The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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THE PRESIDENT: You go too quickly.

A. Forgive me. One night we were awakened by terrifying
cries. And we discovered, on the following day, from the men
working in the "Sonderkommando" (the "Gas Kommando") that on
the preceding day, the gas supply having run out, they had
thrown the children into the furnaces alive.

Q. Can you tell us about the selections that were made at
the beginning of winter?

A. Every year, towards the end of the autumn, they proceeded
to make selections on a large scale in the infirmary
(Revier). The system appeared to work as follows: I say this
because I noticed the fact for myself during the time I
spent in Auschwitz. Others, who had stayed there even longer
than myself, had observed the same phenomenon:

In the spring, all through Europe, they rounded up men and
women whom they sent to Auschwitz. They kept only those who
were strong enough to work all through the summer. Very
naturally some died every day, but even the strongest, those
who had succeeded in holding out for six months, were so
exhausted that they too had to go to the "Revier." It was
then that the large scale selections were made, so as not to
feed too many useless mouths during the winter. All the
women who were too thin were sent to the gas chamber, as
well as those who had long, drawn-out illnesses; but the
Jewesses were gassed for practically no reason at all. For
instance, they gassed everybody in the Scabies Block,
whereas everybody knows that with a little care, scabies can
be cured in three days. I remember the Typhus Convalescent
Block whence 450 out of 500 patients were sent to the gas
chamber.

During Christmas 1944 - no, 1943, Christmas 1943, when we
were in quarantine, we saw, since we lived opposite it,
women brought to Block 25, stripped naked. Uncovered trucks
were then driven up and on them the naked women were piled,
as many as the trucks could hold. Each time a truck started,
the famous Hessler - he was one of the criminals condemned
to death at the Luneberg trials - ran after the truck and
with his bludgeon repeatedly struck the naked women going to
their death. They knew they were going to the gas chamber
and tried to escape. They were massacred. They attempted to
jump from the truck and we, from our own block, watched the
trucks pass by and heard the grievous wailing of all those
women who knew they were going

                                                  [Page 192]
to be gassed. Many of them could very well have lived on,
since they were only suffering from scabies and were,
perhaps, a little too undernourished.Q. You told us, Madame,
a little while ago, that the deportees, from the moment they
stepped off the train and without even being counted, were
sent to the gas chamber. What happened to their clothing and
their luggage?

A. The non Jews had to carry their own luggage and were
billeted in
separate blocks, but when the Jews arrived they had to leave
all their belongings on the platform. They were stripped
before entering the gas chamber and all their clothes, as
well as all their belongings, were taken over to large
barracks and there sorted out by a Kommando named "Canada."
Then everything was shipped to Germany: jewellery, fur
coats, etc.

Since the Jewesses were sent to Auschwitz with their entire
families, and since they had been told that this was a sort
of Ghetto and were advised to bring all their goods and
chattels along, they consequently brought considerable
riches with them. As for the Jewesses from Salonica, I
remember that on their arrival they were given picture post-
cards, bearing the post office address of "Waldsee," a place
which did not exist, and a printed text to be sent to their
families, stating, " We are doing very well here; we have
work and we are well treated. We await your arrival." I
myself saw the cards in question and the "Schreiberinnen,"
i.e., the secretaries of the Block, were instructed to
distribute them among the internees. I know that whole
families arrived as a result of these post-cards.

I myself know that the following occurred in Greece. I do
not know whether it happened in any other country, but in
any case it did occur in Greece (as well as in
Czechoslovakia) that whole families went to the Recruiting
Office at Salonica in order to rejoin their families. I
remember one Professor of Literature from Salonica, who, to
his horror, saw his own father arrive.

Q. Will you tell us about the Gypsy camps?

A. Right next to our camp, on the other side of the barbed
wires, three metres apart, there were two camps; one for
Gypsies, which towards August 1944 was completely gassed.
These Gypsies came from all parts of Europe including
Germany. Likewise on the other side there was the so-called
"family-camp." These were Jews from the Ghetto of
Theresienstadt, who had been brought there and, unlike
ourselves, they had neither been tattooed nor shaved. Their
clothes were not taken from them and they did not have to
work. They lived like this for six months and at the end of
six months the entire "family-camp" amounting to some 6,000
or 7,000 Jews, were gassed. A few days later other large
convoys again arrived from Theresienstadt with their
families and six months later they too were gassed, like the
first inmates of the "family-camp."

