The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 34
(Part 6 of 8)

Q. And then you said there came a very senior officer of the SS?

A. Yes.

Q. What was the function of this officer?

A. He spoke to me and asked how our life was there. He was also accompanied by a man in civilian clothes. And when he finished talking to me, the man dressed in mufti spoke to me, saying that his name was Kastner, that I did not know him, possibly I knew other people, he mentioned to me the names of two people whom I actually knew, one was Nathan Schwalb, who was in Switzerland, and Dr. Abeles, who was with us on the train, and he said: "I promise you that you are going to be sent to a good place."

Q. And who was the second man?

A. He was Kastner.

Q. One was Kastner, and the second one?

A. A senior SS officer, SS Standartenfuehrer.

Q. You don't remember his name?

A. I can imagine who he was, but I did not know at the time.

Q. But at that time two trainloads were sent onwards to Germany, to the East?

A. Yes. Because of breakdowns on the lines we were unable to travel directly. We went, then, via North Germany. For a whole day we travelled about 40 kilometres, not more. Sometimes there was no coal, sometimes there were bomb attacks and so on, and then we could not make so much progress. And finally, I remember, we even turned back - evidently there was a battle going on, we heard cannon fire, and the following morning we travelled back. In this way we moved around until we were liberated at Truwitz.

Q. That is to say - you arrived at a place other than the one the train was supposed to reach?

A. Certainly, since it was a little village where no one knew about our coming. It was a very remote village.

Q. What were the functions of that youth who you said was interrogated and committed suicide in gaol?

A. He was a leader in the Hehalutz youth movement, he was an instructor there, he taught, he performed all the duties of a leader. But he also carried out cultural activity - he issued brochures. Apart from that he began to occupy himself, in the underground movement, with forged papers and the transfer of people - first of all the concealment of people with non-Jews, and afterwards with smuggling them out to France. Some of them worked in the "Organization Todt"; this was the largest individual enterprise in the whole of Western Europe, and they were accepted, because many of them, who were members of Hechalutz, had come before from Germany and spoke a good, correct German, and hence they were able to find a place for themselves there.

State Attorney Bach: I believe that it may be possible to identify the incident in connection with the question of His Honour, Judge Halevi. [To the witness] That Standartenfuehrer who was with Dr. Kastner - what was the colour of his hair?

Witness Melkman: I don't remember.

State Attorney Bach: We have other evidence of this visit, which we shall reach at a later stage.

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

Mr. Bach, I shall now, for the time being, hand back to you this collection of Belgian documents.

State Attorney Bach: Thank you, Your Honour. Perhaps we shall photocopy separately the document that I wanted to submit, and then it can be put into the file.

Presiding Judge: The Court gives its decision No. 18

Decision No. 18

Mr. Bach applies to submit an affidavit of a Belgian citizen on the general background of the persecution of the Jews of Belgium. The contents of the statement do not refer, as we have been told, to the personal liability of the Accused. Dr. Servatius does not oppose the submission of the declaration, and from this position of his it appears that it is not his intention to cross-examine the witness. Accordingly, we allow the submission of the affidavit as evidence, by virtue of our authority under section 15 of the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, 5710-1950.

State Attorney Bach: This was our document No. 1257.

Presiding Judge: T/524.

State Attorney Bach: We have here, Your Honour, many passages which we shall prove in more detail through other witnesses, and hence I would not want to refer to them. Perhaps the Court will permit me merely to read extracts from this affidavit.

Presiding Judge: Within reason, I assume?

State Attorney Bach: Yes.

"My name is Felix Gutmacher, I was born in Brussels on 31 January 1926, and I am a Belgian citizen. I serve as a lawyer at the Appeals Court of Brussels. My parents were natives of Poland and immigrated to Belgium in 1923. They were traders. I had two brothers.

"At the time of the declaration of war, we - my elder brother and I - were studying in high school. On 10 May 1940 we left for France, like most Belgians, but we had to return to Belgium, since we were surrounded in northern France by the advancing German army. In the years 1941-1942, the persecutions commenced in the sense that Jewish commercial houses were closed on the orders of the German authorities. My parents were compelled to close their clothing business..."

Presiding Judge: Does "within reason" mean the whole affidavit?

