The Auschwitz testimony of Joseph Zalman Kleinman

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The Auschwitz testimony of Joseph Zalman Kleinman

Post by David Thompson » 06 Jun 2004 06:57

Joseph Zalman Kleinman, a former inmate at KL Auschwitz, testified on June 6, 1961 at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. His testimony is available on line courtesy of the Nizkor Project at: ... 68-01.html ... 68-02.html ... 68-03.html
Attorney General: I call Joseph Zalman Kleinman.

[The witness makes an affirmation.]

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?

Witness: Joseph Zalman Kleinman.

Attorney General: You live in Jerusalem, at 76 Shuk Beit Yisrael?

Witness Kleinman: That is my place of work.

Q. What is your home address?

A. 14 Rehov Hayeshiva.

Q. You were born on 30 January 1930?

A. Yes.

Q. And when you were 14 you were taken to Auschwitz?

A. Yes.

Q. You were there together with your father, your mother and your little sister?

A. Yes.

Q. Where were you taken from?

A. From the town Zeliz (Zeliezovce) in the Carpatho-Russian district.

Q. Where were you separated from the members of your family?

A. At the railway station at Auschwitz.

Q. Who separated you?

A. A group of officers stood there. I was supporting my father - my father was week due to the fact that there was no water on the train. My brother, aged fifteen, walked ahead of me. He was sent off along with those who went to work. They separated me, too, from my father. They sent my father to one side, and my brother and I were sent with the adults to work.

Q. Did you ever see any of the members of your family again, after this?

A. I never saw any of them.

Q. What happened to them?

A. They were taken to the gas chambers.

Q. They were taken to the gas chambers at Auschwitz?

A. Yes.

Q. What camp were you brought to?

A. To Camp A. That was the first camp, overlooking the town of Auschwitz.

Q. And, later on, they took away all the boys under sixteen?

A. Yes.

Q. And where were they taken to?

A. The youngest among them were fourteen. Thirteen year olds were hardly ever put into the camp, but they were sent off with their mothers to the gas chambers. They removed all the youths between the ages of fourteen and sixteen from the huts of the adults. Altogether they gathered five hundred youths, and another five hundred such boys were also taken from another camp, and they transferred us to Camp D. Afterwards I learned that there had been a general instruction not to allow boys under the age of sixteen to leave the Auschwitz camp and to be sent to camps set up as labour camps.

Q. Was this, now, still at Auschwitz or at Birkenau?

A. All this took place at Birkenau.

Q. Where were the crematoria and the gas chambers - at Birkenau or at Auschwitz?

A. At Birkenau. The first two crematoria were at the two ends of the railway station - one was near the camp of Gypsies at the end of the Krankenbau (sick wards) camp - Camp F.

Q. Were you forbidden to leave the place?

A. Yes. That was in Camp D. They housed us in two huts - Hut 27 and Hut 25. I was in Hut 26. Since this was a labour camp, the Auschwitz main camp, they were all old- timers, all of them with numbers on their arms, and we, the young ones, were new and without numbers. I do not know for what purpose they brought us there and shut us in...

Q. Did some of the youths manage to steal out from time to time?

A. Yes.

Q. For what purpose?

A. They used to go to the Sonderkommando, those who were working at the gas chambers, who were in a separate camp. Their two barracks were enclosed by walls, and their parade ground was also surrounded by a wall, so that there could be no contact with the rest of the people. And since all of them went out to work, leaving behind only us, the boys, one thousand boys and the night shift of the Sonderkommando remained behind in the camp, we sometimes went secretly, through the rear gate to the Sonderkommando.

They had all kinds of good things in the barracks. We stole in there to get food and prayer-books.

Q. Did you also sneak in there?

A. Yes. Three times I succeeded in doing so.

Q. Did you come into contact with the Sonderkommando?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know what their work was?

A. Yes. They were employed in burning people and in removing them from the gas chambers.

Q. Were they all Jews?

A. They were all Jews. We always used to sneak in there, but we did not say much to them. Silence always prevailed there. It was never possible to see a smile there, despite the fact that they had very good conditions in their hut - not like the rest of the people in the camp.

Q. Did they feed them well?

A. Yes. The people who emptied the gas chambers had excellent conditions in the two huts.

Q. After that, did you see any member of the Sonderkommando alive?

A. I did not see any of them. They were transferred from there - we were very green.

Q. Do you remember an instance when a boy was flogged?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell us about it.

