On 13 April 1945 in Kraków, a man appeared before me in my capacity as deputy prosecutor of the Regional Court in Kraków and member of the Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Oświęcim, presented the number 27 675 tattooed on his left forearm, and testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Stanisław Jankowski|
|Date and place of birth||23 October 1910 in Stoczek, Łuków district|
|Place of residence||currently none|
The name and surname I stated above are not my real identity, but an assumed one. My real name is Alter Feinsilber, son of Chaim and Sura, resident of Otwock. I was arrested by the Germans in France in 1941. In March 1943, I was transported to Auschwitz, where I was interned until the second half of January 1945. For two years I worked with the Sonderkommando [special detail], which was tasked with operating the crematories at Auschwitz, especially at Birkenau. Because of that, I have plenty information pertaining to the treatment of Auschwitz prisoners on the part of the Germans and I wish to testify concerning this issue, as well as indicate the locations of documents which myself and my fellow prisoners hid. These include our notes detailing the numbers of prisoners who were incinerated and the dates when it happened. Additionally, some physical evidence has been preserved, such as a camera, gas in a sealed vessel, and other objects. I should say that I have arrived in Kraków today on personal business with the PPR (Polish Workers’ Party). I have no means of livelihood and I have no place to live. Should the Commission wish to hear me, a hearing should be held at the earliest possible date, since I plan to leave for France soon.
The opening report was read out to me.
On 18 April 1945 in Kraków, members of the Commission for the Investigation of German- Nazi Crimes in Oświęcim Jan Sehn, investigating judge, and Deputy Prosecutor Edward Pęchalski, with the participation of Jerzy Kornacki, member of the Commission and of the State National Council, acting at the behest of Edmund Zaleski, Minister of Justice and president of said commission, in accordance with art. 254 and pursuant to art. 107 and 115 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, interviewed as a witness a former prisoner of the Auschwitz concentration camp, prisoner number 27 675, who testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Alter Feinsilber|
|Names of parents||Chaim and Sura Kobiałkowicz|
|Date and place of birth||23 October 1910 in Stoczek, Łuków district|
|Place of residence prior to leaving Poland||Otwock, Bartosza Street 7|
Since childhood, I had lived in Otwock with my parents and numerous siblings. My father did not have a trade as such and had been sick since I can remember. Presently, he is dead, and so is my mother, both having died at the Treblinka camp. I had five brothers and six sisters. I did not go to school and so I taught myself. I learned to read and write, and currently I speak seven languages: Polish, French, Jewish [Yiddish], Russian, Spanish, Czech, and German.
As a 16-year-old, I enrolled in a carpentry apprenticeship. I was arrested by the police for the first time in 1926, in Otwock, for inciting violence during a strike organized by Trade Unions, particularly by the Carpenters’ Trade Union. After a few days the proceedings, initiated, I think, by a private party, were dismissed, because the prosecuting party did not appear in court.
I was arrested again in Otwock on 11 March 1929 and charged under art. 129 of the penal code in force at the time, for aiding the communist party. The case was heard by the District Court in Warsaw, which sentenced me to one year in prison. After I served the sentence, I was arrested for the third time on charges of membership in the communist party. The investigating judge ordered me to periodically report to a police station.
Still before this case was concluded, I was arrested for the fourth time, on 25 April 1930, on charges of involvement in the communist party’s activities. This case was heard jointly with the previous one, and the District Court in Warsaw sentenced me to two years of maximum security prison and a 10-year deprivation of civil rights. I did my time in the Łęczyca prison and I was released on 2 November 1933.
In the following years, I was detained and arrested a number of times in connection with different political cases, but I was never convicted, either because of amnesty or for different reasons. In total, I spent 5 years in various prisons.
After I was released from Łęczyca I did seasonal work as a waiter, doing social work in my free time. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, I rallied for people to leave for Spain in order to support Negrin’s government. At the beginning of 1937, together with 50 comrades, I departed for Spain through Czechoslovakia.
The first, second, and third attempts did not succeed, and I only managed to leave in May 1937, via Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland, and France, travelling illegally, without documents.
