The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 25
(Part 4 of 8)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. By that time the Judenrat was no longer in control of the ghetto? Who controlled the ghetto?

A. This already had been the case between January and April, that even before then the Judenrat was no longer in charge of the ghetto. But the ghetto as well as the Judenrat acted in accordance with the orders and instructions that we used to post up in the streets of Warsaw. This was a time when the Jews obeyed us, obeyed us in everything. We dispersed among the fighting units. I was at 23 Nalewski Street, where the officer in charge of that unit was Secharia Artstein. Mordechai Anilewicz and the rest of my comrades were dispersed in the other strong points. Mordechai Anilewicz came to the post at 29 Mila Street.

What did we tell the Jews that night? We told them that anyone who possessed arms should come out to fight. Not only the Jewish fighting force but the ordinary Jews as well had arms. And we advised those who did not have arms, women, children and babies that they should go down into the bunkers, and at the first opportunity of the general confusion, which would arise following the battle, they should go over to the Aryan sector, they should break through and make their way to the forest - some would survive. And, naturally, we had no need to issue orders to the fighting units, for the members, those boys and girls had been waiting for months for the moment when they would be able to shoot at Germans.

And, indeed, the moment had come. When the day dawned, I was standing in the upper part of this building, at 23 Nalewski, and I saw the thousands of Germans who were surrounding the ghetto - with machine guns, with cannon - and thousands of them, with their weapons, as if they were going to the Russian front. And there we stood opposite them - some twenty young men and women. What were our weapons? Each one had a revolver, each one had a hand-grenade; the entire unit had two rifles, and in addition we had homemade bombs, primitive ones, the fuse of which had to be lit by means of a match, and Molotov Cocktails.

It was very strange to see that some Jewish boys and girls, confronting this enormous enemy with all his weapons, were joyful and merry. Why were they joyful and merry? We knew that our end had come. We knew beforehand that they would defeat us, but we also knew that they would pay a heavy price for our lives. Indeed, they did. It is difficult to describe, and there will surely by many who will not believe it, that when the Germans came near the foot of one of our strong points and passed by in formation, and we threw the bombs and the hand-grenades, and we saw German blood pouring in the streets of Warsaw, after so much Jewish blood and tears had previously flowed in the streets of Warsaw - we felt within us, great rejoicing and it was of no importance what would happen the following day.

There was a great rejoicing amongst us, the Jewish fighters. And behold the miracle: the great German heroes withdrew in tremendous panic in the face of the handmade Jewish hand- grenades and bombs. And we noticed, one hour later, how a German officer was spurring the soldiers on to go to battle, to go out and bring in the wounded, and not one of them moved and they abandoned their wounded men whose weapons we subsequently collected.

And so it happened, that on the first day we, the few - with our scant arms - drove the Germans out of the ghetto. Naturally they came back. They were not short of ammunition, of bread and water as we were. And they returned. They returned that day, for a second time, in greater strength; with field-guns and tanks, and we with our Molotov Cocktails also set a tank on fire- although this was not at the post where I was but in Mila Street, with another fighting unit.

That day, when we met in the evening, we each reported. We had seen that, with our meagre arms, the number of those killed in our ranks was negligible - two in all. Apart from these there was a number of wounded. And we knew that, on that day, hundreds of Germans had fallen, killed and wounded. When, by chance, I once met a German on the Aryan side, a year after the Warsaw Ghetto revolt (I was posing as an Aryan, and he had only one eye), he told me that on that very day, at 23 Nalewski, he had lost his eye in a battle with the Jews and that "it was a big fight and we paid for it with many casualties" - I did not know then how to appreciate this. But if one may evaluate this years later, when I saw my people proceeding on its final journey - this was some slight consolation.

The battle continued for a number of days at the same pace. The Germans could not subdue us and on each occasion retreated from the ghetto. Naturally, not all the days were like the first day. We paid with more losses and also killed less Germans. But, in the days following, the Germans changed their tactics and tried also to change our tactics. From street-fighting in places we had prepared for ourselves, we changed to a method of fighting in small groups. We split up into several groups who at night would find for themselves houses and strongpoints, and they simply hid, waiting for the Germans. The Germans, indeed, no longer came into the ghetto in large numbers, but in small units. They were like us - we had rags on our feet so that they should not hear our footsteps, and they had rubber boots so that we should not hear their footsteps - and each side sought the other. In these days, also, we had the upper hand: we knew the terrain, we knew the houses, we had prepared for ourselves places of refuge in attics and cellars which were not known to the Germans. It continued in this way for days.

