Warsaw, 30 November 1946. Judge of the municipal court Antoni Knoll, as member of the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland, heard as a witness the person specified below. The witness testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Maria Kopeć|
|Parents’ names||Stefan and Halina|
|Date of birth||14 August 1919 in Puławy|
|Education||Medical Faculty of the University of Warsaw|
|Place of residence||Warsaw, Mokotowska Street 39, flat 12|
I was arrested in my home along with my father, Stefan, and my brother, Stanisław, on the night of 19–20 February 1941. I was released on 31 July 1944.
New prisoners had to go first to the administrative office of Pawiak, where they would take down our personal data and receive for deposit any valuable belongings, and then we would be led to a transit cell to wait until morning for a bath and disinfection. Prisoners who were to be separated from one another were put in the sergeant’s room or in any unoccupied cell.
The bath and disinfection provided the first opportunity to come into contact with the so-called functional prisoners, who had already spent some time in the prison, and who could facilitate both communication between inmates and sending vital information to town, and who could also give some news.
During the quarantine period, which lasted for two weeks, we were incarcerated in 2x8 m cells, rather wet and cold, a dozen or so people in a cell with two or three mattresses per five people. Apart from the evening roll call, attended by a Wachmeister, I did not come into contact with any Germans during the quarantine.
Our food at that time was as follows: packages only for the functional prisoners, black coffee in the morning, 400g of bread, some soup for dinner and supper – water with wholemeal dumplings, cabbage soup; and the so-called wypiska once a month, that is, for money kept in the deposit accounts the Prison Patronage would buy modest food packages for prisoners (those who did not have any deposit would get some food as well).
When it came to the treatment of prisoners, in 1941 the Germans tended to stay away from the internal affairs of the female ward. From time to time there was the so-called fussapel or an inspection of cleanliness in the cells, ending in yells and threats. The most important issues like the distribution of prisoners to cells after the quarantine or the assignment of functions were handled by the Polish guards, who helped us a lot along the way, both in internal communication and in getting in touch with the town, trying to make the stay in Pawiak the least harsh possible.
In April 1941, at night, I was summoned to the hospital, as a student of medicine, to watch over the beaten Jadwiga Szymborska, whose back, thighs and buttocks were swollen and all of a blue-black colour. A few days later they brought her co-conspirator, Ms Plater, and then Ms Szydłowska – both severely beaten.
In May, after the release of the assistant to doctor Balski, a “free” physician (not an inmate), I was given a function in the hospital. In spring of the same year we were forbidden to read books, which they would take away and burn in the boiler room. After strenuous efforts on our part, the Germans agreed to leave the remaining books for the sick in the hospital.
At that time the material conditions of life in prison got slightly better, as a Gestapo physician, who had tasted the prison soup, ordered that the packages should be allowed once a week, 3kg per inmate, 5kg for functional prisoners. On the other hand, the psychological strain became more pronounced: the cases of beating or putting in karcer [solitary confinement] happened more often (Helena Wądłowska, executed later in Ravensbrück, was repeatedly beaten and locked in the karcer after interrogations, [as were] Ms Adela Stadnicka, Ms Krasowska – who died soon after coming to the hospital from aleja Szucha – and many more). We constantly heard the sounds of punitive exercises and beatings from the male ward.
From time to time Oberscharführer Felhaber, nicknamed Waluś, would come and – amid screams, curses and pushing – read out a long list which we believed to be a list of people to be deported, and then women were moved to other cells, but the transport would never leave.
At the beginning of summer, the first female transport for execution occurred: 16 women were taken quietly in the evening to a separate cell. Later we found out that men had gone then, too. For quite a long time, until we got confirmation from the town, we hoped that they had actually been transported to some other place.
In the summer the prison became crowded, many people were being arrested and very few released, living conditions were getting worse day by day, the cells were buggy. The hospital was the women’s only refuge; it was well stocked with equipment and medicine by the Prison Patronage, and at that time filled almost exclusively with sick people suffering from a terrible summer diarrhoea.
