The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 15
(Part 1 of 6)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Session No.15

9 Iyar 7521 (25 April 1961)

Presiding Judge: I declare the fifteenth Session of this trial open. Mr. Cohn, you are continuing to give evidence under oath.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Mr. Cohn, we have reached September 1935. While you were carrying out your duties at the offices of the Zionist Organization in Berlin, did anything out of ordinary happen to you personally in those months?

Witness Cohn: In 1936 I was detained for a number of weeks, together with Dr. Meyer. But only in prison.

Q. Where was that?

A. That was in Berlin, at the Alexander-Platz.

Q. Do you remember the reason for your arrest?

A. Yes. The warrant for my arrest said that I had insulted the Gestapo, that I had slighted the Gestapo.

Q. Can you explain?

A. There was a dispute, differences of opinion with regard to the Kulturbund (the Jewish Cultural Association).

Q. About which you spoke this morning?

A. Yes.

Q. And was there anything special you would like to relate?

A. No, just one point, that I met there one of the old Rabbis of Berlin, Dr. Bernhard Emil Cohen. I was extremely shocked to meet him there. He told me, he whispered into my ear, illegally, we were not allowed to talk to one another, during the walk around the prison yard, when I asked him how he had got into prison, as he was nearing the age of seventy. He told me "For the third time I quoted in my sermon in the synagogue that famous passage from the Haggadah (the Passover Prayer). He was referring to the passage "...for not one man only has risen up against us, but in every generation there are those who have risen against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, has delivered us out of their hands." He had quoted this passage for the third time. They had threatened to send him to a concentration camp. He asked for greetings to be conveyed to his family which he did not expect to see again. Eventually, however, he was released on condition that he leave Germany within 24 hours. He did leave and was saved.

Q. Who were the police officers or authorities in charge with whom you were in contact in those days, in the years 1935, 1936 and 1937?

A. There was an official, a man called Kuchmann, he was in touch with us daily. He was of short stature. I believe he had been with the police already before the Nazis came to power. It was he who arrested me.

Q. To which section of the police had he belonged earlier?

A. I cannot say right now. Many years have passed since then. I think that the name of the department, in 1933, was "Juden, Immigranten und Freimaurer" (Jews, immigrants and free-masons).

Q. Was it this Kuchmann who was in contact with you all these years?

A. All those years until 1937 or 1938. After that I didn't see him any more.

Q. What were his duties? Why this contact with him?

A. In day-to-day matters, public meetings, arrangements, submission of lists, all these matters involved his supervision.

Q. Supervision of what?

A. Supervision of the Jewish organizations.

Q. Of the activities of your office too?

A. Yes. He used to call on us, look around, ask for information. There were many things he did not understand, and he wanted to become acquainted with everything.

Q. Did he also want to become acquainted with the working of the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland?

A. Yes, he did. He also dealt with the Reichsvertretung. He was a quite well-known Gestapo figure during those first years.

Q. Can you tell the Court about a meeting with a man called Eichmann or about meetings with Eichmann, if there were any?

A. Yes. I myself had only very few meetings. The first meeting was, as far as I remember, in 1937. Before that we had already heard from some German officials that there was a new man who stood out by his toughness, much tougher than the others, who looked after these matters, a very agile person. They were somewhat afraid of him, of his expert knowledge, of his personality. But we had not come to know him. Then, one day there was a public meeting...

Q. Do you remember the year?

A. 1937. We held a valedictory meeting to take leave of Rabbi Dr. Joachim Prinz who was leaving the country. He was one of the finest speakers, one of the best propagandists in those years. So we held that meeting in his honour. The hall was packed full. The public thronged to the meeting. Suddenly I, as chairman of the meeting, was called to the door, and my clerk from my office, told me: "Mr. Eichmann is here." I saw a man, for the first time, in civilian clothing, and he shouted at me: "You are responsible for order here? This is disorder of the first degree!" There was much pressure from people trying to get in. And he threatened to take measures himself if I did not to put some order into it all. He complained that he had received a blow in the belly from a Jew who did not know him, who did not know that he was from the Gestapo. He then came in with a whole group, quite a number of people, some four of them. I watched him all the time from my place in the chair.

Presiding Judge: From the rostrum?

Witness Cohn: Yes. And I saw that all the time he was writing, taking notes.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Where did he sit?

Witness Cohn: In one of the front rows, the seventh or the eighth.

