The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 27
(Part 4 of 10)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. What was the name of the woman?

A. Her name was Pessia Aharonowicz. She changed her name. Up to the last day in the ghetto I saw her as a worker in the ghetto workshops. And all the time she sat there and remained silent and did not tell anyone that she was saved from Ponar; she was afraid that if this were revealed to the Germans, that would be the end of her.

Q. Let us go back a little. Immediately, in July 1941, an order was issued which obliged you to wear the yellow badge.

This was a sign of identification for the Jews?

A. Correct. This was the sign that turned us into an object of mockery and scorn and we were at the mercy of all our neighbours.

Q. Subsequently there were other signs you were ordered to wear?

A. Every few weeks the signs were changed: once it was a white bandage, after that a blue Shield of David, afterwards a yellow Shield of David, later on patches of different kinds, until in the end we had to wear the badge on the chest and on the shoulder, so that both the neighbour in front of whom we were walking and the neighbour behind whom we were walking could see us, so that they might be able to shoot us, and to expel us from the society of live human beings.

Attorney General: May I request Dr. Dworzecki's book for a moment? Dr. Dworzecki, in your book there is a list of these signs which were changed from time to time.

Witness Dworezecki: Work certificates.

Q. And thereafter there is a "tin number." What is this "tin number." What page is it on?

A. On page 65. The Germans gave us various certificates and these certificates were changed like by a kaleidoscope, in order to confuse, to mislead, to reduce awareness and weaken the spirit of revolt. From the very beginning they gave us certificates, and afterwards it turned out that there were two kinds of certificates - those with photographs and those without photographs. It turned out that if they seized you with a certificate bearing a photograph, you remained alive, and if the certificate was without a photograph, you were taken away for further examination.

Afterwards they introduced certificates for girls which were signed by the Judenrat and also stamped by the district officer. Later on there were certificates stamped Facharbeiter (skilled worker), and we noticed that whoever had a certificate marked Facharbeiter was more protected for the time being. And all the time there was this chasing after the best certificate, and one had always to be on the alert in order to know when there would be another certificate.

Later on came the days of the yellow certificates Lebensschein (life certificate), and the Germans promised that whoever had such a certificate would remain alive. Thereafter they gave members of the family, a wife and two children - not more - they gave them blue life certificates and green life certificates. Afterwards they added additional blue, green pink, violet certificates. After that they issued a "Ghetto Passport." Following that they issued a pink labour certificate, and subsequently, finally, they gave us this certificate that everyone had to wear on his chest like a dog, and we called this "hintischer nummer" (dog number) - a piece of tin on which there was the person's number, W.G. "Vilna Ghetto," and M (Man) or W (Woman) was also written there so that there should be no mistake. All this kaleidoscope was a planned and calculated method to deceive the population of the ghetto, to confuse it and to undermine its strength and its awareness towards revolt.

Q. Tell me, Dr. Dworzecki, what happened when someone was unable to secure for himself and for the members of his family any valid certificate - a life certificate?

A. When a person was unable to secure a life certificate for himself, there were two courses open to him, or one course: one way was to be kidnapped - but the people of the ghetto did not want to be kidnapped; so they organized places of concealment in the Vilna Ghetto; they were called "Malines," after the verse "ve'notra Bat- Zion...Kimeluna ve'miksha" (And the daughter of Zion is a lodge in a garden of cucumbers (Isaiah 1:8).

Then an underground town was established. Every simple house had a built-in hideout - either in the cellars or in the attic walls, or below a well, or beneath a lavatory or under any storeroom. These bunkers constituted a network, and it was sometimes possible to pass from one bunker to the next, from one malina to the next. Hence in the course of months, in the course of years, the ghetto became, from top to bottom, an underground city of malinas.

Q. And anyone found by the authorities and who did not possess a valid certificate - what would happen to him?

A. Anyone who was seized by the authorities and who did not possess a good certificate - ended up in Ponar.

Q. Do you remember the case of a man who returned home and reported to his mother: Mother, I was obliged to take out a certificate either for you or for my wife?

A. Yes, I remember this. This was a painful problem throughout the ghetto, where they gave people one yellow certificate and they could register a wife and two children. But if a man had a wife and a mother - he had to choose whom he would register.