In Spain I joined the Dąbrowski Brigade, first as a regular soldier, and later serving as a political delegate. In this capacity I took part in frontline combat for a year and a half, until I was wounded.
I found out about Negrin’s decision to withdraw foreign troops when I was in the hospital. I went to the front lines again to defend Barcelona, but the city surrendered, and then, after some more fighting, I crossed the French border together with the Dąbrowski Brigade, surrendering weapons at the border. In Spain I had used my real name, and the documents I received were issued under this name.
The French authorities interned us at the Saint-Cyprien camp. It was a field surrounded on three sides with barbed-wire, its open end facing the sea. We built barracks ourselves. The conditions were very harsh, there was little food, and it was of low quality. The French did not provide medical care or medications, and we were being treated by our comrades who were doctors. The only reason we did not starve was because we had outside help from the organization. But the French would hamper food deliveries.
I came to this camp on 10 February 1939 and I lived in such conditions until July 1939. There were 5,000 foreign nationals and 70,000 Spaniards, who were deported back to Spain. 42 nationalities were represented at the camp. The cause of this camp was taken up by the League of Nations’ international committee, which recorded the foreign nationals.
Following the insistence and interventions of the French organization, all foreign nationals were transferred from the Saint-Cyprien camp, together with a group from the Argelès- sur-Mer camp, to the Curus camp. This camp was run by the French military, with 16,000 persons interned in decent conditions. Already during the German offensive against France, we were transferred to the Argelès-sur-Mer camp, but some of us were moved to a penal camp. In this camp, we were starved and prevented from buying things, despite the fact we had money. After the country capitulated, the French wanted to transfer us all to Africa, but fearing we would be employed for the construction of the Trans-Saharan railway, we escaped from the camp, employing a previously drafted plan. A lot of the prisoners were transported to Africa, and only those of us who had fled the camp using false identities – such as myself, posing as Kaśkowiak – remained in France.
Fugitives were again placed in special camps, which were like prisons, where conditions were very harsh and people were even beaten, so for lack of other options, following the organization’s suggestions, we volunteered for work in Germany. I was one of those to volunteer, stating my nationality as Spanish and my religious affiliation as Roman Catholic. I was hired as a carpenter – under the so-called freedom conditions – in occupied France. I had worked for two months and then had to flee, because one of the foreigners, a Pole who knew me, had probably struck a deal with the Gestapo and threatened to reveal my identity. Not having any documents, I ended up in Paris and contacted my organization, which supported me for five weeks. Before I managed to obtain documents (the organization was supposed to forge them for me), I was arrested by the French police as a Jew and interned at the Jewish camp in Drancy, near Paris.
For the first 81 days after my internment the camp was being run by the French police. The conditions were very harsh: we would get one loaf of bread per seven people, and each prisoner would get a quarter liter of soup, and twice a day a quarter liter of coffee. Medical care was poor and the mortality rate was high. 60 people died over these 81 days. A German commission came, carried out an inspection, and ordered that the conditions be improved, for instance they gave permission to receive packages, underwear, and letters.
On the other hand, the Germans were selecting people from among the prisoners at the camp, whom they later executed. While in the camp, I saw two such selections, one of 50 men, and the other of 12. Since it was Spanish nationals who were being selected first, we feared that we would go too, so we volunteered for labor in Germany. This was after the Germans’ call, promising us good working conditions and the possibility of getting in touch with our families. I was transferred in a group of 100 people to the Compiègne camp. To our surprise, the Germans told us that we were being held hostage in connection with acts of terror perpetrated in Paris. Despite our protests, we were detained under very harsh conditions for three and a half months, and then the 1,118 of us were transferred to the Auschwitz camp. Let me say that in Compiègne there were camps for Russians, English, Americans, and Jews. Each Thursday the Germans would select a few prisoners from the Jewish camp to be executed.
