Josef Kramer (10 Nov. 1906 – 13 Dec. 1945), SS Hauptsturmführer, started his SS career as a guard at Dachau, then served at the Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen Camps, and became Rudolf Höss’s adjutant in 1940 during the initial set-up phase of the Auschwitz Camp. In April 1941, he was made commandant of the Natzweiler Camp, Alsace, where he supposedly set up a rudimentary gas chamber in 1943 in order to kill several Jews whose skeletons were meant to be added to a ghoulish anatomical collection at the University of Strasbourg. (See the entry on Natzweiler for details.)
On 8 May 1944, he was transferred to Auschwitz as commandant of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau Camp, where he stayed until November. He then was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen Camp as that camps’ last commandant until its catastrophic end in April 1944. (See the entry on that camp and on the Bergen-Belsen Trials for details).
When the British took over the Bergen-Belsen Camp, Kramer was arrested. In the early days of his arrest, he wrote a lengthy affidavit that reacted to numerous questions put to him (Phillips 1949, pp. 721-737). Among them was what he knew about experiments conducted on inmates for a professor at Strasbourg. He insisted that he had no knowledge about any such thing, but if this had occurred, he would have known about it. About his time at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp, he stated in that affidavit (ibid., p. 731):
“No prisoners were flogged; there were no executions, shootings or hangings in my part. […] During my inspections I never saw prisoners who had died through physical violence. […] All efforts were made by these doctors to keep the prisoners alive. Medical supplies and invigorating drugs were applied. […] It was never reported to me that prisoners had to be treated for dog bites. […]
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.”
Then Kramer underwent, for weeks on end, the kind of torture that almost all SS prisoners in British custody had to endure. A member of the French Resistance present during some of this mistreatment described with glee how Kramer was locked up an entire night in a refrigeration chamber. (Fréjafon 1947, p. 22). As Montgomery Belgion reported in his 1949 book Victor’s Justice, at the end of this treatment, Kramer and many other SS men and women begged their British tormentors to please let them die (Belgion 1949, pp. 80f., 90). After that treatment, he “confessed” to French interrogators about a ridiculously primitive gassing he claims to have performed at Natzweiler Camp (see that camp’s entry, as well as Phillips 1949, pp. 174f.). He suddenly also “remembered” what he was asked to state about Auschwitz, writing it down in a later, shorter affidavit (ibid., p. 738):
“The first time I saw a gas chamber proper was at Auschwitz. It was attached to the crematorium. The complete building containing the crematorium and gas chamber was situated in Camp No. 2 (Birkenau), of which I was in command.”
Actually, the orthodox narrative has it that there were five buildings at Birkenau with altogether 12 gas chambers (one each in Crematoria II and III, three each in Crematoria IV and V, and four in Bunker 2). So, Kramer had yet to learn some lessons. What he did understand, though, was a way to yield to what his captors forced him violently to confess, while at the same time trying to dodge responsibility for the claimed gas-chamber mass murders by stating (ibid.; also p. 175):
“[…] I received a written order from Hoess, who commanded the whole of Auschwitz Camp, that although the gas chamber and crematorium were situated in my part of the camp, I had no jurisdiction over it whatever. Orders in regard to the gas chamber were, in fact, always given by Hoess […].”
During the trial, Kramer’s “defense” lawyer played the prosecution’s game by asserting (ibid., p. 150):
“The gas chamber existed, there is no doubt about that.”
In his testimony, Kramer repeated his nonsense about the gas chamber(s) not having been any of his business, and asserted that he had lied in his first affidavit because he still felt bound by some “word of honor” to Hitler and Himmler to keep the chambers a secret (pp. 157, 174). This at a time when the whole world was talking about this “secret” already. He uttered no word about his torture, meaning that he was mortally afraid that, as soon as he returned to his prison cell, the tormenting would continue. One can feel the tension in the air with every terse answer he gave, usually consisting only of a mere “Yes” or “No.” This man’s spirit had been utterly broken.
When asked whether burning ditches existed in his Birkenau Camp in the summer of 1944, he again answered “Yes” (ibid., p. 175), but air photos show that they did not exist. Here we have prime evidence of which of his affidavits was a lie, and which was true, and there is no hesitation to point out why.
In the end, Kramer was sentenced to death, and hanged on 13 December 1945, at the age of just 39.