The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. What was the "three days' action?"

A. That was the "action" of the "Yellow Certificates" -
the "Lebensschein."

Presiding Judge: Was this written on the certificates?

Witness Dworzecki: That is what they were called. The
Germans, at the time they issued the certificates...

Attorney General: Are you able to identify this

Witness Dworzecki: Yes. This was the certificate which
promised life for a few months or years to a person in the
ghetto, this was the yellow certificate - the "Personal

Presiding Judge: This certificate is marked T/276.

Attorney General: And is this what the pink certificate
looked like?

Witness Dworzecki: This was the pink certificate they gave
to a family man - a "Familienmitglied-Ausweis" - the
certificate for the members of a family, for a man with a

Presiding Judge: This pink certificate is marked T/277.

Attorney General: And is this the blue certificate of a

Witness Dworzecki: Yes.

Presiding Judge: The blue certificate is marked T/278.

Witness Dworzecki: I recall a particular incident with
this blue certificate on the day of selection. I had
permission to register two children. I wasn't able to
register my mother and father, for the Germans would know
that they weren't children, but a father and a mother. I
took my sister and recorded her as my daughter. This was
somewhat difficult, for the difference between my wife and
my sister was eight years. And I was obliged to make my
wife older and my daughter-sister younger. And here was I
walking in the street with one slip of paper still in my
possession, and in the midst of the general confusion, I
suddenly saw a boy walking along and shouting "Who wants
to be my father?" and I said: "I shall be your father." I
gave him the slip, in this way we went as a family on the
day of selection - I, my wife, my sister who had been
transformed into my daughter, and the boy, whose identity
was unknown to me, who had become my son. And thus we went
during the selection father, mother, son and daughter.

Q. And anyone who did not have such certificates went to

A. Yes, to Ponar.

Q. Afterwards the ghetto became more or less stabilized?
When was this?

A. After the last "action" on 3 November 1941, after the
"action" of the pink certificates, there began the days
which we called "the days of stabilization." The big
"actions" ceased, there were only kidnappings of Jews from
time to time because of some "crime," and organized life
began, an ideology of labour prevailed.

Q. What does "ideology of labour" mean?

A. Members of the Judenrat and the police made  speeches
from the balcony of the Judenrat and called out to the
Jews: "Jews! Those of you who want to remain alive - must
work," "work provides a chance for life." They published
announcements on the ghetto walls: "Arbeit vershport blut"
(work saves blood). And the Jews began to seek all sort of
ways to work. There were those who succeeded in going
outside the walls of the ghetto and in working with all
kinds of German units and in all kinds of hard labour.
Those who weren't successful tried to establish workshops
within the ghetto - tailors, shoemakers, furriers - the
Germans needed furs for the army - they established
vocational schools in the ghetto. Engineer Schreiber who
had  been the principal of the "Ort" vocational school in
Vilna, set up a vocational school in the ghetto where the
youth could learn a trade and acquire the work certificate
of a skilled person. In the schools too, they began
teaching the children all kinds of professions, so that on
the appointed day it would be possible to prove that the
young boy of 12, of 10, was not only learning but that he
was a professional, and in this way the ghetto became
transformed into a ghetto of working people.

Q. Who was the German in charge of the ghetto, the King of
the ghetto?

A. We regarded - it was impossible to know the truth - we
regarded Franz Muerer as the man in charge of the ghetto.
But not always. There were times when they used to change.
Previously we had heard the name Hingst. And we saw Muerer
with our own eyes, at the time of the "actions," standing
at the gate of the ghetto and we also saw Schweinberger
and Martin Weiss, and Hering and lastly Kittel.

Q. What did the Jewish institutions do in order to combat
starvation and illness?

A. During the first days of the ghetto a meeting took
place of those who, prior to the establishment of the
ghetto, were public leaders, and it was decided that we
use the slogan "Let there not be a hungry person in the
ghetto" (es zol nisht zein kein hungriker in ghetto). We
also put up this slogan frequently at the gate of the
ghetto, and we set up a committee for public aid. The
committee in fact comprised representatives of all the
sectors and trends that existed in the public life of
Vilna, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," before the ghetto.

