The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 35
(Part 4 of 4)

Q. When this happened, how did it affect the Jews?

A. This development, in itself, did not affect the Jews, especially at the beginning, for the Jews were accustomed to the fact that, whatever happened to the population as a whole, happened to them as well. But already during the year, or year and a half, prior to that, there were various occasions when rumours and cases of minor alarm spread amongst different sections within the community.

Q. Rumours concerning what?

A. Rumours concerning the preparation of various measures by the Germans against the Jews.

Q. Did you believe these rumours?

A. As I have said, it was a matter of degree - there were people who were more prone, those who had had more practical experience of the manifestations of anti-Semitism, who tended more to believe such rumours. On the other hand, the more settled sections - one could also say those who were more assimilated - were not easily inclined to give them credence.

Q. In September of that year, what became apparent?

A. Naturally, something different happened to each one, but...

Q. What happened to you?

A. My assessment was that the security of the Jews in Denmark depended on the general situation. It had become known on various occasions from quite reliable sources, that the government of Denmark had made it clear to the Germans in the most unambiguous terms that they regarded the Jewish Question as one of the basic criteria for non-interference by the Germans in the affairs of Denmark. Hence, it was the very existence of the Danish Government that gave us this justified feeling of security, at least in the beginning. To a certain extent this was also linked with the personality of the King. There were certain legends about what the King did or said; in this respect, although it was known that they were not always authentic, and even when it emerged that in reality they were not correct, they nevertheless represented the true nature of the King's attitude.

Q. When was the rounding-up operation by the Germans against the Jews actually carried out?

A. On the night of 1 October 1943, the Sabbath eve, and the following day.

Q. Did the Germans manage to preserve the secrecy of their designs until that day?

A. On the Tuesday of that week, 28 September 1943, information was received which originated with the German controller of shipping affairs in Copenhagen, Duckwitz.

Q. And where was the information received?

A. He gave the information to the leader of the Social Democratic Party, to Bohl, who had still been Prime Minister in the previous year, to Hedtoft, and to Hansson, both of whom had been Prime Ministers.

Q. And what was the information?

A. The information was accurate and well-based. The information was to the effect that the rounding-up would take place on the Sabbath eve and on Saturday night of that week. Through this advance information, we gained three days that enabled us to carry out steps that were actually decisive for the operation, for it is clear that the subsequent rescue was not accomplished all at once; it took two or three weeks, but in most cases people managed to find a hiding place.

Presiding Judge: I did not follow who was the person who passed on the information - a German or a Dane?

Witness Melchior: A German, the German in charge of shipping affairs in Denmark.

Q. On whose behalf was he in charge?

A. On behalf of the German authorities. His name was Duckwitz. He was appointed after the War to be the first ambassador of Bonn in Denmark, and he is, today, Director of the Department for Eastern Europe in the Foreign Ministry in Bonn.

State Attorney Bach: What did you do when you received this information?

Witness Melchior: The leaders of the Social Democratic Party, by themselves and through their representatives, got in touch with the Jews. It was on that same Tuesday, in the afternoon. Even then there were Jews who refused to believe. But they were given to understand that the Danish people, who received the information, had a great deal of confidence in their source, and even those who were simply unable to digest the information that something of this kind could happen in our midst were forced at least to adopt the precautionary measures that were required. The matter was particularly grave because the following day, Wednesday, was the eve of Rosh Hashana. Formal notification was, therefore, given in the morning by my father in the synagogue, to the effect that the Rosh Hashana services were cancelled, and the Jews were advised not to be found in their homes during the coming days, and to wait for matters to develop.

Q. Tell me, Mr. Melchior, this rumour surely did not only reach you, but certainly the non-Jewish sector in Copenhagen as well?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you personally experience a certain attitude towards the Jews in regard to this question and in connection with the danger to which they were exposed?

A. Definitely. The news spread at a speed which is difficult to imagine, bearing in mind that there was no use of technical means of communication or anything like that. For example, on the following day, my last day in Copenhagen, when I went, amongst other places, to the university, in order to return a number of books and to leave messages for my professors, I was approached by two students whom I used to greet at the entrance, but who did not take the same courses as I did; they came up to me separately and on their own initiative said to me, in more or less the same words: "Look, we know who you are, we have heard all kinds of rumours, we don't know how true they are, but in case there is anything at all which you think we can reasonably do for your sake, or in general, you should know that our names are such and such, our address you will find in the university register, and you can get in touch with us, as may be needed." This happened twice, within the ten minutes that I spent, altogether, at the university.

