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Attorney General: I ask to call Mr. Gedalia Ben-Zvi.
[The witness is sworn.]
Presiding Judge: What is your full name?
Witness: Gedalia Ben-Zvi.
Attorney General: Do you live in Ein Hod, Mr. Ben-Zvi?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Yes.
Q. You are a painter?
A. Yes, a teacher of painting.
Q. When the Second World War broke out, you were in Slovakia?
A. Yes, I was in Bratislava, in Slovakia.
Q. And from there you were deported to Majdanek?
A. I was taken from there to Majdanek.
Q. When was that?
A. It was on 25 March 1942.
Q. And after two months in Majdanek, you were transferred to Auschwitz?
A. I was taken to Auschwitz in a transport that was specially for that purpose.
Q. For what reason?
A. There was a rumour that workers were needed for a dextrin factory in Germany and, on this pretext, they were looking for experts, men of all sorts of professions, including twenty-five doctors, and about fifty children as apprentices. I was amongst those young people.
Presiding Judge: How old were you then?
Witness Ben-Zvi: I was sixteen.
Attorney General: Describe for us how you arrived at Auschwitz.
Witness Ben-Zvi: After a long journey - I don’t know exactly for how many days - inside freight cars, with about forty persons to a car, we reached Birkenau - not Auschwitz, but the railway platform at Birkenau, which I got to know after that - later.
Q. Perhaps this is the occasion for me to ask you a question, which possibly I have not yet clarified for the Court. What was the difference between Auschwitz and Birkenau?
A. I can explain that briefly. The difference was that the Auschwitz camp, which was called the Stammlager (original camp) was near the town of Auschwitz, and the Birkenau camp was six kilometres away from the Stammlager - in the fields. That was in 1942, at the beginning of its construction, when the barracks which later constituted Birkenau were not yet in existence.
Q. And what did Birkenau develop into, subsequently?
A. In the course of time, Birkenau developed into and became the principal camp, containing most of the people who were at Auschwitz. Compared with Birkenau, Auschwitz was a small camp, containing roughly twenty-four buildings.
Q. Where was the crematorium?
A. The crematoria - all of them - were in Birkenau, but not in 1942.
Q. But afterwards?
A. Yes, afterwards.
Q. Where were the gas chambers?
A. The gas chambers were inside the crematorium buildings in Birkenau.
Q. What were Auschwitz 1, Auschwitz 2 and Auschwitz 3?
A. Auschwitz 1 was the Stammlager, which was divided by a high wall, a stone wall, into camps for men and women. Camp 2 was the women’s camp. Later on, they demolished the wall, and all of it became a camp for men. Auschwitz 3 - I don’t know what it was called. But I knew Birkenau as well as its divisions.
Q. You were in Birkenau?
A. Yes. For most of the time, I was in Birkenau.
Q. What was Birkenau?
A. Birkenau was a tremendous camp, which stretched over a huge, a large area. They also had there the camps of the SS who guarded the camps; that was the “SS Lager.” The Truppen- Lazarett (German field hospital) of the SS was there. I shall refer to it later in connection with a particular matter. Q. Would I be wrong in saying that people generally thought that Auschwitz 2 was Birkenau?
A. I don’t know whether it is possible to describe Birkenau as Auschwitz 2 - at any rate, Birkenau had its name as Birkenau.
Q. Please continue.
A. The camps were divided in the following way: The old camp, which was in existence in my time, at the time when I arrived at the camp, was called - later on, much later on - the Frauenlager (women’s camp), from which the men had been removed. It was divided into two: The men were on the right side of the road, and the women were on the left side of the road. On the other side of the road which separated the two camps, they started building the camps of Birkenau, the Pferdestallbaracken (the horse-stable barracks), which were divided in the following way. There was a road which separated the SS camp from the prisoners’ camp.
After that, there was Camp A, which was called the “Quarantine Camp,” to which all people were brought first of all, after the selection. After that, there was Camp B2 - that was a camp for Czechs, for the Czech Jews who arrived there - the Familienlager (the family camp).
Next there was Camp C, the Hungarian camp, to which were brought, mainly, the Hungarian women; before this camp was filled up, it became necessary to construct 3B, which was a further camp, built in 1944, when the Hungarian transports arrived. Next, there was a road which separated these camps - that was the famous road leading from the railway station to the gas chambers. And beyond that, there was the men’s camp, Camp B.
Further on, there was the Zigeunerlager, the camp to which the Gypsies were brought at a later stage, also at the time when I was there. Then there was Camp F - that was the Krankenbau (sick wards) or the Revier. That was a camp where the living quarters were better - not the Pferdestallbaracken; these were buildings with windows.
Presiding Judge: What is the meaning of “Pferdestallbaracken”? Witness Ben-Zvi: That was the description for buildings without windows, with windows in the roof, with a stove in the centre, with one opening in front. Q. But it was intended for human beings, not horses? A. No, it was meant for human beings. I was one of those who constructed these buildings; each separate section was marked: “Pferdestallbaracke Number so-and-so.”
Q. There were no horses there?
A. No. After Camp F, there was Camp Brzezinski - that was a special camp before the sauna, where people were washed, and crematorium No. 3 was on the one side and crematorium No. 4 on the other. Between these two crematoria, there was this complex which I have just described.
