely, surely before opening the door], I noted that these women were stretched out lifelessly and that they had lost control of their bowels.

I entrusted two SS Male nurses with placing the corpses in a delivery van, on the next morning at about half past five, in order to have them taken to the Institute of Anatomy as Professor Hirt had asked.

A few days later, under the same conditions as described above, I again brought a number of women to the gas chamber, and they were asphyxiated by the same procedure. A few more days after that, some fifty men, perhaps fifty-five, were taken to the gas chamber on my orders, on two or three occasions, and killed there by means of the same salts that Hirt had given me.

Following an interpellation: I do not know what Hirt was going to do with the corpses of these prisoners, assassinated at Struthof on his instructions. I did not think it appropriate to ask him.

Following an interpellation: I do not know the nationality of the prisoners I asphyxiated. I think they came from South-East Europe, but I cannot specify the country.

(We show the witness the album of photographs containing views of the gas chamber.)

The witness: I recognize on these photographs the Struthof gas chamber that was built [in fact, adapted] towards the middle of 1943, for the purpose of asphyxiating the prisoners to be handed over to Professor Hirt.

Following an interpellation: The gas chamber was transformed by prisoners on my orders. It had been built some time earlier as a cold store. [This answer has been consistently omitted from subsequent historical studies of Struthof.]

Following an interpellation: To my knowledge, apart from the 80 prisoners brought from Auschwitz and asphyxiated in this chamber, no-one else were killed under the same conditions.

Following an interpellation: To my knowledge, no phial of asphyxiating gas was ever thrown into the gas chamber for the purpose of asphyxiating prisoners.

I do not know what purpose was served by the iron pipe fitted into the gas chamber's entrance door. [See details A and B on the two photographs of the entrance door indicating the "gas admission pipe". This conduit was not used to lead gas in, but rather for sampling. Installed after the criminal gassings, this pipe served, during the 15 experiments conducted by Professors Bickenbach and Hirt on prisoner subjects, some protected by, urotropine and some not, to measure the phosgene concentration remaining in the gas chamber, in order to determine the Cmt, or concentration absorbed in milligrams multiplied by the inhalation duration in minutes per ml. A flexible tube connected the pipe to a complicated apparatus which measured the phosgene concentration by potentiometry.]

The sampling tube is present in the photos given in the appendix (its trace remains visible in the middle of the door).

Following an interpellation: I admit that a large percentage of French prisoners died in the camp. In my opinion, they were intellectuals who could not withstand the hard labour imposed on them in the camp.

Following an interpellation: It is true that prisoners were shot in the sandpit, located above the entrance to the camp, by SS-men under my command.

Following an interpellation: Hirt came to visit the Strufhof camp perhaps twice and Hagen once.

Professor Bickenbach came to Struthof on several occasions to confer with Krieger or Blancke, the camp doctors. I do not know whether he conducted any experiments, but he did tell me one day that he had been ordered to conduct experiments on prisoners, without specifying their nature, and that in any event he was sworn to secrecy by SS Headquarters.

One day, on the occasion of a general inspection of the camp, I discovered ten prisoners in an infirmary with bandages on their arms. I was told that these prisoners had been subjected to experiments by Bickenbach. When I asked what these experiments involved, he refused to give me any explanations. [J. Kramer is mixed up. Liquid mustard gas was applied to prisoners' arms by Professor Hirt and Doctor Wimmer of the Luftwaffe. Bickenbach did not participate in this project.]

I do not know how many deaths occurred in the camp while I was there. I admit that the food was inadequate and the climate very severe, and that, moreover, the labour imposed on the prisoners was very hard.

Following an interpellation: To my knowledge, the professors of Strasbourg did not go to the gas chamber. I do not think that any experiments involving gas were conducted by doctors in the gas chamber. I never had any knowledge of phials containing gas being thrown into the chamber for the purpose of experimentation with prisoners. [J. Kramer is misinformed. Fifteen groups consisting of 2 or 4 prisoners, divided into protected subjects and controls, were subjected to phosgene effects in the gas chamber. Each group were in with a phial of phosgene, containing a known quantity of gas that was different for each experiment, which had to be crushed by foot against the ground, on a signal by Professor Bickenbach from the outside.]

Question: Just a while ago, you told me about the conditions under which you executed prisoners by means of asphyxiating gases. If the prisoners had not been killed as a result of your introducing [releasing] gases in the chamber, would you have finished them off with a bullet? [A senseless question. The prisoners were deliberately killed by gas in order not to damage their skeletons by the impact of bullets.]

Answer: I would have tried to asphyxiate them again by throwing a second dose of gas into the chamber. I felt no emotion while accomplishing these tasks, because I had received an order to execute the 80 [87] prisoners in the manner that I have described to you. That is simply how I was brought up.

Read, translated, accepted and signed in the presence of the Tribunal and its Clerk.

[Second-Lieutenant and Interpreter] Hertzog, clerk.