This public committee imposed a tax on the Jews, and the
Jews took it upon themselves, they willingly accepted it.
And everyone working outside the ghetto, while smuggling
in some potatoes, he would also smuggle a slice of bread
for the public committee. People who worked inside the
and who were earning a wage of 300 rubles a month would
contribute five per cent. If a Jew had been saved from
death or the risk of death by chance, he would contribute
a day's work or a day's food to the public committee,
which would then allocate it to those who were the
poorest, the forlorn, the elderly, to those who were
unable to fend for themselves.

Q. There were also schools and a theatre as well?

A. Both a school and a Yiddish theatre, and also a Hebrew
theatre, which produced the "Eternal Jew" by David Pinski,
who died a few years ago here, in Haifa.

Q. You staged the "Eternal Jew" in the Vilna Ghetto?

A. We presented the "Eternal Jew" out of a desire to call
upon the youth, by means of the theatre, to revolt. The
Eternal Jew goes out into the Diaspora, to live in the
outside world, until he can return to his fatherland. We
introduced into it words that were not in the text of
"Habimah." And this Jew was changed into one calling for a
revolt, a revolt against the Romans. We knew that the
"Romans" of the ghetto were the Germans.

Q. You tried to give the children a little happiness. You
arranged celebrations for them?

A. We arranged celebrations for them.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, perhaps from now on we may
proceed with a summary?

Attorney General: For this reason I am putting a summary
to the witness.

A. A children's celebration - I recall the celebration of
Tu B'Shvat The fifteenth of the month of Shevat (New Year
of the Trees) which was arranged by the teacher Dimantman.
On the wall they hung a banner: To the children of Israel:
"You are in the Land of Israel and we are in the ghetto."
This was a sorrowful declaration of the children - their
greeting to their brothers - the children in the Land of
Israel. These celebrations in the ghetto, of the children
- it is hard to forget them. We introduced something that
we knew was likely to end with us. We hung up a saying on
the board, on the wall, during one of the children's
celebrations  a quotation from J. L. Peretz: "Do not think
that the world is an anarchy, without law, without

Q. I shall guide you with my questions. Was poetry also
published in the ghetto, was there a great period of
creativity in poetry and literature?

A. Yes.

Q. Also poetry of encouragement and hope, such as, for
example, the poem by Hirschke Glik: "Don't ever say that
this is your last journey" (Zog nish keinmal az du geist
dem letzten weg).

A. Amongst the poets there were also children. Allow me to
recite one verse of four lines by an eight-year old boy. I
remember the verse he read at a children's party. "Across
the ghetto fence, a flower calls to me: Moishele,
Moishele, why  are you sitting there? Come to me, come!"

Fun iber der Ghetta Tsoin

Ruft tzu mir a bloom:

Moishele, Moishele, wos zitst du do?

Kum tzu mir, kum.

Q. Tell me, how was the struggle for health in the ghetto
carried out? Were there terrible illnesses - first of all
was there a general weakness?

A. There was general weakness. This general weakness
attacked people for reasons of lack of nutrition and
hunger. The rations we received - their caloric value was
170-200 calories per day.

Q. How many calories does a person require?

A. A person who is not working - 2,300 calories. A working
man - according to the extent of his work, 3,000, 4,000
and 5,000 calories.

Q. Since we are dealing with this subject, I ask you as a
doctor, you also conducted research into this question:
Supposing that no Jew in the Vilna Ghetto would have been
harmed or taken away for extermination, but that they had
been left under these conditions of nutrition - when would
the last of the Jews have died just from starvation?

