FORTY-FOURTH DAY Monday, 28 January 1946
M. DUBOST: With the authorization of the Court, I should like to proceed with this part of the presentation of the French case by hearing a witness who, for more than 3 years, lived in German concentration camps.
[The witness, Mme. Vaillant-Couturier, took the stand.]
THE PRESIDENT: Would you stand up, please? Do you wish to swear the French oath?
Will you tell me your name?
MADAME MARIE CLAUDE VAILLANT-COUTURIER (Witness): Claude Vaillant-Couturier.
THE PRESIDENT: Will you repeat this oath after me: I swear that I will speak without hate or fear, that I will tell the truth, all the truth, nothing but the truth.
[The witness repeated the oath in French.]
THE PRESIDENT: Raise your right hand and say, "I swear."
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I swear.
THE PRESIDENT: Please, will you sit down and speak slowly. Your name is?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Vaillant-Couturier, Marie, Claude, Vogel.
M. DUBOST: Is your name Madame Vaillant-Couturier?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: You are the widow of M. Vaillant-Couturier?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: You were born in Paris on 3 November 1912?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: And you are of French nationality, French born, and of parents who were of French nationality?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: You are a deputy in the Constituent Assembly?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: You are a Knight of the Legion of Honor?
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MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: You have just been decorated by General Legentilhomme at the Invalides?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: Were you arrested and deported? Will you please give your testimony?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I was arrested on 9 February 1942 by Petain's French police, who handed me over to the German authorities after 6 weeks. I arrived on 20 March at Sante prison in the German quarter. I was questioned on 9 June 1942.
At the end of my interrogation they wanted me to sign a statement which was not consistent with what I had said. I refused to sign it. The officer who had questioned me threatened me; and when I told him that I was not afraid of death nor of being shot, he said, ""But we have at our disposal means for killing that are far worse than merely shooting." And the interpreter said to me, "You do not know what you have just done. You are going to leave for a concentration camp in
Germany. One never comes back from there."
M. DUBOST: You were then taken to prison?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I was taken back to the Sante prison where I was placed in solitary confinement. However, I was able to communicate with my neighbors through the piping and the .windows. I was in a cell next to that of Georges Politzer, the philosopher, and Jacques Solomon, physicist. Mr. Solomon is the son-in-law of Professor Langevin, a pupil of Curie, one of the first to study atomic disintegration.
Georges Politzer told me through the piping that during his interrogation, after having been tortured, he was asked whether he would write theoretical pamphlets for National Socialism. When he refused, he was told that he would be in the first train of hostages to be shot.
As for Jacques Solomon, he also was horribly tortured and then thrown into a dark cell and came out only on the day of his execution to say goodbye to his wife, who also was under arrest at the Sante Helene Solomon Langevin told me in Romainville, where I found her when I left the Sante that when she went to her husband he moaned and said, "I cannot take you in my arms, because I can no longer move them."
Every time that the internees came back from their questioning one could hear moaning through the windows, and they all said that they could not make any movements.
Several times during the 5 months I spent at the Sante hostages were taken to be shot. When I left the Sante on 20 August 1942,
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I was taken- to the Fortress of Romainville, which was a camp for hostages. There I was present on two occasions when they took hostages, on 21 August and 22 September. Among the hostages who were taken away were the husbands of the women who were with me and who left for Auschwitz. Most of them died there.
These women, for the most part, had been arrested only because of the activity of their husbands. They themselves had done nothing.
M. DUBOST: When did you leave for Auschwitz?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I left for Auschwitz on 23 January 1943, and arrived there on the 27th.
M. DUBOST: Were you with a convoy?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I was with a convoy of 230 French women; among us were
Danielle Casanova who died in Auschwitz, Mal Politzer who died in Auschwitz, and
Helene Solomon. There were some elderly women...
M. DUBOST: What was their social position?
MME. VAIILLANT-COUTURIER: They were intellectuals, school teachers; they came from all walks of life. Mal Politzer was a doctor, and the wife of the philosopher Georges Politzer. Helene Solomon is the wife of the physicist Solomon; she is the daughter of Professor Langevin. Danielle Casanova was a dental surgeon and she was very active among the women. It is she who organized a resistance movement among the wives of prisoners.
