Appendix D: The Belsen Trial
Josef Kramer's two statements, as they appear in Phillips, ed., Trial of Josef Kramer:
"Statement Of Josef Kramer
I was born on 10th November, 1906, at Munich. I am married and have three children. I volunteered for the S.S. in 1932; I had no training whatsoever, and was detailed for duty in a concentration camp. I did not volunteer for this specific kind of duty. When war broke out the S.S. was taken over by the Army and I volunteered for active service, as I would have preferred a fighting job, but I was told that I would have to do the job for which I was detailed. My first rank was Unterscharführer and my promotion to Scharführer and Oberscharführer was in 1934 and 1935. I cannot remember the dates.
Dachau. In 1936 I was in the office of the concentration camp at Dachau. The Kommandant of that camp was Standartenführer Loritz. There were only German prisoners in the camp. I cannot be absolutely certain, but as far as I can remember, they were all German. The S.S. Unit was Wachttruppe, Ober-Bayern. There were only political prisoners, criminals and anti-socials in this camp. Anti-socials are people like beggars and gypsies and people who do not want to work. No death sentences were carried out in the camp. The only cases in which people were killed was when they were trying to escape, in which case the guard had orders to shoot. In the case of any shootings, whilst prisoners were trying to escape, investigations were made by the Police. I left this camp at the beginning of June 1937.
Sachsenhausen. From Dachau I went to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I had been promoted to commissioned rank, outside the establishment, to Untersturmführer. When I went to Sachsenhausen I was on the establishment there. The prisoners at Sachsenhausen consisted of the same three types as at the previous camp. The Kommandant of the camp was Standartenführer Baranowsky. There were no death sentences carried out in this camp. I was in charge of the mail department and therefore did not know everything that was going on, but have heard occasionally that people have been shot while trying to escape.
Mauthausen. My next concentration camp was Mauthausen in Austria. This camp was just being built when I arrived. The Kommandant was Standartenführer Ziereis. Here I had the same rank as before. Whilst in this camp I was promoted to Obersturmführer. I think this was in January, 1939. I was a sort of adjutant in charge of the office and at the disposal of the Kommandant. The prisoners were all Germans and of the same three types as I have described before. The last type, i.e. rogues and vagabonds, were mainly Austrians, as there seemed to have been many when Austria was taken over by Germany. There were between 1500 and 2000 prisoners and they were all men. This includes Jewish prisoners. There was sufficient room in the camp for all prisoners when I was there. None of the prisoners knew at the time they arrived when they were going to leave. There were only a few who had a sentence like three months or six months, and the biggest part of the prisoners were there for an undefined period. Solitary confinement and solitary confinement with bread and water, or extra work on Sundays, were the sentences awarded for breaches of discipline. The prisoners were never beaten, nor do I know of any case of shooting. There were prison-breaks, but I was never present when somebody tried to escape. I was in the office and the telephone would ring and one of the guards would report that one of the prisoners had tried to escape. It was my duty then to go out and see where the prisoner worked and how it was possible for him to escape. We then notified the police and gave particulars of the person who had escaped. The instructions were that no prisoners had to go beyond a certain border-line. If a prisoner did, the guard had to challenge him three times with the words, 'Halt, or I shoot,' then first fire a shot in the air and only the second shot to kill. It is difficult to say how many shootings of this kind took place whilst I was at the camp because it is such a long time ago. I think that 10 to 15 people were shot, but I cannot say exactly. Every case of shooting had to be reported to the authorities at Mauthausen and at Linz. The nearest big town carried out an investigation. If someone was shot at, or shot whilst escaping, the guard was immediately put under a sort of open arrest, but none was ever convicted of wrongful shooting. Most of the people who were shot in this manner were criminals or vagabonds, the reason being that the larger part of the inmates of the camp belonged to that category.
The deaths that occurred were mostly from natural causes. When somebody died his relatives and the authorities, who had sent them to the concentration camp, had to be notified. There was one very severe winter when the deaths rose, but otherwise there were very few deaths. The prisoners were kept in wooden huts with three-tier beds, 250 to 300 in a hut. Whilst I was at this camp, Obergruppenführer Eike, who was in charge of all concentration camps, visited the camp three or four times, but I cannot remember the dates. There were no war prisoners in this camp. A few more political prisoners came in, but there were no great increases. Their nationality was mostly Austrian. There was no member of the former Austrian Government or of Schusnigg's Party either in Dachau or Mauthausen. I was in charge of the office and I dealt with the incoming and the outgoing mail on behalf of the Kommandant. I would read the mail to him and he would give me his orders, which I would pass on to the various sub-commanders. The powers of the Kommandant, with regard to punishment of prisoners, were not exactly laid down, but I think he could give up to 21 days. He was the only one who had disciplinary powers. I do not know the number of prisoners when I left in 1940, but the camp was full. The strength was recorded every day, but I cannot remember now what the number was. Some of the prisoners were sent away to other camps. These transfers were made not according to the type of prisoners but according to the type of work we wanted done, and according to their trades. Whilst I was there, some people were released back to freedom. I cannot remember whether they were political prisoners or others, but I remember that on Hitler's birthday, 20th April, 1940, I saw 50 prisoners in the courtyard who were going to be released.
Auschwitz. I went to Auschwitz in May 1940. I lived outside the camp in a village with my family. I had an office in the camp where I worked during the day. The Kommandant of the camp was Obersturmführer Höss. I was adjutant. I do not know what the number of the staff was when I came. The biggest part of the prisoners at Auschwitz were political prisoners of Polish nationality. There was very little there when I arrived, as the camp had just been built. All that was there when I left, four months after my arrival, were stone buildings which had been built by the Poles. There had been men, women and cattle living in the wooden buildings. The stone buildings were empty. The former inhabitants of the wooden buildings were shifted. When I first started, the camp staff consisted of only myself and one clerk, and there was only one S.S. Company for guard there. I cannot remember the name of the company, but they were referred to as 'Guards Company Concentration Camp Auschwitz.' This company had no 'Feldposte' number. The highest ranking officer was the camp Kommandant, after him came the Kommandant of the Guards Company, Obersturmführer Plorin. There were no officers, apart from the company commander. The platoons were commanded by warrant officers. There were three platoons per company and between 30 and 40 men in a platoon. This varied as required. Beside the camp Kommandant, myself, the clerk and the S.S. Company, there was nobody there. A second clerk came later. There were 40 or 50 S.S. men who did not belong to the Guards Company, who had administrative duties in the camp, such as in charge of the kitchen and of the barracks, etc.
