The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
21st January to 1st February, 1946

Forty-Fourth Day: Monday, 28rd January, 1946
(Part 2 of 9)

[M. DUBOST continues his examination of the witness MADAME CLAUDE VAILLANT COUTURIER]

[Page 186]

Q. Would you please explain what the "Revier" was in the camp?

A. The "Revier" was the block where the sick were put. This place could not be given the name of hospital, because it did not correspond in any way to our idea of a hospital.

To go there one had first to obtain authorisation from the block Chief, who seldom gave it. When it was finally granted we were led in columns to the Revier where, no matter what weather, whether it snowed or rained, even if one had a temperature of 40 degrees one had to wait for several hours standing in a queue to be admitted. It frequently happened that patients died outside, before they could get in. Moreover, lining up in front of the Revier was dangerous because, if the queue was too long the SS came along, picked up all the women who were waiting, and took them straight to Block 25.

Q. That is to say, to the gas chamber?

A. That is to say to the gas chamber. That is why very often the women preferred not to go to the Revier, and they died at their work or at roll call. Every day, after the evening roll call in winter time, dead were picked up who had fallen into the ditches.

The only advantage of the "Revier" was that as one was in bed, one had

[Page 187]

not to go to roll call, but conditions were appalling, four in a bed of less than one metre in width, each suffering from a different disease, so that anyone who came for sores on their legs would catch typhus or dysentery from their neighbours. The straw mattresses were dirty and they were changed only when absolutely rotten. The bedding was so full of lice that one could see them swarming like ants. One of my companions, Marguerite Corringer, told me that when she had typhus, she could not sleep all night because of the lice. She spent the night shaking her blanket over a piece of paper and emptying the lice into a receptacle by the bed, and this went on for hours.

There were practically no medicines. Consequently the patients were left in their beds without any attention, without hygiene and unwashed. The dead lay in the bed with the sick for several hours, and finally, when they were noticed, they were simply tipped out of bed and taken outside the block. There the women porters would come and carry the dead away on small stretchers, with heads and legs dangling over the sides. From morning till night the carriers of the dead went from the "Revier" to the mortuary.

During the big epidemics, in the winters of 1943 and 1944, the stretchers were replaced by carts, as there were too many dead bodies. During those periods of epidemics from 200 to 350 died each day.

Q. How many people died at that time?

A. During the big epidemics of typhus in the winters of 1943 and 1944, from 200 to 350, it depended on the days.

Q. Was the "Revier" open to all the internees?

A. No. When we arrived Jewish women had not the right to be admitted. They were taken straight to the gas chamber. At Auschwitz there were experimental blocks -

Q. Would you please tell us about the disinfection of the blocks, before that?

A. From time to time, owing to the filth which caused the lice and gave rise to so many epidemics, they disinfected the blocks with gas, but these disinfections were also the cause of many deaths because, while the block were being disinfected with gas, the prisoners were taken to the shower- baths, and their clothes taken away from them to be steamed. Meanwhile they were left naked outside, waiting for their clothing to come back from the steaming, and then they were given back to them all wet. Even those who were sick, who could barely stand on their feet, were sent to the showers. It is quite obvious that a great many of them died in the course of these proceedings. Those who could not move were washed all in the same bath during the disinfection.

Q. How were you fed?

A. We had 200 grams of bread, three-quarters or half a litre - it varied - of swede soup, and a few grams of margarine or a slice of sausage in the evening. This daily.

Q. Regardless of the work that was exacted from the internee?

A. Regardless of the work that was exacted from the internee. Some who had to work in the factory of the "Union," an ammunition factory where they made grenades and shells, received what was called a "Zulage" that is a supplementary ration, when the amount of their production was satisfactory. Those internees had to go to roll call morning and night as we did, and they were at work twelve hours in the factory. They came back to the camp after the day's work making the journey both ways on foot.

Q. What was this "Union" factory?

A. It was an ammunition factory. I do not know to what company it belonged. It was called the "Union."

Q. Was it the only factory?

A. No. There was also a large factory at Buna, but as I did not work there

[Page 188]

I do not know what was made there. The internees who were taken to Buna never came back to our camp.

Q. Will you tell us about experiments, if you witnessed any?

A. As to the experiments, I have seen in the "Revier" - because I was employed there - the queue of young Jewesses from Salonica who stood waiting in front of the X-ray room for sterilisation. I also know that they performed castration operations in the men's camp. Concerning the experiments performed on women I am well informed, because my friend, Doctor Hade Hautvat, of Montbeliard, who has returned to France, worked for several months in that block, nursing the patients, but she always refused to participate in those experiments. They sterilised women either by injections or by operations; or also with rays. I saw and knew several women who had been sterilised. There was a very high mortality rate among those experimented upon. Fourteen Jewesses from France who refused to be sterilised were sent to a "Strafarbeit" commando, that is to hard labour.

