The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 23
(Part 3 of 5)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. But the man who was in charge knew, of course, that you were there much longer...?

A. Yes, he did.

Q. Why did he spare you?

A. First of all, he was now having trouble in getting new people again and again - because we were the last remaining Jews in the city, in the concentration camp only; and secondly, he had had a lot of trouble - every three days they used to shoot them before we came and they never made any headway with the work. So they decided that if he was to do his job he would have to keep these people a little longer.

Q. That was against his orders - he maintained that it was against his orders?

A. Yes - he said we shouldn't tell anybody, that it was a secret between us.

Q. Then you moved - in September, I believe - to another place. Is that correct?

A. At the end of September I moved to Krzywicki - at the end of Lyczakowska Street. Again the SD men knew exactly where the graves were located. And here, the first graves were uncovered where the graves of the people shot in the first week on Pelczynska Street.

Q. Which street did you say?

A. Shot at Peleczynska Street.

Q. Among them were also Poles?

A. In one grave we uncovered Poles and in a few graves we uncovered on the top of the graves some...the Black Corps that were the Ukrainian Militia that took part in the shooting and they were often shot and buried on the top of the graves in their uniforms.

Q. You found one grave where Professor Bartel and other prominent Poles were buried?

A. Yes, that was on the eve of Yom Kippur, 8 October, on Friday night - not on the eve of Yom Kippur, but Yom Kippur night, 8 October, we were taken out to Wulka Street in Lvov and there uncovered 38 bodies. Between these bodies was Professor Bartel's body.

Q. How did you know that it was his body?

A. Because next day when we put up on the big pyre the people for burning, we uncovered, they were buried in their clothing and from their documents and from their other identification cards we found out their names.

Q. Professor Bartel, Dr. Ostrowski...and others.

A. Yes.

Q. Prominent people?

A. All 38 were prominent. They were all dressed in black tuxedos, having been at a big reception or dinner. All of them in black ties and white shirts, tuxedos. Dressed completely for a big dinner.

Q. Names known all over Poland. The cream of Polish society.

Presiding Judge: Who was Professor Bartel?

Witness Wells: Professor Bartel was one of the leading mathematicians known all over the world. He was also Prime Minister of Poland at one time, and he was also Dean of the Lvov Polytechnic.

Attorney General: Now Yom Kippur, 9 October...

Witness Wells: On a pyre with over two thousand bodies, these 38 bodies were burned too.

Q. Did you fast on that Yom Kippur?

A. Yes, most of us fasted. A big percentage, over fifty people kept it strictly and fasted.

Q. And you did fast that Yom Kippur while burning those bodies?

A. Yes, most of us.

Q. On 25 October, what happened early in the morning?

A. Normally when we brought in new victims they would call and say there is an air raid that we have to stay in the barracks and nobody of us can get out or look out through the windows or through the cracks in the walls. But this morning they got us up at four o'clock in the morning - all these six SD men, Scharfuehrer Yadliko, Scharfuehrer Mozaiko, Hauptsturmfuehrer Ulmer, Untersturmfuehrer Scherlocki, Hauptsturmfuehrer Rauch and Sturmmann Reiss, arrived at four o'clock in the morning. Some of them seemed to have been drinking because they were nearly drunk. They took us down the road and there they closed us up for the day, saying that there is something going on that we cannot be near by.

Q. Yes?

A. And on this day, around 2,000 people, the next to last group of people from the Janowska concentration camp, were brought over to be liquidated there.

It was interesting - at this time at the Janowska concentration camp, Hauptsturmfuehrer Warzog was the head. In the morning they brought into the concentration camp new clothing and everybody got clothing for the winter because they are going to work in some colder weather.

Q. Where did you hold your secret meeting in which you talked over your plans to escape?

A. We had plans to escape all the time, and all the time the secret meetings were going on but...because...we still had Jews left in the concentration camp. In addition to it, our foreman's mother and bride were still in the concentration camp and they were kept there and not yet taken out to be shot. We were afraid that by doing anything - and our chances were very slim - that these people would be killed and only due to us. And so we were continuing and our plans became actual when the final liquidation of the Janowska concentration camp was on November...18 November, 19 November 1943 was the final liquidation of the Janowska concentration camp. And on 19 November, we started our uprising.

