The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 25
(Part 3 of 8)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. Did you listen to the radio? Did you issue bulletins?

A. Naturally we had a secret radio and listened to it. We issued bulletins. We passed on news about what was going on in the world at large, for we were cut off from the world at large.

Q. In June 1941, War broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union. How did this fact affect the lives of the Jews in the ghetto?

A. At the beginning this provided much encouragement. For some reason the Jews believed that the Russians would advance and defeat the Germans; and possibly the end of the War was approaching. In general it isn't difficult to understand that a person who is in trouble clutches with faith at any small thing - perhaps? I myself did not belong to the optimists in the ghetto. In other words, I believed in complete faith that the end of the forces of evil would come.

But I knew - we would have to stand up to this for years. Yes, those were the years when, as I have said, the Germans occupied the whole of Europe. And we also believed with the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia, and with the chaos that would be created with the German retreat, as usual there would first of all be massive outbreaks of violence against the Jews.

And then we set up an organization - this was not yet the Jewish fighting force - whose function was that, if there should be such outbreaks of violence, it would resist. At that time there were still no arms. It was a matter of sticks and anything that we chanced upon.

Q. And then you established a resistance organization with cells of five?

A. Yes.

Q. And this also included the various Jewish organizations?

A. Yes.

Q. You established contact with the Polish underground, the Armia Ludowa (People's Army), the A.L.?

A. We tried to establish contact with the Armia Ludowa or more exactly with their political organization. During this period the Polish underground was only beginning to be formed and did not carry out acts of actual war, but its activity consisted of getting themselves organized, of closing ranks and encouragement. But this was not yet the period where they used arms. We set up the organization called "The Anti-Fascist League." This organization - owing to the fact that contacts with the Polish underground were weak, and meanwhile matters developed in a totally different way, and this body was already in existence - was of great value for several months, for it trained people to use sticks. And, perhaps, it was not so important that people should know how to use sticks and anything else that comes to hand, but rather that it hardened the spirit and prepared the youth for the days to come.

Q. Meanwhile the Germans advanced in the east, and one day a man named Heniek of the Polish Scouts arrived. Do you remember this?

A. Yes. Meanwhile the Germans advanced, as you know, and they occupied large areas populated by many Jews, such as Vilna, Lithuania, Volhynia and Polesie All these were places of close Jewish settlement. With the advance of the army, we decided to establish contact with these Jewish centres. Since these were the first months of the War and there was great confusion on the roads, we decided for the first time to send a certain Pole whose name was Heniek, who was a member of the Polish scouts with whom we were in touch from the first days.

I use this opportunity to mention the name of the woman who was the head of the Polish scouts - Irena Damowitz, who from the first day of our life in the underground, helped us, and more than once, risked her life. To this day she is alive and lives in Warsaw. We sent Heniek to Vilna without knowing what was happening there, but in order to inform us what was happening there, how the Jews were living and what was the state of the movement. He was given addresses, for in Vilna there was a large concentration of youth who were planning to set out for Palestine, but not all of them managed to get away. This we knew. Hundreds of halutzim, who were unable to leave, remained there.

The route there and back took him several months. In order to reach Vilna from Warsaw one had to cross three borders. In between there was an area which had been annexed to the Reich - it was an area which once had been Polish - and again there was a border on the way to the Baltic countries. Even a Pole who wished to reach Vilna in those days needed a great deal of courage, a sense of orientation and a lot of luck. He was lucky.

I remember, it was already autumn or the beginning of winter, we had an agricultural farm outside Warsaw; Czerniakow was its name. Apart from the fact that it represented, for the Jewish youth, an honourable source of livelihood, this place served as a starting off point for our male and female messengers whom we used to send out from the ghetto. For it was a farm situated outside the ghetto, and we also worked on a farm belonging to a Polish farmer, as Jews. Our messengers roamed around the Aryan streets of Warsaw. Any flicker of an eyelid of theirs could expose them to mortal danger, lest someone, Heaven forbid, would recognize that this was a Jew or a Jewess. They had this base which enabled them to come to the farm by night and to arrive as Jews. This was something great. We maintained there a stock of newspapers, and also a store of arms.

We received a phone call in the ghetto from the farm at Czerniakow to the effect that Heniek had arrived, asking us to come to a meeting. We rejoiced at the news. At that time we had various ways of leaving the ghetto, despite the efficient guard system. Naturally, when we went out of the ghetto we removed the Shield of David from our persons, and we would go about as Aryans. Many of us were killed. But nevertheless many kept up the contact. When I reached Czerniakow at nightfall, we sat in a hut. There was no electricity, and Heniek told his story. And for the first time we heard that they were transporting the Jews of Vilna in their thousands and their tens of thousands to Ponar where children, women and babies, were put to death.

Q. And then you knew that the same fate could be expected shortly for you?

A. This was already at the end of 1941. At the beginning of 1942 a Jew escaped from Chelmno and came to Warsaw. And he told us that there, in Chelmno,, Jews were being driven out of the city in trucks and put to death by gas.