The communist prisoners protested, standing up for their comrades and singing revolutionary songs. The French people were favorably disposed toward the Jews, and Aryans demanded that their documents have a stamp signifying Jewish nationality as a form of protest against the treatment of Jews. The police had to take orders from the Germans. The French did not know what awaited the Auschwitz deportees; otherwise, I am sure they would have protested the deportations. We were told that we were going for hard labor in the east. There were 1,118 people on the transport, all of them Jews from different countries. We were loaded onto small cargo wagons, 50 people per each. Before the departure, we were issued 2.5 kg of bread and 250 grams of sausage per person, and this was meant to suffice for the duration of the transport, which was supposed to last for around 12 days. On our way there, we did not get anything to drink. However, the transport arrived at Auschwitz already after three days or so. On our arrival, many of us were already gone, a number of people having died on the way due to the harsh conditions of the transport. Let me say that we were not provided any medical care during the transport.
We arrived at Auschwitz on 27 March 1942, around 10 a.m. The transport only included adult men. Stepping out of the train, each of us wanted to take our luggage with us, around 25 kg per person, since this was the maximum weight of a package we were allowed to take from France. The SS men, who came with big dogs to process our transport, did not let us take the luggage. Nevertheless, some of us managed to grab ours without being noticed. I would like to point out that when the doctors from our transport asked the SS men for permission to at least take medications, the SS men started to beat them with rods and even shot at them, so that a few people were killed on the spot. After the train was unloaded, we were told to form groups of five and were directed straight to the camp.
We had to march fast, rushed along by beating. Immediately after arriving, we were sent to the bathhouse. Next to the bathhouse we were told to undress, put all our items in a bag, confirm the surrendering of our belongings with a signature, and were only allowed to take a handkerchief to the bathhouse. Inside, we were made to take a hot shower, which lasted around 15 minutes (let me add that back in France, just before our departure, our entire bodies had been shaved, for which we had to pay 3 francs), and after the shower, naked, we went to another block, some 20 or 30 meters away, and there we were issued clothes. These included a shirt, pants, wooden clogs, a denim sweatshirt and trousers, and a striped cap. The trousers and sweatshirt used to belong to Russian prisoners. After getting dressed, we had to go through an hour’s exercise supervised by one of the prisoners, a block senior. The exercises were exhausting and the clogs we wore gave us wounds on our feet. We were not beaten while exercising, but we got a rather hefty number of kicks, accompanied by shouts and insults, which conveyed a clear message: that we would be done in within the next few days. After the exercises we were taken to an unfinished block, with no doors or windows in place, where we were allowed to lie on a bare floor until the evening. Then we got our first meal at Auschwitz, which consisted of cooked Swedish turnip and no bread. After the supper we were taken to block 11, where everybody was recorded and photographed, which took until morning. We realized then that there were around 6,000 prisoners at Auschwitz, mostly Poles and Germans, and a small number of Soviet captives. All of them were men – I did not see any women at the camp. We concluded therefore that ours was the first foreign transport to Auschwitz, since the old prisoners were either from Poland or from the Reich. After we were photographed, which I mentioned above, all the prisoners from our transport - that is, around 1,000 people – were rounded up and the SS men riding horses drove us down a narrow muddy road to Birkenau, which was located 3.5 kilometers away. In the meantime, we were of course beaten with rods, as a result of which some were killed on our way there.
At Birkenau, just in front of the camp, SS men, block seniors, and Kapos, all holding rods, awaited our transport. All of them were German. They told us to run into the camp through the gate, whacking us in the head with these rods so hard that many were killed right at the gate, so that others had to jump over their bodies on their way inside.
After we entered the camp’s premises, they started to log us in and ask about various personal data, which, however, were not recorded anywhere. Then we were ordered to stand in the yard up until the roll call, that is, until 6 p.m. After the roll call we were assigned to particular blocks. I was assigned to block 13. During the roll call, we saw a group of Jews returning from labor. They were terribly emaciated, looking like shadows, and were called “muselmanns”. As I later learned, this term was applied to prisoners who were working on their last legs and looked like human wrecks. They told us in secret that they were what remained of a group of 1,200 Polish Jews who had arrived at the camp two weeks back, and that was all that had remained of them, since all the others had been murdered in the camp and during labor. After the roll call we received coffee and bread, and then we were ordered into beds. We should have also gotten some margarine for supper, but we did not, since the authorities, as I learned later, had appropriated it for themselves.
