The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. By that time the Judenrat was no longer in control of the
ghetto? Who controlled the ghetto?

A. This already had been the case between January and April,
that even before then the Judenrat was no longer in charge
of the ghetto. But the ghetto as well as the Judenrat acted
in accordance with the orders and instructions that we used
to post up in the streets of Warsaw. This was a time when
the Jews obeyed us, obeyed us in everything. We dispersed
among the fighting units. I was at 23 Nalewski Street, where
the officer in charge of that unit was Secharia Artstein.
Mordechai Anilewicz and the rest of my comrades were
dispersed in the other strong points. Mordechai Anilewicz
came to the post at 29 Mila Street.

What did we tell the Jews that night? We told them that
anyone who possessed arms should come out to fight. Not only
the Jewish fighting force but the ordinary Jews as well had
arms. And we advised those who did not have arms, women,
children and babies that they should go down into the
bunkers, and at the first opportunity of the general
confusion, which would arise following the battle, they
should go over to the Aryan sector, they should break
through and make their way to the forest - some would
survive. And, naturally, we had no need to issue orders to
the fighting units, for the members, those boys and girls
had been waiting for months for the moment when they would
be able to shoot at Germans.

And, indeed, the moment had come. When the day dawned, I was
standing in the upper part of this building, at 23 Nalewski,
and I saw the thousands of Germans who were surrounding the
ghetto - with machine guns, with cannon - and  thousands of
them, with their weapons, as if they were going to the
Russian front. And there we stood opposite them - some
twenty young men and women. What were our weapons? Each one
had a revolver, each one had a hand-grenade; the entire unit
had two rifles, and in addition we had homemade bombs,
primitive ones, the fuse of which had to be lit by means of
a match, and Molotov Cocktails. It was very strange to see
that some Jewish boys and girls, confronting this enormous
enemy with all his weapons, were joyful and merry. Why were
they joyful and merry? We knew that our end had come. We
knew beforehand that they would defeat us, but we also knew
that they would pay a heavy price for our lives. Indeed,
they did. It is difficult to describe, and there will surely
by many who will not believe it, that when the Germans came
near the foot of one of our strong points and passed by in
formation, and we threw the bombs and the hand-grenades, and
we saw German blood pouring in the streets of Warsaw, after
so much Jewish blood and tears had previously flowed in the
streets of Warsaw - we felt within us, great rejoicing and
it was of no importance what would happen the following day.
There was a great rejoicing amongst us, the Jewish fighters.
And behold the miracle: the great German heroes withdrew in
tremendous panic in the face of the handmade Jewish hand-
grenades and bombs. And we noticed, one hour later, how a
German officer was spurring the soldiers on to go to battle,
to go out and bring in the wounded, and not one of them
moved and they abandoned their wounded men whose weapons we
subsequently collected.

And so it happened, that on the first day we, the few - with
our scant arms - drove the Germans out of the ghetto.
Naturally they came back. They were not short of ammunition,
of bread and water as we were. And they returned. They
returned that day, for a second time, in greater strength;
with field-guns and tanks, and we with our Molotov Cocktails
also set a tank on fire- although this was not at the post
where I was but in Mila Street, with another fighting unit.

That day, when we met in the evening, we each reported. We
had seen that, with our meagre arms, the number of those
killed in our ranks was negligible - two in all. Apart from
these there was a number of wounded. And we knew that, on
that day, hundreds of Germans had fallen, killed and
wounded. When, by chance, I once met a German on the Aryan
side, a year after the Warsaw Ghetto revolt (I was posing as
an Aryan, and he had only one eye), he told me that on that
very day, at 23 Nalewski, he had lost his eye in a battle
with the Jews and that "it was a big fight and we paid for
it with many casualties" - I did not know then how to
appreciate this. But if one may evaluate this years later,
when I saw my people proceeding on its final journey - this
was some slight consolation.

The battle continued for a number of days at the same pace.
The Germans could not subdue us and on each occasion
retreated from the ghetto. Naturally, not all the days were
like the first day. We paid with more losses and also killed
less Germans. But, in the days following, the Germans
changed their tactics and tried also to change our tactics.
From street-fighting in places we had prepared for
ourselves, we changed to a method of fighting in small
groups. We split up into several groups who at night would
find for themselves houses and strongpoints, and they simply
hid, waiting for the Germans. The Germans, indeed, no longer
came into the ghetto in large numbers, but in small units.
They were like us - we had rags on our feet so that they
should not hear our footsteps, and they had rubber boots so
that we should not hear their footsteps - and each side
sought the other. In these days, also, we had the upper
hand: we knew the terrain, we knew the houses, we had
prepared for ourselves places of refuge in attics and
cellars which were not known to the Germans. It continued in
this way for days.

