Majdanek and Auschwitz - Testimony of Yisrael Gutman

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Majdanek and Auschwitz - Testimony of Yisrael Gutman

Post by David Thompson » 31 May 2004 07:07

Yisrael Gutman, a former inmate at KL Majdanek, KL Auschwitz and KL Mauthausen, testified on June 2, 1961, at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. His testimony is available on line courtesy of the Nizkor Project at:

http://nizkor.com/hweb/people/e/eichman ... 63-07.html and

http://nizkor.com/hweb/people/e/eichman ... 63-08.html
Attorney General: Yes. According to our plan, we ought now to have the first witness on Majdanek.

Presiding Judge: Do you prefer that he should not be heard now?

Attorney General: No, actually, I would prefer him to be heard, since he has come from far away. He comes from a settlement in the north of the country. If I may ask the Court to sit possibly until 12.45 instead of 12.30, then we can finish. The witness is Mr. Yisrael Gutman.

Witness Gutman: I wish to make an affirmation.

Presiding Judge: Why do you want to make an affirmation? It is my duty to ask you this question.

Witness Gutman: I can only do things that I believe in with perfect faith.

[The witness makes his affirmation.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness: Yisrael Gutman.

Attorney General: You are a member of Kibbutz Lahavot Habashan in Upper Galilee?

Witness Gutman: Yes, since my arrival in Israel.

Q. You were active in the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, and, with the suppression of the uprising, you were taken out of the bunker where you were wounded?

A. Yes. I was a member of the fighting organization in the Warsaw Ghetto, and I came out after the uprising was crushed on 5 May 1943.

Q. What led you to leave the bunker?

A. I was wounded. And I was lying in one of the bunkers that had been prepared - there was a doctor there as well. They discovered the bunker and introduced poison, chlorine, into it. I was not aware of when and how I got outside. I, and all the people who came out of this bunker, were affected by the poison.

Q. And then you were transferred to the assembly square, which was known in Warsaw as the Umschlagplatz?

A. I was transferred through the streets of Warsaw for the last time, I saw the town in its ruins. I saw corpses in the streets, I saw the destroyed houses. And they took me to the Umschlagplatz. Nor was this for the first time.

Q. And railway freight cars were standing there?

A. Railway freight cars waited there, ready. We were put inside right away, and the train started off.

Q. How many people were there in that transport?

A. I cannot state numbers. I can only say that it was actually impossible to stand up in the freight car.

Q. Why was it impossible to stand?

A. Since the congestion was so great. It was one block of human beings. And when members of families lost contact with one another in this dense crowd, they were unable to find one another again.

Q. Where did the train come to?

A. We thought that the train was going to Treblinka, but it went to Majdanek. We were later told by veteran prisoners at Majdanek that all the victims could not be absorbed in Treblinka, and, therefore, some of the transports were sent to Majdanek.

Q. Describe to us what happened when you reached the railway station at Majdanek.

A. When we got there, they were already awaiting us.

Q. Who were “they”?

A. They, the SS brutes. They lined us up in rows of fives. By shouting and hitting us with whips, they began to spur us on, to make us run towards the camp. We walked from the railway station in Lublin to the gates of the camp.

Q. How long did the walk last?

A. I am unable to state how long it was. We arrived there, and they made us lie down - they told us that we could lie down on a lawn. At first, we did not know where we were. We lay there for several hours. Afterwards, it was towards evening, it began getting dark, and they took us to the bathhouse. I was not aware then - although I did not believe that it was a bathhouse - I did not know where I was - I knew what they were doing. But the man who shaved my hair at the bathhouse told me that people remained alive here - but he could not tell me how long I would remain alive.

And when I came out of there, I noticed that many of those who had come with me were no longer there. I was not at all aware that a selection was taking place there. After that, I went through very many such selections, when I knew and saw that this was in the classic Nazi style.

Q. Where were you housed in Majdanek?

A. At that time, in May 1943, Majdanek was divided into five fields - they called them “fields.” These fields were separated. Each field constituted a camp in itself. Each one had its administrative authorities, and the regime also differed from field to field. I found myself in field No. 4.

Presiding Judge: How was the field called in German?

