The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 32
(Part 3 of 5)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. What were the conditions there?

Presiding Judge: Mr. Bach, I believe we must be brief on this. I believe there is still much that the witness has to recount.

State Attorney Bach: Where were those children and adults finally taken?

Witness Wellers: After four or five days in the Velodrome d'Hiver, they were sent to the camps of Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers in the Orleans region.

Q. And there, at Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers, they separated the children from the parents?

A. Yes.

Q. What did they do with the parents?

A. The parents were deported directly from these two camps, without passing through Drancy.

Q. The children who remained, how many of them were there?

A. There were 4,000 children.

Q. Did you see these children?

A. Yes, I saw them.

Q. Do you know how they were separated from their parents?

Presiding Judge: Mr. Bach, I really think we could cut that short. He himself says that he did not see this; he only saw them when they reached Drancy.

State Attorney Bach: When did you see them after they reached Drancy?

Witness Wellers: They reached Drancy in the second half of August in four convoys of 1,000 accompanied by 200 adults who were not connected with them and were not their parents, and who had come with them from Pithiviers and Beaune-la- Rolande. They arrived in four different transports, each comprising 1,000 children and 200 adults. There were 4,000 children in all.

Judge Halevi: Were there 4,000 children or one thousand?

Witness Wellers: There were four transports which arrived at three- or four-day intervals, and in each transport there were 1,000 children and 200 adults. Consequently there were four transports carrying 4,000 children.

State Attorney Bach: Mr. Wellers, could you describe to the Court the appearance of these children in the camp?

Witness Wellers: They arrived in the camps in buses in the usual way. Everyone was transported that way - in buses guarded by Vichy policemen with Vichy Inspectors of Police. The buses came right into the camps. In the middle of the courtyard there was a place separated by barbed wire, and the buses came into this area very fast. The children were told to leave the bus because one bus followed the next at great speed, and they had to make way for the buses behind them. And so these unfortunate children were completely disoriented and at a loss; they left the buses in silence. They were taken in groups roughly corresponding to the numbers in each bus - there were sometimes fifty, sixty, eighty children. The older ones held the younger ones by the hand. No one was allowed to go near these children apart from a few people amongst us, including myself, who had special permission. They were taken into rooms in which there were no furnishings but only straw mattresses on the ground - mattresses which were filthy, disgusting and full of vermin.

Q. Mr. Wellers, did all these children know their own names?

A. No, there were many infants two, three, four years old who did not even know what their names were. When trying to identify them, we sometimes asked a sister, an older brother - sometimes we simply asked other children if they knew them, in order to find out what they were called. In this way we did find some names, very often no doubt quite a wrong one, and then in the camp we made little wooden discs, and on these discs the name was inscribed which had been established in this way, obviously without any certainty that the name was correct, and the discs were then attached with a string to the neck of each child. Unfortunately, some while afterwards, we found boys with discs carrying girls' names and girls with discs belonging to boys. The children amused themselves with these discs and swapped them.

Q. Mr. Wellers, what happened to these children's personal possessions?

A. Well, these children generally arrived with miserable bundles - very badly made up, naturally - and, as they were forced to get off the buses very quickly, the children usually forgot their miserable baggage in the bus, and then the buses were emptied and the bundles were left in the courtyard on the ground. When the buses left the camp, the children were brought back from the rooms to the middle of the courtyard to look for their belongings.

Q. What was the children's state of cleanliness?

A. Frightful. These children arrived at Drancy after already having been completely neglected for two or three weeks at Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers - they arrived with dirty, torn clothes in a very bad condition, often without buttons, often with one of their shoes completely missing, with sores on their bodies. They nearly all had diarrhoea; they were incapable of going down into the courtyard where there were lavatories. So sanitary slop- pails were put on the landings, but the small infants were incapable even of using these sanitary slop-pails which were too big for them, so on the day of the arrival of the first convoy, four teams of women were formed to care for them and look after these children - women who themselves were liable to deportation, so that when one of them was deported, she was replaced by another.

These women got up very early in the morning, before everyone else; they went to the children's quarters where the children were put 120 to a room, one on top of the other, on dirty mattresses, and they tried to do whatever was possible to repair the clothes as best they could, and to wash the children who soiled themselves throughout the day. There was neither soap nor linen; they did everything with their own handkerchiefs and with the cold water in the rooms. At midday they brought them soup. There were no mess-tins in the camp either, so they served them soup out of cans. The infants couldn't hold them in their hands, as the soup was hot, and there were children who were incapable of saying that they had not yet received their ration, and, well, it was these women who looked after them.