I do not know the number of prisoners in that camp. It may have been between 3000 and 4000, but I would not like to commit myself. Untersturmführer Meyer was in charge of administration. I cannot remember his Christian name as I always kept well away from the others. The reason for that was that I had my family there. There was a doctor there and I think his name was Potau. He came from Upper Silesia. He died later on, but I cannot recollect this very well. There was another Untersturmführer, by the name of Meier (or Meyer), who was in charge of the prisoners. I think his Christian name was Franz. The Kommandant issued orders to the S.S. officer in charge of the guard. His orders came from the next highest S.S. formation. This formation was S.S. Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt, Berlin, Amtsgruppe D, Berlin, Oranienburg.
When prisoners arrived we were notified by the Gestapo in Katowice. There were cases when prisoners came in who were brought by ordinary policemen, and they also brought files relating to them. They came mostly in batches. They arrived by train at Auschwitz station and were collected by car from there. The prisoners were all men. There were no questionings by the Gestapo in the camp. All the questioning was done before the prisoners arrived. There was one official of the police on the camp staff who dealt with criminals against whom proceedings had been taken before. I cannot remember his name. He only stayed a short while and was then exchanged for another one. When the prisoners arrived, some were healthy and some were not, but none showed any sign of ill-treatment or malnutrition. I think that during the time I was there, there were no cells for solitary confinement, but, as I say, the camp was only in its initial stages. The same rules as to German political and German prisoners were applied to the Poles and, later, to the Russians. There was no difference. One of the stone buildings was reserved for a hospital. This stone building did not differ in any way from the other buildings. Beside the one doctor I have mentioned, there was another doctor supplied from the interned people, among whom there were many doctors and medical students. It was not within my power to give any orders to the medical staff as the doctors came immediately under the Kommandant. The rate of deaths was roughly one per cent, in the summer or possibly one and a half per cent, this was a weekly average. These were natural deaths and it depended upon what was wrong with them when they came in. Reports were made by the camp doctor and I, as adjutant, saw them. I received an average of 30 of these reports per week. The prisoners who had died were burnt. There were prisoners working in the crematorium under orders of guards. The ashes were sent to the relatives if they required them.
There were very few releases from this camp whilst I was there. These releases were authorized only by the Gestapo in Berlin, for political prisoners; or by the police authorities for ordinary criminals. The Gestapo organization who dealt with the camp was the Gestapo Departmental Headquarters at Katowice. Whether there was another Headquarters between Katowice and the Central H.Q. in Berlin, I do not know. The Gestapo men were either civilians in plain clothes, or uniforms, with no distinguishing marks. Some of them wore an S.D. badge. The S.D. and the Gestapo were two different things. I depended upon the S.S. for my orders. So did the Kommandant of the camp. The Gestapo, however, dealt with the political prisoners within the camp. All corporal punishment had to be authorized from Berlin. The camp authorities could not authorize any corporal punishments. In the beginning, corporal punishment was administered by the guards, but, later on, this was forbidden by Berlin, and the prisoners had to administer the punishment themselves. I do not know why this order came form Berlin. It was signed by Gruppenführer Glücks and came from Oranienburg, Berlin.
Dachau. Between 15th and 20th November, 1940, I went back to Dachau. So far I had always been employed in the office, first as clerk, then as adjutant, and now I should get to know the work immediately connected with the prisoners. I was to be trained to become a Lagerführer. My transfer was authorized by the Central S.S. organization in Berlin. When I arrived in Dachau the camp was in perfect running order and consisted of 30 or 32 wooden buildings, all told, for housing the prisoners, including the hospital, etc. The number of prisoners in one barrack varied between 300 and 450. The total number of prisoners was between 13,000 and 14,000. There were three companies of S.S. (120 to 150 men in each company) to guard them, and the administrative personnel consisted of about 100 or 120. The officers of the Guards Companies were not professional S.S. They were people who had been called up from trades or professions, put in the Army, and then detailed to S.S. They were then from the S.S. detailed to their particular duties, e.g. concentration camps; they did not volunteer for these particular duties. They received their orders from the Kommandant who, in turn, received his orders from Berlin, Oranienburg. The Kommandant's name was S.S. Obersturmführer Piorkowski. The next in rank after the Kommandant was the Lagerführer, Hauptsturmführer Eill. I do not remember his Christian name. There was one officer in charge of administration, Haupsturmführer Wagner. Then there were three company commanders whose names I cannot remember.
The prisoners were all men and consisted of criminals and political prisoners as before, and a new type, namely Poles and Russians, who had been prisoners of war and who were detailed for certain work, e.g. farming jobs, and who had committed minor crimes such as trying to escape or refusing to work, and they were therefore sent to the concentration camp. These prisoners of war were interned because they had committed these crimes. At this time there were only prisoners from the Eastern front, namely Poles and Russians. It has been pointed out to me that the war in Russia only broke out in June, 1941, whereas I left again in April, 1941. If this is so I must have mixed it up with Auschwitz. I was only there as a sort of trainee and had very little to do with the organization of the place. I cannot remember any prison-breaks. The death rate I cannot remember because it had nothing to do with me, but I know it was a very good camp.
There was a furniture factory and prisoners worked as carpenters and joiners, also as tailors and cobblers. Prisoners were only allowed out outside the camp in exceptional cases, such as for gardening. There were about forty to fifty new intakes per week whilst I was there. There were few transfers and very few releases. The prisoners came from the Gestapo in Munich. If they were criminals they came from the Police, also in Munich. Parties, organized by the camp administration, who visited the camp and going round the camp, were a regular feature about two or three times a week. These parties were formed mostly of prominent guests from abroad, statesmen and politicians from countries allied to Germany. No high-ranking German officials ever visited the camp.
