The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 4
(Part 5 of 6)

Q. The same Heindl who was with you on the way to Sossen?

A. He came on the same transport with us to Sossen, and I spoke to him.

Q. What did Heindl ask you?

A. We were without clothes, without anything.

Q. Did he ask you questions?

A. No.

Q. Why do you mention Heindl?

A. When we returned to Theresienstadt we were interrogated.

Q. What were you interrogated about?

A. Whether we had brought anything from Germany, some newspapers.

Q. Did they examine your things?

A. Everything.

Presiding Judge: You meant "examine,"not "interrogate."

Witness Engelstein: Yes, examined. Heindl was in this camp, in Sossen, with the transport. I asked him: "What will happen to us?" He said: "Be calm, you are in a good place here, you do not know what goes on in Theresienstadt." This is what he said.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Did he say this as soon as you arrived?

Witness Engelstein: No, at the time when we were in the camp, I only mention it.

Q. But when did he say it? As soon as you came to the camp?

A. No, in the middle of the year, when he brought another transport from Theresienstadt. He said: "You are well off, you do not know what goes on in Theresienstadt."

Q. What happened at the end of February?

A. We were in Theresienstadt.

Q. Did you return to your work?

A. I returned to the technical department where I had worked before. We worked at some other place, we did some jobs there.

Q. This is not so interesting. What happens now, at the end of February?

A. At the end of February I was given...

Q. You were given new instructions?

A. I was instructed to work together with another engineer, Kolischer, and he explained things to me. The first day I was with him he took me to his deputy outside Theresienstadt to a place called the ravelin.

Q. Explain to me now, as an engineer, what the ravelin was.

A. I saw the place for the first time.

Q. Did you know the place well later on?

A. This was from before Theresienstadt. There were still fortifications there. They were long corridors with openings.

Q. Was this subterranean?

A. It was subterranean on one side. On the other side there was a long, deep trench between Theresienstadt and the ravelin.

Q. A dry trench, without water?

A. It was dry. There were openings on one side in ravelin, towards the trench.

Q. What for?

A. Embrasures.

Q. How many metres between them?

A. Every half metre, every 60 centimetre approximately. We were ordered to seal these openings hermetically.

Q. Of which ravelin?

A. It was called ravelin 20.

Q. Did Kolischer give you this order? Was he your superior? Were you his deputy?

A. I was his deputy when he was not there.

Q. Your work had to be the sealing of the embrasures?

A. Cleaning all those places, which had been there a hundred years, or hundreds of years, in Theresienstadt - I think Theresienstadt goes back to the eighteenth century - closing all the openings. From the long corridors short corridors branched off at the side. At the entrance there were cells, perhaps offices for the inspector. We tore down everything, all the walls. Only one open place remained, one room that was completely open, and we continued to work thus until the beginning of March.

Q. You said that you had to close these places. How were they to be closed?

A. Hermetically.

Q. What does hermetically mean?

A. It means that no air can get in.

Q. Did they tell you the purpose of all this?

A. First I heard that these were storerooms for vegetables. This is what they told us.

Q. Did you believe this?

A. I could not believe it.

Q. Why could you not believe it?

A. Because for vegetable storerooms also some ventilation is needed, one must not seal everything, make it dark.

Q. This means that if you had completed the work, this ravelin 20 would have been without any air coming it?

A. Not entirely. At the beginning of March we received four wooden towers there, each five metres long.

Q. What was their diameter?

A. About 80 centimetres.

Q. What had to be done with them?

A. We dug holes in the side corridors in four places. We dug up to the top, to the level of the ground, and then, one day, we lowered these towers to the corridors.

Presiding Judge: Were the towers closed?

Witness Engelstein: The towers were open at the top.

Q. But apart from this - like a pipe?

A. Yes. At the lower end there was an opening for a door.

State Attorney Bar-Or: Did this go all the way down to the floor of the corridor?

Witness Engelstein: Yes. At that time I was living in a stable. The building in which we were housed in Theresienstadt had been a stable before the War.

Q. With whom were you living there?

A. With eighty men. Among them there was the engineer Otto Belak, who now lives in Czechoslovakia. He was working with timber products, and he once brought me a drawing for doors which they had to make in the carpentry shop. On this it said expressly "gasdicht" (gas-tight). Then we understood that these were gas chambers.

Q. What did you do?

A. What did I do? I did not want to get into trouble. When I was in Germany, I saw that the Reich of a Thousand Years was already crumbling, and I wanted to get out of all this. I pretended to be sick and left work.

