The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/06/08

Q. Were there mass executions in that punishment block?

A. One of the worst things we were subjected to, even at the
time which was called hours of rest, was the mass
executions.  We knew about them since very little in that
block was concealed from us.  At that time, an order came,
and all those who were together with me in the room where I
lived were transferred to one particular room, a room facing
the street, and not one facing the courtyard, in the same
building.  In this way, they forced into a cell which even
under the worst conditions had room for thirty men - they
forced a hundred and fifty men into it.  And we simply had
to struggle for air, not to mention the fact that there was
nowhere for us to stand or sit down.  We actually had a
feeling of relief when the order came for us to return to
our rooms, despite the fact that we knew that this meant the
end of the men.

Q. Were the executions on fixed days?

A. The executions were carried out once or twice a week on
fixed days, I don't remember which days.  But I know that we
knew the day by the fact that cars began to arrive with
senior SS men, with a large number of officers, and we knew
there was definitely going to be another execution.

Q. How many men were executed at the same time?

A. I cannot give you the exact number, but two carts
subsequently conveyed the dead prisoners through the rear
entrance of the building.  If I am to estimate - I imagine
there were approximately 100 or 150 men each time.

Q. Was this in the presence of SS men who came to watch the

A. It was in the presence of senior SS officers.  We would
see that, too, according to the cars, and also according to
their ranks.  There seemed to be no reason why for the
purpose of an execution they needed some twenty or thirty
high-ranking officers to fill the courtyard.

Q. How did they execute the people - by what method?

A. According to what we heard and what I knew at that time,
each time they took a group of men out into the yard, stood
them up against this black wall which was at the end of the
yard, and shot them in the back of the neck.

Presiding Judge: Did you witness it?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   No.

Q. Where were you at that time?

A. At that time, I was in the room that faced the road.  All
the occupants of the rooms that faced the yard were removed
to rooms facing the street at that time.

Attorney General: But, after the execution, you saw the
signs in the yard?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   That was not difficult.  When we
returned, the traces were still fresh, the yard was full of
blood, despite their attempts to cover it up by throwing
sand over the blood stains.  Naturally, they did not succeed
in this attempt.

Q. Do you know what a "Stehbunker" was - a standing-up cell?

A. In that same block, there were also cells below in the
cellar, some of which were occupied by SS men.  But we had
no contact with them.  And, in the left section, there were
these notorious standing-up cells.

Q. What were they?

A. It was a small cell - I cannot describe its size - with
an iron door, with a little hatch at the bottom, and a
person who committed any offence according to the laws of
those times, was ordered to report in the evening to block
11.  Then he would be put into such a cell.  He had to
crawl, in order to get inside this cell; the hatch was
closed, and, in this way, he would spend the time standing,
together with three other men, compressed together, one
against the other, to such an extent that it was even
impossible to bend one's knees.

Presiding Judge: Did it have a ceiling?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   It had a ceiling and an aperture high up.
This was a sort of narrow cell, and the high aperture faced
the yard.

Attorney General: Were you ever inside one?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   I was inside once, when I was no longer
in block 11 - I was then working in D.A.B. as a carpenter.

Q. What was "D.A.B."?

A. Deutsche Ausruestungswerke (German Equipment Works).  It
was a factory for crates, crates for ammunition.

Q. We shall come to that, but for the present I am
interested in the standing-up cell of block 11.  You were
placed in one?

A. I was in this standing-up cell for three days.  It was
due to the fact that on one occasion we were walking along
the road back to the camp and, like all people at the time
whose stomach was not in order, I relieved myself at the
edge of the road.  A man - an SS officer - saw me; he called
me, slapped me twice on my cheeks, and made a note of my
number which appeared both on my chest and on my trousers.
About a week later, when I was standing at a roll-call, my
number was called out.  I already knew, more or less, that
this meant punishment - either lashes or the standing-up
cell.  In the evening, I went to block 11, for three days,
and I had to undergo standing in the standing-up cell,
without sleep.

Presiding Judge: Throughout three nights?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   Throughout three nights.  Early the
following morning, promptly at dawn, we were taken out of
the standing-up cell and were sent back again to the block
each prisoner belonged to - at that time it was block 4.