Natzweiler, April, 1941, to 10th or 15th May, 1944. My appointment at Natzweiler was Lagerführer and in October, 1942, I was appointed camp Kommandant. I had been promoted to the rank of Hauptsturmführer before I was appointed Kommandant. When I arrived at the camp the Kommandant was Sturmbannführer Huettig. The officer in charge of administration was Obersturmführer Faschingbauer. The doctor was Obersturmführer Eiserle. The O.C. Guards Company was Obersturmführer Peter. The administrative personnel consisted of 20 to begin with, and 70 to 75 in the end. The camp is a very small one. There were no prisoners when I arrived as the camp had just been built. When I left in May 1944, there were 2500 to 3000 prisoners, comprising the three usual categories: political, anti-socials, criminals and, later, Polish and Russian prisoners of war who had committed minor crimes or tried to escape or refused to work. There were also a few hundred prisoners form Luxembourg. I cannot quite say for certain whether there were any French prisoners there or not. The prisoners arrived with papers and their nationality was on these papers, but I cannot remember any details because I did not go through the papers myself. None of these people came in the camp direct; they all came from other concentration camps. I can, therefore, not say what they were in for, but as far as I know they were of the same three types as I have described before.
I cannot remember that, at any rate, prisoners have been lent for experiments to a doctor in Strassburg. I cannot remember Professor Pickard of Strassburg. It is quite impossible that experiments of any kind on prisoners have been carried out without my knowledge, as in both my appointments as Lagerführer and later as Lager Kommandant, I would have known. Obergruppenführer Glücks from the Ministry in Berlin came to inspect the camp twice in the beginning, once in the summer of 1941 and once in the spring of 1942. The visit of Gruppenführer Pohl took place at the end of April or the beginning of May 1944. The only things that Glücks enquired into were how many political prisoners, how many anti-socials there were. Foreigners figured as political prisoners. He did not ask for their nationalities. I do not know of any British prisoners having been there. I have never seen a document which shows British as the nationality of any prisoners in the camp. There were 15 wooden barracks in the camp and up to 250 prisoners to each of these barracks. The camp was on top of the hill and my office was in the camp boundary. I lived in the village at the bottom of the hill with my family. The officers were all married and lived with their families in the village. One change in the personnel which I can remember was that Obersturmführer Peter, who commanded the company of guards, was transferred and replaced by an Obersturmführer called Meier. I do not know any of the Rottenführer who were there. There was a crematorium at the camp. The death rate depended upon the season. There were about 7 to 8 per week in the good season and about 15 to 18 in the bad season. They all died natural deaths. The same procedure of informing the relatives and the authority that had sent them to the camp was followed in this camp as in the others described before.
There was only one medical officer on the staff (Obersturmführer Eiserle), and four or five medical orderlies (German). There were doctors and medical students among the prisoners who assisted the M.O. [Medical Officer]. Many persons of over 50 years died of natural causes, such as heart diseases. Compared with other camps, the death rate in this camp was very low. I used to go into the doctor's surgery and he explained the various things, like medical supplies, he had there, but as it was in Latin I did not really know what it was all about. He never complained about lack of medical supplies. There were two barracks set aside for the hospital, one for the people who were only weak and the other one as a real hospital. There were 60 to 75 beds in the real hospital. The surgeon had facilities for carrying out minor operations but not major operations. For these people were sent to Strassburg. A document was signed when a person went there and it was signed again when he returned, and the death rate was shown in the books of the camp.
There were 20 to 25 prison-breaks whilst I was there, and ten of the prisoners who tried to escape were shot. Eight or nine were recaptured and brought back and the others got away. The eight or nine who were recaptured got between 14 and 21 days' detention, according to their age and physical condition. In four or five cases out of twenty, they were either whipped or beaten. The culprit got 10 or 15 lashes in each case. This was supervised by the Lagerführer and the camp doctor. When I was Lagerführer I supervised this myself. Generally speaking, when corporal punishment was administered, the number of lashes given varied between 5 and 25. The number was laid down in the order coming from Berlin. Twenty-five was the maximum. The doctor had to be present when corporal punishment was administered. I cannot recollect where a prisoner was unable to stand his punishment and fainted. If such a case had arisen, it would have been the doctor's duty to interfere as that was why he was there. The punishment was administered with ordinary wooden sticks, 3 or 4 feet long and about as thick as my thumb. the sticks were made of solid wood, as you find them in the woods around the camp. The punishment was administered by another prisoner, who was chosen at random, and in the following manner: the prisoner was made to bend down over a table, and the lashes were given on his backside, without his clothes having been removed previously. I never had any difficulties with prisoners who had to administer this punishment. They were given the order and they complied with it. If they had refused to comply with the order I could not have punished them for this refusal. The orders from Berlin were that so many lashes had to be administered by another prisoner, but the order did not say what should be done if one of the prisoners refused to beat one of his comrades.
There were no set rules for what crimes corporal punishment could be administered. It was up to the Kommandant to apply to Berlin for authority for corporal punishment to be administered. The application to Berlin had to say what kind of offense the prisoner had committed and what punishment he had been given already for offenses committed previously. This letter had to be signed by the Kommandant. The sort of offenses for which I would have applied to Berlin for authority for corporal punishment to be given was: 'This prisoner has already three or four times stolen food form his fellow prisoners' or for untidiness or for disobedience or for attacking a guard. The first thing that happened when somebody broke out of the camp and was brought back, was that the Criminal Investigation Department made investigation to find out whether he had committed any crimes whilst at large, and then he was brought before the Kommandant without any trial and the Kommandant ordered punishment. Every man who tried to escape had to be reported to Berlin and likewise had to be reported when he was brought back. The Kommandant could give him 21 days' detention without referring to higher authority, but could give corporal punishment only with authority from Berlin. Every member of the guard was armed with a rifle and there were machine-guns on the turrets. Whips and sticks were forbidden. The guards just carried rifles.
When the prisoners came in in a bunch they were all put in the same block. Eventually, they were sorted out into three groups, politicals, anti-socials and criminals, but never according to their nationalities. There were no strict rules as to that point, but it developed like this as we went along. The three above-mentioned categories were kept apart only in their living quarters. They worked together, fed together and could talk to each other. In the beginning the prisoners worked only in the camp itself. Later we opened a quarry nearby. Other work that was done was that airplane engines were taken to pieces and those parts were salvaged which could be used again. Fifteen to twenty prisoners were released while I was there. The order for releases came from Berlin. I do not know why the order came. They were all political prisoners and of German nationality.