Attorney General: And, apart from this, there were subsidiary camps in the vicinity, many labour camps?
Witness Ben-Zvi: In the whole neighbourhood, there were camps to which people were sent, who remained there for a certain length of time - and from these camps people were subsequently taken to the gas chambers - those people who had been exploited and who were no longer able to work.
Presiding Judge: How is it that you know the topography of the place so well? Or possibly, this question pertains to a later stage?
Attorney General: No, please answer.
Witness Ben-Zvi: I could say, perhaps, that it is because I have a good memory. I worked in the Kommando which was called Bauleitungsmagazin (Building Management Stores). This Kommando had to repair hoes and various other work tools and to hand them out to the various camps. Hence, with this Kommando, I moved around throughout the area. The Kommando was able to move in this area which was known as “Die grosse Postenkette” (the large chain of sentries).
Q. You have a relatively low number?
Presiding Judge: How large, do you estimate, was the whole area of Birkenau?
Witness Ben-Zvi: I cannot give you an exact evaluation, but from Camp B3 up to the end of the former women’s camp it could have been between eight and ten kilometres, and the same in the opposite direction.
Attorney General: That means eight kilometres by eight kilometres?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Eight to ten kilometres square.
Q. In each direction?
A. In each direction.
Q. That is to say, between 64 and 100 square kilometres?
Q. You went through quarantine when you arrived. How was it done?
A. At that time, the quarantine camp which I mentioned was not yet in existence. Very simply, we were taken to one of the stone blocks standing there. We were taken inside. We were told: Since you have come from another camp, you will have to live closed in here for four days and not come into contact with the other prisoners, and not do any work other than that within the camp. That was called a quarantine camp, but it amounted almost only to the fact that we did not receive food or drink.
Q. For how long?
A. For approximately four days.
Q. And after those four days?
A. Following those four days, we were taken out to work, to various jobs. Amongst other tasks, there was work...they detailed the men who had remained in the camp in order to carry dead bodies - of people who had died in block 7 - into the Leichenkammer (the mortuary) which was in block 21, and from the mortuary to load them on the carts that were waiting in front of the camp. And the Russian prisoners who were still there - not in large numbers - they transported them further; where to, I don’t know.
Q. Was your brother-in-law, who was a doctor, with you?
A. Yes. I was with my brother-in-law who was one of the twenty-six doctors in that transport which had been sent to the textile, dextrin, factory.
Q. And he helped you during the first stages. What happened to him ultimately?
A. He was killed in the Tiefbau (earthworks). That was actually a Kommando which was sent out daily with three hundred men, and only a hundred and fifty returned. They dug pits for burying the dead.
Q. And what happened to the others?
A. The others were killed by the guards, by men of the SS. They were shot following all kinds of tricks. An SS man would throw a cap away and would say: “Run and pick up the cap”; a man would run and be shot. And so it was with all sorts of abnormal deaths.
Q. The food was not sufficient for you. How did you try, together with your brother-in-law, to obtain food?
A. I remember one instance - perhaps now it might seem strange. But behind the old block, there was a large wolfhound, on a leash; it belonged to the Blockfuehrer, an SS man who was in charge of the block. This dog always had a dish full of food, better food than that given to us. My brother-in-law once proposed that we should go up to the dog, he would divert him with a stick, while I would crawl up and pull away the dog’s food dish. But this trick did not succeed many times, since the dog became familiar with it and afterwards would not move from the spot. These were heavy porcelain bowls in the shape of a cone, white bowls.
Q. Were you engaged in loading bodies taken from the mortuary?
A. Yes. It was the kind of work which was left to those men who had not managed to get themselves into some Kommando or other, in order to go out of the camp. At first sight, this was rewarding work. After work, everyone was given something to drink - and that was something of great value - some kind of black liquid they called coffee.
Q. Did many remain alive after being engaged in this work?
A. At that time very few survived, because of the diseases, lack of food, and the terrible conditions of 1942 - very few men remained alive. Many were also killed by SS men who did so wildly, and also by the Kapos who were extremely cruel at that time.
Q. One evening, at a roll-call, did they call out your number?
A. One evening, they called out my number, together with those of several other men, about another twelve. Usually, the calling out of numbers was not a good omen. But, in our situation, we always hoped it might be something better.
Q. Men were not called by their names?
A. No, only by number. I forgot to point out that, at the time I came to Birkenau, we received a tattooed inscription on our chest - and only afterwards on the arm.
Q. You have tattoo marks both on your chest and on your arm? A. Yes. The next day, we walked for a distance of some six kilometres and were taken to the Stammlager in Auschwitz, the camp on whose gates there was a sign saying “Arbeit macht frei” (work makes you free). As compared with Birkenau, this was a much better equipped camp. After the process of the sauna and disinfection and of an exchange of clothes, we were transferred to block 11, the SK block, the Strafkompanie (the punishment unit).
There were Poles in this block, apart from Jews. It was altogether a strange block, a camp within a camp. It was a block which was closed after the roll-call, and it was forbidden to leave it, even to walk into the camp. There was also a scaffold standing there, a gallows, and a wall against which people were shot. There people used to be shot.