Q. Would you, Madame, please give us some details as to what
you saw when you were about to leave the camp and under what
circumstances you left it?

A. We were in quarantine before leaving Auschwitz.

Q. When was that?

A. We were in quarantine for ten months, from the 15th July
1943, yes - until May 1944. And after that we returned to
the camp for two months. Then we went to Ravensbruck.

Q. These were all Frenchwomen from your convoy, who had
survived?

A. Yes. All the surviving Frenchwomen of our convoy. We had
heard from Jewesses who had arrived from France, in July
1944, that an intensive campaign had been carried out by the
British Broadcasting Corporation in London, in connection
with our convoy and quoting Mai Politzer, Danielle Casanova,
Helene Solomon-Langevin and myself. As a result of this
broadcast we knew that orders had been issued from Berlin to
the effect that Frenchwomen should be, transported under
better conditions.

                                                  [Page 193]

So we were placed in quarantine. This was a block situated
opposite the camp and outside the barbed wire. I must say
that it is to this quarantine that the forty-nine survivors
owed their lives because, at the end of four months, there
were only fifty-two of us. Therefore it is certain that we
could not have survived eighteen months of this regime had
we not had these ten months of quarantine. It was imposed
because exanthematic typhus was raging at Auschwitz. One
could only leave the camp to be freed or to be transferred
to another camp, or to be summoned before the Court after
spending fifteen days in quarantine, these fifteen days
being the incubation period for exanthematic typhus.
Consequently, as soon as the papers arrived announcing that
the internee would probably be liberated, she was placed in
quarantine until the order for her liberation was signed.
This sometimes took several months, and fifteen days was the
minimum.

Now a policy existed for freeing common-law criminals and
German anti-social elements in order to employ them as
workers in the German factories. It is therefore impossible
to imagine that the whole of Germany was unaware of the
existence of the concentration camps and of what was going
on there, since these women had been released from the camps
and it is difficult to believe that they never mentioned
them. Besides, in the factories where the former internees
were employed, the "Vorarbeiterinnen," i.e., the forewomen -
were German civilians in contact with the internees and able
to speak to them. The forewomen from Auschwitz, who
subsequently came to Siemens at Ravensbruck as
"Aufseherinnen," had been former workers at Siemens in
Berlin - they met forewomen they had known in Berlin and, in
our presence, they told them what they had seen at
Auschwitz. It is therefore incredible that this was not
known in Germany.

We could not believe our eyes when we left Auschwitz and our
hearts were sore when we saw the small group of 49 women -
all that was left of the 250 who had entered the camp 18
months earlier. But to us it seemed that we were leaving
hell itself, and for the first time hopes of survival, of
seeing the world again, were vouchsafed to us.

Q. Where were you sent then, Madame?

A. On leaving Auschwitz we were sent to Ravensbruck. There
we were escorted to the NN Block - meaning "Nacht und
Nebel," that is, "The Secret Block." With us, in that block,
were Polish women with the identification number 7,000. Some
were called "rabbits" because they had been used as
experimental guinea pigs. They selected from the convoys
girls with very straight legs who were in very good health,
and they submitted them to various operations. Some of the
girls had parts of the bone removed from their legs, others
received injections, but what was injected, I do not know.
The mortality rate was very high among the women operated
upon. So when they came to fetch the others to operate on
them, they refused to go to the "Revier." They were forcibly
dragged to the cells where the Professor, who had arrived
from Berlin, operated in his uniform, without taking any
aseptic precautions, without wearing a theatre coat and
without washing his hands. There are some survivors of these
"rabbits." They still suffer a great deal. They suffer
periodically from suppurations and, since nobody knows to
what treatment they had been subjected, it is extremely
difficult to cure them.

Q. These internees, were they tattooed on their arrival?

A. No. People were not tattooed at Ravensbruck but, on the
other hand, we had to go up for a gynaecological examination
and, since no precautions were ever taken and the same
instruments were frequently used in all cases, infections
spread, partly because criminal prisoners and political
internees were all herded together.

In Block 32, where we were billeted, there were also some
Russian women

                                                  [Page 194]

prisoners of war, who had refused to work voluntarily in the
ammunition factories. For that reason they had been sent to
Ravensbruck. Since they persisted in their refusal, they
were subjected to every form of petty indignity. They were,
for instance, forced to stand in front of the block a whole
day long without any food. Some of them were sent in convoys
to Barthe. Others were employed to carry lavatory
receptacles in the camp. The "Strafblock" (penitentiary
block) and the Bunker also housed internees who had refused
to work in the war factories.