State Attorney Bach: No. I thought of reading this paragraph only. When he talks, later on, of the situation, I intended to leave that out and merely to mention what is referred to in those papers. But I only want to state who the man was, who his family were.

Presiding Judge: Very well.

State Attorney Bach: "...As we were Jewish, we were forbidden to visit certain institutions, to be found in the street after a certain hour in the evening...our liberty was very restricted. The summonses to the assembly camp of Malines began in June-July 1942." Then he describes what happened to his father and his brothers, how his mother died as a result of all the excitement, and afterwards he describes how he was arrested by men of the SS, with blows and threats, how he was brought to the Gestapo camp, together with others.

"Here they undressed us completely, first of all, in order to search us. At that time I witnessed very cruel scenes on the part of the Nazi guards. Particularly shameful was their behaviour towards the young women who were there in our midst, naked, because of their being examined and because of the degrading posture in which we were forced to stand." Thereafter he recounts that they did not receive any news from the family all the time he was under arrest, how the Germans regularly arranged transports of one thousand Jews each.

"I myself was deported in the ninth transport in the middle of September. Very early one morning, we were taken to cattle waggons that were close to the camp exit, and we were loaded on them, one on top of the other, with the few effects with which we were still left. This departure gave rise to heart-rending scenes, for we knew, more or less, what awaited us. In the course of the journey, they gave us practically nothing to eat or drink. In order to sleep, we had to find a corner where we could sit down and recover, so that in particular the women and children could get some rest."

After that he describes how they reached a particular place where all the men from 16 to 45 were required to alight from the train. Those who were unwilling to do so were removed by force. Only afterwards did it become known that all the others - those who were not taken off the train - were brought to Auschwitz and exterminated. He himself, together with those who were fit for work, was transferred to the Sakrau camp. And here, one day, a German came to the camp whom they called "Judenhaendler" (the trader in Jews).
"He proceeded to classify the prisoners in order to arrange transports destined for the concentration camps. He questioned each one about his profession and tested them carefully, in order to find out what was their physical stamina. One could plainly observe that he actually took pleasure in being able to select prisoners who were to be sent to an extermination camp, those prisoners who said that they were members of the intellectual professions or introduced themselves as industrialists. I announced that I was an agricultural worker, and thanks to this statement of mine I was able to remain, for the time being, in the transit camp."

"But afterwards he was sent to another place called Koenigshuette. He describes the place, the terrible conditions, the illnesses, the pneumonia and the furuncles, which he contracted from the absence of hygienic conditions. Later on, in 1943, that same "trader in Jews" came again and announced that he needed volunteers who would have to perform labour which was not too heavy, that he required 500 volunteers, and many volunteered. Subsequently it emerged that those were sent to do work in an arms factory, where they worked in rooms where sulphur products were being prepared. The Jews were forbidden to wear protective masks which the other prisoners used. They were soon poisoned by the sulphur, and almost all 500 died within a short time. "These details were given to me by one of the few survivors of this group whom I saw afterwards in the camp at Blechhammer. He no longer had any fingernails, he had lost his eyelashes and his eyebrows, the skin of his whole body was completely yellow, and he was truly in a corpselike state. Incidentally, he died after some time in Blechhammer."

After this, the witness describes what happened in that camp at Blechhammer. Again the tortures and the living conditions.
"Often we were called together in this way in order to be present at hangings of comrades who had been accused of various 'crimes,' such as corresponding with their families through the non-Jews in the factory, or because they accused them of acts of sabotage, or because they found a piece of barbed wire on their person which they wanted to save for themselves, in order to bind their shoes together, and which, the Germans contended, came from telephone wires that had been cut."
Subsequently, in the summer of 1944, a plague of dysentery broke out, and he, too, was stricken with this illness, and all those who became ill were sent to Auschwitz for extermination. He himself was saved by the fact that he took the advice of his doctor and stopped eating altogether.

Later on came a plague of typhus which claimed many victims.

