The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Sessions 19
(Part 4 of 5)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Witness Burger: Then we were told that the man in question was Guenther, assistant to the Accused. We were informed that 1,000 Jews were going to be moved to a camp and all preparations were to be taken accordingly. As a first step we were told to draw up lists in alphabetical order and by occupation. Then we were made to see to it that building material, tools provisions and medicines were available for 1,000 people. Part of these provisions and materials were confiscated from Jewish shops or were bought with money withdrawn from accounts of Jews on Gestapo instructions. Preparation of these lists necessitated so much work that we were compelled to work at night too.

I remember that one night Guenther came to the office of the Community with several SS officers and voiced his dissatisfaction with the working process; he threatened us that if we did not speed up preparations his people would carry them out. Then he threatened us that 1,000 Jews would be sent to a camp in Poland, and that Salo Kramer and his staff would be sent to a concentration camp. A few days before 17 October, the Community was instructed to send a circular to all males aged 18-70, ordering them to report for "Assentierung" at the riding school of Moravska Ostrava on 17 October. "Assentierung" was the instruction given to us, but at that time we were still unaware what "Assentierung" meant.

State Attorney Bar-Or: What do you mean by "Assentierung"?

Witness Burger: "Assentierung" means review, as for instance practised in the past in the army to determine who is fit or unfit for service. Moreover, we had to announce in the circular how many personal belongings everyone was allowed to take with him, to the best of my recollection the limit was 50 kilograms.

Q. Were you informed of the purpose of this undertaking?

A. No. We were also permitted to take with us DM 300 in cash.

On the morning of 17 October over 1,000 Jews assembled in the riding school; SD detachments were already present. There began medical examinations by Aryan doctors. They proceeded in alphabetical order and completely disregarded peoples' objections regarding illness or frailty. This kind of Assentierung went on right into the afternoon and stopped only after the number 1,000 had been reached. After the Assentierung we were loaded on trucks and taken to the railway station on the outskirts of Moravska Ostrava.

Q. Had any people been put in charge of the transport?

A. On behalf of the Community a sort of transport leader team was chosen. The team was headed by Prof. Emil Eisner. For each railway carriage a man was assigned to keep order in the carriage.

Q. Were you one of the transport leaders?

A. Yes.

Q. You arrived at the railway station on the outskirts of the town?

A. There we changed to passenger carriages which were sealed. We remained there in the carriages under the guard of the SD until the morning of the 18th; early on the 18th the train started moving.

Q. How many Jews?

A. 1,000 Jews from Moravska Ostrava. The first station we reached was Cracow. I wish to add that we did not get any more water from the early morning of the 17th; when the people of Cracow wanted to offer us water they were chased away with lashes of the whip by the SD. For the first and last time the so-called transport leaders became active in Cracow; that was by instructing us to collect the money from each individual Jew, as well as all identifying documents. The money and the documents were handed over to the Gestapo.

Q. Did the people receive anything in exchange for the money they handed over?

A. In the camp we received zlotys in exchange for the money.

Q. When did you leave Cracow station?

A. We travelled on and on 19 October, at noon, we reached a station named Nisko.

State Attorney Bar-Or: That was where?

Witness Max Burger: Nisko is situated on this side of the San, along the route of Cracow-Rzeszow to Lublin.

In Nisko we were instructed that those in charge of the carriages, and master builders and engineers - were to get off the train. Since the carriages were sealed we had to get out through the windows. At Nisko railway station a group of SS officers waited for us; one of them delivered an address, which I can render not word for word, but in its general sense. I wish to add that upon Eichmann's directive Jacob Edelstein, Dr. Murmelstein, Storfer, Gruen, Richard, Israel Friedmann went with the transport. Edelstein came from Prague, Jacob Israel Friedmann was in Prague at that time, the others came from Vienna. The address was something like this:

"About 7 to 8 km from here, across the San, the Fuehrer has promised the Jews a new homeland. There are no flats and no houses; if you carry out the construction you will have a roof over your head. There is no water. Wells in the whole area are infested; cholera, dysentery and typhoid are rampant. If you start digging and find water, then you will have water."

As we subsequently learned from Edelstein and Jacob Israel Friedmann, the address was delivered by Adolf Eichmann. He was waiting for us at the railway station. After the address instructions were given to open the carriages and let the Jews out. Then they inquired who is old, who feels weak, who feels ill - those were to step aside. This group had to pick up their belongings, and I joined this group and walked to the new destination.

