The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/e/eichmann.adolf/transcripts/Sessions/Session-027-09


Archive/File: people/e/eichmann.adolf/transcripts/Sessions/Session-027-09
Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. Anton Schmid was subsequently arrested by the Gestapo

and executed for his connections with the Jews, correct?

A. Correct.

Q. Did you attempt to notify the world of this

information? Judge Raveh:   When did this conversation

take place? Witness Kovner: In January, 1942.

Q. When was he arrested?

A. In March 1942, approximately, he was executed.
Presiding Judge: Do you know what rank this man had?
Winess Kovner  Feldwebel (N.C.O). He was then, as I
estimate, not a young man, evidently a member of the
reserves. He was of Austrian origin.


Attorney General: Did you try to make this known in the
world, including the name Eichmann?


Witness Kovner: Yes, amongst other things.


Q. What did you do?


A. In 1942 we tried to communicate the truth about Vilna
to the outside world. We wanted it to reach Moscow and
from there to the free world. We sent two of our fighting
girl comrades whose task it was to attain an impossible
target, to move from Vilna, to go to the war front, to
cross the front and to reach Moscow. Since it was my task
to plan their journey, I remember precisely that I wrote a
secret report; it contained several sections, about the
extermination, about the fighting force, about the request
for help, and also a list of people, the officers, those
at the head of the killers and the plunderers, about whom
we had information through the direct interrogation of
people and from our spies.


Q. Did you mention the name of Eichmann?


A. I mentioned specifically in this report, that we had
received these particulars from an anti-Fascist officer of
the Wehrmacht. According to what he told me I understood
that this was a very important man in the hierarchy of
destroyers. In my innocence I supposed that he was
stationed somewhere in our areas or in Ostland* {*One of
the two Reichskommissariats (designation for an area ruled
by a commissary) established by the Germans in occupied
Russia.}

consequently I passed this on. These two girl comrades who
went through events which are a story in itself, got
almost as far as the front-lines, they were caught, and
they were due to be executed. At night they managed to
break out from their temporary detention, and moved from
station to station, until they arrived back in the ghetto.
Afterwards, this was at the end of 1943, when I was with
the partisans, I was requested by the brigade commander to
submit a report by partisan mail to Moscow on everything
that had transpired and also on the collaborators, on the
plunderers, on the men of the SS and the Gestapo, and so
forth.

Also in this report which went by partisan mail, to the
main headquarters of the partisan movement, to General
Ponomarenko, I included a section about what we had been
told by the anti-Fascist who was in the Wehrmacht.

Q. Did you specifically mention the name of Eichmann?

A. I specifically mentioned the name of Eichmann. Only
after the War did it become clear to us who he was in
fact, and what he was.

Presiding Judge: What became known to you after the War?

Witness Kovner: What his function was.

Judge Halevi:  But do you have grounds for supposing that
it was delivered to then?

Witness Kovner: The second message was delivered; no, I
have grounds for supposing that it was. Why? For this time
I did something unusual. Inside the material I also
wrapped one of my poems. And my poem, after unusual
adventures, reached Palestine, when I myself had not yet
reached this country, and was published in my underground
name "Uri" in the newspaper Ha-aretz, so I know that it
arrived - that the poem arrived from Moscow.

Q. What is this? [Shows witness a written document].

A. This is an announcement which the commander of the
ghetto police made on 4 May 1943. In this announcement he
notifies that "on 30 April the workers Aharon Shulkin and
his wife Rivka, of Strazuna Street 11/21 who were working
in a brick factory on Ponar Road, went out to the village
to buy food. In the village they were arrested and were
shot without inquiry. I warn you once again that by order
of the SecurityšPolice and the SD, it is forbidden for any
Jew to be found outside the city without special
permission of that German authority. Every Jew caught in
this way without permission - will be punished by death.
Signed, Gens." This was put up in the streets of the
ghetto in the form of a notice of mourning. To be able to
photograph it we were compelled to go over the printed
text with a typewriter and suitable ink.

Presiding Judge: This will be exhibit T/290. What did you
say about ink?

Witness Kovner: It was printed on a typewriter, since it
was photographed by a number of archives, we went over the
print with suitable ink.

Q. But there was a black frame?

A. Yes, there was a black frame. I am only talking of the
lettering.

Attorney General: Perhaps now, as we approach the end,
tell us, how the first commander of the fighting force,
Wittenberg, died?

Presiding Judge: Was a notice such as this published only
in Yiddish? Was this a practice?

Witness Kovner: Yes.

Q. This was a practice? This was a notice of the German
police?

A. This was a notice of the Jewish police in the ghetto.
They state that they had received a notice from the
"Ghetto Polizei."

Attorney General: Do you want to tell us something about
the Jewish fighting force, about the way in which the
ghetto was liquidated, and something about the death of
the first commander of the force?

Witness Kovner: Your Honours, I cannot unfold here
everything we went through.

Presiding Judge: Obviously.