Q. Mr. Wellers, I have one question: Was it at all permitted for the adults to be with the children at night?

A. No, by 9 p.m. no adult had permission to be in the children's rooms apart from three or four people who generally had the right of circulating throughout the camp. I myself had this authorization. At night they were completely alone in these large rooms lit by a single bulb covered in blue paint, because it was wartime and in Paris the air-raid precautions required all visible bulbs to be painted blue. They were thus in semi-darkness, more than semi-darkness; in a place which was hardly lit at all. They slept on the floor, one next to the other. Very often they cried, they became agitated; they called for their mothers. It happened a number of times that a whole roomful of 120 children woke up in the middle of the night; they completely lost control of themselves, they screamed and woke the other rooms. It was frightful!

Q. Do you remember Jacques Stern?

A. Yes.

Q. Could you tell us in a few words what you know about this Jacques Stern?

A. It was a small episode, one among many. Rene Blum...

Q. Who was Rene Blum?

A. Rene Blum was the director of the "Ballets de Monte Carlo." He was a very well-known figure of the French theatre, the younger brother of Leon Blum, the celebrated French socialist leader and former Prime Minister...

Q. Was he, too, a prisoner at Drancy?

A. At that period he was at Drancy.

Presiding Judge: Were you asking about Rene Blum or about Jacques Stern?

State Attorney Bach: About Jacques Stern. Mr. Wellers began to say something about him in connection with Rene Blum.

Witness Wellers: Rene Blum was an extremely sensitive person. One day he asked me to take him to visit the children's rooms. I took advantage of a moment in the day when there was no supervisor - immediately after lunch - I took him with me and we went up into a children's room. When we entered this room, right next to the door stood a little boy - I think he must have been seven or eight years old; he was remarkably handsome, with a face which was very intelligent, very lively. He wore clothes which must have been of very good quality, rather stylish, but in a pitiful condition. One foot was bare, he wore only one shoe, he had a little torn jacket and buttons were missing. He appeared rather happy.

When we went in, Rene Blum went up to this child. Rene Blum was a very large man, thin but very tall; the child was small. Rene Blum came up to him and asked him how old he was. I think he answered seven or eight years old, I don't remember exactly. He asked him what his parents did. The child answered: My father goes to the office and Mummy plays the piano. She plays very well, he added.

Then Rene Blum, continuing the conversation - no, I beg your pardon. At that moment, the boy turned to both of us and asked us if he would soon be leaving to join his parents, because I should tell you that we told these children that they would be leaving the camp of Drancy in order to rejoin their parents. We knew very well that it wasn't true, not because we knew what happened to Jewish children at Auschwitz - not at all - but we had seen in what circumstances they had been brought to Drancy and in what conditions they left, and we were sure that they would never rejoin their parents at their place of arrival. So I answered this boy: Don't worry, in two or three days you'll rejoin your mother. He had a little jacket with little pockets, and from one pocket he took out a little half-eaten biscuit in the shape of a soldier which had been given to him.

And he told us: "Look, I'm bringing this to Mummy." Rene Blum, no doubt deeply moved, then bent over the little boy who looked very happy, very engaging. He took his face in his hands and wanted to stroke his head, and at that moment the child, who only a moment ago had been so happy, burst into tears, and we left.

Q. Mr. Wellers, what happened to those four thousand children?

A. They were all deported in the second half of August and the beginning of September, in the space of about two weeks, in convoys consisting of 1,000 children and 500 adults taken from Drancy.

Q. Were all the children deported?

A. All the children were deported.

Q. Mr. Wellers, do you remember Hauptsturmfueher Roethke?

A. Very well.

Q. Was he present during the deportations of the children?

A. He was present during the deportations of the children.

Q. Was Roethke present during several deportations of children from Drancy?

A. Certainly, during several children's transports. He was present at nearly all the departures from Drancy, and, taking into consideration that at least eight convoys of children left the camp, I am sure that Roethke was present at all eight or at least at six or seven.

Q. Mr. Wellers, did the children leave the camp easily?

A. No, most of the time this, too, was a terrible operation. They were woken up early, at 5 o'clock in the morning; they were given coffee. They had woken up badly, in a bad mood. At five o'clock in the morning, even in the month of August in Paris, it is still very dark; it is still almost night, and when they wanted to get them to come down into the courtyard, it was usually very difficult. So the women volunteers tried through persuasion to get the older ones to come down first, but several times it happened that the children began to cry and struggle. It was impossible to bring them down into the courtyard of the camp, and so policemen had to go up into the rooms and take in their arms the children who were struggling and screaming. They took them down into the courtyard.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Bach, could this testimony end by the intermission?

