The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 26
(Part 1 of 6)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Session No.26

17 Iyar 5721 (3 May 1961)

Presiding Judge: I declare the twenty-sixth Session of the trial open.

Mr. Hausner, if you please. Are you continuing to bring witnesses?

Attorney General: Yes, Your Honour. I call Mrs. Rahel Auerbach.

Presiding Judge: [To the witness] Do you speak Hebrew, Mrs. Auerbach?

Witness Auerbach: Yes, I speak Hebrew.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness: Rahel Eiga Auerbach.

Attorney General: Do you live at 42 Chen Boulevard, Tel Aviv?

Witness Auerbach: I work at 42 Chen Boulevard - the office of Yad Vashem is there.

Q. You work at Yad Vashem. What is your private address?

A. My private address is 51 Rehov Harav Friedman.

Q. You work at Yad Vashem - in what capacity?

A. I am in charge of the branch, and of the department for the collection of evidence.

Presiding Judge: What branch?

Witness Auerbach: The branch of Yad Vashem in Tel Aviv.

Attorney General: Mrs. Auerbach, did you complete your university studies in history and philosophy at the University of Lvov, and were you in Warsaw at the time of the Second World War?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you write a book about Warsaw, the title of which was In the Streets of Warsaw 5700-5703 (1940-1943) and which was published in the Am Oved Library?

A. Yes.

Q. [Holds up a book.] Is this your book?

A. Yes, that is my book.

Presiding Judge: Are you submitting it?

Attorney General: Yes.

Presiding Judge: This will be T/257.

Attorney General: Mrs. Auerbach, did you know Jewish Warsaw before the outbreak of the War?

Witness Auerbach: Yes, I came to live in Warsaw in 1933.

Q. Perhaps you could give us a general description, and a very concise one, of Warsaw as it was, from the Jewish point of view, before the outbreak of the War?

A. I would want to speak mainly about Warsaw from the spiritual aspect, about the cultural world of Jewish Warsaw. When I came to Warsaw for the first time - this was at the end of the 1920's - from Lvov, I was astonished at the intensity of the Jewish life. It was especially the Orthodox Jews who made an impression on me. While Lvov also was a city teeming with Jewish life, nevertheless such a multitude of Jews I had never seen.

A Polish writer, Wanda Kargan, wrote a series of articles entitled "The Dark Continent" and the trend of these reports was negative. But I saw it in the most positive light, because of this Jewry, Orthodox Jewry, was the great reservoir of Jewish life. Jews from modern social strata, the intellectual elite, all the time were leaving Jewish life, but these Orthodox Jews remained and they continually produced new strata of cultural creation. And apart from this community, there was, of course the modern Jewish community.

There was a complete Jewish state there. While Poles did relate to the Jews of Poland in a negative sense, nevertheless that same curse was, in my opinion, a great blessing. This Jewry, with its widespread educational network, had about one hundred modern Jewish schools in Warsaw alone. There were about thirty high schools. There was an educational organization Ikor with Yiddish as the language of instruction, and there was Tarbut where Hebrew was the language of instruction. There were also many schools whose language of instruction was Polish, but there, too, the content was Jewish, and many of the people educated in these schools are now in Israel and were amongst those who were instrumental in building up the State of Israel.

I do not intend to make a speech.

Attorney General: Please be good enough to answer the questions.

Presiding Judge: I believe this depends on you, Mr. Hausner.

Attorney General: I shall endeavour to get the witness to be concise. I shall try to guide her. Mrs. Auerbach, in Warsaw at the time of the War, you worked closely with Ringelblum. What can you tell us about him?

A. Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, a native of Buczacz, like myself, from Galicia, was a historian and a well-known public figure, even before the War. But during the War he remained in Warsaw, and not by chance. After the leaders of the community had been obliged to leave the city and the country, because of the great risk involved, together with the Polish leadership, a new group of Jewish leaders had arisen, and Dr. Ringelblum was one of the most important and distinguished amongst them. They took the initiative first and foremost in providing aid, since already from the beginning of the War, when Poland had collapsed, a tremendous flow of refugees arrived, and after the entry of the Germans, wave after wave of exiles from Western Poland came. Relief had to be organized.

