The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Attorney General: I call Yitzhak Zuckerman, the witness
wishes to make an affirmation, Your Honour.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness Zuckerman: Yitzhak Zuckerman.

Q. Please answer Mr. Hausner.

Attorney General: Do you live at Kibbutz Lohamei Ha-Gettaot?

Witness Zuckerman: Yes, Sir.

Q. You are the husband of Zivia Lubetkin?

A. Yes, Sir.

Q. When the Second World War broke out, you were in Poland.
In 1940 you came to Warsaw. In 1941, on the last day of
Passover, you were taken to a labour camp?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Desribe to us what happened in that labour camp.

A. It was on the last day of Passover 1941, in the evening.
Together with a group of other people who were members of a
collective at Dzielna 34, I was taken to the office of the
"Arbeitsamt,"  and towards morning, at dawn, we were
transported - a community of several hundred Jews, a
weakened community, amongst them a Hebrew teacher, people
who had not had enough to eat for a long time - we were
transported through the streets of Warsaw to the railway
station in closed waggons to a place which, as it
subsequently transpired, was the camp of Kampinos. This was
a camp which they called a labour camp, on the plains of
Kampinos. There was yellow sand there, and huts that had
just been erected. When we arrived, there was apparently one
group that had arrived before us, consisting also of several
hundred Jews. We had to work on regulating rivers. At that
place there was a tributary of a river - its name certainly
does not appear on the map - and also on the draining of
swamps. Since we were taken as we were, so we used to work,
almost up to our necks in the water, ten hours, twelve
hours. Afterwards we were brought back and had to sleep in
the same clothes. It was spring, cold, very cold. The same
thing happened next morning, the food was meagre - a
beverage that they called coffee, 15 or 20 deka of bread,
and I need hardly add that, after two years of life in the
Warsaw Ghetto, these Jews who had come to work, populated
the cemetery of Kampinos already in the first weeks - they

Q. How many?

A. I think up to ten people died daily, together with those
who were shot because they were suspected of being about to
escape. I myself had become accustomed over a long period
always to watch what was the condition of my cheeks. Death
from starvation was a form of death which I encountered
there for the first time, where people were talking amongst
themselves and suddenly one of them, without any warning,
would die. And I was thinking all the time how I was going
to die. But I was  younger, possibly also stronger, and I
did not die of starvation.

Presiding Judge: How old are you today, Mr. Zuckerman?

Witness Zuckerman: I shall soon be forty-six. I merely
wanted to state that this was a labour camp...

Attorney General: Who controlled and who was in charge of
that labour camp?

Witness Zuckerman: Those whom we used to meet day by day,
namely the leadership of the camp - this was the
"Lagerschutz" (Camp Protection Unit) - this was a great
variety of people speaking a medley of tongues, Ukrainian,
German; from this I gathered, since in those days they went
around in civilian clothes, that they were Volksdeutsche. We
also heard Polish. But I do not know whether they were Poles
or Ukrainians or others. On days of visits to the camp,
Gestapo men would come.

Q. Will you tell the Court - and I presume that, in the
light of your experience of the German occupation, which we
still have to discuss, you had contacts with various German
formations - tell us what uniforms the SS men wore?

A. I would only want to say one word, first of all; I do not
believe that I had the opportunity of meeting more German
formations than any other Jew. At no time was such a meeting

Q. For whom - for you or the Germans?

A. For the Jews. But from day by day observation I recall
the Gestapo in their black uniforms, I recall the "Schupo,"
men with their slightly dark green uniforms, with their
brown collars. I recall the men of the SD - they had "SD"
written on their sleeves, I recall the SS, and I believe,
also the men of the Waffen-SS (Armed SS) with their badge on
the collar and on the cap.

Q. How did you get out of the camp? Please tell us.

A. I would merely like to say that already in the first days
(I shall to the best of my ability be brief on this subject,
but this is a personal matter) - in those early days my
comrades in the underground sent a woman messenger to me. I
had become friendly at work with a commandant who was
Polish, and evidently he favoured me. On one of those days
he came into the camp and told me that a Polish girl had
arrived. I asked him what she looked like and I understood
who this Polish girl was. She was one of our girls, Lonka
Pozhivieska, one of our best liaisons. She herself had been
one of the Pruszkow deportees who had arrived in Warsaw. I
was very happy about it - I waited all day. This was the
first day and I was not called. Towards evening I approached
one of the men of the Lagerschutz saying that I had heard
that someone had brought me regards. This was the first time
that I was in a labour camp. They told me that, if
necessary, they would call me. But they did not call me. In
the middle of the night I was taken down from the place
where I was sleeping. It was on the third level - a wooden
bunk - and I was in my wet clothes; I was summoned to the
headquarters of the Lagerschutz. There I was taken away for
interrogation. There is not much I can tell - I got a bad
beating, they cracked my head open, they beat me on my hands
and my face - they accused me. Firstly they wanted to know
whether she was a Jewess or not. Since I knew that she did
not have the badge, that she had come without it, I argued
all the time that she was a non-Jewess; we had studied
together at school and obviously she had got to know about
this and had come. Afterwards they accused me of
"Rassenschande" (Race Defilement), because she was not
Jewish. They said they were going to execute me.

