The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 73
(Part 9 of 9)

Q. Would you describe your first encounter and where it took place?

A. My first encounter was in one of the camps - or let me put it this way - in the first of the refugee camps I visited. Perhaps I should begin by saying a few words by way of clarification. The whole of Europe was covered with such camps, in which there were close to eight million displaced persons. There were ten to twelve categories amongst them, which were all defined in a particular document which was called "Administrative Memorandum No. 39, June 1944," which laid down how all those found in camps in Germany were to be dealt with.

Amongst them, there were people of various categories, from all the nations, and the Allied armies accepted it as their first objective to send all of them home with the greatest possible speed.

By day and by night, convoys were moving by all means of transportation: in trains, planes, carts, on horse, on foot, to all countries, from the central point, from Germany and its occupied territories, homewards. And, of course, we went into those camps in order to search for the Jews. Our truck remained standing in the huge area of the camp - extending over several kilometres - and on it a little flag fluttered, the size of the palm of a hand.

After I had approached camp headquarters for a few moments to ask if there were Jews in the camp, I returned and saw that, suddenly, the truck was surrounded by a mass - something which, to this day, it is difficult to forget - it was impossible to call them human beings. They were creatures, but they were not human beings. At first, I thought that some altercation had broken out between the four or five soldiers who had remained in the truck and the inmates of the camp.

Presiding Judge: What camp was that?

Witness Hoter-Yishai: Freimann Flak-Kaserne (anti-aircraft barracks) - not far from Munich.

When I came nearer, I saw that these hundreds of people were fighting with the little strength they had - each one wanted to get nearer to the soldier who was standing in the middle, in order to touch with their hands the Jewish Brigade's emblem, the Shield of David that was embroidered on his sleeve, and, naturally, these four soldiers were not able to reach the hundreds who were surrounding them, and there were some who bent down and kissed the Shield of David which was painted on the mudguards of the truck, as was usual with a military vehicle. And those who could not manage to reach either the soldier or the truck crawled among the people on the ground and embraced the feet of the soldiers and kissed their dusty shoes.

Attorney General: Were those Jews?

Witness Hoter-Yishai: They were Jews. We - if the Court will allow me to speak in the plural, since the operation was carried out not by one individual, it was performed by hundreds of soldiers. The Jewish Brigade passed through all the camps. And everyone who visited a camp gave the same description of his encounter with the people.

Q. Did you visit the blocks in which these people lived?

A. We visited them in all these camps, since people were housed in national blocks; and this, too, was the result of that same murderous system of detention which the Nazis employed, because every person - I think the Court is better informed of this than I am - was arrested without any documents or, more correctly, all his documents were destroyed.

Presiding Judge: Yes, we have heard about this.

Witness Hoter-Yishai: For this reason, it was impossible to obtain a list from the camp commandants, it was impossible to get to them then, it was impossible to know where they were to be found. In order to reach them, it was necessary to concentrate them in national camps, as a Jewish camp, something which was, of course, objected to by the directors of all camps which were run on national blocks, by national officers, and also the camp managements; and I believe that no other force in the world would have been able to get them, or - more correctly - to provide them with the spiritual and physical strength to get them out of these blocks and to concentrate in one place, other than a Jewish Force, which gave them the impression, as if the entire Yishuv [Jewish community of Palestine] had appeared there and had brought them the power, as well as the authority, and had also provided them with the miracle.

However miraculous these happenings might seem to me today, it was sufficient to take a sheet and paint a Shield of David on it with ink and, after attaching it to a broomstick, to give it to two to three hundred persons - each of whom looked like a skeleton - and then they would feel themselves linked suddenly to a certain centre, and they had the strength to congregate and to refuse to allow the officers of the country to which they had previously belonged, in whose block they had previously been - to refuse to allow them to take them out of there.

Attorney General: And that was how you took them out of their anonymity, is that so?