Presiding Judge: The man himself?

Witness Dworzecki: He himself had to decide upon whom he wanted to bestow life.

Attorney General: On what basis did he get the certificate?

Witness Dworzecki: That he should register either his wife or his mother.

Q. But what was the general basis on which a man received such a certificate?

A. We came to the police and said: "This is me, this is my wife and those are my children."

Presiding Judge: Did every Jew receive it?

Witness Dworzecki: No, only those who possessed a certificate that he was a skilled person, that he was working in some profession recognized as a vital profession. Those professionals who were considered to be of no importance were teachers, writers, journalists. Important ones were shoemakers, tailors, furriers who could be of use to the army. There were a number of doctors in order to treat sickness in the ghetto. But a man of the spirit or intellect - a teacher, a rabbi, a ritual slaughterer, a judge of a religious court, a writer, a journalist - these were of no importance and weren't able to receive any life certificate.

Attorney General: And so a man would come home and say: "Mother..."

Witness Dworzecki: A man would come home and say to his mother: "I have here a certificate and I can register either you, mother, or my wife. One of you has to hide in some bunker in a Malina, perhaps luck will come her way, perhaps not. And if I have three children, I can register only two and I must abandon the third child to the Germans. I remember a case where someone went to his mother and said: "Mother of mine - you tell me what to do. Wasn't it you who led us to the marriage ceremony and now I can take only you or my wife?" And then the mother said to him: "It is written in our Holy Torah 'Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and remain attached to his wife.' Your wife was destined for you by Heaven, you have to build a family for yourself; I forego my life - give life to your wife." And she gave a last blessing to her son, to the wife and to the children.

Q. This man was you, Dr. Dworzecki.

A. I was the man.

Q. How was the population of men and of the intelligentsia in the ghetto reduced?

A. When the Germans entered we noticed a very characteristic phenomenon. From the very beginning the seizures were carried out solely on men. From the suburbs, from the centre of the city, young men aged 20, 30, 40, and up to 50 kept on disappearing, and there remained women, husbandless women. And we also noticed that the teachers, the writers, the journalists continued to disappear. One day was devoted specially to Rabbis' Day.

On that day the Germans went from house to house with a list and removed the rabbis, the judges, the judges of the religious courts. They took them away and they did not return. We understood that there was a German plan to eliminate the male population of the ghetto so that when the day came there would not be a fighting force. We knew that they kept on eliminating the intellectuals, men of spiritual stature and thinkers, so that there shouldn't remain leaders and guides for the revolt.

Q. Let us pass over the provocation which led to your being confined to the ghetto. We shall invite Abba Kovner to talk about this. Tell us how you went into the ghetto.

A. One day, early in the morning, German armoured cars suddenly entered the suburbs of Novigored and began taking out the people by force, men women and children. There was tremendous confusion. Children searched for their mothers, a mother would shout: "My child," and they began pushing us in the direction of the ghetto. As we were walking and approaching the ghetto, we heard shouts all the way. I am ashamed to relate that we heard the shouts of our Polish and Lithuanian neighbours who cried "Death to the Jews! Death to the Jews!" And this shout haunts me to this day. "Death to the Jews!" - this was our neighbours' blessing. And we were chased and herded into the ghetto. And suddenly we saw that they were splitting us into two columns - one section was brought to Straszuna Street and entered it, and the other part to Lidzki Street, adjoining Straszuna Street.

We went into the ghetto, the streets were teaming with people - no one knew where he should live. Suddenly we learned the first principle of the ghetto: let each person live wherever he could. We burst into apartments which were open and empty those were the apartments where, until a week ago, there had been 30,000 Jews, who as a result of the provocation, had been evacuated from this place to Ponar, and in this way they made room for us in the ghetto. Twenty to thirty of us went into a room, into a room in which some family had previously been living. We saw a photograph of an old man with a heavy beard, we saw a passport with the name "Kramer," we saw a glass of tea with jam, we saw an open prayer book. We understood - the man had been taken when he was about to go to sleep, taken to his death.

Throughout the night we heard shouts, and in the morning it became clear to us that the Jews who were taken to Lidzki Street were removed from there to the goal at Lukiszki, and from there to Ponar, hence life and death was a matter of chance. A person who happened to go to Straszuna Street remained alive, and one who chanced to go to Lidzki Street was put to death.

