The Auschwitz testimony of Nachum Hoch

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The Auschwitz testimony of Nachum Hoch

Post by David Thompson » 06 Jun 2004 04:20

Nachum Hoch, a former inmate at KL Auschwitz, testified on June 8, 1961 at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. His testimony is available on line courtesy of the Nizkor Project at: ... 71-02.html and ... 71-03.html
Attorney General: I call Mr. Hoch.

Presiding Judge: Do you speak Hebrew?

Witness Hoch: Yes.

[The witness is sworn.]

Presiding Judge: What is your name?

Witness: Nachum Hoch.

Attorney General: Mr. Hoch, you live at 49 Ben Yehuda Street, Haifa?

Witness Hoch: Yes.

Q. Were you born in Romania?

A. Yes.

Q. And in 1944, you were deported from Transylvania to Auschwitz?

A. From the village of Borsa in Transylvania.

Presiding Judge: Did it belong to Transylvania?

Witness Hoch: Yes. It belonged to Transylvania.

Attorney General: Your group, together with you, consisted of your father, your mother, your brother, and also three sisters - is that right?

Witness Hoch: Yes.

Q. Were you, at the time, the eldest of all the children?

A. I was the eldest.

Q. Apart from you, have any of them survived?

A. To my great sorrow, not one of them has survived.

Q. After the selection, they separated you from the other members of your family?

A. When we arrived at Birkenau, I was separated from my father - first of all from my mother and the children, and afterwards from my father. My father still managed to put his long raincoat that he had with him on me, so that I should appear to be somewhat older. They directed him to the left and me to the right, amongst those who were left behind to work.

Presiding Judge: In what year were you born?

Witness Hoch: In 1928.

Attorney General: You also went through that selection with the yardstick on the Day of Atonement, 1944?

Witness Hoch: The selection with the yardstick was already the second selection.

Q. But you passed this selection?

A. I passed this selection.

Q. We have already heard about that from another witness, and we shall not trouble you with this matter. I would ask you to tell us what happened after the Day of Atonement, when you attempted to take an additional ration of food.

A. I tried to receive an additional ration of food - I had not yet got it, I merely tried. They put the upper part of my body into an oven - the kind they had at Auschwitz - and they struck me on the lower part of my body with a thick pole - like the poles with which they used to carry the food. They first gave me ten blows. I fainted. They poured water over me. They added another ten blows. Again I fainted, and they poured water over me - until they completed the twenty-fifth blow. Thereafter, I was unable to move. I was left there for a whole day. To this day - I ask the Court’s pardon - I have to sit on one side, and I cannot sit on my right side, as a result of these floggings.

Presiding Judge: Were any of your bones broken?

Witness Hoch: No bones of mine were broken, but I have a red mark on my flesh, like a wound, to this day.

Attorney General: What happened about three days before Simhat Torah in 1944?* {*The Festival of Simhat Torah fell on 14 October in 1944}

A. Three days before Simhat Torah, we were taken to Camp F, for washing and disinfecting our clothes.

Q. Where were you taken from? From the children’s block?

A. We were taken from what remained of the children’s block. We washed ourselves, our clothes were disinfected, and we were returned to the block where we had been that day. The next morning, there was a Lagerappell ( camp roll- call), and as we were standing outside the barracks for the camp roll-call, we were surrounded by SS men with machine guns, and we were taken to Blocks 11 and 13 - or 9 and 11, I don’t remember exactly. We were kept inside these blocks for two days without food.

Our situation there was already well known - it was four or five months, roughly, since we had reached Birkenau. With the first transport, when the children were taken, we did not yet know where they were being sent to; we thought they were being taken to work.

At the second selection, the destination was already known to us. Since they had been shut in those blocks - 11 and 13 this time - the moment they put us into those huts, which were notorious as a kind of quarantine before going on to the crematorium, we already knew what awaited us.

On the second day, in the evening, it was the eve of the Simhat Torah, we, ten children, planned some kind of a break out from these huts, even if this break out were to be only for the sake of demonstration. We planned it; in this hut the entrances on both sides were locked.

Q. How many boys were you in the block?

A. Roughly about one thousand, the survivors of the three thousand who were originally in the two blocks.

Presiding Judge: How old were the boys?

Witness Hoch: Between fourteen and sixteen; most of them were from among the Hungarian children who were brought there in May, June and July - in those months.

Attorney General: Did all the boys agree to the planned revolt?