Q. Amongst the audience?

A. Yes. Many years have passed since then and I might be mistaken on some detail or other.

Q. What happened after the meeting was over?

A. The meeting was tense, because Rabbi Prinz, in order to emphasize the essence of our national movement, had quoted the phrase "to distinguish between the holy and the profane" and said that "all around us is profanity but our Jewish nationality is holiness." I was apprehensive. Eichmann might have understood these words and I was in a state of continuous tension. Finally he came to our table on the rostrum and made some rather unfriendly remarks. I have already forgotten what it was he said. That was the end of that matter.

Q. And later, when did you meet him again?

A. After that I met him shortly before I left the country, in 1939.

Q. In other words, it was only in 1939 that you met him again?

A. Yes.

Q. Mr. Cohn, I should like you to have another look at some of the legislation passed in 1938. Could you begin by looking at page 338 of the Reichsgesetzblatt (German Official Gazette) for the year 1938, and please tell the Court the title of the law and its subject matter. The law dated 28 March 1938.

A. "Gesetz ueber die Rechtsverhaeltnisse der juedischen Kultusvereinigungen" (Law regarding the Legal Status of the Jewish Religious Congregations in Germany).

Q. What is it about, please?

A. This law deals with the abrogation of the public-law status of the Jewish communities in Germany.

Q. And turns those communities...

A. Into private societies governed by private law.

Q. Which means that the Jewish communities, that had up to then enjoyed a public-law status, were now turned into societies required to register in the register of societies?

A. Yes. And thus they lost the right to levy taxes. It was a far-reaching change.

Presiding Judge: That will be exhibit T/70.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Mr. Cohn, could you now address yourself, in that same volume, to page 414. Please read the decree (05Verordnung) dated 26 April 1938. What is its name?

A. "Verordnung ueber die Anmeldung des Vermoegens von Juden" (Decree Regarding the Declaration of the Property of Jews). That was signed by the Commissioner for the Four-Year-Plan and by the Minister of the Interior Frick.

Presiding Judge: This document will be marked T/71.

Judge Halevi: What was that Four-Year-Plan?

State Attorney Bar-Or: Do you know about the appointment of Goering regarding the Four-Year-Plan?

Witness Cohn: That was at the Nuremberg Congress. I believe that before that the commissioner was the Minister who had been his predecessor in other economic positions. But I am not prepared for this and this was many years ago.

Q. Could you now turn to page 922, of that same Volume, Book two?

A. "Dritte Bekanntmachung ueber den Kennkartenzwang." (Third Proclamation about the Compulsory Carrying of identity cards) dated 23 July 1938.

Q. What was the meaning of this Third Proclamation? To whom did it apply?

A. All Jews who were German subjects were to bear identity cards.

Q. And were to obtain these documents by the 31st of December 1938?

A. Yes.

Presiding Judge: That will be T/72.

State Attorney Bar-Or: And now one more decree from that period. Please turn to page 1044.

Witness Cohn: "Zweite Verordnung zur Durchfuehrung des Gesetzes ueber die Aenderung von Familiennamen und Vornamen." (Second Decree to Implement the Law Regarding the Changing of Surnames and First Names) dated 17 August 1938.

Q. Could you please tell the Court the meaning of this law and to whom does it apply?

A. To German Jews, who were German subjects and not to Jews who were aliens. That was stated expressly in order to avoid international disputes. It stated here that as from the first of January 1939, those Jews who were German subjects were to add a further first name: males were to add the name "Israel" and females the name "Sarah."

Q. Who signed this law on behalf of the Minister of the Interior?

A. Perhaps "in Vertretung" - Dr. Stuckart. And on behalf of the Minister of Justice Dr. Guertner.

Presiding Judge: That will be exhibit T/73.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Do you remember, Mr. Cohn, any special events from 1936 onwards until the end of the summer of 1938?

Witness Cohn: Jews were dealt with more and more severely. The "Aryanization" of businesses proceeded at quite a rapid pace, on the one hand, and on the other hand Jews were being barred from all sorts of places. "Badeverbote" - bans on making use of public baths and other measures of that kind to force them out of public life.

Q. Do you remember specially frequent manifestations of anti- Semitism at that time?

A. No. Just the continuation of this behaviour. And emigration from Germany also continued. I already said at the beginning of my testimony that earlier on there was this first push that caused a lot of upheavals, and that after that the pressure eased off to some extent.

Q. Tell me, Mr. Cohn, do you remember a newspaper, did you see a newspaper that appeared in those years too, under the name Der Stuermer?

