The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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(The witness was examined as follows by M. Dubost)

Q. You were born in Roubaix on 23 August, 1900; you were
deported by the Germans?

A. Yes.

Q. You were interned in Mauthausen?

A. That is correct.

Q. Will you testify as to what you know concerning this
internment camp?

A. Willingly.

Q. Say what you know.

A. I was arrested on 8 November, 1941. After two years and a
half of internment in France, I was deported on the 22 March
1944 to Mauthausen in Germany.

The journey lasted three days and three nights under
particularly vile conditions - 104 deportees in a cattle
truck without air. I do not believe that it is necessary to
give all the details of this journey, but one can well
imagine the state in which we arrived at Mauthausen on the
morning of 25 March 1944, in temperature 12 degrees below
zero.

I mention, however, that from the French border we travelled
in trucks, naked.

When we arrived at Mauthausen, the SS officer who received
this convoy of about 1,200 Frenchmen informed us in the
following words, which I shall quote from memory almost word
for word: "Germany needs your arms. You are, therefore,
going to work, but I want to tell you that never again will
you see your families. Who enters this camp, will leave it
only by the chimney of the crematorium."

I remained about three weeks in quarantine in an isolated
block, and I was then selected to work in a working gang in
a stone quarry. The quarry at Mauthausen was in a hollow
about 800 metres from the camp proper. There were 186 steps
leading down to it.

It was a particularly hard Calvary, because the steps were
so rough-hewn that even to go up without a load was
extremely tiring.

That day, 15 April, 1944, I was detailed to a team of 12
men, all of them French, under the orders of a German
foreman, a common criminal, and of an SS man.

We started work at seven o'clock in the morning. By eight
o'clock, one hour later, two of my comrades had already been
murdered. They were an elderly man, M. Gregoir from Lyons,
and quite a young man, Lefevre from Tours. They were
murdered because they had not understood the order, given in
German, detailing them for a task. We were frequently beaten
because of our inability to understand the German language.

On the evening of that first day - 15 April 1944, we were
told to carry the two corpses to the top, and the one that I
with three of my comrades carried was that of M. Gregoir, a
very heavy man, and we had to go up 186 steps with a corpse,
and we all were beaten before we reached the top.

Life in Mauthausenn - and I shall state before this Tribunal
only what I myself experienced - was one long cycle of
torture and of suffering. However, I would like to recall a
few scenes which were particularly horrible and have
remained most firmly fixed in my memory.

During September - I think it was on 6 September 1944, there
came to Mauthausen a small convoy of 47 British, American
and Dutch officers. They were airmen who had come down by
parachute. They had been arrested

                                                  [Page 170]

after they had tried to make their way back to their
country. Because of this they were condemned to death by a
German Court. They had been in prison about a year and were
brought to Mauthausen for execution.

On their arrival they were transferred to the "bunker," the
camp prison. They were made to undress and had only their
pants and a shirt. They were barefooted.

The following morning they answered the roll-call at seven
o'clock. The working gangs went to their tasks. The 47
officers were assembled in front of the office and were told
by the commanding officer of the camp that they were all
under sentence of death.

I must mention that one of the American officers asked the
commander that he should be allowed to meet his death as a
soldier. In reply, he was lashed with a whip and beaten. The
47 were led barefoot to the quarry.

For all the prisoners at Mauthausen the murder of these men
has remained in their minds like a scene from Dante's
Inferno. The procedure was: At the bottom of the steps they
loaded stones on the backs of these poor wretches and they
had to carry them to the top. The first ascent was made with
stones weighing 25 to 30 kilos and was accompanied by blows.
Then they were made to run down. For the second ascent the
stones were still heavier, and whenever the poor wretches
sank under their burden, they received kicks and blows with
a bludgeon - even stones were hurled at them.

In the evening when I rejoined the gang with which I was
then working, the road which led to the camp was a path of
blood. I almost stepped on a lower jaw of a man. Twenty-one
bodies were strewn along the road. Twenty-one had died on
the first day. The twenty-six others died the following
morning.

I have tried to make my account of this horrible episode as
short as possible. We were not able, at least when we were
in camp, to find out the names of these officers, but I
think that by now they must have been established.

In September 1944 Himmler visited us. Nothing was changed in
the camp routine. The work gangs went to their tasks as
usual, and I had occasion - and it was a sad occasion - to
see Himmler close by. If I mention Himmler's visit to the
camp - after all it was not a great event - it is because
that day they presented Himmler with the spectacle of the
execution of fifty Soviet officers.

I must tell you that I was working in a Messerschmidt gang,
and I was then on night shift. The blockhouse where I was
lodged was just opposite the crematorium and the execution
room. We saw - I saw - these Soviet officers lined up in
rows of five in front of my block. They were called one by
one. The way to the execution room was comparatively short.
It was reached by a stairway. The execution room was under
the crematorium.

The execution, which Himmler himself witnessed - at least
the beginning of it, because it lasted throughout the
afternoon - was another particularly horrible spectacle. I
repeat: the Soviet Army officers were called one by one, and
there was a sort of human chain between those who were
awaiting their turn and the man who was standing in the
stairway and heard the shot which killed his predecessor.
They were all killed by a shot in the neck.

Q. You witnessed this personally?

A. I repeat that on that afternoon I was in Block 11, which
was situated opposite the crematorium, and although we did
not see the execution itself, we heard every shot, and we
saw the condemned men who were waiting on the stairway
opposite us embrace each other before they parted.

