The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 49
(Part 2 of 5)

State Attorney Bach: Dr. Abeles, were you born in Slovakia?

Witness Abeles: Yes, I was born in Slovakia.

Q. And you studied law in Slovakia?

A. In Hungary.

Q. You studied in Hungary?

A. At that time it was still Hungary.

Q. During the First World War you were an officer?

A. I was in the Austro-Hungarian army.

Q. What was your rank?

A. Officer.

Q. In the Austro-Hungarian army?

A. That is correct.

Q. Were you active in the Orthodox Jewish community of Pressburg from 1933 to 1936, as well as in the Joint?

A. Yes, in the Joint and HICEM in 1936 and 1937.

Q. Were you also active in the Jewish Central Office?

A. Yes.

Q. What was this office?

A. An umbrella organization for co-ordinating the work of the various Jewish organizations.

Q. When was this organization set up?

A. In 1938.

Q. What was your role in 1940 in the Jewish Central Office?

A. The Jewish Central Office was set up in 1940 to co- ordinate the various Jewish organizations: The Orthodox Central Board, the Neologue Central Board, and the Zionist organizations sent their representative to the advisory body. The members of the advisory body occupied various leading positions. I was the head of the emigration department and the social welfare department.

Q. Dr. Abeles, how many Jews were there in Slovakia before the Second World War?

A. In Bratislava?

Q. No, altogether in Slovakia.

A. Around 95,000.

Q. What was their situation as citizens until 1938?

A. In the Czechoslovak Republic the Jews enjoyed full equality of civil rights. Liberal democratic liberty prevailed, and the Jews were able to profess not only to being a religion, but also a national minority, and they therefore also elected representatives from a Jewish national list to the Czechoslovak parliament.

Q. Do you remember first meeting Jewish refugees from other countries in 1938?

A. 1938 was the first time that refugees came to Czechoslovakia from what had been Austria.

Q. Can you briefly tell the Court of a certain incident which you remember, with regard to the immigration of refugees from Austria to Czechoslovakia?

A. In Burgenland - this was formerly Hungary, and later, after the First World War, it returned to Austria - there were what were known as the seven communities, the sheva kehillot. These were small communities of mainly religious Jews who engaged in various trades and businesses. One night in 1938 these Jews of the seven communities were all seized by SS forces, and with their children and wives - either without any luggage whatsoever or only the bare minimum - were driven to a sandbank in the Danube. They were abandoned there in the middle of the night without any help, without any food.

A Yugoslav ship passed by, and the captain heard the screams and the crying and reported it in Bratislava, and that is how, after a while, the Jews of Pressburg managed to hire an abandoned tug. By means of this tug they moved the Jews over to the left bank of the Danube in Bratislava. They remained there for six months, under harsh conditions. Supplies were obtained for them from the city and the surroundings. There were rats and so on, as is only to be expected on such an abandoned tug. After six months, some of them could be moved to Hungary, others to Czechoslovakia, and a very small number received certificates and could emigrate to Palestine.

Q. Do you remember that this happened on a certain day, on a Jewish festival?

A. I believe it happened on a Sabbath eve.

Q. I was actually thinking of another festival. Did that not happen around the eve of Passover?

Presiding Judge: If the witness does not remember, please proceed to the next question.

State Attorney Bach: You said that these were the conditions of the Jews in Czechoslovakia until 1938. When did these conditions change?

Witness Abeles: At the end of 1938, Slovakia received autonomy within the Czechoslovak Republic. With the granting of this autonomy, a party which had also been represented previously in parliament in the Czechoslovak Republic, the so-called Hlinka Party, named after a Father Hlinka, gained the upper hand. Unlike the other Czechoslovak parties, this party was markedly anti-Semitic.

Q. What influence did this party have?

A. Once this party came to power, there immediately began a very intensive, although not systematic, anti-Semitic campaign; at that time this mainly took the form of acts of brutality in the street and in people's homes.

Q. Regarding your reference to brutalities, do you know anything about the fate of Dr. Fischer?

A. Dr. Geza Fischer was the brother of Mrs. Gisi Fleischmann, who played a leading role in Jewish life, and later in the resistance. Dr. Fischer was a harmless lawyer, but he looked markedly Jewish.

Q. What happened to him?

A. Once he was walking along the street and was attacked by local German youngsters. He was dragged through a gate of one of the houses and thrashed so mercilessly that his head was beaten to a pulp. He was then taken to hospital, more dead than alive, and died a few hours later. His wife committed suicide shortly afterwards.