A. When we were in Camp B in Hut 25, I once saw the assistant of the barracks commander walking with a rubber hose to flog one of the boys. I got off my bunk (we were not working and we sat on the bunks all day) and I wanted to see who was going to be flogged. I saw him approaching one of the bunks and ordering one of the youths, about fourteen years old, to get off his bunk and he began flogging him. We stood there - a number of youths - and watched the scene. A sight such a this could be seen frequently in the hut, but this time something special occurred; this boy did not shout, he did not cry, not even a sigh escaped his lips. We stood around him and counted the blows together with the man administering them. We counted twenty, we counted thirty blows, and all of us were astonished. We had never seen anything like it - he did not shout, he did not utter a whisper. After the fortieth blow the deputy commander of the barracks turned him over on the floor and continued flogging him on his face, on his legs, on his back, and he did not utter a sound - just as if it were not he who was being hit. He finished after striking the fiftieth blow and went out, leaving him.

Several of us youths went up to him and helped him get up from the floor. We asked him: “What did you do? Why were you flogged?” He answered: “It was worthwhile. I brought my companions a number of prayer-books that they could use for praying.”

Q. Later on there was an outbreak of scarlet fever?

A. I want to mention here that we had half a set of phylacteries in the hut, the part that is worn on the arm, and it was constantly being handed around from morning to evening.

Q. You passed it to one another?

A. Yes.

Q. So that each one could wear it?

A. Yes - it was half a set of phylacteries - only the part for the arm.

Q. Later on there was an outbreak of scarlet fever in the hut?

A. Yes. One or two of the boys, I think, caught it and something similar happened in Hut 27. We were immediately transferred to Camp A and there we were housed in Hut 11 and Hut 12.

Q. And then did they tell you what would happen if the epidemic spread?

A. First they spoke of putting us into quarantine for three weeks, and Dr. Mengele would come to visit us every second day. Dr. Mengele and his assistant, Dr. Thilo, visited us every two days. They assigned three doctors to us in the hut and almost every day we underwent a medical examination. They brought us an antiseptic and every morning we had to rinse our mouths with this disinfectant. Each week Dr. Mengele held a parade, and we would pass in front of him naked and he would examine us.

Afterwards, three weeks later, there was an outbreak of mumps - several of the youths contracted mumps. Then Mengele came and each time would argue and talk to the doctors in a loud voice. There were three doctors, one was a Polish Christian and another was a Jew, a Norwegian doctor; he was the only Jew I had ever met from Norway.

Q. Do you remember his name?

A. I don’t remember his name - I only remember that he was one of the most cheerful people I met in Auschwitz. And we had another Jewish doctor, from the city of Tarnow. This doctor was a terrible pessimist, and always used to say:

“Yes, yes, children, it is impossible to leave Auschwitz except through the chimney, and when your time comes, you will also leave that way.” He died several weeks later from dysentery, or something like that.

Q. Were the Festivals, the Jewish Holidays, days of special anxiety?

A. Yes.

Q. Why?

A. The old-timers always used to hint to us: “Wait, wait children, you won’t get sweets in Auschwitz, the Festivals are approaching.” Here I should like to mention...

Q. Please answer my question; why were the Festivals days of anxiety?

A. That’s how it was, evidently it was a custom of theirs, of the Germans, to choose the Jewish Festivals for all kinds of special operations.

Q. Do you remember Rosh Hashana?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell us what happened.

A. This happened in the Gypsies’ camp. At that time the Gypsies’ camp already served as a transit camp for the Jews of Hungary and, after that, for the Jews of the Lodz Ghetto. There were three thousand of us youths in special barracks, inside the “Kinderblocken” (children’s blocks). This occurred on the Friday before Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana that year fell on a Monday and a Tuesday. Mengele showed up, together with his assistant, Dr. Thilo, on the Friday, towards evening, while the roll-call was taking place. He passed by the “Kinderblocken” during the roll-call, made a selection, ordered us to undress to the waist, and he moved on. We were in the last hut of the boys’ row.