Witness Gutman: Feld. That was field No. 4. I was told - and afterwards I knew - that this was the worst field in Majdanek. It had been opened in our honour.

Until we arrived there, it was empty. It was constructed in such a way that in the centre there was a large parade ground, a square for roll-calls. On either side, there stood very long huts, stables for horses, and this was where we were housed.

Attorney General: Was there anything written on the huts?

A. Yes. It was written that their capacity was fifty-two horses. They placed us inside - as far as I remember, I cannot be one hundred per cent accurate - we were about eight hundred people in this hut. It was hut No. 18. There were twenty-two such huts. Only in one hut were there veteran prisoners; they had been brought there to train us, to introduce us to that way of life in the camp, a way of life which we knew as the realm of the SS, the way of life that the SS prepares for human beings.

Q. Mr. Gutman, I know this must be difficult for you, but it would make it simpler for all of us if you would kindly merely answer my questions.

A. Certainly.

Q. Thank you. Now, how many floors were there in a hut such as this?

A. These bunks that we slept in were of three tiers. I should imagine that the width of such a bunk was about 80 cm., perhaps 60.

Q. For one person?

A. It was for one person, formally, I might say.

Q. And in practice?

A. At the time of our arrival, many transports were brought in. They made two people lie down in one bunk of this kind.

Q. What was the work like at Majdanek?

A. Our work schedule was as follows: They made us get up at 4.30 for a morning roll-call. After that, if the roll-call was in order, if they were satisfied that all were present - if people had died, or if there were sick or injured persons, they had to be dragged from the block and laid down next to those standing - the important thing was that the total should be correct, it was important that everyone should be there. If they found that the number was correct, we were dismissed, and work would begin.

Q. What sort of work was it?

A. At that time, there was no work for us at Majdanek, and hence they sought to have us occupied. Perhaps it was something which they regarded as work - we used to carry stones from one place to another. We were divided into sections. One group would carry the stones, a second group would crush these stones into gravel, while a third would pave a road with this gravel. Conditions were better for those who were paving the road, since the work had to be done at the double.

The stones had to be placed inside the folds of our clothes, and they used to check whether we had taken enough stones. The work had to be done at the double.

This was our work. I did not perform this work for long.

They gave us wooden clogs for our feet - plain pieces of wood which had a strap of cloth one and a half centimetres, maybe one centimetre wide, and that was a valued possession. I was not aware of that. And, on one of the early nights, one of these clogs was stolen from me, and at these roll- calls, at 4.30 in the morning - it was extremely cold at the time - I had to stand barefoot, with one foot bare. Some days later, I ran a high temperature. When I got up in the morning, I fainted, and I was dragged by my companions to a sick roll-call - it was called a sick roll-call - and I was taken to the Revier at Majdanek.

Q. What was the meaning of “Revier”?

A. That was what was supposed to be a hospital. It is impossible to use this term, but in the language of the camp we used this expression Revier.

Q. How long were you there?

A. I contracted pneumonia, with complications caused by gas poisoning. I was not the only one to be sick with an illness like that.

Q. Are you referring to the chlorine poisoning in the Warsaw bunkers?

A. Yes, I am talking of the chlorine poisoning we contracted already in Warsaw.

I was not the only one suffering from this illness, but a very great number of those who came on the transport together with me contracted this illness. And, in general, I could say that all my acquaintances died. I was fortunate. Some doctor who examined me found grenade splinters in my face, he noticed the wound I had under my eyes and decided to give me medicines, something which nobody received - at any rate not the Jews in Majdanek. I would like to say that I was told there that I was a lucky man because, only a short time before I came to Majdanek, they were not admitting Jews to the hospital at all. A Jew who fell ill was shot. And this liberal practice, whereby Jews were admitted to the hospital - this was a new regulation.

Q. Mr. Gutman, while you were in hospital, did you see people being marched off to the gas chambers in Majdanek?

A. Yes, this happened once. I heard some noise, and whoever could stand on his legs jumped out of bed and ran to the windows. All this only lasted a few seconds, for we were chased back at once and not allowed to watch. I saw this march of naked people. Amongst them I noticed a boy - I don’t know how old the boy was, perhaps ten years old. I saw that this boy was holding in his hands, on his arms, a child who was younger still. And I saw two SS brutes - one was pointing at the scene to the other and laughing.