It is difficult for me to describe life in the ghetto during
that week, and I had been in this ghetto for years. The Jews
embraced and  kissed each other; although it was clear to
every single one that it was not certain whether he would
remain alive, or it was almost certain that he would not
survive, nevertheless that he had reached the day of our
taking revenge, although no vengeance could fit our
suffering. At least we were fighting for our lives, and this
feeling lightened his suffering and possibly also made it
easier for him to die.

I also remember that on the second day - it was the Passover
Seder - in one of the bunkers by chance I came across Rabbi
Meisel. There had been contacts between us and him, since
the days of the Halutz underground in ordinary times as
well. The Halutz underground, in its operations, had not
always had an easy time on the part of the Jewish population
- they did not always accept us. There were those who
thought that we were bringing harm to their lives - as I
have pointed out, the collective responsibility, the fear of
the Germans. But this time, when I entered the bunker, this
Jew, Rabbi Meisel, interrupted the Seder, placed his hand on
my head and said: "May you be blessed. Now it is good for me
to die. Would that we had done this earlier."

The fighting went on in this way for days. We, already from
the first day, had been seeking liaison with the Aryan side.
We had many comrades on the Aryan side, and Yitzhak
Zuckerman was among them. Their main activity in the first
days was the acquisition of an additional supply of arms.
And, indeed, after many endeavours this was achieved. But
there was a problem of how to transfer it. In the first days
we had another link by means of the telephone, but apart
from telephone contact, the connection still existed through
the Burial Society. Our cemetery was beyond the boundaries
of the ghetto, and since the Burial Society had its hands
full, it had, even in the days of the revolt, to go out of
the ghetto and to come back into it. And in this way we
received a message from Yitzhak Zuckerman to the effect that
he had received a number of rifles which we would be able to
obtain; through the Burial Society we smuggled letters
outside - amongst them the letter from Mordechai Anilewicz,
which has since been published. But this link, too, was soon
cut off. We began to look for possibilities of sending out a
number of comrades for the purpose of obtaining help.

We had a small number of comrades on the Aryan side who were
able to organize help and arms for us, or food, or later on
to look for a place where a person could stay in the event
of his remaining alive. We thus began searching for a way of
getting a number of people out. We were told that there was
a bunker in a particular place, near the ghetto wall. From
the bunker there was a canal leading to the Aryan side.
Afterwards it became clear to us: Apart from the Jewish
fighting force, which included in its ranks all the various
ideological forces in Jewish public life, from left to
right, there existed a group of Revisionists, in Muranowska
Street. They had prepared this exit for themselves. After
several days of difficult and daring battle, they decided to
go out to the Aryan sector. We encountered one of them who
had been saved. All the others had been caught and were

Without being aware of this, we sent two of our comrades in
this way to seek contact with our comrades on the Aryan side
- one was Simha Ratajzer, now residing in Jerusalem, and
another, who is no longer alive. When they reached the Aryan
sector and a Polish policeman saw them, he thought that they
were Poles and said to them: "Why are you wandering around
here? Do you know what happened here an hour ago?" And he
told them about the fight in the ghetto, that the entire
quarter was full of SS men and Gestapo, and that they were
not allowing anyone to come out or to go in. Nevertheless,
due to their courage and, perhaps, also their good fortune,
they succeeded in passing by the German sentries and
establishing contact with Yitzhak. They represented an
important reinforcement to the tiny group, many of whose
members fell in the first days of our fight in the ghetto in
various actions on the Aryan side, to provide substantial
aid, which we subsequently broadened to help the fighters
inside the ghetto to assist in taking them out and to help
any activity of the Jewish underground, which continued
until the liberation.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, you could make greater use of
your liberty to guide the witness.

Attorney General: Yes, but I did not want to interrupt the
flow of her statement.

These battles went on until the middle of May 1943?

Witness Lubetkin: Yes.

Q. You maintained your position for about a month. After
that, the battle continued inside the bunkers, inside the
remains of buildings, inside the sewage canals, and from the
ruins for a period of months?

A. Yes.

Q. What types of warfare did the German army use against

A. We could not engage in open warfare. The Germans set the
ghetto on fire. It was impossible to fight against fire and
conflagration - they did not have to battle against us, for
the fire fought us.

Q. And then there were those scenes of people jumping from
the upper storeys of buildings into the flames?

A. These scenes of women, children and men are well-known.
We had previously told them, we had called upon the Jews to
hide themselves, those who did not have arms, to hide in the
bunker. But when the building was suddenly set alight and
when the smoke entered the bunker, it was no longer possible
to get out. And there were the scenes - that from the
fourth, fifth and sixth floors, people jumped from a
building enveloped in flames, in most cases with children in
their arms.

