The Auschwitz testimony of Vera Alexander

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The Auschwitz testimony of Vera Alexander

Post by David Thompson » 06 Jun 2004 03:19

Vera Alexander, a former inmate at KL Auschwitz, testified on June 8, 1961 at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Her testimony is available on line courtesy of the Nizkor Project at: ... 71-01.html ... 71-02.html
Session No. 71
24 Sivan 5721 (8 June 1961)

Presiding Judge: I declare the seventy-first Session of the trial open.

Attorney General: I call the witness, Mrs. Vera Alexander.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness: Vera Alexander.

Presiding Judge: In what language do you wish to testify?

Attorney General: According to my experience, she can speak Hebrew. Mrs. Alexander, you live in Nes Ziona?

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Q. You are an art critic?

A. Yes.

Q. You were born in Slovakia?

A. Yes.

Q. In 1942, were photographs and accounts of the fate of people deported from Slovakia to Poland published in the newspapers? Do you remember that?

A. Yes.

Q. And their fate was depicted in rosy colours, as if they were well and working?

A. Yes.

Q. And pictures were also published of happy faces and girls laughing?

A. Yes.

Q. One day you were gathered, together with others, into a cellar and arrested?

A. Yes.

Q. When was that?

A. It was at the beginning of April 1942.

Q. Where were you taken, Mrs. Alexander?

A. We were transferred from this cellar to Zilina - that was a concentration camp in Slovakia.

Q. Under whose control were you put?

A. We were put under the control of the Hlinkova Garda (the Hlinka Guard).

Q. Were there Germans there as well?

A. No.

Q. And where were you taken from there?

A. From Zilina we were taken, on 8 April 1942, in freight cars, to Auschwitz.

Q. What were your feelings when you arrived at Auschwitz, yours and those of your friends who arrived together with you?

A. The moment we reached Auschwitz, we realized that all the pictures and the articles we had seen in the press were not true. From the first moment we heard shouts from SS men. And as we came into the camp, even before we were obliged to undress, in the blocks of Auschwitz we saw women - we were unable to judge whether they were women or men - their heads were shaven. They were making gestures which led us to believe that they were not normal people; they were scratching their heads, they signaled to us with their fingers to their mouths - they scratched their bodies. Some hours later, when we had to remove our clothes and were given Russian uniforms, full of lice, we understood what they were trying to show us. Our heads, too, were shaven, and everything was taken away from us.

Q. And what block were you placed in?

A. At first, we were put into Block 7.

Q. A women’s block?

A. The women’s block No. 7.

Q. How many women were there in this block?

A. I don’t know how many there were. I only know that there were two women to one narrow bed.

Q. And afterwards, in what other blocks were you?

A. After that, I was in Block 9, and my mother was in Block 10. They split us up according to age.

Q. Block 7 and Block 9?

A. Yes, Block 7 and Block 9.

Q. At the beginning, did you go out to work?

A. I went out to work with the Landwirtschafts-kommando (agricultural unit).

Q. What was the nature of women’s work at Auschwitz?

A. We had to dig beetroot out of the ground, beetroot that had been lying there several years - that the Poles had placed there. It stank. Sometimes we removed one in good condition, and if anyone dared touch it and eat it, that meant death.

Q. They would kill her?

A. Yes. Sometimes we did some work or other but didn’t understand why it was necessary to do it, or whether it was required at all. Sometimes, for example, we carried out operations of planierung (levelling the soil) in the fields. There would be a field on somewhat of a rise, and we had to level it. Sometimes we were required to move a heap of soil from one place to another. We could not understand why this was necessary at all.

Q. When did your working day commence?

A. Our working day began at seven o’clock. But that was not when the day commenced.

Q. When did the day commence?

A. The day began when there was still stars in the sky, with the commanding officer in the camp.

Presiding Judge: At what time?

Witness Alexander: We did not have watches - I don’t know.

Attorney General: And when did the working day end?

Witness Alexander: When it ended, it was already dark.

Q. Later on, you became a Blockaelteste (block elder). In what block was this?

A. At first, I was Blockaelteste in Block 3 in Camp A; that was the “quarantine block.” I don’t know why they called it the “quarantine block.” The women who entered this block came into contact with all the prisoners. But that is what they called it.

Q. Tell me, Mrs. Alexander, how was it possible to be a Blockaelteste in Auschwitz and to maintain the stance of being created in God’s image and maintain the image of a human being?

A. It was not easy. One needed a lot of tact and much manoeuvering. On the one hand, one had to obey orders and to fulfil them, and, on the other hand, to harm the prisoners as little as possible and to assist them.