M. DUBOST: How many of you came back out of 230?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Forty-nine. In the convoy there were some elderly women. I remember one who was 67 and had been arrested because she had in her kitchen the shotgun of her husband, which she kept as a souvenir and had not declared because she did not want it to be taken from her. She died after a fortnight at Auschwitz.
THE PRESIDENT: When, you said only 49 came back, did you mean only 49 arrived at Auschwitz.
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: No, only 49 came back to France.
There were also cripples, among them a singer who had only one leg. She was taken out and gassed at Auschwitz. There was also a young girl of 16, a college girl, Claudine Guerin; she also died at Auschwitz. There were also two women who had been acquitted by the German military tribunal, Marie Alonzo and Marie Therese Fleuri; they died at Auschwitz.
It was a terrible journey. We were 60 in a car and we were given no food or drink during the journey. At the various stopping
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places we asked the Lorraine soldiers of the Wehrmacht who were guarding us whether we would arrive soon; and they replied, "If you knew where you are going you would not be in a hurry to get there."
We arrived at Auschwitz at dawn. The seals on our cars were broken, and we were driven out by blows with the butt end of a rifle, and taken to the Birkenau Camp, a section of the Auschwitz Camp. It is situated in the middle of a great plain, which was frozen in the month of January. During this part of the journey we had to drag our luggage. As we passed through the door we knew only too well how slender our chances were that we would come out again, for we had already met columns of living skeletons going to work; and as we entered we sang "The Marseillaise" to keep up our courage.
We were led to a large shed, then to the disinfecting station. There our heads were shaved and our registration numbers were tattooed on the left forearm. Then we were taken into a large room for a steam bath and a cold shower. In spite of the fact that we were naked, all this took place in the presence of SS men and women. We were then given clothing which was soiled and torn, a cotton dress and jacket of the same material.
As all this had taken several hours, we saw from the windows of the block where we were, the camp of the men; and toward the evening an orchestra came in. It was snowing and we wondered why they were playing music. We then saw that the camp foremen were returning to the camp. Each foreman was followed by men who were carrying the dead. As they could hardly drag themselves along, every time they stumbled they were put on their feet again by being kicked or by blows with the butt end of a rifle.
After that we were taken to the block where we were to live. There were no beds but only bunks, measuring 2 by 2 meters, and there nine of us had to sleep the first night without any mattress or blanket. We remained in blocks of this kind for several months. We could not sleep all night, because every time one of the nine moved-this happened unceasingly because we were all ill-she disturbed the whole row.
At 3:30 in the morning the shouting of the guards woke us up, and with cudgel blows we were driven from our bunks to go to roll call. Nothing in the world could release us from going to the roll call; even those who were dying had to be dragged there. We had to stand there in rows of five until dawn, that is, 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning in winter; and when there was a fog, sometimes until noon. Then the commandos would start on their way to work.
M. DUBOST: Excuse me, can you describe the roll call?
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MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: For roll call we were lined up in rows of five; and we waited until daybreak, until the Aufseherinnen, the German women guards in uniform, came to count us. They had cudgels and they beat us more or less at random.
We had a comrade, Germaine Renaud, a school teacher from Azay-le-Rideau in France, who had her skull broken before my eyes from a blow with a cudgel during the roll can.
The work at Auschwitz consisted of clearing demolished houses, road building, and especially the draining of marsh land. This was by far the hardest work, for all day long we had our feet in the water and there was the danger of being sucked down. It frequently happened that we had to pull out a comrade who had sunk in up to the waist.
During the work the SS men and women who stood guard over us would beat us with cudgels and set their dogs on us. Many of our friends had their legs torn by the dogs. I even saw a woman torn to pieces and die under my very eyes when Tauber, a member of the SS, encouraged his dog to attack her and grinned at the sight
The causes of death were extremely numerous. First of all, there was the complete lack of washing facilities. When we arrived at Auschwitz, for 12,000 internees there was only one tap of water, unfit for drinking, and it was not always flowing. As this tap was in the German wash house we could reach it only by passing through the guards, who were German common-law women prisoners, and they beat us horribly as we went by. It was therefore almost impossible to wash ourselves or our clothes. For more than 3 months we remained without changing our clothes. When there was snow, we melted some to wash in. Later, in the spring, when we went to work we would drink from a puddle by the road-side and then wash our underclothes in it. We took turns washing our hands in this dirty water. Our companions were dying of thirst, because we got only half a cup of some herbal tea twice a day.