Q. And people were forced out of the bunkers by flame

A. There were also scenes of people who jumped from fire
into gunfire. The German machine guns which surrounded the
wall did not miss them. Every such Jew in sight was shot on
the spot.

Q. And what about the people who emerged from the bunkers?

A. They looked for hiding places in other bunkers. Many of
them entered the sewage canals for want of another way out.
Nevertheless several people found shelter in the ruins of
the burnt houses. The Germans seized many of them and took
them - no longer to the Umschlag - but to Treblinka.

Q. When you began the revolt, you knew what the end would
be. Did you have any chance to defeat the German army in

A. There was no chance of defeating them in battle. That was
clear. This was still in April 1943. The victories of the
Red Army were only beginning.  And it was plain to us that
we had no chance of winning in the accepted sense of the

Q. In the military sense?

A. Not in the military sense or in the accepted sense of
today. But, believe me, and this is no empty phrase, that
despite their power, we knew that ultimately we would defeat
them, we, the weak ones, because in this lay our strength.
We believed in justice, in humanity, and in a regime
different from the one which they glorified.

Q. When did you cross over to the Aryan sector of the city?

A. On 8th May.

Presiding Judge: Which year?

Witness Lubetkin: 1943.

Attorney General: How did you cross over?

Witness Lubetkin: When the principal bunker of the Jewish
fighting force at 18 Mila was destroyed with Anilewicz and
another hundred and twenty fighters, quite by chance I was
not there, for on the previous day I went on a mission to
another part of the ghetto and returned after this had
happened. I found no traces of the bunker or of people, only
a small group of fighters who succeeded in getting out of
there through some kind of side route, at the very last
minute. They related their experiences. That night we
decided - there were only a few of us left, without food,
without water and almost no weapons, at any rate without
bullets for the revolvers and rifles - to send a group of
comrades to the sewage canal, so that they might cross to
the Aryan sector and see what could be done. These comrades,
on the way to the sewage canal, encountered a delegation of
our friends. One of them was the same Simha Ratajzer whom I
mentioned previously, who had gone out to Muranowska. This
delegation had been sent by our comrades on the Aryan Side
in the company of a Pole who showed them the way - to bring
the surviving fighters through the sewage canal to the Aryan

Q. Did you also go in this way?

A. I also went. We walked in the sewage canal for 48 hours.
And on 12 May, on a clear day, when, in spite of the desire
of the Polish underground to come to our aid - they did not
have the power to do much, apart from several people who
assisted us in carrying out the operation - and when it
became clear to our comrades that they would not get any
assistance, they hired two trucks saying that they were
required for moving furniture from one place to another.
When they reached the street where we were standing in the
sewage canal, our comrades drew out revolvers, aimed them at
the drivers and said: "This is not furniture but people, and
if you make even the slightest noise, you will endanger your
lives." And so they remained silent. And then the sewage
canal was opened and we came out of it, about fifty
fighters, if I am not mistaken, and we were loaded onto the
trucks. We drove through the streets of noisy Warsaw,
naturally with weapons in our hands, and we reached the
Lomianki forest, seven kilometres from Warsaw, since we did
not have anywhere, in fact, where we could go to.

Q. Let us skip this episode. Afterwards you hid yourself in
Warsaw. When the Polish revolt broke out in Warsaw, did you
fight once again?

A. Yes.

A. Together with the surviving members of the Jewish
fighting force?

A. We had a special sector of the Jewish fighting force
within the Polish revolt in the ranks of the A.L.

Q. This was August 1944?

A. Yes.

Q. And when this revolt was suppressed?

A. The Poles decided to give themselves up and be taken
prisoner; our group did not do so. Having no alternative, we
remained in a bunker in one of the places in Warsaw, and
this was now in Aryan Warsaw, for Jewish Warsaw was no
longer in existence at that time. But even in Aryan Warsaw,
Poles, too, were prohibited from being there at all. So we
went into some house, where there was a cellar, a group of
Jewish fighters, carrying arms and we did not really know
what to do with ourselves - until we sent off a number of
comrades, mostly girls, to look for contacts on the Aryan
side. Actually they found them and they returned with a
delegation of the Red Polish Army who made out as if it was
known that there were sick people there, typhus patients.
Those fighters amongst us who had pronounced Jewish features
had their imaginary wounds bandaged so they would not be
recognized and were taken out as typhus patients. In this
way we crossed into the Aryan sector and in a village near
Warsaw liberation came to us at the hands of the Russians.

Q. In the middle of January 1945?

A. In the middle of January 1945.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, have you any questions to
the witness?

4Dr. Servatius:  I have no questions to the witness.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mrs. Lubetkin, you have
concluded your testimony.

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