The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 28
(Part 6 of 7)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. How old was he?

A. Seven - seven and a half. He would close the chest over his head and ask whether he could be seen; he would enter a cupboard, close it, look through the windows to see whether he couldn't see a German. This fear of the children who experienced these two days and who knew what was going on, who knew that their friends had gone or that their neighbours had gone, and the difficulties of keeping the children in the ghetto, became unendurable. And then, naturally, the parents who had previously thought of dying together with their children, they too sought ways of taking them to the other side of the fence.

Attorney General: Did you succeed in particular cases?

Witness Peretz: We succeeded in particular cases and a few dozens of children were also saved in this way.

Judge Halevi: Who was Dr. Boehmichen?

Witness Peretz: He belonged to the SS and so to speak dealt with the medical affairs of the ghetto. Altogether, this whole approach to matters of medicine and health in the ghetto - we always used to ask ourselves, as indeed we hear the questions today: What does this mean - they killed you en masse and yet worried about your health? This was one of the characteristics of this regime - to care; one person took care of the shooting and the killing and another took care of bread and another took care of hospitals. And when they subsequently gave us orders to open hospitals again in the second ghetto - this seemed very strange to us: Why hospitals? People were constantly being killed. But this is how it was, although the hospital was useful to us, we were able to set up a temporary operating theatre, to perform operations under better conditions, organized in a better way. This Boehmichen didn't take a practical interest in whether we had medicines, whether we had instruments to work with or not - this didn't concern him. He would merely enter, shout and give orders that had no relevance to his medical profession.

Judge Halevi: Was he a doctor?

Witness Peretz: Yes.

Q. And he participated in the "action" against the Jews?

A. Yes. He took part in the "action" against the children. We came across such doctors on more than one occasion in our experience, especially in the concentration camps.

Attorney General: Dr. Peretz, you mentioned the Jewish police. I understand that in Kovno the Jewish police were also not hated by the populace.

Witness Peretz: The Jewish police in Kovno were not hated by the populace. For in most cases these were boys whom we knew, and these boys even helped the partisan movement which developed at the end of the days of the ghetto - they assisted them to get out, as much as they could. I wouldn't say that there weren't also a few low types amongst them, but not the majority. Some of them actually paid with their lives.

Presiding Judge: Mr Hausner, why don't you sit down?

Attorney General: As long as the witness remains standing, I will also remain on my feet.

Presiding Judge: That doesn't matter.

Attorney General: [to the witness] One day did Jews from other countries arrive in Kovno?

Witness Peretz: At the end of 1941 an order was received to vacate a zone of the ghetto for Jews who were expected. Of course, the entire ghetto was in suspense to see who were these Jews coming to us in the ghetto. This zone remained vacant. But from time to time we saw columns of Jews passing through the main street of the ghetto which led to the Ninth Fort. These Jews, when they saw fellow Jews on the other side of the fence, would ask: "Ist noch weit der Lager?" (Is it still far to the camp?), for they had been told that they were taking them to a camp. We knew where this road led to.

Q. Where did it lead to?

A. To the Ninth Fort, to the pits. This fact was subsequently confirmed conclusively by the brigade of Jews who worked for the Gestapo. Their task was mainly to sort out the personal effects of the Jews, and they brought with them the possessions of the Jews from foreign countries. Amongst these possessions they found papers, for example a summons to report to such and such a railway station.

Q. Do you remember the towns from which they came?

A. They were from Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt-on-Main, but Dutch and Belgian Jews also arrived at the Ninth Fort. We also heard indirectly that they seemed to have refused to undress and that they struggled with the Germans. There, in their suitcases and amongst the personal effects they brought with them, they even had notices warning them to prepare for a hard winter, since they were bound for the "East." They even took along small stoves and warm clothing. On their suitcases the word "Israel" was written for a man, and the word "Sarah" for a woman, something which had not happened with us. We knew precisely - according to their effects- that they were from Western Europe. They had been told that they were being taken to work in the "East" and they were brought to Kovno.

