The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 28
(Part 5 of 7)

Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann trial, holocaust, Jewish holocaust
Q. In the street?

A. In their homes they used to search in the most intimate places, as if there were gold and silver there. I received for treatment two women who were injured by SS men with leather gloves, and had to stitch their sexual organs which were damaged by the searches.

Q. Were work projects organized and did the people begin going out to work?

A. Yes. Obviously this was the hope, and possibly the illusion: that they needed workers, labourers. At the beginning they took out 5,000 "Sheinim" ("Schein" in German: Certificate) - they were called "Jordan Sheinim."

Q. What is that?

A. Jordan was the assistant of the Stadtkommisar, the official in charge of the city, and he was his assistant for Jewish affairs. He was a sadist and when he would arrive in the ghetto we knew that this meant trouble. He handed out 5,000 certificates - he gave them to the Supreme Jewish Council - and told them that they had to distribute them among skilled workers. Then it was plain to us that these people, as it were, had been sentenced to live, and the others - were not. Later on it turned out that this did not help either. In one "action" these certificates did help; whoever had one, did not have to go over to the wrong side. But afterwards the whole matter lost its significance.

Q. What was the third police unit?

A. This was an SS Dritte Polizeikommando. It was a special unit. Its commanding officer was Hauptmann (Captain) Torenbaum. I still remember him very well - his coarse face. He was always half drunk. There were Jews working in his house, serving him, and they told us that when he was drunk and played the piano, we knew that he would be in the ghetto the next day. He was, as it were, sharpening his nails by means of this drinking and playing the piano. And, indeed, on the following day, he would show up with his commando. He was the one who organized the searches, he introduced all the terror and fear into the ghetto - he also used to carry out the "actions" there.

Q. On 17 September an attempt at a general rehearsal for an "action" was made?

A. Yes.

Q. How was it done?

A. It came suddenly. This was in the small ghetto - and I was then still in the small ghetto, where there was both a hospital and an orphanage, and also an Home for the Aged and suddenly an order was received, a vehicle arrived suddenly with the whole Polizei Kommando, and they dispersed amongst the courtyards and the houses and chased out all the people into the street with their hands raised. We approached a field, and in this field stood tall, uniformed SS men, who began to classify the people; some of them had been placed on trucks, those who possessed the Jordanschein went to one side, and those who were without the Jordanschein went to another side. Suddenly a German arrived in a car and said "Alles hat gut geklappt, es hat eine halbe Stunde gedauert" (Everything has gone off well it has taken half-an-hour), and they sent all of us back home. We did not comprehend, and naturally all kinds of assumptions began to be made, as always happens in a group. The Jews were split into pessimists and optimists. The optimists said that an order from above had arrived here and we were saved - nothing more than that. The pessimists saw in this a rehearsal, for the Germans wanted to know whether the Jews would resist, whether the matter would go off smoothly. This "action" was actually a rehearsal - on that occasion they did not take anybody off to death.

But, some days later, another zone of the ghetto was surrounded by the same commando and we watched through the fence. We were in the small ghetto and noticed that something was going on there. The men were away at work. Most of those who remained in the homes were women and children. They then sealed off this zone and later we saw that more than 1,500 persons climbed up the hill, where there was the notorious road to the Ninth Fort. When the men came home from work, they found their homes empty. This was a small "action." A week or two later, there was an "action" in the small ghetto, where there had previously been the trial "action." There was also a hospital there. They separated the population, some remained there, the children and the sick, and some were taken over the bridge to the other side. Those who remained were taken to the Ninth Fort. When we crossed the bridge and entered the large ghetto, naturally completely destitute, just as we were leaving the house, we noticed that the hospital was on fire. There they burned to death the sick together with a friend of mine, a doctor who was inside, and two nurses. The babies, of course with the nurses who were caring for them, were removed in trucks to the Ninth Fort.

Q. What happened to them in the Fort?

A. We did not know - there were all kinds of guesses. Afterwards we received the news from the city by means of our contact with Lithuanians - they told us that all of them had been shot in deep pits which had been prepared in advance, and were covered over.

Q. Dr. Peretz, you are a gynaecologist. Were there births in the ghetto during the occupation?

A. There were births, obviously, for pregnant women had entered the ghetto - in all the months of pregnancy.

Q. What were the orders regarding pregnant women?

A. In July 1942 an order was issued forbidding women to become pregnant and to give birth.

Q. What women?

A. The women in the ghetto, the Jewish women. And we - I must tell the truth - both the Aeltestenrat and the doctors, did not take this order too seriously. For each time we received a new blow, some time had to pass for us to believe and get used to this blow. But once, when a woman came to me in the advanced months of pregnancy and told me that an SS man had encountered her in the street, in one of the lanes of the ghetto, had recorded her address and said that he would come in two weeks' time and if she would still be pregnant he would kill her - the matter became clear.