Next day, we were woken up at half past three and the morning roll call was held, during which we had to stand until 7 a.m. After the roll call we received coffee and each of us was assigned to particular working units. Then we were driven outside the camp, for labor, which lasted until noon. The lunch break lasted until 1 p.m. The lunch consisted of a Swedish turnip soup, served in portions of a half to three quarters of a liter, even though everybody was entitled to one liter. After lunch, we worked until 6 p.m. Then we returned to the camp and the evening roll call was held. During this roll call, corpses were brought out of the blocks into the yard, so that the block’s full numerical count would be present. After the roll call, we went to the block to eat supper and found new corpses there. We ate the supper, which consisted of bread and coffee. After the supper we were ordered into our beds. This is more or less what each working day at Birkenau looked like. I need to add that during work, which was extremely hard, we were beaten, thrown into water, and treated in such a cruel manner that each day a few dead bodies would be left at the labor site, and we later had to carry them for the evening roll call.
The work itself was not productive and was merely designed to physically torture prisoners. Our tasks included moving bricks from one spot to another, and then back. Under such conditions, a sizeable proportion of prisoners would throw themselves against the electric fence, as they would rather die than live such a life. The medical care actually provided us no relief since there were no medications on site, and if anyone reported to a doctor, the latter would openly tell him to go back to the block if he wanted to live because if declared sick, he would be killed. Let me add that the block senior would seize every opportunity to kill people, because the greater the number of dead, the better the reputation he earned. And so the block seniors jumped at the chance to kill those who called in sick. I personally witnessed a conversation between the Blockführer [block leader], an SS man, and the block senior, a German prisoner. The Blockführer asked him one day about the death toll in his block. When he found out it was 15, he said, ‘Das ist zu wenig’ [That is not enough]. Next day he asked the block senior again, and the latter said that the day’s death toll was 35, to which the Blokführer replied, ‘So ist gut’ [That is good].
The function of Blockführer was fulfilled by an SS man, the block senior was a prisoner of German nationality, his deputy was a Pole, while the duty prisoners were Jews. The chain of command in the block meant that the Blockführer forced the block senior to torture the prisoner, he, in his turn, forced his deputy to do it, and the deputy got the duty prisoners to do it. Consequently, the duty prisoners did whatever they could at the expense of the prisoners so as to get in their superiors’ good books. I survived five weeks in such conditions at Birkenau. At that time, there was no crematorium at Birkenau yet, so huge numbers of bodies were buried in special pits outside the camp, dug by details assigned to this job.
Toward the end of this five-week spell at Birkenau, I had a number tattooed on my chest, 27 675. This number meant that, at the time of the tattooing, I was Birkenau prisoner number 27 675. When I was at Birkenau, from time to time requests were made from Auschwitz itself for bakers and carpenters. As a result, I went to the Auschwitz camp in the second group, which numbered 30 people (the first one numbered 20). When I left Birkenau, there were 13 finished blocks there, two of which were occupied by the camp’s administrators, and the remaining 11 by the prisoners (Poles, Russian, and Jews – all of them men). I do not know the exact number of prisoners from that period. I can only tell that there were around 300 people in one block. I need to add that when I was leaving Birkenau for Auschwitz, only 250 prisoners from my transport were still alive, the original number being, as I stated earlier, upward of 1,000. The others had been liquidated in the course of these five weeks.
At Auschwitz, my task was to make closets, desks, and other furniture. I lived in block 11, where all the Auschwitz Jews were gathered, that is, around 50 people at that time. Aryans were also there. The bunkers of this block housed the penal company. Additionally, in the same block, above us, “freemen” were accommodated, that is, those who were to be released, but were still at the camp in quarantine. I also recall that when I was being assigned to work, which was being done by the Jews but also by the Aryans, the Oberscharführer said to us Jews that it was the first case in the history of national socialism where Jews were being allowed to work with and stay under the same roof as Germans. In front of the block there was a gallows for hanging two people and the infamous “black wall”, in front of which prisoners were executed. The living conditions at Auschwitz at that time were hard, but compared to those of Birkenau you could say that the time at Auschwitz was like staying in a guesthouse.