Witness Hoter-Yishai: That was the way we gathered them together. To take them out of their anonymity was a much more difficult task. For there were hundreds and thousands who had meantime been in hospitals, also in farmhouses, who had wandered in the forests without an identity, and the problem of all of them was whether they still had surviving relatives. And since it had meanwhile become known that in certain camps women had been saved, hundreds of women, hundreds of children, this entire community - it was natural for each one to hope that perhaps his wife was amongst the survivors, perhaps his child was amongst the survivors, and they broke out of the camps, in order to return to their countries, precisely to the place where they were separated - perhaps they would find one of them alive.

Q. Do you remember an encounter in Camp Saint Ottilien?

A. Saint Ottilien was a monastery which had been converted into a hospital by the physician, Dr. Greenberg, and a number of other leaders from Kovno, who gathered the wounded from houses, from the forest, from the roads, and concentrated them into one building.

When we came there, I remember, about four hundred of them were lying on stretchers, without even having the strength to tell us their names. In order to hear their names, each one of us had actually to stoop down and place our ears next to their lips, so that they would be able merely to whisper their names. It became necessary to try immediately to publish the names of each one of these Jews in all the camps, for there were instances where a father and a brother and a son were in the same camp, without their being aware of it, and they tried to steal across borders and to walk thousands of kilometres to search for one another, while they were actually only a few blocks away.

Q. What was the position of those who were not lying on stretchers, who were fit, as it were?

A. They had nowhere to turn to. It was natural that both the Allied armies, and also the countries to which they belonged, should see it as their first duty to speed up the repatriation, and obviously this was some kind of an order, to return them to their country, or, more a particular camp in Styria, not far from Graz...

Presiding Judge: Where was Saint Ottilien?

Witness Hoter-Yishai: St. Ottilien, Your Honour, is seventy kilometres from Munich. I entered Styria solely in order to obtain a permit to cross the Russian border to Theresienstadt. I found about three thousand persons being forcibly loaded on to trucks, in order to be returned to Hungary, and it transpired that all three thousand were Jews. It was only due to the fact that I referred the commandant to a particular order issued by Eisenhower, that permission was granted not to repatriate those who refused to go back, that they were taken off for forty-eight hours, so that I could procure a specific order from Frankfurt, from Eisenhower's main headquarters, which I brought there.

Had the Jewish Brigade not been there, it could not have found immediately every small Hebrew printing press or others it was able to lay its hands on - and it must be remembered that the area was a European battle-zone which had been totally devastated by the bombs of both sides.

The Jewish Brigade began publishing the names. I have with me a small, original pamphlet of the sort published, and from it one can see that everything we were able to know about the man, or everything the man was capable of supplying about himself, consisted only of his name, his year of birth, and the town where he was born. And not all of them remembered, were even able to remember, in which town they had lived. There is not even one address here - of a street or house - at most it is the town where they were born. These pamphlets were passed immediately from camp to camp, and they were sent at once to Palestine and printed in a newspaper in twenty-five thousand copies, and sent back to all the camps - it put an end to this wandering about.

Still, the question remained: What next? Or, more correctly - where to? Or, still more correctly - was there anyone to attend to them? I shall never forget the question asked by a senior official in the Government of Israel today, the Registrar of Co-operative Societies in Israel, Mr. Goren - Gorfinkel - at his first meeting with the Jewish Brigade: Where have you been up to now - two or three weeks after the liberation? Where were you? Or, more correctly - where was anyone at all of the civilized world?

Obviously, I could answer him in the name of the Yishuv, to say where we had been and tell him about the effort the Yishuv had made to go forward and to save what could be saved. But even those three weeks which had passed since the day of liberation, without anyone bothering to enquire who they were, what they were, what had happened to their families, whether any of them had remained alive, what was happening to them today, why they were being sent back, what would happen to them when they returned, would they be accepted on their return, whether anything had remained there, whether they would not be deported again?