I would like to say that there were moments like this when I tried to gaze into their eyes, to look stealthily, since to glance directly was too dangerous. I wanted to see whether they showed any trace of scruples, of mental anguish, whether there was any spark of humanity in their eyes. And I constantly encountered the very same experience.

Whenever we grieved - they were rejoicing; whenever they were able to maltreat us - they laughed, they were drunk with blood.

Q. Mr. Gutman, when you left the hospital, you were in a totally debilitated physical condition, is that correct?

A. Yes, they told me so - I was told this by a Slovakian Jew. The first Jews to reach Majdanek were those from Slovakia and Czechoslovakia. When I was there, they told me that ten thousand of them had arrived there; and, of these, there remained perhaps one hundred, perhaps two hundred. I don’t know...

Presiding Judge: Mr. Gutman, please pay attention to the Attorney General’s questions.

Attorney General: What happened to the others?

Witness Gutman: They either died or became weakened and were taken to the gas chambers or shot. The Stubendienst there, that is to say, the man responsible for the ward in the hospital, told me that I had to leave as soon as my temperature went down.

Q. Mr. Gutman, did you come across Dr. Yitzhak Schiper there?

A. Yes.

Q. Was he the well-known historian?

A. Yes.

Q. In what circumstances did you find him?

A. I saw Yitzhak Schiper after I returned from hospital.

Q. Just give us a brief description, Mr. Gutman, because I want to ask you some further questions.

A. I saw him sitting near the kitchen peeling rotten potatoes or turnips. I went up to him and reminded him that I had studied under him at one of the ghetto seminars, the underground seminar of my movement. And he said only this - that he was well, and that they had allowed him to sit there and to do this work that he was doing, since he felt that if, one day, he were obliged to stand on his feet, that would be his last day.

Q. Mr. Gutman, where in Majdanek could people perform their bodily functions?

A. Yes, this was one of those matters that caused constant fear. This fear would begin and continue, in fact, also at night. Majdanek had one place, a latrine, one toilet, and it was also the only place in Majdanek which had water. We had to get up at the sound of a gong, the sound of a bell, and to run as fast as we could, in order to manage to get there before the others, prisoners too, who were old-timers and more experienced, could get there.

Q. Why did you have to run?

A. Since, if you came late, they began to maltreat the Jews.

Q. Who were “they”?

A. The non-Jewish prisoners who had been put there, and also Jews amongst them who were Kapos in the camp.

Attorney General: Perhaps you would like to sit down, Mr. Gutman. The Court will
allow you to do so.

Presiding Judge: Yes, certainly, I told you that. The important thing is your evidence, not the fact that you are standing.

Witness Gutman: Thank you.

Attorney General: Did they maltreat you there with whips? Did they beat you with whips?

Witness Gutman: I did not experience that afterwards in any camp, in all the camps where I was after Majdanek. They had these whips. They were made of an iron rod with plaited leather on it. Both the SS men and the Kapos had them. They used them all the time, whenever there was an opportunity, and even when there was no opportunity.

Q. From what kind of persons were those prisoners in Majdanek who were in charge of other prisoners - the Kapos - drawn?

A. Most of them were German criminals, apparently habitual criminals. And on the strength of their maltreating the prisoners, they were allowed to enjoy an easy life; they were given certain privileges in the camp.

Q. Mr. Gutman, I understand that, later on, an announcement was made that anyone who wanted to leave the place could move to another camp?

A. No, it was not an announcement. It was a rumour that circulated amongst the prisoners, to the effect that some sort of committee had arrived, and it was selecting fit people, prisoners who were fit for work, and those were to be transferred elsewhere where they would be employed in work.

Q. And you felt that you could not hold out any longer in Majdanek?

A. That is how I felt, and this was the feeling common to all those who had come on the same transport.

Q. So you volunteered to go to another place?

A. I did not volunteer. They did not ask us any questions. They lined us up for a roll-call, naked, and from our ranks they selected people. We knew that this time it was a selection, since they actually chose from amongst us those who still had some strength, who still had some flesh on them.

