The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 71
(Part 1 of 7)

Session No. 71

24 Sivan 5721 (8 June 1961)

Presiding Judge: I declare the seventy-first Session of the trial open.

Attorney General: I call the witness, Mrs. Vera Alexander.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness: Vera Alexander.

Presiding Judge: In what language do you wish to testify?

Attorney General: According to my experience, she can speak Hebrew. Mrs. Alexander, you live in Nes Ziona?

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Q. You are an art critic?

A. Yes.

Q. You were born in Slovakia?

A. Yes.

Q. In 1942, were photographs and accounts of the fate of people deported from Slovakia to Poland published in the newspapers? Do you remember that?

A. Yes.

Q. And their fate was depicted in rosy colours, as if they were well and working?

A. Yes.

Q. And pictures were also published of happy faces and girls laughing?

A. Yes.

Q. One day you were gathered, together with others, into a cellar and arrested?

A. Yes.

Q. When was that?

A. It was at the beginning of April 1942.

Q. Where were you taken, Mrs. Alexander?

A. We were transferred from this cellar to Zilina - that was a concentration camp in Slovakia.

Q. Under whose control were you put?

A. We were put under the control of the Hlinkova Garda (the Hlinka Guard).

Q. Were there Germans there as well?

A. No.

Q. And where were you taken from there?

A. From Zilina we were taken, on 8 April 1942, in freight cars, to Auschwitz.

Q. What were your feelings when you arrived at Auschwitz, yours and those of your friends who arrived together with you?

A. The moment we reached Auschwitz, we realized that all the pictures and the articles we had seen in the press were not true. From the first moment we heard shouts from SS men. And as we came into the camp, even before we were obliged to undress, in the blocks of Auschwitz we saw women - we were unable to judge whether they were women or men - their heads were shaven. They were making gestures which led us to believe that they were not normal people; they were scratching their heads, they signaled to us with their fingers to their mouths - they scratched their bodies. Some hours later, when we had to remove our clothes and were given Russian uniforms, full of lice, we understood what they were trying to show us. Our heads, too, were shaven, and everything was taken away from us.

Q. And what block were you placed in?

A. At first, we were put into Block 7.

Q. A women's block?

A. The women's block No. 7.

Q. How many women were there in this block?

A. I don't know how many there were. I only know that there were two women to one narrow bed.

Q. And afterwards, in what other blocks were you?

A. After that, I was in Block 9, and my mother was in Block 10. They split us up according to age.

Q. Block 7 and Block 9?

A. Yes, Block 7 and Block 9.

Q. At the beginning, did you go out to work?

A. I went out to work with the Landwirtschafts-kommando (agricultural unit).

Q. What was the nature of women's work at Auschwitz?

A. We had to dig beetroot out of the ground, beetroot that had been lying there several years - that the Poles had placed there. It stank. Sometimes we removed one in good condition, and if anyone dared touch it and eat it, that meant death.

Q. They would kill her?

A. Yes. Sometimes we did some work or other but didn't understand why it was necessary to do it, or whether it was required at all. Sometimes, for example, we carried out operations of planierung (levelling the soil) in the fields. There would be a field on somewhat of a rise, and we had to level it. Sometimes we were required to move a heap of soil from one place to another. We could not understand why this was necessary at all.

Q. When did your working day commence?

A. Our working day began at seven o'clock. But that was not when the day commenced.

Q. When did the day commence?

A. The day began when there was still stars in the sky, with the commanding officer in the camp.

Presiding Judge: At what time?

Witness Alexander: We did not have watches - I don't know.

Attorney General: And when did the working day end?

Witness Alexander: When it ended, it was already dark.

Q. Later on, you became a Blockaelteste (block elder). In what block was this?

A. At first, I was Blockaelteste in Block 3 in Camp A; that was the "quarantine block." I don't know why they called it the "quarantine block." The women who entered this block came into contact with all the prisoners. But that is what they called it.

Q. Tell me, Mrs. Alexander, how was it possible to be a Blockaelteste in Auschwitz and to maintain the stance of being created in God's image and maintain the image of a human being?

A. It was not easy. One needed a lot of tact and much manoeuvering. On the one hand, one had to obey orders and to fulfil them, and, on the other hand, to harm the prisoners as little as possible and to assist them.

Q. How did you manage that?

A. Sometimes we received orders. For example, the women who were in the "quarantine block" did not work. They were kept in the block all day, and they were forbidden to sit on their beds and, altogether, to go near their beds. The bed had to be made up tidily. We posted one girl on guard in front of the entrance to the block, and we allowed these women to get on to their beds and to sit on them. The moment the girl standing on guard saw that the SS were approaching, we entered the block and had to make them get off the beds very quickly.

