The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/10/10

Q. We shall come to the other methods of punishment later.
Did something happen in Plaszow in March 1943?

A. In the middle of February that same Untersturmfuehrer
Amon Goeth arrived and new conditions of life were
introduced. The work was also more strenuous. If previously
they were satisfied that each one performed his job, and
rested afterwards, from then on, from time to time and very
frequently, when we returned to the camp, they took us
straight from the gate to continue on assignments, the task
of dragging parts of huts, stones, building etc. There were
cases where, for the whole night - after a normal day's work
- the whole camp was engaged in performing additional tasks
such as these. And it became clear to us what the reason for
this was. On 13 March 1943 - this date I remember well,
because it is observed in Israel for memorial ceremonies -
the Cracow Ghetto was liquidated. I was not present at its
destruction - I only know from the account of all those
acquaintances who reached us. It found expression in the
fact that some 8,000-10,000 people from the ghetto were
brought to us at the camp. There were more that 60,000
persons in the ghetto, if I am not mistaken. 8,000-10,000
living souls were brought as well as over 2,000 corpses, who
were shot and killed inside the ghetto.

Presiding Judge: Who brought the dead bodies?

Witness Beisky: They were brought into the camp area on
platforms and buried in two graves. They were removed later,
in the second half of 1944.

Attorney General: Were they subsequently burned?

Witness Beisky: They were burned.

Q. In the operation for removing the traces?

A. In the operation for removing the traces, and for nearly
a whole month there was a perpetual light ("Ner Tamid")*
{*"Ner Tamid" a light which burns perpetually in front of
the ark in synagogues, symbolic reminder of the lamp of the
Temple.} of bodies.

Presiding Judge: Were you still in the camp?

Witness Beisky: Yes, I left the camp on 15 November 1944. I
was not yet on the last transport - some still remained
after this transport.

Attorney General: Was it then that they also removed the
gold teeth of the murdered victims?

Witness Beisky: They removed gold teeth from each body they
dug up in this way from the grave, after more than two
years. Then we understood what the urgency was in building
the camp. For here there were already close to 10,000
persons in the camp. They continued here with outside
labour, for people in the ghetto also carried on in places
of work essential to the Germans and they continued going
outside the camp, all under guard.

Q. Did the command staff of the camp remain as it was or did
it increase?

A. It increased greatly.

Q. Who arrived at this stage?

A. First of all there arrived the Wachmaenner (Guards),
Ukrainian guards, and large squads of SS men arrived. During
that period the camp was surrounded by a second fence, an
electrified fence and a watchtower with machine guns and
searchlights. Escape was no longer possible, but those
barbwire fences claimed not a few victims, for the
residential huts were, sometimes, near those fences. Since
it was forbidden to go out at night, if Your Honour will
excuse me, to answer the call of nature, only in their
nightshirts, or with a bucket and undressed, in the winter
months people at times did not walk the half kilometre which
was the distance involved, but stood behind the hut, a shot
would then be fired, as if the person was about to escape.

Furthermore at that time the incidents of collective
punishments began. I have already mentioned the floggings
which were very frequent and which required no special
reason. It was sufficient that someone would appear not to
be doing his work at the required speed. And they also began
public hangings.

Q. In the presence of all the people of the Plaszow camp?

A. Most of the hangings were in the presence of all the camp
people, but I myself only saw two.

Q. Describe to the Court that picture which you identified,
of the execution by hanging of a fifteen -year old boy and
an adult man.

A. This happened - I cannot remember the date - but at any
rate this happened about 1943. We were then a labour
company, a branch of that camp which worked outside. And one
day two gallows were set up on the ground of the camp. This
was a clear sign, for it was not the first time such a thing
had happened.

All the camp people, I would not know if there were 15,000
at that time or 20,000 - it is difficult to give exact
figures - at any rate, more than 15,000 were lined up on the
ground, according to the order of the huts, as they always
had to stand, but whereas each hut had its own fixed
position to which it knew it had to proceed on roll call
days, this time we were lined up facing the gallows.

Presiding Judge: I would ask you please to be seated.

Witness Beisky: Thank you, Your Honour, but I shall continue
standing. All those people stood on the ground, and the two
persons were brought to the gallows: a lad of 15,
Haubenstock, and the engineer Krautwirt, and an order was
given to hang them.

Attorney General: For what, for what offence?

Witness Beisky: It was said in the camp that young
Haubenstock had sung a Russian tune. The offence of the
engineer Krautwirt - I don't know. The boy was hanged and
something happened which occurs once in many thousands of
cases - the rope broke. The boy stood there, he was again
lifted on to a high chair which was placed under the rope,
and he began to beg for mercy. An order was given to hang
him a second time. And then he was raised a second time to
the gallows, and hanged, and thereafter that same Amon
Goeth, with his own hands, also fired a shot. The engineer
Krautwirt, throughout that time, stood on the second chair,
and here the perfidy went even further. SS men, with their
guns, and machine guns, passed through the ranks, and gave
orders to all those standing on the ground to watch.
Engineer Krautwirt cut the veins of his hands with a razor
blade, and in this condition went up to the gallows.

