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 4 of 9)

[Page 197]

Q. Was this the only way used to exterminate the internees in Ravensbruck?

A. In Block 10 they also experimented with a white powder. One day the German nursing sister, Martha, arrived in the block and distributed a powder to some twenty patients. The patients subsequently fell into a deep sleep. Four or five of them were seized with violent fits of vomiting and this saved their lives. During the night the snores gradually ceased and the patients died. This I know because I went every day to visit the French women in the block. Two of the nurses were French, and Dr. Louise Leporz, a native of Bordeaux, can likewise testify to this fact.

Q. Was this a frequent occurrence?

A. During my stay this was the only case of its kind within the "Revier" but the system was also applied at the "Jugendlager," so called because it was a former reform school for German juvenile delinquents.

Towards the beginning of 1945 Dr. Winkelmann, no longer satisfied with making selections from the Revier, proceeded to make his selections from the blocks. All the prisoners had to answer roll-call in their bare feet and expose their breasts and legs. All those who were sick, too old, too thin or whose legs were swollen with oedemata, were set aside and then sent to this Jugendlager, a quarter of an hour away from the camp at Ravensbruck. I visited it at the Liberation.

In the blocks an order had been circulated to the effect that the old women and the patients who could no longer work should apply in writing for admission to the Jugendlager, where they would be far better off, where they would not have to work and where there would be no roll-call. We learned about this later, through some of the people who worked at the Jugendlager - the chief of the camp was an Austrian woman, Betty Wenz, whom I knew from Auschwitz - and from a few of the survivors, one of whom is Irene Otteland, a French woman living in Drancy, 17, Rue de la Liberte, who was repatriated at the same time as myself and whom I nursed after the liberation. Through her we discovered the details about Jugendlager.

Q. Can you tell us, Madame, if you can answer this question? The SS doctors who made the selection, were they acting on their own accord or were they merely obeying orders?

A. They were acting on orders received, since one of them, Dr. Lukas refused to participate in the selections and was withdrawn from the camp, and Dr. Winkelmann was sent from Berlin to replace him.

Q. Did you personally witness these facts?

A. It was he himself who told the Chief of the Block and Dr. Louise Leporz, when he left.

Q. Could you give us some information as to the conditions in which the men at the neighbouring camp at Ravensbruck lived on the day after the Liberation, when you were able to see them?

A. I think it advisable to speak of the "Jugendlager" first since, chronologically speaking, it comes first.

Q. If you wish it.

A. At the "Jugendlager" the old women and the patients who had left our camp were placed in blocks, which had no water and no conveniences; they lay on straw-mattresses on the ground, so closely pressed together that one was quite unable to pass between them. At night one could not sleep because of the continuous coming and going and the internees trod on

[Page 198]

each other when passing. The straw-mattresses were rotten and teemed with lice; those who were able to stand remained for hours on end for roll call until they collapsed.

By way of nourishment they only received one thin slice of bread and half a quart of turnip soup, and all the drink they got in 24 hours was half a quart of herbal infusion (tisone). They had no water to drink, none to wash in and none to wash their mess tins.

In the "Jugendlager" there was also a "Revier" for those who could no longer stand. Periodically, during the roll-calls, the "Aufseherin" would choose some internees, who would be undressed and left in nothing but their chemises. Their coats were then returned to them - they were hoisted on to a truck and were driven off to the gas chamber. A few days later the coats were returned to the "Kammer," i.e., the clothing warehouse and the labels were marked "Mitwerda." The internees working on the labels told us that the word "Mitwerda" did not exist and that it was a special term for the gases.

At the "Revier" white powder was periodically distributed, and the sick died as in Block 10, which I mentioned a short time ago. They made ...

THE PRESIDENT: The details of the witness' evidence as to Ravensbruck seem to be very much alike, if not the same, as at Auschwitz. Would it not be possible now after hearing this amount of detail, to deal with the matter more generally, unless there is some substantial difference between Ravensbruck and Auschwitz.