Witness Hoch: It was planned by ten only, but after it was planned, it was also passed on to the others. The plan was that, since there were two guards - the Kapo and the Blockaelteste at the two entrances - the main entrance and the rear one - one of the boys would try to climb up the central pillar up to the apertures which were in the roof, and then surely the guard would come, either from the front entrance or the rear one, in order to stop him; then some of the boys would break out through the entrance from which the guard had come.

Q. You did not have any weapons?

A. We had no weapons.

Q. You knew that this attempt had no chance of succeeding?

A. First of all, it was a form of demonstration, and we hoped that, perhaps, some of them could be saved.

Q. Did you carry out the plan?

A. It was put into operation at midnight and went exactly as we had planned. The moment one of the boys tried to climb up the central pillar, the guard came from the front entrance to stop him. Then some of the boys broke out of the front entrance; after that, the guard at the rear entrance came up, and some of the boys broke out of the rear entrance.

Presiding Judge: Do you know what happened to the boy who climbed up the pillar?

Witness Hoch: The boy who climbed up the pillar remained in the gas chamber, on the same occasion that I was there, but I shall come to that later on. We broke out - it was at night - some of the boys hid themselves in the other huts, some of them hid in the latrines, in the toilets. I myself hid in the oven in the washroom.

Attorney General: Did all the boys break out?

Witness Hoch: Almost all of them. The next day, there was a Lagersperre (camp curfew) from four o’clock in the morning - those who used to go out to work were not allowed to leave the camp.

Presiding Judge: Do you mean a curfew?

Witness Hoch: Yes. a curfew. Until they managed to catch all of us together. Round about ten or eleven o’clock, they managed to gather us all, and they put us back into those huts 11 and 13.

Attorney General: Did they catch everyone?

Witness Hoch: They caught them all. They did not end the curfew until they caught everybody. About noon, they brought us two barrels of boiled potatoes (this was already the third day - on Simhat Torah - after we had not been given food for two days) and two barrels of beetroot soup, borsht. Six of us lads, out of the ten who planned the escape, went forward, and we spilled the two barrels of potatoes and the two barrels of beetroot soup on to the floor, in the presence of the camp commandant, who was there in civilian clothes and who had accompanied the delivery of the food.

If I may say so, it is still my opinion today that this was to be a deception. For we knew that all those who left on a transport departing from this camp for other camps used to receive better food on that day; and they were going to deceive us in this way, so that we should believe that we were leaving...

Q. While you really believed...?

A. ...while we knew, in fact, what was in store for us. We knew what awaited us in the evening. But naturally, only a short time passed, after the commandant departed, before we fell upon the potatoes on the floor, and we ate them from the floor. This hunger strike was meant only as a demonstration, in order to show them that we knew what was in store for us and what it was all about. Less than an hour passed - the front entrance was opened, and we were told: “You are free - you can go out.” We began running outside. The moment we came outside the hut, we encountered a curfew. Outside, SS men with machine guns surrounded us from all the huts, arranged us in groups of five and took us outside the camp. All this took place in Camp Z, the Zigeunerlager. As soon as they took us out of the camp and led us in the direction of the camp with the crematorium, with which we were already familiar, since we had already been there five months previously, we stopped and did not want to walk any further. They began firing at our legs - we continued walking up to the gate of crematorium No. 3, around which there was a fence made of wood, arranged in the form of cubes, of a height which did not enable one to see what was going on inside. We reached the entrance door of the inner crematorium room; once again, we stopped and did not want to enter - again they began shooting, but once again only at our feet. We went inside - we found ourselves inside a large hall which resembled a bathhouse. There were nails in the walls - each nail had a serial number. They asked us to hang up our clothes.

Q. They asked you?

A. They ordered us to get undressed. We did not want to undress, and then they began shooting inside the hall; they then ordered us to get undressed and to hang our clothes on the nails and to remember the serial number, so that, when we came out, we would know where to find our clothes. Naturally, this was a deliberate fraud, and we already knew that. We got undressed and threw our clothes on the floor in the middle of the hall. After that, we were drawn up in rows of fives and then - I remember it as if it were happening now - one of the Sonderkommando, who was working there, came up to us and said: “Boys, at least don’t show them that you are worried - sing!”

Q. So that the Germans should not see your suffering?

A. I cannot say what his intention was.

Presiding Judge: Was he a Gypsy?

Witness Hoch: No, he was a Jew.

Attorney General: What did he say to you - did he speak Yiddish?

