Sent to the Auditor General
23 June 1945
Main Commissioner for State Security
Regarding unknown German nationals
Subject: persons guilty of war crimes and maltreatment of prisoners in German concentration camps
Interview of victim Lily Cohen (rue de la Victoire, Saint-Gilles)
On 20 June 1945 at 3.00 p.m., I, Martin Hinkens, Main Commissioner for State Security assisting the Auditor General am interviewing:
Lily Cohen, single, Greek national, born 9 July 1921 in Thessaloniki (Greece), residing at rue de la Victoire, Saint-Gilles, who testifies as follows in French:
The Gestapo arrested me and my mother in March 1944 because we were Jewish. We were both taken to 347 avenue Louise, where we were confined in the basement for two days. We received bread and the guard gave me some fruit preserve, which I shared with my mother. We were [then] transported to Malines along with other Jews and placed in the Dossin barracks for five days. When we arrived there, all of our personal belongings were taken away, including two golden rings that I was wearing. My mother had gotten rid of hers before we arrived at Malines. I never saw my personal belongings again. The Germans searching our flat after we were arrested took away the money we had left behind. I cannot say what amount the Germans took because my mother never told me how much she had left behind.
Six days after we had arrived at Malines we were loaded into cattle cars. It was early in the morning. There were 65 women and men of all ages in our car, including an infant. We received food, but we were soon out of liquids. There was no toilet, only a bucket in the corner of the car. The car was only opened for the guards to check whether we weren’t trying to escape. Only once was the [train car] opened to give us a bit of water that we had asked for for the child. After three days and three nights the train stopped in front of the Birkenau camp in Upper Silesia. We were unloaded with incredible brutality. The women were separated from the men and a selection was carried out on the spot within each group. Those unable to work, sick people, mothers with little children, cripples and elderly people were placed to one side. We had to leave all of our belongings in the train car. I tried several times to get close to my mother, who had been separated from me and put in the group unable to work. Each time I was pushed away brutally and in the end I had to walk down the road to the camp with the healthy group. It was the last time I saw my mother. The next day I found out that all those unfit for work had been taken directly to the gas chambers and that their corpses were burned right after.
Our group arrived at the camp. The women were taken to an office, where we were brutally undressed by [other] women, who simply tore our clothes off. This happened in front of male camp guards. Completely naked, we were sent to a shower with cold water, then we were shaved completely, whereupon we were taken to a room in which each of us had a number tattooed onto her left forearm. I was given number 76619, which I have to this day, with an inverted triangle above it – the sign identifying Jews.
We were then sent to a barrack, where we were confined all day, completely naked. The next day we were allotted clothes. I received a striped dress (a villains’ dress), a tattered shirt, and two different men’s shoes. We were then placed in quarantine.
Soon after, I saw one of the most terrible scenes. I was present at what was known as a selection. The aim is to form a cortege of prisoners who are to be gassed and burned. The Germans did not dissimulate what forming this cortege was about. First, they went to the Revier (the infirmary) and collected all the sick. If their number fell short of the desired quantity, they went into a random block and made all the prisoners come out; they quickly separated the strongest female prisoners from the weaker ones and joined the latter to the sick. Then the whole group, completely naked, was brutally loaded onto a truck. There were heart-wrenching scenes. The healthy women didn’t want to get on the truck, so they were thrown in or made to get in with a crop. Those trying to escape were kept still by beating and thrown onto the truck. During the interview at the camp entrance you had to say how many gold teeth you had. These teeth were collected either when a woman died in the hospital or by dentists hired to pull the teeth out of the corpses of those gassed before these were thrown into the crematorium. From our camp we had a good view of the flames emerging out of the crematorium chimneys, which continued to burn day and night.
After eight days of quarantine I was sent to the large camp and assigned to a kommando. All the women in the kommando had to work all day doing daytime work.
You would get up at 4.00 a.m., then a roll call outside (about an hour), then walking in line to work. The march from the camp to work was accompanied by music − an orchestra had been formed out of inmates who were musicians, and they were forced to play. We’d often see these musicians dragging their feet down the road, playing their instruments.
We worked for six hours, until noon. Then we were given water (half a liter each) with turnips. The break was only as long as [the time needed to] quickly swallow the soup; then we’d get back to work until 6.00 p.m. We were supervised by SS men and regular [criminal] female German prisoners. Both the SS men and the German women would hit us with sticks for the most trivial trespass. One day I saw a women get shot without warning for having stepped aside to attend to her need. Our return to the camp in the evening was also accompanied by music.
Then bread was handed out. One loaf per six women and − if available − infused water, though on many days we got nothing to drink. Once a week we’d receive a little square of margarine and a slice of sausage. From time to time, a spoonful of marmalade.
None of the prisoners who could keep her back more or less straight wanted to go to the infirmary, even if she was sick, as we were all afraid of the infamous selections. I myself worked for eight days with a 40 degree fever. I worked in this kommando for two months. At the end of this period I was so dejected that I’d react to nothing and was completely indifferent. At that point one of my countrywomen, also an inmate, employed at the assignment office, noticed me and went to great lengths to reassign me to a new kommando which was just being formed. She succeeded.