Q. Did you cross the river?

A. The San.

Q. In what state of repair was the bridge?

A. It was an emergency bridge. In his speech Eichmann told us the Jews were forbidden to recross the San in the opposite direction. On the way some men collapsed under the weight of their baggage, and although there were carts carrying building material, we were forbidden to load our luggage onto the carts. About halfway there we were allowed to put the luggage down in the field; we continued walking without luggage and were led to the new destination. The new stopping place was a hill with two small peasant huts on it. That was all there was.

Once we reached the top a group was formed and had to go down and fetch the luggage; the luggage was now put on the carts, the horses were unharnessed, the Jews were harnessed to the carts and had to pull the carts uphill to the camp. In the meantime the first carts arrived with building material and we were instructed to erect a hut first for the guard detachment. Rain started falling in the afternoon and we were out in the rain. Towards evening Eichmann appeared on the high ground. In the meantime we had made arrangements for a team to carry water from a village about two kilometres away, and since we remembered the warning that the water was infested it was boiled in a kettle in a makeshift manner. It was the first water we had got to drink since the 17th. The night between the 19th and 20th we spent in the open, in the morning of the 20th there was a roll-call again.

Q. How many were you there?

A. Part of the one thousand people, except for the group which remained below to unload the carts. During the roll- call they asked again who is over 40, who is a business man, who is a lawyer. About 250 people were separated, had to take their luggage and were led out of the camp by the Gestapo. When we asked Post, the camp commander, what was going to happen to these people, he explained that they would live in the vicinity until "you have erected your houses," then they would return. Afterwards we learned from people who remained in the village at Piznica, that they were taken about 6-7 km by the Gestapo, then the Gestapo fired in the air and informed them "if any of you shows up in the vicinity of the camp, he will be shot."

At that time we started building a barrack for the about 600 remaining Jews. We finished the barracks by evening, the roof was covered with tarred cardboard, and this was the first shelter for the 600 prisoners in Nisko. During the first days Eichmann visited the camp, I myself didn't hear him because my job kept me busy and I had to discuss the layout and buildings in the camp with the camp commander, builders and engineers.

At that time a delegation left for Lublin. To my best recollection the delegation included Murmelstein, Edelstein, Dr. Oskar Singer and some other people and was to report to Gauleiter Globocnik, since we had been told that this area would be our new home where we could settle down.

Q. Did you think that Globocnik was responsible for the administration of the camp?

A. No. Globocnik was Gauleiter of the Lublin District.

Q. And your camp?

A. Our camp was under the command of the SS officers Eichmann, Dannecker and Brunner.

Q. Wasn't the camp in which you were under Globocnik for administrative purposes?

A. Upon their return the delegation informed us of Globocnik's astonishment when he heard that the Jews of Czechoslovakia were taken to the district of Lublin, since it was his intention to make the Lublin District "judenrein" (clear of Jews). When asked where to? Globocnik replied: go wherever you want, to Russia, for all I care.

Q. Was this the only delegation dispatched from the camp, or was there another delegation?

A. At a later date there was a second delegation to Cracow. I shall revert to it. Throughout this time new barracks were built according to plan - a kitchen and a bakery, then the guard unit ordered the erection of a stable. The guards had bought horses with part of the provisions and materials we brought with us. We had to go on bringing water from the far off village in the following order: first of all, water for the guards, second, water for the horses, third, water for the Jews. During the first days we were not allowed to shave and then they photographed us. Part of the camp inmates, about 100 men, were placed at the disposal of the pioneer unit; every day they had to go down to the San and, standing more than knee deep in the water, they had to help rebuild the destroyed bridge.

After some time the group that was separated, Murmelstein, Edelstein and the others, returned.

Shortly afterwards the first transport arrived from Vienna, 1,000 Jews. Of these 1,000 Jews about 150 were admitted to the camp, the remainder was chased away, without their luggage. The luggage remained in the carriages. Some time later, all the belongings of these Viennese Jews were brought to the camp, the luggage was opened by the SS, the luggage also contained women's belongings since it had been intimated, just as in Ostrava, that transports of women would also be dispatched. From that luggage the Germans took for themselves whatever they wanted.

