Scrapbookpages Blog

July 6, 2013

Herta Bothe, the “sadist of Bergen-Belsen,” remained defiant to the end

Herta Bothe is the woman on the right

Herta Bothe is the woman on the right; the woman in the center is Irene Haschke

Today, Herta Bothe is famous for her defiant attitude and her show of anger when the women guards at Bergen-Belsen were ordered by the British to carry decomposed corpses to mass graves with their bare hands. You can read about the history of Bergen-Belsen here.

In interviews years later, Bothe described how she was terrified of contracting typhus because the guards were not allowed to wear gloves or masks. She described how the arms and legs of the decomposed bodies came off in her hands when she tried to pick them up, and how lifting the emaciated bodies caused her back pain. Although the British brought in bulldozers and shoved some of the bodies into the mass graves, they forced the former guards to do most of the work manually as their just punishment for the horrible conditions found in the camp, after Heinrich Himmler had voluntarily turned the camp over to them on April 15, 1945.

Herta Bothe was sentenced to ten years in prison after being convicted by a British Military Tribunal in 1945. She was released on December 22, 1951.

Several years ago, I was alerted, by a reader of my website, to the fact that I had mis-identified Herta Bothe, a guard at the Bergen-Belsen camp, in a photo.  I did considerable research to confirm that I had made a mistake, and then made a correction.  The photo above shows Herta Bothe on the right; the woman in the middle is Irene Haschke, another woman guard at Bergen Belsen.

Mugshot of Herta Bothe

Mugshot of Herta Bothe

In the photo above, taken by the British at an Allied prison in the nearby town of Celle, Bothe looks haggard and has dark circles under her eyes after working for weeks in the camp to bury around 17,000 corpses including the bodies of 13,000 prisoners who died after the British took over.

Herta Bothe and Irene Haschke had both stayed behind when the Bergen-Belsen camp was voluntarily turned over to the British on April 15, 1945 because there was a typhus epidemic in the camp. They wanted to help take care of the sick prisoners, but both were immediately arrested and charged with being war criminals. Both were put on trial, charged with Count One, the mistreatment of prisoners at Bergen-Belsen.  Count Two was the charge of mistreatment of the prisoners at Auschwitz, where many of these guards, including Bothe and Haschke, had previously worked.

In doing my research to confirm the identification of the two women in the photo above, I came across this website, which has an article written by a student in a class taught by Professor Harold Marcuse at the University of California at Santa Barbara:

From other accounts, Bothe was infamous for her brutality. She was known as a sadist, often beating prisoners without mercy. In trial, Sala Schiferman served as a witness against Bothe, testifying that she saw Bothe beat an 18-year-old girl for eating peelings in the kitchen. When prisoners protested, Bothe said, “I will beat her to death.” The girl was later declared to be dead by camp doctors. Another witness, Luba Triszinska, accused Bothe of frequently beating internees with wooden sticks and causing their deaths. Bothe was known for shooting at weak women as they were carrying the heavy containers of food. One man, Wilhelm Grunwald, testified that he saw Bothe do this sometime between April 1st-15th, 1945. Bothe claimed that she never used anything but her hands to beat the women under her command and that she never carried a pistol.

According to the information given by this student in an essay for a college class, Herta Bothe had been accused of beating a prisoner who ate “peelings.”

Prisoners at Bergen-Belsen peeling potatoes inside a barrack building

Prisoners at Bergen-Belsen peeling potatoes inside a barrack building

The following quote from Wikipedia tells about the war crimes that Herta allegedly committed at Bergen-Belsen.  Herta had been a guard at Auschwitz, but she was not charged with any crimes committed there; on March 1, 1945, Herta had been transferred to Bergen-Belsen.  At the Belsen trial, Herta Bothe was sentenced to 10 years in prison for her crime of “using a pistol on prisoners” at Bergen-Belsen; she had not been charged with using a pistol at Auschwitz.

Quoted from Wikipedia:

Once in the [Bergen-Belsen] camp Bothe supervised a female wood brigade of 60 women prisoners.[citation needed] The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945.[citation needed]

She is said to have been the tallest woman arrested. Bothe also stood out from other Aufseherinnen because, while most of the SS women wore black jackboots, she was in ordinary civilian shoes. The Allied soldiers forced her to place corpses of dead prisoners into mass graves adjacent to the main camp. She later recalled in an interview some 60 years later that, while carrying the corpses they were not allowed to wear gloves, and she was terrified of contracting typhus. She said the dead bodies were so rotten that the arms and legs tore away from the rest of the body when they were moved. She also recalled the emaciated bodies were still heavy enough to cause her considerable back pain. Bothe was arrested and taken to a jail at Celle.[citation needed]

At the Belsen Trial she was characterized as a “ruthless overseer” and sentenced to ten years in prison for using a pistol on prisoners. She was released early from prison on December 22, 1951 as an act of leniency by the British government.[citation needed]

Note that Wikipedia has no “citation” for the statement that Bergen-Belsen was “liberated on April 15, 1945.”  There is no citation available because Bergen-Belsen was not “liberated.”  It was voluntarily turned over to the British by Heinrich Himmler; you can read about the so-called “liberation of Bergen-Belsen” here.