Q. Yes - we will come to that uprising.

Presiding Judge: I note with some concern...

Attorney General: I shall finish by the recess, if the Court will be ready to give me an extra ten minutes after eleven o'clock.

Presiding Judge: This is much more than you mentioned to us yesterday. naturally, I understand the difficulty.

Attorney General: This is a formidable difficulty, and this is material about which there are hardly any people who are able to tell us anything. I have only one other witness from Bialystok, who was also in a unit such as this. But apart from them I don't know how many remained alive, and I have to prove this operation of removing the traces - for when a murderer wishes to cover up his tracks, this proves his guilt and his intention. At any rate, this is my feeling.

Presiding Judge: My remark did not refer to this - that should be clear.

Attorney General: Now - tell me. What does a massacre of 2,000 people look like?

Witness Wells: To make it a little bit more clear, I would like to describe the location - how the "Death Brigade" was built, so that you see...An area of about two miles radius - which is about six kms, in diameter - was closed off, and on each edge was put up a big sign that in this place trespassing is forbidden - under sharpshooting - under order of General Katzmann. He signed all such notices.

We were normally allotted to a ravine. All around us were mountains and on top of the mountains were standing guards, and our small tent, where we lived, was surrounded again by wire. In this ravine was also the Brandstelle as well as the Aschkolonne - all the work was done in the ravine. But even in this deep ravine, normally the fire could be seen for quite a few kilometres away when we started the fire. At the time of the uprising there were already a hundred and eighteen of us and we were guarded by a hundred and twenty Schupos (Security Police) of the 23rd Battalion with Headquarters in Tarnopol. These two thousand people were brought to the top of the hill in trucks, fifty people to a truck - sometimes forty to fifty people. They climbed down and first had to take off their spectacles, shoes and socks; then they went a few hundred feet farther and had to take off their clothing; afterwards they were brought to a place near the they didn't have to be carried too far to the fire; and there they stood in a line and were mowed down by a machine gun. Most of them were dead...

Q. Who did the shooting?

A. The shooting was usually done by the SD.

Q. Now tell me - there weren't many guards for two thousand people: why did all these people go to be shot - why didn't they try at least, to injure their murderers before they were killed?

A. First of all, the two thousand people were not together - they would bring them in groups of forty, thirty-five or fifty, shoot them, and then the next truck would come with another forty...There were a lot of guards in proportion to each group, not against the two thousand. But secondly, in the beginning one always has somebody to lose, a family to worry about...At this time, in 1943, nobody cared anymore - he was always one of the last, had lost everybody; and just to be tortured longer - the tortures were so more real to these people than their death, because life didn't mean any more to them...

Q. You mean they wanted death without torture?

A. To finish with it. Because in certain cases, when we used to bring women and children, very often the women would throw in the children and jump in after them, into the fire - even before it was time to shoot...Once a mother came with her child, and when she undressed she spat in the face of the SD guard - they took the child by the legs, knocked its head against a tree and put it in the fire, and hanged her by the feet...The other women, seeing this, thought - "What's the use..." This happened quite a few times - especially for mothers not to undress children.

Presiding Judge: You said that mother was hanged by the feet?

Witness Wells: With the head down...

Attorney General: Was this the only case?

Witness Wells: No - there were many cases...

Q. Do you remember Kessler?

A. Yes - he was one of the "living corpses."

Q. What were the "living corpses?"

A. As I mentioned before, some of the people weren't killed - they fell down because of a slight injury or under the pressure of other people, or sometimes they thought that maybe they would escape by falling down and pretending to be dead; but normally, when there came bigger groups, this was quite a big percentage, quite a few people who were alive still. And one of them that was between these people was a man from Tarnopol by the name of Kessler. The group was from the concentration camp, with 2,000 people.

And we at that time seeing that a lot of them were alive, we left some sugar and some of our working clothes that we dropped there, so that they can escape in the night. There were many of them, but unfortunately only Kessler escaped to be brought back the next day. He was caught and brought back. Under torture and all kinds of promises, he never told who helped him and he was burned the next day.