M. DUBOST: Please describe in detail one of the roll calls at the beginning of February.
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: On 5 February there was what is called a general roll call.
M. DUBOST: In what year was that?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: In 1943. At 3:30 the whole camp
M. DUBOST: In the morning at 3:30?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: In the morning at 3:30 the whole camp was awakened and sent out on the plain, whereas normally the roll call was at 3:30 but inside the camp. We remained
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out in front of the camp until 5 in the afternoon, in the snow, without any food. Then when the signal was given we had to go through the door one by one, and we were struck in the back with a cudgel, each one of us, in order to make us run. Those who could not run, either because they were too old or too ill were caught by a hook and taken to Block 25, "waiting block" for the gas chamber. On that day 10 of the French women of our convoy were thus caught and taken to Block 25.
When all the internees were back in the camp, a party to which I belonged was organized to go and pick up the bodies of the dead which were scattered over the plain as on a battlefield. We carried to the yard of Block 25 the dead and the dying without distinction, and they remained there stacked up in a pile.
This Block 25, which was the anteroom of the gas chamber, if one may express it so, is well known to me because at that time we had been transferred to Block 26 and our windows 'Opened on the yard of Number 25. One saw stacks of corpses piled up in the courtyard, and from time to time a hand or a head would stir among the bodies, trying to free itself. It was a dying woman attempting to get free and live. The rate of mortality in that block was even more terrible than elsewhere because, having been condemned to death, they received food or drink only if there was something left in the cans in the kitchen; which means that very often they went for several days without a drop of water.
One of our companions, Annette Epaux, a fine young woman of 30, passing the block one day, was overcome with pity for those women who moaned from morning till night in all languages, "Drink. Drink. Water!" She came back to our block to get a little herbal tea, but as she was passing it through the bars of the window she was seen by the Aufseherin, who took her by the neck and threw her into Block 25. All my life I will remember Annette Epaux. Two days later I saw her on the truck which was taking the internees to the gas chamber. She had her arms -around another French woman, old Line Porcher, and when the truck started moving she cried, "Think of my little boy, if you ever get back to France." Then they started singing "The Marseillaise."
In Block 25, in the courtyard, there were rats as big as cats running about and gnawing the corpses and even attacking the dying who had not enough strength left to chase them away.
Another cause of mortality and epidemics was the fact that we were given food in large red mess tins, which were merely rinsed in cold water after each meal. As all the women were ill and had not the strength during the night to go to the trench which was used as a lavatory, the access to which was beyond description, they used these containers for a purpose for which they were not meant.
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The next day the mess tins were collected and taken to a refuse heap. During the day another team would come and collect them, wash them in cold water, and put them in use again.
Another cause of death was the problem of shoes. In the snow and mud of Poland leather shoes were completely destroyed at the end. of a week or two. Therefore our feet were frozen and covered with sores. We had to sleep with our muddy shoes on, lest they be stolen, and when the time came to get up for roll call cries of anguish could be heard: "My shoes have been stolen." Then one had to wait until the whole block had been emptied to look under the bunks for odd shoes. Sometimes one found two shoes for the same foot, or one shoe and one sabot. One could go to roll call like that but it was an additional torture for work, because sores formed on our feet which quickly became infected for lack of care. Many of our companions went to the Revier for sores on their feet and legs and never came back.
M. DUBOST: What did they do to the internees who came to roll call without shoes?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: The Jewish internees who came without shoes were immediately taken to Block 25.
M. DUBOST: They were gassed then?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: They were gassed for any reason whatsoever. Their conditions were moreover absolutely appalling. Although we were crowded 800 in a block and could scarcely move, they were 1,500 to a block of similar dimensions, so that many of them could not sleep or even lie down during the whole night.
M. DUBOST: Can you talk about the Revier?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: To reach the Revier one had to go first to the roll call. Whatever the state was...
M. DUBOST: Would you please explain what the Revier was in the camp?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: The Revier was the blocks where the sick were put. This place could not be given the name of hospital, because it did not correspond in any way to our idea of a hospital.
To go there one had first to obtain authorization from the block chief who seldom gave it. When it was finally granted we were led in columns to the infirmary where, no matter what weather, whether it snowed or rained, even if one had a temperature of 4011 (centigrade) one had to wait for several hours standing in a queue to be admitted. It frequently happened that patients died outside
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before the door of the infirmary, before they could get in. Moreover, lining up in front of the infirmary was dangerous because if the queue was too long the SS came along, picked up all the women who were waiting, and took them straight to Block Number 25.