M. DUBOST: I think there is a difference which the witness has pointed out to us: namely that in Auschwitz the prisoners were purely and simply exterminated. It was merely an extermination camp, whereas at Ravensbruck they were interned in order to work, and were weakened by work until they died of it.

THE PRESIDENT: If there are any other distinctions between the two, no doubt you will lead the witness, I mean ask the witness about those other distinctions.

M. DUBOST: I shall not fail to do so.


Q. Could you tell the Tribunal in what condition the men's camp was found at the time of the Liberation and how many survivors remained?

A. When the Germans went away they left two thousand sick women and a certain number of volunteers, myself included, to take care of them. They left us without water and without light. Fortunately the Russians arrived on the following day. We therefore were able to go to the men's camp and there we found a perfectly indescribable sight. They had been for five days without water. There were eight hundred serious cases, three doctors and seven nurses, who were unable to separate the dead from the sick. Thanks to the Red Army, we were able to take these sick persons over into clean blocks and to give them food and care; but unfortunately I can only give the figures for the French:

There were four hundred of them when we came to the camp and only one hundred and fifty were able to return to France; for the others it was too late, in spite of all our care ...

Q. Were you present at any of the executions and do you know how they were carried out in the camp?

A. I was not present at any of the executions. I only know that the last one took place on the 22 April, 8 days before the arrival of the Red Army. The prisoners were sent, as I said, to the Kommandantur; then their clothes were returned and their cards were removed from the files.

Q. Was the situation in these camps of an exceptional nature or do you consider it was part of a system?

[Page 199]

A. It is difficult to convey an exact idea of the concentration camps to anybody, unless one has been in the camp oneself, since one can only quote examples of horror, but it is quite impossible to convey any impression of that deadly monotony. If asked, what was the worst of all, it is impossible to answer, since everything was atrocious: It is atrocious to die of hunger, to die of thirst, to be ill, to see all one's companions dying round one and be unable to help them; it is atrocious to think of one's children, of one's country which one will never see again, and there were times when we asked if our life were not a living nightmare, so unreal did this life appear in all its horror.

For months, for years we had one wish only: the wish that some of us would escape alive, in order to tell the world what the fascist convict prisons were like: everywhere, at Auschwitz as at Ravensbruck - and the comrades from the other camps told the same tale-there was the systematic and implacable urge to use human beings as slaves and to kill them when they could work no more.

Q. Have you anything further to relate?

A. No.

M. DUBOST: If the Tribunal wishes to question the witness, I have finished.

GENERAL RUDENKO: I have no questions to ask.

DR. MARX (acting for Dr. Babel, counsel for the SS, absent): Attorney Babel was prevented from coming this morning as he has to attend a conference with General Mitchell.

My Lords, I should like to take the liberty of asking the witness a few questions to elucidate the matter.

Q. Madame Couturier, you declared that you were arrested by the French police?

A. Yes.

Q. For what reason were you arrested?

A. Resistance. I belonged to a resistance movement.

Q. I did not ...

A. Activity in a resistance movement.

Q. Your statement leads to an important ... and to a further question. Your statement shows much skill in ... yes, wait until I finish my question. What education did you receive and what post did you ever occupy?

A. What was what?

Q. I mean what kind of post did you ever hold? Have you ever held a post?

A. Where?

Q. For example as a teacher or a lecturer?

A. Before the war?

Q. Before the war.

A. I do not quite see what this question has to do with the matter. I was a journalist.

Q. Yes. The fact of the matter is that you, in your statement, showed great skill in style and expression, and I should like to know whether you held any position such as teacher or lecturer.

A. No. I was a newspaper photographer.

Q. How do you explain that you yourself came through these experiences so well and are now in so good a state of health?

A. First of all, I was liberated a year ago, and in a year one has time to recover. Secondly, I was ten months in quarantine for typhus and I had the great luck not to die of exanthematic typhus, although I had it and was ill for three months and a half.

