The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 15
(Part 3 of 6)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. Now, Mr. Cohn, just before we come to the end and to your last meeting with Eichmann, turn to the year 1939. Could you please take the first volume of the Reichsgesetzblatt for that year. Please turn to page 153, to the decree with the heading "Erste Verordnung zur Durchfuehrung des Gesetzes ueber die Rechtsverhaeltnisse der juedischen Kulturvereinigungen' (First Decree for the implementation of the law on the legal status of Jewish religious associations) of 30 January 1939. What does this mean?

A. All Jews, also those who had left the Jewish community in accordance with the previous law, were now once more members of the Jewish religious associations, if I remember correctly - I haven't seen this document for 23 years.

State Attorney Bar-Or: May I submit this decree.

Presiding Judge: T/78.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Mr. Cohn, I am now showing you the Ministerialblatt (Ministerial Gazette) for the year 1939. Please, turn to page 266. You will find there a Ministerialverfuegung (ministerial decree) concerning "Einsatz juedischen Vermoegens" (mobilization of Jewish property).

A. Yes.

Q. Will you please look at the text, especially at the headings of the different passages. Would I be right in saying, Mr. Cohn, that these passages deal with the appointment of trustees in the course of a process which you may remember as "Arisierung " (Aryanization) and "Entjuding" (de-Judaization). Would you like to explain to us what this is about?

A. I had forgotten all about it but it is now coming back to me. Through the elimination (Ausschaltung) of the Jews from major firms, from major factories, great difficulties had arisen. Economic circles had voiced protests, some of those around Schacht too. So they issued this regulation: in order to avoid extensive damage to the German economy, trustees were to be appointed in special cases whenever that was required in the "public interest." In such cases trustees were appointed to prevent serious upheavals to the German economy as a result of the removal of very capable rich Jews from enterprises.

State Attorney Bar-Or: I am submitting this Ministerial Decree.

Presiding Judge: T/79

State Attorney Bar-Or: Finally, two directives that appear in the Reichsgesetzblatt for 1939. One of them on page 282 "Dritte Verordnung auf Grund der Verordnung ueber die Anmeldung des Vermoegens von Juden," (Third Decree under the Decree on Declaring the Property of Jews) dated 21 February 1939 signed by Goering as Commissioner for the Four-Year- Plan. Is it correct, Mr. Cohn, that this third directive makes it obligatory - and that is actually its meaning - for the Jews to hand over to the State all their gold, silver and precious stones and other valuables?

Witness Cohn: Yes. Within a fortnight.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Thank you, I will submit this.

Presiding Judge: T/80.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Finally, could you turn to page 1097. You will find there the Tenth Decree to implement the German state citizenship law ("Zehnte Verordnung zum Reichsbuergergesetz") dated 4 July 1939. In article one you find instructions on what is here called "Reichsvereinigung der Juden" (Reich Association of the Jews in Germany). Could you perhaps explain to the Court what was the difference between Reichsvertretung you have previously spoken of, and the Reichsvereinigung mentioned here?

A. The Reichsvertretung was a voluntary organization of Jews although it was under the control of the authorities, as was everything in a totalitarian state. In July 1939, however, it was decided to centralize and, first of all, to change the name Reichsvertretung to Reichsvereinigung to avoid any possible misunderstanding about it being a body representing the "Reich" and to bestow upon it legal status empowering it to concentrate in its hands most activities such as Jewish schools, welfare matters, and the like: to serve as official custodian for the Jews who still remained in Germany.

Q. May I ask you, Mr. Cohn, to read the fourth Section of the tenth directive?

A. "Die Reichsvereinigung steht unter der Aufsicht des Reichsministers des Inneren. Ihre Satzung bedarf seiner Genehmigung." (The Reich Association is subject to the control of the Reich Minister for the Interior. Its statutes require his consent).

Witness Cohn: A few weeks later the Jewish offices were re- opened.

Presiding Judge: A few weeks after what?

A. A few weeks after the 10 of November, after the pogrom of the 10th of November, centres were opened. Not political organizations, not the Zionist Organization which remained banned, not the Zentralverein. Only welfare institutions, administrative bodies of the Jews of Germany. The Palaestina Amt for instance, was opened, but the Zionist Organization remained closed.

On entering that office after some time, my first aim was to place a telephone call to Jerusalem. I put a call through to Mr. Moshe Shertok, Head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, as he then was, and I told him - I had to conduct this conversation with great caution, after it was obvious that "Der Feind hoert mit" (the enemy is listening). I said only a few words. I remember because I had written them down beforehand in order to have a record. "Mr. Shertok, S.O.S; Save our Souls; 40,000 men are in concentration camps; send us certificates. Pikuakh Nefesh. I stressed the phrase Pikuakh Nefesh several times.

