The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/06/08

Attorney General: How did this transport differ from any

Witness Ben-Zvi:   How did this transport differ from any
other?  In that these people knew, more or less, where they
were bound for.  These were people who throughout the
journey, tried to jump from the windows of the train, and
who were being shot at all the way.  When the train
approached, we noticed that people were hanging out of the
barred windows.  They were also given special treatment.
This we heard from an Obersturmbannfuehrer who was there at
night, at that time;  he shouted out that they were all
going to the camp.  There was not going to be any selection
that day.  Usually they were sorted out, and 150-200 people
out of the transport were sent to the camp.

Presiding Judge: What was the German word for "selection"?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   Selektion.  I don't remember any special

Q. Do you remember Sortierung (sorting out)?

A. Yes.

Q. Was that selection?

A. "Sortierung" was when they reached the clinic.  The
selection was usually carried out amongst inmates of the
camp, among those who were inside the camp.

I want to describe this transport and to compare it with
other transports: Whereas on the others people arrived with
their personal belongings, these people arrived virtually
without any possessions; crowded into the freight cars,
about one hundred and fifty people in each car.  When the SS
men opened the freight cars, the people actually fell out,
and there were others who were piled up within, inside the
cars.  And only those who had been trampled on and
suffocated inside the freight car itself still remained
inside, dead or half dead, emitting tremendous heat.  They
were alive - how should I say - fumes arose from the dead
bodies.  These people did not notice that there was a slope
immediately beyond the freight cars, and they rolled down
this incline.  This naturally caused wild laughter on the
part of the SS men, who waited for this scene and who were
amused by it.

Attorney General: Were there many of them?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   There were so many in this transport,
more than we had ever seen on a normal transport.
Evidently, they were aware of the kind of transport that was
likely to arrive - but which came as a surprise to us.  The
guard was also larger than usual.

Q. There were more SS men this time than was usual?

A. More than on the normal transports, of people who arrived
from Holland or Czechoslovakia, where they relied on the
naivete of the people coming from their homes.

Q. Please continue.

A. We stood aside until the order came: "Get inside, you
filthy Jews!" And then amidst shouts and blows, we went into
the freight cars to remove the dead bodies.  That was not an
easy task, since one held on to the next, and they were
interlaced.  And sometimes, when we pulled an arm or a leg,
the skin would come off, owing to the great heat.  The work
was arduous, and it took many hours until we were able to
clear the freight cars.  Teams of four people worked in each

Some shocking things also happened: Naturally, as in all
places, the SS men went around with drawn revolvers all the
time and shot enfeebled people who were not even able to go
up to the trucks and climb up the steps - wide steps had
been placed next to the trucks which would take the people,
later on, to the gas chambers.  I remember one case where a
girl, approximately ten years old, emerged from a pile of
corpses - we did not know how - and started walking and
floundering, until one of the SS men "took pity" on her and
shot her in the back of the neck, and she fell down.

There was also a case of a boy sitting down in the middle,
where all of them were walking around, with the dead lying
on one side and the dying on the other.  At the side, people
were being loaded on to the trucks, and right in the middle,
this little boy was sitting - half naked (they had all
evidently taken their clothes off, owing to the great heat
inside the freight cars), and one of the SS men whom I knew
- he was Hauptscharfuehrer of the Kommando where I worked...

Q. What was his name?

A. I did not know him by name, but by his nickname.  We
called him "Zeide" (in Yiddish: grandfather), a sort of
grandfather.  He was an older man; he approached this boy
from the rear and was about to shoot him in the neck, and
the boy turned around and still managed to call out "Shema
Yisrael," before he was shot.  Afterwards, he was thrown on
to the trucks amongst the living people who were there.

Q. Did one of your group recognize his brother?

A. There was a man there whose name I also don't remember,
but we called him by the nickname "Duck". This young man
recognized his brother amongst the people of the transport,
and on his knees he implored the Hauptsturmbannfuehrer to
allow him to go to the camp.

Q. Hauptscharfuehrer.  You said "Hauptsturmbann-fuehrer".

A. I said Hauptsturmbannfuehrer - I cannot say definitely,
since I did not understand the ranks, according to what I
heard, according to the way SS men addressed him.

Q. Please proceed.

A. He begged for mercy for his brother, but was told with
indifference in a pleasant tone: "Sie koennen ja mitfahren"
(If you like, you can join him).  That was the reply.  Of
course, after this, when all the living people had been
taken away, we still worked for hours loading those people
whom the SS men had killed with their own hands, with their
revolvers, that night, in order to "spare their suffering" -
that was how they explained it.