Q. Did they come back from those commandos?

A. Very seldom. Quite exceptionally.

Q. What was the aim of the SS?

A. Sterilisation - they did not conceal it - They said that they were trying to find the best method for sterilising, so as to replace the native population in the occupied countries by Germans after one generation, once they had made use of the inhabitants as slaves to work for them.

Q. In the "Revier" did you see any pregnant women?

A. Yes. The Jewish women, when they arrived in the first months of pregnancy, were subjected to abortion. When their pregnancy was near the end, after confinement, the babies were drowned in a bucket of water. I know that because I worked in the "Revier" and the woman who was in charge of that task was a German mid-wife, who was imprisoned for having performed illegal operations. After a while another doctor arrived and for two months they did not kill the Jewish babies. But one day an order came from Berlin saying that they had again to be done away with. Then the mothers and their babies were called to the infirmary, they were put in a lorry and taken away to the gas chamber.

Q. Why did you say that an order came from Berlin?

A. Because I knew the internees who worked in the secretariat of the SS and in particular a Slovakian woman by the name of Hertha Rotk, who is now working with UNRRA at Bratislava.

Q. Is it she who told you that?

A. Yes. And moreover, I also knew the men who worked in the gas commando.

Q. You have told us about the Jewish mothers. Were there other mothers in your camp?

A. Yes, in principle non-Jewish mothers were allowed to have their babies, and the babies were not taken away from them, but conditions in the camp, being so horrible, the babies rarely lived for more than four or five weeks.

There was one block where the Polish and Russian mothers were. One day the Russian mothers, having being accused of making too much noise, had to stand for roll call all day in front of the block, naked, with their babies in their arms.

Q. What was the disciplinary system of the camp? Who kept order and discipline? What were the punishments?

A. Generally speaking, the SS economised on many of their own personnel by employing internees for supervising the camp. They only supervised. These internees were chosen from criminals and German prostitutes and sometimes those of other nationalities; but most of them were Germans. By corruption,

[Page 189]

accusation and terror, they succeeded in making veritable human beasts of them and the internees had as much cause to complain about them as about the SS themselves. They beat us just as hard as the SS, and as to the SS, the men behaved like the women and the women were as savage as the men. There was no difference.

The system employed by the SS of degrading human beings to the utmost by terrorising them and causing them through fear to commit acts which made them ashamed of themselves, resulted in their being no longer human. This was what they wanted - it took a great deal of courage to resist this atmosphere of terror and corruption.

Q. Who meted out punishments?

A. The SS leaders, men and women.

Q. What was the nature of the punishments?

A. Bodily ill-treatment in particular; one of the most usual punishments was fifty blows with a stick, on the loins, They were administered with a machine which I saw, a swinging apparatus manipulated by an SS. There were also endless roll calls day and night, or gymnastics; flat on the belly, get up, lie down, up, down for hours, and anyone who fell was beaten unmercifully and taken to Block 25.

Q. How did the SS behave towards the women? And the women SS?

A. At Auschwitz there was a brothel for the SS and also one for the male internees of the staff, which were called "Kapo."

Moreover, when the SS needed servants they came accompanied by the Oberaufseherin, that is, the woman commandant of the camp, to make a choice during the process of disinfection. They would point to a young girl, whom the Oberaufseherin would take out of the ranks. They would look her over and make jokes about her physique, and if she was pretty and they liked her, they would hire her as a maid, with the consent of the Oberaufseherin, who would tell her that she was to obey them absolutely, no matter what they asked of her.

Q. Why did they go during disinfection?

A. Because during the disinfection the women were naked.

Q. The system of demoralisation and corruption - was it exceptional?

A. No. The system was identical in all the camps where I have been and I have spoken to internees coming from camps where I myself had never been; it was the same thing everywhere. The system was identical no matter what the camp was. There were, however, certain variations. I believe that Auschwitz was one of the harshest, but later I went to Ravensbruck, where there also was a house of ill fame, and where recruiting was also carried out among the internees.

