The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 21
(Part 8 of 9)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. We shall come to the other methods of punishment later. Did something happen in Plaszow in March 1943?

A. In the middle of February that same Untersturmfuehrer Amon Goeth arrived and new conditions of life were introduced. The work was also more strenuous. If previously they were satisfied that each one performed his job, and rested afterwards, from then on, from time to time and very frequently, when we returned to the camp, they took us straight from the gate to continue on assignments, the task of dragging parts of huts, stones, building etc. There were cases where, for the whole night - after a normal day's work - the whole camp was engaged in performing additional tasks such as these. And it became clear to us what the reason for this was.

On 13 March 1943 - this date I remember well, because it is observed in Israel for memorial ceremonies - the Cracow Ghetto was liquidated. I was not present at its destruction - I only know from the account of all those acquaintances who reached us. It found expression in the fact that some 8,000-10,000 people from the ghetto were brought to us at the camp. There were more that 60,000 persons in the ghetto, if I am not mistaken. 8,000-10,000 living souls were brought as well as over 2,000 corpses, who were shot and killed inside the ghetto.

Presiding Judge: Who brought the dead bodies?

Witness Beisky: They were brought into the camp area on platforms and buried in two graves. They were removed later, in the second half of 1944.

Attorney General: Were they subsequently burned?

Witness Beisky: They were burned.

Q. In the operation for removing the traces?

A. In the operation for removing the traces, and for nearly a whole month there was a perpetual light ("Ner Tamid")* {*"Ner Tamid" a light which burns perpetually in front of the ark in synagogues, symbolic reminder of the lamp of the Temple.} of bodies.

Presiding Judge: Were you still in the camp?

Witness Beisky: Yes, I left the camp on 15 November 1944. I was not yet on the last transport - some still remained after this transport.

Attorney General: Was it then that they also removed the gold teeth of the murdered victims?

Witness Beisky: They removed gold teeth from each body they dug up in this way from the grave, after more than two years. Then we understood what the urgency was in building the camp. For here there were already close to 10,000 persons in the camp. They continued here with outside labour, for people in the ghetto also carried on in places of work essential to the Germans and they continued going outside the camp, all under guard.

Q. Did the command staff of the camp remain as it was or did it increase?

A. It increased greatly.

Q. Who arrived at this stage?

A. First of all there arrived the Wachmaenner (Guards), Ukrainian guards, and large squads of SS men arrived. During that period the camp was surrounded by a second fence, an electrified fence and a watchtower with machine guns and searchlights. Escape was no longer possible, but those barbwire fences claimed not a few victims, for the residential huts were, sometimes, near those fences. Since it was forbidden to go out at night, if Your Honour will excuse me, to answer the call of nature, only in their nightshirts, or with a bucket and undressed, in the winter months people at times did not walk the half kilometre which was the distance involved, but stood behind the hut, a shot would then be fired, as if the person was about to escape.

Furthermore at that time the incidents of collective punishments began. I have already mentioned the floggings which were very frequent and which required no special reason. It was sufficient that someone would appear not to be doing his work at the required speed. And they also began public hangings.

Q. In the presence of all the people of the Plaszow camp?

A. Most of the hangings were in the presence of all the camp people, but I myself only saw two.

Q. Describe to the Court that picture which you identified, of the execution by hanging of a fifteen -year old boy and an adult man.

A. This happened - I cannot remember the date - but at any rate this happened about 1943. We were then a labour company, a branch of that camp which worked outside. And one day two gallows were set up on the ground of the camp. This was a clear sign, for it was not the first time such a thing had happened.

All the camp people, I would not know if there were 15,000 at that time or 20,000 - it is difficult to give exact figures - at any rate, more than 15,000 were lined up on the ground, according to the order of the huts, as they always had to stand, but whereas each hut had its own fixed position to which it knew it had to proceed on roll call days, this time we were lined up facing the gallows.

Presiding Judge: I would ask you please to be seated.

Witness Beisky: Thank you, Your Honour, but I shall continue standing. All those people stood on the ground, and the two persons were brought to the gallows: a lad of 15, Haubenstock, and the engineer Krautwirt, and an order was given to hang them.

Attorney General: For what, for what offence?

Witness Beisky: It was said in the camp that young Haubenstock had sung a Russian tune. The offence of the engineer Krautwirt - I don't know. The boy was hanged and something happened which occurs once in many thousands of cases - the rope broke. The boy stood there, he was again lifted on to a high chair which was placed under the rope, and he began to beg for mercy. An order was given to hang him a second time. And then he was raised a second time to the gallows, and hanged, and thereafter that same Amon Goeth, with his own hands, also fired a shot.

The engineer Krautwirt, throughout that time, stood on the second chair, and here the perfidy went even further. SS men, with their guns, and machine guns, passed through the ranks, and gave orders to all those standing on the ground to watch. Engineer Krautwirt cut the veins of his hands with a razor blade, and in this condition went up to the gallows.