Q. Because you had relations with her?

A. Yes.

Q. You were violating the race?

A. Yes, although she was Polish. They did not execute me -
they put me into a pit full of water. I did not remember
much of that night. I felt hot and cold.

Towards morning I was taken out in front of the whole camp,
and the camp commandant announced roughly in the following
words: "This man knows when he was born, but he does not
know when he will die." And he promised that for three days
and three nights my body would be suspended from the
gallows. I stood there and waited for death. But I was taken
back to the pit. It was a bitter experience. I wanted to put
an end to it all and I began knocking, and demanded that
they should execute me.

Presiding Judge: From whom did you demand this?

Witness Zuckerman: From the guard of the Lagerschutz who
guarded my prison. I do not  know what happened; when they
removed me at night, I heard that a commander of the
Schutzlager - and there were officers there from various
authorities - said "szoda chliopzaka" - "Pity this boy." I
do not know why I was privileged. Subsequently I found
another explanation for myself why they did not execute me.
And they did not execute me. When I returned to Warsaw four
weeks later, I guessed what the reason was. This girl, Lonka
Pozhivieska, was not in their hands. They did not capture
her. She escaped. They were convinced that I, evidently, had
contacts with the Polish underground - if one of them had
come to rescue me. And since they left traces, they were
unable to kill me, since there would probably be an avenging

I returned due to something which was not pleasant and not
nice - thanks to bribery, payment of money. The men of the
Schutzlager took me to a nearby telephone. I got in touch
with Warsaw and inquired whether there was sufficient money
to redeem me and my companion. And they transferred the
money and I was sent back.

Presiding Judge: Who paid the money?

Witness Zuckeman  Members of the headquarters of Hehalutz.

Attorney General: You returned to Warsaw. On the way to the
train did they warn you that if anyone lagged behind he
would be shot?

Witness Zuckerman: Yes.

Q. Who was the one who cautioned you?

A. I would like to say that, some days earlier a medical
commission had arrived, and its doctor was a Gestapo man.
All the camp people - those dwelling in the camp - were
lined up in a row. Anyone who complained of an illness had
to appear before the commission. Our group did not appear.
There was no sense in it. We had nothing to say to them. But
I saw how the doctor - this Gestapo man - examined them.
There were kicks. I am not sure that there were people there
who died from the kicks at this medical examination. But,
nevertheless, a group of 100 people was taken back to
Warsaw, those who, in fact, were of no use to them, who did
not earn their keep. At dawn the officer appeared in the
camp, remembered me and said: "On your responsibility, those
who break ranks and who do not have the strength to reach
the railway station - a walk of seven kilometres - will be
killed on the spot." I took this responsibility upon myself.
I organized the younger ones, and we dragged them along. But
many died, and not because we left them behind; several tens
of people died this frightful death from starvation.

Suddenly, when we were close to the railway, almost on the
point of rescue, these people lay down, uttered one or two
more words, and they were no longer alive. They took them,
recorded their numbers and their names on their arms, and
loaded them onto a cart, and sent them back to the cemetery
of Kampinos.

