The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 15
(Part 2 of 6)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. Did this emigration movement come up against any special problems?

A. Not on the part of the authorities, since the line was "Jewish emigration" and we even had encouragement from economic circles, from Schacht, from the Ministry of Economics and from senior officials who, after some hesitation and some negotiations decided on the "Transfer," the transfer of capital in the form of German goods. At that time the "Ha'avarah" (Transfer) project was set up, both here in this country and in Germany. Thus capital was transferred to this country and persons who immigrated to Palestine were allowed to take with them a certain amount of capital, usually one thousand pounds, but in certain special cases also up to two thousand pounds.

Presiding Judge: Pounds Sterling?

Witness Cohn: Yes.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Mr. Cohn, you have spoken about the Ha'avarah. Do you remember the name in German of this project?

Witness Cohn: Kapitaltransfer nach Palaestina. (Capital Transfer to Palestine). There arose problems around this matter. The people from Sarona* {*Sarona - a German Templar Colony near Tel Aviv.} rose up. They were opposed to it. They were already Nazis. They had a local Nazi party branch in Sarona. We heard that on the German side opinions on the subject differed and that they were waiting for a decision to be handed down from high up. One day that decision was indeed given: the operation is to be continued.

Presiding Judge: In what year was that, approximately?

Witness Cohn: The difficulties were in 1937 till 1938, the beginning of 1938, but I do not remember exactly.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Do you remember the name "Paltreu?" Can you explain its meaning?

A. ""Paltreu" was a Schwestergesellschaft, a sister company of the Ha'avarah. There the money was paid in Reichsmark and then they got the money at the Ha'avarah office in Tel Aviv.

Q. Were there any special restrictions affecting the ability of the Jews of Germany to emigrate?

A. With regard to emigration to other countries - it was very difficult. There were no relaxations. On the contrary, there was greater restrictions.

Presiding Judge: What does that mean?

Witness Cohn: With regard to emigration to other countries, other than Palestine, there were many difficulties. Any emigration is like a serious surgical operation for middle class persons getting on in years, and that surgery became even more difficult.

Judge Raveh: Made difficult - by whom?

Witness Cohn: Difficulties were caused by the German authorities. They [the Jews] were not allowed any monies. The Jewish institutions, the Reichsvertretung, the Hilfsverein (Mutual Help Organization) asked that these others also be allowed to take with them some money to enable them to start, middle-aged as they were, or even old, a new life in a strange country with a language strange to them.

Judge Raveh: That means that the German authorities allowed the transfer of money to Palestine only?

Witness Cohn: Yes, through the Transfer, and also through the sale of German goods.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Did any special conditions attach to emigration, to the liquidation of capital for any Jew who wanted to leave Germany? What were those conditions? I am speaking of fiscal conditions.

Witness Cohn: There were fiscal difficulties. First of all, that he had to pay 25 percent of his capital as "Reichsfluchtsteuer." (Reich Flight Tax). But, if I am not mistaken, this tax had been introduced already before the Nazi regime, at the time of Bruening, but I am not sure of that - one of the Chancellors that preceded the Nazis.

Q. was it possible to liquidate property?

A. Yes, by means of blocked accounts (Sperrmark). The accounts had a special exchange rate and the exchange rate for these accounts decreased from year to year and the return produced very little. In that respect those who emigrated to other countries usually fared worse, than those who went to Palestine.

Q. Mr. Cohn, we were speaking of Jews with Polish citizenship being deported from Germany at the end of October 1938. Could you please move on and come to November 1938. What do you remember?

A. In November, there was this historic day, the 7th of November. The evening papers brought the news that the Legationsrat (Counsellor at the Embassy) vom Rath had been shot at the German Embassy in Paris by a young man. We were very shocked. We expected very serious developments. We met and held consultations - representatives of the Reichsvertretung of the Zionist Organization - we had to wait for developments.

Q. Did you learn the name of that young man?

A. That was published straight away, if I am not mistaken. His name was Hershel Grynszpan. Earlier, that is a few days before that, another Jewish young man by the name of David Frankfurter who is now in Israel, had shot the Gauleiter in Davos, Gauleiter Gustloff. Then he gave himself up to the Swiss police and stated that he had done his deed in revenge for the serious attacks on Jews and the defamation of the Hebrew nation. He was in prison until 1944.