Q. Now, with the permission of the Court, I'll shorten your evidence, Dr. Wells. Let's go to the point where you escaped. Tell the Court how you escaped and how you managed to survive.

A. After the final liquidation of 19 November 1943, of the Janowska concentration camp, we felt that we are not any more responsible with our deeds to anybody, that nobody can suffer, or hasten their deaths by any time. We at this night decided that we will break out.

Because of the time of the year, we used to make fires outside our camp for the Schupos while they were standing guard to warm themselves during the night. For weeks already we were starting in the night to arrange loud singing and the orchestra playing so it seems that we are happy, because we arranged it in this way that in this night the orchestra and the rest of the people have to sing so that if any noise comes from the outside due to some misfortune in our uprising, this will cover the noises from any Schupos or from any SD man.

On this night we decided that a certain group of people and also the musicians must stay till the last minute, and be killed, because they will be cover for the other people. And they all accepted it very willingly because none of us had the interest who has to survive. The only idea was that one of us survives and tells the world what happened here.

Because that day there came in a lot of clothing from the people that were liquidated from the concentration camp when they were unclothing themselves, all the boots and clothing were in our tents to be the next day delivered back to the SD people who will decide where they will go. But some of the Schupos wanted some boots and shoes, and were asking us to give it to them, because none of them had the right to touch it. Two people had to go out through a small door with the wood to make a fire for one of the Schupos and one of them will have a pair of boots for him. At this time, the men had to drop the boots and the Schupo will bend down quickly to pick up the pair of boots because he wouldn't like that the other Schupo see that he is taking away certain things.

Presiding Judge: All right, Dr. Wells, I am very sorry but we can't go into these details.

Attorney General: Could you try to be a little more brief?

Witness Wells: We cut the neck and choked these two people. While he bent down for the pair of shoes, one of the men cut his neck, choked him, but he - this man who tried to choke him - was a little too weak and the Schupo screamed out loud. The other Schupos started to run and he started shooting and before they knew anything had happened, we were out of this place and started to run; but not all of us; some of them wanted to die right there.

Q. There were those who refused to join you?

A. Yes. One man, Yehuda Goldberg, he was an ex-Polish legionnaire - he was in the underground; he said, "what good is it for me even to try to live, I've lost my wife, my seven children and I would like to die here at the place where they were buried." He even got undressed and he lay down waiting until they would shoot him.

Q. Now, my final question, Dr. Wells. Could you give the Court an approximate figure of the number of bodies burned by your brigade?

A. A few hundred thousand.

Q. Could you tell us how many were executed in front of those fires, approximately?

A. About 30,000 during the time that I was there. That was after the liquidation because there were no more Jews.

Q. When did you come to know that this Kommando was known as Sonderkommando?

A. I knew it during the time that I was there because every time it came in under an order, or it was sent, it was from Sonderkommando 1005.

Q. Now, my last question. I believe that when introducing you yesterday to the Court I forgot that you were given a scientific award this year. Is that correct?

A. I was given the International Award for the engineer who contributed most in the field of Cinematography and Optics, for 1960; International Congress in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Q. International Congress of which Society?

A. Of the Cinematic Film Society in Mar del Plata, in January, 1961.

Q. Do you happen to know how many Jews of Lvov survived the War?

A. Two weeks after the liberation we were registered - 212 men in Lvov. They weren't all from the city of Lvov; they were also from neighbouring cities.

Attorney General: Thank you.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, do you have any questions for this witness?

Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.

Judge Raveh: These pictures in the book, do they show the same places where you worked, or are they places similar to those in which you worked?

Witness Wells: They are not from my place.

Q. And are you able to identify these places?

A. No, except in one picture that I could see exactly like our place, but I cannot identify the people, because of the poor quality of the picture itself. I at this time, when the book was published, I wasn't in Poland any more, so I never saw the original.

Attorney General: The book was compiled on behalf of the Historical Commission by Mrs. Rachel Auerbach. She has been called to give evidence tomorrow, and then I shall be able to put the question of His Honour Judge Raveh.

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