The Majdanek testimony of Ya'akov Friedman

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The Majdanek testimony of Ya'akov Friedman

Post by David Thompson » 31 May 2004 07:44

Ya'akov Friedman, 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: ... 64-02.html and ... 64-03.html
Attorney General: The next witness is Mr. Ya’akov Friedman.

Presiding Judge: Do you speak Hebrew?

Witness Friedman: Yes.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness: Ya’akov Friedman.

Attorney General: Mr. Friedman, you live in Tel Aviv at 42 Aminadav Street?

Witness Friedman: Yes.

Q. What is your occupation?

A. I am a clerk in the Tel Aviv municipality.

Q. In 1942, you were in the district of Lublin, and you were regarded as a Polish Aryan - is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And you worked for a Polish Christian farmer?

A. Yes.

Q. And on one occasion Germans came, taking you for a Pole, and arrested you on the grounds that this was a reprisal for a partisan attack in the neighbourhood - is that so?

A. Yes.

Q. And, as a Polish Christian, you were transferred to the camp at Majdanek?

A. Yes.

Q. When did you arrive at Majdanek?

A. At the end of 1942 - it was September, I believe.

Q. Can you describe for us the morning roll-call at Majdanek?

A. Yes. A roll-call took place twice daily, in the morning and in the evening.

In the morning, all the prisoners had to report and stand in line. At the beginning it was accompanied by orders: “Muetze ab!” and “Muetze auf!” (Muetze ab - remove the cap from one’s head; Muetze auf - place the cap on one’s head). And this had to be done in rhythm, and if it was not so - the SS would deal out blows.

Q. Muetze ab, Muetze auf - you had to remove and replace your caps. How long did these orders go on for?

A. Until we were dismissed.

Q. How long, approximately?

A. It could continue for an hour or more. After that, we were divided up for our assignments.

Q. We shall still come across this matter of Muetze ab and Muetze auf - that was practiced at all the camps. You used to go out to work. What tasks did you perform at Majdanek?

A. These were also unproductive tasks, transferring rolls of paper used for covering roofs from warehouse to warehouse. It was also accompanied by blows, such as laufen (run), or schneller (faster). It depended on what kind of guard we encountered. And I also worked on scraping off plaster from bricks. I was also employed in the erection of huts inside the camp.

Q. Were there serious illnesses in the camp?

A. Yes.

Q. First and foremost - dysentery?

A. Dysentery prevailed there. We also assumed that the food there was not altogether clean, for otherwise it could not have happened that people contracted dysentery in such a short time.

Q. Was there a heavy rate of mortality?

A. Very heavy. At every morning roll-call, we were obliged to bring out the bodies of those who had died during the night.

Q. We have already heard of this from Mr. Gutman. I want you to describe some aspects about which the Court has not yet heard.

Presiding Judge: Was this a unit of Poles - these prisoners?

Witness Friedman: I was with a group of forty-seven Poles.

Q. Polish Christians?

A. Polish Christians. But we occupied a hut together with Jews. In this hut, there were about three hundred men, mostly Jews.

Q. This roll-call, for example, did it encompass the entire hut?

A. The entire hut.

Attorney General: You did not acknowledge your being Jewish to the Jews?

Witness Friedman: No.

Q. What was the bread ration?

A. The bread ration was one loaf of bread for five men over two days. The loaf of bread weighed about 800 grams.

Q. Was there an electrified fence surrounding Majdanek?

A. Yes.

Q. Were there instances of people committing suicide by deliberately touching the fence?

A. Yes.

Q. Were there many such cases?

A. Very many. It usually happened at night, when people ran directly to the electrified fence in order to commit suicide. But the sentries used to prevent a prisoner from approaching the electrified fence before he could touch it, not because they were concerned for his life, but because it gave them a lot of work to switch off the current and remove the bodies. When we got up in the morning, there would be bodies around the fence which we were obliged to clear away - to remove them from there.

Q. Do you remember a mass execution during 1943? When was it roughly?

A. Yes. It must have been in November - the end of 1943. We were taken out to work. That day, I remained inside the camp. This entire Polish group remained in the camp, and, in fact, all the huts were emptied out. But that did not last very long, for, on the following day, they were again filled with people, but these were not the faces I had previously got to know.

Q. Did you see how transports of Jews arrived at Majdanek?

A. There were men who were working with us - they were called “Sonderkommando” - and they used to attend to the transports.

Q. You did not see it yourself?

A. No, I did not.

Q. But you heard about it from your fellow inmates in the hut?

A. Yes.

Q. And, from what you were told, what do you know about what happened to the people who arrived on these transports - to these Jews?