Q. What happened after 7 November 1938?

A. On the 9th of November, in the evening, we learned that vom Rath had died of his wounds. That night was to be the stormiest night of that whole period. It has been named "Crystal Night" (Kristallnacht03) but the appellation does not really give an idea of the terrible things that happened. The crystal was the least important part of what was shattered that night. At night shop windows of Jewish stores were attacked. One could hear the noise. At six o'clock in the morning I was called to the telephone. I was told that a gang was at the Meinickestrasse, the seat of the Palestine Office (Palaestin-Amt) and of the Zionist Organization. I dressed and went there. By the time I got there those people had already left. I found the premises in shambles. My office had been smashed to pieces. Above my desk I found a large sign which read: "Revenge for vom Rath" (Rache fuer vom Rath). The same had been happening in other places. The telephone wires had been cut. Later that morning I went to the Reichsvertretung. That was in the Kantstrasse, some five to ten minutes from the Meinickestrasse. A meeting was already in progress. Two representatives went to the Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery) in the Wilhelmstrasse to report on the events of that night. They went to Staatssekretaer (State Secretary) von Lammers, who was formally the right hand of the Chancellor.

Q. Do you remember who those two representatives were?

A. One of them, if I am not mistaken, was Hirsch, the other was Eppstein. The State Secretary did not agree to see them. He had always assured us, and others had assured us, that whatever might happen, peace and order would be guaranteed the Jews: "Ruhe und Ordnung wird garantiert sein den Juden." They were, however, unable to see the State Secretary and had to come back. The Reichsvertretung office received telephone calls from all over Germany, from the large towns, telling of the night's events - it had not yet happened in Berlin - telling of gangs breaking into dwellings, smashing all they could lay their hands on, dragging off the men - not the women - to the police station. They thought it was to concentration camps.

Presiding Judge: Who thought that? The men who were detained?

A. All the representatives of our offices, the Palestine Office, the Jewish communities. I remember the conversation we had with the Jewish community in Breslau, and with the Jewish community in Frankfurt. It was the same picture in all these cities: destruction, breaking into Jewish homes, smashing all the household, dragging all the men to an unknown destination. One could only guess where: to concentration camps. In Berlin itself it started later, at noontime. On 10 November at two o'clock, I had the first news about a friend of mine having been detained. We got all the information from his father.

Presiding Judge: Who was that?

Witness Cohn: Dr. Kurt Lewin. He is now an Israeli Ambassador, in Tokyo, I believe. He has a different name now. I decided not to wait for this fate to overtake me. They would undoubtedly come for me too, to detain me. Our motto had always been: The work has to go on. That was what mattered. Inside a concentration camp one cannot go on with the work. So I went to some house in the suburbs. And from that house, together with many others, we carried on what little activity could still be carried on. We were very excited. One heard that for two days Jews had been also arrested in the streets. The policemen were given a certain number of people whom it was their task to round up according to statistics. When they did not find these people they just took somebody else instead, either a passer-by in the street or else somebody from some other house, just in order to fill the quota they had been given. It was said in those days that the number of people detained by 20 November had reached approximately 30,000 Jewish men.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Does that mean that people were being arrested as you have been describing, from 10 to 20 November, and during all those ten days Jews were being arrested?

A. Yes. Upon his arrest each detainee was informed that if he could prove that he would leave Germany he would be released. That was the information.

Q. What did that cause in your offices?

A. That caused an unending scramble and a run on our offices. They were closed. Kuchmann had come and closed down the offices of the Meinickestrasse.

Q. When was that?

A. Some time after that. I was summoned to go there from my hiding place and I signed the protocol.

Q. Were the offices of the Reichsvertretung also closed down?

A. Yes, all the Jewish offices were closed down and were sealed. All the rescue work had to be carried out in secret, in private homes. That was the finest hour of the women. The women were the ones who saved the lives of the men or tried to save them. Not everybody escaped. It was the coldest winter in Germany I remember. News was already coming of deaths, with the ashes in urns that were sent, as has been recounted here. The women stood in long queues before the Legations and Consulates of foreign countries in order to obtain visas for entry into other countries. But one must once again state the well known fact described in that famous book Der Planet ohne Visum (The Planet without a Visa), that there were not many countries prepared to grant a visa. We were in a desperate situation.

Q. And what would happen whenever one of these women succeeded in obtaining a visa in some other way?

A. The information would be passed on to the police or to the concentration camp and the man would be released and given a date: Within two weeks you have to leave the country, or else - he would again be summoned and threatened with detention.

Q. Do you remember the names of the concentration camps to which Jews were being taken during those ten days?

A. Unless I am mistaken they were Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.

Q. Would you now please once more take the Official Gazette(Reichsgesetzblatt) for 1938, volume two, page 1579. Can you see the "Verordnung ueber eine Suehneleistung der Juden deutscher Staatsangehoerigkeit " (Decree about Atonement to be made by Jews that are German Subjects), dated 12 November 1938. Please read it out in German.