In that block that was a special status for Jews, both on the part of the Germans, and also on the part of the Poles who guarded us. The Poles called us “Zhidki”, and the Germans, of course, called us “Saujuden” (Jewish swine). And even when the whole camp moved around after roll-call, we were still forced to stand outside, and we were let into our rooms at nine or ten o’clock in the evening, when it was dark - this was done as a kind of sport. It was called sport - there were steps leading to this building, and after people had been exhausted by a day’s work: “Hinlegen! Auf! Rollen! Huepfen!” (Lie down! Get up! Roll over! Jump!), we were made to hop into the block, and this was the way we entered our rooms.
Presiding Judge: What do you mean by “hop”?
Witness Ben-Zvi: To hop was called “huepfen”.
Q. On one foot?
A. No. Hands on hips, and making short jumps on both feet.
Q. Why were you privileged to be sent to this Strafkommando?
A. To this day I don’t know, since we did not do anything in particular. For them, that was a technical transfer, but we were accommodated there. Some of our people also worked in the Bunakommando, and also in other places.
Attorney General: What was the Bunakommando?
A. That was a very large labour detachment that went out every day at three o’clock in the morning to work, to build factories for synthetic rubber, not far from Auschwitz.
Q. Of I.G. Farben?
A. Yes. After work, I met the men who returned later at night, and it turned out that they were taken to their place of work, which was half an hour’s ride away, for three hours in freight cars, 150-160 men, and they were also forced to sing. They had shoes, but they were not allowed to wear them, in order to preserve them. They were required to walk barefoot on piercing gravel. Most of them died, for everyone whose feet were swollen and injured went off on the first selection for the gas chambers.
Q. When you were hopping and jumping in that way, was that in front of the men of the SS?
A. Definitely. SS men stood on the steps, and it was they who urged us on and also gave the orders.
Q. What was their reaction to the sight of the hopping, the jumping, and the skipping?
A. Their reaction was usually one of anger, and accompanied by lashes of the whips and the sticks that they had in their hands.
Q. Were there mass executions in that punishment block?
A. One of the worst things we were subjected to, even at the time which was called hours of rest, was the mass executions. We knew about them since very little in that block was concealed from us. At that time, an order came, and all those who were together with me in the room where I lived were transferred to one particular room, a room facing the street, and not one facing the courtyard, in the same building. In this way, they forced into a cell which even under the worst conditions had room for thirty men - they forced a hundred and fifty men into it. And we simply had to struggle for air, not to mention the fact that there was nowhere for us to stand or sit down. We actually had a feeling of relief when the order came for us to return to our rooms, despite the fact that we knew that this meant the end of the men.
Q. Were the executions on fixed days?
A. The executions were carried out once or twice a week on fixed days, I don’t remember which days. But I know that we knew the day by the fact that cars began to arrive with senior SS men, with a large number of officers, and we knew there was definitely going to be another execution.
Q. How many men were executed at the same time?
A. I cannot give you the exact number, but two carts subsequently conveyed the dead prisoners through the rear entrance of the building. If I am to estimate - I imagine there were approximately 100 or 150 men each time.
Q. Was this in the presence of SS men who came to watch the spectacle?
A. It was in the presence of senior SS officers. We would see that, too, according to the cars, and also according to their ranks. There seemed to be no reason why for the purpose of an execution they needed some twenty or thirty high-ranking officers to fill the courtyard.
Q. How did they execute the people - by what method?
A. According to what we heard and what I knew at that time, each time they took a group of men out into the yard, stood them up against this black wall which was at the end of the yard, and shot them in the back of the neck.
Presiding Judge: Did you witness it?
Witness Ben-Zvi: No.
Q. Where were you at that time?
A. At that time, I was in the room that faced the road. All the occupants of the rooms that faced the yard were removed to rooms facing the street at that time.
Attorney General: But, after the execution, you saw the signs in the yard?
Witness Ben-Zvi: That was not difficult. When we returned, the traces were still fresh, the yard was full of blood, despite their attempts to cover it up by throwing sand over the blood stains. Naturally, they did not succeed in this attempt.
Q. Do you know what a “Stehbunker” was - a standing-up cell? A. In that same block, there were also cells below in the cellar, some of which were occupied by SS men. But we had no contact with them. And, in the left section, there were these notorious standing-up cells. Q. What were they?
A. It was a small cell - I cannot describe its size - with an iron door, with a little hatch at the bottom, and a person who committed any offence according to the laws of those times, was ordered to report in the evening to block 11. Then he would be put into such a cell. He had to crawl, in order to get inside this cell; the hatch was closed, and, in this way, he would spend the time standing, together with three other men, compressed together, one against the other, to such an extent that it was even impossible to bend one’s knees.
Presiding Judge: Did it have a ceiling?
Witness Ben-Zvi: It had a ceiling and an aperture high up. This was a sort of narrow cell, and the high aperture faced the yard.
Attorney General: Were you ever inside one?
Witness Ben-Zvi: I was inside once, when I was no longer in block 11 - I was then working in D.A.B. as a carpenter.
Q. What was “D.A.B.”?
A. Deutsche Ausruestungswerke (German Equipment Works). It was a factory for crates, crates for ammunition.
Q. We shall come to that, but for the present I am interested in the standing-up cell of block 11. You were placed in one?