Q. What did you do internally in order to strengthen Jewish life - the Jewish spirit?

A. To this end much was done. But I wouldn't say that it was all done in a planned and organized manner. With all of us, and especially with the Lithuanian Jew, who has great vitality, we tried to preserve both spirit and soul. After the decrees of 1942 to hand over all books and to close the schools, not to instruct, not to teach - needless to say, even after such orders Jews were studying clandestinely. There were Jews who went out with the brigades in order to secure a little food, and instead of food they used to bring in their sacks some books which they found in ruined houses.

Q. Did you organize relief enterprises?

A. We also had relief enterprises which were organized by the supreme council. In particular we took care of thousands of lone women - for in the ghetto, generally speaking, they first used to take the men and a large number of women were left on their own. Every woman was in greater danger than a man, for she had nobody to protect her. They were taken care of in various ways.

Q. Did you provide education for the children?

A. There was education. We opened a so-called vocational school, and under this guise, of course, children were also being taught. I must tell you that the image of the Jewish God was not lost to us even in the most terrible times. In particular this manifested itself later on, when we were in concentration camps.

Q. Do you recall a particular incident concerning the lawyer Lurie?

A. Yes.

Q. What happened?

A. The lawyer Lurie, he and his wife and son - in the days of the liquidation of the ghetto, when it was clear that they were going to remove us, and if they removed us, it was clear to us that this meant death - he decided with his wife to commit suicide. He poisoned himself, his wife and his son - his only child. But a great misfortune happened to this poor man. The dose of poison, which was sufficient for the child, did not suffice for him and his wife; both of them awoke the next morning and found the child dead in bed. He decided that he obviously could not go on living in such a situation. He and his wife went up to the fence where guards were posted - they ran forward as if to break out and were killed at the fence by the guards. This took place before the ghetto was liquidated.

Q. Describe the liquidation of the ghetto.

A. In the last year, the Russian front was approaching and, of course, operations began on the Western front, and with both fronts coming nearer, the hopes of the Jews rose. For our entire situation was one of gaining time - perhaps only in this way we would also gain our lives. And then we began digging below the ground. We were somewhat naive. We thought that it would be possible to dig ourselves in under the ground or to lie hidden in the attics and to overcome this crisis and be saved. Hence dozens of the Malines were dug out, some of them quite well constructed, and we resolved that, at the moment when the liquidation would begin, in other words when the front line approached Kovno, we would go down into these cellars. A part of the population decided not to hide and to go wherever they were taken. And, indeed, the entire Council of Elders was taken away.

In the very last days Jews still tried to force their way through the fence. Eleven persons died through deceit; seemingly the guards took money, as if to allow them to leave, but, somewhere there, two Germans with a machine gun had concealed themselves and shot them to death. After this incident, Jews no longer tried to leave. Then they began removing the Jews from the ghetto to the railway station. It was not known where they were bound for. I personally, together with my family, went into the bunker. We did not expect to die, but to be saved. However, the Germans knew about this and, during their hardest days, when the Russians were already at the outskirts of Vilna, they still found time to search for all the Jews who were hiding inside the Malines.

Judge Raveh: What period are you speaking of now?

Witness Peretz: I am talking of July 1944, approximately. They first of all began looking for Jews and those discovered were brought to one large building, and placed inside a large wooden building. They blew up the Malines and following the explosion people emerged, naturally wounded and stifled by smoke. Until a certain moment, the Germans went on taking these people out.

I was among those groups who were found a few hours before the last transport was taken to the railway station. All the remaining bunkers, which they were unable to discover easily, were blown up in the course of time, and then about 2,000 people were killed inside these bunkers; people emerged alive from only two of the bunkers. Oshry, (incidentally he wrote a book) who was inside one of the bunkers, remained alive. But they were few. Most of the bunkers were blown up and many died when they collapsed.