Q. How did you manage that?

A. Sometimes we received orders. For example, the women who were in the “quarantine block” did not work. They were kept in the block all day, and they were forbidden to sit on their beds and, altogether, to go near their beds. The bed had to be made up tidily. We posted one girl on guard in front of the entrance to the block, and we allowed these women to get on to their beds and to sit on them. The moment the girl standing on guard saw that the SS were approaching, we entered the block and had to make them get off the beds very quickly.

Q. We have been told that you saved women from being put to death. How did you do that? Tell us of some cases.

A. There were cases after a selection, where women were selected for death, and I knew which block they were supposed to enter. I tried, not always successfully, to remove them from the ranks. Sometimes I managed to place girls in a commando which was going out from Auschwitz to work. This was not heroism on my part - it was my duty. I don’t remember all the instances, and I don’t remember how I did it.

Q. To this day, do you come across women prisoners who were in the block where you were the Blockaelteste?

A. Yes.

Q. Were you in the blocks where women worked?

A. No.

Q. You were not a Blockaelteste there?

A. When I was Blockaelteste in Camp C, there were sometimes days when they took a number of women out to fetch bricks from some place or other, but that, too, was only for some hours.

Q. Do you recall that once you fell ill and were placed in the Revier, in the hospital building.
What happened to you?

A. I was put into the Revier. What my illness was - I don’t know. I was there for some days. Several days later, a nurse took me out of there. I myself did not feel that I had recovered, and I wanted to go back. Towards evening I went in through the cellar, and I saw, all around, women seated against the walls. Amongst them, I recognized several women from my home town. I wanted to speak to them, but the moment I approached them I saw that they were dead.

Q. And then you ran away from the place?

A. Yes, then I also understood why I had been taken away from the Revier.

Q. Who treated the women in the hospital at Auschwitz?

A. “Treated” - that was no treatment. We did not receive any medicines. There were Jewish girls there and, from time to time, doctors came in.

Presiding Judge: Jewish girls, in what capacity - as nurses, attendants?

Witness Alexander: They cleaned the hospital.
Q. You said that doctors used to visit?

A. From time to time, doctors came there.

Q. German doctors?

A. Germans.

Attorney General: Those orders you received as Blockaelteste - from whom did they come?

Witness Alexander: Either directly from SS men, or by means of a Laeuferin (a girl messenger) from the gate, who came and told us what orders they had received there.

Q. The messenger was a Jewess?

A. Yes.

Q. And they demanded from you, as they demanded from others, that you should be severe, be strict with the prisoners?

A. Certainly.

Q. What did you do in order to avoid carrying out such orders - how did you do it?

A. One day, in Camp C, I was handed a whip by our Oberaufseherin (superintendent), Irma Grese. I did not make use of it.

Q. How, actually, did you come to be appointed a Blockaelteste?

A. One day, I was summoned by the Rapportschreiberin - her name was Katya Singer.

Q. Does she now live in Slovakia?

A. Yes. She told me that I would have to be Blockaelteste in Block 3. I said that I was not suitable for that. She then pleaded with me to take it on.

Q. Why?

A. She said that, in her opinion, to the extent that it was possible, people with human feelings should take on this task.

Q. How old were you at the time?

A. Then I was twenty, twenty-one.

Presiding Judge: What was a Blockschreiberin? What function did it entail?

Witness Alexander: Rapportschreiberin.

Q. Rapportschreiberin. What was that?

A. The Rapportschreiberin (registering clerk) received from the Schreibstube (secretariat) a report on the number of prisoners in that camp. After the Zaehlappell, all the block leaders came to take over the block, that is to say the number of women who were in their block, and the Rapportschreiberin had to receive it. Each block had a register in which the total number of the prisoners was entered, day by day, and she had to obtain it and transmit it to the Lagerfuehrerin (camp commandant).

Attorney General: Was she an SS woman?

Witness Alexander: The Lagerfuehrerin - yes.

Presiding Judge: The Rapportfuehrerin was the liaison between the commandant of the camp and the Blockaelteste? Is that more or less the case?

Witness Alexander: Between the commandant of the camp and the Rapportfuehrer or the Rapportfuehrerin.

Attorney General: And the Rapportfuehrerin was also a German woman - a member of the SS?

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Judge Halevi: A “Fuehrer” was always a German.

Attorney General: So Katya appealed to you to take on the post?

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Q. And you agreed?

A. I agreed.

Q. Were there ways of helping women while holding this position?

A. Yes, there were. First of all, one could distribute their rations - those supplied to them by the camp - and see how they received them.

Q. Without stealing them.

A. Without stealing them. Beyond that, it was possible to steal something from the stores for them, whether a couple of blankets or a piece of soap, a little more food from the kitchen, some extra clothing from the Bekleidungskammer (clothing store). There were possibilities.

Q. We know of two young Slovakian lads who fled from Auschwitz and submitted a report in Slovakia about what was happening there. Did you know either of them?