And, as the gynaecologist in the ghetto, I received an instruction from the Aeltestenrat to end each and every pregnancy that came our way. We then made arrangements and received confirmation from the Germans that only those who were in the eighth and ninth months would be permitted to give birth, and up to the eighth month the pregnancy would be terminated.

Naturally, as a doctor, I was confronted with very serious medical problems, because to end a pregnancy in the sixth and seventh months involved a difficult operation. The conditions were very bad, for when we left the small ghetto they burned the hospital, and we did not have one. All the operations were performed under difficult conditions - in kitchens, in small attics, amidst terrible congestion, and understandably there were fatalities.

But the head of the Jewish Council was at the same time a very well-known physician of Kovno, an internist; he understood these problems, and he told me that we were permitted to end a pregnancy on the grounds of danger to the woman's life, because anyhow the life of the woman was in danger and consequently "You have to terminate the pregnancy."

We terminated every pregnancy. There were women, I would say, who displayed signs of heroism and who, under no circumstances, wanted to end their pregnancy. And it goes without saying that, in such cases, we encouraged them, although I now feel myself to be guilty. For I, too, would encourage her - I would give her further strength. All kinds of outside events or news items, which described a setback for Hitler, would encourage the women to continue her pregnancy.

I remember most of these cases. I remember the case of a lawyer who came with his wife. They had waited for a child for many years, without her becoming pregnant. And here she came to me in the ghetto and said: "I am expecting a child and I don't want to put an end to the pregnancy. At present there is a conference in Casablanca." We had always hoped that some conferences would bring us redemption. She added that, perhaps, it would be worthwhile to wait. She asked if she could delay the abortion until the end of the conference in Casablanca. I said to her: "You can wait." And, obviously, Casablanca did not bring salvation.

With every political event women would come and ask: "Perhaps I should wait some while longer before having the abortion." There were also those who took the risk and did not put an end to it. Needless to say their fate was very bitter, afterwards, when the babies were put to death. Women who were forbidden to give birth would cover themselves beneath the pillows, they didn't cry out, they would not utter a sound, so that nobody would hear any cries. I was also requested only to come to a birth when I was sent for by the midwife or nurse, when there was some complication, and not to go to a normal birth, for by doing so I could arouse the suspicions of the neighbourhood.

Q. Your Council of Elders - was it respected by the Jews?

A. The Council of Elders was respected, for at its head stood a Jew of high moral stature, and we knew that he was suffering together with the sufferings of the ghetto. He protected their interests as far as it was possible to protect them, with dignity. The entire Council was respected.

Presiding Judge: What was his name?

Witness Peretz: Dr. Elkes, he was one of the best-known doctors in Lithuania, who died afterwards in the Dachau Ghetto, after they had removed us to Dachau.

Attorney General: Tell us something, Dr. Peretz, about the children in the Kovno Ghetto.

Witness Peretz: I think that possibly the greatest tragedy the Jewish people underwent was the tragedy of the children. The children in the ghetto also used to play and laugh, and in their games the tragedy of the Jewish people was reflected. They used to play at graves, they would dig a pit, place a child in it, and call him Hitler. They used to play as if they were at the gate of the ghetto, some would be Germans and others Jews. The Germans would shout and strike the Jews. They used to play at funerals, and all such games.

The Jewish child matured before his time. We always wondered how children at the age of three and four understood the whole tragic nature of the situation, how they endeavoured to keep quiet when it was necessary, how they knew how to hide away. We ourselves did not believe our ears when little children whom we wanted to put to sleep by means of an injection would say, as a little boy said to me: "Doctor, it isn't necessary, I'll keep quiet. I won't shout." We always marvelled at this maturity of the children.

It goes without saying that the peak of the horrors in the ghetto was reached in the "action" against the children. This was at the end of March, 1944. As I have said, with every blow we received we thought that there could not be a worse one. The parents in the ghetto were of two groups: one group tried to find a place for their children, to get them out by all kinds of means, whether in suitcases or carts, under cover.

Q. To whom?

A. They would find them, find some arrangement with a Lithuanian, in a village or a town, for money or through some other contacts. Some of these children used to come back to the ghetto after some time. Some of the parents who had sent them away had a very hard time, because from time to time the child would vanish and they didn't know where he was. They would show up in the ghetto, after having been sent back. The child would be sent back, after the money had been taken. But there were parents who decided not to hand over their children, to die together with them. I belonged to this category of parents. For I had heard so many horrible stories about lone children who kept in hiding in solitary places, alone, without a common language, with the fear of death. I decided to die together with the child - it became clear after the Kinder-Akzie ("children action"), at the time of this "action" that it was impossible to do this.