The camp was surrounded by barbed wire - 3 meters high. There were towers at the corners of the camp with machine-guns. There was one row of barbed wire where the guards patrolled and then another row of barbed wire. The wire was not electrified in the beginning because there was no current, but later, when current was available, this was done, in the spring of 1943. I was Kommandant then. Two months before I left the camp eight or nine dogs arrived, who were used to assist the guard. They were controlled by the guards. I remember two incidents where prisoners tried to escape from the quarry, but I cannot remember that they were shot. During the whole of my three years I had only two shootings in the quarry. The other eight prisoners who tried to escape, whom I have already mentioned, tired to escape from the camp itself and not from the quarry.
The only hanging that took place was in the summer of 1943 and it was done on orders from Berlin. Two Gestapo agents brought a prisoner to the camp and showed me an order, signed by somebody in Berlin, saying that this man had to be delivered to my camp and had to be hanged. I cannot remember by whom this order was signed. I therefore detailed two prisoners to carry out the execution. A scaffold was built in the camp and the execution was carried out in my presence. The people present were: the camp doctor (Obersturmführer Eiserle), who certified that the cause of death was hanging, the two Gestapo agents who had brought the prisoner, the two prisoners who carried out the execution, and myself. I cannot remember the name of the prisoner; I think his nationality was Russian. I cannot remember his name because he never appeared in my books. He was only delivered to be hanged. It is quite impossible that any other executions took place whilst I was camp Kommandant. The other prisoners of the camp were not paraded for this execution. No authorized shootings or any other executions took place at the camp on orders from Berlin. I have never heard of any special, narrow cells where men were hanged by their arms. There were no special buildings for prisoners who were under arrest, and no solitary confinement cells. It is quite impossible that any execution by hanging prisoners by their arms was carried out without my knowledge. The only prison we had was a block which was separated by barbed wire from the rest and this one was used for people who had contravened camp discipline.
All the prisoners in this camp were men. I have never heard of a prisoner called Fritz Knoll at this camp. He was not a foreman, but he may have been one of the prisoners. I cannot remember his name. If someone had died on a working party it would have been reported to the office and the office would have reported to me, but I cannot remember such an incident having occurred. Every instance of a prisoner dying at work or through any other cause would be reported to the office, by the office to the Criminal Investigation official and by him to the Kommandant. My command and control over all happenings in the camp at Natzweiler was so complete, and my staff had such definite orders, that the execution of any prisoners without my knowledge during the time when I was Kommandant is an utter impossibility.
Only S.S. personnel were allowed to inspect the camps. Nobody else was allowed anywhere near it. This included army officers who were forbidden to enter any concentration camp. One could only go into a concentration camp with authority from the S.S. General Commanding in Berlin. S.D. personnel were not allowed in the camp either, without authority from Berlin. With the exception of Gruppenführer Glücks, who came from the Ministry in Berlin, and Obergruppenführer Pohl, nobody visited the camp for the two years I commanded it. Apart from these visits, I was answerable to no one, except on paper, to Berlin. I cannot remember any particulars of the visit of Obergruppenführer Pohl at the beginning of May 1944. He came to inspect the camp and just had a good look round.
During the time I was Lagerführer I received the Kriegsverdienstkreuz (2nd Class) in the spring of 1943. There was no particular reason for this decoration. It was mainly for being Lagerführer for two years in that camp. I was put forward for the decoration by the Kommandant. I have also got the Kriegsverdienstkreuz (1st Class), which I received in January 1945. During the whole of the time I was at Natzweiler I was responsible for the camp. When I left I handed over to my successor. He was Sturmbahnführer Hartjenstein. The handing-over proceedings took place in my office, and I handed over the whole camp to him. The books were not handed over formally to my successor, they were not mentioned.
Auschwitz, 10th to 15th May, 1944, till 29th November, 1944. Auschwitz was an enormous camp to which many smaller camps in the vicinity belonged. As the responsibility for the whole camp could not be taken by one man, it was split, and I was put in charge of one part of the camp. I was Kommandant of that part, but as I came under the supreme commander of the whole camp, who was my superior officer, my duties were those of a Lagerführer, though my appointment was called Kommandant. I had under me in my part of the camp the hospital and the agricultural camp, which was an enormous camp and contained many thousand acres. The number of prisoners under my immediate control varied between 15,000 and 16,000 and 35,000 and 40,000, comprising male and female.
There were between 350 and 500 deaths a week. The death rate was higher among the men, the reason being that the influx from the working camp consisted mainly of sick people. When I speak of the death rate in Auschwitz, I mean that all these people died of natural causes, that is to say either from illness or old age. The death rate was slightly above normal, due to the fact that I had a camp with sick people who came from other parts of the camp. The only reason I can see for the higher death rate, not only at Auschwitz but at all concentration camps in comparison with civil prisons, was that prisoners had to work, whereas in civil prisons they had not to work.
In Auschwitz the prisoners went out to work at 5 a.m. in the summer and returned at 8 p.m., sometimes ever later. They worked seven days a week, but on Sundays they returned at 1, 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The work was of an agricultural nature and all the work there was done by prisoners. The whole camp contained about 90,000 to 100,000 prisoners, but this is only a rough estimate. My superior officer, and the Kommandant of the whole camp, was Obersturmbannführer Höss. There were men, women and children in the camp. The majority of prisoners under my immediate control were Easterners, i.e. Poles and Russians. I have no reason to believe that there were any prisoners of war among them, although there might have been without my knowing it. As far as I can remember there were no British internees. I think the British prisoners were in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen and in another camp near Hamburg called Neuengamme. It is possible that there were some French people in my camp, but I cannot say for certain. There were more women then men prisoners.
I had three companies of S.S. under me to guard the camp. Some of the guards were men of the Waffen S.S., and there were women employed by the S.S. as wardresses. There were roughly 420 male S.S. guards and about 40 to 50 women guards. The men and women prisoners who were outside the camp in the agricultural part were invariably guarded by men. The women guards only guarded the prisoners within the compound. There were about 10 to 14 doctors for the whole camp, out of which two were detailed to my particular part of the camp. There was a hospital in each part of the camp, but the biggest was in my part. I cannot say exactly how many beds there were in the hospital; this depended on how close you could put the beds together.
