The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 15
(Part 4 of 6)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. What did he speak about?

A. He spoke about something completely different. He announced to us that the competent institutions were going to set up in Berlin...

Presiding Judge: The competent authorities.

A. Yes, the competent authorities. A "Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung according to the Viennese model, in the Kurfuerstenstrasse 16. That had been the building of a Masonic Lodge or a Cell. He described for us once more what the procedure was going to be. My colleagues as a matter of fact already knew all about it, after they had been to Vienna. He said again: "Vorne geht der Jude herein, hinten kommt er mit allen Papieren heraus" (The Jew goes in through the front door, and goes out the back with all the papers in his hand).

Judge Halevi: At the Kurfuerstenstrasse 15 or 16?

A. I think it was number 16. But I don't remember.

Q. Did he ask for anything specific?

A. Yes. He told us he wanted to begin within a very short time. And he told us we would be responsible for having Jews sent to the Zentralstelle to get their papers and that we were to be responsible for certain quotas. He himself, or rather his representative, he was not in Berlin, he was only paying a visit to Berlin - his representative from the Gestapo would let us know what the quotas were to be, what number the Palaestina Amt and the Hilfsverein, the main emigration institutions, were to send to the Zentralstelle in the Breiderverein.

Presiding Judge: Just a moment, for the sake of preciseness. You said earlier on that the Zentralstelle was on the Kurfuerstenstrasse and now you have mentioned another street.

Judge Raveh: You mentioned the Breiderverein.

A. Yes, the building had originally belonged to the Breiderverein, one of the social clubs or fraternities of German Jews.

State Attorney Bar-Or: How did the delegation react to this statement?

Witness Cohn: We got up, I myself, as the representative of the Palaestina Amt I said: "We are unable to ensure quotas because this is not in our hands. With regard to Palestine we are dependent on the Mandatory Government who, as you know, do not grant us many 'certificates' and behave very miserly. Eppstein also got up and somebody else, and said the same with regard to the other countries. It was most difficult to obtain visas. Therefore if we are to be held responsible, you will be able to blame us when we are unable to fill the quota." That was one of our arguments. The second argument was that we were indeed in favour of a mass exodus at the present juncture after the Munich conference, but not in this manner of being under pressure by the Gestapo, having a quota set down for us. We said we were not executives acting for the Gestapo, but rather were representatives of the Jewish institutions, and that we wished to remain in that status. Therefore that was our attitude. I don't remember how he reacted to that. Meanwhile it had become rather late. It was dark outside. Eight o'clock, half past eight, nine. I don't remember any more how many hours that meeting lasted. Then he adjourned the meeting and told us to inform him by the next morning that we would cooperate and send the people to the "Zentralstelle."

Q. That is how the meeting ended?

A. Yes, but we did not disperse. We gathered in the home of one of the members and deliberated until late into the night. We called Hirsch who had not been present, and said:"We have no other choice, we must cooperate. We knew that a world war was imminent and that we had to do everything we could. We worked day and night in order to find Jews. After all, the arrangement was practical and in this way the process was greatly speeded up. In general the procedure took weeks or months and we wanted to speed it up. We drew up a written declaration and delegated one of those present, I think Dr. Eppstein, to go to the Gestapo and inform them that in view of the situation we would do everything within our power. But we stressed that we were not an executive agency of the Gestapo, but were doing this on the strength of the authority conferred on us by the Jewish institutions. Later, at noon, I went to Eppstein's office. He told me that he was received not by Eichmann but by this senior officer whose name I don't know any longer and that he showed him the declaration. The officer kept silent and didn't react to it in any way. That was the end of this incident.

Q. You left Germany, Mr. Cohn?

A. Yes.

Q. When?

A. During the last week of March 1939. I left with a heavy heart. The Jews were in a state of despair. There were no means of subsistance; there were unending slanders. Most Jews did not know how to make a living. The possibilities for emigration were very limited and we were facing a world war. I left with a heavy heart.

Q. Mr. Cohn, I have another question to you. Are you familiar with a book called Eine Geschichte der Juden (A History of the Jews), the name of the author is Josef Kastein, a book which appeared in Vienna in 1935?