Q. You returned to Warsaw?

A. Yes.

Q. You went back to work in the Jewish underground, where
you had previously started?

A. Yes.

Q. And then you decided on an operation of sending people
across the borders of the Generalgouvernement?

A. This was after the German invasion into Russian

Q. You set up stations for concentrating your people in
Cracow, Tarnow and Nowy Sacz and you looked for a route to

A. That was earlier. If we are talking of our contacts and
of the attempts made by the Jewish underground, this started
at the end of 1940. The Jews had certain hopes, faint hopes
- until the middle of 1940 - that there were possibilities
for the Jews to get out of the confines of the German
occupation, to cross into Italy and then to Palestine. This
ceased. In those days we did not really believe that, even
if there would have been an opportunity for Jews to get out,
we would have been amongst those departing; we were younger,
and there were among us older and more respected people than
we were, and it was due to them. We thought about
establishing illegal routes to Palestine. But we did not
want to open the frontiers as long as we were not in touch
with emissaries from Palestine in neutral countries not yet
been occupied by the Germans. After we received information
that they were aware of this, and they would see to it, we
opened up ways to Slovakia. We had three main stations in
the Generalgouvernement, in Cracow, Tarnow and Nowy Sacz,
and it was there were we concentrated the young people of
the Halutz movements, both from the Generalgouvernement and
from the areas which had been annexed to the Reich, from
Zaglebie. On the Slovakian side we opened the border at
Berdichev.  And after the first emissary Shlomo Tzigelnic
succeeded and gave us the signal, we began transferring
people there.

Q. Did you, at that time, also seek ways to neutral
countries, to Geneva?

A. Yes.

Q. And to other places?

A. Yes.

Q. And also to Turkey?

A. With the Rescue Committee in Turkey and also with other
countries in Europe. I think there was an emissary in one of
the Balkan countries.

Q. This matter is of some importance because we shall submit
documents of the underground which were seized by the

A. Some people managed to reach Palestine. Some were caught
and returned with the deportees from Slovakia to Poland, and
were murdered on Polish soil.

Q. You went around inside Poland from place to place with
Aryan papers?

A. Often.

Q. What was the situation you saw in each of the places you
came to?

A. On many occasions I went out on big missions. But once I
spent a month travelling throughout the Generalgouvernement,
in large cities and small towns.

A. Did you have forged Aryan papers?

A. My papers at that time were very dubious. There was a
house in Warsaw that had been destroyed - we knew that it
was destroyed - and by a miracle we had a rubber stamp in
our possession. I had a piece of paper with my picture on
one side, and on the other a certificate that my name was
Antoni Vichinski. Afterwards, when it was impossible to use
these papers, I was obliged to use other names and other

Q. Your nickname in the underground was Antek?

A. That was my internal nickname, but not as far as the
Poles or the Germans were concerned. For them I had other

Q. What did you see from time to time?

A. I travelled through Lublin and Zamosc, the town of
Yitzhak Leib Peretz, and Hrubieszow and Kielce. It seems to
me that on one of the journeys I went through close to
twenty towns and encountered the wretched conditions of the

Q. What did you see at each place?

A. First of all, it depended on the attitude of the local
authorities. I had the impression that in addition to the
basic orders in regard to the general approach to the Jews,
the state of affairs also depended on the local authorities.

There were places for example, like Lublin, in the ancient
historic Ghetto of Lublin, with a large number of Jews in
terrible fear, there the situation was far more grave than
it was in Hrublieszow, which was a smaller town and in which
the Jews managed to maintain business connections, and
perhaps other connections, with the Poles. Therefore I say
that the state of affairs depended much more on the
situation in each place, although in every place, even where
the conditions were best of all - it was very bad.

Q. What was the general picture?

A. Degradation, depression, helplessness. From the economic
point of view, it was often easier than in Warsaw, for the
townships were smaller, and they were nearer to the village.
Sometimes the supervision was less effective than it was in

Q. Was it easier there to obtain food?

A. Yes - it was easier to obtain food. But all these
settlements were organisms, each of which had its own
separate existence. It was not a Jewish national organism
which had contacts, normally, between Warsaw and the small
towns, the small settlements. Each one lived its separate
existence, each settlement, until it came to an end, went
singly and isolated to its death.

Q. Did you try to establish contacts?

A. This was our function, my duty and that of the girls who
maintained communication.

Q. And this was the function of the underground of which you
were one of the leaders?

A. Yes. I was one of its members.

A. And it embraced all the Jewish national youth movements?

A. Almost without exception at a certain period, until death
came and annihilated complete groups. There was no selection
- it was a silent selection by fate. There were groups that
suddenly disappeared. In Warsaw there were probably some not
very large movements which suddenly vanished in the middle
of 1942. Possibly they were amongst the first deportees. But
in that period, when it still was relatively possible to do
something, practically all the movements, Halutzic and
others, and also the political parties, of all the political
varieties, almost without exception, performed their tasks

Q. All the Zionist movements?

A. All the Zionist movements and also the non-Zionist ones,
including the "Bund."

Q. We have already heard from Zivia about Heniek and about
the first tidings that reached the underground about the
extermination. I shall pass over this part of your account.
I understand that it was then that you began to organize the
Jewish fighting force - is that correct?

A. Yes.

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