Q. How many people still remained alive in that ghetto at the time you entered it?

A. In that ghetto there were actually two ghettos - a first ghetto and a second ghetto. We had no statistics, but we believed that together there was a total of some tens of thousands. Some estimated it at 20,000 and others at 30,000. But one thing immediately became clear to us. In the second ghetto there were concentrated people without skills or people whose skills were not important in the eyes of the Germans. We called it "Ghetto of the non-professionals." They understood what awaited them. There began a clandestine movement from the ghetto of the non-professionals into our ghetto, that of the "professionals," until that ghetto was wiped out in several "actions."

I remember another name that was often mentioned, a man who always was standing near the "actions," Franz Muerer, who now lives a free man in Austria. He was the deputy Gebietskommissar (Area Commissioner). The Gebietskommissar was Hingst. Muerer was his deputy and the expert, referent on Jewish questions. We read in the press that Muerer is now a free man in Austria and that he has an important post in the agricultural field.

Q. Do you know which German unit he belonged to, which formation?

A. No.

Q. You do not know. Possibly Abba Kovner will know?

A. I only know that a few months ago he distributed medals of merit to farmers who had succeeded in their work, and that this was in the presence of the Minister of Justice in Austria.

Presiding Judge: You read this in a newspaper?

A. Yes.

Attorney General: And so the ghetto began to organize?

A. The ghetto began to organize from the first day. The doctors met together in Straszuna Street and began to set up a clinic and to organize a hospital. The teachers - led by an old and beloved teacher, Moshe Olitzky - decided to establish a unified school for all those children who previously had attended schools of different trends.

On the third night in the ghetto, I participated in the first underground meeting and I remember the faces of many of those who took part. Mordechai Tenenbaum-Tamaroff, the man who later became the legend of the revolt in the ghetto, and Yechiel Scheinbaum, who subsequently fell in the battle of the Barricade at 12 Straszuna Street.

Q. Did you also commence organizing cultural and educational work?

A. We commenced organizing cultural and educational work. The beginning of the cultural activity was the organization of schooling. Gradually we set up a school in the ruins of destroyed buildings, there was nowhere to sit - they sat on the ground. There were no desks - they put their exercise books on the shoulders of their fellow- pupils and wrote. We organized schools. In the course of time about 3,000 children studied there.

Q. How many Jews were there in Vilna on the eve of the outbreak of the War?

A. On the eve of the outbreak of the War there were about 80,000 people. During the War a further influx of refugees from German-occupied Poland was added. When we were put into the ghetto, we knew that in the first ghetto there were roughly 12,000-15,000 people, and in the second ghetto about 8,000-10,000 people during the few months until the liquidation of the ghetto.

Q. You knew that the ghetto was a corridor to extermination?

A. We knew, we understood that it was a corridor to extermination.

Q. You even spoke about it in your daily conversation?

A. We even spoke about it in our daily conversation, sometimes we would say "Meisim, lomer geyen" (Dead people, let us go). Sometimes the Germans used to distribute cheese - this was mainly after the "action." One day an "action" the next day they distributed cheese. And we even had a rhyme: "Es, mes (in the Ashkenazi pronunciation) weisse kez" (Dead man eat white cheese.) The Jews understood the sadistic irony of the Germans in giving cheese to the Jews after the slaughter of their brethren the previous day.

Q. After that there began the individual "actions?"

A. After that there were individual "actions," and thereafter collective "actions." Individual "actions" meant that they kidnapped people. They began for any trivial reason - the badge wasn't right, the paper wasn't in order, they didn't like it, for no reason at all - for the Jews were fair game in the hands of the Germans. Subsequently the collective "actions" began, firstly the Yom Kippur "action." You should know that the Germans had a predilection for carrying out "actions" and slaughter especially on Jewish Festivals and Holidays.

One of the greatest acts of slaughter, both in Ghetto No. 1 and Ghetto No. 2 was on Yom Kippur. Then there was the slaughter of the "Yellow Certificates" at the end of October and on about 3 November, the day after Hanukka, until there remained approximately 10,000 to 12,000 people.

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