A. Before the occupation?

Q. Yes.

A. I know it.

Q. I draw your attention to page 16 of this book and ask you to read the first paragraph on that page.

A. Does this have any connection with me?

Q. All I wanted to ask you is whether you know the book.

A. I know it but I don't remember its contents.

Presiding Judge: Why do you make Mr. Cohn read this, Sir? The interpreter can read it and also translate it.

Witness Cohn: I can do it myself.

Presiding Judge: I simply want to spare you the trouble, Sir.

Witness Cohn: I am still in full possession of my strength. This is a book which I read many years ago and I don't remember its contents at all.

State Attorney Bar-Or: You must have read it in Germany?

Witness Cohn: Yes. The first paragraph is "The Motive." The German style is very complicated, convoluted and metaphysical.

Presiding Judge: Now I want to spare the interpreter!

State Attorney Bar-Or: I want to submit the book only for the sake of marking this paragraph.

Judge Halevi: Why is this necessary? If it is a continuation of yesterday's philosophical-metaphysical discussion - I think that yesterday this was also out of place.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Today I am far from any philosophical-metaphysical discussion. We want to show that there is a close non-metaphysical link between this paragraph and the actions of the Accused during the years 1937 to 1942. Quotations from this book will also appear on further occasions.

Judge Halevi: Does the Accused quote this book?

State Attorney Bar-Or: No. But we shall prove later that there is a connection.

Interpreter: "At this stage of the history of the Jews three elements are already clearly visible, which have a continuing and decisive influence and which shall be elucidated already at this point in anticipation of later events. The Jewish people comes into being only through a continuous isolating process which goes on for decades. This striving towards isolation goes on for thousands of years up to the present. It is an intrinsic feature of the race, a metaphysical element. Furthermore, fate has imposed on Jewish history the principle of selection. At every major turning point of history there occurs a reduction of the substance, a crystallization of the nucleus. If this enforced selection means at the same time keeping alive its resistent parts then it becomes comprehensible that this people acquires a kind of vital superiority over its surroundings. And finally: as soon as hostilities arise around the Jewish people they engender resistance, active or passive, depending on time and place, but always resistance that is fruitful in that it brings about, each time anew, self-determination and self-limitation and continually nurtures the will to exist."

State Attorney Bar-Or: Thank you, Mr. Cohn.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, do you have questions to this witness?

Dr. Servatius: I have a number of questions.

Presiding Judge: You will wait for the translation first, Mr. Cohn.

Dr. Servatius: Witness, you spoke about the farewell meeting for Mr. Prinz in 1937 and said that there was a Gestapo man present who, in your opinion, was Eichmann. Did Eichmann interrupt the speaker or interfere in any other way?

Witness Cohn: The answer is no. He sat there and took notes. That is all.

Q. Was the Jewish Star worn already then, at the time of that meeting?

A. No. Certainly not. Only years later.

Q. Did you ever have to wear the Jewish Star while you were in Germany?

A. No. I left Germany before this obligation, this honour, was imposed on the Jews.

Q. As to the second meeting, where you saw Eichmann for the second time, as you say, the meeting in the Gestapo Office - you do not know exactly what building that was? You said Kurfuerstenstrasse.

A. No. This is an error. It was Prinz Albrechtstrasse. We used to go there every week. In Kurfuerstenstrasse there was the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. That was a different place.

Q. Was the Central Office for Jewish Emigration already in existence at that time?

A. No. It was about to be set up.

Presiding Judge: I understood the witness to have said that at that meeting the establishment of this office was discussed.

Witness Cohn: The future establishment.

Dr. Servatius: Were you in the office of the senior SS officer?

Witness Cohn: This wasn't clear to us. We were invited to a certain room, we went to the information window, were directed to the room and entered. Whose room it was - that we didn't know.

Presiding Judge: Who was sitting at the desk?

Witness Cohn: There were two desks. At one of them the senior SS officer was sitting and at the other Eichmann.

Dr. Servatius: You said that Eichmann was there - or the man whom you call Eichmann - in civilian clothes. How did you recognize that he had a lower rank than that officer?

Presiding Judge: I understood from the witness that only one of those present on the other side was in uniform and that this was not Eichmann.

