The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. And above all - typhus?

A. Typhus. We organized an all-out campaign. The entire
medical team concentrated on the fight against typhus, so
that typhus should not spread. We set up a house for
disinfection, for cleansing from the infection. We went
from courtyard to courtyard, from house to house, from
apartment to apartment and spoke to the Jews; we used to
turn to them and say: "Jews, go of your own free will to
this disinfection post," because the disease of lice,
scabies, had spread in the ghetto, to such an extent that
people were covered by lice as if with a shield. It was
terrible. And people became apathetic and anaemic. From
the time that this compulsory disinfection was introduced,
the disease of scabies began to diminish until it
disappeared from the ghetto. But we subsequently
experienced it in the concentration camps.

Q. Did the people in the ghetto know the identity of the
main tyrants, apart from those you have mentioned?

A. Apart from those I have mentioned, we apparently heard
the names of those who had come to us, from German
policemen or work-captains. We heard the name Lohse, we
heard the terrible name of Stahlecker, whom the Germans
mentioned in awe; evidently he was the ruler of the whole
district, of our entire region.

Presiding Judge: From which units were these Germans?

Witness Dworzecki: At the time we were in the ghetto - I
was asked not to relate to what I know now - we knew the
name Einsatzkommando, Einsatzgruppen but we did not know
whether it was A or B or C or D.

Attorney General: No, but generally these were policemen,

Witness Dworzecki: We saw around the ghetto mainly SS men,

but evidently there were also other units. And also around

the ghetto were Lithuanian collaborators, many

Lithuanians, Estonians, Ukrainians.

Q. Do you remember what was called "Operation Kovno?"

A. Yes.

Q. What was that?

A. These were already the days when we felt that the end
was approaching, the underground was active. It was
already known that at its head stood Wittenberg, Yosi
Glazman, later on one heard the name of Abba Kovner, and
it was already known who belonged to the underground. And
then Jews were brought in from the townships, from the
townships in the vicinity of Vilna. There the ghettos were
wiped out. We already knew this from underground
emissaries who reached us from Warsaw, Lonia Kozibrosku
and Anita Schneidernman,  that the transport of Jews from
the surrounding townships to the ghetto meant the
extermination of the Jews and that this destruction was
likely to come shortly to the ghetto. One day they came
and told us that they wanted to transport 5,000 Jews from
the Vilna Ghetto to the Kovno Ghetto. We were not sure but
we heard that in the Kovno Ghetto life was quieter, the
"actions" were over, there were no more "actions," the
oppression was not of the same extent. Perhaps we did not
know for certain, but this is what we believed. And so the
Jews from the townships agreed to proceed to Kovno,
together with young people from Vilna. Perhaps there they
would improve their chances for remaining alive. And so
they left for the railway station together with the
police; they took with them doctors and nurses whom they
would bring to Kovno where they would give medical
supervision. Afterwards we were suddenly informed that
they told the doctors to go back, they told the nurses to
go back, they told the policemen to go back. Thereafter we
got to know that in the railway-waggons that were going to
convey them to Kovno barbed wire netting was being placed
over the windows, so that nobody would be able to excape.
This aroused a feeling of apprehension among us. The whole
night the ghetto remained awake in order to know what was
happening. By morning news began to reach us that instead
of conveying these people to Kovno, they took them to
Ponar, and there they shot about 5,000 people, except
those who resisted - they resisted with their hands
against the Germans and they fled. Subsequently, near
Ponar, hundreds of murdered Jews were found who would not
allow themselves to be transported to death.

Q. Tell me, Dr. Dworzecki, afterwards, at the time of the
liquidation, you were transferred to camps in Estonia?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell us briefly what you found in the concentration
camps in Estonia, when you were taken there?

A. I was taken there on 1 or 2 September 1943; it was the
day after the commander of the partisans Yechiel
Scheinbaum was killed. They then entered the hospital of
the ghetto and ordered all the doctors to go outside in
their gowns. We
thought that this was an inspection. Then they gave the
order: "Remove your gowns, turn right, go out of the
hospital gate into the street and from the street to the
gate of the ghetto." There they loaded us on waggons and
conveyed us, together with thousands of other Jews, to the
concentration camps in Estonia. In Estonia I went through
the concentration camps of Narva, Kureme 1, Kureme 2,
Goldfilz, Kureme, Lagedi, until the day arrived when we
felt that they were about to remove us from the
concentration camps of Estonia. There, too, an underground
was created; amongst the members of the underground was
Hirschke Glik, the same young man whom I mentioned as the
composer of the partisans' anthem. One night we agreed
between us that every hour we would leave in groups for
the forest. On the sound of the watchword, the first group
went out - amongst them was Hirschke Glik. An hour later
there came the watchword and the second group left. The
third time the watchword did not come, nor the fourth, nor
the fifth. We had to remain behind. The following morning
they removed us from the camp to a transit camp, and we
were there for several weeks. All the time we were out in
the open. From there they moved us via the Baltic Sea.

Presiding Judge: What season of the year was this?