With this transport our wives in Moravska Ostrava sent us camp-beds and mattresses, as ordered by the Gestapo. A very small number of these beds were placed at our disposal, the rest was requisitioned by the Germans. In order to help those who were not admitted to the camp we endeavoured to establish a support base or a receiving station and urged camp commander Post to permit the erection of an epidemic clinic in the nearby locality. When we received his consent we established a receiving station for all these old Jews; there arrived another transport of 1,000 Jews from Vienna, very old Jews.

Then came a transport from Moravska Ostrava, some of them were homeless, stateless, had been imprisoned in Spielberg prison, in the Brno casemates, and some old Ostrava Jews who had tried to escape from Ostrava to Prague.

Q. How low did the temperature fall in the camp at this time?

A. To below 40 degrees.

Q. Was such cold unusual in this area or was it usual there?

A. It was an unusually severe winter and the hill had been chosen so that winds from all directions swept over the camp.

Q. Do you remember the change of detachments in January- February 1940?

A. Around Christmas time the camp detachment was replaced, and I wish to state first that the money provided by the Jewish Community and the Joint for our food supplies was administered by the SS office in Nisko. This money was supposed to cover the purchase of our provisions.

Q. When you needed cash, to whom did you apply?

A. The leader, Emil Eisler, to the SS office in Nisko.

Q. Did the camp detachment place provisions at your disposal at that time?

A. No, we had to buy everything ourselves.

Q. Were you kept under guard at that time, or could you move about freely?

A. We were constantly under guard.

Q. To which unit did the guard personnel belong?

A. Units [Standarten] of the SD. The procedure for obtaining money was that a receipt for the amount was signed before the money was asked for and later the money was paid out to us.

Q. Did you hear anything about a camp Sosnowiec?

A. Yes.

Q. Were Jews of Czechoslovakia sent there?

A. From Czechoslovakia, and stateless people?

Q. Did you hear anything about the release of Jews from the camp of Sosnowiec?

A. Yes we received information to the effect that the entire camp of Sosnowiec had been transferred to Slovakia and that some of the people emigrated illegally from there to Palestine.

Q. When you heard about that, what did you, the members of the leadership of Nisko do?

A. We requested passes for a delegation to Cracow.

Q. Whom did you want to see?

A. The Reichsprotektor of Poland.

Q. His name?

A. Frank. We got the permission. At the same time a delegation of the Jewish community of Ostrava arrived in Cracow in order to submit a joint petition to Frank for permission for transfer of the camp. Like the Sosnowiec camp, to Slovakia.

Q. What was the result of the delegation to Frank?

A. They returned with a rejection of their request.

Q. Did you receive a telegram on Purim 1940?

A. The Office in Nisko received a telegram to disband the camp and to carry the remaining prisoners back to Moravska Ostrava.

Q. Did you return to Moravska Ostrava?

A. We left Nisko on 14 April 1940 and returned to Moravska Ostrava. We had to pay the fare out of our own pockets.

Q. Out of the one thousand with whom you went in October 1939, how many returned?

A. Approximately three hundred returned.

Q. What became of the others?

A. The others were also chased out of the camp when there was second "Selektion" and before the camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence, some of them tried to escape to Russia. The border was about 28-30 kilometres away, the new border of occupied Poland.

Q. How long did you remain in Moravska Ostrava?

Presiding Judge: Pardon me, I did not understand that reply. 300 people returned but 1,000 had gone there, so what happened to the remaining 700? Did all of them cross the border into Russia? Or else, why did you mention this? What became of those 700? Did all of them come back?

Witness Burger: They crossed the new border between Poland and Russia. The Germans caught some of them again in Lemberg at the beginning of the German-Russian war. Part of them were deported to Siberia by the Russians. A small number returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945, with the Czechoslovakia Brigade of the Russian army of liberation.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Until what year did you stay in Moravska Ostrava?

Witness Burger: Until September 1942.

Q. Then you were transferred to Theresienstadt?

A. I was deported to Theresienstadt.

Q. Did you remain in Theresienstadt until the end of the War?

A. No, in October 1944 I was deported to Auschwitz, together with my wife.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, do you wish to question the witness?

Dr. Servatius: One question please. Witness, you said that a delegation had gone to Cracow to see Frank.

Witness Burger: Yes.

Dr. Servatius: Did he see this delegation?

Witness Burger: I cannot tell you whether Frank himself received them, since I was not a member of this delegation.

Q. Did the delegation report why a negative answer had been given?

A. No reason was given.

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