Q. You failed to pass this test three times?

A. Three times I tried to pass the test, but they rejected me.

Q. On the fourth attempt, you managed by stealth?

A. On the fourth occasion, I managed by night, together with one of my friends, to steal away, to escape from the block where I was and to smuggle myself into another block where this transport was being assembled.

Q. This transport went to Birkenau?

A. This transport arrived at Auschwitz ‘A’; I was never in the Stammlager (prisoner of war camp) at Birkenau.

Q. So you were not at Birkenau?

A. I was in Auschwitz ‘A’.

Q. I shall not question you about Auschwitz, about the life in Auschwitz, since others will testify about that. But I want to ask you questions on which I cannot get any details from others. Firstly, in Auschwitz, there were also Kapos of a different category - Jews. Were there also some of those who treated the prisoners well?

A. There were people who fulfilled what was described as functions at Auschwitz, Jews and non-Jews, who showed a human approach. Not only did they show this human attitude, but they also had connections with the international underground of the camp.

Q. There was an underground at Auschwitz?

A. At the time I arrived there, a very extensive underground was in existence.

Q. And did you belong to it?

A. I belonged to the Jewish division within the underground.

Q. By the way, did you know Noach Zabludowicz, who has testified here?

A. He was also one of those who was in constant touch with the underground.

Presiding Judge: Was he outside?

Witness Gutman: No, he was not outside, but he did work which also involved going outside to camps in the neighbourhood, because of the work they were doing.

Presiding Judge: Was that the witness who was a driver?

Attorney General: The one who was considered to be one of the Volksdeutsche. Some time later he was arrested.

Judge Halevi: And I asked him some question in error...

Attorney General: That question pains him to this day.

Judge Halevi: That was a mistake on my part - a misunderstanding, and I am sorry about it.

Witness Gutman: There were other comrades from Ciechanow, Mordecai Hilleli and others, who were the nucleus of this underground division and who, in the early stages, engaged in mutual help, in giving a slice of bread to the needy, in rescuing a man who was already amongst the condemned - in certain cases, such possibilities existed - in providing medicines to a man who was prevented from going to the hospital, since it was clear to him that if he went there, he would not come out, in securing a little lighter work for a person who, we knew, was on the brink of becoming a musselman. But, apart from this, there was an actual military plan which had been prepared by army men, officers, members of a political underground, Poles, Germans as well, Frenchmen. We also had a member in that inner military command which was dealing with the preparation of the plan.

Attorney General: Since the Court’s time is limited, I would ask you to give a very brief description.

Presiding Judge: As you have come from a distance, we are trying to finish your evidence today.

Attorney General: We only have a few minutes, and I want you to try and describe this as shortly as you can.

Witness Gutman: I shall try.

Q. There was a revolt of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz which was partly successful - were you at that time a member of the underground that carried out the revolt?

A. I only had an indirect link with the revolt, and I shall describe it in a few words. On one of those days, I and a companion of mine, Yehuda Laufer, who today resides in Haifa, received an order to ensure that we brought explosives from our place of work, which was a huge, very large factory for detonators. This assignment was very difficult, because moving around in this factory was forbidden, and in the place where explosive materials were handled, only Jewish girls were employed, and they were under very strict supervision.

Through one of our female comrades whom we were able to talk to, Hadassah Zlotnitska, we tried to persuade the girls to hand over explosives to us, but we were unsuccessful. And then one of our members was sent to Birkenau, and he took upon himself the task of persuading a comrade of ours who was responsible for our cell in Birkenau, Roza Robota, to see to it that the girls should agree to abstract explosives and hand them over to us. They agreed, and from that time, almost every day, with the aid of food bins having a false bottom, we ‘A’. It also happened once that, when I was standing next to this comrade of mine, they began conducting a sudden search, and he said that this time he had not managed to conceal the material in the food bin, and it was hidden on his person inside a cigarette box, and it was clear to me that if they discovered it, not only would we pay for it with our lives, but that all these people - there were more than one thousand - and possibly the entire underground in Auschwitz, were in danger. They noticed that I was shivering all over my body, and they searched me thoroughly. And, after having found nothing, they skipped my companion who was standing at my side, apparently because they got somewhat tired. I apparently displayed some anxiety, and he did not.

