The Belsen Trial

Immediately after the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated, the British military authorities began to investigate the crimes committed there. From 17 September to 17 November 1945, 44 men and women were tried by a British military tribunal in Lüneburg.

The defendants consisted of former camp commandant Josef Kramer as well as 16 other SS men, 16 female SS guards and 11 former prisoner functionaries. They were tried according to British military law and were charged solely with war crimes. By contrast, the main war criminals tried by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1946 were also charged with crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.

Well over one hundred journalists from Germany and abroad reported extensively on the proceedings in Lüneburg. They informed the public not only about the mass deaths in Bergen-Belsen, but also about the gassings in Auschwitz-Birkenau. After two months of intensive witness interrogations, the judges sentenced 11 of the defendants to death, including Josef Kramer, head female guard Elisabeth Volkenrath and the last camp doctor Fritz Klein. They were executed on 13 December 1945 at the prison in Hamelin.

Fourteen of the defendants were acquitted by the tribunal, and the rest were given prison sentences of between one and 15 years. However, most of these sentences were substantially reduced following appeals or pleas for clemency. Nine more members of the Bergen-Belsen camp personnel were tried by two other military tribunals in 1946 and 1948.

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