British soldiers shoved dead bodies into mass graves with a bulldozer at Bergen-Belsen

British soldiers shoved dead bodies into mass graves with a bulldozer at Bergen-Belsen

The defendants in the Belsen Trial

The defendants in the Belsen Trial conducted by the British

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 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 the BelsenTrial, the 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; none of the defendants in the IMT and the AMT 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:

Count One:

At Bergen-Belsen, 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 unknown.

The British military tribunal at Belsen 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 at The Belsen Trial 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.

Herta Bothe and Irene Haschke were later granted clemency:  both were released after serving only 6 years of their 10 year sentence.

I previously blogged about The Belsen Trial here.

January 16, 2012

The woman who “slid down the chute” into an Auschwitz gas chamber

A regular reader of my blog provided a link to an excellent article written by Thomas Kues. You can read some of his articles on the Inconvenient History blog .

Thomas Kues is a serious historian of the Holocaust, aka a revisionist. The title of his latest article is How to Escape from a Homicidal Gas Chamber.  The title is a joke: Kues does not really give instructions on how to escape from a gas chamber, in the event that there is another Holocaust, in which there is a mass gassing of Jews.  Instead, he writes about Holocaust survivors who claimed that they were inside a homicidal gas chamber, but somehow managed to escape.

Kues starts off by mentioning “the peculiar fate of Moshe Peer” who was gassed six times at Bergen-Belsen but he survived.  Most historians deny that there was a gas chamber at Bergen-Belsen.

The first trial of the German “war criminals” was The Belsen Trial where SS men and women who had previously worked at Auschwitz before being transferred to Bergen-Belsen were put on trial for crimes allegedly committed at Auschwitz, as well as for crimes at Belsen.

The British had jurisdiction over the Auschwitz “war criminals” by virtue of the fact that the former Auschwitz staff members had foolishly stayed behind to help the British after the Belsen camp was voluntarily turned over them by Heinrich Himmler on April 15, 1945.

The very first person to testify about an Auschwitz gas chamber, in a court of law, was Sohpia Litwinska.  Kues quotes from her “testimony” and then mentions that Litwinska stated in a previous “affidavit” that she and the others “slid down the chute through some doors into a large room.”

Franz Hoessler was the man who pulled Sophia Kitwinska out of an Auschwitz gas chamber

Kues does not quote from the affidavit of Sophia, but I have it on my website, so I will quote it for my readers.

As quoted in the book The Belsen Trial, Sophia Litwinska said the following in her affidavit:

AT AUSCHWITZ, on 24th December, 1942, I was paraded in company with about 19,000 other prisoners, all of them women. Present on parade were Doctors Mengele and Konig and Rapportfuhrer Tauber. I was one of the 3000 prisoners picked out of the 19,000 by the doctors and taken to our huts, where we were stripped naked by other prisoners and our clothes taken away. We were then taken by tipper-type lorries to the gas chamber chute. They were large lorries, about eight in all and about 300 persons on each lorry. On arrival at the gas chamber the lorry tipped up and we slid down the chute through some doors into a large room. The room had showers all around, towels and soap and large numbers of benches. There were also small windows high up near the roof. Many were injured coming down the chute and lay where they fell. Those of us who could sat down on the benches provided and immediately afterwards the doors of the room were closed. My eyes then began to water, I started to coughing and had a pain in my chest and throat. Some of the other people fell down and others coughed and foamed at the mouth. After being in the room for about two minutes the door was opened and an S.S. man came in wearing a respirator. He called my name and then pulled me out of the room and quickly shut the door again. When I got outside I saw S.S man Franz Hoessler, whom I identify as No. 1 on photograph 9. He took me to hospital, where I stayed for about six weeks, receiving special treatment from Dr. Mengele. For the first few days I was at the hospital I found it impossible to eat anything without vomiting. I can only think that I was taken out of the gas chamber because I had an Aryan husband and therefore was in a different category from the other prisoners, who were all Jews. I now suffer from a weak heart and had two attacks since being at Belsen. I do not know the names of any persons who went into the gas chamber with me.

