History In Ink®  Historical Autographs






Josef Kramer

Rare signature of the The Beast of Belsen

Josef Kramer, 1906–1945.  Commandant, Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, 1944–1945.  Rare signature and rank, Kramer Josef, / SS-Hauptsturmführer.

Kramer, whose brutality as commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp led inmates to call him the “Beast of Belsen,” has written his name on a lined diary page for Monday, June 25, 1945, and has written his rank beneath his name.  The signature was obtained by Kramer’s guards after his arrest.

Kramer was assigned to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944.  Although life in the camp was harsh, Bergen-Belsen was not an extermination camp.  Still, several thousand inmates died during Kramer’s tenure there from December 1944 to May 1945.  In January 1945, the SS increased the size of the camp, which had already doubled to 15,000 between July and December 1944, as concentration camps in Poland were evacuated as the Soviet Red Army advanced toward Germany.  The number of inmates at Bergen-Belsen increased to about 60,000 by April 1945, and disease and malnutrition from the overcrowding caused a multitude of deaths.

As brutal as Kramer was in command, Bergen-Belsen was not where he committed his worst atrocities.  At Natzweiler-Struthof, the only Nazi concentration camp in France, Kramer personally carried out the killings of 80 people who were gassed so that their bodies could be used for anatomical research.  Kramer later said, “I had no feelings in carrying out these things because I received an order to kill the eighty inmates.  That was the way I was trained.”  Later, after he became commandant of Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where most of the Auschwitz killings occurred, in May 1944, Kramer managed the gassings of new inmates and personally participated in selecting who lived or died, loading people onto trucks and beating them when they resisted.

Kramer was arrested when British forces arrived to liberate Bergen-Belsen.  He led the British on an inspection tour, where the liberating troops found emaciated prisoners, piles of corpses all over the camp, and mass graves.  Kramer was tried and convicted for war crimes at both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.  He was hanged December 13, 1945.

Kramer’s autograph material is rare.  We have accounted for only eight of Kramer’s autograph items, including this one, and some of those may not have been available for acquisition. 

Kramer has signed this piece in pencil.  The signature and rank of another SS officer are signed in pencil on the back.  The piece has been placed into a heavy black paper mat and has been attached, ever so slightly, with tape across the tips of the back corners.  The piece is in fine condition.

We reject Nazism and all that it represented.  We nevertheless offer this piece because of its scarcity and because the German Third Reich and the Holocaust that it systematically carried out played an undeniable role in 20th Century history.  Since we believe that to decline to offer Third Reich material, although it is offensive, would aid those who want to sweep the Third Reich under the rug and deny that the Holocaust occurred, we offer this material because the world must never forget what happened, lest it happen again.  Click here to read more about these thoughts in our Blog posts of January 8 and February 26, 2010.

Matted but unframed.



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