Prisoners were housed in wooden buildings with three-tier beds. The men were separated from the women and the children were with their mothers. Married people were separated. There were 150 buildings all told, men and women camps together; about 80 or 90 were for men and about 60 for women; 25 or 30 buildings were set aside for the hospitals. The camp was only being started, and it was planned to enlarge it considerably.
All prisoners who died were cremated. There was no sort of service held when they died. They were just burnt. The cremations were carried out by prisoners. All I had to do when a prisoner died was to inform Obersturmbannführer Höss and he would deal with it. I had no administration in Auschwitz. All the prisoners were known by numbers only. I had nothing to do with meting out punishment in Auschwitz; that was all done through Höss. When I came to Auschwitz there was no corporal punishment for women, but I have heard it mentioned, and it was talked about in the camp, that there had been corporal punishment for women before, and that it had been abolished. The only way in which I was informed corporal punishment for women was not allowed was that conversation in the camp to which I have referred. I cannot remember with whom this conversation took place. If a case would have arisen in which a woman would have committed one of the crimes for which a man would have been beaten, I would have pointed out to the women guards that corporal punishment could not be administered to women. The only authority on which I could have placed this was that conversation shortly after my arrival. Even if corporal punishment for women would have been allowed, I would never have put it into practice, as such a thing is inconceivable to me. The punishment administered to women, if they had committed any of the crimes for which men were beaten, was that they were transferred to another working party where they had a dirtier type of work or longer hours.
When a request for labor came from Berlin, the prisoners had to parade before the doctor. I was very often present at these parades, but not always. The examination took place by the prisoners filing by the doctor without undressing. Then the decision whether a man or a woman was fit enough to be sent to work was made. If, however, somebody had to be examined to ascertain whether he was fit to receive corporal punishment, a proper medical examination was carried out. The reason why no proper medical examination could be carried out in the case of detailing people for labor was that the requests ran into thousands and the doctor would have been busy for days. This method of choosing people for work was the normal method applied in all concentration camps. There was nothing unusual about it.
There were four or five cases of people trying to escape whilst I was there. These attempts were made separately. Some of these prisoners got away. No prisoners were flogged; there were no executions, shootings or hangings in my part. I went through the camp frequently on inspections. The doctor alone was responsible for certifying the cause of death if a prisoner died. The doctors changed continuously. One of these doctors was Hauptsturmführer Mengele. I carried out inspections of the bodies of people who had died through natural causes in my capacity as Kommandant when I was wandering round the camp. Whoever died during the day was put into a special building called the mortuary, and they were carried to the crematorium every evening by lorry. They were loaded on the lorry and off the lorry by prisoners. They were stripped by the prisoners of their clothes in the crematorium before being cremated. The clothes were cleaned and were re-issued where the people had not died of infectious diseases. During my inspections I never saw prisoners who had died through physical violence. When a prisoner died, a doctor had to certify the time of death, the cause and the details of the disease. A doctor signed a certificate and sent it to the Central Camp Office. These certificates did not go through my hands. The two doctors worked daily from 8 o'clock in the morning until 8 or 9 at night. All efforts were made by these doctors to keep the prisoners alive. Medical supplies and invigorating drugs were applied. Two different doctors took charge of my part of the camp every day. I remember one very well, because he had been the longest period in my particular part of the camp and he had also served under my predecessor, Hartjenstein. I do not know how long he had been there. His name was Hauptsturmführer Mengele, as mentioned before.
The camp wire was electrified and the dogs were only used outside the camp compound to guard prisoners who were working on agricultural jobs. It was never reported to me that prisoners had to be treated for dog bites. No interrogations were carried out in the camps, and I have never done any interrogating at all whilst I was Kommandant. I sometimes sent people away for interrogation to the Criminal Investigation Officer, in which case they went to the Central Camp Office and were brought back after the interrogation had been completed. I do not know who did the interrogating.
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.
Belsen, 1st December, 1944, till 15th April, 1945. On 29th November 1944, I went to Oranienburg, Berlin, to report to Gruppenführer Glücks. His appointment was Chef der Amtsgruppe D, which means that he was the officer in charge of the organization of all concentration camps within the Reich. He was responsible to Obergruppenführer Pohl, whose appointment was Chef der Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamtes der S.S. (head of the Administration Department of the S.S. at the Ministry): equivalent to a General in the Army. He said to me: 'Kramer, you are going to Belsen as Kommandant. At Belsen there are, at the moment, a lot of Jewish prisoners who will eventually be exchanged.' It was later, when I was in Belsen, that I learned that these Jewish prisoners were being exchanged against German nationals abroad. The first exchange took place between 5th and 15th December 1944, and was carried out under the personal supervision of an official who came from Berlin for that purpose. I cannot remember his name. His rank was 'Regierungs-Rat.' The first transport contained about 1300 to 1400 prisoners. Glücks said to me at the interview in Berlin: 'It is intended to turn Belsen into a camp for sick prisoners. This camp will take all sick prisoners and internees from all concentration camps in Northern and North-Western Germany, and also all sick persons among these prisoners who are working either in firms or with industrial firms.' He was referring to Arbeitseinsatzstellen, which means prisoners who have been allotted to peasants or industrial firms, coal mines, and the quarries for labor and for whom special camps have been erected on the premises. Responsibility for feeding and for accommodation is entirely the responsibility of the firm. Responsibility for administration remained with the parent concentration camp. He said: 'There are considerable numbers of prisoners working with industrial firms who are sick or physically unfit to do the work they are detailed for. All these prisoners will be drafted into Belsen Camp. It puts an unnecessary burden upon the industrial firms concerned and therefore these prisoners must be transferred. Which prisoners and how many Belsen is eventually going to hold I cannot tell you at the moment, because that will have to be worked out as we go along. The general rule is to be that every prisoner who through illness is absent from his work for more than 10 or 14 days will be transferred to Belsen. If and when these prisoners recover in Belsen, they will either be formed into new detachments and sent out to new jobs or returned to their old work, whichever may be more expedient. You see that this is going to be a very big task for you. I suggest that you go to Belsen now to look at the camp and see how you get along. If you want any help you can either come back to Berlin or write.'
This is where the duty conversation came to an end. Glücks then asked me how my wife and children were, and I enquired into the well-being of his family. I also asked whether it would be possible when I took over Belsen Camp to move my family there. He told me that I would have to go to Belsen and have a look. If I could find a suitable house I should write to him and he would authorize the move of my household. This conversation took place between Gruppenführer Glücks and myself, there was nobody else present. These were the only instructions I received and I did not ask for any more. I did not think I would require any more instructions and was quite satisfied with my orders.