After some time, it became clear to us that our comrade, Roza Robota, was also sending explosives to Birkenau, and this material had been delivered to the Sonderkommando.

That was at the time of the large deportations from Hungary, when every day we were inhaling the smell of death, when we got up in the mornings and saw the flames going up from the chimneys. And when these large transports were ended, they began liquidating the Sonderkommando. They were the witnesses, they were the men who had participated in it.

The men who had forced them to do that despicable work - they were going to be their murderers. And the Sonderkommando told us that they were going to revolt, and they wanted us to advance the date of the uprising. We went to the general underground and told them that we had messages from our comrades in Birkenau who were insisting that we should revolt, for otherwise they had no chance to live; but they had their own considerations and interests, to which they were bound, also outside, also with partisans outside, and they told us that we should direct them not to do anything, for they might endanger everything.

Q. But they, nevertheless, took action?

A. But they revolted - I don’t remember the date - but after it was investigated, it was found to be on 6 November 1944.

Q. What did they do?

A. They blew up the crematorium No. 2, they killed some of the men and their Kapo, they fled and scattered in the neighbourhood. And, as far as I know, not one of them survived. An immediate state of alert was declared, forces were mobilized from the area, they spread out and went in search of them and killed them, evidently to the last man.

Q. I understand that a special commission of enquiry came to investigate how the revolt and the explosion had occurred, and, in consequence of the work of this commission of enquiry, Roza Robota was arrested and severely tortured. I will spare you the details and will only put questions to you which you will kindly confirm.

You were afraid lest, under the pressure of the tortures, she might betray the underground?

A. Yes.

Q. And then she sent a request through someone, through a messenger, a block elder, that Noach Zabludowicz should come to her, and he went to her?

A. He came into the bunker at night.

Q. And she told him that you had nothing to fear, that she had not revealed anything?

A. Through him she sent a piece of paper which reached us, on which she had written that we had nothing to fear, that we should carry on with the job, that she knew why she was going to die, and that no other person was in danger.

Q. And then she was executed by hanging?

A. She and four other Jewish girls were executed by hanging, and Roza Robota’s last word, which was heard by the girls standing on parade - for they obliged all of them to stand on parade and watch it - was: “Vengeance.”

Q. Thereafter, you were transferred from Auschwitz to the camp at Mauthausen?

A. I was at Auschwitz until the day of the evacuation, until 18 January 1945.

Q. And then you were transferred to Mauthausen?

A. I walked in the death march - that was in January, 1945 - towards Mauthausen.

Q. And you arrived at Mauthausen, where you were set free?

A. They brought me there, and there I was liberated by the United States army.

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

Dr. Servatius: No, I have no questions.

Judge Halevi: Mr. Gutman, when were the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Birkenau destroyed? Do you know, by any chance?

Witness Gutman: I only know this from rumours that circulated amongst the prisoners. I think it was - I cannot state a precise date - during the last days of the autumn of 1944. I should only like to add that we did not believe it. At all events, we, the Jews, I, myself, at any rate, did not believe it.

Q. But afterwards it became clear that it was true?

A. Afterwards it turned out that it was a fact.

Q. After that no more people were put to death, or how was it?

A. For example, in that death march in which I participated (I called it that - a death march), those were the survivors of Auschwitz whom it was decided to evacuate. We insisted on a revolt, for we believed that the Jews did not have a chance. But the underground ordered us to go with the evacuation, since they had information that this was really an evacuation and not an execution. And, on the way, anyone whose foot was sprained, who felt momentarily weak, anyone who had to sit down for a few minutes - was shot. I wanted to say that that group of Jews of ours walked with arms linked and, as far as possible, helped those who became weak. We dragged them along, and all of us reached Mauthausen. With the exception of one man whom they killed when he tried to save a comrade, we all survived.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mr. Gutman, you have concluded your evidence. As I announced previously, the next Session will take place on Monday next, at 10.30 a.m., and will continue until 1 p.m. without a break.

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