The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Sessions 19
(Part 2 of 5)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. Did Jews come to your area?

A. Jews came in their masses from the Sudeten district. - Mahrisch-Ostrau is close to Silesia - from Troppau, Jaegerndorf, Albrechtsdorf, and all the Jews of that district fled after the annexation of Sudentenland to Germany. They came not only to Maehrisch-Ostrau, but also to other centres, from Karlsbad, Marienbad, Komotay, Teplitz- Schoenau, Aussig, Reichenberg, Leitmevitz, Lubositz and many other places. The Jews there, of whom there were thousands, from the days of Masaryk and Benes, were loyal Czechoslovakian citizens and it was clear that as Czechs and as Jews they were caught in a trap.

They had no alternative - they came overnight and went over to the Czech zone, and a tragedy began, since despite the fact that according to the treaty between Germany and the new, truncated Czechoslovakia, despite the fact that they had the right of option, they were not given any option, and they were chased from place to place. It was impossible for them to live in the Czechoslovakian zone. At that stage, we already began the operation we called "Czechoslovak Transfer."

Q. Yes, we shall come back to that. Let us return now to Prague. You mentioned the Police Commissar Fuchs. Do you remember being summoned to appear before him?

A. That happened several weeks after we began working. And the tragedy, the most tragic factor, was the lack of time at our disposal. It began on 15 March 1939 and on 3 September 1939 came the declaration of war. Thus we had at our disposal only a period of some seven or eight months, and we felt already in March that not only was the danger of war approaching, but also that there was pressure on the part of the Gestapo just to get out, to get all the Jews out, to the extent possible. We then knew that it was only by means of illegal immigration to Palestine that we would be able to solve the problem.

Our special, tragic situation lay in this, that on the one hand we had obtained from the British part of a loan which they had given to the Czechs for the Czechoslovakian Transfer. We needed help from Palestine - we needed certificates. It was very difficult, owing to the fact that after 11 November 1938, it became necessary to allot the certificates mainly to Germany and Austria, for we were not yet in such a perilous situation and we did not obtain certificates in sufficient numbers. And thirdly, there was nevertheless a need, under pressure from the Gestapo to organize the illegal immigration which we began only at a very late stage.

In order to organize illegal immigration on a large scale, we needed money. We did not need Czech money, which we had, but foreign exchange, foreign currency. There was no other possibility but to obtain the foreign currency from the Joint. We were helped mainly by Mr. Joseph Schwartz who at that time had moved to Paris. A conference of the Joint was to take place there, and we wanted to send a delegation to this conference in order to obtain funding for illegal transports.

Then Police Commissar Fuchs told Dr. Kafka that we could send three representatives to this conference in Paris. There was a combined meeting of the Jewish Community Council and the Zionist Organization. I presided over this meeting. It was very difficult to select the three delegates. We decided that Dr. Kafka should go on behalf of the community, Dr. Frantisek Friedmann as the financial expert, and I suggested sending Mrs. Marie Schmolka who was an outstanding social worker and a wonderful woman.

Q. Were these the three who went to Paris?

A. No, not all of them went to Paris, only two of them, since Mrs. Schmolka was not allowed to travel.

Q. Do you know why?

A. I know why. I proposed her. After the voting and after a hard struggle we decided that she should go. On the day after this meeting Dr. Kafka went to Police Commissar Fuchs and informed him that Dr. Kafka, Dr. Friedmann and Marie Schmolka would be going. When Fuchs heard that Schmolka was to go, he began shouting and said: How can you do this? Don't you know that she was arrested and spent a month in prison? Then Dr. Kafka did not know what to say. And he started shouting that we were sending a criminal character to Paris so that she could engage in underground activities there.

Q. Who, ultimately, went in her place?

A. I don't remember.

Q. But did someone else go?

A. Yes. I merely recall that he asked Dr. Kafka who proposed her, and he, in his embarrassment, said: Dr. Meretz. Then he said to him: Bring Dr. Meretz to me tomorrow morning at nine. I came to him, to Fuchs, and he started shouting, saying, first of all, that we were playing at democracy, that we were crazy, that we were holding meetings, what was this all about? How could we still meet together at all? Didn't I know that she had been in prison - how could I do such a thing? When I wanted to say something, he did not let me, and in an extremely rude manner. Eventually he let me speak, and then I said: First of all I knew that Mrs. Schmolka would return, that she would not remain abroad. Secondly I knew that Mrs. Schmolka...