Q. How many boys were there?

A. Three thousand boys, almost all of them under sixteen. And we were the last hut in the row. He ordered us to undress to the waist, and he walked in front of the lines. This was at the roll-call. He sent the small and the thin ones to the road, and the bigger ones to the rear gate of the barracks. I was sent with the smaller ones to the road. When I reached the road, they were sending groups of fifty to sixty each time further down, towards Huts 9 and 11. And while I was standing on the road, I thought that, perhaps, it might be possible to escape. I stood there for a few minutes; suddenly I took a decision: “I am going to escape.” I left the line, I ran away to my brother’s hut, Hut 25. Meanwhile about one thousand youths had been gathered from all the huts and were locked into Huts 9 and 11.

Q. And was it clear what the purpose was?

A. Yes.

Q. They locked them into these huts?

A. Yes.

Q. Until when were they shut in there?

A. Until the end of Rosh Hashana.

Q. And what did they do with them, then?

A. At the end of Rosh Hashana they decreed a Blocksperre (a curfew for the block). They assembled all the Kapos and gave them the strictest instructions - anyone leaving the hut was to be killed. Outside, when it began getting dark, trucks started arriving at the hut and they began loading the boys on the trucks.

Q. Who did that?

A. I was not outside - perhaps they were SS men, as was usual in such cases, or the Kapos.

Q. German or Jewish Kapos?

A. Most of them were German criminals. And they began loading them on the trucks - there were terrible shouts; cries of “Shema Yisrael” - we had never before heard such a thing in Auschwitz; hundreds of thousands of people in Auschwitz had been taken to the gas chambers during the summer but usually they did not shout, they did not know where they were being taken to. But we, who had already been in the camp some time, knew what was happening in Auschwitz.

Q. What happened on Yom Kippur?

A. There were about two thousand youths left. We thought that perhaps that would be the end of the matter. Then, the day before Yom Kippur - I remember - in the morning the news spread around that they were going to distribute an additional ration of bread. Usually they would hand out a quarter or a fifth of a loaf of bread; that day they brought to our hut a ration of a quarter, a third of a loaf of bread, together with additions of cheese and other items. There had never been anything like that in Auschwitz. We were very glad that we would be able to fast the next day.

Q. That means, you thought that you would be able to eat more on the eve of Yom Kippur in order to fast the following day?

A. Yes. All day the boys spoke about this sudden generosity. And we were happy that we would be able to fast the following day. But we still did not know what was in store for us that day. During the afternoon, roughly at three o’clock, suddenly there was an order for a curfew. There was shouting in the street. We had hardly managed to get inside the barracks when a new order was given - all the boys were to go to the football field. There was a football field in the camp which evidently was intended for the Gypsies who had previously been in this camp and who were put to death a few weeks before. Each hut commander brought his boys to the football field.

A lot was happening there. The chief official, all the camp officials, every Kapo and the hut commanders were assembled on the field and arranged us in groups of hundreds. Someone started the rumour that they were going to take us to gather the potato harvest from the environs of Auschwitz. They formed us into groups - we were two thousand youths. Suddenly a shudder passed over the entire ground as if we had been struck by a electric shock. The “Angel of Death” appeared.

Q. Who was that?

A. Dr. Mengele appeared, riding his bicycle; someone approached him, took the bicycle from him and placed it near the hut. I was standing near the road with my group. Dr. Mengele folded his hands behind his back, he was tight- lipped as usual, he went onto the field, lifted his hand so that his gaze could take in the entire field. Then his glance fell on a small boy, about fifteen years old, possibly fourteen, something like that, who was standing not far from me in the front row; he was a boy from the Lodz Ghetto, I remember his face very well, he was blond, thin and very sunburnt. His face was covered in freckles. He stood in the front row, Mengele came up to him and asked him: “How old are you?” The boy was shaking and said: “I am eighteen years old.” I saw immediately that Dr. Mengele was very angry and he began shouting: “I’ll show you!”
Then he started shouting: Bring me a hammer, nails and a “Leiste” - a sort of narrow plank. Somebody ran off right away and we stood there, looking at him in absolute silence. The silence of death prevailed on the field; he was standing in the middle and all of us were looking at him. Meanwhile this man came back with the tools, and as soon as he approached, Dr. Mengele went up to one of the boys, standing in the front row; he had a round face and looked fine. Dr. Mengele went up to him, grabbed him by the shoulder and took him to the goal-post on the football field. There were two goal-posts for a game of football. He led him by the shoulder, and the man with the tools walked with him. He stood him against one of the goal- posts and gave orders to knock this plank in at a height above the boy’s head so that he formed a kind of inverted “L.” And then Dr. Mengele gave orders for the first group to pass underneath this plank. The first group began walking in single file.