Q. Then, according to you, everything was done to degrade those women in their own sight?

A. Yes.

Q. What do you know about the convoy of Jews which arrived from Romainville about the same time as yourself?

A. When we left Romainville the Jewesses who were there at the same time as ourselves were left behind. They were sent to Drancy, and subsequently arrived at Auschwitz, where we found them again three weeks later, three weeks after our arrival. Of the original 1,200 only 125 actually came to the camp; the others were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Of these 125 not one was left alive at the end of one month.

The transports operated as follows:

When we first arrived, whenever a convoy of Jews came, a selection was made; first the old men and women, then the mothers and the children, were put into lorries, together with the sick or those whose constitution appeared to

[Page 190]

be delicate. They only took in the young women and girls, as well as the young men who were sent to the men's camp.

Generally speaking, of a convoy or about 1,000 to 1,500, seldom more than 250 - and this figure really was the maximum - actually reached the camp. The rest were immediately sent to the gas chamber.

At this selection also, they picked out women in good health between the ages of 20 and 30, who were sent to the experimental block, and young girls and slightly older women, or those who had not been selected for that purpose, were sent to the camp where, like ourselves, they were tattooed and shaved.

There was also, in the spring of 1944, a special block for twins. It was during the time when large convoys of Hungarian Jews - about 700,000 - arrived. Dr. Mengele, who was carrying out the experiments, kept back from each convoy twin children and twins in general, regardless of their age, so long as both were present. So we had both babies and adults on the floor of that block. Apart from blood tests and measuring I do not know what was done to them.

Q. Were you an eye witness of the selections on the arrival of the convoys?

A. Yes, because when we worked at the sewing block in 1944, the block where we lived directly faced the stopping place of the trains. The system had been improved. Instead of making the selection at the place where they arrived, a side line now took the train practically right up to the gas chamber, and the stopping place - about 100 metres from the gas chamber - was right opposite our block though, of course, separated from us by two rows of barbed wire. Consequently, we saw the unsealing of the coaches and the soldiers letting men, women and children out of them. We then witnessed heartrending scenes, old couples forced to part from each other, mothers made to abandon their young daughters, since the latter were sent to the camp whereas mothers and children were sent to the gas chambers. All these people were unaware of the fate awaiting them. They were merely upset at being separated but they did not know that they were going to their death. To render their welcome more pleasant at this time - June, July 1944 - an orchestra composed of internees - all young and pretty girls, dressed in little white blouses and navy blue skirts - played, during the selection on the arrival of the trains, gay tunes such as "The Merry Widow," the "Barcarolle" from the "Tales of Hoffman," etc. They were then informed that this was a labour camp, and since they were not brought into the camp they only saw the small platform surrounded by flowering plants. Naturally, they could not realise what was in store for them.

Those selected for the gas chamber, i.e., the old people, mothers and children, were escorted to a red-brick building.

Q. These were not given an identification number?

A . No.

Q. They were not tattooed?

A. No. They were not even counted.

Q. You were tattooed?

A. Yes. They were taken to a red-brick building, which bore the letters "B-a-d," that is to say "bath." There, to begin with, they were made to undress and given a towel before they went into the so-called shower room. Later on, at the time of the large convoys, they had no more time left to playact or to pretend; they were brutally undressed, and I know these details as I knew a little Jewess from France who lived with her family at the "Republique."

Q. In Paris.

A. In Paris. She was called "little Marie" and she was the only one ...

Q. Slow down please. The interpreters have difficulty in following you.

A. Little Marie was the sole survivor of a family of nine. Her mother and

[Page 191]

her seven brothers and sisters had been gassed on arrival. When I met her she was employed to undress the babies before they were taken into the gas chamber. Once the people were undressed they took them into a room which was somewhat like a shower room, and gas capsules were thrown through an opening in the ceiling. An SS man would watch the effect produced, through a porthole. At the end of five or seven minutes, when the gas had completed its work, he gave the signal to open the doors, and men with gas masks - they too were internees - went into the room and removed the corpses. They told us that the internees must have suffered before dying, because they were closely clinging to each other and it was very difficult to separate them.

After that a special squad would come to pull out gold teeth and dentures and again, when the bodies had been reduced to ashes, they would sift them in an attempt to recover the gold.

At Auschwitz there were eight crematoriums, but as from 1944 these proved insufficient. The SS had large pits dug by the internees, where they put branches, sprinkled with gasoline, which they set on fire. Then they threw the corpses into the pits. From our block we could see after about three quarters of an hour or one hour after the arrival of a convoy, large flames coming from the crematorium and the sky was carmined by the burning pits.

One night we were awakened by terrifying cries, and we discovered, on the following day ...

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