Witness Dworzecki:  It was approximately in the autumn.
This was at the Lagedi camp. Several thousand Jews were
out in the open  all the time, day and night. Subsequently
they moved us in a large ship through the Baltic, and
there, when we were already aboard, we heard that one ship
had been blown up, and all its passengers killed, they had
met their deaths at sea. We were ready for such a death. I
still recall that Rabbi Smogon stood there, and read
verses of the confessional prayer and "Vayechal." They
brought us from there to a large concentration camp,
Stutthof, where there were approximately 60-70 thousand
persons of various nationalities.

And from Stutthof they brought us later on to a
concentration camp in Dautmergen. This was the camp for
torture and for pseudo-scientific medical experiments,

Presiding Judge: Where was this, in what vicinity?

Witness Dworzecki: Our camp was 83 kilometres from
Stuttgart. From there they took us to Dachau. We saw that
this was already 1945. We felt that the War was ending and
we decided that we would escape on the way. We selected a
watchword for ourselves - "Lehayim" (To Life); whenever
Lehayim was called out, that would be the signal that we
had to make off. We were walking along the road and heard
them giving us an order to turn off the paved road and to
walk towards the forest. Suddenly I saw a large lake -
later on it turned out that this was Baden-Baden. We
understood that here they were leading us to be drowned at
Baden-Baden. We walked in rank and then we shouted
Lehayim, and the Jews scattered in every direction. We
were thousands of people. By evening we found ourselves in
a forest - 83 people. Evidently others had also scattered
in the forests. Many lay there, victims of the German
bullets that had struck them. We were in the forest
without weapons, in a German forest.

Presiding Judge: Where was this?

Witness Dworzecki: Near Baden-Baden.

Q. What date was this?

A. At the end of March or the middle of March 1945. During
those days we knew neither hours nor dates: By night we
attacked the forest guards there. They were two or three
men and we were 83. They were already afraid even of
prisoners who were Muselmanns and they used to give us,
under compulsion, a piece of bread. The next day we would
go elsewhere so that they wouldn't catch us. Until one
night we heard shots and we realised that we were between
two fronts and we didn't know who was fighting whom. In
the morning the shooting stopped and we understood that
this was the end of that battle. One young man climbed up
a tree and saw three tanks advancing, with tricolours. We
understood that we were in the hands of the French army.
We went down and began shouting towards the tanks:
"Fraternite, Egalite, Humanite!" They took us inside the
tanks. The tanks entered the German town of Saulgau and in
them entered 83 Jews, with the French army. I remember a
tragi-comical thing. We immediately approached the French
army command in order to volunteer for the army - as
volunteers for the French army. I volunteered for the
French army. They weighed me and I weighed 39 kilograms.
So they sent me to a hospital instead of the army. But
there I did not obey orders and I escaped from the
hospital and made my way to Paris for my first meeting
with Jewish survivors from the Nazis.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, do you have any questions?

Dr. Servatius:  I have no questions.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Dr. Dworzecki, you have
completed your evidence.

Attorney General: The next witness is Abba Kovner - who

wishes to make an affirmation.

[The witness makes an affirmation.]

Presiding Judge: Your name?

Witness: Abba Kovner.

Attorney General: You are a member of Kibbutz Ein-

Hahoresh? Witness Kovner: That is correct.

Q. You are a poet and a writer?

A. That is correct.

Q. On 13 July 1944 you entered Vilna with a group of

A. Correct.

Q. Before that, in the same place, you were the commander
of the underground of Vilna?

A. Correct.

Q. An underground that united all the movements from Betar
to the Communists?

A. Correct.

Q. Perhaps you would permit me, at the outset, to ask the
ultimate question: What did you see when, on 13 July 1944
you entered that place, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania,"

A.   We had actually stood at the entrance to that place
some days previously. We were together with shock troops
of the Red Army who were fighting for Vilna. And it was
there that the enemy had dug in and made a stand for three

Our role was to close off the withdrawal routes, and also
to help the forward units of the army find ways of
crossing the river. And when we burst into the city I saw
myself and my companions leading columns of enemy officers
and men. They didn't resist.

Q. Which unit did they belong to?

A. To the Wehrmacht and to the SS. A group of my friends
and I sought first and foremost to get to the place from
where we had set out, to our city. What can I say? I saw a
desert of walls, empty streets, and when I came to a
certain street, a woman suddenly ran towards us, and the
woman held a little girl in her arms. At first she stopped
and uttered a cry, and sought to conceal herself. A few of
us were dressed in German uniforms which we used to wear
with the partisans; possibly she thought that the German
army had returned again. But when she understood, she ran
forward towards us and began, in a hysterical voice, to
tell her story. What I understood from her was that she
and the child who looked like a girl who was three years
old, but who was certainly four or older, had been hiding
in an alcove for more than 11 months. How they were able
to exist in that alcove and to live for 11 months - I
couldn't understand. She poured out her story. She burst
out crying, bitterly. At that moment, the child in her
arms, who had seemed to be dumb, opened her mouth and
said: "Mama, men darf shein weinen?" (Mother are we
allowed to cry already?). We were told that she had taught
her, the baby girl, for 11 months that she wasn't allowed
to cry when she was hungry, because someone outside might
hear them and discover them. Now, when she heard her
mother crying she asked the question. I can tell of other
things I saw. But this question by the little girl says
more than enough. However, I don't know whether the
innocent question of a baby is evidence at a trial.