In September, a big transport of women went away, so the number of prisoners diminished from five hundred something to about two hundred. A Gestapo physician, Scherbel, was handling theretention of the sick, and Felhaber that of the functional prisoners. They did not agree to leave two prisoners in the hospital: Irena Jaworska, suffering from severe lung condition and cancer (she died shortly afterwards in Ravensbrück), and a 70 years old grandmother, Terlecka. The transport left on 21 September without any extraordinary harassment of the prisoners.
In autumn the packages were reduced to 2kg per month, and shortly afterwards the daily ration of bread was reduced to 200g, so the prisoners, especially in the male ward, began to suffer from hunger.
In spring of 1942, two German sergeants, Stalska and Hofman, came to the female ward. As a result, the work of the Polish guards became more difficult.
On 28 May 1942, a second big transport left for Ravensbrück, and in spite of the doctors’ efforts it included several sick women and two elderly ladies, over 70 years old. Two days later, 22 women were taken at night for execution, including two bedridden women: Janina Górska and Janina Kardey-Zamojska, both of whom had to be carried on stretchers, and 14women who came from Ravensbrück in February. Along with these, they took over 200 men.
Since summer 1942, smaller transports of about 50 women went to Auschwitz quite regularly.
The situation was gradually becoming more tense. The prisoners were more often being beaten, which led to severe tissue injuries and abscesses that would not heal for many months, and some of the patients who could barely walk were nevertheless being taken for executions.
The prisoners who were to be executed could not take any personal belongings, and the patients could not be retained by the medical service – they would take even women in advanced pregnancy. The only thing that could save a woman was a child; during my stay, thirty-some children were born. Mothers could always be saved from the transport, and with the exception of Helena Makowska, who was hanged in town in 1942 after her child had been sent away to family somewhere, none of them was executed.
During the period of street executions, the number of executions in the Ghetto increased significantly, and women were usually being taken precisely there. At first, judging by the circumstances, we refused to believe that they were definitely not being released. Later theGermans would make a pretence of releasing prisoners: they would allow them to take their personal belongings and they would give them their deposits, so only if they took a daughter and the mother remained in prison – we would hear from the town that the daughter had not come home. Executions of the sick and of women in advanced pregnancy also became more frequent.
In spring, after a wave of arrests in May, there began in the administrative rooms of Pawiak interrogations carried out in cooperation with the Gestapo from Radom. It was the period of greatest anxiety during my entire stay in the prison. Severely beaten women would very quickly go for another interrogation or to solitary confinement, and we were not allowed to offer them any help – let alone medical help – when they came back. The majority of these women were soon executed.
The largest transport left in May 1942: 45 women and over 500 men, including several dozen prisoners from Daniłowiczowska and Mokotów.
I don’t remember whether it was then that Helena Szczukówna died; she was one of the most severely tortured women. After many months in solitary confinement she had been beaten during interrogation, and the following night we were called to come to her. When we arrived, she seemed to be in agony: almost no pulse, blue-black, missing a few nails. Weadministered an injection of painkillers and then we were ordered out of the cell. We were called on to administer cardiac drugs so that she would not die before further questioning. Two or three days later she did not come back from interrogation. We learned from some men that her corpse was in the mortuary, as she had been killed while being beaten in theadministrative office of the prison.
After the first period of extermination of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, they began to arrest Jewish women, at first more frequently, then occasionally. Those women who had been recognised as Jewish before arrival in Pawiak would be searched by the sergeants, stripped naked and divested of everything except for the necessary clothing. Later, without being put in the register, they would go to cell no. 8, a tiny one, for quarantine. Sometimes there were so many of them that they could barely stand, and sometimes they had to wait for a few days, with small children, to be taken for execution.
Some Jewish women and women of sometimes very distant Jewish descent would undergo the normal process, that is, going through the bath and quarantine to ordinary cells, and only after a few days or even weeks, after interrogation or not – they would go with transports from cell no. 8, the so-called death-cell. Those prisoners would always take all their belongings with them and would be taken under pretence of release. Their clothes were later recognized by the workers in the sewing room among those ordered by the sergeants.