Q. Did he say what was going to happen to you?

A. He did not have to tell us any longer - we understood.

Q. What did you understand?

A. We already understood that the smaller ones, whose height did not reach the plank, were destined to die.

Q. Did you think there could also be another explanation?

A. No, no, there was no other explanation; it was one hundred per cent clear to everyone why this was being done. All of us began stretching ourselves, each one wanted to be another centimetre higher, another half-centimetre. I also tried to stretch myself a little but I soon gave up in despair, for I saw that even boys taller than I was, failed to reach the required height - their heads did not touch the plank.

Presiding Judge: That means that all of them passed under the plank?

Witness Kleinman: Yes. All of them passed through in single file. And each one whose head did not touch this plank went to the other side of the field, together with the little ones who were doomed to die.

Attorney General: Did your brother succeed in touching the plank?

Witness Kleinman: Yes. My brother was standing next to me. In general I was so preoccupied with myself that I scarcely worried about him, for he was one of the taller boys - he was sixteen years old; by chance, that was his sixteenth birthday.

Q. Did he manage to touch the plank?

A. Yes. I stood there in total despair. I thought to myself “My life is ending here.” Suddenly my brother whispered to me, saying: “Don’t you want to live? Do something!” I woke up, as from a dream, and began searching for a way of saving myself. My mind worked rapidly. Suddenly I caught sight of pebbles scattered around me. I thought that perhaps I could be saved in this way. We were all standing in line, at attention. I bent down without being noticed and seized some handfuls of pebbles. I untied the laces of my shoes and began stuffing pebbles into my shoes. I was wearing shoes which were larger than my size. I filled my shoes with pebbles under my heels and I gained two centimetres. I thought that, perhaps, this would be sufficient.

Meanwhile I felt that I was unable to remain standing at attention with the pebbles in my shoes. It wasn’t easy. I told my brother I was going to throw the stones away. My brother said to me: “Don’t throw them away, I’ll give you something.” He gave me a hat. I tore the hat into two pieces and I began inserting the rags made from the hat into my shoes, so that it would be softer for me.

Q. Perhaps we could make it briefer, Mr. Kleinman. Did you pass the test?

Presiding Judge: But, nevertheless, let us hear how he got through.

Witness Kleinman: I stood for ten minutes with the stones and the rags inside my shoes. I thought that perhaps I might reach the required height. Meanwhile all the boys went on passing that spot. Two would reach the necessary height and two would not. I stood where I was. Ultimately my brother looked at me and said:

“That is not high enough.” Then I began to fear, perhaps I would fail because of nervousness lest, when I began walking, they would realize that I had something in my shoes. I asked my brother and someone else, who could look around better, that they should estimate what my height was. Both of them said that I had no chance of reaching the desired height.

So I then began looking around for a way to escape and get to the taller ones who had already passed the plank, the selection. They were drawn up in ranks of hundreds, on the opposite side, and the shorter ones who had not reached the plank and the required height were lined up on the other side of the field. The shorter ones were trying to force their way into the second group. I also stole my way into the taller ones. For a short while I thought that I had already saved myself. Then one other boy tried to steal into the group of the taller ones.

Dr. Mengele noticed what was happening. He began shouting at the guards and at the Kapos: “What are do doing here - sabotage?” And he gave orders for the whole group to pass once again under the plank. On the way to the plank I again got away to the place where I had formerly been standing. There was a narrow passage, guards walked in front of each one and another behind; nevertheless I stole into my former group.

Attorney General: Those who passed under the plank?

Witness Kleinman: No, the ones who had not yet passed through. I thought it was worthwhile to live even for half- an-hour under an illusion. From there, a quarter of an hour later, I again stole my way into the taller ones - nobody noticed me. Thus the selection ended. About one thousand out of the two thousand did not reach the required height.

Q. What happened to them?

A. When this selection of the thousand ended, the thousand who reached the required height, that was not enough for Dr. Mengele. He examined our bodies. We had to undress to the waist.

Q. My question is: What happened to those who did not reach the required height?

A. Those who did not reach the required height were locked into Huts 25 and 26. Darkness was falling.

Q. What happened to them eventually?

A. They kept them locked up in the two huts until two days after Yom Kippur.

Q. And after that, what happened?

A. They were transferred to the gas chambers - they were exterminated in the gas chambers. There were a thousand of us who remained. Then we knew that this was the system.