[SS-Hauptsturmführer and K.L. Natzweiler ex Commandant] Josef Kramer, witness.

[Major] Jadin, military investigative judge.

It should be noted that on the 4th photograph showing extracts from the record of evidence of the 26 July 1945, the signatures and the interrogation of J. Kramer have been superimposed.

Documents 107 and 1806/V/2 of the Struthof trial.

Extracts from deposition by JOSEF KRAMER made at Lüneburg [in the British Occupied Zone] on the 6 December 1945 in the presence of Captain Paul André: (This deposition has been translated into English from the French text, which is itself a translation of Kramer's German deposition.)

In the middle of 1943, I received a written order from Berlin to execute the people who had been sent from Auschwitz, and to deliver their remains to the Institute of Anatomy at the Municipal Hospital of Strasbourg.

As to means of execution, the written order instructed me to get in touch with Anatomy Professor Hirt. So I went to see this professor and informed him of the orders I had received. Hirt advised me to execute the people in question by means of gas. I answered that there was neither a gas chamber nor any gas in the camp.

Then Hirt gave me a glass bottle closed with wax [and hence with a hydrophilic content]. I contained a substance consisting of small white granules, which looked like soda. Hirt told me that I could produce a toxic gas by adding water to the bottle's contents. He also gave me specific instructions regarding dosage. I told him that I had at my disposal a construction manager [Bauleiter], Untersturmführer Heider, who had been sent to me from Oranienburg.

So then I had the gas chamber built [n fact, simply adapted] by some prisoners.

Some time later, a first transport arrived with 26 [or rather with 30] women, 20 to 50 years old. They stayed in the camp for 8 days. During that time, they were not mistreated and they were not fed any better than the other prisoners. I had no special instructions regarding these people. After waiting for 8 days, in the middle of August 1943 [the week from the 7th to the 14th], I had these women taken to the gas chamber at 9 o'clock in the evening. They were stripped in the ante-room.

I then placed a handful of the substance in a hole made in the floor [where there was a small porcelain basin]. I made the women enter the gas chamber and I locked the door. It was then that the women started to cry and scream. From the outside, I poured water into a funnel prepared for this purpose. The water flowed through a pipe, equipped with a tap, into the hole containing the small granules. After half a minute, all cries in the chamber ceased. I must state that I did not observe the death process through the window.

I only listened. As there was nothing more to hear and as there was no movement, I put the ventilator on. During this time, I was on the outside and I neither inhaled nor smelled the gas. After some fifteen minutes, I opened the door. It would seem that death occurred in the usual manner. Only 3 or 4 had been unable to control their bowel movements. It was about half past nine.

The next morning, at 5:30, 1 had the bodies taken to Strasbourg in a lorry covered with a tarpaulin. This method was chosen in order to keep everyone in the dark as to what had taken place. For I was obliged to maintain the highest level of secrecy. I deny having shot down any of these prisoners. There were 4 SS-men present at this execution, but I know the name of only one, namely Lagerführer Zeus [Wolfgang Seuss]. Stabscharführer Hans Jung was not present. I deny having made a speech. Neither was Hirt present. He came to Struthof only 2 or 3 times, on personal visits having nothing to do with the execution.

Some time later, a second transport, consisting of men only, arrived in Struthof from Auschwitz. Eight days later they were executed in the same way. Two or three weeks later, 30 men, who stayed in the camp for ten days, from another transport were also asphyxiated. [Josef Kramer is wrong about time intervals between successive groups, including arrival, residence in the camp and gassing, of the convoys; even though the arrivals and the gassings were probably both staggered over time, the future victims were all gathered in Struthof at the beginning of the week 7-14 August 1943. Fifty-seven men were killed in the week of 14-21 August.] I deny that the SS-men drank alcohol after the execution. It was always the same SS-men who were present at the executions.

The professor told me the name of the gas, but I have forgotten it. I am sure I would recognize the granules if I were to see them again.

Professor Hirt came to the camp on only two or three occasions. He never stayed longer than an hour. I knew the camp doctors. I do not know whether he [Hirt] was corresponding with them.

The 86 bodies delivered to the Municipal Hospital in Strasbourg were all Jewish. On the strength of a list of names, I can vouch for the fact that they were residents of South-East Europe.

Documents 157 for the German text and 158 for the French translation.

There is a copy of 158 in document 1806/V/2bis.


These documents were extracted from the work of J. Pressac on the camp of Natzwiller. [The comments of Pressac are in italics]. It is evident that Kramer lies on several points to introduce doubt about the validity of his sworn statements; however, we do not follow Pressac as to the fact that the second testimony would be more valid than the first, Kramer being disgusted by the lack of honor and the treason of his SS comrades who betrayed him by spilling the beans: it seems to us even more probable that Kramer willingly introduced at each time several less credible details to be able to pretend later that his sworn statements were forced.

Unfortunately for him, his statements match up so well in the essentials with other testimonies and the recovered documents, that the small differences do not suffice to entertain the least doubt on the truth of the matter.

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