Q. You are now speaking about the prisons in the camp?

A. About the prisons in the camp. As a matter of fact I have
visited the camp prison. It was a civilian prison - a real
one.

Q. How many French were there in that camp?

A. From eight to ten thousand.

Q. How many women all told?

A. At the time of liberation the identification numbers
represented 105,000 and possibly more.

There were also executions in the camps. The numbers were
called at roll
call in the morning, and the victims then left for the
"Kommandantur" and were never seen again. A few days later
the clothes were sent down to the "Effektenkammer," where
the clothes of the internees were kept. After a certain time
their cards would vanish from the filing cabinets in the
camp.

Q. The system of detention was the same as at Auschwitz?

A. No it was quite obvious that extermination was the sole
aim and object of Auschwitz. Nobody was at all interested in
the output. We were beaten for no reason whatsoever. It was
sufficient to stand from morning till evening but whether we
carried one brick or ten was of no importance at all. We
were quite aware that the human element was employed as
slave labour in order to kill, that this was the ultimate
purpose, whereas at Ravensbruck the output was of great
importance. It was a selection camp. When the convoys
arrived at Ravensbruck, they were rapidly dispatched either
to the munition or to the powder factories, either to work
at the airfields or, latterly, to dig trenches.

The following procedure was adopted for going to the
munition factories the manufacturers or their foremen or
else their representatives came down themselves to pick and
choose their workers, accompanied by SS men; the effect was
that of a slave market. They felt the muscles, examined the
faces to see if the person looked healthy - and then made
their choice. Finally, they made them walk naked past the
doctor and he eventually decided if a woman was fit or not
to leave for work in the factories. Latterly, the doctor's
visit became a mere formality as they ended by employing
anybody who came along. The work was exhausting, principally
because of lack of food and steep, since in addition to
twelve solid hours of work one had to attend roll-call in
the morning and in the evening. In Ravensbruck there was the
Siemens factory, where telephone equipment was manufactured
as well as wireless sets for aircraft. Then there were
workshops in the camp for camouflage material and uniforms
and for various utensils used by soldiers. One of these I
know best.

THE PRESIDENT: I think we had better break off now for ten
minutes.

(A recess was taken)

Q. Madame, did you see any SS chiefs and members of the
Wehrmacht visit the camp of Ravensbruck and Auschwitz when
you were there?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know if any German government officials came to
visit these camps?

                                                  [Page 195]

A. I know it only as far as Himmler is concerned. Apart from
Himmler I do not know.

Q. Who were the guards in these camps?

A. At the beginning there were the SS guards exclusively.

Q. Will you please speak more slowly so that the
interpreters can follow you?

A. At the beginning they were only SS men but from the
spring of 1944, as the young SS men in many companies were
replaced by elder men of the Wehrmacht both at Auschwitz and
also at Ravensbruck, we were guarded by soldiers of the
Wehrmacht as from 1944.

Q. You can therefore testify that, on the order of the
Greater German General Staff, the German Army was implicated
in the atrocities which you have described?

A. Obviously, since we were guarded by the Wehrmacht as
well, and this could not have occurred without orders.

Q. Your testimony is formal and involves both the SS and the
Army.

A. Absolutely.

Q. Will you tell us about the arrival at Ravensbruck in the
winter of 1944 of Hungarian Jewesses who had been arrested
"en masse?" You were in Ravensbruck, this is a fact about
which you can testify?

A. Yes, naturally. There was no longer any room left in the
blocks, and the prisoners already slept four in a bed, so
there was raised, in the middle of the camp, a large tent.
Straw was spread in the tent and the Hungarian women were
brought to this tent. Their condition was deplorable. There
were a great many cases of frozen feet because they had been
evacuated from Budapest and had walked a good part of the
way in the snow. A great many of them had died en route.
Those who arrived at Auschwitz were led to this tent and
there an enormous number of them died. Every day a squad
came to remove the corpses in the tent. One day, on
returning to my block, which was next to this tent, during
the cleaning up -

THE PRESIDENT: Madam, are you speaking of Ravensbruck or of
Auschwitz?

THE WITNESS : Now I am speaking of Ravensbruck. It was in
the winter of 1944, about November or December, I believe,
though I cannot say for certain which month it was. It is so
difficult to give a precise date about events in
concentration camps since one day of torture was followed by
another day of similar torment, and the prevailing monotony
made it very hard to keep track of time.

