The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
21st January to 1st February, 1946

Forty-Fourth Day: Monday, 28rd January, 1946
(Part 3 of 9)

[Page 191]

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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