In September 1945, the trial began in Lüneberg, in the courtroom shown in the photograph, of 45 former SS personnel and kapos [prisoner functionaries] who had served in Bergen-Belsen. Several of them, including the commandant Josef Kramer, were charged with offences committed at both Belsen and Auschwitz-Birkenau where they had previously served. This was the first significant attempt to bring the perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice. S.J. Goldsmith, a journalist who covered the trial for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, later reflected on its importance.
This, the first of the war crime trials, was regarded not only as an attempt to have justice done, but also as a reminder of what Nazism meant, and as a warning for the future that crimes against humanity, even in war time, will not go unpunished if ever a group of men and women should again sink so low as to commit them...
And who would conscientiously say today that no man or woman could perpetrate such atrocities again?
There is no doubt, however, that the Belsen trial and other war crime trials are a deterrent and will remain so in the future.
As long as human nature remains what it is, deterrents are indispensable. And this is perhaps even a more important aspect of the Belsen trial than the punishment administered to the accused.
11 defendants, including Kramer, were sentenced to death; 19 were given prison sentences and 15 acquitted. These sentences were delivered two days before the opening of the now better known Nuremberg Trials of major war criminals. Both of these judicial proceedings, as Goldsmith noted, played a major role in establishing the post-war international legal framework which, however imperfectly, attempted to prevent a repetition of crimes of the type seen in the Holocaust.
Photo: the interior of the courtroom in Lüneberg; Imperial War Museum (http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205215643)
Testimony: Testimony: Irgun Sheerit Hapleita Me'Haezor Habriti, Belsen (Irgun Sheerit Hapleita Me'Haezor Habriti)