It is difficult for me to describe life in the ghetto during that week, and I had been in this ghetto for years. The Jews embraced and kissed each other; although it was clear to every single one that it was not certain whether he would remain alive, or it was almost certain that he would not survive, nevertheless that he had reached the day of our taking revenge, although no vengeance could fit our suffering. At least we were fighting for our lives, and this feeling lightened his suffering and possibly also made it easier for him to die.

I also remember that on the second day - it was the Passover Seder - in one of the bunkers by chance I came across Rabbi Meisel. There had been contacts between us and him, since the days of the Halutz underground in ordinary times as well. The Halutz underground, in its operations, had not always had an easy time on the part of the Jewish population - they did not always accept us. There were those who thought that we were bringing harm to their lives - as I have pointed out, the collective responsibility, the fear of the Germans. But this time, when I entered the bunker, this Jew, Rabbi Meisel, interrupted the Seder, placed his hand on my head and said: "May you be blessed. Now it is good for me to die. Would that we had done this earlier."

The fighting went on in this way for days. We, already from the first day, had been seeking liaison with the Aryan side. We had many comrades on the Aryan side, and Yitzhak Zuckerman was among them. Their main activity in the first days was the acquisition of an additional supply of arms. And, indeed, after many endeavours this was achieved. But there was a problem of how to transfer it. In the first days we had another link by means of the telephone, but apart from telephone contact, the connection still existed through the Burial Society.

Our cemetery was beyond the boundaries of the ghetto, and since the Burial Society had its hands full, it had, even in the days of the revolt, to go out of the ghetto and to come back into it. And in this way we received a message from Yitzhak Zuckerman to the effect that he had received a number of rifles which we would be able to obtain; through the Burial Society we smuggled letters outside - amongst them the letter from Mordechai Anilewicz, which has since been published. But this link, too, was soon cut off. We began to look for possibilities of sending out a number of comrades for the purpose of obtaining help.

We had a small number of comrades on the Aryan side who were able to organize help and arms for us, or food, or later on to look for a place where a person could stay in the event of his remaining alive. We thus began searching for a way of getting a number of people out. We were told that there was a bunker in a particular place, near the ghetto wall. From the bunker there was a canal leading to the Aryan side. Afterwards it became clear to us: Apart from the Jewish fighting force, which included in its ranks all the various ideological forces in Jewish public life, from left to right, there existed a group of Revisionists, in Muranowska Street. They had prepared this exit for themselves. After several days of difficult and daring battle, they decided to go out to the Aryan sector. We encountered one of them who had been saved. All the others had been caught and were killed.

Without being aware of this, we sent two of our comrades in this way to seek contact with our comrades on the Aryan side - one was Simha Ratajzer, now residing in Jerusalem, and another, who is no longer alive. When they reached the Aryan sector and a Polish policeman saw them, he thought that they were Poles and said to them: "Why are you wandering around here? Do you know what happened here an hour ago?" And he told them about the fight in the ghetto, that the entire quarter was full of SS men and Gestapo, and that they were not allowing anyone to come out or to go in. Nevertheless, due to their courage and, perhaps, also their good fortune, they succeeded in passing by the German sentries and establishing contact with Yitzhak. They represented an important reinforcement to the tiny group, many of whose members fell in the first days of our fight in the ghetto in various actions on the Aryan side, to provide substantial aid, which we subsequently broadened to help the fighters inside the ghetto to assist in taking them out and to help any activity of the Jewish underground, which continued until the liberation.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, you could make greater use of your liberty to guide the witness.

Attorney General: Yes, but I did not want to interrupt the flow of her statement.

These battles went on until the middle of May 1943?

Witness Lubetkin: Yes.

Q. You maintained your position for about a month. After that, the battle continued inside the bunkers, inside the remains of buildings, inside the sewage canals, and from the ruins for a period of months?

A. Yes.

Q. What types of warfare did the German army use against you?

A. We could not engage in open warfare. The Germans set the ghetto on fire. It was impossible to fight against fire and conflagration - they did not have to battle against us, for the fire fought us.

Q. And then there were those scenes of people jumping from the upper storeys of buildings into the flames?

A. These scenes of women, children and men are well-known. We had previously told them, we had called upon the Jews to hide themselves, those who did not have arms, to hide in the bunker. But when the building was suddenly set alight and when the smoke entered the bunker, it was no longer possible to get out. And there were the scenes - that from the fourth, fifth and sixth floors, people jumped from a building enveloped in flames, in most cases with children in their arms.