After the interview with Glücks I spoke to three officers whom I knew personally. They were: Standartenführer Maurer (he was in charge of the allocation of prisoners to camps and for labor); Hauptsturmführer Sommer (he worked in Maurer's department); and Sturmbannführer Burger (he was the man who supervised the administration in the various concentration camps). I did not have any conversation on duty matters with either of the three above-named people. They were friends of mine, and as I happened to be in the house, I went to their various offices to say 'Hello.' The leading doctor was a Standartenführer Dr. Lolling. He was the M.O. in charge of all concentration camps. I cannot remember any names of other people, but I can remember these four names because they either came to visit the camps or I saw their names on various letters coming from the Ministry.
I then travelled to Belsen, where I was received by Obersturmführer Schaaf. He was the officer in charge of administration. The next morning I went to the office and met Sturmbannführer Haas, the Kommandant, who knew that I was arriving from Berlin to take over complete charge of Belsen. I asked him how many prisoners the camp contained, and he said, 'Roughly 15,000.' He said that it was not much use to discuss matters in the office and suggested a tour through the camp. On that tour he pointed out changes and improvements which he still wanted to make. The camp was about 11/2 kilometres long and between 300 and 350 metres wide. There were roughly 60 barracks, including accommodation for guards and stores; 40 to 45 were for the accommodation of the prisoners. The prisoners were made up of men, women and children; families were allowed to live together; otherwise men were separated from women. Six buildings in the men's camp, three in the family camp, and two in the women's camp served as hospitals. There was a crematorium in the camp.
I do not know of what nationality the prisoners were when I arrived, because there were no files or papers of any kind in the camp. It was impossible for me to know what kind of prisoners there were as they had been sent to Belsen because they were ill, from all concentration camps over the country. Many of them had lost their identification marks, and as there were no records it was absolutely impossible to tell who was who. I started to keep my own records of the prisoners, but these records were all destroyed on orders which I received from Berlin about the end of March. I do not remember who signed these orders.
The personnel consisted of one Guard Company S.S. The O.C. of the company was Hauptscharführer Meyer. He came from somewhere near Hanover. He was of average height, about 1 m. 70; he wore spectacles, had hardly any hair and was about 50. Then there was Haupsturmführer Vogler. He was the officer in charge of administration who took over from Schaaf, whom I mentioned before as officer in charge of administration on my arrival. The officer in charge of the Criminal Department was Untersturmführer Frericks. The Lagerführer (Obersturmführer Stresse) was transferred a few days after my arrival, and I was without a Lagerführer for over two months and had to do the job myself with only one N.C.O. as assistant, whose appointment was Rapportführer; he was Oberscharführer Reddhaser. The M.O. was Sturmbannführer Schnabel. A Hauptscharführer acted as dentist. He was later on promoted Untersturmführer. His name was Linsmeier. There were no other officers and I had no Adjutant. There were 60 to 70 N.C.O.s, 20 to 25 of whom were in the Guards S.S. Company and the others employed on administrative duties. One of the N.C.O.s employed was the N.C.O. who was Office Clerk to the Officer in charge of Administration. He was Unterscharführer Kuckertz. There was another senior N.C.O. in my office. His name was Unterscharführer Rang. He acted as Untersturmführer and Adjutant. Other N.C.O.s whom I remember are Oberscharführer Hilmer (N.C.O. Administration); Unterscharführer Lademacher (also N.C.O. Administration); Unterscharführer Wille (also N.C.O. Administration); and Unterscharführer Müller, who was in charge of the food stores. When I took over Belsen there were six officers, including myself. I had no senior N.C.O.s. When I took over there were three women on the staff. I cannot remember their names at the moment.
The death rate when I arrived was between 40 and 60 a week. When I entered the camp the Lagerführer had to report to me and had to say: 'There are so many in the camp; so many died yesterday; which leaves so many.' On my arrival a book was kept in which these figures were entered, but was later dispensed with. This book I had taken over from my predecessor. It was kept by the acting Lagerführer in his office. There was also another book in which the strength was recorded. The acting Lagerführer held a parade every morning to count the prisoners. On this parade every Blockführer reported the strength of his unit and the number of deaths that had occurred the previous day, and the Rapportführer added up the strength of the various blocks on a sheet of paper, making a grand total. This report included the number of deaths that had occurred the previous day. There were approximately 40 Blockführer on parade every day.
In January I took over a new camp, adjoining the old camp, in which there were 40 to 50 new blocks. I did not get any more staff when I took this camp over. Only later, when camps in Silesia were evacuated, guards arrived with prisoners, thus putting up the strength of personnel. I was not always informed when transports of prisoners arrived; especially transports of prisoners evacuated from Silesia arrived without warning. There were transports with only 100 or 200 people, and others with 1500, 2000, 2500, etc. I had food reserves in the camp, and when a new batch of prisoners arrived I had to fall back on these reserves until I had reported the new strength and thus got additional food for the higher number of prisoners. There was no regular food transport; the railway should have brought the food whenever there was a train available. I am unable to say how many prisoners I had after this month because it was my orders that I had to sent out prisoners for work as fast as possible. The incoming prisoners were therefore balanced by those being sent out for work and the figures fluctuated every day. Every prisoner who was fit to work was sent out with working parties ('Arbeitseinsatz') to industrial firms. The other prisoners worked only inside the camp and for the maintenance of the camp.
On 1st December when I took over there were roughly 15,000 people in the camp; roughly 200 died in December; on 1st January there were roughly 17,000 people in the camp; 600 died in January; on 1st February there were 22,000 prisoners in the camp. From the 15th February onwards I am unable to say how many prisoners I had as no more books were kept, as this proved utterly impossible in view of the transports streaming in from camps in Silesia which were being evacuated and, as I have already said, the records which I had maintained I destroyed in March.
