The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 38
(Part 3 of 10)

Q. Why?

A. There were various categories there. There were people who were invalids of the First World War, who had shed their blood for Germany and who had special rights.

Q. Mr. Ansbacher, I did not mean that. I was thinking of certain activities and certain documents that possibly had been signed for them in Germany, and which aroused hope in them that perhaps they would not be deported.

A. There were some distinguished people, amongst them the elderly, who still kept up their spirits. There were some who spoke about the substantial property they possessed, they spoke about houses, about plots of land they owned in Berlin. One said: I was one of the important university personalities - I will not be deported. And while they had not yet been sent off, they recounted that they had signed contracts - we, too, had signed similar documents - a contract for the purchase of a home (Wohneinkaufsvertrag), and on the strength of that they would certainly not be deported to the East. They definitely believed that they would not be deported.

Q. Were they deported?

A. They, too, were deported.

Q. Please describe to the Court your daily life in Theresienstadt.

A. Originally I lived together with my mother in house No. L206. The Theresienstadt ghetto was divided into large buildings, barracks and blocks of houses. Each block of houses had its own specific number. There was an office called "Evidenz" (Registration). There we were given a slip of paper after we arrived with the transport from Wuerzburg, on the way from Silesia. This was the place where they took away from everyone those things that were considered forbidden, such as thermos flasks, beverages, cigarettes and toilet paper.

After we had waited a long time in the blazing sun, they transferred us on foot to house L206. We were allocated the attics, for all the rooms were already full, and said: This is where you will sleep, this is your place.

Q. Was this beneath the roof?

A. Beneath the roof.

Q. How many of you were there altogether?

A. I remember in our building there were people from Wuerzburg in the early days, for a week later half the people died right away - amongst those who died was Director Mandelbaum....

Presiding Judge: Please do not diverge from the question.

Witness Ansbacher: Then there were about 100-200 of us.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Why do you say that a large number of them died right away?

Witness Ansbacher: There was terrible hunger, and the hygienic conditions were most awful.

Q. Did they attend to the people?

A. Not at all. People were unable to wash themselves - there was no water. With difficulty a little water was brought from another building, and that was supposed to suffice both for drinking and for washing.

Q. How long did you remain there in the attic?

A. I remained in the attic for about four weeks. Afterwards I received a place on the floor in the room below, also together with aged and sick people - no one knew who was lying next to him.

Presiding Judge: Was this regarded as being an improvement?

Witness Ansbacher: Not necessarily, but upstairs it was so full and additional transports had arrived, and they compressed more people inside. In the attics there was neither air nor light. Later on, they set aside special places for the sick. In every building there was one special room for the sick. Whoever went into the room for the sick - it was called "Krankenstube" at first, and afterwards "Revier" - in most cases never came out again alive. Everyone had to work in the ghetto. And, in fact, from this, from having been inactive and then having to work, from this people died. For in addition to the hunger, they were not able to stand it.

There were various kinds of work. For example, my mother was living with me. She was registered as a nurse, but there she was given the job of looking after the toilet. It was called "Klowache." It was considered to be very respectable work, for then one received extra food, and this was something very important.

State Attorney Bar-Or: I want you to describe to the Court what happened to you. How old were you when you reached Theresienstadt?

Witness Ansbacher: Fifteen years old.

Q. Please describe your life in Theresienstadt.

A. For some time I stayed in the same building, in L206. Afterwards an order came stating that the children were to be concentrated in youth hostels. I was moved with my possessions to a youth hostel in Lange Strasse - it was L414. There were several youth hostels: One mainly for children from Czechoslovakia, one for the children of people from Germany and Czechoslovakia, and one for girls only. In the youth hostels the situation was much better. We received food which was totally different, there were sanitary facilities, and we were forced to wash. Every morning there was a roll call where the children were counted, instructions given and divided the work amongst them.

Once I worked in agriculture, another time in building work. They sent us out to all kinds of work. The best thing was when they sent us to bring food, for then we were able to "schleusen." That was the expression for purloining....