Presiding Judge: Mr. Bar-Or, do we have to go into all these details?

Mr. Bar-Or: I was about to pass on to the next point.

Presiding Judge: Perhaps my remark has come somewhat late. All these details have a personal, and, perhaps, historical importance of their own, but we must remember that we have to go forward.

State Attorney Bar-Or: I am sorry, I shall proceed further. When did Fuchs disappear?

Witness Meretz: I think it was in July. He disappeared at the time the Jewish Emigration Centre was set up in Prague.

Q. Do you remember that one day after Fuchs disappeared Edelstein returned from the Gestapo?

A. Yes.

Q. What did he relate?

A. Edelstein said that now there was going to be a Jewish Emigration Centre in Prague, that Eichmann had come to Prague with his staff. I remember the names: Hans Guenther, Burger, Drechsler, Brunner, Lederer, these I remember.

Q. Do you remember the establishment of the Jewish Emigration Centre in Prague?

A. I remember it well.

Q. Where was it set up?

A. In Stresovice.

Q. What was Stresovice?

A. It was a suburb of Prague; there, in a villa which had belonged to a Jew, this institution which was the central institution for all migration was set up.

Q. How was this institution established? Did you see it?

A. Yes, I was there.

Q. Please describe it to the Court.

A. There was a large hall like the hall of a bank, and it had booths. In each booth sat some official in charge and there was one booth for the payment of taxes; first of all there was a booth for handling documents. Anyone wishing to emigrate had to bring an application supported by documents.

Q. Where did he have to bring the application to?

A. To the Palestine Office.

Q. First he was directed to the Palestine Office?

A. Yes, there it was necessary to obtain, first of all, the promise of a certificate. If he did not have a certificate, there was no chance for him to leave, apart from illegal immigrants who went separately.

Q. Were illegal immigrants not required to pass through the Jewish Emigration Centre?

A. For a certain time they were not, but later - they were.

Q. When did it begin, approximately?

A. I believe in the autumn of 1939, close to the time when I left.

Q. When you completed your duties in the Palestine Office, you were directed to the Jewish Emigration Centre - is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. What did you find there?

A. It was necessary, prior to that, to arrange documents, that is to say it was necessary, first of all, to pay all the taxes. After that one had to report to the Czech Ministry of Finance and to pay the "Reichsfluchtsteuer" (Tax for Flight from the Reich) there, and after that to pay the "Judenabgabe" (Jews' Contribution) at the community office, and thereafter one had to supply lists of all one's movables which had to be brought there for assessment. After their assessment one had to pay one hundred percent of the value of these movables.

Next one had to give all jewellery to a shop to have them valued - these were only specific shops, German shops, which made the valuation. After that one had to place the jewellery on deposit with a bank, to bring all kinds of certificates from the police, from the customs, whether one had or did not have a dog, whether or not it had been paid for - one had to pay a dog tax. Following that one had to go to the bank for a "Treuhandssvertrag" (Trusteeship Contract) that is to say to hand over all Jewish-owned property to the trusteeship of the bank, and to give an irrevocable Power of Attorney for it.

After all that, when all these documents were ready, and sometimes this was truly a process which made one despair, it would then be necessary to come and undergo all the processing, from counter to counter, in the Emigration Centre.

Q. Who were the persons or authorities who worked regularly in these booths at the Emigration Centre?

A. They were officials.

Q. Where there Jews amongst them?

A. No, They were Gestapo officials. Those managing the operation were on the first floor.

Q. Who was there?

A. As far as I know, Guenther, Burger - these men.

Q. Who was on the ground floor?

A. The officials were there and there was also a control office; for example Feldwebel (Sergeant) Lederer and other such men were there who made trouble for the Jews, beat them. Or, when a lawyer appeared, they made him stand in the middle of the hall and said to him: Say three times: "I was a Jewish lawyer, a thief and a swindler" (Ich war ein juedischer Rechtsanwalt, ein Dieb und ein Betrueger).