"In the end, in January 1945, after the Russian attack, we were forced to leave the camp." Here he describes the well-known "death march," "when, with our torn clothing and wearing shoes with wooden soles, we had to march for several days and nights in the snow and in the cold wind, without food all the way. Soon some of the prisoners could not keep up with the others, and they were obliged to lie down along the way. SS men travelled by car behind the long and sorry column of prisoners and killed all those who fell down with shots from their rifles or revolvers."
He describes the days and the nights of that march which ultimately reached a huge barn where they had to crowd in, one on top of the other. And when the Germans wanted to take them out of the place where they had spent the night under indescribable conditions, without air, and in particular without room to stretch their limbs or even to sit down -
"since we had no strength left because of our great weariness, they shot at us with their revolvers and killed and wounded many of our comrades in order to frighten us and to urge us to get out more quickly. When we were outside, we realized that the interior of the barn was strewn with dead bodies and with prisoners who had become stiff from weariness and who were immediately killed."
Thereafter he describes the agonies of the march in the snow and the cold. They did not receive food, they were thirsty and swallowed some snow in order to assuage their thirst.
"The salts within the snow acted on our exhausted bodies and caused a swelling of the body, especially in the legs - something which added to the numbers of victims who were killed along the way."
"I myself," he says, "was completed enfeebled. I walked barefoot for I could no longer endure the shoes with the wooden soles - which interfered with our progress."

Sometimes they received a little food.

"At the end of a fortnight we arrived at the camp at Gross-Rosen." And next he describes the deep mud through which they had to wade and in which they sank up to their knees. "Thus people fell in a heap, many of whom were left stretched out in the mud into which they had sunk. They were trampled upon by those coming after them and perished in this way."
They then came to some huts, were forced with blows from rifle butts, to enter these huts, which were completely bare, and they found themselves lying down with a number of prisoners who had still remained alive.

The following morning, SS men brought them out, again with blows. Some of them were afraid to go out, but they were removed by force.

"These scenes of slaughter were repeated during the three or four days we remained in this hell; I remember particularly having to remain for several hours on end on the roll call parade ground, with bare feet in the mud and snow. Once such a roll call even lasted for ten hours on end.

"Eventually, we were piled into railway waggons, where we were kept for eight hours, and from time to time we received a slice of dry bread from the SS men. After an eight-hour journey under these conditions, we reached Buchenwald. There they conveyed us to a small camp which contained many Jews who had arrived in recent days from camps in the East. They crowded us into the huts. We slept on wooden bunks of three or four tiers."

And there they regarded him as a "Muselmann," that is to say, unfit for work, and he was sent to the hut of those who were destined for extermination.
"Afterwards I learned that there was no more fuel for the incinerator. This saved us at that time. With the approach of the American army at the end of March 1945, the Germans gathered the Jews of the Buchenwald camp and loaded them on to waggons. We learned that most of them were put to death in the nearby forests. Others were sent to labour camps on the Czech border."

"I myself was rescued from this new extermination when I pretended to be dead. I weighed only 33 kilograms. I was dragged to a pile where bodies were stacked up, and I remained there for several hours."

Subsequently, when the roll call was over, he dragged himself into a nearby hut. There he met a fellow prisoner - a non-Jew - and told him what had happened to him. "This friend hid me under the board which he used for sleeping and he shared with me the 200 grams of bread and the litre of soup that he received daily." He stayed there for more than a week, until the Americans liberated him. And he adds:
"Afterwards I was informed that out of the 5,000 prisoners of Blechhammer only 750 reached Buchenwald alive - most of whom, incidentally, died a short while thereafter. Out of the 1,000 prisoners who were deported from Malines and who were in the same transport as I was, nine survived. Tuberculosis had made its mark on almost all of them, and they had to be treated for years in sanatoria. I myself remained for four years in a sanatorium, for both my lungs were affected. I should add that after my deportation both my father and my elder brother were arrested by the Gestapo and deported. My father died there, and my brother returned miraculously. But he, too, bore the cruel signs of torture and deprivation."

"The details I have recounted are only the more salient facts of the persecution which I underwent. The gravity of the acts of torture lies perhaps still more in details which cannot be described. I would need three years in order to describe the three years of my deportation."

I now intend, Your Honours, to support by means of documents what we have heard today from the witness Dr. Melkman, and at the same time to prove by means of documents the direct link between the Accused and each one of the stages of the process of the extermination of the Jews of Holland to which we have been listening.

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