Q. But first of all tell us about Ringelblum's work. On what was he engaged? What was his life-work?

A. At first he was one of those who organized relief. An institution of self-help was organized. As far as my personal role is concerned in my connection with those affairs, it was Ringelblum who summoned me, a day or two after the Armistice Agreement, even before the Germans entered, and charged me with the task of organizing a public kitchen in the premises of the Small Merchants Organization.

Q. Was this in September 1939?

A. This was at the end of September 1939. And on the day that Hitler received the great parade on Pilsudski Sachsi Square - later named Hitler Square - I was already on my way to the kitchen of the Merchants Organization with a sack of food stuffs, and on the day Hitler entered Warsaw, the first 25 meals were already being served.

Q. Did you organize a large kitchen to help the needy?

A. At the beginning it was not large. At the beginning 25 meals were served. But by the time we had finished our work still on these semi-private premises, that private kitchen, in that private apartment, thousands of meals were being produced daily. Thus the aid developed at a rapid pace, under conditions of a holocaust, of a major catastrophe, both of the Jewish population of Warsaw and of the Jews of the country towns who had been exiled to Warsaw.

Q. What was the network of welfare enterprises that you organized in order to keep the Jews physically alive?

A. First and foremost there were these private kitchens that cooked and provided the needy with one plate of soup per day. Besides this there were living accommodations. It must be remembered that Warsaw was bombed out. There were also citizens of Warsaw whose homes had been bombed or burned in the fires, so that the number of people requiring aid, already in the month of December 1939, reached a total of 40,000 persons who turned to the welfare enterprises and requested their help.

Q. From where did you receive the means of organizing this?

A. I should like to explain here...

Presiding Judge: Mrs. Auerbach, answer the questions directly.

Witness Auerbach: I wanted to say that this was not the same as with the Judenrat, since the welfare enterprises...

Presiding Judge: Who said that it was the same?

Witness Auerbach: The enterprises received their means of support mainly from the Joint. The Joint still had money at that time. Communal workers of all the parties rallied round this organization for concerted action, and they collaborated at that time in a way as never before. It was the Joint which provided the funds for these enterprises. And then the funds of the Joint ran out. Indeed, in the first year, the occupation authorities, so to speak, gave their approval to this activity. And the workers engaged within this framework had special rights by which it was forbidden to commandeer them for work.

And when these funds were exhausted, the managers of the Joint obtained money from Jews who possessed cash - and this was without any guarantee of repayment, on the basis of the promise of the managers of the Joint - there was a number of them who placed their confidence in them and handed over enormous sums of money.

Q. With this money you supported the Jews of Warsaw as long as you were able?

A. As long as we were able. After that Dr. Ringelblum organized housing committees. This was no longer self-help; this was mutual help. Almost every single house in the ghetto was organized. Every needy person received a plate of soup. There were internal taxes for the purpose of keeping people alive, so that people should not go hungry.

Q. What did you do so that the Jews should not degenerate spiritually?

A. It was known that the enemy wanted to destroy us also from the spiritual point of view; this was also a prelude to physical destruction, to humiliate us and to convince their own people and the world at large that this was a nation of parasites who were not fit to live in the world, that they were a kind of gypsies. I remember a certain pamphlet which appeared in Warsaw at that time, after the entry of the Germans, in which it was said that the Polish people had "alte hergebrachte Sitten" (old established customs). That is to say they lowered the status of the Polish nation as if they possessed nothing except a kind of folklore.

Presiding Judge: According to the German expression, I do not see anything negative in it...perhaps I am mistaken.

Witness Auerbach: Its meaning was that there was nothing more than that - no cultural activities, except some customs. But they didn't permit the Jews even to maintain their customs, and straight away prohibitions and restrictive regulations were issued which completely denied Orthodox Jews the right to pray, the possibility of entering synagogues. All instructional and educational activities were forbidden. We were also denied any artistic activity. And so it was at every turn. Coinciding with the administrative and economic restrictions designed to cut us off from all sources of livelihood, they wanted to break us from the spiritual point of view.

Attorney General: What did you do against this? How did you try to keep going?

Witness Auerbach: In opposition to this there arose from the first days a mighty internal spiritual movement - it was a mobilization of a special kind. From the time Hitler rose to power in the years 1933-1939, we were well aware of the despondency which overtook the Jews of Germany and Austria, where there were mass suicides. But with the Jews of Warsaw and Poland, who were experienced in disaster, something happened then of a special kind. Later our statistician in the ghetto determined that before the War, when there was the crisis in 1929, the number of suicides was immeasurably higher.