Q. These were people you did not know?

A. We used to greet each other at the entrance, whenever we met. We used to see each other during the three years of my studies until then.

Q. And now, please tell me, when the rounding-up was carried out, what were its results?

A. The results were proportionately - clearly for those who were affected it was not something light - but proportionately the results were very poor. As far as I remember, a total of 472 persons were seized.

Presiding Judge: Out of how many Jews in Copenhagen?

Witness Melchior: Out of roughly 7,700 in the whole of Denmark. Those who were caught were sent to Theresienstadt. In Sweden, where the rest of us were, it was known that the interest of the Danes did not cease with the deportations. On the contrary. In 1944 there was a delegation in the name of the King, in order to find out what their situation was. It was known that they received the parcels sent to them by government offices in Denmark. And as far as I know, this was the only group of Jews who were not subjected to acts of violence during their internment. There was a kind of paradox in the fact that, in 1944, when the Danish police was disbanded and a large number of Danish policemen were exiled to Buchenwald, Neuengamme and Neusandez, where many of them died from torture, these Jews from Denmark remained alive. In Theresienstadt about fifty of them died, but there was not even one case of the use of physical violence. A large number of those who were deported were elderly people, because - amongst other reasons - the evacuation of the old age homes had, somehow, not succeeded.

State Attorney Bach: While talking of old people, did you know a woman by the name of Texiere?

Witness Melchior: Yes.

Q. A woman about 102 at that time?

A. Yes.

Q. This is of some importance in connection with documents I will be submitting.

Presiding Judge: A Jewess?

Witness Melchior: A Jewess of Spanish descent. She shared a room with my grandmother in the old age home. It was my habit to go there once a week.

Q. This woman was not caught?

A. No. She hid herself. There were cases of individuals who concealed themselves in Copenhagen and remained there all the time. There were also two Jews who remained there more or less officially. One of them was Prof. Warburg, the King's physician, and the other was the Director of the State Bank.

State Attorney Bach: Mr. Melchior, how did you personally escape?

Witness Melchior: We took a decision that night, the night preceding the Wednesday, that the family - which then consisted of our parents and five children - would travel to the home of a Christian minister, an acquaintance of my father's in one of the country towns. On Wednesday morning, I went out, in order to warn some of our people who we knew were relying on the fact that nothing would happen, and that actually in the last few days my father had been assured by the heads of Danish government offices that no danger existed. Quite early in the morning I left on this mission, and my brothers, after being in the synagogue with my father, went out for the same purpose. In the course of my rounds, I talked to an acquaintance who mentioned that he had an opportunity to cross over, that very day, by boat to Sweden. This was still at the trial stage, and there was as yet no knowledge of the drastic development of a movement of this kind in the coming weeks. We discussed among ourselves whether it was, indeed, advisable that we five persons should set out together for the same place. But, on the other hand, we thought it would comfort all of us if we knew what was happening to the others. I therefore returned home. At 12.30 we were supposed to leave by train.

Presiding Judge: Where did the minister live?

Witness Melchior: In one of the country towns, about 80 kilometres from Copenhagen. I arrived home. We had packed only the most essential articles, a tooth brush, phylacteries and so on, in order not to arouse special attention. I came home and spoke about this possibility. At that time, since one could not become reconciled to the fact that there would really be persecution in Denmark, this was then still thought to be a very questionable matter, if not exceedingly risky. But we reached the conclusion that something was going to happen, that, nevertheless, it would be a good thing if someone were to succeed in crossing over to Sweden, and possibly there he could try to take action and to organize some kind of operation.

State Attorney Bach: How did you get there?