I do not know the number of deaths which occurred in this period at all, but the conditions in Belsen got worse from the middle of February till the middle of April 1945, when the Allies came. I inspected the camp daily during this period and was fully aware of the conditions and the great number of people who were dying. The death rate during the months of February, March and April gradually mounted until it reached 400 or 500 a day. This figure was due to the fact that if people were healthy I had to send them out on working parties and only retain the sick and dying. I was notified by the Stationmaster that a transport had arrived and I would have to collect the prisoners. The transports arriving were checked in by the guards only by numbers and not by names. About twice a week food was indented for from local depots and a return sent to the Ministry in Berlin, which was based on the figures given by the guards, who checked the people on entering the camp.
All prisoners received three meals a day. I cannot tell what the daily ration was as this was laid down by the food depot and was standardized. I never checked up on the rations from the depots, but I made sure that each prisoner had one litre of vegetable stew for the main meal, and in the morning the prisoner had coffee and bread, if available, and for the evening meal coffee and bread, again if available, and cheese or sausage. If the prisoners had worked on this diet it would have been insufficient for them to survive, but as they did not work I think it was enough to keep them alive. I thought they could stand this diet for about six weeks, and after six weeks I was hoping to get some more food. The rations described above were the normal rations in any concentration camp at that time. The main point on which the food deteriorated was bread, as this was lacking entirely for two or three days running several times. It was absolutely impossible for me to procure enough bread to feed the number of prisoners I had. In the early days the bread had been supplied by local bakeries at Belsen. Later there were so many prisoners in the camp that the local bakeries could not supply the required quantity any longer, and I sent out lorries to Hanover and other places to fetch bread, but even then I was not able to get half the bread I required to feed prisoners on normal rations. Apart from bread, the rations were never cut down. Flour was supplied in lieu of bread and was employed in making meals. It turned out, however, that had we made bread of this flour the death rate would not have been so high. I went to the depot in Celle and then to the next higher authority in Hanover and put them in the picture as to what was going on in Belsen. I also pointed out to them that if a catastrophe was going to happen, I would not only disclose the facts but also make them responsible. I cannot remember whom I saw at either of these places. I have never applied to Berlin in these matters because they could not have helped me in any way. This was entirely a matter for the ration people in Celle and in Hanover. My visits to these depots resulted in extra rations of potatoes and turnips arriving some time later.
I remember one case of cannibalism quite well. It was reported to me that a prisoner had entered the mortuary and that parts of one body were missing. I put a guard on the dead bodies at night and that guard arrested a man the same night who had approached a dead body. This man was arrested, but before he could be interrogated next morning he hanged himself. Whether there were more cases of cannibalism I cannot tell, but I put a guard on the mortuary from that night onwards. That guard consisted of prisoners. I thought that the prisoners would guard the bodies against other prisoners. Whether they did or did not do so I cannot tell. The mortuary was not always in the same building, as the prisoners fluctuated to such a great extent. I had to shift the accommodation continuously and therefore the building detailed as a mortuary was not always the same. If changes took place, this building was cleaned by the prisoners and used for their accommodation the next day.
The camp doctor reported sick and was replaced by Dr. Klein at the middle of February. Roughly, on 1st March another M.O. arrived. His name was Hauptsturmführer Horstmann. Two days before the Allies arrived Horstmann left with the troops and only Dr. Klein remained. Apart from those two (Klein and Horstmann), there were no S.S. doctors in the camp. At the end of January Dr. Lolling, from the Ministry in Berlin, arrived on an inspection tour. I pointed out to him that if, as I was told in Berlin, Belsen was going to be a camp for sick people, I needed more doctors. He said that there were none available at the moment, but that as soon as he had some he would send them. Dr. Lolling inspected the camp and was fully aware of the conditions prevailing there at the time when he inspected it. He spent a whole day walking through the camp with Dr. Schnabel and inspected it thoroughly. The measures taken were that Dr. Lolling took a list of requirements with him and said he would see to it that we got the necessary medical supplies. Even though I was Kommandant I did not know anything about the supply of medical equipment and medical stores. This I left entirely to the M.O. All medical supplies were asked for direct from Berlin (Dr. Lolling's department). This is all I know about this matter.
During my stay at Belsen there were 15 to 20 prison-breaks. Some of the prisoners trying to escape were shot whilst trying to escape. I do not know how many. Towards the end of December an order arrived from Berlin forbidding corporal punishment altogether. From that moment onwards no corporal punishment was meted out.
Between 20th and 28th February the M.O. notified me that spotted fever had broken out in the camp. This fact was certified by a Bacteriological Institute in Hanover. I therefore closed the camp and sent a report to Berlin. The answer from Berlin was that I had to keep the camp open to receive transports coming from the East, fever or no fever. The second time I wrote to Berlin was between 1st and 10th March, when I sent a complete report on the conditions prevailing in the camp. These two occasions were the only occasions on which I ever made any representations to higher authority. These two letters were addressed to the Verwaltungsgruppe B in Berlin. I did not go to Berlin myself as I was instructed at my interview in November, because that would have taken three of four days and there was nobody to carry on in my absence.
As far as I can remember, Gruppenführer Pohl inspected Belsen Camp about 20th March. He came with one other officer. I conducted Pohl right through the camp and pointed out conditions as they were. He did not come because of the letter I had written. He came on a routine inspection tour - 'Just to have a look at the camp.' Whether the letter I had written to the Central Office in Berlin was mentioned during our conversations I cannot tell. I pointed out conditions to him, and he said that something must be done. The first measure he suggested was to close the camp and put no more people into it. I suggested two measures to Pohl to cope with the situation: (a) no further transports to come in; and (b) the exchange of the Jews in the camp to take place immediately. The result of this was that he dictated a letter from my office, addressed to Berlin, saying that the exchange of Jewish prisoners had to take place immediately. This exchange did eventually take place during the last days of March, I do not know again where these prisoners were to be exchanged, but they left Belsen going to Theresienstadt. Between 6000 and 7000 people were sent away to be exchanged (three trainloads). These 6000 or 7000 constituted the entire number of Jewish prisoners who were to be exchanged. They were transported in three train-loads, each train consisting of 45 to 50 trucks. I had orders to send off three consignments on three different days. Each time I detailed a few guards - I cannot remember how many - and there was an N.C.O. in charge of each train, probably a Scharführer, but I cannot remember. I do not know to whom these N.C.O.s had to report at the other end. All I knew was I had to send off three train-loads. I never saw these N.C.O.s whom I sent away, again.