Witness Hoch: Yes, he spoke Yiddish. He said: “Singt, chevre, singt!” (Sing, fellows, sing). Some of us were petrified and could not utter a sound, like me; others began to recite the prayer of confession, and yet others actually sang. They took us through a small vestibule and opened a large door and put us into this hall. There was absolute darkness in this hall, apart from the light that entered through the opening by which we had come in. We were inside, they had already closed the door on us, and then, for the first time, I heard crying. After some time - perhaps a few seconds, perhaps a few minutes - the door was opened again, and we were told to return to the same hall where we had been previously. They directed us to one side of the hall, and then a senior SS officer - today I assume that it was Hoess, but I am not certain of that, since it was the same officer who had first separated us when my father and I reached Birkenau. I am not sure, but it seems to me that it was he.

Presiding Judge: Do you mean to refer to the camp commandant, Hoess?

Witness Hoch: Yes, but I am not sure - I assume that he was the one. He called the first boy, grabbed him by the arms, examined his muscles and ordered him to fall to the floor and to get up ten times, to run to the wall and back, and then he sent him to the right-hand side.

Q. Where was that?

A. In the room into which we had been brought earlier, and where we had undressed.

Next, he called a second boy, and that was the same lad who had been seized while climbing the pillar. By chance, he was from my home town - his name was Salmonowitz - and he asked him: “How old are you?” He was a short boy. He asked him how old he was, and the boy replied: “I am eighteen years old.” Then he said to him: “You swine, you are eighteen?” And he sent him back to the same side from which he had been called.

The third boy was myself. I was petrified. I looked him in the face - he ordered me to fall to the floor and to get up, to run to the wall and back, and he sent me also to the right-hand side.
In this fashion, he chose fifty boys. In the middle of the process of choosing, in the midst of this selection, the remainder of the boys saw that some kind of selection was being made, and they began moving to our side, to push towards that side. The SS men were stationed between us and them and kept us apart, so that they could not cross over. At that moment, before they were separated, the same lad from the Sonderkommando, who had previously told us to sing, came up, and we asked him what they wanted of us - to give us a stronger gas? Then he said: “This is the first instance I have come across where someone has been taken out of here alive.”

Attorney General: From the gas chambers?

Witness Hoch: Yes. And he went on: “I wish that I could be as secure as you fifty boys are.” After the selection was concluded, we were ordered to turn around with our backs towards the door through which we had come from the gas chamber, and meanwhile, the other boys were taken into the gas chamber.

Q. How many were there?

A. In my estimate nine hundred to one thousand boys. The door was closed, we heard it being closed, and we were ordered to get dressed.

Q. All fifty?

A. Yes.

Q. And the others?

A. The nine hundred were inside. As soon as we were told to get dressed, each one began looking for his clothes, and then the officer came up to us and said:

“It does not matter any more - take what there is.” They made us get dressed and took us out along the way we had come - outside the camp, to the railway station, and we were given orders.
There were freight cars with potatoes there - we had to off- load the potatoes from the freight cars and bury them in the ground. And then we understood why we had been taken out from there - on account of the fact that there was a shortage of manpower, so that we could off-load the potatoes.

Q. All the others were put to death at that time in the gas chambers?

A. Yes - I never met any of those boys afterwards. Of the fifty, there are, incidentally, three in Israel - two in Haifa and one in Jaffa, two brothers.

Presiding Judge: Where?

Witness Hoch: One in Jaffa and two in Haifa.

Attorney General: The whole episode is well known in holocaust literature, Your Honour - it is described there.

Presiding Judge: There are two brothers, you say?

Witness Hoch: I was not one of them - the two who are in Haifa are brothers who were chosen at that time, two out of the fifty.

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

Dr. Servatius: No, I have no questions.

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

michael mills
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Joined: 11 Mar 2002 12:42
Location: Sydney, Australia

Post by michael mills » 06 Jun 2004 05:08

It is interesting that Hoch, along with a large number of other 14-16 year-old boys, was kept at Birkenau for four to five months after his arrival there.

It appears that the camp authorities wanted to preserve as many as possible of the arriving Hungarian Jews for slave labour. The use of the Jews for labour obviously took precedence over extermination, which apprently was limited to those totally unfit for any sort of labour.

The incident described by Hoch, which has the whiff of the fictional about it, seems to have a reaction to the refusal by the boys to let themselves be taken out to work. No doubt some of them were selected out and killed as a punishment for their strike, "pour encourager les autres"; but I think it more likely that the majority of them were preserved for labour rather than the reverse.

I see no valid reason why the Camp Commandant, Hoess, would have been involved in the selection of those to be killed in reprisal. That is a job for someone further down the chain of command. That detail strikes me as one of the fictional elements in Hoch's account.

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