M. DUBOST: That is to say, to the gas chamber?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: That is to say to the gas chamber. That is why very often the women preferred not to go to the Revier and they died at their work or at roll call. Every day, after the evening roll call in winter time, dead were picked up who had fallen into the ditches.
The only advantage of the Revier was that as one was in bed, one did not have to go to roll call; but one lay in appalling conditions, four in a bed of less than 1 meter in width, each suffering from a different disease, so that anyone who came for leg sores would catch typhus or dysentery from neighbors. The straw mattresses were dirty and they were changed only when absolutely rotten. The bedding was so full of lice that one could see them swarming like ants. One of my companions, Marguerite Corringer, told me that when she had typhus, she could not sleep all night because of the lice. She spent the night shaking her blanket over a piece of paper and emptying the lice into a receptacle by the bed, and this went on for hours.
There were practically no medicines. Consequently the patients were left in their beds without any attention, without hygiene, and unwashed. The dead lay in bed with the sick for several hours; and finally, when they were noticed, they were simply tipped out of the bed and taken outside the block. There the women porters would come and carry the dead away on small stretchers, with heads and legs dangling over the sides. From morning till night the carriers of the dead went from the Revier to the mortuary.
During the big epidemics, in the winters off 1943 and 1944, the stretchers were replaced by carts, as* there were too many dead bodies. During those periods of epidemics there were from 200 to 350 dead daily.
M. DUBOST: How many people died at that time?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: During the big epidemics of typhus in the winters of 1943 and 1944, from 200 to 350; it depended on the days.
M. DUBOST: Was the Revier open to all the internees?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: No. When we arrived Jewish women had not the right to be admitted. They were taken straight to the gas chamber.
M. DUBOST: Would you please tell us about the disinfection of the blocks?
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MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: From time to time, owing to the filth which caused the lice and gave rise to so many epidemics, they disinfected the blocks with gas; but these disinfections were also the cause of many deaths because, while the blocks were being disinfected with gas, the prisoners were taken to the shower-baths. Their clothes were taken away from them to be steamed. The internees were left naked outside, waiting for their clothing to come back from the steaming, and then they were given back to them an wet. Even those who were sick, who could barely stand on their feet, were sent to the showers. It is quite obvious that a great many of them died in the course of these proceedings.
Those who could not move were washed all in the same bath during the disinfection.
M. DUBOST: How were you fed?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: We had 200 grams of bread, three-quarters or half a liter - it varied - of soup made from swedes, and a few grams of margarine or a slice of sausage in the evening, this daily.
M. DUBOST: Regardless of the work that was exacted from the internees?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Regardless of the work that was exacted from the internee. Some who had to work in the factory of the "Union," an ammunition factory where they made grenades and shells, received what was called a "Zulage," that is, a supplementary ration, when the amount of their production was satisfactory. Those internees had to go to roll can morning and night as we did, and they were at work 12 hours in the factory. They came back to the camp after the day's work, making the journey both ways on foot.
M. DUBOST: What was this "Union" factory?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: It was an ammunition factory. I do not know to what company it belonged. It was called the "Union."
M. DUBOST: Was it the only factory?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: No, there was also a large Buna factory, but as I did not work there I do not know what was made there. The internees who were taken to the Buna plant never came back to our camp.
M. DUBOST: Will you tell us about experiments, if you witnessed any?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: As to the experiments, I have seen in the Revier, because I was employed at the Revier, the queue of young Jewesses from Salonika who stood waiting in front of the
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X-ray room for sterilization. I also know that they performed castration operations in the men's camp. Concerning the experiments performed on women I am well informed, because my friend, Doctor Hade Hautval of Montbeliard, who has returned to France, worked for several months in that block nursing the patients; but she always refused to participate in those experiments. They sterilized women either by injections or by operation or with rays. I saw and knew several women who had been sterilized. There was a very high mortality rate among those operated upon. Fourteen Jewesses from France who refused to be sterilized were sent to a Strafarbeit kommando, that is, hard labor.
M. DUBOST: Did they come back from those kommandos?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Very seldom. Quite exceptionally.
M. DUBOST: What was the aim of the SS?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Sterilization-they did not conceal it. They said that they were trying to find the best method for sterilizing so as to replace the native population in the occupied countries by Germans after one generation, once they had made use of the inhabitants as slaves to work for them.