A. I was in this standing-up cell for three days. It was due to the fact that on one occasion we were walking along the road back to the camp and, like all people at the time whose stomach was not in order, I relieved myself at the edge of the road. A man - an SS officer - saw me; he called me, slapped me twice on my cheeks, and made a note of my number which appeared both on my chest and on my trousers. About a week later, when I was standing at a roll-call, my number was called out. I already knew, more or less, that this meant punishment - either lashes or the standing-up cell. In the evening, I went to block 11, for three days, and I had to undergo standing in the standing-up cell, without sleep.
Presiding Judge: Throughout three nights?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Throughout three nights. Early the following morning, promptly at dawn, we were taken out of the standing-up cell and were sent back again to the block each prisoner belonged to - at that time it was block 4.
Q. To work?
A. To work. The greatest danger was for those men who received a more prolonged punishment. There were some who were given two or three weeks - they could not take it - both to work during the day, and also not to sleep at night. They collapsed already in the first days. Only persons of some rank, such as Kapos and Blockaelteste, who could permit themselves to sleep later in the day instead of going out to work, were able to regard this as a relatively light punishment.
Q. But did they also receive such punishment?
A. This was one of the punishments meted out to them as well, strangely enough, since they usually were not flogged in public.
Attorney General: Were there also good Blockaelteste in Auschwitz?
Witness Ben-Zvi: There were good Blockaelteste, but there were also bad ones. The good Blockaelteste could help, and many did even at personal risk to themselves. They endangered their position and themselves by helping prisoners. They had many opportunities to help and, indeed, many took advantage of that and helped.
Q. But there was also the other kind?
A. There were also others.
Q. What was “Canada” - “Canada”, not in the geographical sense, but in its Auschwitz connotation?
A. Some time later, when I was still in the Stammlager in Auschwitz, I heard of it from a friend, when it happened that I went by his bed and saw he was eating something which at that time was very rare - a slice of lemon. I asked him where he had obtained it. He told me that there was a Kommando called “Canada”, and there, according to him, they had everything, even lemons. I asked him how it was possible to get into that Kommando. He replied that it was a question of luck. Every morning men reported in groups - each one tried to join a Kommando where it would be good for him, at least in the matter of food. So I also tried to join this famous Kommando, which then numbered one hundred men. It was then called the Aufraeumungskommando (for removal and cleaning). The Germans gave it the nickname “Canada”. This name evidently was applied to it because there was an ample supply there of goods that had been plundered and taken from people who had been dispatched to the gas chambers.
Q. What was your work in this Kommando?
A. At this time, I was employed in various tasks. At first in the transfer of personal belongings that arrived from the ramp at Birkenau into the Pferdestallbaracken which were used as store rooms, and arranging them inside in heaps. Later on, in opening up the suitcases and removing the contents, and sorting them into their categories - food separately, clothing separately, and the valuable objects were taken afterwards to the SS Lazarette - to SS men. We transferred the clothing once more to similar Pferdestallbaracken, where girls were engaged in sorting them and packing them into parcels and sending them off to the Entwesungskammer (disinfection room).
Q. Did you use gas for the disinfection operation?
A. A Polish Unterkapo was in charge of that. For disinfecting, we used the same Zyklon gas which I saw, and which we knew was also being used for putting people to death. It was lying outside, in front of the disinfection room, within easy reach of any prisoner passing by.
Q. Did you know that this was the gas used to kill people?
A. Yes, we knew, and we even saw how. Later, we got to know that this place where we worked, this famous “Canada”, also served as one of the store rooms - although not the main store room - for that gas. How did we know that? Before an operation, before we knew that a transport was due - we knew that from the fact that we saw the commandant of crematorium No. 2, Moll, coming on his motor cycle into our Kommando, into this courtyard which was specially fenced off, and he was followed by a Red Cross vehicle, an ambulance.
Q. The German Red Cross?
A. Yes, a German Red Cross truck which, in theory, in time of war, belonged to the International Red Cross. And into this truck the tins of Zyklon B were loaded and transferred to the gas chambers.
Q. In a truck of the Red Cross?
A. Yes, in a truck of the Red Cross which was always on hand with each transport.
Judge Halevi: What do you mean by “with each transport”?
Witness Ben-Zvi: That means when the people arrived later on. Continuing with my account of my work, I used to go out at night to receive people arriving at Birkenau by rail, that is to say, when they arrived. This vehicle with the sign of the Red Cross was always waiting there, ready for special cases - if someone put up resistance or went berserk or suffered some attack; in order not to alarm the other people and to maintain order, he was put into the van, and they quietened him. The way in which it was done - this was obvious to us, we knew.
Attorney General: What quantity of articles of clothing passed through your hands during the time you worked in “Canada”?
Witness Ben-Zvi: I cannot tell you exactly, but these quantities were enormous, because we were subsequently occupied in loading the completed packages, cleaned and disinfected, on to the freight cars which conveyed them to Germany. There was a railway siding which came right up to the spot. It was not actually inside the courtyard, but next to it. And every week, we would load about twenty large freight cars with those articles.