A. Yes.

Q. What do you remember about it?

A. Who didn't see it? The country was flooded with that newspaper. On every corner, everywhere one saw this newspaper in its display board. There were block wardens (Blockwarte) who saw to it that youngsters would stand in front of the display boards and lap up the venomous contents.

Q. Does this photocopy remind you of anything?

A. Yes. "Der Stuermer. Deutsches Wochenblatt zum Kampfe um die Wahrheit. Herausgeber: Julius Streicher." (The Stormer, German Weekly Fighting for the Truth. Published by Julius Streicher.) "Synagogen sind Raeuberhoehlen. Die Schande von Nuernberg. (Synagogues are robbers' dens. The shame of Nuremberg). That appeared in July 1938. I remember that as Head of the Zionist Organization I used to travel a lot from town to town in order to strengthen contacts in those hard times. In Nuremberg the leadership of the community told me, with great sorrow, that in a few days' time they would have to part from their synagogue. They had been summoned by the police, and if I am not mistaken, also by the city administration and had been told that the synagogue that had served them for many years would have to be pulled down. They had been summoned, and on the Friday that week (I was there on Wednesday) they were to hold the last service there.

State Attorney Bar-Or: May I, by the leave of the Court, submit this?

Presiding Judge: That will be T/74.

Witness Cohn: Some time earlier or later, it is hard to tell, it was in 1938, sometime between the middle of the year and autumn, I made a tour of all the branches of the Zionist Organization. In Munich there was a meeting of Bavarian Zionists and I was called upon to speak about the situation. When I came to the Jewish community hall I looked through the window towards the spot where there had stood the large and stately synagogue - and I no longer saw the synagogue - it was gone. I asked my friends what had happened. There was a parking lot there instead. I was told that the Fuehrer had been there some time ago and had asked what that building was, and had said: when I come to Munich next time, I don't want to see this building again! So they pulled down the synagogue. That was not published in the press. There was a severe ban on publishing it. But I saw it with my own eyes.

Q. Let us move on to October 1938. Do you remember an event that occurred in that month, concerning Jews of Germany who were Polish citizens?

A. In that month there occurred a dispute between the Polish Government and the German Government about the fate of Polish subjects who had lived - many of them for many years - in Germany. There were many of them, about 10,000. I don't know the figure. The Polish Government, if I remember correctly - many years have gone by since then - refused to renew the passports of their subjects, on the one hand, and the German Government, on the other hand - or the German authorities - refused to allow them to stay any longer in Germany. That was, I believe, more or less, the dispute. I may be mistaken in some point of detail.

At any rate there was a diplomatic dispute which was also reported in the press, if I am not mistaken. One day I was woken up by a telephone call. The late Dr. Michael Traub who was the Head of Keren Hayessod (Palestine Foundation Fund) in Germany, told me that at that very moment ten thousand Polish Jews who had been living in Germany were already on their way to the border, that he was still trying to intervene and to avert the evil edict but that so far he had been unsuccessful. This was a transfer of Jews without sanitary conditions, in a primitive manner, in cattle waggons, across the border. We heard reports that much suffering was caused to them. They were transferred to a camp called Sboszyn or something like that, near the German border, on the Polish side. Many of them wanted to go back, Many remained in no- man's-land between the two countries and were sent backwards and forwards. Their fate caused a great stir.

Q. When was that?

A. On 27 or 28 October 1938. That date I remember.

Q. Can you tell the Court about the emigration movement of the Jews of Germany and about your activities in the Zionist Organization and the Palestine Office during those years, 1936-1938, in the light of events in Germany?

A. Immediately after the rise of the Nazis to power there began a movement of emigration from Germany. The Zionist organization was the moving force in this. It insisted on that always: One must leave this country. Our watchword was: who ever could leave, people who were not so old, should leave. The Juedische Rundschau devoted many articles to this, and the exodus began. The most important destination in those years was Palestine. Energetic endeavours were undertaken by the Zionist Organization to train people. The aim was to retrain tens of thousands of Jews who had been in commerce, industry, banking and in clerical professions to work in agriculture and the crafts. Many training courses were run, Hebrew language classes were held, there was wide- spread activity. The Zionist Organization had the task to prepare, to train the would-be-immigrants for a new life in a country totally new to them. There was ideological preparation too: the principles of the Zionist Movement,the writings of Herzl, Pinsker and the like.

That was the foremost goal: immigration to Palestine. That was a very successful activity. Those who had re-trained to become farmers did eventually set up a number of farming villages.

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