M. DUBOST: In the Revier did you see any pregnant women?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes. The Jewish women, when they arrived in the first months of pregnancy, were subjected to abortion. When their pregnancy was near the end, after confinement, the babies were drowned in a bucket of water. I know that because I worked in the Revier and the woman who was in charge of that task was a German midwife, who was imprisoned for having performed illegal operations. After a while another doctor arrived and for 2 months they did not kill the Jewish babies. But one day an order came from Berlin saying that again they had to be done away with. Then the mothers and their babies were called to the infirmary. They were put in a lorry and taken away to the gas chamber.
M. DUBOST: Why did you say that an order came from Berlin?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Because I knew the internees who worked in the secretariat of the SS and in particular a Slovakian woman by the name of Hertha Roth, who is now working with UNRRA at Bratislava.
M. DUBOST: Is it she who told you that?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes, and moreover, I also knew the men who worked in the gas kommando.
M. DUBOST: You have told us about the Jewish mothers. Were there other mothers in your camp?
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MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes, in principle, non-Jewish women were allowed to have their babies, and the babies were not taken away from them; but conditions in the camp being so horrible, the babies rarely lived for more than 4 or 5 weeks.
There was one block where the Polish and Russian mothers were. One day the Russian mothers, having been accused of making too much noise, had to stand for roll call all day long in front of the block, naked, with their babies in their arms.
M. DUBOST: What was the disciplinary system of the camp? Who kept order and discipline? What were the punishments?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Generally speaking, the SS economized on many of their own personnel by employing internees for' watching the camp; SS only supervised. These internees were chosen from German common-law criminals and prostitutes, and sometimes those of other nationalities, but most of them were Germans. By corruption, accusation, and terror they succeeded in making veritable human beasts of them; and the internees had as much cause to complain about them as about the SS themselves. They beat us just as hard as the SS; and as to the SS, the men behaved like the women and the women were as savage as the men. There was no difference.
The system employed by the SS of degrading human beings to the utmost by terrorizing them and causing them through fear to commit acts which made them ashamed of themselves, resulted in their being no longer human. This was what they wanted. It took a great deal of courage to resist this atmosphere of terror and corruption.
M. DUBOST: Who meted out punishments?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: The SS leaders, men and women.
M. DUBOST: What was the nature of the punishments?
NNE. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Bodily ill-treatment in particular. One of the most usual punishments was 50 blows with a stick on the loins. They were administered with a machine which I saw, a swinging apparatus manipulated by an SS. There were also endless roll calls day and night, or gymnastics; flat on the belly, get up, lie down, up, down, for hours, and anyone who fell was beaten unmercifully and taken to Block 25.
M. DUBOST: How did the SS behave towards the women? And the women SS?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: At Auschwitz there was a brothel for the SS and also one for the male internees of the staff, who were called "Kapo." Moreover, when the SS needed servants,
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they came accompanied by the Oberaufseherin, that is, the woman commandant of the camp, to make a choice during the process of disinfection. They would point to a young girl, whom the Oberaufseherin would take out of the ranks. They would look her over and make jokes about her physique; and if she was pretty and they liked her, they would hire her as a maid with the consent of the Oberaufseherin, who would tell her that she was to obey them absolutely no matter what they asked of her.
M. DUBOST: Why did they go during disinfection?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Because during the disinfection the women were naked.
M. DUBOST: This system of demoralization and corruption-was it exceptional?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: No, the system was identical in all the camps where I have been, and I have spoken to internees coming from camps where I myself had never been; it was the same thing everywhere. The system was identical no matter what the camp was. There were, however, certain variations. I believe that Auschwitz was one of the harshest; but later I went to Ravensbruck, where there also was a house of ill fame and where recruiting was also carried out among the internees.
M. DUBOST: Then, according to you, everything was done to degrade those women in their own sight?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes.
M. DUBOST: What do you know about the convoy of Jews which arrived from Romainville about the same time as yourself?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: When we left Romainville the Jewesses who were there at the same time as ourselves were left behind. They were sent to Drancy and subsequently arrived at Auschwitz, where we found them again 3 weeks later, 3 weeks after our arrival. Of the original 1,200 only 125 actually came to the camp; the others were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Of these 125 not one was left alive at the end of 1 month.