Presiding Judge: You used the Hebrew term "Pikuakh Nefesh" (Danger to human life) implying urgency, a term of Jewish law implying urgency which overrides most legal prohibitions.

Witness Cohn: I said it in Hebrew. Dr. Georg Landauer, the Head of the German Department of the Jewish Agency, also came to the telephone. I repeated it all. They both assured me that they would do their utmost to obtain "certificates" (authorizations for entry into Palestine). To our great sorrow, this produced only a very small result. Nevertheless we succeeded in getting a sizable number of Jews to Palestine. That was thanks to a man who is to my mind to be counted among the Righteous Gentiles.

Presiding Judge: Who was that man?

A. Captain Foley. The British Passport Control Officer.

Q. Where did he work?

A. In the Tiergartenstrasse, in the British Consulate in Berlin. He did all he could to enable Jews to immigrate to Palestine. He helped a lot, people of all the categories ("A" certificates were for "capitalists" who had 1,000 Pound Sterling, "C" were the "Labour Schedule," "D" were students, etc.) One may say that he saved thousands of Jews from death.

Q. Would you now like to move on to your second meeting with Eichmann.

A. Certainly. With regard to that meeting I can refer to notes dictated by me before Eichmann was caught. That was in Dr. Ball's circle and is not to be found in the archives. We refreshed each other's memory and reconstructed past events. That was in July 1958. People pass away and all that a man had in his head is lost forever.

Q. Who arranged for that?

A. An official of Yad Vashem (the National Institute for the Commemoration of the Holocaust and Heroism) by the name of Dr. Ball.

Q. You said July. July of which year?

A. July 1958.

Presiding Judge: That was when he reconstructed the details of the meeting.

Witness Cohn: This is the statement as it was handed to Yad Vashem - no, it was April, the second of April 1958.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Do you remember it all?

Witness Cohn: I will do my best.

Judge Halevi: He wishes to stress that his notes had not been written for the purpose of this trial.

Witness Cohn: It was very shortly before I left Germany. At the end of March 1939 I left Germany, I immigrated to Palestine. I received a telephone call stating that the Gestapo was calling the representatives of the Jewish institutions to a meeting in the Prinz Albrecht Strasse.

Q. What was the Prinz Albrecht Strasse?

A. That was the central office of the Geheime Staats-Polizei (Gestapo - secret state police) for the whole of Germany. I went there with some misgivings as I already had my immigration papers in my pocket. I went there. I went there alone as the representative of the Palaestina-Amt. In those days I was also the director of the Palaestina-Amt after the November upheavals. Others at the meeting were - Heinrich Stahl, the Chairman of the Jewish Community in Berlin, Dr. Lilienfeld, Head of the Financial Department of the Reichsvertretung, Dr. Kotzover, the lawyer, one of the representatives of the Jewish community and Dr. Eppstein who was at that time Head of the Emigration Department of the Reichsvertretung. We had been summoned for a rather late hour in the afternoon, for six o'clock. I can still remember the room on one of the upper floors of the building. We went in, there was a rope and beyond that rope there sat or stood Eichmann.

Q. How was he dressed?

A. In civilian clothes. Next to him, behind a desk, there sat a man in uniform.

Presiding Judge: Please, do sit down, Mr. Cohn.

Witness Cohn: Thank you. [Sits down] In uniform. He was of high rank, an Untergruppenfuehrer or a Gruppen-fuehrer, one of the senior officers of the SS. He took no part in this conversation. He kept silent all the time and did not open his mouth in our presence. The meeting began very angrily.

Presiding Judge: Were you standing or seated?

A. No, we were seated. At that time we were still seated. Eichmann began. He had papers in front of him. A French emigrant's newspaper, the Pariser Tageblatt, if I am not mistaken. It was a newspaper which we had not seen before in Germany, as it was banned. He was very upset that we had published something about him in that paper - he read out to us excerpts from this paper...that he was "der Bluthund Eichmann" (bloodhound Eichmann) - I am using the language used at that time - "Der Bluthund Eichmann," blutunterlaufene Augen" (blood-shot eyes) "ein neuer Feind," "Judenfeind" (a new enemy, an enemy of the Jews). I don't remember all the expressions, but they were all very trenchant.

He accused us that one of us had supplied this false and misleading information about him. And then he said that Dr. Landau, the director of the J.T.A. (the Jewish Telegraphic Agency) whom I knew very well, had been in Berlin for a few days and that it was undoubtedly to him that we had supplied the information. Who had given this out for publication - that was his first question. He was very tense, shouting at us and threatening us with all the measures he was able to take. None of us admitted to having supplied the information. That was obvious. Anything else would have been suicidal. That was the first point.

Then he went on to the second point of the meeting. He put a question to us with regard to our visit to Vienna. I must mention here what other witnesses are going to relate that Eichmann had invited representatives of German Jewish institutions to Vienna to become acquainted there with the institution called "Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung" (Central Office for Jewish Emigration).