Presiding Judge: Clothing?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Clothing, mainly, only clothing, since other articles, items of food and valuables, were taken by the SS men to places which they regarded as suitable.
Q. You say twenty freight cars?
A. Yes, about twenty large freight cars, which we afterwards pushed away.
Q. Over what period?
A. One week.
Attorney General: How long did you work there, Mr. Ben- Zvi?
Witness Ben-Zvi: I worked there - I would estimate it as being for about a year.
Q. And this happened every week?
A. Yes, every week. Sometimes even more than that.
Q. What did you have to do with the clothes? What were you supposed to examine?
A. As I have said, the clothes were first of all taken out of the parcels and placed in huge heaps in something resembling big wooden crates with handles. And then prisoners would carry them into large huts. There they were examined. They were moved from the huts by the girls to other huts, sorted, packed into parcels, and transferred to the disinfection room. This was the only stone building, apart from the building in which the SS men were accommodated. It contained a very big room. The clothes were placed there on shelves. And the Polish Unterkapo, wearing a gas mask, would bring in a tin of Zyklon gas, open it, run outside, and close the door. After the disinfection, the room was aired, the parcels removed, and a day or two later, loaded by us on to the freight cars.
Q. Did they do anything to the clothes? What about the yellow badge?
A. All that was handled by the girls in those huts. They also unstitched the clothes and found many articles of value in the shoulder pads of the coats, and in all kinds of places where people had sewn in money and other valuable items. This was under the strict supervision of the SS men who were in charge of each hut. As an illustration, there were two or three SS men watching the work in each hut where twenty to thirty prisoners would be working.
Q. You and your colleagues also tried to help other prisoners - from the “Canada” camp - and to smuggle articles to them, clothing and so on?
A. The main thing in “Canada”, and the desire to join this famed Kommando, was also to bring some articles or other into the camp. Of course, this activity was fraught with much risk, since we never knew where or when we would be searched. It sometimes happened that they did not examine our clothes when we entered the camp, and there were times when we were made to stand absolutely naked, both men and women, while they searched all possible places. We were also told to open wide both our fingers and our toes, and to bend over; they searched everywhere. And if they discovered an object on someone, whether it was something valuable or some worthless item, the individual was cruelly beaten and on more than one occasion taken away to a place which we called the “Political Department”, and he vanished completely. We would not see him any more.
Q. And, nevertheless, you managed, and it became a habit, to smuggle out of “Canada” medicines, vitamins, clothing and other articles?
A. In the main, these were small items to which we attached great value at the time. These were medicines, vitamins and, amongst other things, also toothpaste, although this was not used to brush teeth, but as a foodstuff, on bread...
Presiding Judge: Were these articles that the Jews had brought with them?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Yes.
Attorney General: You began saying something, Mr. Ben- Zvi, about bread?
Witness Ben-Zvi: On the bread which we received, which was usually dry and without any additions to it, our people used to spread toothpaste, so as to give it some sort of taste.
Q. According to the personal belongings which you sorted that year, from what countries did the owners of those belongings come?
A. It was not only according to the belongings. I was also present when the transports arrived from various countries. They came from Poland, they came from Holland, they came from France, they came from Czechoslovakia, they came from Norway, they came from Salonika and from other places.
Q. From the whole of occupied Europe?
A. Yes, from the whole of occupied Europe.
Q. Do you remember an incident with a transport from Bedzin?
Q. Please tell us about it.
A. I regret that it was during the period of my work when I was engaged on the night shift. The Germans had divided the Kommando into two parts - there was a night shift and a day shift. The Kommando that went out to work at night had to receive the people who came to Birkenau; the day shift dealt with those tasks which I previously described. I want to tell you about the transport that came from Bedzin, in Poland. We knew that from the people who arrived. This was one of the most horrible transports I can remember.
Presiding Judge: It was not far from there?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Yes, it was not far from there. I don’t know exactly where, but it was in the Katowice area.
Attorney General: How did this transport differ from any other?
Witness Ben-Zvi: How did this transport differ from any other? In that these people knew, more or less, where they were bound for. These were people who throughout the journey, tried to jump from the windows of the train, and who were being shot at all the way. When the train approached, we noticed that people were hanging out of the barred windows. They were also given special treatment. This we heard from an Obersturmbannfuehrer who was there at night, at that time; he shouted out that they were all going to the camp. There was not going to be any selection that day. Usually they were sorted out, and 150-200 people out of the transport were sent to the camp.
Presiding Judge: What was the German word for “selection”?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Selektion. I don’t remember any special term.
Q. Do you remember Sortierung (sorting out)?
Q. Was that selection?
A. “Sortierung” was when they reached the clinic. The selection was usually carried out amongst inmates of the camp, among those who were inside the camp.
I want to describe this transport and to compare it with other transports:
Whereas on the others people arrived with their personal belongings, these people arrived virtually without any possessions; crowded into the freight cars, about one hundred and fifty people in each car. When the SS men opened the freight cars, the people actually fell out, and there were others who were piled up within, inside the cars.
And only those who had been trampled on and suffocated inside the freight car itself still remained inside, dead or half dead, emitting tremendous heat. They were alive - how should I say - fumes arose from the dead bodies. These people did not notice that there was a slope immediately beyond the freight cars, and they rolled down this incline. This naturally caused wild laughter on the part of the SS men, who waited for this scene and who were amused by it.