Q. Who were these men who were condemned?

A. The majority of them were Soviet officers, political
Commissars, or members of the Bolshevik party. They came
from Oflags.

                                                  [Page 171]

Q. I beg your pardon, but were there officers among them?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you know where they came from?

A. It was very difficult to know from what camp they came
because, as a general rule, they were locked up as they
arrived in camp. Either they were taken directly to prison
or else to Block No. 20, which was an annex of the prison,
about which I shall have occasion...

Q. How did you know they were officers?

A. Because we were able to communicate with them.

Q. Did all of them come from prisoner of war camps ?

A. Probably.

Q. You did not really know ?

A. No, we really did not know. We were chiefly interested in
finding out of what nationality they were, and did not ask
other details.

Q. Do you know where the British, American and Dutch
officers came from, about whom you have just spoken and who
were executed on the steps leading to the quarry?

A. I believe they came from the Netherlands, especially the
air force officers. They had probably baled out after having
been shot down, and they had hidden themselves while trying
to get back to their country.

Q. Did the Mauthausen prisoners know that prisoners of war,
officers or non-commissioned officers, were executed?

A. That was a frequent occurrence.

Q. A frequent occurrence?

A. Yes, very frequent.

Q. Do you know about any mass executions of the men kept at
Mauthausen?

A . I know of many instances.

Q. Could you cite a few?

A. Besides those I have already described, I feel I ought to
mention what happened to a part of a convoy coming from
Sachsenhausen which was executed by a special method. This
was on the 17 February, 1945.

When the Allied armies were advancing, various camps were
moved back toward Austria. Of a convoy of 2,500 internees
which had left Sachsenhausen, only about 1,700 were left
when they arrived at Mauthausen on the morning of the 17
February. 800 had died or had been killed in the course of
the journey.

The Mauthausen camp was at that time, if I may use this
expression, choked up. Therefore, when 1,700 survivors of
this convoy arrived, Kommandant Dachmeier had 400 selected
from among them. He encouraged the sick, the old and the
weak prisoners to come forward with the idea that they might
be taken to the infirmary. These 400 men, who had either
come forward of their own free will, or had been arbitrarily
selected, were stripped entirely naked. They were left for
18 hours in weather 18 degrees below zero between the
laundry building and the wall of the camp.

Q. You saw that yourself?

A. I saw it personally.

Q. You are citing this as a direct witness?

A. Exactly.

Q. In what part of the camp were you at that time?

A. This scene lasted, as I said, 18 hours, and when we went
in or came out of the camp we saw these unfortunate men.

Q. Very well. Will you please continue? You have spoken of
the visit of Himmler and the execution of Soviet officers
and People's Commissars. Did you frequently see prominent
Germans in the camp?

A. Yes, but I cannot give you the names.

                                                  [Page 172]
Q. You did not know them ?A. One could hardly mistake
Himmler.

Q. But you did know they were prominent men?

A. We did indeed. First of all, they were always surrounded
by a complete General Staff, who went through the prison
itself as well as the adjoining blocks.

If you will allow me, I would like to go on with my
description of the murder of these 400 people from
Sachsenhausen. I said that after selecting the sick, the
feeble and the older prisoners, Dachmeier, the camp
commander, gave orders that these men should be stripped
entirely naked in weather 18 degrees below zero. Several of
them soon got congestion of the lungs, but it seemed that
things were not going fast enough for the SS. Three times
during the night these men were sent down to the showers;
three times they were drenched for half an hour in freezing
water, and then made to come out without having dried
themselves.

In the morning when the gangs went to work the corpses were
strewn over the ground. I must add that the last of them
were finished off with blows from an axe.

I now bring the most direct testimony of a fact which can
easily be verified. Among the 400 men I have mentioned was a
Captain in the French cavalry, Captain Dodionne, who today
is a Major in the Ministry of War. This Captain was among
the 400. He owes his life to the fact that he hid among the
corpses and thus escaped the blows of the axe. When the
corpses were taken to the crematorium he managed to get
away, but not without having received a blow on the shoulder
which has left a mark for life.

He was caught again by the SS. What saved him was the fact
that the SS considered it very amusing that a live man
should manage to extricate himself from a heap of corpses.
We took care of him, we helped him, and we brought him back
to France.

Q. Do you know why these executions were carried out?

A. Because there were too many people in the camp; because
the prisoners coming from all the camps that were falling
back could not be drafted into working gangs at a quick
enough pace. The blocks were overcrowded. That is the only
explanation that was given.

Q. Do you know who gave the order to exterminate the
British, American and Dutch officers whom you saw put to
death in the quarry?

A. I believe I said that these officers had been condemned
to death by German tribunals. Probably a few of them had
been condemned many months before they were taken to
Mauthausen for the sentence to be carried out. It is
probable that the order came from Berlin.

Q. Did you know how the infirmary was built?

A. Here I must state quite clearly that the infirmary was
built before my arrival at the camp.

Q. So you are giving us indirect testimony?

A. Yes, indirect testimony. But I heard it from all of the
internees, also the SS themselves. The infirmary was built
by the first Soviet prisoners who arrived in Mauthausen.
Four thousand Soviet soldiers were massacred during the
construction of these ten blocks of the infirmary. So deeply
had these massacres remained impressed on the memory, that
the infirmary was always referred to as the "Russian Camp."
The SS themselves called the infirmary the "Russian Camp."

Q. How many Frenchmen were at Mauthausen?

A. There were in Mauthausen about 10,000 Frenchmen,
including the outside detachments.

Q. How many of you came back?

A. Three thousand of us came back.

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