Q. Let us go back to the days when you were in Vilna. Do
you remember the document of which this is a photocopy?

A. Yes.

Q. What is it? Read it.

A. Since a magnifying glass would be needed in order to
read it, I have a Hebrew translation with me.

Q. First of all, the Court will admit this as an exhibit.

Presiding Judge: This will be exhibit T/279. Please read
the document. Did you translate it into Hebrew?

Witness Kovner: Yes. It can also be read. I shall read an
extract from it. The document was published in three

Presiding Judge: In Polish, Lithuanian and German?

Witness Kovner: Yes. German, Lithuanian and Polish. They
wrote from left to right. This is what is stated in this

"Yesterday, on the first day of the week, in the
afternoon, shots were fired from an ambush in the city of
Vilna at German soldiers. Two of the cowardly brigands
were identified. They were Jews. The aggressors paid with
their lives. They were shot right away on the spot. In
order to avoid such cases of hostility in future, an order
has been issued to adopt new means of punishment, more
severe ones. The responsibility must be borne by all the
Jews, of both sexes, and the implementation will be
immediate. In the first place, in consequence of this, all
Jews, men and women, are forbidden from today to leave
their houses from three in the afternoon until 10 in the

The above regulations have been promulgated for the safety
of the population and for their security. It is the duty
of every fair-minded citizen to contribute to the rule of
public order and quiet in this place.

Vilna, 1 September 1941. (----)Commissar for the urban
district of Vilna, Hingst"

Presiding Judge: What was the date of this document?

Witness Kovner: It is dated 1 September 1941. It is
possible to read this with the naked eye. This notice was
published in this form on the city walls on 1 September.

Attorney General: The notice states that something
occurred on the previous day - that is to say on 31 August

Witness Kovner: Yes. I witnessed what happened.

Q. What happened?

A. On 31 August in the afternoon hours I left my home to
reach the place which was then the Jewish Community
Council on Straszuna Street, and to ascertain the fate of
several of my comrades who had been seized weeks before in
a round-up for labour and hadn't returned, and we still
presumed that some or most of them would return. I entered
the office, and then half-an-hour later, one of the
officials came in and, in a state of alarm, told us that
the government radio had announced that German soldiers
had been shot at in Szklanna Street, a street close by,
and three hundred Jews had been executed in reprisal. This
was in the afternoon. In order to reach that place [the
Community Council], I had passed through Szklanna Street,
had heard neither shots nor the fact that three hundred
Jews had been put to death. Nobody had heard it. Confusion
and panic prevailed in the room which was full of people -
everyone felt that something was about to happen, and only
a few hours elapsed before it became clear that the radio
had anticipated, by 5-6 hours, what was about to occur.
This was on 31 August, only a few hours elapsed. And then
rumours reached us that the Germans and the Lithuanians
were concentrating around those streets, those lanes. The
entire quarter was surrounded by Germans and by "Ypatingi"
(this was Lithuanian and its translation is "the chosen
ones"). This was a para-military armed unit of Lithuanians
in the service of the Einsatzgruppen, under the command of
a German officer of Schweinberger's SS men. They
surrounded the entire quarter and announced that they
were conducting a search for those guilty of firing from
an ambush on a German soldier, and anyone leaving his home
would be punished by death; that no one should be found
outside the houses. The streets were surrounded, and
nothing further happened for several hours. As dusk fell
something shocking began: people were taken out of their
homes, some of them with part of their personal effects
and others without possessions, men, women, children, from
all the courtyards, from all the apartments, with cruel
blows. I don't know whether it was deliberately, or out of
instinct or helplessness, that I found myself close to a
niche of a stairwell. At first I attempted to go
somewhere, but I remained standing there and through a
hatch on the stairway I saw what was going on in this
narrow street. The "action" was still at its height until
one o'clock after midnight. During these hours, in the
middle of the night, I saw that, from the opposite
courtyard - 7 or 9 Straszuna Street - a woman who was
holding something in her arms, was being dragged by her
hair by two soldiers. One of them shone a torch in her
face, and the other pulled her and threw her to the
pavement. At that moment a baby slipped out of her arms.
One of the two - I think it was the one with the torch
took hold of the baby and raised it by its legs over his
head. The woman grabbed his boot and begged for mercy. He
lifted the baby again, and then he knocked its head on the
wall, once, twice, and kept on doing it. One day, years
later, when I was a commander of partisans in the forest,
I remember that one day - here I appear to be deviating
but I am coming back to that same scene - I was summoned
to the commissar of the partisan division, to the brigade
commander, to report to him. I reported and I noticed that
his remarks amounted to some kind of serious allegation
against me. He told me that from that point on they were
forbidding us, me and those under my command in the Jewish
battalion, to take prisoners and to subject them to
interrogation and trial, as was customary with each
partisan battalion, which was autonomous to a certain

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