I remained at block 11 until the fall of 1942, and during the first five weeks I was in the hospital, the so-called Krankenbau. All I can say concerning the hospital is that the patients who were prisoners were virtually unattended to and nobody tried to get them back on the mend. In particular, medical help was denied to Jews. Often, SS men would come, select from among the sick those who felt particularly unwell, and take them to Birkenau, where, as I later learned, they were killed and buried in ditches.
In November 1942, Wiktor, a clerk from Arbeitsdienst [labor service], approached me and offered me a civilian job at the Bata factory, located 20 km outside Auschwitz. Of course I accepted, and then, together with nine others (all of them stout Jews) I was taken to a doctor, who examined us, and three of us were taken to the Blockführerstube [block leader’s office], where I got assigned to work at the crematorium.
The Auschwitz crematorium was located in a one-story building, about 50 meters long and 12-15 meters wide, comprising five small rooms and one large, dark room, 30 by 5. This large room had no windows and had only two shafts in the roof, electric lighting, an entrance door leading to the corridor, and another leading to the furnace area. This room was called the Leichenhalle (the corpses room). It served as a morgue, and at the same time it was used for “smashing” people, that is, for executions. Directly adjacent was another room where the furnaces for incinerating corpses were located. There were three such furnaces and each had two openings. A single opening could accommodate up to twelve corpses, but they would load five at a time, tops, since such a quantity would burn faster. Corpses were loaded into furnaces in special carts, which were removed from the furnace after the bodies were dropped in there. The corpses rested on grates, under which coke was burning. Additionally, there was a cokery on site, which was used for storing coke, a special room for the ashes from the corpses, and one more room which was used for storing clothes. Around the crematorium there was a yard, separated from the rest of the camp by a wall a few meters high. The yard was full of flowers and looked like a garden.
During my time at the camp, the commandant of the crematorium was Oberscharführer Quakernack from the Political Division. Aside from him, other SS men worked there as support personnel, but I do not remember their names. The crematorium was operated by a Kapo, a Pole from Kraków whose name was Mietek, a clerk, also a Pole (prisoner number 14 916), who was a Polish mechanic from Lublin, Wacław Lipka, a Pole from Warsaw (2520), and nine Jews, regular workers. I was one of those Jews. We, the regular workers, were used for all activities connected with incinerating and transporting the bodies, loading them into the furnaces, and removing the ash. Corpses were delivered from block 19, from an ambulance, from where they were brought in special carts, pulled by prisoners, and then put in the corpses room, from where we loaded them into the furnaces.
Also, two or three times a week, the corpses room witnessed a “smashing”, that is, big or small groups, 250 people at most (men and women, of various age), were brought in and, having been made to undress, were executed. These people were typically from outside the camp, that is, they were not Auschwitz prisoners but had been arrested at different locations and brought to the crematorium to be executed, without recording them in the camp’s logs. The “smashing” rarely involved Auschwitz prisoners. Let me emphasize that executions were personally carried out by said Quakernack. For the duration of an execution, he would have the Jews in the cookery, while he executed people in the presence of the Poles and Germans working on the crematorium staff. Since the cokery was only a few meters away, we heard the shots, we heard people collapsing and their screams. I personally heard as the victims screamed that they were innocent, I heard children screaming, and Quakernack would reply, ‘Our boys are killed in combat in greater numbers’. Then we were summoned to the room where the execution had taken place and we, the Jews, removed the bodies – still warm and bleeding – and took them to the crematorium furnaces.
Aside from Quakernack, Schwartz, the Lagerführer [camp leader] from Auschwitz, and the camp commandant, together with the SS entourage and Wacek Lipka also aided in such executions. Józek and Mietek, whom I mentioned earlier, pulled out gold teeth from the mouths of the dead. Each week, 10-15 Russian POWs, previously held for a couple of days in the block 11 bunker, were executed by the crematorium furnaces. They were not recorded in the camp’s logs, so the death toll cannot be estimated even on the strength of the camp’s documents.
