This is some chilling stuff... read at your own risk!
Many of you will, I am sure, have heard of the Nuremberg trials (of the most senior Nazis) but there were many other lesser war criminals tried and in some cases executed by the Allies after the war. In total, 5025 men and women were convicted of war crimes between 1945 and 1949 in the American, British and French zones, by Allied War Crimes Tribunals. Many of the staff from the concentration camps were arrested and tried for murder and acts of brutality against their prisoners. Over 500 of these were sentenced to death and the majority executed, at least 19 of these were female.
It was decided that those sentenced to die should suffer death by hanging although no standard execution protocol was agreed. Each country carried out executions in accordance with its normal procedure. This led to the use of British style measured drop hanging in private for those executed in the British sector, slow hanging in public or private for those in the Polish and Russian sectors and standard drop hanging in semi-private for those executed by the Americans at Nuremberg, Dachau and Landsberg. Some of the American hangings were televised and shown on the news.
Executions under British jurisdiction at Hameln jail.
A total of 64 men and women were hanged at Hameln Prison (near Hanover) in Germany under British jurisdiction. The executions were carried out by Albert Pierrepoint who was flown in specially on each occasion. Generally he was assisted by Regimental Sergeant Major O'Neil who was a member of the Control Commission there. The hangings took place in a purpose built execution room at the end of one of the prison's wings. The gallows having been specially constructed by the Royal Engineers to allow the execution of prisoners in pairs. Pierrepoint carried out over 200 executions of war criminals in all.
Belsen Concentration Camp staff.
Bergen-Belsen was started as late as April 1943 in Lower Saxony near the city of Celle as a transit centre. It was turned into a concentration camp by its second commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer and was used to house those prisoners who had become too weak to work as forced labour in German factories. It was liberated by the British army on April 15th 1945. The British soldiers found 10,000 unburied corpses and 40,000 sick and dying prisoners of whom a staggering 28,000 subsequently died after liberation.
As a result of these atrocities 45 former members of staff from Bergen-Belsen, including some inmates who had taken part in acts of brutality against other prisoners, were charged with either being responsible for the murder of Allied nationals or the suffering of those in Bergen-Belsen in Germany (first count) or Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, (see below for details of this camp) (second count). Some defendants were charged with both counts.
The accused comprised 16 men and 16 women, including Josef Kramer, Belsen's commandant, plus 12 former prisoners (seven men and five women).
The Belsen Trial as it was known was conducted by the British Military Tribunal at No. 30 Lindentrasse, Lünburg, in Germany from September 17th to November 17th 1945 under court President Major-General H.M.P. Berney-Ficklin, sitting with five other officers. The prosecution was in the hands of a team of four military lawyers and each prisoner was represented by counsel. All the prisoners were tried together and sat in the large dock, each wearing a number on their chest.
On the afternoon of November 16th the verdicts were delivered. 31 prisoners were convicted on one or both counts and 14 acquitted of all charges. Irma Grese and Elisabeth Volkenrath were found guilty on both counts, Juana Bormann guilty only on the second charge. The following day the sentences were read out to the prisoners. 11 of them were sentenced to death and 19 others to various terms of imprisonment.
The death sentences were pronounced as follows by Major-General Berney-Ficklin:
"No. 1 Kramer, 2 Klein, 3 Weingartner, 5 Hoessler, 16 Francioh, 22 Pichen, 25 Stofel, 27 Dorr. The sentence of this Court on each one of you whom I have just named is that you suffer death by being hanged".
He then passed sentence on the women as follows "No. 6 Bormann, 7 Volkenrath, 9 Grese. The sentence of this court is that you suffer death by being hanged." Click here for photos.
The sentence was translated for them into German as "Tode durch den strang", literally death by the rope. All eleven of the condemned appealed to the convening officer, Field-Marshal Montgomery who rejected their appeals for clemency. They were taken to Hameln jail in Wesfalia to await execution and housed in a row of tiny cells along a corridor with the execution chamber at its end. The eleven from Belsen had been joined by two other men sentenced for crimes committed elsewhere.
The executions were set for Friday December 13th 1945 and were to be carried out at half hour intervals, starting at 9.34 a.m. with Irma Grese, who at 21 was the youngest of the condemned prisoners, followed by Elisabeth Volkenrath at 10.03 a.m. and Juana Bormann at 10.38 a.m. The men, including Joseph Kramer, were hanged in pairs afterwards, all 13 executions being completed by 1.00 p.m. In view of the proximity of the condemned cells to the gallows each one of them must have heard the preceding hangings.
For a detailed account of Irma Grese's case click here.
Elisabeth Volkenrath was 26 years old. She was convicted of numerous murders and made selections for the gas chamber. She was described as the most hated woman in the camp. Juana Bormann was known as 'the woman with the dogs', who took sadistic pleasure in setting her wolfhounds on prisoners to tear them to pieces.
The afternoon before execution each prisoner was weighed so the correct drop could be calculated for them. Irma Grese smiled at Pierrepoint when he asked her age. Elisabeth Volkenrath was steady but looked nervous and Juana Borman limped down the corridor looking old and haggard. She was forty-two years old, only a little over five feet high, and at a 101 lbs. had the weight of a child. She was trembling as she was put her on the scale. In German she said "I have my feelings", Pierrepoint recalled in his autobiography.