Q. What was "schleusen"?

A. This was the most common word in Theresienstadt.

Q. For what?

A. If anyone was able to purloin food, then he was master of the situation. It was called schleusen. One did schleusen with wood, for there were no chairs; one did schleusen with water, schleusen with potatoes - everything needed schleusen.

Q. What was "Hundertschaften" in Theresienstadt?

A. All works in Theresienstadt were divided into Hundertschaften, that is to say there was an instruction to divide up the labour groups into tens and hundreds. And for each group of ten there was one who was responsible to the administration, and the administration, in turn, was responsible to the Gestapo. If there was work outside the ghetto - and I was also sent there several times - then they were responsible to those who accompanied us, mainly the Czech gendarmerie. One person was the "Reinigungs- Hundertschaft" (cleaning detail), one was the "Transport- Hundertschaft." They were also able to obtain all kinds of things from the transports. I was never in the Transport- Hundertschaft.

Presiding Judge: "Reinigungs-Hundertschaft" - this was a group of one hundred for cleaning. And "Transport" is transportation.

State Attorney Bar-Or: What work were you engaged in during the period you were in Theresienstadt?

Witness Ansbacher: There were many kinds of work. First of all, a boy who had not yet reached the age of sixteen could study. Although it was absolutely forbidden by the German authorities, there were schools in all the youth hostels nonetheless.

Q. Was this forbidden in Theresienstadt?

A. It was forbidden to set up a school, but we organized lessons. There were excellent teachers, and they devoted some of their time after work or during work, they obtained special authority from Edelstein, who viewed this favourably and supported the idea of maintaining lessons.

Q. Who was Edelstein?

A. Ya'akov Edelstein was head of the Council of Jews.

Q. Until when?

A. Until he was deported at the end of 1943. He was very well liked by everyone at Theresienstadt.

Presiding Judge: Where was he sent to in 1943?

Witness Ansbacher: We did not know. Later on I heard that they had deported him to Auschwitz and killed him there. I was also friendly with his son, Aryeh, for some time.

State Attorney Bar-Or: You say that he was universally liked by all of you in Theresienstadt?

Witness Ansbacher: Yes.

Q. For what reason?

A. He visited the youth hostels and attended the cultural performances of the youth. Perhaps here I ought to give a short general description of what the life of the youth in Theresienstadt was like.

Q. Please do so.

A. At the head of youth activities in Theresiensadt there was a young man - I think he came from Germany - Freddy Hirsch. He was a wonderful lad, and the children were very fond of him. He had an assistant named Fritzi Zucker, who was the wife of Otto Zucker, vice-chairman of the Council of Jews.

Q. Was he an engineer from Prague?

A. That is correct. He was once one of the leaders of the Zionist Organization in Czechoslovakia. Fritzi was regarded as the second mother of all the children. She gave all her time, day and night, to the children, taught them, instilled in them high moral standards and helped to train them in the Zionist spirit, in the spirit of love for the land of Israel, in the spirit of "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."

Actually this was a very difficult precept, since everybody, including the children, was exceedingly egotistic. Everyone worried only about himself. All of us were hungry, and everyone took care that he himself would have food. But she saw to it, and gave detailed instructions to that effect, that on Sabbath days and on Festivals they ate together, that is to say, each one had to hand in his coupon - for there were food coupons for everybody - and then they collected the coupons from everyone and brought the food for that day collectively to the hostels.

Occasionally we did this at the Bastei; this was an elevated place from where one could gaze at freedom - one could actually see what was going on outside the ghetto. And that was where the Oneg Shabbat* {*Literally, "Sabbath joy" - popular name for literary and social gatherings arranged on Sabbaths (cf. Isaiah 58:13)} and Jewish Festival celebrations were held. This helped to raise the spirits of the youth.

Freddy Hirsch issued instructions on how to organize aid for the old people. Those were special activities by which children were sent to the houses of the elderly, and we had to serve the food to them, to read to them from books, fiction, books about Jewish tradition, or the Bible. And it used to happen that, when we were reading to them, these old men and women were so moved that they cried all the time. It would also happen that in the middle of the reading these old folk, who were mostly sick and feeble, died in the course of the reading of a chapter from a novel.