I pointed out to Pohl that I wanted more beds and more blankets, and he agreed that in this matter, like as in the other matters, immediate help was required. The doctor and the officer in charge of administration also spoke to Pohl. The officer in charge of Administration pointed out his difficulties in obtaining food, whereas the doctor was satisfied with the position as he had just received a new consignment of medical stores. Pohl held his appointment in Berlin for roughly two years. Glücks was there much longer as he had been there already under Eike. Eike was later sent to the Western Front and afterwards to the Eastern Front, where he was killed.
I do not know what nationality any of the prisoners were of at Belsen as there were no papers sent with them and the only check was done by numbers. I therefore cannot tell whether there were any British subjects among the prisoners, but it is possible that there were. I have never heard of a prisoner called Keith Meyer, who was a British subject.
The female staff increased in number the same as the male staff, as women guards arrived with women transports from the east. All women in the camp were under my command, the same as the men. Twenty to 22 wardresses were still at Belsen when the Allies arrived, and approximately 26,000 women prisoners. Unless I received complaints from the prisoners themselves I had no means of ascertaining what treatment was meted out by the female guards, but I had complete confidence in those guards. The only criticism I had to make was that they were a bit too familiar with the female prisoners. I had the same confidence in the male guards. They were 100 per cent correct and I have never received any complaints from the prisoners. In February or March - I cannot remember the exact date - Oberaufseherin Volkenrath arrived and was put in charge of the women guards. I had complete confidence in her.
There was a crematorium in the camp and as long as coke was available all dead bodies were cremated. When there was no more coke available they were buried in mass graves. I have never seen a Red Cross official in any of the camps I had been to. I cannot tell why not. If a Red Cross official had called I would have rung up Berlin immediately to ask whether he was permitted to enter the camp, as nobody could enter the camp without permission from Berlin. What the answer would have been I cannot tell.
There were no standing orders from Berlin for any of the concentration camps I have been to as to: (a) the space allotted to individual prisoners; (b) sanitation, or (c) working conditions. This was completely left to the discretion of the Kommandant. I can remember no standing orders or instructions from Berlin except with regard to visitors to the camp and to punishments. In all other matters the Kommandant had complete discretion. When Belsen Camp was eventually taken over by the Allies I was quite satisfied that I had done all I possibly could under the circumstances to remedy the conditions in the camp.
Further Statement of Josef Kramer
1. I relinquished command of Struthof-Natzweiler in May 1944, and handed over to Sturmbannführer Hartjenstein. At this time and for at least a year previously Buck was commanding Schirmeck, but there was no official connection between Schirmeck and Struthof. There was a Gestapo officer attached to me during my period at Struthof; his name was Wochner and he was sent by the Gestapo at Stuttgart. According to the district allocation Struthof should have been, in my opinion, in Strassburg Gestapo area, but I believe that in any case Strassburg Gestapo depended on Stuttgart.
2. With reference to the orders received to gas certain women and despatch them to Strassburg University, as sworn by me before Commandant Jadin of the French Army, I give the following details: The orders I received were in writing signed by order of Reichsführer Himmler by Gruppenführer Glücks. As nearly as I can remember they stated that a special transport would arrive from Auschwitz and that the people on this transport were to be killed and their bodies sent to Strassburg to Professor Hirt. It further said that I should communicate with Professor Hirt as to how the killing was to take place. This I did and was given by Hirt a container of gas crystals with instructions how to use them. There was no regular gas chamber in Struthof, but he described to me how an ordinary room might be used. I do not know any more of the professors concerned with Hirt, but I do know that there was in one of the departments a Professor Bickerbach.
3. 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. I visited the building on my first inspection of the camp after being there for three days, but for the first eight days I was there it was not working. After eight days the first transport, from which gas chamber victims were selected, arrived, and at the same time I received a written order from Höss, 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 Höss, and I am firmly convinced that he received such orders from Berlin. I believe that had I been in Höss' position and received such orders, I would have carried them out, because even if I had protested it would only have resulted in my being taken prisoner myself. My feelings about orders in regard to the gas chamber were to be slightly surprised, and wonder to myself whether such action was really right.
4. In regard to conditions at Belsen, I say once more that I did everything I could to remedy them. In regard to the food, the prisoners throughout March and April 1945, got their full entitlement, and in my opinion this entitlement was perfectly sufficient for the healthy prisoner, but from the middle of February onward sick people began to come in and I felt they should have more food. I sent my Messing N.C.O., Unterscharführer Müller, to the food depots in Celle and Hanover, but he was told that no further food could be issued because we were already getting our entitlement. I did, in fact, get some food from the food store in the Wehrmacht Camp at Belsen, but it would have been no use my asking for more from them because they were not my correct authorized depot.
5. In regard to accommodation, when I was ordered to take 30,000 more people in early April, when the camp was already more than full, I appealed to Lieutenant-General Beineburg in the Kommandantur in the Wehrmacht Camp at Belsen and it was he who arranged for 15,000 prisoners to be lodged in the barracks in that camp. He had to get special permission over the telephone to do this. I never appealed to the General for help on the food situation or any other difficulties because I knew that he would not have been able to help me, in that he had no jurisdiction. I do not consider that I should have appealed to him because I knew that he could not have helped. Furthermore, I do not believe that anybody in Germany could have altered the food entitlement for the prisoners in the camp because I do not believe that the food was available. It surprises me very much to hear that there were large and adequate stocks of food in the Wehrmacht Camp. Nevertheless, I still feel that an appeal to the General would have been useless.
6. I have been told that some of my S.S. staff were guilty of ill-treatment and brutality toward the prisoners. I find this very difficult to believe and I would trust them absolutely. To the best of my belief they never committed any offenses against the prisoners. I regard myself as responsible for their conduct and do not believe that any of them would have infringed my orders against ill-treatment or brutality.
7. The Hungarian troops took over guard duties around the perimeter of my camp during the first days before the British arrived. I agree that during this period more shootings took place than was customary when the Wehrmacht were doing guard. I remember the incident on 15th April 1945, in the late afternoon, when I went with British officers to the potato patch and was ordered to remove the dead body of a prisoner from that patch. I think it is wrong that this man should have been shot and have no doubt at all that it was either the Wehrmacht or the Hungarians who were responsible.
8. The rifle range which is visible at the north-west corner of my camp was used fairly regularly by the Wehrmacht two or three days a week."
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