Q. Did you believe this?

A. This Jew reached Warsaw, but on the way went into a town, to the Rabbi, and told him the story. The Rabbi was convinced that the Jew had gone crazy, and didn't believe him.

Q. And did you believe it?

A. After we had heard the account from Vilna, on the one hand, and the story of Chelmno on the other hand, we believed that this was being done systematically. I must say that in the previous years, even we could not picture to ourselves that a nation in the twentieth century would indeed execute a death sentence on an entire people. We asked ourselves more than once: They are degrading us, they are suppressing us, are they truly thinking of destroying all of us? We did not believe it.

Q. You did not believe it?

A. But doubt was gnawing at our hearts all the time. We had been living in this way for years. And when we received this information from Vilna and Chelmno within a short time, when we sent our messengers to towns and villages in Poland and tales of disaster began to arrive from each place, of course, under a different disguise: in Vilna because the Jews were cooperating with the Communists; in Chelmno they did not disclose at all that this was extermination.

Q. They kept it as a secret?

A. I haven't yet reached the end of the story.

We put all these incidents together, and on the same day we heard Heniek's testimony, this was a decisive moment in the life of the Jewish underground movement. We stopped our social activities - the schools about which I haven't managed to tell you, the Hebrew Gymnasium, and the drama groups and the rest of our cultural activities - and all our efforts were now devoted to active self-defence. But the Jews didn't believe it. Why didn't they believe? It was hard to imagine that in fact an entire people would be exterminated. Wherefore and why? They didn't believe it. The ordinary Jew didn't believe it, nor did the Jewish leadership.

If you were to ask me why we believed it, was this because we were wiser? Were we greater heroes? I would not say so. What stood us in good stead was our Halutz education - that in normal times, as well, we were not afraid to face the fate of the Jews, and to see it for what it was. That same youth believed it, due to its world outlook and its personal education - I have no other explanation, for there were many wise Jews in Warsaw, and heroes also - they, nevertheless did not believe it.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, I think that we must, after all make some progress despite the difficulty involved.

Attorney General: There is, truly, a great deal of difficulty.

Presiding Judge: I appreciate the point.

Attorney General: Let us come to the first acts of extermination in the ghetto in mid-1942. What happened?

Witness Lubetkin:In July 1942 the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto began. It started suddenly one day, although there had already been rumours some days before, and there was much concern amongst the Jews - we were informed suddenly one day when we got up in the morning, by means of notices from the Germans, that it had been decided to transfer to the East("Aussiedlung nach dem Osten") those Jews who were not working here, who had no source of livelihood.

Exempted from the deportation were the Jews who were working, obviously first of all in German places of work in the ghetto, which included the Jewish organizations, naturally those that were legitimate, such as the Judenrat, the Jewish police and members of their families, the various organizations of social welfare of all kinds, hospitals. And then the Jews came to the conclusion that, in fact, this was only a small percentage which was destined for deportation.

The reasoning was: these are Jews who don't have their source of livelihood here, they were, anyhow, living under difficult conditions - the Germans would transfer them to a place in the East, to a place where they were required for labour, and there they would even receive good conditions.

Q. They had to gather in a place called Umschlagsplatz (transit ground), and you called this "Umschlag"?

A. There was a place close to one of the gates in the approaches to the Warsaw Ghetto, where there was a railway track; there was a large field there, the Umschlagsplatz, where the Jews were commanded to assemble, and from that point they were loaded on to the railway waggons.

Q. How many Jews were transferred in the first operation?

A. What are you referring to by saying "first operation?" I don't know what you call the "first operation."

Q. In July.

A. This involved 70,000 to 100,000 Jews.

Q. Where were they transferred to?

A. To the extermination camp in Treblinka.

Q. Did they differentiate inside the ghetto between Jews holding various nationalities?

A. Immediately upon the beginning of the deportation they announced that Jews possessing foreign nationality, neutrals - I do not remember exactly which nationality, at any rate, having a foreign nationality - had to gather at a certain place and they would be taken out of the ghetto. They were concentrated in the central prison of the ghetto - its name was Pawiak, and, as I was informed afterwards, most of them were shot. I knew many of them. Amongst them were workers for the "Joint," American citizens - Neustadt, Segalowitz and others, who were shot and did not stay alive.

Q. Do you remember a man by the name of Czerniakow - what happened to him?

A. He was the head of the Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto. When the "action" began and when it became clear to him that this was, in fact, extermination, that it meant death, he committed suicide.

Q. What did life in the ghetto look like after the removal of these 100,000? Were places of work organized?

A. In view of the fact that the announcement concerning the deportation was accompanied by an order that all those who worked would remain alive, each Jew tried to find employment for himself - and then workshops - they were called "Shops" - sprang up like mushrooms after the rain. Jews used to walk along with a machine on their back, as if it seemed to them that this was their ticket for staying alive. The Germans organized workshops and the Jews worked in them and they were given "Kennkarten" - certificates that they were working in this particular "Shop"; and it is a fact that in the first deportation these Jews were not taken away.

This operation of deportation, from the first day to the last, was disguised in an exceptional way.