Witness Melchior: After I had parted in the afternoon from the members of my family at the railway station, I left on a boat the same night. In a small boat where, apart from the two fishermen, there was place for three people. I crossed in the course of two and a half hours. They were completely unprepared for this. The fishermen were afraid that the Swedes would confiscate the boat and asked us to jump into the water about 300 metres from the shore. This is what we did. The Swedes were also not so ready for such a step. They had no place to take us to, except to the police station. And we remained there, standing all night in our wet clothes, until we could find a solution in the morning.

Presiding Judge: How did you get to these two fishermen?

Witness Melchior: It was like this: One of my friends, who owned a business, had a secretary, and she was engaged to one of the fishermen.

Q. Very well - so we know this, too.

A. This was the way in which matters developed. Each one knew someone who knew someone else. People passed on information about where others were to be found. Sometimes it was difficult to find out details as to where people were, and when it was necessary to trace them, one had to find out from one person about the location of the hide-out of the other. But since there was general cooperation of all the organizations and institutions - state, private and public - and individuals at all levels of the population, it hardly ever happened, in fact, that something failed to reach someone.

With regard to my parents, they would like to say that this was accidental, but when something recurs many times, that is not accidental. It was simply that the son of that minister was a student in Copenhagen and belonged to one of the groups involved in these matters. Through him we got to know the place where my parents were concealed. My parents were transferred to a more southerly place, to the island of Falster. From there on they had quite a difficult passage. Over there the bishops also dealt with the transport of my parents and took an active part in their rescue. But the Danish police mainly, in certain instances, closed that part of the shore from where the boats were to leave, as if they were conducting a search for the arms of the underground, but actually they only closed the approaches. In many cases ambulances proceeded with the Jews to the site on the shore from where they were to board the boats, and so on. The boat transporting my parents was larger than ours. They had thirty people on board. They had a difficult voyage - it took them seventeen hours. They arrived safely in Sweden, about ten days after me.

State Attorney Bach: Do you know anything about planned, organized activity of the Danish underground to help the Jews? Were there, in fact, sporadic operations?

Witness Melchior: It was not sporadic, since it was going on all the time. The matter grew to such proportions that the historian of the occupation of Denmark, Dr. Haestrup, whose important work is not concerned with the Jews in particular, records that the question of the rescue of the Jews and the persecution of the Jews had at the time a double significance: One was the development of illegal routes to Sweden, and the second was that during the preceding three and a half years of the occupation, there was not a single moment when the population was united so closely together behind the underground as it was at that time. This found its expression, for instance, also at the university. There were all kinds of grave occurrences. Hence there was, for the first time, a strike, by both the students and the professors, for a period of three days, where the university remained closed, both as a demonstration and because these people were engaged in rescue activities.

Q. Were there also cases where the Germans discovered the location of the boats, the sites where people boarded the boats?

A. There were various instances. There was one case, not of the place from which the boat sailed, but of several scores of Jews who concealed themselves in a particular place and where someone informed the Germans of the location of the hide-out. This, in fact, was the exception that proved the rule. There were instances where German patrols arrived. But, generally speaking, the implementation - especially when one follows this trial and hears what happened - was not severe. Amongst other things - and this was naturally not known at the time - they did not break down the doors of apartments, except for one or two exceptional instances.

Q. Even at the time of the rounding-up, they did not, in fact, forcibly burst into apartments where the residents did not open the doors?

A. Generally no. But the Jews were not aware of this. Hence, generally speaking, the Jews opened up - but there was one family who had gone to sleep, and the next day the neighbours told them that the Germans had been there during the night.

Q. Did you arrive in Sweden with any possessions?

A. Without anything, in fact. We all arrived, as I have said, with the small items we packed: Apart from this, they [the parents] sent one of my brothers to Copenhagen - this was still before their departure - specially in order to recover the King's letter which he had addressed to my father on the night of 1 January 1943, expressing his joy that no damage had been caused in the attempt to set the synagogue on fire.

Q. Do you, perhaps, know the name of the head of the Security Police and the SD of the Germans?

A. There were, at that time, two names in particular which were mentioned - Pancke and Kanstein. Apart from that it was known that, at that time, Dr. Mildner came specially.

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

Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.

Presiding Judge: Thank you very much, Mr. Melchior, you have completed your evidence.

Presiding Judge: We shall adjourn now. The next Session will take place tomorrow morning, at nine o'clock.

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