Attorney General: Were there many of them?
Witness Ben-Zvi: There were so many in this transport, more than we had ever seen on a normal transport. Evidently, they were aware of the kind of transport that was likely to arrive - but which came as a surprise to us. The guard was also larger than usual.
Q. There were more SS men this time than was usual?
A. More than on the normal transports, of people who arrived from Holland or Czechoslovakia, where they relied on the naivete of the people coming from their homes.
Q. Please continue.
A. We stood aside until the order came: “Get inside, you filthy Jews!” And then amidst shouts and blows, we went into the freight cars to remove the dead bodies. That was not an easy task, since one held on to the next, and they were interlaced. And sometimes, when we pulled an arm or a leg, the skin would come off, owing to the great heat. The work was arduous, and it took many hours until we were able to clear the freight cars. Teams of four people worked in each car.
Some shocking things also happened: Naturally, as in all places, the SS men went around with drawn revolvers all the time and shot enfeebled people who were not even able to go up to the trucks and climb up the steps - wide steps had been placed next to the trucks which would take the people, later on, to the gas chambers. I remember one case where a girl, approximately ten years old, emerged from a pile of corpses - we did not know how - and started walking and floundering, until one of the SS men “took pity” on her and shot her in the back of the neck, and she fell down.
There was also a case of a boy sitting down in the middle, where all of them were walking around, with the dead lying on one side and the dying on the other. At the side, people were being loaded on to the trucks, and right in the middle, this little boy was sitting - half naked (they had all evidently taken their clothes off, owing to the great heat inside the freight cars), and one of the SS men whom I knew - he was Hauptscharfuehrer of the Kommando where I worked...
Q. What was his name?
A. I did not know him by name, but by his nickname. We called him “Zeide” (in Yiddish: grandfather), a sort of grandfather. He was an older man; he approached this boy from the rear and was about to shoot him in the neck, and the boy turned around and still managed to call out “Shema Yisrael,” before he was shot. Afterwards, he was thrown on to the trucks amongst the living people who were there.
Q. Did one of your group recognize his brother?
A. There was a man there whose name I also don’t remember, but we called him by the nickname “Duck”. This young man recognized his brother amongst the people of the transport, and on his knees he implored the Hauptsturmbannfuehrer to allow him to go to the camp.
Q. Hauptscharfuehrer. You said “Hauptsturmbann-fuehrer”. A. I said Hauptsturmbannfuehrer - I cannot say definitely, since I did not understand the ranks, according to what I heard, according to the way SS men addressed him.
Q. Please proceed.
A. He begged for mercy for his brother, but was told with indifference in a pleasant tone: “Sie koennen ja mitfahren” (If you like, you can join him). That was the reply. Of course, after this, when all the living people had been taken away, we still worked for hours loading those people whom the SS men had killed with their own hands, with their revolvers, that night, in order to “spare their suffering” - that was how they explained it.
Q. People who were suspected of swallowing diamonds or other valuables - what happened to them?
A. This story came to me from a friend who worked in the Sonderkommando and who was later killed. He told me that before the people went into the gas chambers, an SS man would look at them before they entered and try and see whether anyone had swallowed some object. And he would go up to them and put a chalk mark either on their foreheads or their hands. The people did not understand the significance of this, and it was not possible to erase the mark. Later on, when the Sonderkommando removed the bodies from the other side out of the crematorium - and I saw the gate with my own eyes - those people bearing the chalk marks were moved to a special place, a sort of abattoir built according to all the principles of a butcher’s shop, with all the butcher’s implements, which were used to carve up these people on the spot, in order to search their stomachs for the valuables they had hidden there - in other words, which they had swallowed - and they extracted very many valuable articles, mainly diamonds, which were easy to swallow.
Q. Do you remember the summer of 1944, when the large transport from Hungary arrived?
A. Yes, I remember it. By that time, I had already left “Canada”, using various subterfuges which were also difficult in those days. In order to raise their temperatures, people took medicine which they obtained from the male nurses in the Revier, and they were transferred to this Revier in Camp F, and, with the aid of friends, they tried to be admitted there. I did not use this method - I very simply vanished from that Kommando, from “Canada”, for some days and went out with another Kommando. And at this stage the whole Kommando was transferred to Brzezinski, to that camp, where they were shut up in a camp within a camp in Birkenau.
Presiding Judge: You said, “in order to raise their temperatures.”
Witness Ben-Zvi: Yes.
Q. For what reason was it necessary to raise the temperatures?
A. So that they could move over, more or less legally, to Camp F - that was the sick camp. At that time, I was working in the Bauleitungsmagazin, which I have already described, and I saw the transports which arrived then. Large masses of people arrived, so many that we lost all hope that some day we would somehow get out of this thing. Day after day, thousands were put to death, tens of thousands of human beings, and the bodies could no longer be concealed from the prisoners. They were piled up behind the crematorium and kept out of sight beside the building, only from those people who had arrived and were waiting in line for death in front of the crematorium.