A. They were ordered to undress and hand over their clothes - it was as if they were undergoing a disinfection by cleaning themselves. They had to enter shower rooms. And, indeed, the gas chambers resembled shower rooms, and, from there dead bodies were brought out.

Q. Did you witness the execution of people in Majdanek?

A. Yes, by hanging.

Q. How many times?

A. It happened every day.

Q. Every day?

A. Every day. The parade, or roll-call, was usually at six o’clock, and then punishments were inflicted. It was sufficient for the guard to write down the number of the Haeftling (prisoner) and to pass it on as a report to the Lageraeltester (camp elder). Then, in the course of the roll-call, the prisoner would be called out. There was punishment by hanging, and there was punishment by means of flogging - it all went according to the offence.

Q. For what offences were people hanged? And for what offences were they flogged?

A. It could have been hanging for slackness in work, absence from work - that is to say, absence from work for a few minutes, for there was to be no such thing; or, simply, if he took a dislike to him. And then, in the presence of the whole camp, without explanations, they would hang him. He was obliged to undress, to climb on a chair and...

Q. They would call upon a man to leave the ranks and announce to him on the spot
that he was going to be hanged?

A. Yes.

Q. Did he know about it beforehand?

A. He did not know about it beforehand.

Q. Who hanged him?

A. The SS. There was also punishment by flogging. There was a special chair designed for that. The prisoner had to get into this chair, with his hands and legs in such a position that the lower portion of the body was conveniently placed, and then two SS men stood on either side with whips, and they would flog him, and the prisoner had to count the blows.

Q. You also had an experience of being flogged?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you receive blows in this way?

A. Yes.

Q. How many blows?

A. I was only flogged three times. On one occasion when I was flogged, I was told later that I did not have the “privilege” of reaching twenty-five blows, for I fainted, and apparently my bowels also emptied during the flogging.

Q. And then they stopped?

A. Yes.

Q. The same thing happened on the second and third occasions?

A. The same thing.

Q. You recall a particular roll-call in the autumn of 1942. Is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. You were then expecting a certain commission to arrive?

A. Yes.

Q. What was this commission?

A. There was to be an inspection. At first, there was a rumour as if the Red Cross would pay a visit of inspection. We were kept at this parade from six o’clock until the following morning. Naturally, blows were administered, and there were again shouts of Muetze ab! Muetze auf! It was to be done in rhythm. The following morning a delegation appeared. We were astonished to see SS men. In the centre, I saw Eichmann.

Q. You saw Eichmann in the centre of the delegation?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you see him here, facing you?

A. Yes.

Q. Is he the man you saw?

A. Although he has changed, his features have not changed. I remember him well. From the time there was talk of searches being conducted for him, I know he was the man.

Q. What did he do in the camp?

A. He made a cursory examination, one could say. Since I was standing at one end - I was the shortest - I heard him saying the words “der ganze Haufen ist wegzunehmen” (get rid of the whole pile) - something like that. It is well engraved in my memory.

Judge Halevi: And who said that?

Witness Friedman: That was said by Eichmann. For we were not taken into consideration there. No one called us “Leute” (people) - this term did not exist. That was the meaning, for all SS men, of the word Haufen (pile).

Q. What about the SS and Haufen?

A. This word was used by every German.

Q. And what did it indicate?

A. A sort of pile of refuse - something like that.

Q. And it was applied to the prisoners?

A. Yes.

Attorney General: When were you released from Majdanek?

Witness Friedman: I was freed in 1944, at the beginning of 1944.

Q. As a Christian?

A. As a Christian.

Q. You were called to the camp command - what did they say to you then?

A. They summoned me. At first I thought my end had come. For this was the way, generally speaking, they used to remove people to be hanged, by an announcement over the loudspeaker at the evening roll-call. My number was called out, and I was told to report in front of the office. We stood there for some hours. I had a look at the men who were already there. They were boys, mainly, Polish boys - there was not a Jew amongst them. And then we were taken to a building, which was known in Majdanek as the “Red House.” That was the seat of the administration. An SS man came out, speaking Polish; he told us that we were being released, but, first of all, we had to sign that we would not talk about what we had seen there.

Presiding Judge: On what date was that?

Witness Friedman: This was in the spring of 1944.

Attorney General: Was there any instance where a Jew, who was known to be a Jew, was also released from Majdanek?

Witness Friedman: No.

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

Dr. Servatius: Yes. Witness, when did you first come to the conclusion that you had seen Eichmann in the camp?