Q. Did you want to leave the job?

A. Yes, I wanted to leave the job.

Q. So you pretended to be sick?

A. I pretended to be sick. I said I cannot go there any more. It was outdoor work from six in the morning until evening, while I was still there. There were also rumours inside Theresienstadt camp. This was at the end of February, beginning of March. There were rumours among the people, among the detainees, that those were gas chambers. Once, in the middle of the night, people were out in the street. SS Officer Rahm, the Camp Commandant, came with his assistants. I was not present, but I heard about all this. He told them: Be calm, it will not be so bad, etc.

The next morning he called the head of the technical department to the ravelin, a man named Erich Cohn, who now lives in Prague. Camp Commandant Rahm said that he was the person who had passed on the rumours to the people in the camp that those were gas chambers. He beat him for half an hour. I was present. Some days later, I do not know whether it was a week or a few days - they stopped work in the ravelin altogether.

Q. When did they stop it?

A. In the middle of March.

Q. Did they stop working there altogether?

A. Yes.

Q. Suddenly?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you remain in Theresienstadt until the end?

A. Until the end of the war, that is when the Russians arrived in Theresienstadt on the 9th of May. I left the place with my wife on 13 May 1945.

Q. Do you remember the first visit of a representative of the Red Cross at the end of March or in April 1945?

A. Yes. It was M. Dunant, this is what they called him. I think he came on the 4th of April.

Q. Did he enter the camp?

A. He entered the camp. And after this they painted a red cross on all the buildings. And during the final days, there was also a red cross flag.

Q. What flag had there been before?

A. I did not see any flag. There may have been a flag on the commandant's office, but I did not notice.

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

Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.

Judge Raveh: You mentioned the 3rd of February?

Witness Engelstein: Yes.

Q. What date were you referring to?

A. To 3 February 1945.

Q. You said before 1944, and I wanted to clear that up.

A. It was 3 February 1945, when we left the place of work at Wulkov.

Q. I did not understand, you spoke about transports to Sossen, or only about this transport, which was the first one and which was said to go to Sossen?

A. Yes. Later on they changed the people all the time.

Q. Were transports to Sossen mentioned earlier on also?

A. No, this was the only transport.

Q. Only the transport on which you travelled, the name "Sossen" was mentioned only in connection with this one.

A. Yes.

Q. Did you object to joining it?

A. I objected. I went to see the head of my department. I said it was not fair that I was called in the middle of the night, six to eight hours before the departure of this transport, when they had had two months' notice. The others were registered and reported, and were given all kinds of equipment and clothes for this work. And here they come at night, six hours before the departure of the transport, saying we should leave. I know why this happened: There was another engineer who was a close acquaintance of some Jew in the administration, and he was taken out.

Q. Why did you actually object?

A. I did not want to go.

Q. Were you afraid of something, or was it inconvenient?

A. It was inconvenient. Furthermore, we knew that they would not be able to prolong the war and our work in Theresienstadt much longer. We were afraid, I was afraid that if I were to leave Theresienstadt, and if there were a revolution, I would not see my wife again. This is why I was not willing. I tried. I knew that it would not be so easy to get out of the transport, but I tried. However, in the end I went.

Q. Before whom did you object?

A. Before the head of the technical department in Theresienstadt, a Jew, not the SS.

Q. What was said about the earlier transports, where were they going?

A. Nothing was said, it was called "to the East."

Q. At the end, when you pretended to be sick, in what state were these installations then?

A. One side, where one entered the large corridor, was finished, with four towers installed. The other side was still in the stage of cleaning up, tearing down walls of cells, etc.

Q. Does this mean that one side was ready for use?

A. It was closed. All the openings were closed. The towers were there. Only the doors had to be put in, and it would be ready. The other side was still in the work stage.

Q. Did you see this place again later?

A. Never.

Judge Halevi: You said that 25 women worked with you.

Witness Engelstein: Yes.

Q. Were they sent directly to be exterminated?

A. No, not the women.

Q. I did not understand you properly: Who was sent to be exterminated?

A. Forty-five persons who had worked there at all kinds of jobs, were sent, but not women, only men.

Q. Were people sent from the place in the forest where you had worked?

A. From this camp people were sent directly to an extermination camp.

Q. Where was that camp?

A. I do not know which.

Q. How do you know that this was for extermination?

A. They did not come back again. Those were acquaintances who did not return, not one of them returned.

Q. When you were included in the Sossen transport, you said that you had no choice, that otherwise you would be sent to the East. Why were you afraid of the East?

A. At that time we knew what was going on there, that people were being sent to gas chambers. In September 1943 a transport of 5,000 young Jews from Bohemia was sent off, all of them young people whom we knew. One woman succeeded in sending us a letter to Theresienstadt. She wrote what was happening there, what was going on in Auschwitz. She was in Birkenau.

All the 5,000 persons - women, men, children, youths - this I learned later from a woman I knew who returned from Auschwitz to Ostrau, those 5,000 Jews were sent to the gas chambers on 7 March 1944.

[ Previous | Index | Next ]

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.