A. "Die feindliche Haltung des Judentums gegenueber dem deutschen Volk und Reich, die auch vor feigen Mordtaten nicht zurueckschreckt, erfordert entschiedene Abwehr und harte Suehne." (The hostile attitude of Jewry to the German Nation and State which does not shrink from cowardly murderous deeds, calls for resolute defence and severe atonement.) Signed Goering, Commissioner for the Four-Year- Plan (Der Beauftragte des Vierjahreplans Goering.)

"Ich bestimme daher, auf Grund der Verordnung zur Durchfuehrung des Vierjahresplans vom 18. Oktober 1936, das Folgende:

#1) Den Juden deutscher Staatsangehoerigkeit in ihrer Gesamtheit wird die Zahlung einer Kontribution von einer Milliarde Reichsmark an das Deutsche Reich auferlegt.

#2) Die Durchfuehrungsverfuegungen erlaesst der Reichsminister der Finanzen im Benehmen mit dem beteiligten Reichsminister. Berlin, den 12. November 1938."

(On the basis of the Decree for the Implementation of the Four-Year-Plan, dated 18 October 1936, I therefore determine as follows:

#1) The payment of a tribute of RM 1,000,000,000 to the German State is imposed on the Jews who are complete German subjects.

#2) Implementation ordinances are to be issued by the Minister of Finance in coordination with the Reich Minister concerned. Berlin, 12 November 1936."

State Attorney Bar-Or: Thank you. May I submit this?

Presiding Judge: Exhibit T/75.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Now, could you please turn to page 1580. "Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben" (Decree for the Exclusion of the Jews from German Economic Life), that too dated 12 November 1938. What does that mean?

Witness Cohn: Many years have passed, it is hard to remember.

Q. Doesn't it mean a ban on Jews managing and participating in any economic enterprise whatsoever. Is that correct?

A. Yes. Even more serious was the severe ban on keeping retail shops. All the shops had to close down. There remained no source of livelihood open to the Jews.

Q. You will find that in the first part of paragraph 1 of this decree.

A. "Einzelhandelsverkaufstellen, Versandgeschaefte, Kontore, sowie der selbstaendige Betrieb des Handwerks" (retail shops, mail order houses, trading bureaus as well as the independent exercise of crafts). Also the crafts. No branch of economic activity was left open to Jews in Germany. They were also forbidden to appear at fairs.

State Attorney Bar-Or: May I submit this?

Presiding Judge: T/76.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Could you please turn to page 1638?

Witness Cohn: Page 1638?

Q. Yes please. There you will find the "Durchfuehrungsverordnung ueber die Suehneleistung der Juden" (Implementation of the Decree Regarding the Atonement Payment by the Jews) dated 21 November 1938. Can you find it?

A. Yes.

Q. Could you tell the Court briefly how Goering's Decree for the payment of the fine of one milliard marks was in fact implemented?

A. Yes. It is a rather long text, but I can say what was the main provision: The tax was to be twenty per cent of the capital and this sum was to be paid in four instalments of five per cent each. Four instalments, making a total of twenty percent, of the capital of each Jew.

Presiding Judge: Of what is called the liquid assets or of all the assets?

A. Of the total assets. The total capital. There is a definition here. It is very complex.

Q. Look also at paragraph 8, please. Could you read it out?

A. Of the same decree?

Q. Yes.

A. "Der Reichsminister der Finanzen trifft im Verwaltungswege Bestimmungen darueber, inwieweit die Finanzaemter in geeigneten Faellen Wertpapiere und Grundbesitz in Zahlung nehmen koennen." (The Minister of Finance will issue departmental instructions laying down to what extent tax inspectors may in appropriate cases accept securities and real estate as payment.)

State Attorney Bar-Or: If it please the Court, may I submit this?

Presiding Judge: T/77.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Please, carry on Mr. Cohn.

Witness Cohn: I wanted to add something. On my way to the offices of the Reichsvertretung on that morning of the 10th of November 1938, I went past the synagogue in the Fasanenstrasse and I saw, I could not believe my eyes, how that building was going up in flames with the fire brigade being there but not lifting a finger. Later we heard that they had instructions to "operate our apparatus only for the protection of neighbouring, Aryan buildings." I also saw how Jews extricated, dragged, carried the Scrolls of the Law out of that great synagogue, one of the largest in Berlin. And the crowd stood around, civilians, cheering and jeering at the sight. Within half an hour we heard that the other synagogues were also going up in flames, the one in the Prinzregentenstrasse, and the others, I don't remember the names of all of the other synagogues that were burnt down. And news reached us also from all over the country, from the provinces, from towns and major cities, that almost all the synagogues suffered the same fate. Later we learned that some 280 synagogues had thus been burnt down, but I cannot vouch for the figure.

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