A. I knew them both.

Q. Do you know their names?

A. One of them now goes by the name of Dr. Vrba. He was Walter Rosenberg, and the other was Alfred Wetzler.

Presiding Judge: Now his name is more Slovakian, right? Did he change his name?

Witness Alexander: He changed his name when he subsequently joined a partisan group, and he has retained this name.

Q. What was that second name?

A. He is now Dr. Rudolf Vrba.

Judge Halevi: Is still alive. Where is he?

Witness Alexander: Yes, he lives in London. He was here, in Israel, for a year. He worked at the Weizmann Institute.

Attorney General: Do you remember the notorious Dr. Mengele?

Witness Alexander: To my sorrow - very well indeed.

Q. We have already heard about him, but there is one matter which we have not yet heard about. Do you remember the experiments he used to conduct on twins?

A. I only witnessed one experiment.

Q. What did you witness?

A. There was a set of twins, Gypsies, whom he took away one day from the block where I was - that was the Zigeunerlager - the Gypsy camp. Some days later, he returned them, with veins in their arms and their backs sewn together.

Presiding Judge: I did not understand that.

Attorney General: He sewed them.

Presiding Judge: Sewed the veins together?

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Q. Did he turn them into Siamese twins?

A. He sewed their arms together - they were already full of pus, and full of wounds.

Attorney General: And they did not live much longer?

Witness Alexander: I succeeded in getting out of there, before...I asked the Lagerfuehrer who had transferred me there to send me back to the women’s camp.

Q. Do you remember the period of the Hungarian women in 1944?

A. I remember.

Q. Perhaps you will tell us something about this?

A. After leaving the Gypsy camp - the children’s block - I again entered Camp A. Sometime later, I was again chosen to be Blockaelteste to the Hungarian women, in the Gypsy camp. There were six blocks. When I received this task, the next day, the Lageraelteste called us - she was a Jewess - and told us that these women did not know anything about what was happening in Auschwitz, and they were not to know. If we were able to remain silent and not tell them - we should do so. I did not remain silent.

Q. What did you tell them?

A. I asked them not to say that they were feeling unwell, for we knew that a selection would take place. I asked them not to say that they wanted to see their children or their parents.

Q. Why? What was likely to happen to them if they said this?

A. I told them that if they were to ask for that - it would cost them their lives.

Q. If they were to say that they wanted that?

A. Yes. Later on, when the doctor, Dr. Klein, came - he was from Romania, an SS man who spoke Hungarian - one of the women jumped up from her bed and said to him that everything that he had promised them, namely that they were going to a camp where they would not have to work, and where conditions would be easier for them - these words were, evidently not true. She pointed to me and said: “This woman told us a different story.” He took me out of the block. Why he did not kill me, I do not know.

Q. But you were beaten?

A. Yes, but that was not important.

Q. Did you see children being taken away to be killed?

A. A Hungarian woman with a little girl came into my block - I don’t know how. I kept her in the block for several weeks. I don’t know how this became known to Irma Grese. One day, SS men, not of our camp, came there, and then they took the child. Subsequently, we learned from men who worked in the Sonderkommando that the little girl had been thrown into the fire.

Q. To keep a child at its mother’s side entailed a risk to one’s own life? Was it forbidden to do so?

A. Of course. That night, the mother went to the electrified fence.

Attorney General: I would ask you to identify a number of pictures I have which were drawn after the liberation, and to tell me, if you are able to remember, whether they mean anything to you.

May I approach the witness?

Presiding Judge: Yes. If you want us to see them at the same time, perhaps you would approach us, together with the witness. You may come here, Mrs. Alexander.

Attorney General: What does this picture convey to you? [Shows the witness a picture.]

Witness Alexander: Flight from a freight car on the way to Auschwitz.

Q. What does this picture convey to you? [Shows the witness a picture.]

A. This is the entrance to Auschwitz. When they shaved our heads, when we ceased being women altogether.

Q. Is that what it looked like?

A. Yes.

Judge Halevi: Who was this?

Witness Alexander : The SS.

Presiding Judge: And who was the woman barber?

Witness Alexander: At the time we entered the camp, they were Jewish women. At that time, there were only a few German women there - they were the Vorarbeiterin (worker in charge) and Kapo.

Q. We have heard that this task was also performed by a man. Do you know about that?

A. That came at a later stage.

Q. But that happened?

A. Yes, when we came to Birkenau.

Q. In this way?

A. Yes.

Attorney General: What does this convey to you? [Shows the witness a picture.]

Witness Alexander : These were the Kojen, the bunks.

Q. Is that what they looked like?

A. Yes.

Q. What does this mean to you? Was it the Revier?

[Shows the witness a picture.]

A. Yes - that was the Revier.

Presiding Judge: Who is this nurse? A Jewess?

Witness Alexander: Either a Jewess or some other prisoner.