Witness Kovner: Nor everything we did. And I have to
choose what, in fact, not to relate, in order to describe
the essence - in order that you may understand that this
was not a normal war against an enemy; how can I explain
this to you? Perhaps in this way - that here, in this
courtroom, there sits a woman who spent a certain time
outside the ghetto with Aryan papers. A teacher of
Catholic children in a secure place. And she, and others
like her, were asked whether they were prepared to return
to the ghetto; they were asked by comrades in the
underground to leave their place of security in order to
be partners in our fate in the War and to sacrifice
themselves, with no chance of returning, and through this
gate - where according to the announcement, according this
document, whoever went through it in order to buy food and
to bring in a kilogram of potatoes was shot to death - on
her person she transferred explosives, dynamite. And she
went through the ghetto gate once, twice and three times
and walked, a distance of 30 kilometres, in order to blow
up a German military train. And she blew it up, the first
German train to be blown up in the entire country of
Lithuania; no train had been blown up, not by the Poles,
and not by the Lithuanians, and not by the Russians, but
one was blown up by a Jewess who, after she had done it,
had no base to which she could return, unlike any other
fighter. She was obliged, after three days and nights of
scouting and action, to return to the ghetto with injured
feet and to pass through guard posts, and she got back.
Imagine for yourselves what we, who sent her, experienced;
what we experienced that night, for fear that she would
not return, that she might be caught. This would have
meant that not only she and her companions, but possibly
the entire ghetto would have to pay the price. What was
the significance of that day, of the challenge which no
fighting man has encountered, at least in  modern times
collective responsibility? In other words, for what I do
in defence of my honour and my life, my mother, my
brothers and
my sisters, old people and children will be held to
account. Nevertheless, we did it.

Q. This woman was your wife?

A. Yes, we did it. We set ammunition trains on fire and
stole weapons from the arm depots. Not just one of our
comrades sacrificed his life for that and was tortured to
death without betraying his secret. And here I have our
battle rules in which you will find something strange,
that the battle watchword for mobilizing the fighting
forces at the time of the extermination was "Liza ruft"
(Liza calls). This was the watchword. And if this
watchword was heard, each one was obliged not to go to the
maline, that is to say not to go to the hideout - for to
conceal oneself was for our people tantamount to treason -
but to go to the post to which had been assigned in
advance where he would obtain weapons, "cold" or "hot" and
to resist.

Presiding Judge: Does this name have any special
significance?

Witness Kovner: The meaning hidden behind this name had a
significance of blood. Liza was one of the fighters. Her
name was Liza Magun, and she was sent from the Vilna
Ghetto, when we learnt that they were about to carry out
an "action" in the Ghetto of Oshmiany, not in our ghetto.
We sent her so that she could get there and warn the Jews.
And, indeed she reached the ghetto at the risk of her life
and managed to warn them. But not all of them believed
her, and not all of them were able to draw the conclusions
and to do something.

But there were many who were successful and fled to the
forests. And afterwards, from then on she passed on our
proclamation of revolt from place to place. She was
captured and tortured to death, but she did not reveal her
secret. The watchword of the battle, of our mobilization,
was in her name. But in order to understand the tragedy of
the state of affairs, of fighting for human dignity and
the honour of the community, I have to add something. You
asked me about the death of Wittenberg. It would be better
for me to refrain from describing this.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Kovner, you will appreciate the
difficulty involved in the matter, if you say "I will not
describe it."

Witness Kovner: Believe me, Your Honour, President of the
Court, the greatest difficulty is for me to describe it
and not for anyone to hear it.

Presiding Judge: That is clear. I do not have to tell you
that we are full of admiration, but there is also another
problem here. And I am certain that a man such as you
understands this.

Witness Kovner: Yes.

Attorney General: If it is difficult for you, Mr. Kovner,
I am ready to go on to the next question.

Witness Kovner: No, I shall reply to it.

The first commander of our fighting force was a wonderful
man named Yitzchakel, Itzik Wittenberg. The Command
consisted of Itzik Wittenberg - his nickname was Leon,
Joseph Glazman - his nickname was Araham, Abrasha
Chwojnik, Nissan Reznik and myself. We divided up the
duties between us. Wittenberg was chosen by us to be the
commander, and we had various duties in the headquarters.
We sought what every underground is looking for - to find
help. We hardly had any such help. We, with our own
contacts, with our own encouragement, established the non-
Jewish underground. At its head stood one Vitas, a man who
was active in the Communist Party before the War.

On 8 July 1943 Vitas was caught by the Gestapo. He
committed suicide in the torture-cell. On 15 July an
unconfirmed rumour reached us that the person who was
liaison between the ghetto rebels, and principally with
Wittenberg - for he was the only one in the town they knew
personally - a man named Kozlowski, that he, too, had been
seized. On the night of 15 July, Gans, the commander of
the Jewish police in the ghetto, sent his representative
and asked us to come to him for consultation. He asked
Itzik Wittenberg, Abrasha Chwojnik, a woman named Chyena
Borowska, and me to come urgently. They told us that the
meeting was to be held at a certain hour - afterwards they
postponed it and said that the meeting would have to take
place later, at 10 pm. We arrived at the office of the
police commander. At first he spoke about the work,
although we felt that something was about to happen. Since
our fighting comrades sensed something, guards were posted
around the building and in the streets. And indeed, after
some minutes of talking which did not elucidate anything,
a side door in the office of Gans was opened and SS men
appeared in the doorway with submachine guns pointing at
us. They ordered us to stand up and asked: "Who here is
Wittenberg?" Nobody answered. Then Gans pointed to
Wittenberg and said: "That is Wittenberg." They bound him
in chains and removed him with their submachine guns.
Dumbfounded we said to Gans: "You disgraceful traitor - we
shall meet again." Then he said to us: "I am not
responsible; one of your men was caught by the Gestapo,
passed on the name of Wittenberg, and I was obliged to
deliver him, otherwise others would have paid for him with
their lives."