The transports operated as follows:
When we first arrived, whenever a convoy of Jews came, a selection was made; first the old men and women, then the mothers and the children were put into trucks together with the sick or those whose constitution appeared to be delicate. They took in only the young women and girls as well as the young men who were sent to the men's camp.
Generally speaking, of a convoy of about 1,000 to 1,500, seldom more than 250-and this figure really was the maximum-actually
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reached the camp. The rest were immediately sent to the gas chamber.
At this selection also, they picked out women in good health between the ages of 20 and 30, who were sent to the experimental block; and young girls and slightly older women, or those who had not been selected for that purpose, were sent to the camp where, like ourselves, they were tattooed and shaved.
There was also, in the spring of 1944, a special block for twins. It was during the time when large convoys of Hungarian Jews about 700,000-arrived. Dr. Mengele, who was carrying out the experiments, kept back from each convoy twin children and twins in general, regardless of their age, so long as both were present. So we had both babies and adults on the floor at that block. Apart from blood tests and measuring I do. not know what was done to them.
M. DUBOST: Were you an eye witness of the selections on the arrival of the convoys?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes, because when we worked at the sewing block in 1944, the block where we lived directly faced the stopping place of the trains.
The system had been improved. Instead of making the selection at the place where they arrived, a side line now took. the train practically right up to the gas chamber; and the stopping place, about 100 meters from the gas chamber, was right opposite our block though, of course, separated ,from us by two rows of barbed wire. Consequently, we saw the unsealing of the cars and the soldiers letting men, women, and children out of them. We then witnessed heart-rending scenes; old couples forced to part from each other, mothers made to abandon their young daughters, since the latter were sent to the camp, whereas mothers and children were sent to the gas chambers. All these people were unaware of the fate awaiting them. They were merely upset at being separated, but they did not know that they were going to their death. To render their welcome more pleasant at this time - June-July 1944 - an orchestra composed of internees, all young and pretty girls dressed in little white blouses and navy blue skirts, played during the selection, at the arrival of the trains, gay tunes such as "The Merry Widow," the "Barcarolle" from "The Tales of Hoffman," and so forth. They were then informed that this was a labor camp and since they were not brought into the camp they saw only the small platform surrounded by flowering plants.
Naturally, they could not realize what was in store for them. Those selected for the gas chamber, that is, the old people, mothers, and children, were escorted to a red-brick building.
M. DUBOST: These were not given an identification number?
MM. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: No.
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M. DUBOST: They were not tattooed?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: No. They were not even counted.
M. DUBOST: You were tattooed?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes, look. [The witness showed her arm.] They were taken to a red brick building, which bore the letters "Baden," that is to say "Baths." There, to begin with, they were made to undress and given a towel before they went into the' so-called shower room. Later on, at the time of the large convoys from Hungary, they had no more time left to play-act or to pretend; they were brutally undressed, and I know these details as I knew a little Jewess from France who lived with her family at the "Republique" district.
M. DUBOST: In Paris?
MME. VAILLANT-COUTURIER: In Paris. She was called "little Marie" and she was the only one, the sole survivor of a family of nine. Her mother and her seven brothers and sisters had been gassed on arrival. When I met her she was employed to undress the babies before they were taken into the gas chamber. Once the people were undressed they took them into a room which was somewhat like a shower room, and gas capsules were thrown through an opening in the ceiling. An SS man would watch the effect produced through a porthole. At the end of 5 or 7 minutes, when the gas had completed its work, he gave the signal to open the doors; and men with gas masks---they too were internees-went into the room and removed the corpses. They told us that the internees must have suffered before dying, because they were closely clinging to one another and it was very difficult to separate them.
After that a special squad would come to pull out gold teeth and dentures; and again, when the bodies had been reduced to ashes, they would sift them in an attempt to recover the gold.
At Auschwitz there were eight crematories but, as from 1944, these proved insufficient. The SS had large pits dug by the internees, where they put branches, sprinkled with gasoline, which they set on fire. Then they threw the corpses into the pits. From our block we could see after about three-quarters of an hour or an hour after the arrival of a convoy, large flames coming from the crematory, and the sky was lighted up by the burning pits.
One night we were awakened by terrifying cries. And we discovered, on the following day, from the men working in the Sonderkommando - the "Gas Kommando" - that on the preceding day, the gas supply having run out, they had thrown the children into the furnaces alive.
28 Jan. 46