The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 49
(Part 3 of 5)

Q. On whose account were these camps set up?

A. The UZ was responsible for the labour camps. The UZ had to provide the tools, the materials for work, as well as the provisions for the inmates. The finished products were sold by the Slovak state against payment.

Q. Did the workers receive wages?

A. No. They received food and clothing as far as necessary.

Q. Did the Jews in Slovakia have to pay a special tax?

A. The Jewish Central Office had taken over the assets of the organizations which had been wound up, and also, because it had a heavy budget, a twenty per cent compulsory tax was imposed on the Jews, levied by the Jewish Central Office.

Q. When was the beginning of what was called the resettlement of the Jews of Bratislava?

A. The "relocation" of the Jews of Bratislava was accompanied by the slogan: "Bratislava must be free of Jews," at the end of 1941.

Q. What happened to these Jews then? Where were they taken?

A. Some forty to fifty per cent of the Jews of Bratislava were "relocated" to the so-called "relocation centres," four or five smallish provincial towns in Slovakia; they were only allowed to take with them the bare necessities of linen and clothing, and they were the first victims of the subsequent deportation. Their houses, their furniture were of course confiscated by the Czechoslovak state.

A. Did you see Adolf Eichmann in Bratislava?

A. A few months before the deportation started, I was called to the office of the Starosta Sebestyen, where I found, together with the Starosta, his secretary, Dr. Ehrenfeld, Eichmann and Wisliceny. They were all standing, and as soon as I came in I sensed a very bad atmosphere.

Q. Perhaps you can describe this scene briefly to the Court.

A. Sebestyen, the Starosta, had put a packet of cigarettes on the table (he himself was a non-smoker) apparently this was in honour of his guests, and immediately Eichmann shouted at him rudely: "Away with that stuff!"

Q. How did the Starosta react?

A. He put the cigarettes away immediately. Eichmann turned to me and complained that I was overburdening the social affairs budget, that I was spending too much money. Apparently he had previously been briefed by Wisliceny.

I must add in this connection that, apart from the closed labour camps, there were also work centres - every Jew aged 16 to 60 was liable for work. Thus public works were carried out for which Jews were used. These Jews also had to travel to the work sites by bus, they had to bring their own tools which they had to buy, and of course their families remained at home without any support. I therefore provided support from the social affairs budget for these forced labourers.

Q. Did you explain all of this to the Accused?

A. Yes, I explained this to Eichmann. He said to me, "Don't talk rubbish," and then Wisliceny said, "Those people are getting too much money." I said: "Too little to live, too much to die." When I explained this in detail, Eichmann asked Wisliceny whether it was humanly possible, whereupon Wisliceny, embarrassed, explained it was only a temporary arrangement. I said, a temporary arrangement which had in fact already lasted several months. Whereupon Eichmann expressed his disapproval to Wisliceny, and from then on Wisliceny was hostile to me.

Q. On that same day, was there another discussion between Eichmann and yourself?

A. After this, we were ordered to go to another building of the UZ, where the two SS officers had already gone by car. When I arrived, I heard that Eichmann was with Wisliceny at the Statistics Office, and they examined the files for a long time.

Q. The Statistics Office of the UZ?

A. The Statistics Office.

Q. Perhaps you would tell the Court briefly about the subsequent conversation.

A. I was subsequently summoned again. Eichmann was amazed that the Palestine Office, WIZO and HICEM still existed. "My God, don't you know there is a war going on?"

Q. Who said that?

A. Eichmann.

Q. To whom?

A. To me. I said that, in fact, the Palestine Office belonged to the British Mandate, in reply to which Eichmann said: "You are blathering again," and ordered me to terminate immediately the activities of the Palestine Office - WIZO and HICEM were part of my Emigration Department. In reply I explained that HICEM and WIZO were actually American organizations and emigration was still possible, whereupon he gave his permission for these two organizations to continue.

Q. That was, of course, before America entered the War?

A. Yes.

Q. When did you first learn that the Jews of Slovakia were to be expelled?

A. In March 1942 the entire consultative body was convened in a meeting room. Shortly after that there appeared Moravec, head of the UHU, and Wisliceny. In his address Wisliceny stated that since all his endeavours to concentrate the Jews in the labour camps and involve them in the productive work process had not succeeded, it had been decided to expel the Jews.