Q. While his blood was running?

A. While his blood was running. And in this way he was hanged. I don't know, it is hard to describe these things, when standing around there are not tens but hundreds of SS men with guns and fixed bayonets, and machine guns, and one had to stand there and look on. It was a sight...

Q. 15,000 people stood there - and opposite them hundreds of guards. Why didn't you attack then, why didn't you revolt?

A. I believe that this thing cannot be explained - it cannot be answered. To this there is no single reply. What I can talk of is the general situation. And perhaps from this it can be deduced.

It will certainly be difficult for anyone who was not there to understand, but after all, this happened in the middle of 1943. This was already in the third year of the War, and it didn't begin with this. It began with something else. The people were already, the whole of Jewry was already in a state of depression owing to what they had endured, during three years. This is one thing. And the second - nevertheless there was still hope. Here were people working on forced labour, they apparently needed this work. Possibly, was plain at that time that if anyone did the pettiest thing - for it was not difficult when people, when many forces were standing there...may I now be permitted to sit?

Presiding Judge: Certainly, you may also rest for a while.

Witness Beisky: First of all, I can no longer - and I acknowledge this - after eighteen years I cannot describe this sensation of fear. This feeling of fear, today when I stand before Your Honours, does not exist any longer and I do not suppose that it is possible to define it for anyone. After all this thing is ultimately a terror-inspiring fear. People stand facing machine guns, and the mere fact of gazing upon the hanging of a boy and his cries - and then, in fact, no ability remains to react.

Something else: The belief in the fact that nevertheless the War would somehow come to an end, that we should not, because of that, endanger 15,000 people. One could ask something else: If we did, where could we go? Nearby us there was a Polish camp. There were 1,000 Poles and there, too, were shootings from time to time under no better conditions than ours. One hundred metres beyond the camp they had a place to go to - their homes. I don't recall one instance of escape on the part of the Poles. But where could any of the Jews go?

We were wearing clothes which at that time were not the garments of the concentration camps, but all the clothes were dyed yellow, with those yellow stripes. The hair at the centre of the head was not cut, but they made a kind of swath in a stripe 4 cms in width. And at that moment, let us suppose that the 15,000 people within the camp even succeeded without armed strength, empty-handed, let us suppose that they even did manage to go beyond the boundaries of the camp - where would they go? What could they do?

But inside the camp it seemed, at any rate - and let us not forget this, Your Honours, in 1943 we did not yet know what was the fate of our families and what had happened to all those who had been taken away in the deportations - this became known to us only much later. Therefore, there was also the hope that by carrying on with the was impossible to imperil the lives of 15,000 people.

These are, moreover not the only reasons, Your Honours. Anyone today trying to find the causes - I do not know whether he could find them for one simple reason: it is not physically possible to present the conditions of those days in the courtroom, and I do not believe, Heaven forbid, that people will not understand this, but I myself cannot explain it and I experienced this on my own person. Accordingly, the question perhaps can be asked from the dialectic point of view, but the conditions of those times cannot be described.

These were things, situations, which were completely different. And I will quote one other example, a very classic example: there was a martyr in our camp. All of us were in the situation in which we found ourselves. But let us take Engineer Greenberg, one of the most beloved inmates of the camp who was appointed to plan the construction of the huts. I cannot really remember this man without bruises and without a bandaged head and without wounds. This man on every single day - either they set dogs on him, or he received beatings, 100 lashes or 25, or simply fist blows, because in a particular place the jobs were not performed.

This same man who more than once implored the camp commandant "Goeth - Shoot me," he himself never committed suicide. This is even stranger: but his wife and daughter were in that camp - I think his daughter lives in Jerusalem. His wife and daughter were from time to time thrown into prison in order to frighten him into committing something. It was a fact that this man underwent, in addition to what the inmates of the camp endured - if there are 100 stages of hell and not seven, he went through them all in his lifetime. Ultimately he was killed - he is no longer alive. But it is a fact, that was the situation. Try to explain it today - you will not find the explanation, these were different conditions, something had already befallen Polish Jewry before we reached Plaszow.

Judge Halevi: You were mistaken in the number when you said the "third year," four years had already passed and you had entered upon the fifth.

A. This was in the middle of 1943. And they began, in fact, before the War, on 1 September. I am still describing events that took place up to June and July 1943, that is to say in the course of three years. But if Your Honour will permit me this remark, these three years were much more than ten times as many in the most terrible conditions that the human mind can picture to itself from the point of view of physical possibility.

Attorney General: Judge Beisky, when groups proceeded to outside work and passed by each other, did you from time to time exchange words, or information?

A. This was the irony of fate; but this is how matters were when we came back from work and the night squads - in other words those who worked the second shift - were going out to work, we would meet in a hurry only, passing each other. It was impossible to know what was the position in the camp that day, that is to say with what rage the commandant and his assistants had acted, if there would be night work on that day or not. And all that could be heard during that meeting were questions: "What's news?" And they used to say: "Four-nought, ten-nought," this would indicate the number of victims who had fallen that day in the camp up to the time of return to the camp.