Q. While his blood was running?

A. While his blood was running. And in this way he was
hanged. I don't know, it is hard to describe these things,
when standing around there are not tens but hundreds of SS
men with guns and fixed bayonets, and machine guns, and one
had to stand there and look on. It was a sight...

Q. 15,000 people stood there - and opposite them hundreds of
guards. Why didn't you attack then, why didn't you revolt?

A. I believe that this thing cannot be explained - it cannot
be answered. To this there is no single reply. What I can
talk of is the general situation. And perhaps from this it
can be deduced.

It will certainly be difficult for anyone who was not there
to understand, but after all, this happened in the middle of
1943. This was already in the third year of the War, and it
didn't begin with this. It began with something else. The
people were already, the whole of Jewry was already in a
state of depression owing to what they had endured, during
three years. This is one thing. And the second -
nevertheless there was still hope. Here were people working
on forced labour, they apparently needed this work.
Possibly, was plain at that time that if anyone
did the pettiest thing - for it was not difficult when
people, when many forces were standing there...may I now be
permitted to sit?

Presiding Judge: Certainly, you may also rest for a while.

Witness Beisky: First of all, I can no longer - and I
acknowledge this - after eighteen years I cannot describe
this sensation of fear. This feeling of fear, today when I
stand before Your Honours, does not exist any longer and I
do not suppose that it is possible to define it for anyone.
After all this thing is ultimately a terror-inspiring fear.
People stand facing machine guns, and the mere fact of
gazing upon the hanging of a boy and his cries - and then,
in fact, no ability remains to react. Something else: The
belief in the fact that nevertheless the War would somehow
come to an end, that we should not, because of that,
endanger 15,000 people. One could ask something else: If we
did, where could we go? Nearby us there was a Polish camp.
There were 1,000 Poles and there, too, were shootings from
time to time under no better conditions than ours. One
hundred metres beyond the camp they had a place to go to -
their homes. I don't recall one instance of escape on the
part of the Poles. But where could any of the Jews go? We
were wearing clothes which at that time were not the
garments of the concentration camps, but all the clothes
were dyed yellow, with those yellow stripes. The hair at the
centre of the head was not cut, but they made a kind of
swath in a stripe 4 cms in width. And at that moment, let us
suppose that the 15,000 people within the camp even
succeeded without armed strength, empty-handed, let us
suppose that they even did manage to go beyond the
boundaries of the camp - where would they go? What could
they do? But inside the camp it seemed, at any rate - and
let us not forget this, Your Honours, in 1943 we did not yet
know what was the fate of our families and what had happened
to all those who had been taken away in the deportations -
this became known to us only much later. Therefore, there
was also the hope that by carrying on with the was
impossible to imperil the lives of 15,000 people.

These are, moreover not the only reasons, Your Honours.
Anyone today trying to find the causes - I do not know
whether he could find them for one simple reason: it is not
physically possible to present the conditions of those days
in the courtroom, and I do not believe, Heaven forbid, that
people will not understand this, but I myself cannot explain
it and I experienced this on my own person. Accordingly, the
question perhaps can be asked from the dialectic point of
view, but the conditions of those times cannot be described.
These were things, situations, which were completely
different. And I will quote one other example, a very
classic example: there was a martyr in our camp. All of us
were in the situation in which we found ourselves. But let
us take Engineer Greenberg, one of the most beloved inmates
of the camp who was appointed to plan the construction of
the huts. I cannot really remember this man without bruises
and without a bandaged head and without wounds. This man on
every single day - either they set dogs on him, or he
received beatings, 100 lashes or 25, or simply fist blows,
because in a particular place the jobs were not performed.
This same man who more than once implored the camp
commandant "Goeth - Shoot me," he himself never committed
suicide. This is even stranger: but his wife and daughter
were in that camp - I think his daughter lives in Jerusalem.
His wife and daughter were from time to time thrown into
prison in order to frighten him into committing something.
It was a fact that this man underwent, in addition to what
the inmates of the camp endured - if there are 100 stages of
hell and not seven, he went through them all in his
lifetime. Ultimately he was killed - he is no longer alive.
But it is a fact, that was the situation. Try to explain it
today - you will not find the explanation, these were
different conditions, something had already befallen Polish
Jewry before we reached Plaszow.

Judge Halevi:  You were mistaken in the number when you said
the "third year," four years had already passed and you had
entered upon the fifth.

A. This was in the middle of 1943. And they began, in fact,
before the War, on 1 September. I am still describing events
that took place up to June and July 1943, that is to say in
the course of three years. But if Your Honour will permit me
this remark, these three years were much more than ten times
as many in the most terrible conditions that the human mind
can picture to itself from the point of view of physical

Attorney General: Judge Beisky, when groups proceeded to
outside work and passed by each other, did you from time to
time exchange words, or information?