Q. When did the expulsions begin?

A. At the end of March 1942.

Presiding Judge: When was this speech of Wisliceny's?

Witness Abeles: At the beginning of March, and shortly afterwards the deportation began - at first single women and men aged between 16 and 40. Wisliceny told us that the families would follow later. The unmarried people and the men were to prepare housing for the families, so that families would not be split up.

Q. How were these people deported? How many per transport? What means of transport were used?

A. They went to Zwardo on the Polish border, escorted by FS and Hlinka Guard, and there they were received by SS personnel.

Q. How were the people expelled? How many in each transport? What means of transport were used?

A. There were usually one thousand people in each train.

Q. What type of trains were these?

A. Four horses, forty men. These were ordinary freight cars. They were chained shut, the windows were sealed, and the people had nothing at all throughout the transport.

Q. It said "four horses, forty men." Do you know how many were actually put in each car?

A. That depended on how the transport was organized, but there were at least sixty to seventy people per car.

Q. Did the representatives of the Jewish Central Office receive lists of the expelled Jews?

A. Yes.

Q. So that in the Jewish Central Office you had statistics about the deportation of the Jews?

A. Yes.

Q. How were the Jews assembled before deportation?

A. For girls there was the Poprac camp, primarily for girls from eastern Slovakia; then there was the Jilina camp for men, Patronka for the Pressburg area, and Sered which was a general camp. But later, when these four camps could not absorb the large numbers of people, transports were dispatched directly from some towns, such as Nitra, Michalovce and so on; people were rounded up there and dispatched.

Q. Was Wisliceny present at the deportations?

A. As far as was humanly possible, he himself put in an appearance at every transport, but, in any case, in every camp there were his special agents, Scharfuehrer (sergeants), and, at Jilina, also SS officers.

Q. When were you first arrested, and where?

A. After the Jewish Central Office received the first information that the girls in Poprac were suffering from shortages, from cold and from lack of food, the UZ instructed me, as head of the Social Welfare Department, to visit the camp and to provide any assistance I could. Before I entered the camp, together with two assistants, Dr. Goldberg and Senf, I contacted the camp administration by telephone and demanded authorization to enter the camp.

Q. And how were you arrested?

A. I entered the camp. Scharfuehrer Slawik and Commander of the Guard Petrik listened to my complaints.

Presiding Judge: You received permission to enter the camp?

Witness Abeles: Yes, they authorized me to send blankets and food to the camp; they authorized me to send my representatives to the camp at any time; they would issue special passes for these men, and they gave me a general authorization to enter the camp at any time. However, they insisted that I draw up a memorandum to this effect, to be signed by them and myself. I went into town to write the memorandum...

State Attorney Bach: Perhaps not every detail. My question was: Who ordered your arrest?

Witness Abeles: I was summoned back to the camp, where I found Wisliceny. He screamed at me: "You have come to the camp to spy, you are under arrest." I explained to him that I had previously insisted on authorization, that the UZ knew about my visit. Whereupon he said that if it was shown that the UZ knew about it, I would immediately be released; but that was never shown.

Q. Were your two friends also arrested together with you?

A. All three of us were arrested. This is when Goldberger was beaten terribly, on the false charge of having given a "Heil Hitler" salute on entering the camp. He was held in a cellar; later he was released, and Goldberger and I were deported in a girls' transport. We left the train in Zilina, to be transferred to the men's camp. The girls continued to Poland.

Q. What was Goldberger's fate?

A. At Zilina we were immediately assigned to transports; I remained behind and Goldberger was deported. Nothing was ever heard of him again.

Q. How were you able to escape?

A. At that time my wife tried every single possibility to have me released. All the Slovak authorities with which we had connections said: Hands off, Abeles is a German matter. Finally she found an ethnic German who was friendly with Wisliceny. He received a large sum of money from my wife, and Wisliceny then promised I would be released, and not deported until the transports - the family transports.

Q. At that time did you know what would be the fate of the Jews who were deported to Poland?

A. No, we did not know that at the time.

Q. Would you please describe to the Court the conditions in Zilina?

A. Compared with Poprac, Zilina was hell. The Jews were constantly beaten there and tortured, almost in medieval ways. This was my experience.