Q. People who were suspected of swallowing diamonds or other
valuables - what happened to them?

A. This story came to me from a friend who worked in the
Sonderkommando and who was later killed. He told me that
before the people went into the gas chambers, an SS man
would look at them before they entered and try and see
whether anyone had swallowed some object.  And he would go
up to them and put a chalk mark either on their foreheads or
their hands.  The people did not understand the significance
of this, and it was not possible to erase the mark.  Later
on, when the Sonderkommando removed the bodies from the
other side out of the crematorium - and I saw the gate with
my own eyes - those people bearing the chalk marks were
moved to a special place, a sort of abattoir built according
to all the principles of a butcher's shop, with all the
butcher's implements, which were used to carve up these
people on the spot, in order to search their stomachs for
the valuables they had hidden there - in other words, which
they had swallowed - and they extracted very many valuable
articles, mainly diamonds, which were easy to swallow.

Q. Do you remember the summer of 1944, when the large
transport from Hungary arrived?

A. Yes, I remember it.  By that time, I had already left
"Canada", using various subterfuges which were also
difficult in those days.  In order to raise their
temperatures, people took medicine which they obtained from
the male nurses in the Revier, and they were transferred to
this Revier in Camp F, and, with the aid of friends, they
tried to be admitted there.  I did not use this method - I
very simply vanished from that Kommando, from "Canada", for
some days and went out with another Kommando.  And at this
stage the whole Kommando was transferred to Brzezinski, to
that camp, where they were shut up in a camp within a camp
in Birkenau.

Presiding Judge: You said, "in order to raise their

Witness Ben-Zvi:   Yes.

Q. For what reason was it necessary to raise the

A. So that they could move over, more or less legally, to
Camp F - that was the sick camp.  At that time, I was
working in the Bauleitungsmagazin, which I have already
described, and I saw the transports which arrived then.
Large masses of people arrived, so many that we lost all
hope that some day we would somehow get out of this thing.
Day after day, thousands were put to death, tens of
thousands of human beings, and the bodies could no longer be
concealed from the prisoners.  They were piled up behind the
crematorium and kept out of sight beside the building, only
from those people who had arrived and were waiting in line
for death in front of the crematorium.

And when we went out to work, we saw them; they were sitting
and waiting, and people were chosen from amongst them who
could play musical instruments, in order to entertain the
others.  They did not see the rear of the crematorium - they
sat at the front entrance of the building.

Attorney General: What happened at the rear?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   At the rear, piles and piles of bodies
were heaped up in equal numbers, so as to facilitate the
counting and to estimate the number of the bodies.  In the
adjacent forest - I don't know whether one could call it a
forest, for the crematorium No. 4 was there - the old system
at Birkenau was reintroduced, and they began digging pits
and burning the bodies in these pits, and the fire from this
could be seen throughout the  entire camp - I thought it
could be seen, possibly, throughout the country.

Q. And the entire camp smelled and breathed the odour of the
burned flesh?

A. That was so also before that; the smell coming from the
four crematoria working at full speed was also sufficient to
poison the air.

Q. And the whole of Auschwitz breathed this air...?

A. The whole of Auschwitz was full of black smoke that
issued forth, smoke and fire, these large chimneys belched
forth fire and smoke.

Q. You breathed this during all these months?

A. Yes, during all these months.

Q. You lost all hope, and you described these days as "The
Last Days of Pompeii"?

A. Yes.  I remember that, when I was lying down in the
evening, on this famous Koje (bunk), we said with full
conviction, that if the Hungarian Jews had also arrived -
those who knew, or we assumed that they knew, about the
holocaust, who knew what was going on - if they had come
too, then there was no longer any hope for us.

Q. Afterwards, you were transferred to Stutthof?  When was

A. I cannot remember the exact month - it was when the first
transports began leaving Auschwitz.  I believe it was in
September or October, perhaps even later, in 1944.

Q. Where was Stutthof?

A. Stutthof was a camp, as we got to know afterwards, at a
distance of about fifty kilometres from Danzig, in Poland.

Q. What was there in Stutthof?

A. I can tell you that, when we were travelling on the way
to Stutthof, it seemed strange to us that they were
conveying us in open carriages, in regular carriages, and
under comparatively comfortable conditions.

Presiding Judge: In passenger coaches?

Witness Ben-Zvi:   Yes.  We travelled for a long time
through forests, and there were some of us who tried to
organize an escape and an attack on our guards, for we were
not closely guarded.  But all of us hoped again that we were
on our way to a better place - we had been told that we were
travelling to Germany to work - we also knew that the end
was approaching, and again there was hope in our hearts, as
happened each time we moved to some place, that indeed it
was going to be better.  Of course, these hopes were
dispelled as soon as we reached this camp at Stutthof.  We
had scarcely alighted from the coaches when we were welcomed
by blows from the same Haeftlinge (prisoners) whom we had
known from Auschwitz; but there, they looked different, and
their clothing was different.  Most of them were Germans,
not men of the SS - although some SS as well - but
Berufsverbrecher (professional criminals), who were largely
a type of the real Kapo with a green Winkel (triangle)
pointing downwards.   There was also a Verbrecher (criminal)
who had not yet served his full term of punishment, who
still had some period of imprisonment to run - he had the
point of the Winkel facing upwards.  But perhaps these are
details which are no longer important.

