The International Campaign for Real History

Posted Monday, January 5, 2004

[] Index to the Traditional Enemies of Free Speech
[] Alphabetical index (text)

Quick navigation


Starvation and epidemic conditions in Bergen-Belsen camp, early 1945

On March 1, 1945 commandant Joseph Kramer addressed the following letter, to the Head of Department D in S.S. Administration Department, S.S. Gruppenführer Glücks, Oranienburg. It is reproduced from the book The Belsen Trial.

[images added by this website]

Bergen-Belsen, March 1, 1945


IT has been my intention for a long time past to seek an interview with you in order to describe the present conditions here. As service conditions make this impossible I sho uld like to submit a written report on the impossible state of affairs and ask for your support.

You informed me by telegram of February 23, 1945, that I was to receive 2,500 female detainees as a first consignment from Ravensbrück. I have assured accommodation for this number. The reception of further consignments is impossible, not only from the point of view of accommodation due to lack of space, but particularly on account of the feeding question. When S.S. Stabsarztführer Lolling inspected the camp at the end of January it was decided that an occupation of the camp by over 35,000 detainees must be considered too great. In the meantime this number has been exceeded by 7,000 and a further 6,200 are at this time on their way. The consequence of this is that all barracks are overcrowded by at least 30 per cent. The detainees cannot lie down to sleep, but must sleep in a sitting position on the floor. Three-tier beds or bunks have been repeatedly allotted to the camp in recent time by Amt. B. III, but always from areas with which there is no transport connection. If I had sufficient sleeping accommodation at my disposal, then the accommodation of the detainees who have already arrived and of those still to come would appear more possible. In addition to this question a spotted fever and typhus epidemic has now begun, which increases in extent every day. The daily mortality rate, which was still in the region of 60-70 at the beginning of February, has in the meantime attained a daily average of 250-300 and will still further increase in view of the conditions which at present prevail.

Belsen prisonersSupply. When I took over the camp, winter supplies for 1,500 internees had been indented for; some had been received, but the greater part had not been delivered. This failure was due not only to difficulties of transport but also to the fact that practically nothing is available in this area and all must be brought from outside the area. The supplies which were available here were calculated to last till February 20; by the greatest economy it has been possible to have still, at the present time, potato supplies for eight days and turnips for six days. Fresh negotiations with the representative of the local peasants' combine with regard to further supplies have been started. The same situation prevails with regard to the supply of bread - apart from the supply by Training Area Bergen we received daily one load from a bread factory in Hanover. For the last four days there has been no delivery from Hanover owing to interrupted communications, and I shall be compelled, if this state of affairs prevails till the end of the week, to fetch bread also by means of lorry from Hanover. The lorries allotted to the local unit are in no way adequate for this work and I am compelled to ask for at least three to four lorries and five to six trailers. When I once have here a means of towing then I can send out the trailers into the surrounding area. If the negotiations with the representatives of the local peasants' combine on the subject of supply of potatoes are successful, then I have to allow for fetching these also by lorry. The supply question must, without fail, be cleared up in the next few days. I ask you, Gruppenführer, for an allocation of transport. The collection of food will be dealt with from here. Further, I need badly an additional supply of boilers. All boilers belonging to the camp are in use day and night. We shall be in great difficulties if one of these boilers fails. There is a field kitchen here with 30 boilers of 300 litres capacity which were placed at the disposal of the S.S. by the D.A.F. To our request of December 29, 1944, that we should make temporary use of these boilers, we received a written reply on January 3, 1945, that their use cannot be sanctioned. S.S. Sturmführer Burger noted this when he paid a visit here. I do not know what decision was arrived at as a result of any discussions. Possibly under the changed conditions it is possible to gain the use of these boilers. I urgently need here a further 20 boilers in order to be able to provide for a possible deficit.

State of Health. The incidence of disease is very high here in proportion to the number of detainees. When you interviewed me on December 1, 1944, at Oranienburg, you told me that Bergen-Belsen was to serve as a sick camp for all concentration camps in North Germany. The number of sick has greatly increased, particularly on account of the transports of detainees, which have arrived from the East in recent times - these transports have sometimes spent eight to fourteen days in open trucks. An improvement in their condition, and particularly a return of these detainees to work, is under present conditions quite out of the question. The sick here gradually pine away till they die of weakness of the heart and general debility. As already stated, the average daily mortality is between 250 and 300. One can best gain an idea of the conditions of incoming transports when I state that on one occasion, out of a transport of 1900 detainees over 500 arrived dead. The fight against spotted fever is made extremely difficult by the lack of means of disinfection. Due to constant use the hot-air delousing machine is now in bad working order and sometimes fails for several days. At the time of his visit S. S. Stabsarztführer Lolling promised me a "short-wave delousing machine." To use this I need a more powerful transformer, which, according to information received from Bauinspektion Nord, Wismaerstrasse, Berlin, is awaiting collection. Although I require the apparatus so urgently, it is impossible at the present time to send transport to Berlin to collect it. The same situation prevails with the parts for the new crematorium and for roofing material and cement. In my opinion it should be possible for the Building Department to load all these urgently required items, if not in a lorry at any rate in a truck, to dispatch them to this place with a transport of detainees from Sachsenhausen or Ravensbrück. So far as the Building Department is concerned, the matter is finished when they have stated that the items can be fetched from this or that place. The Departments probably believe that transport is available here in great excess and only waiting for employment. A further item which concerns the Building Department is the sewage installation. It was decided in 1943 that the existing machinery was too small for the number of detainees. In the period since 1943 several investigations and plans were made, but nothing at all done. Now owing to this deliberation a catastrophe is taking place for which no one wishes to assume responsibility. It may be possible to initiate measures from your end so that the matter is put in hand.

Gruppenführer, I can assure you that from this end everything will be done to overcome the present crisis. With this letter I merely wanted to point out to you the difficulties which exist here. For my part it is a matter of course that these difficulties must be overcome. I am now asking you for your assistance as far as it lies in your power. In addition to the above-mentioned points I need here, before everything, accommodation facilities, beds, blankets, eating utensils - all for about 20,000 internees.

On the question of putting the internees to work, I have contacted the employment authorities. There is a chance of being able to make use, in the near future, of woman labour. There is no availability here of making use of male labour. In addition to the concentration camp prisoners there are here still about 7,500 internees ("Exchange Jews"). S.S. Hauptsturmführer Moes from RHSA IV A 4b was here last week and informed me that these Jews would be removed in the near future. It would be much appreciated if this could be done as soon as possible, for in this way accommodation could then be found for at least 10,000 concentration camp prisoners. Because of the spotted fever danger S.S. Hauptsturmführer Moes is not willing to take these Jews away at the present time. These Jews are to go partly to Theresienstadt and partly to a new camp in Württemberg. The removal of these internees is particularly urgent for the reason that several concentration camp Jews have discovered among the camp internees their nearest relations - some their parents, some their brothers and sisters. Also for purely political reasons - I mention in this connection the high death figure in this camp at present - it is essential that these Jews disappear from here as soon as possible.

With that I wish to close my present report. In this connection, Gruppenführer, I want to assure you once again that on my part everything will definitely be done to bridge over this difficult situation. I know that you have even greater difficulties to overcome and appreciate that you must send to this camp all internees discharged from that area; on the other hand, I implore your help in overcoming this situation.

Heil Hitler, yours truly, J. K.,
S.S. Hauptsturmführer.

© Focal Point 2004 F [e-mail]DISmall write to David Irving