And when we went out to work, we saw them; they were sitting and waiting, and people were chosen from amongst them who could play musical instruments, in order to entertain the others. They did not see the rear of the crematorium - they sat at the front entrance of the building.
Attorney General: What happened at the rear?
Witness Ben-Zvi: At the rear, piles and piles of bodies were heaped up in equal numbers, so as to facilitate the counting and to estimate the number of the bodies. In the adjacent forest - I don’t know whether one could call it a forest, for the crematorium No. 4 was there - the old system at Birkenau was reintroduced, and they began digging pits and burning the bodies in these pits, and the fire from this could be seen throughout the entire camp - I thought it could be seen, possibly, throughout the country.
Q. And the entire camp smelled and breathed the odour of the burned flesh?
A. That was so also before that; the smell coming from the four crematoria working at full speed was also sufficient to poison the air.
Q. And the whole of Auschwitz breathed this air...?
A. The whole of Auschwitz was full of black smoke that issued forth, smoke and fire, these large chimneys belched forth fire and smoke.
Q. You breathed this during all these months?
A. Yes, during all these months.
Q. You lost all hope, and you described these days as “The Last Days of Pompeii”?
A. Yes. I remember that, when I was lying down in the evening, on this famous Koje (bunk), we said with full conviction, that if the Hungarian Jews had also arrived - those who knew, or we assumed that they knew, about the holocaust, who knew what was going on - if they had come too, then there was no longer any hope for us.
Q. Afterwards, you were transferred to Stutthof? When was that? A. I cannot remember the exact month - it was when the first transports began leaving Auschwitz. I believe it was in September or October, perhaps even later, in 1944.
Q. Where was Stutthof?
A. Stutthof was a camp, as we got to know afterwards, at a distance of about fifty kilometres from Danzig, in Poland.
Q. What was there in Stutthof?
A. I can tell you that, when we were travelling on the way to Stutthof, it seemed strange to us that they were conveying us in open carriages, in regular carriages, and under comparatively comfortable conditions.
Presiding Judge: In passenger coaches?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Yes. We travelled for a long time through forests, and there were some of us who tried to organize an escape and an attack on our guards, for we were not closely guarded. But all of us hoped again that we were on our way to a better place - we had been told that we were travelling to Germany to work - we also knew that the end was approaching, and again there was hope in our hearts, as happened each time we moved to some place, that indeed it was going to be better.
Of course, these hopes were dispelled as soon as we reached this camp at Stutthof. We had scarcely alighted from the coaches when we were welcomed by blows from the same Haeftlinge (prisoners) whom we had known from Auschwitz; but there, they looked different, and their clothing was different. Most of them were Germans, not men of the SS - although some SS as well - but Berufsverbrecher (professional criminals), who were largely a type of the real Kapo with a green Winkel (triangle) pointing downwards. There was also a Verbrecher (criminal) who had not yet served his full term of punishment, who still had some period of imprisonment to run - he had the point of the Winkel facing upwards. But perhaps these are details which are no longer important. When we got there, although we were accustomed to all the hardships of the camp, and the evasions and seeking of ways how to exist, we lost our bearings; there we were newcomers. And out of roughly 1000-1500 men, by the time of the registration, which took place three days later, five hundred men were left. These five hundred survivors were taken out to various jobs, difficult tasks, which it is impossible at all to define.
We had to unload ships, barges with gravel and cement, which arrived at a particular branch of a brick factory, not far from Stutthof. And then, in a very bitter frost, in the threadbare clothes we had on our backs, we had to offload these barges, accompanied by threats and beatings. The SS men made fires and warmed themselves not far away. And there were some who tried to come near them - of course, they were shot immediately by the guards. There was another trick the Germans used during that period. They would come over to a man who they could see was exhausted and no longer able to lift his shovel; they would say to him: “Why not sit down here sir? Be seated and rest a little.” Naturally, this man would freeze on the spot, in the midst of a pool of mud, and he would no longer be capable of getting up. Anyone who did not work - froze.
In that camp, sanitary conditions were also appalling. People died from dysentery, typhus and other diseases, they died daily in tremendous numbers. Opposite us was a women’s camp which was not separated from the men’s camp by an electrified fence - there they had more primitive external security arrangements than in Auschwitz. We were able to get close and to see what was going on inside this women’s camp. And there, in the midst of the snow and the frost, women sat there covered only with a blanket. And, furthermore, the block did not have a roof, it had no roof at all, there was merely a pile of snow. And hence, as they sat there, they froze and died where they were.
Q. And the food?
A. The condition of the food was even worse than that in Birkenau in 1942. It was given in such small quantities. The price of food there was quite fabulous; even the best of friends divided up between them very meticulously that thin slice of bread which we were given for the whole day. And, of course, this caused people to become Muselmann and be transferred to the crematorium, which was not far away, fenced in by clusters of reeds which we could see as we went out to work.
Q. In January 1945, you walked with the first marchers from Stutthof towards the West?
A. At that time, there was already a rumour that they were going to evacuate the camp, owing to the approach of the Russians. And we were all lined up in groups in the courtyard and were told that we had to move to another camp, and owing to lack of transport, we would have to go on foot. We were not given any provisions for the road, we did not get other clothes. And it was a very harsh winter. We began marching towards Lauenburg. That is what we were told - we had to reach Lauenburg, which was a hundred and fifty kilometres from Stutthof. In this march, which certainly must have been similar to all the marches of this kind, the number of people diminished from day to day. At that time there were severe snow storms, and we did not walk along the open road. That route was reserved for the retreat of the German armies.