Q. When this Hlinka group came to power, what effect did this have on anti-Jewish legislation?

A. During the time that Slovakia was autonomous, there was no particular anti-Jewish legislation. There were anti- Jewish acts, such as the expulsion of Jews who had become stateless - that was one of those acts of brutality.

Q. When was that?

A. In 1938.

Q. Where were these stateless Jews sent?

A. It must be understood that the detachment of certain areas as a result of the Vienna arbitration award had made former Czechoslovak citizens stateless. They had belonged to the detached areas.

Presiding Judge: Some areas were then annexed to Hungary, were they not?

Witness Abeles: In actual fact they belonged to Hungary, but arrangements for their citizenship had not yet been made. Consequently, shortly after this they had to apply as foreigners for residence permits, but they were nevertheless dragged out of their homes in a night operation, and hundreds of families - men, women and children - were taken by force to the Hungarian border.

Q. Did you know anyone who was deported?

A. Yes, I knew many of them. A family was taken from my building as well.

Q. What happened after the Slovak declaration of independence in March 1939?

A. In March 1939, when the Czechoslovak Republic was dismembered, Bohemia and Moravia were made into the Protectorate, and Slovakia became a so-called independent state - in reality, a German satellite. Its official title was the independent State of Slovakia.

Q. Can you tell us what the Hlinka troops were?

A. At that time in Slovakia a para-military organization, the so-called Hlinka Guard, was set up. They wore black uniforms and had certain police powers.

Q. Was there another para-military organization in Slovakia?

A. There was a similar organization, the FS, the voluntary Schutzstaffel. This was composed of ethnic German citizens of Slovakia.

Presiding Judge: What is the "FS"?

Witness Abeles: Voluntary Schutzstaffel.

State Attorney Bach: Various names are mentioned here. Can you tell us who is Sano Mach?

Witness Abeles: At that time Sano Mach was the Minister of the Interior of Slovakia.

Q. Who was the head of government?

A. Dr. Vojtech Tuka, formerly Dr. Bela Tuka, a Hungarian renegade; he was my university professor at the university in Hungary, oddly enough professor of ethics, and suddenly he became a Slovak, even though he did not even speak proper Slovakian - a rabid anti-Semite.

Q. Dr. Abeles, what can you say about the newspaper Der Grenzbote (The Frontier Messenger)?

A. I must explain here that the upholders of German culture in Slovakia were Jews. For example, the only German newspaper in Slovakia, the Grenzbote, was in Jewish hands; the editor-in-chief and the proprietor were Jews. After the Slovak state was established, the newspaper was taken over by the Germans, by ethnic Germans; the editor was Franz Fiala - whether he was an ethnic German or a Reich German, I do not know. He immediately began belabouring the Jews with anti-Semitic articles and series in the newspaper.

Q. In Slovakia there was a party called the "German Party," was there not?

A. In Slovakia, in addition to the only authorized party, the Hlinka Party, there was also the German Party, whose head was an engineer called Karmasin.

Q. Do you know anything about Karmasin's influence on Slovakia's governing circles?

A. His first step was to take up residence in a Jewish villa, the most beautiful villa in the town...might I ask that this question be put to me later in my testimony, when I come to talk about the arrests and deportations, because otherwise I shall be anticipating events.

Q. Dr. Abeles, what were the first anti-Jewish laws promulgated by the Slovak Government?

A. The first anti-Jewish laws were really more capricious than systematic. The orders were to hand in radio sets; all sports equipment, skis, skates, all musical instruments had to be handed over. The orders were to hand over furs, which led to many great problems. It was forbidden to go to public parks, cafes, cinemas, Jews were not allowed to travel on trains without special permission. In the trams Jews were only allowed to stand on the platform at the back. It was forbidden to go out in the evening, but this ban was really superfluous, because no Jew would have dared to go out in the evening.

Q. You said that in this first stage anti-Jewish legislation was not yet systematic. Did it become systematic later?

A. At the beginning of the Slovak independent state, a German adviser came to Slovakia, I think his name was Hauptsturmfuehrer Hahn. He was subsequently replaced by Hauptsturmfuehrer Dieter Wisliceny. When he arrived, things became systematized.

Q. What was Wisliceny's first action when he came to Bratislava?

A. Until Wisliceny's arrival, the Jews were really only persecuted because of their religious affinity. After his arrival, the German racial laws were introduced in Slovakia.