State Attorney Bach: No, but this is a convenient moment for the intermission. We still have the period of Alois Brunner, following those of Dannecker and Roethke. That is a very important part of the testimony.

Mr. Wellers, when you reached Auschwitz in 1944, did you see any of these children still alive?

A. No, certainly not.

Judge Halevi: Were they sent to Auschwitz? The last document you presented referred to the Generalgouvernement.

State Attorney Bach: Yes, the transports were indeed taken there. I now turn to another question. May I continue for another three or four minutes?

Presiding Judge: Please do.

State Attorney Bach: Mr. Wellers, were there many suicides at Drancy?

Witness Wellers: There were periods in which there were many suicides, among them summer 1942. I think that probably in two months or two months and a half there must certainly have been a hundred suicides. These suicides were rather ill-regarded in the camps. Those who tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide were strongly criticized subsequently by their comrades because it was thought that somebody who wanted to commit suicide should do so after leaving the camp and not while there, because the person who committed suicide was replaced by another person, in order to make up the convoy of one thousand.

Judge Raveh: How many people were in the camp at that time?

Witness Wellers: At that period the population of the camp fluctuated between 4,000 and 8,000 people.

State Attorney Bach: Did you see the deportation of sick people with a fever?

A. Oh, yes. They brought to almost every convoy seriously ill cases on stretchers, they brought people in plaster casts, they brought insane people whom the doctors injected with tranquillizers before putting them on the buses. It was quite usual.

With your permission, I will add something to this. I have been talking about the sick and wounded who were in the infirmary at the camp at Drancy. In addition to this, when there was a lack of people at the camp in Drancy, they went to the Hopital Rothschild, which was the only hospital in the Paris region where Jews were admitted. They went to the Rothschild old people's home, which was the only old people's home open to Jews, and to the Rothschild children's home, and they took the sick, the old people and the children to Drancy to make up the transport.

Q. Did you see women leaving with their babies after giving birth?

A. Yes, it was also the rule that when women arrived at Drancy at the end of their pregnancy, they were kept there for a short time until they gave birth, and immediately afterwards they were deported with the newborn baby.

Q. Did you see cases of citizens of neutral countries whose passports were ripped up in front of them, and who were then declared stateless persons and thus liable to deportation?

A. Yes, that was later, in Brunner's time.

Presiding Judge: Who did this?

Witness Wellers: Brunner himself did it.

Q. Do you know Brunner's first name?

A. I think it was Alois.

Presiding Judge: Are you now beginning with Brunner?

State Attorney Bach: Yes.

[To witness] You spoke about Roethke. How many times did you see him at Drancy?

Witness Wellers: Many times, because he was present at most of the deportations, and as I saw some forty deportations, I am sure I saw him a great deal.

Q. How did he behave?

A. Well, he behaved in a rather unobtrusive manner. He stayed near the entry and exit gate of the camp and did not interfere in what was taking place in the camp. I never once saw him address a single Jew. He kept close to the inspectors, near to the place which every deportee passed in order to enter the cars, but I never saw Roethke personally intervene in anything whatsoever. He appeared to supervise everything, but not to intervene directly.

Q. When did Alois Brunner arrive in the camp?

A. I think I saw Brunner for the first time on 17 or 18 June, 1943. He came to the camp alone, and he installed himself at a little table in the middle of the camp courtyard with an inspector of Petain's police by his side, and all the prisoners of the camp - I think, at that period there must have been not quite 3,000 of us - were called to present themselves to Brunner. He interrogated each one. That lasted for three days, and on 21 June a convoy was formed which had been formed entirely by Brunner. That convoy left the camp, I believe, on 23 June, after which Brunner went away and I saw him again only on 2 July, the date on which he took command of the camp and the date from which he was continuously at Drancy.

Q. You said that he assumed command. Could you tell us what changes took place as a result?

A. There was a complete change. That very day, 2 July 1943, Brunner sent away the whole Vichy administration of the camp - the Vichy commandant of the camp and inspectors of police, and likewise the doctor, the economic administrator, and all the internal guards of the camp. That is to say, the policemen no longer had the right to enter the camps, they only guarded the camps from the outside. From that day onwards, we no longer saw any Vichy administration, he even sent away two nurses of the French Red Cross who had worked for a year and a half in the camps. He arrived on 2 July with three other persons who, if I am not mistaken, held ranks in the SS. There was a non-commissioned officer Brueckler, who I think was a Hauptscharfuehrer, and then there was another called Weisel, who was an Oberscharfuehrer, and a fourth one, called Koettler, who was an Unterscharfuehrer, and that was Brunner's team. Thus, all in all, there were four.

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