Q. We have been told that you saved women from being put to death. How did you do that? Tell us of some cases.

A. There were cases after a selection, where women were selected for death, and I knew which block they were supposed to enter. I tried, not always successfully, to remove them from the ranks. Sometimes I managed to place girls in a commando which was going out from Auschwitz to work. This was not heroism on my part - it was my duty. I don't remember all the instances, and I don't remember how I did it.

Q. To this day, do you come across women prisoners who were in the block where you were the Blockaelteste?

A. Yes.

Q. Were you in the blocks where women worked?

A. No.

Q. You were not a Blockaelteste there?

A. When I was Blockaelteste in Camp C, there were sometimes days when they took a number of women out to fetch bricks from some place or other, but that, too, was only for some hours.

Q. Do you recall that once you fell ill and were placed in the Revier, in the hospital building. What happened to you?

A. I was put into the Revier. What my illness was - I don't know. I was there for some days. Several days later, a nurse took me out of there. I myself did not feel that I had recovered, and I wanted to go back. Towards evening I went in through the cellar, and I saw, all around, women seated against the walls. Amongst them, I recognized several women from my home town. I wanted to speak to them, but the moment I approached them I saw that they were dead.

Q. And then you ran away from the place?

A. Yes, then I also understood why I had been taken away from the Revier.

Q. Who treated the women in the hospital at Auschwitz?

A. "Treated" - that was no treatment. We did not receive any medicines. There were Jewish girls there and, from time to time, doctors came in.

Presiding Judge: Jewish girls, in what capacity - as nurses, attendants?

Witness Alexander: They cleaned the hospital.

Q. You said that doctors used to visit?

A. From time to time, doctors came there.

Q. German doctors?

A. Germans.

Attorney General: Those orders you received as Blockaelteste - from whom did they come?

Witness Alexander: Either directly from SS men, or by means of a Laeuferin (a girl messenger) from the gate, who came and told us what orders they had received there.

Q. The messenger was a Jewess?

A. Yes.

Q. And they demanded from you, as they demanded from others, that you should be severe, be strict with the prisoners?

A. Certainly.

Q. What did you do in order to avoid carrying out such orders - how did you do it?

A. One day, in Camp C, I was handed a whip by our Oberaufseherin (superintendent), Irma Grese. I did not make use of it.

Q. How, actually, did you come to be appointed a Blockaelteste?

A. One day, I was summoned by the Rapportschreiberin - her name was Katya Singer.

Q. Does she now live in Slovakia?

A. Yes. She told me that I would have to be Blockaelteste in Block 3. I said that I was not suitable for that. She then pleaded with me to take it on.

Q. Why?

A. She said that, in her opinion, to the extent that it was possible, people with human feelings should take on this task.

Q. How old were you at the time?

A. Then I was twenty, twenty-one.

Presiding Judge: What was a Blockschreiberin? What function did it entail?

Witness Alexander: Rapportschreiberin.

Q. Rapportschreiberin. What was that?

A. The Rapportschreiberin (registering clerk) received from the Schreibstube (secretariat) a report on the number of prisoners in that camp. After the Zaehlappell, all the block leaders came to take over the block, that is to say the number of women who were in their block, and the Rapportschreiberin had to receive it. Each block had a register in which the total number of the prisoners was entered, day by day, and she had to obtain it and transmit it to the Lagerfuehrerin (camp commandant).

Attorney General: Was she an SS woman?

Witness Alexander: The Lagerfuehrerin - yes.

Presiding Judge: The Rapportfuehrerin was the liaison between the commandant of the camp and the Blockaelteste? Is that more or less the case?

Witness Alexander: Between the commandant of the camp and the Rapportfuehrer or the Rapportfuehrerin.

Attorney General: And the Rapportfuehrerin was also a German woman - a member of the SS?

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Judge Halevi: A "Fuehrer" was always a German.

Attorney General: So Katya appealed to you to take on the post?

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Q. And you agreed?

A. I agreed.

Q. Were there ways of helping women while holding this position?

A. Yes, there were. First of all, one could distribute their rations - those supplied to them by the camp - and see how they received them.

Q. Without stealing them.

A. Without stealing them. Beyond that, it was possible to steal something from the stores for them, whether a couple of blankets or a piece of soap, a little more food from the kitchen, some extra clothing from the Bekleidungskammer (clothing store). There were possibilities.

Q. We know of two young Slovakian lads who fled from Auschwitz and submitted a report in Slovakia about what was happening there. Did you know either of them?

A. I knew them both.

Q. Do you know their names?

A. One of them now goes by the name of Dr. Vrba. He was Walter Rosenberg, and the other was Alfred Wetzler.

Presiding Judge: Now his name is more Slovakian, right? Did he change his name?

Witness Alexander: He changed his name when he subsequently joined a partisan group, and he has retained this name.

Q. What was that second name?

A. He is now Dr. Rudolf Vrba.

Judge Halevi: Is still alive. Where is he?

Witness Alexander: Yes, he lives in London. He was here, in Israel, for a year. He worked at the Weizmann Institute.

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