A. This was the irony of fate; but this is how matters were
when we came back from work and the night squads - in other
words those who worked the second shift - were going out to
work, we would meet in a hurry only, passing each other. It
was impossible to know what was the position in the camp
that day, that is to say with what rage the commandant and
his assistants had acted, if there would be night work on
that day or not. And all that could be heard during that
meeting were questions: "What's news?" And they used to say:
"Four-nought, ten-nought," this would indicate the number of
victims who had fallen that day in the camp up to the time
of return to the camp. Incidentally, if I may be allowed to
recall this, the Attorney General asked my why they did not
rise up during this period. I shall give a better example.
There was also, in fact, no difficulty, not for me
personally, to escape during the time that I was at my place
of work in the gas works, since in the course of the work
there  was the possibility...

Q. The municipal gasworks in Cracow?

A. Yes. Moreover, of the group to which I belonged before
the War - Hanoar Hazioni (The Zionist Youth) - a few managed
to cross into Slovakia. On two occasions a representative
was sent to get me out. Those two are living in Israel
today. One was Frederika Maze who lives in Rehovot and the
other was Zelig Weil who lives in Haifa. Both of them met me
near the gates of the camp and informed me that it had
become possible to smuggle a number of people to Slovakia.
And some of our comrades, most of whom are today in Israel,
succeeded in crossing to Slovakia. But it is not a simple
matter, when you have 70-80 persons from the same town,
amongst them my two brothers, to flee the camp when you know
that in the afternoon of the same day the entire group would
no longer be alive. And consequently people did not dare to
do this so easily, even when the chance existed and even
when, at the time, still in 1943, crossing into Slovakia
appeared to be a kind of promise of life. And it is a fact -
I did not do so. These two people reached Palestine; the one
Frederika Maze, managed to get here - at the beginning of
1944 and brought the first tidings.

Q. You spoke about punishment by standing, what was it?

A. There were several varieties of punishment by standing.
There was standing which was ordered for the whole camp. And
if something happened - from time to time there were
searches to find out whether people still had private
property, money or other valuables, for they knew in fact
that food was being smuggled into the camp from outside, and
it was impossible to smuggle it in if there was no property
of some kind or money circulating in the camp. So then
orders were given from time to time that the entire camp
would have to stand on the ground after work as punishment.

Q. For how long did this last?

A. It varied. It was for 6, 8, 10, 12 hours.

Q. Without moving?

A. Without moving. We always stood arranged in the order of
the huts. But there was another kind.
Q. And anyone who moved or shifted?

A. They did not move. If anyone moved - he would get
whatever he got.

Q. What did he get?

A. In the best of cases this ended up in floggings; in the
worst of cases - and these were not isolated incidents - it
ended up in shooting. But there were also other punishments
- these were not the sole punishments. Cells were erected
inside the camp - I think that the cells were of the size of
50x50 or 55x55 cms, and a person was put inside the cell.

Q. Like a cage?

A. I never saw this, but there are surviving witnesses who
stood there for 12 hours. I could point, for example, to
Mrs. Liss, who lives in Tel Aviv, or several other names of
people I know who spent 10-12 hours in a place such as this.
It is not possible to describe this as a cage, for in a cage
there is some free space, but in this place there was no
room for one's hands or for turning around. And when these
people emerged from there they were at first completely
stupefied from the standing. And there was someone who stood
for 24 hours in what was called a "Steh-Bunker" (standing

Q. Were people hanged by their hands?

A. This was another method. I can mention a few instances -
take the case of Liebermann who apparently was brought in
from outside, who was caught with Peruvian papers - or of
some other South American state - and there were people like
that who in some way or other obtained papers which did not
oblige them, for the time being, to enter the camp. Then,
subsequently, the man who did not disclose the source where
he obtained these papers, was brought and hanged by his
hands in the offices of the camp commandant, that same Amon
Goeth. And I think he was suspended for about five hours,
during which time they occasionally lowered him and threw
water over him...

Presiding Judge: This you did not witness with your own

Witness Beisky: I did not see this, but I saw Liebermann.
There was another case, if we are talking about punishments,
namely the case of Olmer, whose daughter lives in Jerusalem,
and I know her. This Olmer was also brought into the camp
because he was living with Aryan papers. Inside this camp
there was another prison - a prison within a prison. This
was something of a special kind, and actually not many
people who once went into this prison came out alive. I know
only two in Tel Aviv, namely Advocate Dr. Nathan Stern and
his brother Yitzhak Stern. These two I know came out alive
from that prison - perhaps one more. Well, that Olmer also
was imprisoned there. And, by the way this Olmer came from
Miechowitz, that neighbouring town I previously described.
He was summoned by the Camp Commandant. The Camp Commandant
had two dogs, Ralf and Rolf, and he set the dogs on him. The
dogs ate him up alive. Possibly a little breath still
remained in him; he shot him and he was killed.

Attorney General: Who was the Commandant?

A. Amon Goeth. We are speaking here of Amon Goeth from the
beginning of February 1943. Incidentally, I know that a
stenographic record of his trial was issued in printed form
in Poland, and I know at least of two sources referring to
this. It is a book of 500 pages.

Presiding Judge: For the present we rely on your testimony,
Judge Beisky.

Attorney Generl  03Please tell me: do you recall a group of
49 male prisoners and one female prisoner?

Witness Beisky: I have told you about them - this was the
Bonarka group.

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