The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. What happened on the night between the 31st of May and
the first of June?

A. Which year?

Q. 1943.

A. Sixty trucks with SS men arrived and they started the
final liquidation of this Judenlager Ghetto...which was,
excepting the Janowska camp, one of the final places where
Jews went....the Janowska camp in East Galicia...

Q. The masses kept arriving?

A. We were taken in trucks to the back...of the Janowska
concentration camp, and every minute they brought more and
more trucks until we were all assembled there - eight
thousand. It was no use hiding at this time in the
05Judenlager Ghetto because wherever they thought somebody
may still be hiding they would set fire to the building; so
the whole ghetto was on fire.

Q. You were there with your brother Yaakov?

A. I was with my two brothers, Yaakov and Aaron.

Q. With you were other people, all Jews?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you remember a man trying to reassure his little

A. Yes - there were many cases where it was a problem
between father and small children or mother and children;
and one next to me, when the little daughter was afraid, was
telling her how beautiful it would be, that in the very near
future she would be in Heaven together with her mother and
all her friends that she used to have and not be lonely any

Q. And then a shot sounded...

A. I don't understand...

Q. Do you remember what happened next to the little girl? -
her name was Rachel, I believe.

A. Yes.

Q. Yes - what happened?

A. They shot a woman next to me; her intestines were spilled
over a little girl sitting there, half asleep having been up
all night, and they were all over the place - the children
started to shout and run and couldn't be held back, but they
were shot on the field.

Very active in this place were Heinrich together with
Wilhaus - they had dogs with them.

Q. Yes, we are coming to Wilhaus. At about 10 a.m. Wilhaus
arrived. Wilhaus arrived with whom?

A. With Heinrich - and big dogs this time.

Q. What did Wilhaus tell you?

A. He started to say that everybody was going to work and
that we should be quiet; and he started to segregate us by
years; first everybody over sixty and under ten; afterwards
over fifty and up to fourteen. My brother -

Q. What did it mean, this segregation - what happened to
those who were not wanted?

A. They stayed in their places - the others had to step
forward and they were taken away.

Q. What happened to them?

A. I found out two days later what happened to them - they
were shot and afterwards burned by us. My brother tried to
escape but he was shot. I was left alone with my second
brother. When it came to the last group, since he was only
one and a half years younger than I, we walked out together;
we were separated and he was taken to the group to be shot -
I was taken back to Janowska concentration camp with a few
hundred selected from the eight thousand...

Q. You saw your brother on that road?

A. Yes.

Q. Now you were back at the Janowska camp?

A. We marched in, to music played by a big orchestra.

Q. What orchestra?

A. We had, in the concentration camp - also in the Julag we
had an orchestra playing every morning and every evening,
when we went out to work and when we returned from work and
also when people were taken to be shot - the orchestra used
to have to play. It was made up of Jewish prisoners in the
concentration camp and the orchestra at Janowska once
amounted to sixty people, sixty musicians.

Q. Who ordered this orchestra to be organized and to play?

A. I believe that in general, it was something more than an
order given by a single man because it happened that also in
the Julag - also afterwards in the Death Brigade, in the
concentration camp where there were different leaders, in
every place an orchestra was formed, so I don't believe it
was a specific idea...due to a Wilhaus or some other, when
they came and started at this time.

Q. Dr. Wells, before we go on, tell me - now you had seen
all your family dead, you were now back in the Janowska camp
- how could you stand it? How could you survive it? What
gave you the will to go on?

A. It was the will of responsibility, that somebody had to
remain to tell the world that it was the idea of the Nazis
to kill all the Jews - so we had a responsibility somehow to
withstand this idea and to be alive. There was not one of
us, as will be shown later, that had any interest whether it
was he or the second man; it was always: who will be the
best to survive and the others will go to death - so as to
feel that one man or at least somebody would survive out of
all of this.