Q. Was this legislation also connected with the passage of a general law in Slovakia, and if so, when?

A. In September 1941, the Jewish Code came out, codifying all laws which had already been issued, as well as new ones.

Q. Were these the Nuremberg Laws of Slovakia?

A. The Race Laws were introduced: Jews were forced to wear the "Jewish Star" - initially children from their sixth year, then from four years onwards.

Q. What institutions were set up after Wisliceny's arrival?

A. A special office, a Central Economic Office, was set up, the UHU, the abbreviation of Ustredni Hospoda Ugurat.

Q. Who was the head of this office?

A. A Slovak called Moravec was the head of this office. The role of the office was to transfer Jewish property to Aryan hands and to liquidate small Jewish businesses which were not worth Aryanizing.

Q. Was there a link between Moravec and Wisliceny?

A. Wisliceny's office was in the Gestapo building, where the German police adviser Gold had his office; he also held office in the German legation, as well as in the UHU. Those were his three official jobs.

A. You referred to the UHU. Was there also another institution which dealt with Jewish matters?

A. The Ministry of the Interior dealt with Jewish matters. There was a separate department in the Ministry of the Interior, known as the Fourteenth Department. Whilst the UHU dealt mainly with economic matters, plundering Jewish property, the Fourteenth Department dealt with other restrictions on Jewish freedom and Jewish public life.

Q. What is the Jewish Central Office, and how was it connected with the UHU?

A. The Jewish Central Office, UZ - Ustredna Zidov, I shall use the abbreviation, UZ, that is what we called it - the Jewish Central Office, when it was set up, as I have already indicated, was under the direct control of the Central Economic Office.

Q. Who was the head of the Jewish Central Office?

A. The head of the Jewish Central Office was the Jewish Elder, known as the Starosta, because he was the Jewish Elder, Heinrich Schwarz, who was shortly afterwards arrested and maltreated by the Slovak police. He then fled to Hungary and died there.

Q. Who was the second head?

A. The first Starosta was chosen by the Jewish organizations as having their confidence. The second one was appointed by the Central Economic Office without consultation with the Jewish organizations, and the third Starosta, Dr. Oscar Neumann, again had the complete confidence of Jewish circles. The second one was Arpad Sebestyen.

Q. Was Wisliceny in direct contact with the Jewish Central Office?

A. Shortly after we organized ourselves, Wisliceny appeared in our offices. He told us who he was, and then he dealt directly with the departmental heads and board members; he gave them orders and instructions and confirmed the budget. Generally, what Wisliceny ordered is what happened.

Q. Did you have personal contact with Wisliceny?

A. I did sometimes have dealings with Wisliceny. I must state that he gave his orders precisely and without brooking any opposition, but he always did so in a polite and courteous fashion.

Q. In your department, did you also need confirmation from Wisliceny?

A. I was on special terms with Wisliceny - not as far as emigration was concerned, but with regard to the support which the social welfare department had to provide to needy Jews, as it was forbidden to collect and spend anything without his consent.

Q. I come now to the Aryanization operations. What can you tell us about this?

A. It was the large Jewish firms which were Aryanized, primarily industrial firms, part of which were owned by Jews. I should like to point out here that engineer Karmasin applied special influence here, in order to arrange fat pickings for ethnic Germans, too.

Q. Was the Economic Office also in charge of Jewish labour camps, Jewish forced labour camps?

Q. Wisliceny's idea, as he explained to us on numerous occasions, was that the Jews should be excluded from public life and commerce and should be given jobs in productive work, and that that was particularly necessary, since major efforts had to be made for the War which had broken out in the meantime. For this reason, he pushed through the setting up of labour camps to which Jews, who had lost their livelihood because their licences to trade had been withdrawn, were assigned.

Presiding Judge: Is that what Wisliceny said?

Witness Abeles: That was actually Wisliceny's idea, that was Wisliceny's pet idea. A retraining department was added to the Jewish Central Office, at that time headed by this Dr. Oscar Neumann, the past president of the Zionist Organization. Wisliceny showed particular interest in this department, commenting that the Jews would have to use their skills once they reached their own country.

State Attorney Bach: What were the three Jewish labour camps?

Witness Abeles: One labour camp in Sered, another in Novaky, and the last one in Vyhne was a labour camp mainly for Polish Jews; during the initial period in Slovakia our organization managed to have a few hundred Jews released from the Sosnowiec camp, and they were then accommodated in the Vyhne camp.

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