Q. By the time you finished with these booths, how long did it take, approximately?

A. It took several hours - 4, 5 or 6 hours.

Q. What happened in the end?

A. In the end the person went home and only about three or four later weeks did he receive his card. I have such a card at home - I have not brought it with me - which stated: you have to come to receive your Durchlassschein (exit permit). The person would come after that to the Emigration Centre and there he received his Durchlasssschein but sometimes he did not get it, but they told him: You have still to go up to the first floor to Mr. Burger, and this Burger would say: If you want the Durchlassschein bring one hundred thousand crowns, fifty thousand, twenty thousand, as the case might be. The Jew went away, took the money from whatever source he could, obtained a loan - sometimes we helped him from the Palestine Office, and he delivered the money without getting any receipt. This was another additional tax.

Presiding Judge: What was the equivalent of a hundred crowns?

A. One hundred and forty thousand crowns equalled one thousand pounds sterling. A hundred thousand crowns amounted approximately to 600-650 pounds sterling. I still remember people who paid such a sum, the late Rabbi Sicher, for example.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Did you ever see such a Durchlassschein?

A. I not only saw one - I am perhaps the only person who possesses such a thing. I can also explain how it happened.

Q. There is no need for you to explain. Do you still possess your card and that of your wife?

A. My wife's too.

Q. I would ask you to give them to me. When did you receive them?

A. I received them on 23 October 1939 and I left Prague on 15 November 1939.

Q. I ask permission to submit them to the Court.

Presiding Judge: The witness' document will be T/155. His wife's document will be T/156.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Do you remember that at the end of August or the beginning of September 1939, the last Zionist Congress before the War took place?

Witness Meretz: Yes, I remember.

Q. You and your colleagues asked the Gestapo to allow you to participate?

A. Yes, we asked permission to send a large delegation in order to obtain the largest possible number of certificates and also to spur on illegal immigration. At the time we demanded, if I remember correctly, ten delegates. And ten persons went.

Q. What was the Gestapo's attitude to the request?

A. The Gestapo granted it, saying that these people would have to return, and that no one should remain outside the country. If any were to remain outside, the Executive of the Committee would be responsible for them and those desiring to immigrate to Israel were not allowed to take part. For this reason I also was not able to participate in this Congress.

Q. Did you report in writing on your activities after you came to Palestine?

A. Yes, I reported on the activities of the Transfer Committee and on the transfer of 500,000 Pounds Sterling which we forwarded to Palestine within the framework of the Czechoslovak Transfer. I presented a report to the Executive of the Jewish Agency.

Q. When did you immigrate to Palestine?

A. I left Prague on 15 November 1939 and reached this country on 21 November 1939.

Presiding Judge: Did you mention the witness' report?

State Attorney Bar-Or: Yes. I just mentioned it.

Presiding Judge: Has it been submitted?

State Attorney Bar-Or: No.

Presiding Judge: And is it not going to be submitted?

State Attorney Bar-Or: No.

Witness Meretz: Your Honour, I understand that my evidence has ended.

Presiding Judge: No, not yet. Dr. Servatius, have you any questions to this witness?

Dr. Servatius: No.

Judge Halevi: There is just one point that I did not quite understand. The Jews from the Sudeten zone who fled to the area of Prague and Bohemia were not allowed to exercise the option. Who did not allow them?

Witness Meretz: The Czechs.

Q. Why?

A. For, at that time, it was the "Second Czechoslovak Republic" as it was called, and this was the transition to the Nazi period. During that period, while under the influence of the Nazis, they adopted a fairly open anti- Semitic attitude.

Judge Raveh: I notice in the exit permits on the second page, that, in fact, a return to the Protectorate was permitted. Was this something normal or exceptional?

Witness Meretz: Most exceptional. And I would ask permission to explain that matter in a few words, for it is rather important.

Q. Please do so.

A. The position was as follows: When, after all our exertions, we eventually were granted this matter of the transfer, it was not so simple, for following the outbreak of hostilities on 3 September 1939, the English entered the War. Then the British Consulate in Prague was closed down. But to our good fortune, the British consul had issued the certificates before the closing of the consulate. He gave the certificates to me, and they were kept in the safe of the Palestine Office in Prague.

But the certificates did not provide us with British visas, and there was no way of entering Palestine. Our great friend in England to whom in a large measure, we owe not merely our thanks but also our lives, Sir Robert Stafford, Jan Masaryk and Leo Hermann - these three dealt with the transfer. They saw to it that a special British committee operated in Trieste, and in Trieste we obtained the British visa.

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