The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 27
(Part 5 of 10)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. What was the "three days' action?"

A. That was the "action" of the "Yellow Certificates" - the "Lebensschein."

Presiding Judge: Was this written on the certificates?

Witness Dworzecki: That is what they were called. The Germans, at the time they issued the certificates...

Attorney General: Are you able to identify this certificate?

Witness Dworzecki: Yes. This was the certificate which promised life for a few months or years to a person in the ghetto, this was the yellow certificate - the "Personal Ausweis."

Presiding Judge: This certificate is marked T/276.

Attorney General: And is this what the pink certificate looked like?

Witness Dworzecki: This was the pink certificate they gave to a family man - a "Familienmitglied-Ausweis" - the certificate for the members of a family, for a man with a family.

Presiding Judge: This pink certificate is marked T/277.

Attorney General: And is this the blue certificate of a child?

Witness Dworzecki: Yes.

Presiding Judge: The blue certificate is marked T/278.

Witness Dworzecki: I recall a particular incident with this blue certificate on the day of selection. I had permission to register two children. I wasn't able to register my mother and father, for the Germans would know that they weren't children, but a father and a mother. I took my sister and recorded her as my daughter. This was somewhat difficult, for the difference between my wife and my sister was eight years. And I was obliged to make my wife older and my daughter-sister younger. And here was I walking in the street with one slip of paper still in my possession, and in the midst of the general confusion, I suddenly saw a boy walking along and shouting "Who wants to be my father?" and I said: "I shall be your father." I gave him the slip, in this way we went as a family on the day of selection - I, my wife, my sister who had been transformed into my daughter, and the boy, whose identity was unknown to me, who had become my son. And thus we went during the selection father, mother, son and daughter.

Q. And anyone who did not have such certificates went to Ponar?

A. Yes, to Ponar.

Q. Afterwards the ghetto became more or less stabilized? When was this?

A. After the last "action" on 3 November 1941, after the "action" of the pink certificates, there began the days which we called "the days of stabilization." The big "actions" ceased, there were only kidnappings of Jews from time to time because of some "crime," and organized life began, an ideology of labour prevailed.

Q. What does "ideology of labour" mean?

A. Members of the Judenrat and the police made speeches from the balcony of the Judenrat and called out to the Jews: "Jews! Those of you who want to remain alive - must work," "work provides a chance for life." They published announcements on the ghetto walls: "Arbeit vershport blut" (work saves blood). And the Jews began to seek all sort of ways to work. There were those who succeeded in going outside the walls of the ghetto and in working with all kinds of German units and in all kinds of hard labour.

Those who weren't successful tried to establish workshops within the ghetto - tailors, shoemakers, furriers - the Germans needed furs for the army - they established vocational schools in the ghetto. Engineer Schreiber who had been the principal of the "Ort" vocational school in Vilna, set up a vocational school in the ghetto where the youth could learn a trade and acquire the work certificate of a skilled person. In the schools too, they began teaching the children all kinds of professions, so that on the appointed day it would be possible to prove that the young boy of 12, of 10, was not only learning but that he was a professional, and in this way the ghetto became transformed into a ghetto of working people.

Q. Who was the German in charge of the ghetto, the King of the ghetto?

A. We regarded - it was impossible to know the truth - we regarded Franz Muerer as the man in charge of the ghetto. But not always. There were times when they used to change. Previously we had heard the name Hingst. And we saw Muerer with our own eyes, at the time of the "actions," standing at the gate of the ghetto and we also saw Schweinberger and Martin Weiss, and Hering and lastly Kittel.

Q. What did the Jewish institutions do in order to combat starvation and illness?

A. During the first days of the ghetto a meeting took place of those who, prior to the establishment of the ghetto, were public leaders, and it was decided that we use the slogan "Let there not be a hungry person in the ghetto" (es zol nisht zein kein hungriker in ghetto). We also put up this slogan frequently at the gate of the ghetto, and we set up a committee for public aid. The committee in fact comprised representatives of all the sectors and trends that existed in the public life of Vilna, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania," before the ghetto.

This public committee imposed a tax on the Jews, and the Jews took it upon themselves, they willingly accepted it. And everyone working outside the ghetto, while smuggling in some potatoes, he would also smuggle a slice of bread for the public committee. People who worked inside the ghetto and who were earning a wage of 300 rubles a month would contribute five per cent. If a Jew had been saved from death or the risk of death by chance, he would contribute a day's work or a day's food to the public committee, which would then allocate it to those who were the poorest, the forlorn, the elderly, to those who were unable to fend for themselves.

Q. There were also schools and a theatre as well?

A. Both a school and a Yiddish theatre, and also a Hebrew theatre, which produced the "Eternal Jew" by David Pinski, who died a few years ago here, in Haifa.

Q. You staged the "Eternal Jew" in the Vilna Ghetto?

A. We presented the "Eternal Jew" out of a desire to call upon the youth, by means of the theatre, to revolt. The Eternal Jew goes out into the Diaspora, to live in the outside world, until he can return to his fatherland. We introduced into it words that were not in the text of "Habimah." And this Jew was changed into one calling for a revolt, a revolt against the Romans. We knew that the "Romans" of the ghetto were the Germans.

Q. You tried to give the children a little happiness. You arranged celebrations for them?

A. We arranged celebrations for them.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, perhaps from now on we may proceed with a summary?

Attorney General: For this reason I am putting a summary to the witness.

A. A children's celebration - I recall the celebration of Tu B'Shvat The fifteenth of the month of Shevat (New Year of the Trees) which was arranged by the teacher Dimantman. On the wall they hung a banner: To the children of Israel: "You are in the Land of Israel and we are in the ghetto." This was a sorrowful declaration of the children - their greeting to their brothers - the children in the Land of Israel. These celebrations in the ghetto, of the children - it is hard to forget them. We introduced something that we knew was likely to end with us. We hung up a saying on the board, on the wall, during one of the children's celebrations a quotation from J. L. Peretz: "Do not think that the world is an anarchy, without law, without judges."