Q. Now on 15 June 1943, forty people were taken out of the
Janowska camp allegedly for road-building. You were among

A. Yes.

Q. But this was not for road-building. It was the Death
Brigade. The Sonderkommando 1005 (Special Commando).

A. Yes.

Q. What was the job of this Sonderkommando?

A. The job was to remove at any time traces of the murdering
of the people by the Nazis.

Q. What did you have to do?

A. We used to uncover all the graves where there were people
who had been killed during the past three years, take out
the bodies, pile them up in tiers and burn these bodies;
grind the bones, take out all the valuables in the ashes
such as gold teeth, rings and so on - separate them. After
grinding the bones we used to throw the ashes up in the air
so that they would disappear, replace the earth on the
graves and plant seeds, so that nobody could recognize that
there ever was a grave there.

In addition to this they used to bring new people - new
victims; they were shot there - undressed beforehand - we
had to burn these new bodies too.

Q. There was a Brandmeister - (Chief Fireman) what did he

A. The Brigade was divided into different corps. There were,
in the beginning one, afterwards two Brandmeister, there
were two Zaehler (Counters), there was an ash commander,
there were carriers and there were pullers, and also there
were cleaners. The Brandmeister was in charge of the fire.
When they put up a heap like a pyramid, sometimes up to
2,000 bodies - one had to watch out so that the fire didn't
go out. He was in charge of this fire, while the Zaehler was
keeping a count of how many bodies were burnt to check out
with the original list - how many were killed, because
sometimes if we uncovered a grave we were looking sometimes
for hours for one body or more because it was buried on the
side; there was an exact list of how many people were
killed. So he kept the number of bodies burned and taken out
of each grave.

Attorney General: And in the evening a report had to be
given to the Untersturmfuehrer - is that so?

Witness Wells: Yes, to Untersturmfuehrer Scherlack and, in
his absence, it was Hauptscharfuehrer Rauch.

Q. How was the form of the report?

A. The report was given over with the pencil and paper -
because we couldn't have with us anything left - and it was
forbidden for anybody to tell the number, and he had himself
to forget. So that if the Hauptscharfuehrer or
Untersturmfuehrer next morning asked: "How many were burned
yesterday?", he couldn't any more tell. He had to say: "I

Q. Tell me, how many hours did you work - burning corpses
like that? How many hours a day?

A. Some days - eight; some days - ten hours; but normally it
was an eight-hour day because here, all the Schutzpolizei
and the SD men had to be on the job with us all day. When
they finished work - we could go back.

Q. Were you fed while you were working? Did you get any

A. We got a lot of food.

Q. Where did you eat? Amongst the corpses?

A. On the corpses.

Q. On the corpses themselves?

A. Yes, on the corpses.

Q. Now 21st May, do you remember? This year...gravestones
from the Jewish cemetery arrived - the Jewish cemetery of
Lvov. Do you remember?

A. It wasn't 21st May.

Q. 21st June. I'm sorry - 21st June, 1943.

A. There arrived from the gravestones - we weighed them out
and made a place for the Brandstelle (Burning Site) and the
Aschkolonne (Ash Column).

Q. What was the work of - we'll leave that. You
tell me that you collected the gold and so on - can you give
the Court an idea how much it came to a day?

A. Some days it came up to 8-10 kilos gold, when it was only
from bodies. But when they used to bring new people - like
if they brought 2,000 or 1,500 people - the amount of gold
and rings and also money would be much more. But on some
days, only from corpses, we used to get about eight to ten
kilos a day.

Q. How was the murder of those who arrived alive at the
fires carried out?

A. It depends. For example - at one time there arrived only
two or three hundred people, or at other times there arrived
1,500 or 2,000 or 2,500 people. When, for example, arrived
24 of the girls from the concentration camp - on 26 August
1943 - after the night that they spent with the SS people -
they were picked from the concentration camp. When they were
offered to stay with the SS people - some of the girls
started to run away and were taken this time right away to
the fires. This time they were standing on the trucks; the
trucks backed up to the fires and they were standing at the
edge of the truck. Every one of them got a shot in the neck
and was then kicked so that she fell straight into the fire.