Also, in the last months at Ravensbruck, as I knew German, I worked on

[Page 200]

the "Revier" roll-call, which explains why I did not have to work quite so hard or to suffer from the inclemencies of the weather. On the other hand, out of 230 of us only 49 from my convoy returned alive, and we were only 54 at the end of four months. I had the great fortune to return.

Q. Yes. Does your statement contain what you yourself observed or is it concerned with information from other sources as well?

A . Whenever such was the case I mentioned it in my declaration. I have never quoted anything which had not previously been verified at the source and by several persons, but the major part of my evidence is based on personal experience.

Q. How can you explain your very precise statistical knowledge, for instance, that 700,000 Jews arrived from Hungary?

A. I told you that I have worked in the offices and, where Auschwitz was concerned, I was a friend of the secretary, the "Oberaufseherin," whose name and address I gave to the Tribunal.

Q. It has been stated that only 350,000 Jews came from Hungary, according to the testimony of the Chief of the Gestapo, Eichmann.

A. I am not going to argue with the Gestapo. I have good reason to know that what the Gestapo states is not always true.

Q. How were you treated personally? Were you treated well?

A. Like the others.

Q. Like the others? You said before that the German people must have known of the happenings in Auschwitz. What are your grounds for this statement?

A. I have already told you: to begin with there was the fact that, when we left, the Lothingrian soldiers of the Wehrmacht had said to us in the train: "if you only knew where you are going, you would not be in such a hurry."

THE PRESIDENT: Madame, you are going too fast.

A. - the Lothingrian soldiers who were taking us to Auschwitz said to us: "If you knew where you are going, you would not be in such a hurry to get there." Then there was the fact that the German women who came out of quarantine to go to work in German factories knew of these events, and they all said that they would speak about them outside.

Further, the fact that in all the factories where the prisoners worked they were in contact with the German civilians, as also were the "Aufseherinnen" who were in touch with their friends and families and often told them what they had seen.

Q. One more question. Up to 1942 you were able to observe the behaviour of he German soldiers in Paris. Did not these German soldiers behave well throughout and did they not pay for what they took?

A. I have not the least idea whether they paid or not for what they requisitioned. As for their good behaviour, too many of my friends were shot or massacred for me not to differ with you.

DR. MARX: I have no further question to put to this witness. I would only like to be allowed to ...

THE PRESIDENT: If you have no further questions there is nothing more to be said.

DR. MARX : Thank you, yes.

THE PRESIDENT: There is too much laughter in the Court I have already spoken about that.

I thought you had said you had no further question?

DR. MARX : Yes. Please excuse me. - I only want to make a proviso for Attorney Babel that he might cross-examine the witness himself at a later date, if that is possible, either in addition -

THE PRESIDENT: Babel, did you say?

[Page 201]

DR. MARX : Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: I beg your pardon; yes, certainly. When will Dr. Babel be back in his place?

DR. MARX: I presume that he will be back in the afternoon. He is in the building. However, he must first read the minutes.

THE PRESIDENT: We will consider the question. If Dr. Babel is here this afternoon we will consider the matter, if Dr. Babel makes a further application.

Does any other of the defendant's counsel wish to ask any questions of the witness?

(No response)

M. Dubost, have you any questions you wish to ask on re- examination?

M. DUBOST: I have no further questions to ask.

THE PRESIDENT: Then the witness may retire.

M. DUBOST: If the Tribunal will kindly allow it, we shall now hear another witness, M. Veith.

JEAN FREDERIC VEITH takes the stand.

THE PRESIDENT: Are you calling this witness on the treatment of prisoners in concentration camps?

M. DUBOST: Yes, Mr. President, and also because this witness can give us particulars of the ill-treatment to which certain prisoners had been exposed in the camp of internees. This is no longer a question of concentration camps only, but of soldiers who had been brought to the concentration camps and subjected to the same cruelty as the civilian prisoners.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you will not lose sight of the fact that there has been practically no cross-examination of the witness you have already called about the treatment in concentration camps? The Tribunal, I think, feels that you could deal with the treatment in concentration camps somewhat more generally than the last witness.

Are you not hearing what I say?

M. DUBOST: Yes, I hear it very well.

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