Within one month of the liberation, we saw people who had begun to drift homewards and who had returned from there. In one camp in Linz, I found a couple who had returned to their town - out of six thousand people, close to fifteen returned. And, on the night that the fifteen had met together, four of them were murdered by the inhabitants who had received their education during those years or months under the Nazi regime, which had taken them from their homes and handed over the homes in the way it did. And they found that even these fifteen were superfluous, for they, too, were likely to come along and demand something back.

They returned from their home, from their birthplace, back to the camp, in order to seek a refuge - a camp which, of course, was still surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, with a ban on leaving it, with the food that was provided according to a list in the camps.

Attorney General: Mr. Hoter-Yishai, did you also cross to the Eastern zone of Europe in your search for Jews?

Witness Hoter-Yishai: In Theresienstadt, there were thirty- two thousand survivors. When we came there after some weeks, we found only four thousand, for twenty-eight thousand had gone back or been returned. Those four thousand whom we found - of course, not one of them went back, for, in the meantime, they had understood what awaited them.

It can be said that we delivered many speeches. I would say that we spoke to them, but my shortest speech consisted of two sentences which, I think, on one occasion, took me one hour, for all that I was able to say to a group of seven to eight hundred persons who, as I gathered in the course of a personal meeting with many of them, included some who had stood in a gas chamber for close to eight hours. They were taken out of the gas chamber because the gas cannister had not been prepared.

And so, what could I say other than "the entire Yishuv"? Had we been eight hundred men standing on the platform in one place, each one of us would have descended from the platform and taken each one of them into his arms, and certainly would have uttered not only words of comfort - he would have brought him closer to himself and embraced him as a brother who had been redeemed. But, since I was only one person, I was only able to say that I was the special emissary of the Yishuv - and that is what everyone would be feeling in Palestine.

All this, of course, could be said in two minutes, but it took close to an hour, for there was a hysteria of crying, but it was not only they who wept - those four soldiers who were there together with me also wept.

Presiding Judge: When was this? When did you arrive at Theresienstadt?

Witness Hoter-Yishai: In the first days of June 1945.

Q. You found four thousand Jews there?

A. Yes, we found four thousand Jews, and, on the following day, one thousand of them left for Berlin, or, more correctly, left via Berlin, for they were hoping to find relatives. They left in trucks - naturally those belonging to the Jewish Brigade. There was a great outcry in the whole camp, as soon as that redeeming truck, containing these four soldiers, left the camp. There was amazement: Was there only one truck? Did not a complete convoy come right away to take them, all of them - immediately - from that place, from the grounds of death to the Jewish Brigade's camp?

And, obviously, all that the truck was able to take were those children, or, more correctly, it did not take the children, for they asked no questions - they got into the truck and left on it. And I do not believe that any section of the King's regulations or of the Army Act could have persuaded any officer to tell such a child to get off the truck, because we were not allowed to take them; they simply sat inside the truck and left.

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

Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mr. Hoter-Yishai - you have concluded your evidence.

With this we have come to the end of the testimonies - so I understand?

Attorney General: This was the last of our witnesses. We shall have to submit one document which I will ask my colleague, Mr. Bar-Or, to submit in the afternoon. That is the document which we called the "Duesseldorf Document."

Presiding Judge: Why not submit it now? We want to know that, as far as possible, we have concluded. Attorney General: Within ten minutes, Your Honour, we shall be ready to submit it. I understand that the Court will not be prepared to wait for us for ten minutes. After that, we shall have to await the Court's decision in the matter of the Sassen Ddocument.

Presiding Judge: We shall give our decision on this document at five o'clock this afternoon. We would only ask that if the Court, or one of the judges, should wish to peruse the material himself, we should be able to get in touch with you here, in "Beit Ha'am," with a representative of the Prosecution, and then you will be able to produce the material to us in the shortest possible time.

Attorney General: From what time should we be here, Your Honour?

Presiding Judge: Let us say - from four o'clock. So that you may receive such notification - is that what you meant?

Attorney General: Yes.

Presiding Judge: The next Session will be this afternoon, at five o'clock.

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