Note that Sophia identified Franz Hoessler, the man in the photo above, as the SS man who saved her.  In her affidavit, Sophia is testifying against him.  That’s the thanks he got for going inside a gas chamber and pulling her out in the nick of time.

I blogged about a woman who was put into a gas chamber by a “tipper type lorry” at https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/polish-political-prisoner-was-driven-in-a-dump-truck-down-a-ramp-and-straight-into-a-gas-chamber-at-auschwitz/

It is not clear which of the seven gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau had a chute for sliding down into it, like the one that Sohia Litwinska mentioned in her testimony at The Belsen Trial.  The Krema IV and Krema V gas chambers were on the ground floor and had “small windows high up near the roof” where the gas pellets were thrown in by the SS men. But neither of these two gas chambers had a “gas chamber chute” for dumping the victims into the gas chamber from “tipper-type lorries,” which Americans would call dump trucks.

According to the drawings done by Walter Dejaco, one of the architects of the Krema II building, the original blueprint showed a corpse slide for rolling bodies down into the vestibule between the two morgues, which were later converted into an undressing room and a gas chamber.

The corpse slide was never built and instead, stairs were built for the Jews to walk down into the undressing room. Dejaco was acquitted by a court in Austria in 1972; at his trial, the drawings of the corpse slide were entered as evidence.

Is it possible that Sophia had heard about the original blueprint for Krema II?  Keep in mind that she had an “Aryan husband.”  For all we know, her Aryan husband was a friend of Walter Dejaco and he told her husband about the original plans for Krema II.

Dr. Josef Mengele, October 1943

Another survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau was Regina Bialek, a Polish political prisoner, who was saved from the gas chamber at the last moment by Dr. Josef Mengele, who is shown in the photo above. Bialek gave a deposition which was entered into the British Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty-Four Others, also known as The Belsen Trial.

According to Bialek’s testimony, the gassing of the Jews at Birkenau did not stop, even on Christmas day.  Thomas Kues quoted from her testimony in his article. I also quoted from her testimony on my website scrapbookpages.com.

The following quote is an excerpt from the Deposition of Regina Bialek (Pole, aged 28):

3. On 25th December 1943, I was sick with typhus and was picked out at a selection made by doctors Mengele and Tauber along with about 350 other women. I was made to undress and taken by lorry to a gas chamber. There were seven gas chambers at Auschwitz. This particular one was underground and the lorry was able to run down the slope and straight into the chamber.

Here we were tipped unceremoniously on the floor. The room was about 12 yards square and small lights on the wall dimly illuminated it. When the room was full a hissing sound was heard coming from the centre point on the floor and gas came into the room.

After what seemed about ten minutes some of the victims began to bite their hands and foam at the mouth, and blood issued from their ears, eyes and mouth, and their faces went blue.

I suffered from all these symptoms, together with a tight feeling at the throat. I was half conscious when my number was called out by Dr. Mengele and I was led from the chamber. I attribute my escape to the fact that the daughter of a friend of mine who was an Aryan and a doctor at Auschwitz had seen me being transported to the chamber and had told her mother, who immediately appealed to Dr. Mengele.

Apparently he realized that as a political prisoner I was of more value alive than dead, and I was released.

4. I think that the time to kill a person in this particular gas chamber would be from 15 to 20 minutes.

5. I was told that the staffs of the prisoners who worked in the gas chamber and crematorium next door changed every three months, the old staff being taken to a villa in the camp to do some repair work. Here they were locked in the rooms and gas bombs thrown through the window.

I estimate that in December, 1943, about 7,000 people disappeared from Auschwitz by way of the gas chamber and crematorium.

There were two underground gas chambers at Birkenau, but neither of them had a ramp where a lorry or truck could drive down into the gas chamber, as Regina Bialek described in her deposition.

Ruins of Krema II undressing room at Auschwitz-Birkenau

My 2005 photo above shows that the underground gas chamber at Krema II had steps down into the undressing room, not a ramp where a truck could drive into the building.

July 29, 2011

Before the Nuremberg IMT, there was “The Belsen Trial”

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:51 am

On Sept. 18, 1945, the Baltimore Sun printed a news article with the headline “4,000,000 deaths on Auschwitz List.” The sub headline was “Testimony to That Effect Promised at SS Trial.” (This was a reference to the upcoming Belsen Trial.)

Here is a summary of the Baltimore Sun news story from this web site:

Testimony that more than 4,000,000 persons died at the Auschwilz (sic) concentration camp was promised by the prosecution today at the opening of the military trial of Josef Kramer and 44 SS henchmen for conspiracy to commit mass murder.

Was testimony about the 4 million deaths at Auschwitz actually given at the Belsen Trial, which was the “military trial of Josef Kramer” held by the British in September 1945?  Not that I know of!   (more…)