Q. I shall guide you with my questions. Was poetry also published in the ghetto, was there a great period of creativity in poetry and literature?

A. Yes.

Q. Also poetry of encouragement and hope, such as, for example, the poem by Hirschke Glik: "Don't ever say that this is your last journey" (Zog nish keinmal az du geist dem letzten weg).

A. Amongst the poets there were also children. Allow me to recite one verse of four lines by an eight-year old boy. I remember the verse he read at a children's party.

"Across the ghetto fence,
a flower calls to me:
Moishele, Moishele, why are you sitting there?
Come to me, come!"

Fun iber der Ghetta Tsoin
Ruft tzu mir a bloom:
Moishele, Moishele, wos zitst du do?
Kum tzu mir, kum.

Q. Tell me, how was the struggle for health in the ghetto carried out? Were there terrible illnesses - first of all was there a general weakness?

A. There was general weakness. This general weakness attacked people for reasons of lack of nutrition and hunger. The rations we received - their caloric value was 170-200 calories per day.

Q. How many calories does a person require?

A. A person who is not working - 2,300 calories. A working man - according to the extent of his work, 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 calories.

Q. Since we are dealing with this subject, I ask you as a doctor, you also conducted research into this question: Supposing that no Jew in the Vilna Ghetto would have been harmed or taken away for extermination, but that they had been left under these conditions of nutrition - when would the last of the Jews have died just from starvation?

A. I shall divide this question into two. If we had existed only on these food rations, a ration which was one- fifteenth of the food ration of an ordinary individual, and one twentieth of the food ration of a worker, the people of the ghetto would have died of starvation in one or two months. And the struggle concentrated on this - not to allow the people of the ghetto to die. Thus we organized the smuggling of food.

In normal times people look upon a smuggler with disfavour. But the only salvation for the people of the ghetto lay in smuggling. But even with the smuggling it was difficult to remain alive, for the prices rose and a person received approximately 800 to 1000 calories per day. And a lack of nutrition commenced, something which in German was euphemistically called "general bodily weakness."

Q. You also conducted research in other places where Jews lived?

A. Yes.

Q. You determined that even if they had not taken the Jews for extermination at all...

A. In the Warsaw Ghetto, according to natural mortality that is to say, without killing - the Jews of the ghetto would have died from starvation within eight years.

Q. Owing to the condition of their nutrition?

A. Owing to the condition of their nutrition, as well as with the smuggling. Without the smuggling it was a question of a month or two.

Judge Halevi: Eight months or eight years?

Attorney General: Eight years together with the smuggling; without the smuggling, with only the rations - they would have died within one or two months. [To the witness] What were the most common illnesses, but only in brief. What was a "Muselmann"?

A. This was the final stage of a person suffering from the illness of starvation. Muselmann - it is not known why this name was given to it in the ghetto.

Presiding Judge: Was this a name given to it by the Jews?

A. We heard it from the Germans. Apparently this name was given because a man on the brink of death felt cold and covered himself with a blanket. Like a Muselmann a person who wraps himself in an abbayah (loose Arab outer garment) and moves when praying.

Presiding Judge: A Moslem?

Witness Dworzecki: But I am not certain - perhaps there is another origin. The Muselmann was a person hovering between life and death, who walked very slowly. His movements were very slow, he had to put his foot down very slowly, when he heard a question - he would answer after five minutes since his thought process was very slow; this was a person whose bowels opened 30 to 40 times a day out of weakness, until he was gradually snuffed out like a candle. They used to say: "Er iz oisgeloshen geworen wi a licht," (He went out like a candle). One moment he would be standing and speaking; the next - he was no longer alive.

Attorney General: Were there irregularities with women?

A. Seventy to eighty per cent of the women in the Vilna Ghetto - and I saw this later on in the concentration camps when I was there - ceased menstruating.

Q. Did scabies spread?

A. Scabies spread from house to house, from apartment to apartment and turned into an epidemic amongst the people of the ghetto.

Q. Were there other skin diseases?

A. There were other skin diseases: furuncles, pyodermia, tuberculosis which began to attack the people of the ghetto. There was dropsy.

Q. Dropsy?

A. Dropsy, which previously had not been understood, covered the face and the body. There were cases of dropsy.

Presiding Judge: What is dropsy?

Witness Dworzecki: Oedema. The face, the hands and the feet begin to become puffed and swollen.

Q. This is generally an internal matter, of fluids collecting?

A. Generally speaking, this is a manifestation of heart disease or diseases of the kidneys. But here it was the result of the final stages of the illnesses of starvation, when the capillaries of the blood circulation were no longer functioning normally, and the body fluids emerged from the blood vessels under the skin.

Attorney General: Were there serious intestinal illnesses?

A. There were serious intestinal illnesses, called dysentery. This was diarrhoea that in the ghetto, and later on in the concentration camps, fatally struck tens upon tens of thousands of people and caused them to die.

Q. Were there disturbances in the urinary tracts, in the kidneys?

A. These disturbances were also caused by starvation. People would pass urine every half-hour, every hour. And at night, when 20-30 people were sleeping in one room, it became hell, since throughout the night people were getting down to relieve themselves, getting down and climbing up, getting down and climbing up - one went out, another came in. The whole night there were people stricken by abnormal passing of urine.

Q. As a result of the lack of vitamins there occurred the illness known as night blindness?

A. Yes night blindness. I ran a children's centre in the ghetto and I saw how this illness spread amongst all the children. At night they couldn't see, that was the illness of night blindness from a lack of vitamins.

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