Presiding Judge: Mrs. Auerbach, you were asked what activities you undertook in order to avoid cultural degeneration?

Witness Auerbach: It would seem that possibly without even being aware of it, we did it. There were a large number of writers, artists, the working intelligentsia of Warsaw. Please forgive me that I cannot express this briefly.

Presiding Judge: But please answer the questions, that is all we ask.

Witness Auerbach: We did not organize all this in order to make an impression, but a spontaneous movement arose.

Attorney General: Please describe it.

Witness Auerbach: The cultural professions in the ghetto, the actors, they, too, had to live, and the middle class also looked for sources of livelihood. For those active in cultural life this was also a way of earning a living, and at the same time it was a way for maintaining morale.

Q. But what did you do?

A. We did it in the kitchens, in those kitchens I have mentioned. There took place concerts and recitations and reading of literature, and meetings and speeches and lectures - although all this was forbidden. These activities were undertaken under the pretext of relief, that is to say, they were acts of charity both for the performers and also for those in the kitchens.

Q. And in this way you endeavoured to keep together body and soul of the Jews within the ghetto in the course of the years?

A. I would like to add that we were not content with these activities - this was in 1940. In the course of time when we were shut into the ghetto and the restrictive laws multiplied, when everything was already forbidden to us, then in fact we knew that everything was permissible. Then party organization, political organization began anew. A tremendous underground press began appearing.

During the time of the occupation more newspapers were published than before the War. All the youth movements, of all the varieties, had publications of their own, naturally stencilled, sometimes even printed on a typewriter in many copies. This was the underground press. There was also educational activity.

Q. Would it be possible to define the situation thus - that on the brink of destruction there was some joy of Jewish creativity in Poland?

A. It was amazing and extraordinary the extent to which this developed. All that concentration of masses of people, and all that great suffering, the intensity and the dramatic character of this life instilled within these creative people some form of exaltation, of tragic inspiration, and they, at that time, wrote and created - even a new form of music was produced - and they found and developed new ablilities.

Q. Did people gather in literary circles?

A. There were literary evenings. And all this had to be concluded at curfew time, sometimes by 8 o'clock, sometimes by 9, and sometimes by 7. And if it was not possible to arrange large gatherings, then with the cooperation of the house committees, these performers came to spend the night at a house, and the tenants of the house assembled in order to hear a reading and a recital and concerts. There was a time when the Germans banned the playing of Beethoven and the German composers, afterwards the Hungarian as well. But the Jews, who were allowed to play Chopin and Mendelssohn, did not want to forego Beethoven, and one could also hear Beethoven symphonies.

Q. Did you begin to record the events of the Holocaust, and was this also under the direction of Ringelblum?

A. I link this up with my work. I thought, perhaps, that as a witness I would have to relate how all this was connected. Just as Ringelblum found me to help in the work of the kitchens, a year later he called upon me for this work. This was a conspiratorial enterprise, it was one of those operations in which conspiracy was the most successful and the best. He set me to work in that same kitchen and from the same unique observation point, from the place where I saw complete communities of exiles built up and dying off and new ones coming in their stead, where I saw entire families coming and going and others coming again - to describe all this. As a first step he demanded of me that I should write about the works of writers living in the ghetto. But in the mental state in which I was at that time, the first thing I wrote was a monograph on the public kitchen. The contents of my articles were, of course, a little about provisions and what we cooked, what we received from the Germans, but principally the types, the common people, those who came and went through the kitchen.

Q. Is there something in your book concerning these characters?

A. This whole book is constructed, first and foremost, on what I wrote for the Ringelblum Institute. In the preface to the book, I describe how the material for this book was created. And did others did this as well. We wrote as if we were writing for a normal daily paper, there was also news, reporting and articles. And all this went into the Archives Centre in the kitchen at 68 Nowolipki Street. A man who had been a teacher before the War, Israel Lichtenstein (he was also a writer) together with his pupils copied the material on a typewriter there, arranged it in order, and buried it in the ground.

Q. Did you begin to record not only the characters but also to assemble actual historical material?

A. Yes.

Q. In fact the foundations for the research of Yad Vashem were laid at this time?

A. I wanted to say that in my opinion Dr. Ringelblum was the first to start with the writing of a great indictment and there is a direct path leading from that place in the ghetto to this courtroom.

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