Q. The youth sat there reading and the old people died?

A. Yes. The youth sat there reading and the old people died. After they died, they were taken below to the courtyard where all the bodies were collected.

Q. Before you go on, I wanted to ask you: Do you remember a particular occasion when Ya'akov Edelstein appeared before the young people?

A. Yes, a number of times, as I recall; he showed up when there was a parade of the young people. Usually they recited Jewish watchwords and sang Jewish songs, despite the fact that this was absolutely forbidden. Generally, we were not allowed to sing the Hatikvah or to whistle or sing Jewish songs. But on the roads, and also at these parades, we did sing Hebrew songs, songs of the Land of Israel, and whistled them. And when our escorts sometimes said: Keep quiet - that is forbidden - then we sang even louder.

Once, when we held some meeting, I remember that Edelstein appeared and addressed us. Firstly, he greeted us with "Shalom" - we actually used the word "Shalom," as a rule the young people greeted each other with "Shalom." Then he said: "Children, you have a very important future - preserve your cleanliness, be healthy and strong." These were his words which I well remember.

also remember that Dr. Leo Baeck appeared once. In general they gave us lectures with the object of strengthening the attitude of "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," for this was, nevertheless, an important matter that had to be instilled again and again in the mind, since, despite all, the situation tended to draw us far away from that.

Q. Do you remember your mother's critical illness?

A. Yes.

Q. What happened then?

A. My mother, who once was a nurse herself, fell ill in 1943, as was the case with the majority of the elderly and the aged, whether they were Czechs, Germans, or those from Holland and Austria. There were terrible cases of dysentery.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Ansbacher, you are trying to bring in too much, to compress too much. Please answer the questions.

Witness Ansbacher: I merely wanted to describe the general background.

Presiding Judge: Of course, one's heart is filled with many memories.

Witness Ansbacher: My mother had a severe attack of dysentery and became weaker from day to day. At that time there was a very high mortality rate in Theresienstadt. The doctors said that there was no longer any chance at all of helping her; she would only live for a few more days. One evening I came from the hostel to talk to her. I saw that she could no longer speak - she had no expression in her eyes at all. I said to her: "Mother, see, I have come, I want to speak to you." And she replied: "No, my child, it is not necessary."

I saw that she was in a very filthy state - I am referring to her body - and there was no one to clean her up. All those who were lying in the Krankenstube were also seriously ill, and I could not ask them to do anything for her or help her. I searched throughout the building, but there was no nurse or any help.

I asked whether I could get a little water, for all the time she kept saying: "I feel dry." With great difficulty I obtained some drops of water and I gave them to her. Then she began speaking and said: "It's not worth it, I cannot go on any longer." I did what children, generally speaking, do not do - I cleaned her and I threw away the rags. And I said: "No, I will not leave you under any circumstances, we are living together, and we shall remain together."

I stayed there until it was dark. I had to go back to the hostel because there was an inspection at that time, and the exact position in every one of the buildings had to be reported, and if I failed to return, the person responsible for the hostel would be punished. I ran home and asked them to mark me as being present, for I had to be with my mother that night.

I returned to my mother and managed to prepare a little tea. Again she was in a terrible state. Her muscles no longer functioned. I sat beside her. I tried to give her a little food - she did not want to eat anything. I said: "You must eat something." And with difficulty I actually forced into her mouth some crushed dry bread which I had made into a kind of rusk. She gradually became stronger, and after a day or two she recovered her strength. She looked like a skeleton, but nevertheless she was alive, she was fully conscious.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Why was it not possible to take her to hospital, was there no hospital in Theresienstadt?

Witness Ansbacher: The situation at that time was that the hospital was full to capacity. I had an uncle in the hospital who had become paralyzed while in Munich and who was taken there directly. Those who were in the hospital were mainly invalids in a very serious state, who had arrived in this condition from Germany - they were the ones taken to hospital, and most of them died there. There it was the end. No one had any hope of coming out alive.

Q. Do you remember the time when Jews from Denmark came to Theresienstadt?

A. Yes.

Q. Please tell the Court about it.

A. I do not remember the exact date.

Q. I did not ask you for the date.

A. I remember well that we were terribly shocked, we actually cried when we saw these people arriving.

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