At that time I was still strong in spite of the hardships I’d been through. The [new] kommando consisted of 300 young women, the healthiest in the camp. One day we were loaded up and we discovered, to our horror, that we were being taken in the direction of the crematorium. For a moment we thought that it was a cynical joke on the part of our guards and that we had been slotted for gassing. I lived through a terrible moment. Each of us looked for a companion who could raise her spirits. But to our surprise, the transport drove past the first crematorium. Then past the second. We found ourselves in a [small], fenced [area] with special barracks. Our fears did not subside. We were placed in the barracks and then the nature of our work was explained to us. We were to sort the clothes taken from those gassed and arrange them into packages to be sent to Germany, probably to camps. This camp was at Birkenau (Auschwitz). There were five crematorium ovens there that burned all day and night. The inmates slated to be gassed were driven in in groups from all the camps. They were led into the building with the furnaces and gas chambers. Aside from those belonging to groups formed as a result of selections, these wretches did not know why they’d been brought there. The signs outside the gas chambers reassured them that they were going to take a shower; they were told to undress quickly and to take towels. None of them ever came out alive. The crematorium ovens were manned by prisoners who usually worked [there] for three months. Then, one day, they themselves would be gassed and burned. This is how the witnesses were eliminated.
Our kommando was divided into two groups working all week in shifts.
I have to admit that our life was paradise compared to the Ortskommando where I had been before. The food was not more abundant but we’d often find food in the things we sorted, and although it was forbidden to eat what we found there’d always be some opportunity to swallow at least a bite. Those caught red-handed received a beating. Moreover, since there were only 300 of us, we adopted a system of sharing all the rations evenly without exception. The worst was the constant moral tension. Often, under various pretexts, one of us would go out of the barrack when we heard a transport arrive, in the hope of finding something out or recognizing someone she might help if only there was a chance. Personally I never came across anyone I knew.
The fires burned day and night, and in the dark, tall flames would rise from the main chimney of each of the five crematoria, lighting up the surroundings.
I lived in this camp for nine months and in the 26 transports that went through, there were two from Belgium and France.
Finally, the ovens were no longer enough. Bushes were planted along the wire fence of our camp to prevent us from seeing what was going to happen. But it didn’t take us long to find out. Large pits were dug. The bodies of those gassed would be thrown inside, doused with petroleum, and set on fire. An infernal blaze would roar along the whole enclosure, tall flames rising against the sky. I saw a lot of healthy people go to their deaths like this.
Ironically, we were well taken care of. Every day we were taken to the showers, where the water was even lukewarm.
One day blood samples were collected from all of us, including myself. We soon found out that the purpose was to sort our blood so that it could be used to treat German soldiers. We were all young Jewish women held prisoner for being Jewish, and we still had to give our blood for transfusions to German soldiers. Half a liter of blood was taken from me in this fashion.
In this camp I witnessed an additional cruelty. One day the prisoners working in one of the crematoria began to suspect that they would soon be liquidated and made arrangements with four young women working nearby in a munitions factory. These young women − I have no idea how − were able to obtain explosives, and one day the crematorium furnace was blown up, the prisoners voluntarily locked themselves inside the building. The investigation revealed the source of the gunpowder. The four young women were sentenced to public hanging, and we were forced to watch it. The girls went boldly to the gallows. The male prisoners were forced to pull the ropes. At the moment of the execution, one of the young women called out calmly in German: “Revenge!”
At the beginning of 1945 the Germans became alarmed at the advance of the Russian army. They decided to blow up the crematoria. I saw two of them get blown up and I found out that the others were blown up with dynamite after we left, or rather after we were evacuated on 18 January 1945. We were stood up in rows; each of us got half a loaf of bread for the journey that we made on foot over the course of five days, with the exception of one [day], when we were transported in open freight wagons. We were so crowded in those wagons that you had to push with your elbows to get a breath; still, many women suffocated. During the evacuation march, exhausted women who fell by the wayside were shot in cold blood, their bodies left behind. We would stumble over corpses of men from transports that went before us. This is how we arrived at Ravensbrück, where we were left alone for three days, and then sent on to Malchow, where we had to work in munitions factories. There were many unforced laborers there. We lived in a corner of the factory, watched by special guards. This, however, did not prevent the workers from giving us information by talking loudly to their companions − a message intended for us. This always worked because the guards did not speak French. They would also pass us cups of soup. This small supplement meant a lot to us because we were fed very badly. Our ration was a single loaf of bread to be shared between seven or eight women, and half a liter of soup per day.
At the end of 1945 the Allied advance forced the Germans to evacuate us. One day the Oberscharführer who had overseen the young women’s camp at Birkenau appeared at the factory. He gathered all the girls who had gone through the camp. Because we remembered this man as not having treated us that badly, we were happy to see him. He was placed in charge of our team and told us that he would lead us in the direction of American troops. We walked for one day and one night. The march was not so harrowing. The SS men let us go to farms along the way to ask for food. We were not denied food, and so we ate eggs, bread and butter, etc. Finally we were liberated on 2 May 1945. Our Kommandant surrendered himself, having kept his word. Many of the SS men did not want to follow him and deserted along the way.
I have to report one more fact from Auschwitz. There was a camp there, an infirmary, which was more of a medical research laboratory. I know that some 45,000 young Greeks − all of them Jewish women − were there as living cobayes (guinea pigs). They were immunized and then moved to operating tables so the doctors could observe their reaction to the shots. I believe that around 1,000 young women were still alive at the moment of liberation. I cannot give more detailed information about them.
I am using this opportunity to file a formal complaint and press charges against the German administrators for killing my mother as well as thousands of human beings whom I saw go to their deaths.
The report was read out and signed.
An excerpt from La Dernière Heure newspaper from 14 June 1945, reconstructing an interview given by Miss Cohen to one of the editors, is attached to this report.
Concluded on the same day as above.