Q. Who shot them?

A. One of the SS people always - whoever was available that

When on Tuesday, 29 June, 275 people came in they were shot
by setting them up in 25 with the machine gun. After the
first 25 stepped in, the next 25 stepped in. With these 275
that were shot on 29 June 1943, on Tuesday, it explained
one thing that we found before some graves where it didn't
seem to us that the people were shot...but with their
tongues out and open mouths it was more like suffocated
people and it told us how these people were buried alive.
Because when we came out to burn the bodies we found that
some of them were only slightly injured due to the machine
gun taking 25 people in one some of them were
slightly injured in the arm and they fell down and above
them the other people. So it happened at this night when we
picked up a body and put it in the fire, at the last moments
these bodies started to scream - yell aloud because it was
still alive.

Q. So you were provided with hooks by the commanders of the

A. Yes.

Q. And with gasoline and oil?

A. Gasoline and oil and wood, piles of wood, and a grinding

Q. And you had to do your job very carefully and very
efficiently so that nothing should be left of the bodies?

A. Yes, it was necessary to look on the ground for any hair,
a piece of bone that was left and even a piece of paper,
everything was burned.

Presiding Judge: What was a grinding machine?

Witness Wells: It was like a cement machine that was running
and in it big heavy steel balls and the bones were put in
from one way and when these balls were...

Presiding Judge: The bones or the bodies?

Witness Wells: So the steel balls were hitting bones. First
the fire burned the bones and some of the parts of the body
were burned to ashes. These went to the ash column and the
ash column sifted through what was remaining in the sieves.
The sieves were like sieves we use for flour, to sift flour.
And what was left in these sieves was put into the grinding
machine and the grinding machine ground them and again got
out what was left over, and gold or platinum was in it.
These were picked up and afterwards went to the grinding
machine. It was a year and a month later when I uncovered
also the grave where they looked for the 182nd body which
had to be there.

Attorney General: May I ask the Court for the witness' book.
I should like him to identify a number of pictures.

Presiding Judge: I didn't understand your last reply, Dr.

Witness Wells: It was in July, at the end of June 1943 I dug
up the grave where I had to be buried the year ahead when I
escaped among the 182 people.

Presiding Judge: I see.

Witness Wells: And they were looking that they were missing
a body, and we looked about two days for a missing body.

Attorney General: Who had lists of the bodies?

Witness Wells: I don't know who had the list, but it always
came. They often, one of the SD people will uncover, it will
be exactly the location of the grave...and we will even go
and it will be said from this corner you will have to
measure six steps, right, south, east and so on. We measured
and here we started to make the grave. It was also written
how many people had to be in this grave.

Q. And they knew how many bodies were there exactly?

A. Exactly, because we were looking to fit this number with
the Zaehler.

Q. There are some illustrations in your book, some pictures
taken of the brigade during its work - how did you get those

A. These pictures weren't supplied by me - they were
supplied by the Historical Commission in Poland...

Presiding Judge: But that's how it looked - just look at it.

Witness Wells: That's how it looked.

Presiding Judge: Do you know how the photographs got to this

Witness Wells: No.

Attorney General: Now, when you went to work in the morning
and came back in the evening, you say you had to sing?

Witness Wells: We had to make up songs and sing while we
were going to work, and also the Brandmeister would march in
front, he was clothed like a devil; he had a special uniform
with the hook in his hand and we had to march after him and
sing. Afterwards we were also joined by an orchestra which
would play as we sang and accompany us on our march to work.

Q. Sometimes people in the brigade identified bodies of
their relatives?

A. Yes. Even more - I remember the name Mr. Brill - he was
in his late forties at this time...He was taken to the
concentration camp, to the Death Brigade; and he was brought
together with his two young daughters, one of sixteen and
one of eighteen. They were shot and he was put into the
Death Brigade, and an hour later, while they were still
warm, he himself had to put them in the fire.

Q. Let us continue. Do you remember Tuesday, 29th June?

A. Yes, I mentioned those 275...

Q. Now tell me - how long did a man in such a brigade
usually live?

A. Normally, by order... we were told that after eight to
ten days we had to be exchanged - we would be shot and
another group would come; so when visiting SD men came over
to the Death Brigade and asked us how long we had been there
it was forbidden for us to say that we had been longer than
six, eight, up to eight or ten days - no longer...

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