The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 25
(Part 2 of 8)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. What German units operated, do you know?

A. The environs of the ghetto were guarded by the Schutzpolizei, the Gestapo and also the SS. Inside the ghetto, even before it was closed off, from the time it was established, as I pointed out before, first of all SS men, Gestapo men, made their rounds. But not only they. The people of Warsaw remember the young German pilots, with their blond hair, strong young men, and the people of Warsaw were very well aware of their strength and their cruelty, when they used them against helpless persons; the people of Warsaw remember the Schutzpolizei; the people of Warsaw also remember the ordinary soldiers who were able to enter the ghetto, to loot, to destroy, and to torture, to kidnap for labour, as I have already mentioned - to do whatever they pleased.

Q. When the ghetto was closed, did Jews continue to arrive from other centres?

A. We didn't know then that this was intended for a particular purpose, but the Germans issued an order that Jews were no longer to be left in the small towns. Again they gave the reason that their lives in the small towns were more chaotic, disorganized, without means of subsistence. Therefore it was important to concentrate the Jews in the large towns, together they would learn in the larger towns how to organize their lives, how to arrange their affairs, and naturally also how to work for the Germans.

And on the strength of this order about 100,000 Jews were moved to the City of Warsaw from the neighbouring towns within a few days. These were already death-marches. Any weak person, old person, child, anyone who groaned, anyone who appeared to any German whatsoever to bear an expression that was more insolent, was shot on the spot. In this way tens of thousands of people came into the City of Warsaw, carrying in their hands a small bundle, and that was all they possessed.

And if you recall what I said previously, namely that the ghetto in Warsaw was already anyhow terribly overcrowded, and that the Jews of the City of Warsaw had already been wandering around for days and weeks without a roof over their heads - then you will understand that these tens of thousands of Jews who entered the Warsaw Ghetto were in actual fact without any means of subsistence, of earning a livelihood, without a penny in their pocket and, as mentioned, homeless. The Jews, the Jewish organizations, tried to assist to the best of their ability. To my great regret, they weren't in a position to save the situation.

Q. How were the sanitary conditions in the ghetto?

A. It could be taken for granted that in such terrible congestion there could be no sanitary facilities. At the beginning there was not even water in the ghetto, nor was there electricity. Later on, the matter was attended to. But since in one room near to me, or we ourselves lived 12-15 persons in a room measuring 5x5, and these were already years of hunger in the ghetto, obviously serious sickness broke out and claimed many victims.

I want to point out, particularly, the sanitary condition of these refugees. Owing to the lack of space, these refugees were placed in special houses, the occupants of which had been somehow evacuated. These were the worst conditions of all in the ghetto. Once I entered such a refugee home, or as it was called, a refugee shelter, in order to look for a family I knew. I knew them before the War as a well-off family. He was a teacher and she was a doctor. They had children in the Youth Movement who studied at school. They were the normal type of people.

When I came inside to look for them, I found them on the floor, one on top of the other. They were in a corner, but I couldn't reach them, for there was not a spare inch of floor where it was possible to place one's foot. There was no toilet in this house, but in order to relieve themselves (they were on the fourth floor) they had to walk down to the courtyard. There was no water in this house.

In this way people sat there, in this way tens of thousands sat there and went from bad to worse, since they did not have any chance of obtaining work. Under conditions of starvation, under such sanitary conditions, it was obvious that the typhus which broke out in the ghetto started in these houses. It was impossible, although they tried, to keep the sick separate, and sometimes even the dead who died from hunger, particularly children in their mothers' arms.

Q. In the morning, when you passed through the streets of Warsaw, did you see people who died of hunger?

A. Yes, I said earlier that, when the ghetto was closed off, most Jews were left without any means of subsistence, without work and a source of livelihood. And then hunger began to take its toll of many victims. These were the normal scenes to which we had already become accustomed - to see in the streets of the cities whole families: the father, mother, children, families of eight to ten souls, sitting in the streets, swollen by hunger. It was hard to say that they had a human appearance. Especially well I remember, in the evenings, after the curfew, when silence prevailed in the ghetto, and everyone would hide in his corner, the voices of the little children "a stikele broit" (a piece of bread), and there was no one who could throw them a piece of bread, for only a few of us at that time had a piece of bread. And they reached such a stage that they burrowed in the garbage containers in order to seek potato-peels or something like that.

Thus in those days in the Warsaw Ghetto there were times when 300 funerals took place each day. These were people who had died of starvation, from diseases, without help.

Attorney General: I would ask for the album of pictures. [To witness] I understand that there were two ghettos in Warsaw, and that between them there was a bridge in Chlodna Street?

Witness Lubetkin: Yes, at the beginning there were two ghettos, a small one and a large one. Between the two ghettos the link was by means of a bridge that had been built. This was the notorious bridge in Warsaw. Many Jews passing over it paid with their lives.