While at Auschwitz, I witnessed executions for a year, and then it was the same at Birkenau, but at Birkenau, the weekly number of executed Russian captives was higher. Each week the crematorium received the fragmented corpses of women from block 10. Also the corpses of children, also cut into pieces, were brought from this block. Block 10 was a “scientific laboratory”, where women and children were experimented upon. Also, lethal injections were administered there. Hundreds of men were killed in that way weekly. The corpses of the victims thus murdered were moved to the crematorium via the block 13 infirmary. Killing through injections was known about at the camp and mostly happened to the Jews moved to block 10 from the Krankenbau. Eventually, even seriously sick Jews were afraid to report to the Krankenbau for fear of “needling”, that is, lethal injections. Additionally, each Friday a dozen or so corpses of people hanged or decapitated outside the camp were brought in to be incinerated. Among them was also the decapitated body of the mayor of Oświęcim. Let me add that any pregnant women who ended up in the camp were immediately executed. If the pregnancy went unnoticed, the woman could give birth, but only secretly, and of course she then had to kill the infant, otherwise she would have been killed together with her child.
Additionally, located opposite block 22 was block 13, the so-called Jewish Krankenbau. This block was off limits to us and we did not know the Kapos who worked there. Sick Jews from different blocks were moved there. I heard that these people had been starved, beaten, and left without medical attention, and they all perished. Nobody made it out alive from the Jewish Krankenbau.
Let me add that at that time, that is, toward the end of 1942, there were no gas chambers yet at Auschwitz. The only instance of gassing that I know of took place in November or October 1942. Around 390 people were gassed, all of them Jews of different nationalities working with the Sonderkommando at Birkanau. The gassing was carried out in the Leichenhalle [morgue]. I heard from the people working at the crematorium that already before this gassing other gassings had been carried out in the same Liechenhalle and in the crematorium’s toilets. From my own observations, I know the following details concerning the gassing of said Sonderkommando. We were ordered to empty the Leichenhalle, because it would be needed for a larger transport. Since a lot of corpses had piled up at the morgue in the meantime, we worked two days and two nights, incinerating the bodies. After the morgue was emptied, I remember that on Wednesday, around 11, the 390 prisoners from Birkenau were marched into the yard, escorted by a lot of SS men, two for every five prisoners; we, the Jews, were ordered out of the morgue and to the cokery, and when we were allowed to go out and into the yard after a while, we found only the clothes of these prisoners. After the numbers of these prisoners were taken down, we were told to move the bodies to the crematorium furnaces, a task we carried out over two days. Let me say that the Jews working at the crematorium lived in the bunker at block 11, designated room 13. They were not allowed to communicate with other prisoners and they were taken to work under escort at 5 a.m. The work usually lasted until 7 p.m., with a 15-minute lunch break. During this break, we ate our meager and insufficient meal on the bench next to the “powder room”. The Poles working at the crematorium slept in block 15, which was a common block, and they had the opportunity to talk to other prisoners.