We were certain that we - the many thousands of people who had been gathered into this wooden building - that our end had come. We were already indifferent and had reconciled ourselves to it. They took us out on to the road and arranged us in rows. At that moment members of the SS passed by and removed individuals from the lines. These individuals totalled several hundreds. They were older, wounded from the explosions when they had been found in the bunkers, little children, women, old people, ragged, and they lined them up on one side. When they took them out and stood them on the side, a glimmer of hope arose again with those who remained in these ranks. And I remember a scene such pictures remain engraved in one's memory for a lifetime. I remained in line and a nurse who had worked with me for a long time stood at the side of the road. She was a midwife and had her little boy with her; they had been removed from the ranks and they stood outside. This was after the rain. There was a puddle of water, and she bent over to give the child some water from this puddle. In the middle of this scene we were ordered to move. We passed through the streets of Kovno. A few attempted to run away from the ranks. But neighbours were in the area who immediately informed on them and caused these people to be sent back to the ranks.

Q. Lithuanians?

A. Yes. They brought us there to the railway station in Kovno and loaded us on to freight cars. We knew that the Red Army was nearby and we hoped that possibly they would block the way. But these waggons moved off and brought us to Germany, and our suffering continued for almost another year.

When we left the ghetto, it was all in flames. We saw groups of people who had gathered at the ghetto cemetery where they had dug ditches and buried the people whom they had found dead. All the ghetto was full of broken fragments, feathers, furniture and desolation.

Attorney General: Dr. Peretz do you know how many of the Jews of Kovno survived?

Witness Peretz: In Kovno there were over 40,000 Jews. There remained alive approximately - I cannot say exactly - about two thousand persons.

Q. Is there anything special that you would like to add about the holocaust scenes in Kovno?

A. Naturally, as I have said, the most horrible scenes for us were those concerning the children. There was one other large "action." This was on 28 October, when they took 10,000 people to the Ninth Fort. There was a selection.

Q. What was the selection like?

A. Two days before they had put up a notice that on 28 October at six o'clock in the morning all the inmates of the ghetto, without exception, had to gather at such and such a location. Whoever was ill and couldn't move had to put up a notice on his door to the effect that he was at home and ill. This was an autumn day and at six in the morning it was still dark. From all the lanes of the ghetto the people poured forth to the appointed place, ordinary Jews, women with prams. A light snow was falling at the time. All of them gathered together - one sought the other. 27,000 people assembled on this field at the time.

They told the Council of Elders that they merely wanted to select the working people in order to give them better food rations, and those remaining - those who were not workers - would be housed in another place and would receive different food rations. Needless to say, after the previous "actions" people weren't so credulous. But it was in the nature of man and also part of our nature to believe each time that we would be left alive. 27,000 persons were assembled on this field and waiting, without knowing what their fate would be. Suddenly, a car arrived and out stepped an SS man, Rauko, who was known in the ghetto, and he took up his position on a small rise. He was tall - he looked like a pedigree horse - and the Jews started passing by him. We didn't know what his game was. We stood some distance from the focus.

Presiding Judge: What do you mean by "focus"?

Witness Peretz: The centre. But gradually we understood what his game was. He was separating the people with his finger to left or right. We saw that to the left side were passing the fitter people and the younger ones, fewer children. Jewish policemen from the ghetto were also taking them and accompanying them to this side. To the other side passed people who were more burdened with children, old people, ragged ones, those more weary and so on, and they were being received instead by the Germans and the Lithuanians who were beating them up - the attitude to them was quite different. We understood that the one side led to death and the other side to life.

This was the power of this regime that could immediately separate the people into groups, and of course by this means all resistance was lessened, since each one hoped to remain alive after all. This section that went to its death was placed in the small ghetto which had previously been emptied of all people, and they slept there, and also on that night everyone sought a better place, a better corner. They believed that they would remain there, but at four o'clock in the morning columns of people began ascending the hill that led to the Ninth Fort.

Attorney General: How many were there?

Witness Peretz: 10,000 went on that day. Some tried to escape from the columns. I was called to a neighbour's house, near the fence. Three women were lying there who had received dumdum bullets while attempting to escape.

Q. What day was that?

A. It was 28 October 1941, when 10,000 people went.

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

Dr Servatius: I have no questions.

Judge Raveh: Do you have an idea how many children were saved by being taken out of the ghetto?

A. I must admit that I do not have any statistics. I estimate that there were only tens and not hundreds.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Dr. Peretz, you have completed your evidence.

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