Q. Were there also those who volunteered for deportation?

A. When the hunger grew more severe at the time of the deportations and the Angel of Death stalked the ghetto for two months, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were taken away, at that time, also, people were dying of starvation. Nobody went out and nobody came in. A kilogram of bread cost more than 100 zlotys, and even this was impossible to obtain.

Then the Germans announced that anyone coming to the Umschlag of his own free will would receive three kilograms of bread and one kilogram of jam. And Jews came there with their meagre bundles in order to receive the three kilograms of bread.

A. Where were they taken to?

A. They, too, were transferred to Treblinka, to the death camp.

Q. Men, women, children?

A. Men, women, children. There were those familiar pictures of the procession of children from orphanages, who walked in their shabby clothes towards the Umschlag, children who walked with their teachers, such as Janusz Korczak, for example, who had made a name for himself, and whom the Germans wanted to release, but he would not agree.

Q. We shall talk about him later. Please describe the "action" known as the "Rounding up Operation" ("Kesselaktion"). How many people did it effect and when did it take place?

A. It was at the beginning of September 1942. Within a few hours the Jews were ordered - all those who still remained and had not been deported - to gather in two or three streets of Warsaw.

I think that about 120,000 Jews assembled at the time. The Jews were told to assemble in these streets in the course of a few hours. They were ordered to assemble by 10 a.m., and anyone found elsewhere after this hour would be shot. Every Jew was obliged to leave all his possessions at home, and to leave his apartment open. And, at that time, there was a special unit which collected all Jewish property and sorted it, furniture separately, jewellery separately, and shoes separately and so on.

The Jews were ordered to leave their homes open. And in order to maintain the camouflage they were told to take with them a parcel limited to 10 kilograms and to bring it to Mila Street. It was impossible to enter the houses.

Q. How long did this "action" last?

A. The "action" lasted a week or six days. In the course of this week, 60,000 Jews were removed from these streets.

Q. Were you in the streets throughout this week?

A. Many Jews were there, and the "Shops" were also there, for the Jews thought they would come together with the "Shops" and with their documents, and they would be taken off to work. In one street men of the SS and the Gestapo were standing at a table, indicating by a movement of the hand who was to go to the right and who to the left, who was to live and who was to die.

And, of course, first and foremost those chosen for death were the children, the great enemies of the German Reich, the children, the women, the aged and the sick. Those who were healthier were still allowed to live, by means of a motion of the hand to the right.

Q. Were families separated or did they remain together?

A. Of course families would be separated. There were those terrible scenes, since, despite it all, whole families were still going together. They knew what the fate of the children would be, and a mother would attempt to make her son look a little bigger, or to paint the cheeks of her daughter, to give her shoes with higher heels, but all this was to no avail, and they went the same way as their brothers. In the course of a few days, 50,000 Jews were taken away. This "action" in the Warsaw Ghetto was completed on Yom Kippur 1942, with the liquidation of part of the Jewish police, concerning whom we were so sure at the beginning of the deportation that their lives would be spared. Their loyal cooperation with the Germans did not help them; they, too, some of them were taken to Treblinka with their families and on Yom Kippur 1942, out of the half- million Jews in Warsaw, about 60,000 Jews remained within the ghetto walls.

Q. Meanwhile a Jewish fighting force was established. At its head was Mordechai Anilewicz, Mordechai's deputy, Yitzhak Zuckerman - is he your husband?

A. Yes.

Q. There was one operation in January 1943. We will not be talking about this - I will be questioning Yitzhak about this. But as Yitzhak was not inside the ghetto in April 1943, please tell us what happened on the eve of Passover, 1943.

A. 18 April 1943 was the eve of Passover. Two days before, the Gestapo's liaison officer, named Brandt came to the Jewish Council office and said he felt that the Council was not sufficiently concerned about the Jewish children. There was no greenery in the ghetto, there was not sufficient food, and he proposed setting up kindergartens, where Jewish children would be able to play and also to laugh. And he was certain that those Jews who remained in Warsaw were productive people and there was no danger of deportation threatening them.

We had already learned from experience, and we knew if there were such rumours and such a promise - this was a bad omen. And, in fact, in recent days there had been various strange rumours circulating in the ghetto, that on the approach of Passover the Germans were planning to destroy the Warsaw Ghetto. And immediately after these rumours, others came along saying that they had heard from one German or another the information that this was not true, and that the Jews who were in the ghetto would remain there.

And on the 18th of the month, during the day, a policeman of ours, a Jew, who was also a member of the Jewish fighting force came to us at our headquarters, and said that Polish policemen had told Jewish policemen that they did not know exactly, but that there was no doubt that something was going to happen that night.

The Jewish fighting force (and I am not going to talk about the beginning of its activity), this force was in existence and was organized inside the ghetto and had fighting units, with each unit having its own post, prepared in advance. An alert was declared within the units - movement ceased, everyone was to take his arms to his post, to the fortifications, each officer and his men. At night, round about midnight, this policeman came to headquarters and informed us that "the ghetto was surrounded."

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