Q. Why? How?

A. Police used to pass under the bridge and Jews passed over it. German guards stood near the bridge and watched lest Heaven forbid, the Jews should mix with the Germans. In order to cross over the bridge one had to remove one's hat. Many young Jews did not remove their hats and naturally were shot to death on the spot. For any movement, any sound, sometimes without any reason at all, Jews were shot at the bridge. Since there were, nevertheless, people with family connections in both sections of the ghetto, the Jews could not forgo crossing it, and thus, day after day, Jews crossed over there, and day after day they paid with their lives.

Attorney General: May I approach the witness?

Presiding Judge: Please.

Attorney General: [shows the witness the album] I don't suppose that you can identify the faces of the people, but I would ask you to tell us whether this is how the people looked. Here is picture no. 76 on page 28. Did the children in the ghetto look like this?

Witness Lubetkin: This is not a typical photograph of children swollen through hunger.

Q. We shall come to them.

A. They definitely looked like this.

Q. These pictures on page 28 - do you remember scenes such as these?

A. Definitely.

Q. All three of them?

A. All three.

Q. On page 30, was this the way people lay on the pavements with passersby walking past them?

A. Yes. Sometimes they were also without clothing, wrapped in paper, for their clothes had been taken from them.

Q. Is this the way they used to gather the dead bodies on these carts, these refuse carts, did it look like this, as on page 32?

A. Certainly.

Q. What did the Jewish youth movements in Warsaw do?

A. It can be said that the Jewish youth movements did not cease their activities from the first day of the outbreak of the War. And they continued, albeit in different ways, until the last Jew that remained alive in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Q. How did you adjust yourselves to these conditions?

A. The Jewish youth movements adjusted their works to the new reality. Right from the beginning, when it appeared to us that the German policy was to degrade us, to depress us, to starve us, by closing libraries, closing schools, apart from four grades, to change us into a nation of slaves, ignorant people, lacking culture, we still believed that this was not total destruction.

And consequently our activities during that period, until news of the extermination reached us, we concentrated on the war against these restrictive laws. If, as I have said, we thought that these prohibitive laws were intended to wipe out the human image, then our battle was to preserve the human image, to develop a spirit of revolt against these evil decrees. And when I say "revolt" I do not refer at present to a particular rebellion but rather to preserve the human, social and cultural character of the youth.

Q. How did you do that?

A. Firstly, all our strength lay in the fact that we were organized in communes. When I crossed the border from Russia, when I returned to Warsaw, I had been sent there by the headquarters of Hehalutz for two purposes. We said to ourselves: Jews have remained; even though we heard about the evil decrees of the Germans, Jews have remained there and the Halutz movement has to be with them.

Presiding Judge: From where were you sent to Warsaw?

A. From Kovel - a town which at that time was under Soviet rule.

Q. Was this the town where you were born?

A. No.

Q. If not, where?

A. The town of my birth was also in that region, it is called Bytom. I left my parents there. But in that town of Kovel I was also together with a group of comrades - we set out together from Warsaw. There we started activities. We sent people to Vilna so that they should be able to reach Palestine, for a route had been opened up from there. The second purpose for which I was sent was to encourage the departure of the Jews from the German area and to direct them to the territory of Lithuania.

For at that time there were rumours - and it was also true - that many were rescued and are to be found today in Israel, that it was possible to reach Palestine from Lithuania. I arrived at a house called Dzielna 34. This had been, until the War, the building of the headquarters of Hehalutz. When we, the previous occupants, were commanded by the Polish authorities to leave and to travel to the east, this building rapidly became filled with people who had moved to Warsaw. First of all - the refugees who arrived from the Warthegau, but not only they.

As I related previously, many Jews gathered in Warsaw out of a feeling that, somehow, Jews being together might be able to overcome this period. And when I came there, to Dzielna 34, right away in the first months, when the Jewish street was already gripped by fear and terror of the Germans, and each Jew stood by himself in this very difficult struggle for his existence, for a slice of bread for the continuation of his life, alone against this mighty War machine...I ask you to remember that when a Jew saw a single German in the ghetto, he knew that he possessed the power, that huge army that had occupied Europe and to which great nations had surrendered, and he knew that there was such power behind him. And he stood alone, by himself.

Our strength lay in the fact that we did not stand alone. I already found, at this Dzielna Street house, 180 young men and women who did not stand alone when at the time of the bombings, shared one glass of water between them, for there was no water. And if one of them found a potato in the camp, he shared it with six others. Concentrations like this existed in Warsaw for all the youth movements - five or six - and these were concentrated there, from where they radiated to Warsaw and beyond. At the beginning, when the ghetto was open and it was possible to travel, we travelled to the Jews and established contacts with them. And afterwards, when the ghetto was closed, we sought other ways.