One day therefore, as I was saying, I passed the tent while
it was being cleaned, and I saw a pile of smoking manure in
front of it. I suddenly realised that this manure was human
excrement, since the unfortunate women no longer had the
strength to drag themselves to the lavatories.

Q. What were the conditions in the workshops where the
jackets were manufactured?

A. At the workshop where the uniforms were manufactured ...

Q. Was it the camp workshop?

A. It was the camp workshop, known as "Schneiderei I." 200
jackets or pairs of trousers were manufactured per day.
There were two shifts; a day and a night shift, both working
twelve hours at a stretch. The night shift, when starting
work at midnight, after the standard amount of work had been
reached, but only then, received a thin slice of bread.
Later on this practice was discontinued. Work was carried on
at a furious pace; the internees could not even take time
off to go to the lavatories. Both day and night they

                                                  [Page 196]

were terribly beaten up, both by the women of the SS and by
the men, if a needle broke, owing to the poor quality of the
thread, if the machine stopped, or if these ladies and
gentlemen did not like one's looks. Towards the end of the
night one could see that the workers were so exhausted that
every movement was an effort to them. Beads of sweat stood
out on their foreheads. They could not see clearly. When the
standard amount of work was not reached the foreman, Binder,
rushed up and beat up, with all his might, one woman after
another, all along the line, with the result that the last
in the row waited their turn petrified with terror. If one
wished to go to the "Revier " one had to receive the
authorisation of the SS - who granted it very rarely - and
even then, if the doctor did give a woman a permit
authorising her to stay away from work for a few days, the
SS guards would often come round and fetch her out of bed in
order to put her back at her machine. The atmosphere was
frightful since, by reason of the "black-out," one could not
open the windows at night. Six hundred women therefore
worked for twelve hours without any ventilation. All those
who worked at the "Schneiderei" became like living skeletons
after a few months, they began to cough, their eyesight
failed, and they developed a nervous twitching of the face
for fear of beatings to come.

I well knew the conditions of this workshop since my little
friend, Marie Rubiano, a little French girl who had just
passed three years in the prison of Kottbus, was sent, on
her arrival at Ravensbruck, to the "Schneiderei I," and
every evening she would tell me about her martyrdom. One
day, when she was quite exhausted, she obtained permission
to go to the "Revier" and as on that day the German nursing
sister, Erica, was less evil tempered than usual, she was X-
rayed. Both lungs were severely affected and she was sent to
the horrible Block 10, the block for consumptives. This
block was particularly terrifying, since tubercular patients
were not considered as "recuperable material";  they
received no treatment and, because of shortage of staff,
they were not even washed. We might even say that there were
no medical supplies at all.

Little Marie was placed in the ward which housed patients
with bacillary infections, in other words such patients who
were considered incurable. She spent some weeks there and
had no courage left to put up a fight for her life. I must
say that the atmosphere of this room was particularly
depressing. There were very many patients, several to one
bed, as well as in three-tier bunks, in an overheated
atmosphere, lying between internees of various
nationalities, so that they could not even speak to each
other. Then, too, the silence in this antechamber of death
was only broken by the yells of the German personnel on
duty, and from time to time by the muffled sobs of a little
French girl thinking of her mother and of her country which
she would never see again.

And yet, Marie Rubino did not die fast enough to please the
SS, so one day Dr. Winkelmann - selection specialist at
Ravensbruck entered her name in the black-list, and on the 9
February 1945, together with 72 other consumptive women, 6
of whom were French, she was shoved on the truck for the gas
chamber.

During this period, in all the "Revieren," selections were
made, and all patients considered unfit for work were sent
to the gas chamber. The Ravensbruck gas chamber was situated
just behind the wall of the camp, next to the crematorium.
When the trucks came to fetch the patients we heard the
sound of the motor across the camp, and the noise ceased
right by the crematorium whose chimney rose above the high
wall of the camp.

At the time of the liberation I returned to these places. I
visited the gas chamber, which was a hermetically sealed
building made of boards, and inside it one could still smell
the disagreeable odour of gas. I know that at Auschwitz the
gases were the same as those which were used against the
lice, and the

                                                  [Page 197]


only traces they left were small, pale green crystals which
were swept out when the windows were opened. I know these
details, since the men employed in delousing the blocks were
in contact with the personnel who gassed the victims, and
they told them that one and the same gas was used in both
cases.


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