Q. To work?

A. To work.  The greatest danger was for those men who
received a more prolonged punishment.  There were some who
were given two or three weeks - they could not take it -
both to work during the day, and also not to sleep at night.
They collapsed already in the first days.  Only persons of
some rank, such as Kapos and Blockaelteste, who could permit
themselves to sleep later in the day instead of going out to
work, were able to regard this as a relatively light

Q. But did they also receive such punishment?

A. This was one of the punishments meted out to them as
well, strangely enough, since they usually were not flogged
in public.

Attorney General: Were there also good Blockaelteste in

Witness Ben-Zvi:   There were good Blockaelteste, but there
were also bad ones.  The good Blockaelteste could help, and
many did even at personal risk to themselves.  They
endangered their position and themselves by helping
prisoners.  They had many opportunities to help and, indeed,
many took advantage of that and helped.

Q. But there was also the other kind?

A. There were also others.

Q. What was "Canada" - "Canada", not in the geographical
sense, but in its Auschwitz connotation?

A. Some time later, when I was still in the Stammlager in
Auschwitz, I heard of it from a friend, when it happened
that I went by his bed and saw he was eating something which
at that time was very rare - a slice of lemon.  I asked him
where he had obtained it.  He told me that there was a
Kommando called "Canada", and there, according to him, they
had everything, even lemons.  I asked him how it was
possible to get into that Kommando.  He replied that it was
a question of luck.  Every morning men reported in groups -
each one tried to join a Kommando where it would be good for
him, at least in the matter of food.  So I also tried to
join this famous Kommando, which then numbered one hundred

It was then called the Aufraeumungskommando (for removal and
cleaning).  The Germans gave it the nickname "Canada".  This
name evidently was applied to it because there was an ample
supply there of goods that had been plundered and taken from
people who had been dispatched to the gas chambers.

Q. What was your work in this Kommando?

A. At this time, I was employed in various tasks.  At first
in the transfer of personal belongings that arrived from the
ramp at Birkenau into the Pferdestallbaracken which were
used as store rooms, and arranging them inside in heaps.
Later on, in opening up the suitcases and removing the
contents, and sorting them into their categories - food
separately, clothing separately, and the valuable objects
were taken afterwards to the SS Lazarette - to SS men.

We transferred the clothing once more to similar
Pferdestallbaracken, where girls were engaged in sorting
them and packing them into parcels and sending them off to
the Entwesungskammer (disinfection room).

Q. Did you use gas for the disinfection operation?

A. A Polish Unterkapo was in charge of that.  For
disinfecting, we used the same Zyklon gas which I saw, and
which we knew was also being used for putting people to
death.  It was lying outside, in front of the disinfection
room, within easy reach of any prisoner passing by.

Q. Did you know that this was the gas used to kill people?

A. Yes, we knew, and we even saw how.  Later, we got to know
that this place where we worked, this famous "Canada", also
served as one of the store rooms - although not the main
store room - for that gas.  How did we know that?  Before an
operation, before we knew that a transport was due - we knew
that from the fact that we saw the commandant of crematorium
No. 2, Moll, coming on his motor cycle into our Kommando,
into this courtyard which was specially fenced off, and he
was followed by a Red Cross vehicle, an ambulance.

Q. The German Red Cross?

A. Yes, a German Red Cross truck which, in theory, in time
of war, belonged to the International Red Cross.  And into
this truck the tins of Zyklon B were loaded and transferred
to the gas chambers.
Q. In a truck of the Red Cross?

A. Yes, in a truck of the Red Cross which was always on hand
with each transport.

Judge Halevi:  What do you mean by "with each transport"?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   That means when the people arrived later

Continuing with my account of my work, I used to go out at
night to receive people arriving at Birkenau by rail, that
is to say, when they arrived.  This vehicle with the sign of
the Red Cross was always waiting there, ready for special
cases - if someone put up resistance or went berserk or
suffered some attack; in order not to alarm the other people
and to maintain order, he was put into the van, and they
quietened him.  The way in which it was done - this was
obvious to us, we knew.

Attorney General: What quantity of articles of clothing
passed through your hands during the time you worked in

Witness Ben-Zvi:   I cannot tell you exactly, but these
quantities were enormous, because we were subsequently
occupied in loading the completed packages, cleaned and
disinfected, on to the freight cars which conveyed them to
Germany.  There was a railway siding which came right up to
the spot.  It was not actually inside the courtyard, but
next to it.  And every week, we would load about twenty
large freight cars with those articles.