Q. Were you also beaten?

A. Yes.

Presiding Judge: Who was in charge of this camp?

Witness Abeles: A Slovak called Mutnianski and a German N.C.O. But there were also SS officers.

State Attorney Bach: Did you ever have a conversation with an SS officer?

Witness Abeles: I was isolated in a cell - not really a cell, more of a kennel - where I was maltreated almost every day. Once an SS officer came to me and asked: "Why are you actually in detention here?" I said: "I don't know." Whereupon he said: "You will not have any more time to think about it."

Q. You told us something about your wife's intervention. So you did finally return to Bratislava?

A. In the end I was released on Wisliceny's intervention, with orders to report to him immediately in the Gestapo building. He addressed three sentences to me:

"You are relieved of your functions in the Jewish Central Office." "I have released you to avoid people thinking that I kept you captive for reasons of personal revenge," and "Thank your wife for your being set free."
Q. Despite your dismissal from your official job, you continued to work in the Jewish organizations?

A. I initially had no identity papers, and of course was therefore liable to be included in the next wave of deportations. For several months, together with my family, I hid in the woods and in various hideouts. I remained in hiding until a Slovak industrialist, Platzke, appointed me his financial adviser and thus managed to obtain protective identity papers for me. That was only a formal matter; I continued to deal exclusively with Jewish affairs.

Q. Within what framework did you deal with Jewish matters?

A. In addition to the official Jewish Central Office, there was a small group of men - that is not really the right way to put it, because the leaders also included Mrs. Fleischmann - they formed the so-called subsidiary government and provided Jewish assistance. Initially our task was to rescue Jews from Polish camps and smuggle them through Slovakia to Hungary, and in addition to use all available means to prevent the deportations.

Q. You mentioned Mrs. Gisi Fleischmann. Who were the leaders of this shadow government, this subsidiary government?

A. The most important person was Rabbi Weissmandel, who guided our work with his great love of the Jews and his wisdom. Should I also give the names of the other participants?

Q. Perhaps you can also give the other names.

A. Of those who are dead, apart from Gisi Fleischmann and Rabbi Weissmandel, Rabbi Frieder, Wilhelm Furst, Dr. Kovacs; of those who are still alive, Dr. Winterstein, Dr. Oscar Neumann, Andrej Steiner and myself.

Q. You mentioned the flight to Hungary. Were there in fact many people who fled to Hungary?

A. Several thousand people fled from Slovakia, many thousands of Polish Jews reached Hungary via Slovakia, and several hundred Slovak children were sent to Hungary, who, as a result of intervention by the Jews of Hungary, received legal status. These children were legalized, while their parents usually remained in peril in Slovakia - about two hundred children.

Q. In which directions did they try to escape?

A. Hungary was the closest. Initially, Mrs. Fleischmann, and then only I, went to Hungary, in order to call for the collection of funds and other assistance.

In addition, we had made connections with the Papal Nuncio, who intervened himself with the President of the Slovakian Republic, who was himself a priest, Tiso. We had established connections with the Slovak Minister of Education, who, on an entirely altruistic basis and at the peril of his own personal safety, received Rabbi Frieder every week and gave him advance information of all anti- Jewish operations. He also intervened on behalf of the Jews in the Council of Ministers. We found channels to the clergy, and later as refugees...

Q. You referred to your connections with Hungarian Jewry. With whom in particular were you in touch in Hungary?

A. My direct contact was Fueloep Freudiger, president of the Orthodox Board, since, as was generally the case, the Orthodox and the Zionists had more understanding for our suffering than the generally assimilated Hungarian Neologues. I would like to relate an episode here, if I may.

Q. If you would wait one moment, I have another question to you in the same context. Was an attempt made to exert influence on Wisliceny, by paying money to Wisliceny, so that he should desist from deporting Jews?

A. Rabbi Weissmandel induced a UZ official who enjoyed a certain degree of confidence on the part of Wisliceny, to offer Wisliceny money for putting a halt to the deportations. Wisliceny agreed, and with the help of Hungary, $40,000-$50,000 were collected in Slovakia and handed over to Wisliceny as a first offering. Later (in the proceedings against him) he confirmed only twenty thousand. I do not know what happened to the money.

Presiding Judge: Did you say $40,000-$50,000?

Witness Abeles: Yes.

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