Attorney General: What is this? [Shows the witness a picture.]

Witness Alexander : The sign of the SS on a dog - that I never saw.

Q. But what does the picture as a whole remind you of?

A. Beatings.

Q. This is what it looked like?

A. Yes, and worse than that.

Judge Halevi: Is this woman a Kapo?

Attorney General: Yes - here it says “Kapo”. They used to wear an armband with the inscription “Kapo”. What is this? [Shows the witness a picture.] A. The distribution of food. It was not always so peaceful - at times, it was accompanied by many beatings.

Q. Like it is here?

A. More or less.

Presiding Judge: What happened here? Can you tell us? It surely says so in the caption.

Attorney General: The caption says: “Here is a little soup for you - this evening you will receive some more.” What is this? A punishment roll-call? [Shows the witness a picture.]

Witness Alexander: Sometimes we had to stand like that, on our knees.

Presiding Judge: With your hands raised?

Witness Alexander : Yes.

Attorney General: What is this? A medical examination of someone who has a rash?

[Shows the witness a picture.]

Witness Alexander: That could be.

Q. Do you remember such things - a bodily examination while you were kneeling down and leaning on your hands, with your heads down, with an SS man passing by and examining?

A. Yes.

Q. And, at the side, a flogging?

A. Apparently, she escaped from the ranks.

Q. And what is this? [Shows the witness a picture.]

A. A selection.

Presiding Judge: Was that called a “Sortierung”?

Witness Alexander: That was called a “Sortierung.”

Attorney General: Was this the ride on the trucks to the gas chambers? [Shows the witness a picture]

Witness Alexander: Yes. I myself was once on such a truck.

Q. This is a prisoner giving a slice of bread to a woman prisoner. Did such things happen?

A. They happened. Both men and women prisoners gave bread.

Q. Is this what the punishment by flogging looked like?

[Shows the witness a picture.]

A. Yes. And also with an “Ochsenschwanz” - an ox-tail.

Presiding Judge: A whip?

Witness Alexander: A real ox-tail. I once got twenty-five such lashes.

Attorney General: Do you recall a case of an electric current being passed through a man’s body?

Witness Alexander: No.

Q. If you did not witness it, you cannot identify it. Is this the carrying out of punishment by lashes during a roll- call? [Shows the witness a picture.]

A. Yes.

Q. Is that what it looked like?

A. Yes.

Q. In the case of women, too?

A. Yes.

Q. With the body exposed?

A. Yes.

Q. And here?

Presiding Judge: Actually, I should have asked whether Dr. Servatius has seen these pictures.

Attorney General: Dr. Servatius has seen the pictures.

Dr. Servatius: It will suffice for me if I glance at them afterwards.

Presiding Judge: I really forgot this time - I am sorry.

Attorney General: Is this gymnastics - the well-known sport? [Shows the witness a picture.]

Witness Alexander: Yes.

Q. Is this suicide by touching the wires? [Shows the witness a picture.]

A. Yes.

Q. Did you see many such cases?

A. Yes.

Q. Almost daily?

A. Almost every day.

Q. The hanging of women at roll-calls. Is this what it looked like? [Shows the witness a picture.]

A. I once saw how they hanged a woman who had escaped from Auschwitz and was captured.

Presiding Judge: Why are these women not wearing prisoner’s clothes? Is this correct?

Witness Alexander: This girl who escaped was also not wearing prisoner’s clothes. She was in SS uniform, and they caught her and brought her back to Birkenau, where they hanged her.
Attorney General: And is this the evacuation march from Auschwitz which you also saw? [Shows the witness a picture.]

Witness Alexander I did not take part in the march from Auschwitz. I was in another march, from Breslau to Mauthausen.

Q. Was this how it looked, roughly?

A. Yes.

Presiding Judge: Who drew this?

Attorney General: We received it from Mr. Dobkin, a member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency. It was given to him as a gift. It was drawn by a woman prisoner.

Presiding Judge: It says here “Sophia Rosenstock.”

Attorney General: We did not succeed in tracing her. For this reason, we want to authenticate the drawings in this way.

Presiding Judge: I have marked the collection of pictures T/1346. [The album is handed to Dr. Servatius for perusal.]

Attorney General: I have completed my questioning, Your Honour.

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

Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mrs. Alexander, you have concluded your testimony.

michael mills
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Post by michael mills » 06 Jun 2004 05:21

Vera Alexander's testimony confirms that Jews were sent to Auschwitz for the purpose of being used for slave labour. In 1942, when Alexander arrived there, the Jews were being used for construction work within the camp itself, although they obviously did not understand the purpose of the particular tasks they were put to.

From time to time those prisoners who had become sick or weak were selected out and killed under the version of the Euthanasia program that operated in the concentration camps, known as Aktion 14f13.

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