The Majdanek testimony of Joseph Reznick

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The Majdanek testimony of Joseph Reznick

Post by David Thompson » 31 May 2004 07:29

Joseph Reznick, a former inmate at KL Majdanek, testified on June 5, 1961 at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. His testimony is available on line courtesy of the Nizkor Project at: ... 64-01.html and ... 64-02.html

Session No. 64
21 Sivan 5721 (5 June 1961)

Presiding Judge: I declare the sixty-fourth Session of the trial open.

Attorney General: I call Mr. Joseph Reznik.

Presiding Judge: Do you speak Hebrew?

Witness Reznik: I do speak Hebrew, but I wish to speak Yiddish.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness: Reznik, Joseph.

Attorney General: You live in Tel Aviv, Ibn Gabirol Street 94?

Witness Reznik: Yes.

Q. And you are the owner of a store?

A. Yes.

Q. When the Second World War broke out, you were in the Polish army. You were taken prisoner by the Germans, were taken through all kinds of prisoner camps, and finally were brought to the notorious camp at No. 7 Lipowa Street in Lublin.

A. Yes.

Q. Then you were put to work, together with other Jewish prisoners of war, to erect the Majdanek camp. Correct?

A. Yes.

Q. When was that?

A. That was in 1942. They took us, two hundred and forty men - we had also been there in 1941 - in order to erect the camp.

Q. When were you employed in building the Majdanek camp?

A. They started building the camp in 1941.

Q. There were various sections in the camp. What did they call those sections?

A. In 1941, they built the first field. Jewish prisoners of war worked there.

Q. When did they erect the other fields?

A. Usually work proceeded from one field to the next field, then to the third, fourth and fifth.

Q. What was that fifth field?

A. The fifth camp was called, in 1943, the “death camp.”

Q. Why?

A. Because beyond the camp, there were large trenches, which had been dug by the Jews themselves. I saw that with my own eyes.

Q. I do not ask what you saw with your eyes. I ask: Why was that called the “death camp” or the “death field”?

A. It was called the “death camp” because there were large trenches which had been dug, and we called it the “death field.”

Q. When were you transferred to live at Majdanek?

A. I was at Majdanek for the first time in 1941, as a labourer, a prisoner of war. Later I was there in 1942 for a few weeks. I was fortunate. Our Scharfuehrer Schramm and the Sturmfuehrer Morfinkel came back, and took us back for labour at Lipowa 7. Only us, the prisoners of war.

Q. When you were at Majdanek, before they returned you to Lipowa 7, did they kill people there?

A. Yes.

Q. In what year was this, 1941 or 1942?

A. In 1941 they did not kill people. In 1941 they shot only those people who were lagging in their work; they were left there in the trenches.

Q. And in 1942?

A. In 1942 there were already more fields, and from time to time labour gangs were sent to work in Lublin. Then more people were shot.

Q. You saw people there from various countries? From which countries?

A. In 1941 I saw in Majdanek Russian prisoners of war.

Q. Were they Jews or non-Jews?

A. They were high-ranking officers, both Jewish and non- Jewish. The Russian Red Cross was there before them. But this was for the Russian prisoners of war. They were maltreated there.

Q. After that, they brought you back to Majdanek again. Right?

A. Yes.

Q. About when was this?

A. This was on 3 November 1943.

Q. Were you the only one who was then brought to Majdanek?

A. No. At that time, there came to Lublin from all the camps in the vicinity units of the SS, extermination squads they were called. They came from Cracow.

Q. And they were taking Jews. From which localities?

A. From Lublin, from Lipowa 7, and from all the surroundings of Lublin, from all the camps, and the remnants of Jews who were in Majdan-Tatarski, near Lublin.

Q. Where did they take them to?

A. All were brought to the same camp, the fifth field in Majdanek.

Q. What did they do with all these people on the 2nd and 3rd of November, 1943?

A. Right away, when those people were brought to the camp, they were at once transferred to the fifth field, column after column, in rows, and went straight into the pits.

They were brought in through the rear gate and went straight to their deaths, and beautiful music was being played, the finest hit tunes, beautiful slow fox-trots were being played with the nicest music, and this confused the people completely, so that they would not realize that they were being led to their death, and at the pits the machine guns were playing.