Q. When had that invitation been extended?

A. I was ill at that time.

Q. When approximately?

A. In winter. In December 1938 or in January or February 1939. I did not take part in that. I was laid up in bed. Others took part. He turned to the others, such as Dr. Eppstein.

Q. Who had been in Vienna?

A. Who had been in Vienna. The others all had been in Vienna. He shouted at them and turned to them beratingly: "Why did you act against my explicit instructions forbidding you to get in touch with the Jews, with the Jewish leaders in Vienna. That had been strictly forbidden and yet you did it!" He resorted to rude language, barrack room language ("Kasernenstil"), quite a different style from what we were used to. He attacked us and accused us of breaching the ban on any contact with the representatives of the Jews of Vienna. Whereupon somebody got up, I believe it was Stahl or Dr. Eppstein. They stood up and said:"If after all that has happened we were visiting Vienna, we are entitled - and it is only human - to get in touch with our friends in distress there in order to comfort them. This fate has overcome them only recently, whereas we have for some time now been living under this rule. It is only human and natural for us to get in touch with them, and you must understand this." It was Stahl or Eppstein who said this, I don't remember exactly.

Eichmann wound up with the following words, more or less: "If such a thing occurs once more, you will go to a Konzert- Lager!" (concert camp) that was a vulgar term for Konzentrationslager (concentration camp).

Q. Do you remember his using the term Konzert-Lager?

A. Oh yes, not only once but several times. Heinrich Stahl, as it were, began to attack him. He got up and said: "We are all very keen, as indeed is the Gestapo, on emigration, on a mass-exodus from Germany. But you are going to spoil matters by your deportations across the borders. During the last few weeks deportations of Jews have begun to neighbouring countries, Denmark, Holland, Belgium - I don't know whether to France, too - and other North and West European countries. These transports were sent back, in part. Some of those deported had managed to remain in the other country, and to hide. Some had been returned to Germany. Many remained in no-man's-land. And others were put into German prisons or camps. That was a bitter fate. And what was the result of it all? That these countries which had not been very generous in granting visas, had now stopped doing so and had restricted immigration.

Q. And was it to this situation that Dr. Stahl was addressing himself when he spoke to Eichmann?

A. Yes. To all this Eichmann replied very rudely and used foul language. I am ashamed to utter such awful words. But then, awful things have happened since then. I could in German...

Q. You don't have to put it in Hebrew. Actually, if you can still recollect the very words Eichmann used, please quote him in his own words.

A. There was just one expression that I remember. I have not heard it again since. I learned this expression from Eichmann's vocabulary. He said: "Sie elender Geselle, Sie alter Scheissack" (you miserable rascal, you old shit-bag). And again:"It seems it is a long time since you have been to a camp. What do you think you are doing? How dare you complain?" He was offended that Stahl had dared criticize the emigration policy; who was responsible for those deportations. I have no knowledge of that.

After what had happened at the meeting, Eppstein got up and made a short speech. He said: The people sitting here in front of you are honorary officers, voluntary communal workers, for the Jewish institutions in Germany. They have been all elected. The Jews of Germany have put their trust in them. The Jewish people find themselves in a very tragic and miserable situation. Make allowances for this. We are accountable to the Jews who have elected us. In such a style one cannot converse. You can - and I remember this distinctly - you can send us to a camp, you can put us in prison, we are at your mercy. But we are asking you that as long as we are still free, you should talk to us as to free men. Otherwise we are unable to act as free representatives of the public bodies that have entrusted us with this ungrateful task.

Q. Did Eichmann reply to this?

A. Eichmann shouted again, and consulted in whispers with the senior SS officer. When he came back from his whispered consultation he said :"Heraustreten. Wir unterbrechen die Sitzung" (Dismissed! The meeting is suspended) So we went out. We thought he might decide to have us taken to prison or to a camp. I remember...

Q. How long did you wait outside?

A. About half an hour. We destroyed all the papers. I had after all been a prisoner already before that, so I had had my experience, and I knew that any paper could be one's undoing.

Presiding Judge: I didn't understand what you said about destroying papers.

State Attorney Bar-Or: During that half hour you say you destroyed all the papers, because you had had your experience. What do you mean when you say that?

Witness Cohn: We destroyed the papers, because when you are detained they first of all go through all your pockets, and if they find any papers they might incriminate you. I remember from my own period of detention, all the trouble I was in, when some papers were found that I was unable to decipher or to explain. It became part of the professional secrets of a Jewish leader in Germany that you had first of all to destroy all your papers.

Q. And that was what you did during that half hour when you were kept waiting?

A. Yes. Then after that half hour and a few more minutes, we went back into that room, and Eichmann did not at all return to the subject. Not to the subject of Vienna, nor to the subject that had been raised by the criticism voiced by the late Heinrich Stahl. Eventually he died in Theresienstadt.

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