Presiding Judge: Clothing?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   Clothing, mainly, only clothing, since
other articles, items of food and valuables, were taken by
the SS men to places which they regarded as suitable.

Q. You say twenty freight cars?

A. Yes, about twenty large freight cars, which we afterwards
pushed away.

Q. Over what period?

A. One week.

Attorney General: How long did you work there, Mr. Ben- Zvi?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   I worked there - I would estimate it as
being for about a year.

Q. And this happened every week?

A. Yes, every week.  Sometimes even more than that.

Q. What did you have to do with the clothes?  What were you
supposed to examine?

A. As I have said, the clothes were first of all taken out
of the parcels and placed in huge heaps in something
resembling big wooden crates with handles.  And then
prisoners would carry them into large huts.  There they were
examined.  They were moved from the huts by the girls to
other huts, sorted, packed into parcels, and transferred to
the disinfection room.  This was the only stone building,
apart from the building in which the SS men were
accommodated.  It contained a very big room.  The clothes
were placed there on shelves.  And the Polish Unterkapo,
wearing a gas mask, would bring in a tin of Zyklon gas, open
it, run outside, and close the door.  After the
disinfection, the room was aired, the parcels removed, and a
day or two later, loaded by us on to the freight cars.

Q. Did they do anything to the clothes?  What about the
yellow badge?

A. All that was handled by the girls in those huts.  They
also unstitched the clothes and found many articles of value
in the shoulder pads of the coats, and in all kinds of
places where people had sewn in money and other valuable
items.  This was under the strict supervision of the SS men
who were in charge of each hut.  As an illustration, there
were two or three SS men watching the work in each hut where
twenty to thirty prisoners would be working.

Q. You and your colleagues also tried to help other
prisoners - from the "Canada" camp - and to smuggle articles
to them, clothing and so on?

A. The main thing in "Canada", and the desire to join this
famed Kommando, was also to bring some articles or other
into the camp.  Of course, this activity was fraught with
much risk, since we never knew where or when we would be
searched.  It sometimes happened that they did not examine
our clothes when we entered the camp, and there were times
when we were made to stand absolutely naked, both men and
women, while they searched all possible places.  We were
also told to open wide both our fingers and our toes, and to
bend over; they searched everywhere.  And if they discovered
an object on someone, whether it was something valuable or
some worthless item, the individual was cruelly beaten and
on more than one occasion taken away to a place which we
called the "Political Department", and he vanished
completely.  We would not see him any more.

Q. And, nevertheless, you managed, and it became a habit, to
smuggle out of "Canada" medicines, vitamins, clothing and
other articles?

A. In the main, these were small items to which we attached
great value at the time.  These were medicines, vitamins
and, amongst other things, also toothpaste, although this
was not used to brush teeth, but as a foodstuff, on bread...

Presiding Judge: Were these articles that the Jews had
brought with them?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   Yes.

Attorney General: You began saying something, Mr. Ben- Zvi,
about bread?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   On the bread which we received, which was
usually dry and without any additions to it, our people used
to spread toothpaste, so as to give it some sort of taste.

Q. According to the personal belongings which you sorted
that year, from what countries did the owners of those
belongings come?

A. It was not only according to the belongings.  I was also
present when the transports arrived from various countries.
They came from Poland, they came from Holland, they came
from France, they came from Czechoslovakia, they came from
Norway, they came from Salonika and from other places.

Q. From the whole of occupied Europe?

A. Yes, from the whole of occupied Europe.

Q. Do you remember an incident with a transport from Bedzin?

A. Yes.

Q. Please tell us about it.

A. I regret that it was during the period of my work when I
was engaged on the night shift.  The Germans had divided the
Kommando into two parts - there was a night shift and a day
shift.  The Kommando that went out to work at night had to
receive the people who came to Birkenau; the day shift dealt
with those tasks which I previously described.  I want to
tell you about the transport that came from Bedzin, in
Poland.  We knew that from the people who arrived.  This was
one of the most horrible transports I can remember.

Presiding Judge: It was not far from there?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   Yes, it was not far from there.  I don't
know exactly where, but it was in the Katowice area.

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