Q. An SS officer turned to you and asked what was your occupation?

A. Yes. I said I was a carpenter, and he said: “Heraus” (Come out).

Q. Were other people also taken out of the line?

A. Yes. Three hundred men; they selected from the lines the healthiest and strongest men.

Q. Were women also selected?

A. Three hundred women.

Q. Where did they put those three hundred who had been put to the side?

A. They took them in groups of ten or fifteen. In each group were SS men, Scharfuehrer, Unterscharfuehrer, Rottenfuehrer, and they led everybody into barracks, in groups of ten or fifteen, until three hundred men had been brought there. We stayed there until late at night.

Q. At night an SS officer came in there. Do you remember the event?

A. At night - it was already quite dark, I did not know the exact time, I did not have a watch - he came in - I must repeat here some coarse words. He came in and said: “All that Scheisse (shit) are already kaputt (done away with), only you remain, you are the selected Jews, you are going to stay alive.” We did not believe him, we knew that in the end we, too, would die - if not after some weeks, then after some months.

Q. But you knew who he was?

A. His name I don’t know. I only knew the high-ranking officer Rolfinger, the one who selected the three hundred men.

Q. That officer who came in, was he wearing clean clothes?

A. No. He was dirty. He was filthy all over. I did not look too close. Maybe he was also bespattered with blood. His boots were as filthy as with the biggest murderer to be found in the world. He was drunk.

Q. You stayed in that barrack some two weeks?

A. Yes, we remained in that barrack for about two weeks.

Q. And they gave you food and drink, and then they took you out to work?

A. Yes.

Q. What kind of work did they take you to?

A. On that day we were taken out to work. We were made to stand in line by that officer, and he came out and said: “As of today, you are no longer considered to be prisoners of war, you are Jewish prisoners, and you no longer have any right to live.” This is what he said to us. After that, we were put on buses. Where exactly we were going, we did not know, since the buses were closed. They gave us new clothes, new tools, and we were on our way. We did not know where to. In the end, they told us that we had been brought to the Chelm forest. The forest was called Borki.

Q. What were you told to do in the Borki forest?

A. For two weeks, we did nothing and did not know what was going on. Later, they started bringing logs. Each log was one metre long.

Q. What did you do?

A. There they took us to pits, to some sort of trenches.

Q. And they told you to dig?

A. Yes.

Q. Did they tell you where to dig?

A. Yes. “This place, from here to there,” this is what Rolfinger said.

Q. Did he have any plans or maps or notes in his hand?

A. He was holding a piece of paper. I didn’t know whether it was a sketch or a map, but he knew exactly where they were and what was lying there.

Q. And then he told you to start digging?

A. Yes.

Q. So you started digging, and what did you find?

A. I was digging with my spade; I hit the earth once or twice, and, all at once, the spade slipped, and I realized that the spade had struck a human head, and such an evil smell came out of the earth.

Q. And then you wished to stop working, and Rolfinger jumped at you and screamed?

A. Then Rolfinger screamed at me and said: “Why did you stop? Don’t you know that there are bodies lying here?”

Q. So you opened a mass grave?

A. Yes.

Q. How many corpses were there?

A. There, in the first trench, which was 150 or 170 metres in length, there were about ten thousand corpses.

Q. You took out the corpses, and they told you to burn them?

A. Yes.

Q. They brought a grinding machine there?

A. They brought a mill for grinding the bones. Our people sifted the bones, so that the gold could be extracted, if there was any in the teeth. The bones were brought to the grinding machine, and the ground bones were later brought to the fields and scattered there. There was such a stench that one could not keep one’s mouth open.

Q. And you worked there opening graves for a long time?

A. For three months.

Q. How many graves did you open during at that time?

A. There were eight or nine; I cannot tell exactly. And one trench they kept open for more people. All that time, they were bringing in new people in trucks.

The persons that were brought, the dead bodies - I do not know whether it was from gas or from the air - were still warm, with no clothes, like Adam and Eve.

Q. The graves you opened, could you tell if these were graves of Jews?

A. We knew that they were Jews, because we found documents there. There were Jews with beards, and also a ritual slaughterer.