We walked on paths in the field, through the fields, sometimes hip-deep in snow. The SS men, who were also not accustomed to these conditions, were very angry, and sometimes they shot people for no reason whatsoever, merely for their entertainment. People who lagged behind were shot and covered up immediately by the snow, which was falling continuously throughout those five days during which I walked with this transport.
When evening was falling, the Germans searched for a place where they could let us sleep. Usually such places were in Polish villages: They emptied out any kind of large barn or simply any open place, provided it was fenced off, as long as it was suitable from the security point of view. I remember that we once slept somewhere, and when we got up in the morning, we were completely covered in snow - despite that, we slept.
One evening, they put us up in a small village, in a church, a wooden church. We were all tightly pressed into this church. It was also a convenient place to guard. They posted Poles from that transport to stand watch over us. In those transports, there were both Polish and German prisoners, and they posted them as guards. SS men stood guard surrounding the church. Suitable conditions for escaping existed there, since the Polish population in that neighbourhood observed the suffering of these people and helped them to the best of their ability.
Presiding Judge: I don’t think there was a large Polish population there at that time.
Witness Ben-Zvi: It was a small village, and the villagers came up to the fence and with the consent of the SS who were on guard there, threw slices of bread to the people. Naturally, people pounced upon the bread and ate it - that was the only food which we received throughout that time. This happened towards evening. The light was failing, and snow began falling. The SS men were occupied with their guard duty. I jumped over the low fence which surrounded this church - together with a friend of mine who, as I happened to learn by chance today, is at present in Canada.
Q. The real Canada?
A. Yes, the real Canada. I fled together with him. Escape was not easy, for the Germans knew the number of people, even in those difficult times: Whenever we were about to set out in the mornings, they counted us twenty times, and this was risky for us - they knew how many had been killed on the way and how many there ought to be. Order was preserved even on this death march, and searches were conducted throughout the vicinity. A person who escaped did not find it easy to conceal himself. There was a special danger involved in the fact that we had to cross the main road, where the retreating Germans were passing. We lay there in the snow until a large contingent of retreating Germans had passed, and we were able to cross the road. We walked all night until in the end we knocked on the door of the first Polish farmhouse; we wanted to go inside, for we had no alternative - either we would have to freeze outside, or to obtain a little food and to warm ourselves.
As it turned out, we were only one kilometre from the point from where we had escaped. This Pole told us he was very sorry, but we would have to leave early the next morning, since he was exposing himself to risk. And in this way we wandered from place to place, from farmyard to farmyard.
Q. Did this Pole speak to you in Polish?
A. We presented ourselves as Poles, and not as Jews. This was the advice of my companion who said that if we were to introduce ourselves as Jews, we would be immediately handed over to the authorities. Since he knew Polish well, he introduced himself as a Polish teacher. In this way, we managed, here and there, to get a little food and a place to sleep, on condition that if by chance we were caught, we would say that we had gone on our own accord into the barn or whatever place we had entered, in order to sleep there. I spent the rest of the time, until the Russians arrived, until liberation came, wandering constantly from place to place. And, for about one month, or even longer, I stayed with a certain Pole; I can even remember the name and the fact that he endangered himself by keeping us, even when searches took place. Presiding Judge: Was that in the Polish corridor?
Witness Ben-Zvi: It was in Wejherowo, far away from any main road or any other place. It was thirty kilometres from Danzig. Later, I was with the Red Army in Danzig.
Attorney General: What was the name of this Pole?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Strangely enough, he had a German name - his name was Franz Schmude.
Q. He must have been a Volksdeutscher - evidently, he must have been regarded by the Germans as a Volksdeutscher.
A. He was considered as “eingedeutschte” (Germanized) and, accordingly, it was easier for him to accommodate us. But there were instances when neighbours came to him - Volksdeutsche or Eingedeutschte, when he hid us even from them. Attorney General: Thank you very much. That is all.
Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, do you have any questions?
Dr. Servatius: No, I have no questions to the witness.
Judge Halevi: Mr. Ben-Zvi, you spoke about a nightshift (Nachtschicht) in which you took part. Did the transports always arrive at night, or did they arrive sometimes during the day and sometimes by night?
Witness Ben-Zvi: Most came at night, but in the peak period, it was apparently both by day and by night. But, in most cases, the transports were directed so as to arrive at night.
Q. So that you and your companions had the special duty of going out at night?
A. It was the special duty of the men who were engaged on the night shift. They were also allowed to remain during the day inside those buildings.
Q. What was their duty at night?
A. Their duty at night was to go to that famous ramp, to collect the personal belongings that the people were ordered to leave near the freight cars - they were not even allowed to take their belongings with them down to the area beyond the slope, and these belongings were loaded on to trucks and conveyed from there to that place called “Canada”, where they were sorted, collected, and disinfected.
Judge Halevi: Thank you.
Presiding Judge: Thank you, you have concluded your testimony.