Witness Cohn: We knew Eichmann's rank more or less since we called him "Sturmbannfuehrer." I don't remember what he was at that time.

Dr. Servatius: I understand the witness to mean that he thought this was Eichmann, although he did not know Eichmann, but saw that he had a lower rank, although he wore civilian clothes.

Witness Cohn: This is absolutely wrong. We knew this was Eichmann, among other things from the fact that he read to us passages about his deeds from the Pariser Tageblatt or another refugee newspaper. - He read about Eichmann. I recognized him and Eppstein and Stahl also recognized him. There was no doubt. We always knew his rank. That was the usual form of address in Germany, it was part of the name.

Presiding Judge: And you were well-versed in the SS ranks?

Witness Cohn: I learned this more or less during that time.

Dr. Servatius: Was the excitement caused by the reading of the articles describing him as a bloodhound?

Witness Cohn: My answer is yes.

Q. But did they, as a result of this, listen quietly to what the Jews had to say?

A. Yes, it was my impression, but a very subjective impression, that this officer restrained him, that he made him more moderate; the officer who was his superior. But his rage was no doubt caused by the expressions in the article.

Q. Weren't the things said by the Jewish side somewhat bold, considering that this took place in the Gestapo room so that they were likely to raise the tension?

A. This was a question of public morals. We saw ourselves as representatives of the Jews of Germany in a very, very difficult hour and we felt we had to express what was in our hearts. Maybe it was somewhat risky. We were all afraid of being arrested. But we felt we owed this to our position. What Stahl said was very courageous - even though, internally, he was our, the Zionists', opponent, he was perhaps an anti-Zionist, but we acknowledged his daring, the strength of his daring and that he expressed what was in our hearts. These transports did cause great harm to orderly emigration.

Q. Were you afraid of being arrested? Was anything done by any authority or by Eichmann as a result of this daring and aggressiveness?

A. I know nothing about any such measures.

Q. Thank you. I have no further questions to the witness.

Judge Raveh: How long after this conversation did you leave Germany?

Witness Cohn: Some weeks later. I cannot say when exactly.

Judge Raveh: Many weeks? A few weeks?

Witness Cohn: Two to three weeks, maybe even one week. We didn't make notes of such things since there was control at the frontier.

Judge Halevi: Mr. Cohn, you mentioned that when a certain synagogue was burnt down in Berlin, the Jews took out the Torah Scrolls and you saw a German crowd rejoicing?

Witness Cohn: Yes.

Q. Was this the usual attitude of the German public to the persecution of the Jews or was the persecution limited to the authorities?

A. It is hard to say because at that time we were rather isolated from the Christians. We were in hiding. There were raids in the street and our communications were poor. I heard from another source - third or fourth hand - that there were religious Christians who said: Today the synagogues go up in flames, when will it be the turn of the churches? I didn't hear this with my own ears, but I was told that such things were said, especially by Christians.

Q. That was in 1938/39?

A. Yes.

Q. I wasn't only referring to this occasion of synagogue- burning. You were in Germany from 1933 till 1939?

A. Yes.

Q. And you said you used to leave Berlin and visit various towns?

A. Yes.

Q. You must have come into contact not only with Jews and with Nazi officials. My question is: What was the usual attitude of Germans who were not Jews and not officials of the regime?

A. I have to say that I did not come into contact with Christians at that time. We were already separated then, there was a strict partition between the Jews and the Gentiles. I don't remember speaking to a single Christian during all my travels in Germany. From the railway station I would go to a meeting or meet with the community officials and others and I would discuss our problems and theirs.

Q. You didn't come across expressions of objection to the persecution of Jews?

A. I did not. But this is not saying much since I didn't have contact with these people at that time.

Presiding Judge: Can you tell us what was the number of immigrants to Palestine from Germany during that period, let us say from 1933 until you left Germany?

Witness Cohn: The statistical service did not function properly then and there are differences of opinion. Some speak about 60,000, others about 100,000. The estimates vary between these two figures.

Q. Can you give us an idea about the quotas of immigration certificates allotted to the Palestine Office in Germany during that period?

A. During the first few years we received a good number of certificates, quite a number were given.

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