Witness Friedman: As I pointed out, that was in 1942 - at the end of the year. It was in this well-known roll-call, so firmly engraved in my memory, when we stood all night.

Presiding Judge: Apparently, you did not understand the question: When did it become clear to you that this particular SS officer was Eichmann? Did it become plain to you immediately, at that time, or at a later stage? That was the question.

Witness Friedman: It was immediately after we were dismissed and went into the
huts. It was the talk of that day - that this was Eichmann.

Q. Who said it was Eichmann?

A. I was with a group of Jews from Slovakia. I had a friend who slept next to me. He knew them. He also indicated a further number of names of all the officers he had seen, and amongst them was Eichmann. He was also in the centre. With regard to the remaining officers, it was easy to distinguish that they were less important.

Dr. Servatius: If that is so, I understand from your remarks that Eichmann walked at the head of that group of officers?

Witness Friedman: Yes. He was surrounded by all these officers. There were about ten of them; he was in the middle, and he walked in front.

Q. What uniform was he wearing?

A. To the extent that my memory does not fail me, it was a black uniform - for all the SS men there wore black.

Presiding Judge: That is not enough. The question was: Do you remember his uniform? And not because all SS men wore black, and hence he also wore black. Do you remember the colour?

Witness Friedman: I don’t remember the colour of the uniform so well - but I remember the face.

Dr. Servatius: You said just now that it was a black uniform. That was, apparently, your first impression which you also expressed at the beginning?

Witness Friedman: In general, I did not take notice of uniforms. Generally speaking, it was the faces there that conveyed much, for in the case of each SS man we knew in advance whether he was bad or good.

Presiding Judge: Let us stay with this question of the colour of the uniform. I understood your evidence to be - you must tell me whether I am right or not, and you can tell me that you don’t remember it in this way - that you knew that all SS officers wore black and, therefore, for this reason, you concluded that the man who, as you say, was Eichmann, also wore black?

Witness Friedman: Yes.

Dr. Servatius: I have no more questions to the witness.

Judge Halevi: What was the commission doing there?
A. It reviewed the roll-call.

Q. A roll-call of the entire camp?

A. Yes.

Q. How many prisoners reported there?

A. It is difficult for me to state the number. Inside our camp, there were about thirty huts, and each hut contained about three hundred men, and there were many missing.

Q. The commission reviewed the roll-call?

A. Yes. They also examined the huts inside. We thought this was on account of the cleanliness, for, actually, a state of cleanliness prevailed, relatively speaking.

Q. What was the name of the camp commandant? Did you know him?

A. There were many. I knew the Lageraelteste, the one with whom I came into daily contact at the roll-call.

Q. Was he an SS man or a prisoner?

A. He was a prisoner.

Q. I am talking of the group of roughly ten officers. You said that there were roughly ten in the group of officers. Was the Lageraelteste one of them?

A. The Lageraelteste merely had to present the report when they arrived.

Q. Did he stand in front of the roll-call?

A. Yes.

Q. It was to these officers that he presented the report?

A. Yes.

Q. Whom did you know amongst these officers - did you know any one of them?

A. Yes.

Q. Amongst them, was there an officer who was in charge of the camp - not the Lageraelteste - who was the camp commandant?

A. He was also one of them.
Q. You knew him, I presume?

A. Definitely.

Q. And the deputy commandant was there?

A. Yes.

Q. You knew them?

A. Yes.

Q. Were there also officers, SS men, whom you did not know?

A. There were some whom I did not know.

Q. How did you know that the man you call Eichmann was the senior or the head of them all? How did you know that?

A. It was very easy to distinguish.

Q. How?

A. He walked in front - the remaining officers walked behind him. He asked questions. I did not hear the questions, but all this happened while they were walking.

Q. Was that for a short time?

A. A short time. The whole thing took ten minutes, perhaps less.

Q. You said that, at that moment, you did not know his name?

A. I did not know his name.

Q. And when you reached the hut, you spoke about it?

A. Yes.

Q. You said it was the talk of the day?

A. Yes.

Q. What was important about it?

A. They said that he was a high-ranking officer, one of the planners. ]

Q. Is this what your comrades said to you?

A. Yes.

Q. And then they told you his name?

A. Then I was told his name.

Q. Did you, before this visit to the officers, hear the name? Did you ever previously hear the name of Eichmann?

A. No.

Q. This was the first time that you heard it?

A. Yes. It was the first time.

Presiding Judge: What other names of officers were mentioned in this conversation amongst the prisoners? Do you remember?

Witness Friedman: No.

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

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