Q. And people were forced out of the bunkers by flame throwers?

A. There were also scenes of people who jumped from fire into gunfire. The German machine guns which surrounded the wall did not miss them. Every such Jew in sight was shot on the spot.

Q. And what about the people who emerged from the bunkers?

A. They looked for hiding places in other bunkers. Many of them entered the sewage canals for want of another way out. Nevertheless several people found shelter in the ruins of the burnt houses. The Germans seized many of them and took them - no longer to the Umschlag - but to Treblinka.

Q. When you began the revolt, you knew what the end would be. Did you have any chance to defeat the German army in battle?

A. There was no chance of defeating them in battle. That was clear. This was still in April 1943. The victories of the Red Army were only beginning. And it was plain to us that we had no chance of winning in the accepted sense of the term.

Q. In the military sense?

A. Not in the military sense or in the accepted sense of today. But, believe me, and this is no empty phrase, that despite their power, we knew that ultimately we would defeat them, we, the weak ones, because in this lay our strength. We believed in justice, in humanity, and in a regime different from the one which they glorified.

Q. When did you cross over to the Aryan sector of the city?

A. On 8th May.

Presiding Judge: Which year?

Witness Lubetkin: 1943.

Attorney General: How did you cross over?

Witness Lubetkin: When the principal bunker of the Jewish fighting force at 18 Mila was destroyed with Anilewicz and another hundred and twenty fighters, quite by chance I was not there, for on the previous day I went on a mission to another part of the ghetto and returned after this had happened. I found no traces of the bunker or of people, only a small group of fighters who succeeded in getting out of there through some kind of side route, at the very last minute. They related their experiences.

That night we decided - there were only a few of us left, without food, without water and almost no weapons, at any rate without bullets for the revolvers and rifles - to send a group of comrades to the sewage canal, so that they might cross to the Aryan sector and see what could be done. These comrades, on the way to the sewage canal, encountered a delegation of our friends. One of them was the same Simha Ratajzer whom I mentioned previously, who had gone out to Muranowska. This delegation had been sent by our comrades on the Aryan Side in the company of a Pole who showed them the way - to bring the surviving fighters through the sewage canal to the Aryan side.

Q. Did you also go in this way?

A. I also went. We walked in the sewage canal for 48 hours. And on 12 May, on a clear day, when, in spite of the desire of the Polish underground to come to our aid - they did not have the power to do much, apart from several people who assisted us in carrying out the operation - and when it became clear to our comrades that they would not get any assistance, they hired two trucks saying that they were required for moving furniture from one place to another.

When they reached the street where we were standing in the sewage canal, our comrades drew out revolvers, aimed them at the drivers and said: "This is not furniture but people, and if you make even the slightest noise, you will endanger your lives." And so they remained silent. And then the sewage canal was opened and we came out of it, about fifty fighters, if I am not mistaken, and we were loaded onto the trucks. We drove through the streets of noisy Warsaw, naturally with weapons in our hands, and we reached the Lomianki forest, seven kilometres from Warsaw, since we did not have anywhere, in fact, where we could go to.

Q. Let us skip this episode. Afterwards you hid yourself in Warsaw. When the Polish revolt broke out in Warsaw, did you fight once again?

A. Yes.

A. Together with the surviving members of the Jewish fighting force?

A. We had a special sector of the Jewish fighting force within the Polish revolt in the ranks of the A.L.

Q. This was August 1944?

A. Yes.

Q. And when this revolt was suppressed?

A. The Poles decided to give themselves up and be taken prisoner; our group did not do so. Having no alternative, we remained in a bunker in one of the places in Warsaw, and this was now in Aryan Warsaw, for Jewish Warsaw was no longer in existence at that time. But even in Aryan Warsaw, Poles, too, were prohibited from being there at all. So we went into some house, where there was a cellar, a group of Jewish fighters, carrying arms and we did not really know what to do with ourselves - until we sent off a number of comrades, mostly girls, to look for contacts on the Aryan side.

Actually they found them and they returned with a delegation of the Red Polish Army who made out as if it was known that there were sick people there, typhus patients. Those fighters amongst us who had pronounced Jewish features had their imaginary wounds bandaged so they would not be recognized and were taken out as typhus patients. In this way we crossed into the Aryan sector and in a village near Warsaw liberation came to us at the hands of the Russians.

Q. In the middle of January 1945?

A. In the middle of January 1945.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, have you any questions to the witness?

Dr. Servatius: I have no questions to the witness.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mrs. Lubetkin, you have concluded your testimony.

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