Q. Did you see any connection between Yom Kippur and this method of selection?

A. We gained the impression that Mengele wanted to show us - there it was written in the prayer “He causes his flock to pass beneath his rod” - and he wanted to show the Jews of Auschwitz that he was the one who was causing us to pass, and no-one else.

Presiding Judge: Was Dr. Mengele so well-informed in such matters?

Witness Kleinman: Apparently he was well-informed in such matters, for there had never been such a selection in Auschwitz.

Attorney General: Did he want to prove that he was causing his flock to pass under his rod?

A. Yes. In this way one thousand boys remained. We realized that this was a method of exterminating on Festival days. We expected Mengele to come on the first days of the Succot (the Festival of Tabernacles). He did not come. We knew he would surely come on one of the last days of the Festival, and that he had deferred it until then. During those days transports arrived at Auschwitz from the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

During the first days of Succort I got to know that they were registering a transport to be sent to a labour camp. About one hundred of us youths immediately ran over there. We managed to register for that transport. We thought that perhaps a miracle would occur and that there would be no inspection, and in this way we would leave Auschwitz. First of all they stamped our arms with Indian ink, so that strangers and others should not mingle with us. The day after the registration a delegation, consisting of two doctors and a professor, appeared at the hut. They were all Jews. I think the professor was Prof. Epstein of Prague, the director of the hospital in the Gypsies’ camp. He made a medical examination of the transport.

Q. Do you think Epstein was from Prague, or Oslo?

A. He was called Prof. Epstein, the director of the hospital in the camp of the Gypsies. I don’t know where he came from. He gave everyone a medical examination, to see whether they were capable of working. When my turn came, he began feeling for the muscles of my arm. I did not have any. I saw that he was hesitating, I thought this was a critical moment. I looked at him straight in the eyes. He knew that if he removed me from the line, it was as if he was imposing a death sentence on me. Apparently he did not want to have this on his conscience. After hesitating for some time he left me with this transport. The same evening they took us to a bath-house, and gave us clean clothes to wear.

Q. You left Auschwitz with his transport?

A. Yes.

Q. What happened to those who were left behind?

A. I should like to explain something here. We were one hundred youths. We heard at the gate, before leaving the camp, that Mengele had arrived. We, the smaller ones, already knew why he had come. We began running away from the ranks - we fled as if from a sinking ship. Not one of the boys remained in the ranks. Mengele sat with two officials at a table in the middle of the road and the entire transport passed before him. There were a few tall boys who took the risk and thought they were sufficiently big for Mengele not to remove them from the ranks. But he took them out as well. Mengele was not going to let any youth leave Auschwitz.

In the end, while we were still circling around, most despaired and returned - each one to his own hut. But my brother and I and a few other boys wandered around in the vicinity and thought that perhaps it would be possible to steal into this transport. And this turned out to be so. Ten or twelve boys succeeded in stealing back into the transport.

Q. Did you leave Auschwitz with this transport?

A. Yes.

Q. Where did you go to?

A. To Camp Kaufering 4. That was in the Dachau area. Among the fifteen hundred men we were about twelve boys. Those who remained in the camp, about one thousand boys, were taken for selection on Simhat Torah. About eight hundred of them were brought, at mid-day, to the gas chambers. We arrived at the Kaufering camp.

Q. In Camp Kaufering 4 there were fifteen hundred men?

A. No. There were people there, before them.

Q. In your transport there were fifteen hundred?

A. Yes.

Q. Out of the entire transport, how many remained alive?

A. I estimate that it was about fifty.

Q. How many men were there in Camp Kaufering 4 altogether when you arrived there?

A. There were more than three thousand. On the first day we were lined up in rows and our names were recorded. They checked each one’s teeth and made notes. They made a note of everyone who had gold teeth. Throughout the winter a dentist went around with his forceps and a little box in order to extract the teeth from the mouths.

We worked for six weeks in that camp. After that the Germans converted it into a hospital camp for all the Kaufering camps. There were seven camps.

Attorney General: With this I am ready to conclude the evidence regarding this chapter.

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

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

Presiding Judge: What work were these boys doing during this period?

Witness Kleinman: In Auschwitz?

Q. Yes.

A. We did not work at anything. They kept us idle for the entire summer. They told us we were still too young to be sent for physical labour, to be sent to a labour camp. They gathered together three thousand boys during the summer.

Q. Up to the age of sixteen?

A. Up to the age of sixteen.

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

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