A. I shall divide this question into two. If we had
existed only on these food rations, a ration which was one-
fifteenth of the food ration of an ordinary individual,
and one twentieth of the food ration of a worker, the
people of the ghetto would have died of starvation in one
or two months. And the struggle concentrated on this - not
to allow the people of the ghetto to die. Thus we
organized the smuggling of food. In normal times people
look upon a smuggler with disfavour. But the only
salvation for the people of the ghetto lay in smuggling.
But even with the smuggling it was difficult to remain
alive, for the prices rose and a person received
approximately 800 to 1000 calories per day. And a lack of
nutrition commenced, something which in German was
euphemistically called "general bodily weakness."

Q. You also conducted research in other places where Jews

A. Yes.

Q. You determined that even if they had not taken the Jews
for extermination at all...

A. In the Warsaw Ghetto, according to natural mortality
that is to say, without killing - the Jews of the ghetto
would have died from starvation  within eight years.

Q. Owing to the condition of their nutrition?

A. Owing to the condition of their nutrition, as well as
with the smuggling. Without the smuggling it was a
question of a month or two.

Judge Halevi:  Eight months or eight years?

Attorney General: Eight years together with the smuggling;
without the smuggling, with only the rations - they would
have died within one or two months. [To the witness] What
were the most common illnesses, but only in brief. What
was a "Muselmann"?

A. This was the final stage of a person suffering from the
illness of starvation. Muselmann - it is not known why
this name was given to it in the ghetto.

Presiding Judge: Was this a name given to it by the Jews?

A. We heard it from the Germans. Apparently this name was
given because a man on the brink of death felt cold and
covered himself with a blanket. Like a Muselmann a person
who wraps himself in an abbayah (loose Arab outer garment)
and moves when praying.

Presiding Judge: A Moslem?

Witness Dworzecki: But I am not certain - perhaps there is
another origin. The Muselmann was a person hovering
between life and death, who walked very slowly. His
movements were very slow, he had to put his foot down very
slowly, when he heard a question - he would answer after
five minutes since his thought process was very slow; this
was a person whose bowels opened 30 to 40 times a day out
of weakness, until he was gradually snuffed out like a
candle. They used to say: "Er iz oisgeloshen geworen wi a
licht," (He went out like a candle). One moment he would
be standing and speaking; the next - he was no longer

Attorney General: Were there irregularities with women?

A. Seventy to eighty per cent of the women in the Vilna
Ghetto - and I saw this later on in the concentration
camps when I was there - ceased menstruating.

Q. Did scabies spread?

A. Scabies spread from house to house, from apartment to
apartment and turned into an epidemic amongst the people
of the ghetto.

Q. Were there other skin diseases?

A. There were other skin diseases: furuncles, pyodermia,
tuberculosis which began to attack the people of the
ghetto. There was dropsy.

Q. Dropsy?

A. Dropsy, which previously had not been understood,
covered the face and the body. There were cases of dropsy.

Presiding Judge: What is dropsy?

Witness Dworzecki: Oedema. The face, the hands and the
feet begin to become puffed and swollen.

Q. This is generally an internal matter, of fluids

A. Generally speaking, this is a manifestation of heart
disease or diseases of the kidneys. But here it was the
result of the final stages of the illnesses of starvation,
when the capillaries of the blood circulation were no
longer functioning normally, and the body fluids emerged
from the blood vessels under the skin.

Attorney General: Were there serious intestinal illnesses?

A. There were serious intestinal illnesses, called
dysentery. This was diarrhoea that in the ghetto, and
later on in the concentration camps, fatally struck tens
upon tens of thousands of people and caused them to die.

Q. Were there disturbances in the urinary tracts, in the

A. These disturbances were also caused by starvation.
People would pass urine every half-hour, every hour. And
at night, when 20-30 people were sleeping in one room, it
became hell, since throughout the night people were
getting down to relieve themselves, getting down and
climbing up, getting down and climbing  up -  one went
out, another came in. The whole night there were people
stricken by abnormal passing of  urine.

Q. As a result of the lack of vitamins there occurred the
illness known as night blindness?

A. Yes night blindness. I ran a children's centre in the
ghetto and I saw how this illness spread amongst all the
children. At night they couldn't see, that was the illness
of night blindness from a lack of vitamins.

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