We went away, and he was taken to the Gestapo to the
ghetto gate. It was not far away, a distance of less than
a few hundred metres. The observation posts, which our
fighters had set up en route, saw what was happening. They
immediately alerted fighters, they fell upon the Gestapo
men, there were shots and they ran for their lives beyond
the ghetto. Wittenberg remained in our hands. It was
difficult to free him from his chains. Later, we freed
him, but immediately something was happened which nobody
could have imagined. The Germans did not enter the ghetto,
but advised Gans that if, by three o'clock in the morning,
Wittenberg was not brought to them, they would destroy the
ghetto.

Gans immediately assembled the ghetto, alerted the
brigadiers and the police, and thereafter held a mass
meeting. He explained to the Jews that on account of one
man, Wittenberg, the ghetto was likely to be annihilated.
The ghetto was in a state of panic. At first they did not
believe it. Three o'clock passed by, and an extension was
granted until six o'clock.

What happened in the ghetto - is beyond description. Many
books were written about it, or, more correctly, both full
books and also many references within books. One of the few
individuals, who could have related something most
authentic about it - did not write about it.

And Wittenberg was in our hands. We had freed him. When we
saw what was going on, we immediately printed a
declaration to the Jews. I composed it, and I know that I
did not write the truth - that is to say, I knew. We did
not have any sign that there was going to be an "action"
in the ghetto. It was a period of stabilization in the
ghetto. I wrote that it had been decided to destroy the
ghetto, and this was a subterfuge. "Jews, go out into the
street, we shall fight, we shall resist." I brought this
declaration to Wittenberg. He gave orders to mobilize the
force. We mobilized the force. And then the Jews went out
into the streets. There were no Germans in the ghetto.
Gans mobilized anyone he could - the intelligentsia,
simple folk, with policemen, who had received arms against
us, in the lead. Delegations of members of the public came
to us, pleaded for mercy, saying that it was impossible to
endanger the ghetto because of one man. Negotiations began
- first of all we rejected all negotiations. And then
there came an angry assault by those destined to be
murdered, against us who sought to be their defenders -
with axes, sticks, stones, even with arms - arms which
they had received from the Germans against us. We stood
facing our brethren. We explained matters to them. We gave
an order to our fighters not to use their arms, not even
cold weapons. Our people tore their hair, shedding blood,
in the streets as they explained to them that they wanted
to remove the illusion, that this was not on account of
one man, although later it became clear that in fact this
Kozlowski had disclosed the name of Wittenberg. But it was
not important to us then. We did not imagine that the
force could hand over its commander. Negotiations began.
We hid Wittenberg. We said that he was not there, that he
had escaped from the ghetto. In this courtroom there sits
a young woman who transferred him from lane to lane,
dressed as a woman. At a particular moment we did not
want, not even we ourselves, his comrades at headquarters,
to know where he was, so that we should not be put to the
test. But then we faced the dilemma: to be the first to
open fire against those destined to be victims? Everything
that we had built up over the years, everything for which
we had prepared, was about to collapse because it had been
possible to bring the victims to the point of madness for
the sake of one more hour of life. How human this was, but
how inconceivable subsequently!

Towards morning we came to Wittenberg's hideout, we the
men of the headquarters, his colleagues. We were stricken
dumb. He looked at us. Just a moment before this an
attempt was made - someone told Gans that another person
would offer himself up as Wittenberg. There was such a
volunteer. Gans turned this down, as he said, since there
would be a confrontation with Kozlowski. But he promised
that if we complied, he would do everything possible in
order to free him from the Gestapo. We did not believe
him. But with the entire ghetto crowding in on us around
the office of the headquarters, it was only with
difficulty that we made our way in order to reach the
place where Wittenberg was. No one knew where he was, and
we climbed up to an attic. A revolver lay on the table.
For a moment he wanted to commit suicide. But he did not
kill himself. He asked us: "What? Do you want me to hand
myself over?" We did not answer. Then I said to him:
"Look, Jews are standing in the street. We shall have to
fight them in order to reach the enemy, and he will
probably stand there and laugh. This is the situation.  Give
us the order and we shall fight. Are you prepared for this?"
No. He was not prepared to do it. He was a great man. He
gave me the revolver, appointed me commander, and went out
into the street. We all stood there, with our bandoliers,
our wretched guns, the fighters on one side, the crowd
surrounding us. He walked along the empty street to the
ghetto gate in order to hand himself over to the Gestapo.


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