Q. How could you know he was a slaughterer?

A. We were digging in one of the trenches and took out a certain number of corpses. The number was reported to Rolfinger who supervised the work. He looked at his notes and said: “Here five or eight more Jews are still missing. You must dig and find them.” So I put in the spade again, and suddenly a wall collapsed, and there were another seven or eight corpses, and next to one of them was a ritual slaughterer’s knife, and he still wore the Star of David. Rolfinger knew exactly how many corpses were in each trench.

Q. Did you see a woman with a baby in one of the graves?

A. When we dug up one of the trenches, we saw a horrible picture. On a woman’s body, there lay a little child two or three years old, wearing white shoes, a white coat, and the mother was lying face to face with the child. This sight sent a shock through us, worse than everything else, because we, too, were fathers of children, and we imagined our own children thus.

Q. The gold from the teeth and the silver rings from the fingers, who took these?

A. Rolfinger and his deputy, Raschendorf, took all of them.

Q. What unit did Rolfinger and Raschendorf belong to?

A. They belonged to the “Vernichtungs-Kompanie” (extermination company).

Q. What uniforms did they wear?

A. The extermination squad wore SS uniforms, such as the extermination-SS wore.
There was the extermination-SS and the Sturm-SS. They wore SS uniforms.

Q. After taking out the corpses from the grave, what did they tell you to do there? What did you do in the pit? You burned the bodies, you already told us that.

A. After removing the bodies, chloride was spread in the pits.

Presiding Judge: You mean the disinfectant, chloride?

Witness Reznik: Yes, the disinfectant, something white. Chloride was spread in the pit. It was an operation to obliterate the traces; they did not want it to be known what was there. They spread chloride, we filled in the pit, and we put soil on top. Over those pits, after filling them up, we also sowed grass.

Attorney General: And you burned the bodies?

Witness Reznik: The corpses were burned, one thousand at a time. There were two such stacks for burning. Such a mound of corpses burned for two or three days.

Q. You escaped from there in February 1944, right?

A. Yes, in 1944. I can tell you about it.

Q. That is not so important. Important to me is that you dug a tunnel. Is that correct?

A. We were put in fetters in our hut. In all four corners there were machine guns. For every sixty or sixty-five of us, there were forty-five Security Police, not counting the SS who were there. And later, they put chains on us, each one ninety centimetres long, with shackles around our legs. We were deep down in a bunker, with a heavy iron door on it, barred with a heavy iron bolt - all this to prevent our escape. We dug a tunnel, at a depth of 2.10 metres, fifty metres in length. This took us over two months of work, and the tunnel led to the new trench which was to receive fresh corpses. Our chains were inspected every day. One day, immediately after the inspection, we decided to break our chains. I do not want to brag. I broke the chains of eight men, with a kind of tool that could twist the chain, and it broke. Many ran away with the shackles on their legs. I managed to remove the shackles and fled through the trench. I remained alone.

Presiding Judge: What happened to the others?

Witness Reznik: The others - four people saved themselves together with me. Two others are here in Israel, and one is in America.

After the War, I went to the Russo-Polish Prosecutor’s Office together with a companion of mine who is here in this country, and gave them a description of what happened there. We travelled with the Polish Prosecutor’s men to that forest. We had written a testament in Russian, in Polish and in Yiddish, and that testament we buried inside a bottle like this [shows an ordinary bottle].

When I came there with the entire Russo-Polish Prosecutor’s Office to find it, we came upon a place where there was concrete, big blocks of concrete. So we understood right away that the others did not manage to escape, because we had drawn lots who should go first and who should go later, and it appears that the concrete was poured so as to prevent them from getting out.

The Russo-Polish Prosecutor’s men started hammering away at the concrete, but could not crack it because it was very thick, so they left off. I showed them the places where new grass had been sown, and where the bodies had been burned, and where the bones had been ground, and at that time heaps of small bones still remained which had not been fully ground.

Attorney General: Mr. Reznik, later you were hiding with some Poles. There was also a Polish priest who helped you to hide, and thus you were saved, until the Soviet army arrived?

Witness Reznik: Yes, and later...

Presiding Judge: You have answered this already. Did you understand the question - for it was a long one?

Witness Reznik: Yes.

Q. Is what the Attorney General said true?

A. Yes, all I said is true.

Q. Did you confirm this?

A. Yes.

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

Dr. Servatius: No, I have no questions.

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mr. Reznik, you have concluded your testimony.

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