Incidentally, if I may be allowed to recall this, the Attorney General asked my why they did not rise up during this period. I shall give a better example. There was also, in fact, no difficulty, not for me personally, to escape during the time that I was at my place of work in the gas works, since in the course of the work there was the possibility...

Q. The municipal gasworks in Cracow?

A. Yes. Moreover, of the group to which I belonged before the War - Hanoar Hazioni (The Zionist Youth) - a few managed to cross into Slovakia. On two occasions a representative was sent to get me out. Those two are living in Israel today. One was Frederika Maze who lives in Rehovot and the other was Zelig Weil who lives in Haifa. Both of them met me near the gates of the camp and informed me that it had become possible to smuggle a number of people to Slovakia. And some of our comrades, most of whom are today in Israel, succeeded in crossing to Slovakia.

But it is not a simple matter, when you have 70-80 persons from the same town, amongst them my two brothers, to flee the camp when you know that in the afternoon of the same day the entire group would no longer be alive. And consequently people did not dare to do this so easily, even when the chance existed and even when, at the time, still in 1943, crossing into Slovakia appeared to be a kind of promise of life. And it is a fact - I did not do so. These two people reached Palestine; the one Frederika Maze, managed to get here - at the beginning of 1944 and brought the first tidings.

Q. You spoke about punishment by standing, what was it?

A. There were several varieties of punishment by standing. There was standing which was ordered for the whole camp. And if something happened - from time to time there were searches to find out whether people still had private property, money or other valuables, for they knew in fact that food was being smuggled into the camp from outside, and it was impossible to smuggle it in if there was no property of some kind or money circulating in the camp. So then orders were given from time to time that the entire camp would have to stand on the ground after work as punishment.

Q. For how long did this last?

A. It varied. It was for 6, 8, 10, 12 hours.

Q. Without moving?

A. Without moving. We always stood arranged in the order of the huts. But there was another kind.

Q. And anyone who moved or shifted?

A. They did not move. If anyone moved - he would get whatever he got.

Q. What did he get?

A. In the best of cases this ended up in floggings; in the worst of cases - and these were not isolated incidents - it ended up in shooting. But there were also other punishments - these were not the sole punishments. Cells were erected inside the camp - I think that the cells were of the size of 50x50 or 55x55 cms, and a person was put inside the cell.

Q. Like a cage?

A. I never saw this, but there are surviving witnesses who stood there for 12 hours. I could point, for example, to Mrs. Liss, who lives in Tel Aviv, or several other names of people I know who spent 10-12 hours in a place such as this. It is not possible to describe this as a cage, for in a cage there is some free space, but in this place there was no room for one's hands or for turning around. And when these people emerged from there they were at first completely stupefied from the standing. And there was someone who stood for 24 hours in what was called a "Steh-Bunker" (standing cell).

Q. Were people hanged by their hands?

A. This was another method. I can mention a few instances - take the case of Liebermann who apparently was brought in from outside, who was caught with Peruvian papers - or of some other South American state - and there were people like that who in some way or other obtained papers which did not oblige them, for the time being, to enter the camp. Then, subsequently, the man who did not disclose the source where he obtained these papers, was brought and hanged by his hands in the offices of the camp commandant, that same Amon Goeth. And I think he was suspended for about five hours, during which time they occasionally lowered him and threw water over him...

Presiding Judge: This you did not witness with your own eyes.

Witness Beisky: I did not see this, but I saw Liebermann. There was another case, if we are talking about punishments, namely the case of Olmer, whose daughter lives in Jerusalem, and I know her. This Olmer was also brought into the camp because he was living with Aryan papers. Inside this camp there was another prison - a prison within a prison. This was something of a special kind, and actually not many people who once went into this prison came out alive.

I know only two in Tel Aviv, namely Advocate Dr. Nathan Stern and his brother Yitzhak Stern. These two I know came out alive from that prison - perhaps one more. Well, that Olmer also was imprisoned there. And, by the way this Olmer came from Miechowitz, that neighbouring town I previously described. He was summoned by the Camp Commandant. The Camp Commandant had two dogs, Ralf and Rolf, and he set the dogs on him. The dogs ate him up alive. Possibly a little breath still remained in him; he shot him and he was killed.

Attorney General: Who was the Commandant?

A. Amon Goeth. We are speaking here of Amon Goeth from the beginning of February 1943. Incidentally, I know that a stenographic record of his trial was issued in printed form in Poland, and I know at least of two sources referring to this. It is a book of 500 pages.

Presiding Judge: For the present we rely on your testimony, Judge Beisky.

Attorney General: Please tell me: do you recall a group of 49 male prisoners and one female prisoner?

Witness Beisky: I have told you about them - this was the Bonarka group.

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