When we got there, although we were accustomed to all the
hardships of the camp, and the evasions and seeking of ways
how to exist, we lost our bearings; there we were newcomers.
And out of roughly 1000-1500 men, by the time of the
registration, which took place three days later, five
hundred men were left.  These five hundred survivors were
taken out to various jobs, difficult tasks, which it is
impossible at all to define.  We had to unload ships, barges
with gravel and cement, which arrived at a particular branch
of a brick factory, not far from Stutthof.  And then, in a
very bitter frost, in the threadbare clothes we had on our
backs, we had to offload these barges, accompanied by
threats and beatings.  The SS men made fires and warmed
themselves not far away.  And there were some who tried to
come near them - of course, they were shot immediately by
the guards.

There was another trick the Germans used during that period.
They would come over to a man who they could see was
exhausted and no longer able to lift his shovel; they would
say to him: "Why not sit down here sir? Be seated and rest a
little."  Naturally, this man would freeze on the spot, in
the midst of a pool of mud, and he would no longer be
capable of getting up.  Anyone who did not work - froze.

In that camp, sanitary conditions were also appalling.
People died from dysentery, typhus and other diseases, they
died daily in tremendous numbers.  Opposite us was a women's
camp which was not separated from the men's camp by an
electrified fence - there they had more primitive external
security arrangements than in Auschwitz.  We were able to
get close and to see what was going on inside this women's
camp.  And there, in the midst of the snow and the frost,
women sat there covered only with a blanket.  And,
furthermore, the block did not have a roof, it had no roof
at all, there was merely a pile of snow.  And hence, as they
sat there, they froze and died where they were.

Q. And the food?

A. The condition of the food was even worse than that in
Birkenau in 1942.  It was given in such small quantities.
The price of food there was quite fabulous; even the best of
friends divided up between them very meticulously that thin
slice of bread which we were given for the whole day.  And,
of course, this caused people to become Muselmann and be
transferred to the crematorium, which was not far away,
fenced in by clusters of reeds which we could see as we went
out to work.

Q. In January 1945, you walked with the first marchers from
Stutthof towards the West?

A. At that time, there was already a rumour that they were
going to evacuate the camp, owing to the approach of the
Russians.  And we were all lined up in groups in the
courtyard and were told that we had to move to another camp,
and owing to lack of transport, we would have to go on foot.
We were not given any provisions for the road, we did not
get other clothes.  And it was a very harsh winter.

We began marching towards Lauenburg.  That is what we were
told - we had to reach Lauenburg, which was a hundred and
fifty kilometres from Stutthof.  In this march, which
certainly must have been similar to all the marches of this
kind, the number of people diminished from day to day.  At
that time there were severe snow storms, and we did not walk
along the open road. That route was reserved for the retreat
of the German armies.

We walked on paths in the field, through the fields,
sometimes hip-deep in snow.  The SS men, who were also not
accustomed to these conditions, were very angry, and
sometimes they shot people for no reason whatsoever, merely
for their entertainment.  People who lagged behind were shot
and covered up immediately by the snow, which was falling
continuously throughout those five days during which I
walked with this transport.

When evening was falling, the Germans searched for a place
where they could let us sleep.  Usually such places were in
Polish villages: They emptied out any kind of large barn or
simply any open place, provided it was fenced off, as long
as it was suitable from the security point of view.  I
remember that we once slept somewhere, and when we got up in
the morning, we were completely covered in snow - despite
that, we slept.

One evening, they put us up in a small village, in a church,
a wooden church.  We were all tightly pressed into this
church.  It was also a convenient place to guard.  They
posted Poles from that transport to stand watch over us.  In
those transports, there were both Polish and German
prisoners, and they posted them as guards.  SS men stood
guard surrounding the church.  Suitable conditions for
escaping existed there, since the Polish population in that
neighbourhood observed the suffering of these people and
helped them to the best of their ability.

Presiding Judge: I don't think there was a large Polish
population there at that time.

Witness Ben-Zvi:   It was a small village, and the villagers
came up to the fence and with the consent of the SS who were
on guard there, threw slices of bread to the people.
Naturally, people pounced upon the bread and ate it - that
was the only food which we received throughout that time.
This happened towards evening.  The light was failing, and
snow began falling.  The SS men were occupied with their
guard duty.  I jumped over the low fence which surrounded
this church - together with a friend of mine who, as I
happened to learn by chance today, is at present in Canada.

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