What was the next main aspect of our activity? The main aspect of our activity was organization, to organize the youth, as I have said, in order that it could preserve the human and the Jewish image, in order to promote within themselves, despite the degradation and the depression, a feeling of Jewish self-respect, so that they could stand firm against these decrees. And, indeed, it was the youth, who, when the day came, when it became clear to them that this was extermination, also took up arms.

Q. Did you also handle the smuggling in of food?

A. We also dealt with food smuggling, although I must point out, that there were more professional people involved in it than we. One of our problems - and there is no doubt that this was a national, or could I say elementary human, essential, a holy activity - was the smuggling of food into the ghetto.

Q. And when people were caught at the gate with smuggled food, what happened to them?

A. The smuggling, naturally, proceeded in various ways. One of the commonest and most tested methods was the bribing of Germans. No German unit, the SS, the Gestapo nor the others, abhorred Jewish money. And through bribery it was possible to bring food into the ghetto. But on more than one occasion it happened that the guard duty of the Germans who had taken the bribe was changed in the meanwhile and fresh guards arrived who had not received the money, and seeing that the Jews sometimes, perhaps, came late, ten minutes after the guards were changed, they paid for that with their lives.

Q. Were there children who went through the gate to the Aryan section of the city to look for food?

A. In the worst periods of the starvation there were whole families whose main breadwinners were children aged from 7 to 11, since a child aged 12 was regarded in the ghetto as an adult person. How did they support their parents? They used to assemble, group by group, near the gates, waiting for the opportunity when the Germans would turn away, when the Germans would light a cigarette, and, in their masses, cross into the Aryan sector.

Naturally the Germans always used to be quick in opening fire, and there were always victims. But the children were nimble and the hunger gave them courage, and they used to scatter in all directions, and to run around the streets of Aryan Warsaw in order to gather bread crumbs, and potatoes, and they used to return immediately with their prize so that they could bring it to their parents, their sisters and brothers. Many of these parents waited in vain, for the children did not come back, as they had been killed in the streets of Warsaw, or on going out of the gate or on entering the ghetto.

Q. he Jewish youth movement obviously existed in the underground. Did you organize all the youth movements in the underground?

A. I have said that immediately from the beginning, matters became organized. We called upon the Jewish youth movements, to organize themselves.

Q. And did they all respond?

A. They all responded.

Q. From the extreme right to the extreme left?

A. From the extreme right to the extreme left.

It was understandable that the youth looked for us and found us. What was the importance of this activity? Its importance lay in the very fact of our getting together, when this getting together was forbidden. Its importance lay in the fact that we conducted an intensive cultural activity.

Q. In order not to discriminate against anyone - did this include both the secular movements and the religious movements?

A. Yes, it included the secular movements and the religious movements. I remember the first seminar and I shall talk about it, as I was present. There had been seminars such as this in No. 34 Dzielna. This was a short time before the declaration about setting up the ghetto. Scores of boys and girls from 24 towns and villages in Poland assembled, and they remained there for six weeks, in Dzielna of course, under conditions of hunger and cold - this was wintertime - and we studied the Torah [The Pentateuch]. The value of the seminar was very important both for the students and for the lecturers.

The Jewish intelligentsia in the Warsaw Ghetto (I don't want to speak about it because the Attorney General has said that another witness will appear on this subject) were amongst the first victims because they didn't know how to conceal themselves, they suffered from starvation, and for the tremendous cultural potential with which this large community was endowed there was no way to express itself. And when we were able to obtain only some tens of them, professors, teachers and public figures who, during these confusing days, were able to teach the Torah, and to talk about faith in man, about our faith as Jews, and to teach chapters of history - chapters of Jewish suffering and chapters of Jewish heroism - and thereby to educate the young generation, this was of great encouragement to them, to the students and to us. These students would go out throughout the towns of Poland to bring their message, words of encouragement, words to mould the character, words of revolt against the Nazi oppressor that rose up to exterminate us.

We organized the youth, and, of course, this was one of the things which enabled us at that time, under such conditions, not to lose the human image. And this wasn't difficult. I don't know if any of you are aware what it is to experience starvation; or more accurately semi- starvation. For when a person does not eat for days, and he is swollen from hunger, he doesn't feel anything. But a person who has lived for months and years on a slice of bread and a plate of soup, is not capable of thinking about anything in the world except about a slice of bread. And, if nevertheless, we succeeded in inspiring this youth with the spirit of life, despite the fact that their thoughts during the day were centred on slices of bread, then that was a great achievement. These seminars, this cultural activity, encompassed thousands of the youth in the city of Warsaw and beyond it.

There was another matter which was of great value. There was an underground press. The underground newspapers, too, included all the Jewish organizations, and first and foremost, Jewish youth movements, from right to left.

From the first days it was forbidden to listen to the radio, apart, of course, from the German station. This was a decree for both Poles and Jews.

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