There could be situations where the children go and you remain alive, and for the parents this was an unbearable situation. Only after the "children action" they began to look for ways and means. Only a small part of the children survived after the "children action" only those children who had hidden in the bunkers and were not discovered.

Q. What was the "children action"?

A. This happened after a relatively quiet period in the ghetto. And we were not ready, nor were we expecting, any event. Suddenly our police in the ghetto, the Jewish police, received an order to appear the following morning, clean and polished, at a particular police station, under the pretext of receiving instructions in regard to air raids. Thus they took this police force away - the population in the ghetto didn't know about it. Early in the morning a car entered the ghetto and announced over a loudspeaker: "Anyone going outside will be put to death." This voice gradually became louder and reached all the alleys of the ghetto. Instinctively, and perhaps more because we knew that something had happened with the children in the neighbouring ghetto - Shavli - the mothers suddenly cried out "Children," they felt as if the danger to the children had arrived. Then some of the mothers, in houses where there were cellars - Malines as they were called - went down with the children into the Malines. Trucks playing music entered the ghetto; inside the trucks a gramophone played, apparently so that the cries of the children should not be heard. And in a moment Germans and Ukrainians spread out in pairs into all the courtyards and began to remove the children they found on their way. They put them into the trucks, sometimes together with old people, grandfathers and grandmothers. They transported them to a destination of which, at that time, we were not aware.

Q. How many children were there?

A. The " children action" lasted two days. On the first day I went into a cellar with children and I injected them with medical drugs. There were 17 children in the cellar. We spent that day in the cellar. When we emerged, needless to say, we learned of the children of friends who had gone. On that day 1,000 children went. The following day we thought that the horror was over. People did not go to work, there was heavy mourning, for a child had been torn away from each house.

The following day people stood in the streets and suddenly it was as if something had exploded. Those units entered again, and again everyone ran into his cellar. I made my decision, I placed my child with my wife in the cellar. There was a wooden shelf there which covered the entrance. Before the children came in, every time the mother would place the child before me at this opening, and I would inject him with drugs in order to keep him quiet. And then I went upstairs into the house, I sat on the second floor by the window and watched what was going on in the street.

Q. What did you see?

A. I saw shattering scenes. This was close to the hospital. I saw trucks, and from time to time mothers came up to them with children, or children came without mothers, and behind them walked two Germans with rifles as if they were bringing in robbers. They threw them into the trucks. I saw mothers who were shouting, I saw a mother whose three children had been taken, she approached the truck and shouted to the German: "Give me my children." And he asked: "How many children do you have?" She answered: "Three." And he said: "You can take one." She climbed on the truck - three children turned their heads towards her and, needless to say each child wanted to go with the mother. The mother was unable to choose, and she climbed down from the truck alone - went away from the truck.

A second mother clung to the truck and would not let it go; the truck departed and a dog came up to her and bit her. They were there with dogs. One mother came with two children - and this I saw from my window - and she asked the Germans to return one child to her. He took the girl by the shoulder and threw her down to her. There were scenes such as these all day.

Afterwards I went out of my house near the hospital and went into the hospital. There, in the hospital, apart from the patients, sick children were lying. A group of three people came along, amongst them Dr. Boehmichen* *SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Boehmichen, Chief doctor in the Kovno Ghetto.} - as far as I remember, he was, so to speak, the person in charge of medical affairs in the ghetto and he informed us that he knew that children were hiding under the mattresses and under the hospital beds, and that he would be returning in an hour, and if we did not hand over the children - all the hospital staff would go together with them.

Needless to say a severe panic started in the hospital. There were huts there of patients with infectious diseases. The Germans were afraid to be infected and did not enter them. There were a number of children who were concealed inside the hospital. They were put in the huts for infectious diseases. They were put into the beds. Temperature charts were prepared for them. The Germans did not go in there. A German, who had remained with us, evidently of a lower rank, told his officers when they returned that he himself had gone through the rooms without finding anyone. They took two couples, there was an elderly doctor who was lying ill, together with another Jew - and left the hospital.

Presiding Judge: I didn't understand - which two couples?

Witness Peretz: They took two old men, couples, an elderly doctor, his name was Dr. Kavko, together with his wife, and took them away. Meanwhile I went back to my house and again watched from the window what was taking place. My nerves couldn't stand it, for I saw that below, a German entered together with a Ukrainian our courtyard with an axe. I heard blows as if they were breaking in downstairs and searching for the bunker, and I believed that in another minute my wife and my child would appear in the street, in the same way as people were appearing who had been hiding in the bunkers and had been discovered.

To my joy they didn't find the bunker and left the courtyard empty- handed. It went on like this for a whole day and at the end of the day there was a total of 300 children. Other children remained in the ghetto, but not legitimately, for no child was supposed to be in the ghetto. In the morning my son looked for a place where he could hide, and consulted me. He would open a chest, enter into the chest and close it.

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