In 1943, there came to the prison Oberscharführer Bürkl, who introduced the so-called udziwienia [oddities] to the female ward. They were not doing much harm, physically at least, but were very tiring and as a result some women were on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and the nervous tension had already been palpable before. After the morning roll calls, theentire cell or several cells would be taken for punitive exercises for answering wrong or for a speck of dust on a shelf. From time to time Bürkl would storm into the ward with a group of men, usually Jews, and order them to throw everything out into the corridor in one great pile, watching them so that they would not spare anything, and then walk away saying that he expected everything to be in perfect order in an hour.
In the male wards, the same Bürkl would organise exercises for the Jews consisting of crawling on red-hot cinders from the boiler house; once in some ward, after one of his exercise sessions, he ordered hot water to be poured in the bathhouse, while he and some Ukrainians were using a whip to force back those who tried to escape the boiling shower. After that we had some patients suffering from severe third-degree burns.
The arrival of the Ukrainians did not bring about much change to the atmosphere in the female ward, only the Polish guards began to feel somewhat inhibited. In the male ward, however, they must have tried to introduce the best rules of conduct, as a strict discipline ensued. All daily affairs had to be carried out in great haste, with beating, yelling, exercises and hundreds of frog jumps for every slow step or look in the wrong direction. Also at that time, cases where Bürkl shot a prisoner who had allegedly attacked him, or hanged men in the basements of the 7th or 8th wards, began to happen much more often.
As far as the Polish guards are concerned, it was thanks to them that at first life inside of the female ward was bearable and even quite independent of the Germans. The female guards would smuggle messages to town, both private and concerning the underground movement, and bring news from families and co-conspirators. For some time the guards would do the same on the male ward.
In 1942, about 50 per cent of the male guards were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, andsome were executed. The rest had jobs connected with administrative or maintenance work, and as a result came into contact with few prisoners in the workshops, warehouses or the hospital. Consequently, the hospital, and therefore to some extent the female ward, was charged with maintaining contact with the town.
The number of the female guards arrested for enabling communication between the town and the prison included: Józefa Bielakowa, commander Krzeczkowska, Wanda Maciejko, Stanisława Pawlak, Wera Karlson, Sułkowska, commander Gawryłow, Zofia Koyro, commander Wirszyłow, Maria Wasiak, Gutowska, Szubielska, commander Jaszczyńska. The majority of them were deported to the concentration camps. The female guards could always be trusted with sending urgent warnings and messages. They were providing us with newspapers, radio announcements and food in periods of greatest hunger.
The Prison Patronage, which was thriving despite mounting obstacles, was providing all necessary things and serving as a moral support for the prisoners. The Patronage was delivering medicaments, instruments, and sheets to the hospital; without them, with only the official supplies, the hospital would have been nothing more than an internal communication coordination centre and a place for relaxation, as it was less crowded and offered better treatment with fewer regulations.
During the famine of 1943, when especially in the male ward the cases of nutritional oedema were quite frequent, the Patronage managed to get the right to deliver one additional loaf of bread per prisoner. They were also giving vast quantities of produce to the common kitchen, but the Germans would steal a lot of it for the sergeants’ kitchen.
They would also provide hospitals with allowances for mothers, pregnant women, and tuberculosis patients, and with layettes and medicaments for children.
In spring of 1944, all physicians, feldshers, and almost all the female guards were fired in order to bring a halt to all contact with the town. The female guards were being gradually replaced with German sergeants, usually Volksdeutche. Some were corruptible but did not treat the prisoners in a bad or brutal way. Two of them used to torture prisoners, beating them and stealing from them all the time (Polwrecka and one whose name I don’t remember). From that time on, any outside help and communication with the town were much more difficult to organise, and exposed our guards to great danger.
My father and brother were executed in Palmiry three weeks after the killing of Igo Sym. They had not been interrogated before the execution and they had not been interrogated upon arrest. When I was asked about them during an interrogation in April, I said that I knew from the letters from home that nobody there had heard from them. I was told that they were deported to the camp.
The report was read out.