The first gassings at Birkenau were carried out in bunkers, and the corpses were burned in pits. These bunkers were camouflaged and made to look like simple and ordinary huts. The first bunker was located in the field, on the right side of Birkenau, and the other bunker was on the left. The Birkenau crematories were commissioned in February 1943, and this is when our Kapo, Mietek, was called upon from Auschwitz to assist as the expert on burning corpses. He was a 19-year-old student. I do not know what he studied. Generally, he was difficult to read since he was very reticent and we were afraid to talk to him. Along with the entire stokers’ detail, that is six Jews and Poles, I was transferred to Birkenau in July 1942, and I was assigned to crematorium 4. Mietek was Kapo at crematorium 3. At that time, there were already four crematories at Birkanau. Crematories I and II had 15 furnaces each, incinerating 5,000 bodies daily, and crematories III and IV had eight furnaces each, incinerating a total of around 3,000 bodies daily. In total, around 8,000 bodies could be incinerated daily in these four furnaces. Work was done in two shifts: the first shift from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the other from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. At Birkenau we were put in camp D, block 13. The Poles were put in block 2 in camp D. Block 12 was a sealed block which you were not allowed to leave; it had its own infirmary, from which 20 prisoners were selected weekly for injections. In total, there were around 395 people in the block, who were constantly being replaced because of these selections. The block 12 prisoners were divided into the following work details: crematorium I and II detail, which numbered some hundred or even more prisoners, and crematorium III and IV detail, which numbered 60 people. The Sonderkommando initially was tasked with dismantling houses and then served at the pits dug specifically for incinerating Hungarian Jews. These pits had existed already before the Hungarian transports arrived. The commandant of this detail was SS Untersturmführer Hössler. The commandant of all the Birkenau crematories was Oberscharführer Foss [Voss]. Additionally, the following SS men served there: Kurschus, Steinberg, Keller, a volskdeutsch from Łódź, Kell, Scharführer Buch, an Oberscharführer from Lublin, Unterscharführer Ząjc, also from there (Majdanek), and Oberscharführer Roll. Constantly helping with transports arriving at the crematorium were Lagerführer Schwarzhuber, the Lagerkommendat, whose name I do not know, and the camp doctor, a German, as well as others from the Political Division, whose names I do not know.
Initially, prisoners were brought in to Birkenau in vans from the Auschwitz depot. At the depot, they were told that whoever felt feeble or unwell could get on a van and would be taken to the camp. Many people fell for this, and in many cases these were young and fit people. All those brought in vans were gassed. Additionally, the elderly, pregnant women and children were selected from each transport and they were gassed as well. On average, around 50% of the transport was gassed. Around that time, transports came in of Greek Jews (around 50,000 people) and of French Jews, with transports every two weeks of around 1,000 people from the infamous camp in France; Belgians, Dutch (around 15,000), Germans, Italians (around 20,000), big transports of Slovak and Polish Jews. I remember when 25,000 Jews from Katowice, Będzin, and Sosnowiec were gassed over a single week. Also Jews from Kraków were brought to be gassed.
The Theresienstadt Jews were not gassed straight away. First, they were placed in the Jewish family camp, and they gassed them off precisely six months after their arrival at the camp. The first transport from Theresienstadt numbered around 3,500 people, and all of them were gassed and incinerated in crematorium I. Additionally, gassings were carried out at Birkenau of various smaller groups of Poles arrested on suspicion of belonging to political organizations. I remember the incineration of a group of 250 people belonging to the Union of Armed struggle, whose leader was Ms. Ela, but I do not know her last name. Let me add that all these people had not been recorded before the incineration. Those never recorded were people who were brought to Birkenau to be gassed straight away, both the elderly and women, and especially children and all those who reported being unwell. In any case, the number of those incinerated without being previously recorded vastly outstripped the number of prisoners who had numbers, because the only camp prisoners to be incinerated were those picked in selections, while the number of unrecorded incinerations is a few million.
In the winter of 1943/44, Birkenau received a transport of American citizens from Warsaw, which numbered 1,750 people, including men, women, and children. These people were told they were going to Switzerland. After they arrived at Birkenau, they asked the prisoners from the Canada detail why they had been brought here, what awaits them, and if they were going to be murdered here, then they asked these Canada prisoners for help, because they had weapons, and working together they could escape. But the Canada prisoners did not answer them. The entire transport was moved to crematories I and II. There, someone told them they were going to be killed. Then, a woman from the transport snatched Quakernack’s gun and shot dead Rapportführer Schillinger. Other women attacked the SS men, using whatever they could get hold of. The SS men demanded reinforcements, and they came – the majority of the transport were gunned down and killed with grenades, and the rest were gassed in crematorium II, with all the corpses being incinerated.
I also remember an incident whereby a Russian POW who was about to be executed together with four comrades of his snatched an SS man’s machine gun, but did not manage to make use of it, as he was overpowered.
Sometime in July 1944, the fist transport of Hungarians came in. It was the first transport that was brought in wagons all the way to the crematories, via a railway siding constructed specifically for that purpose. The unloading site was located opposite crematories I and II, more or less halfway from the entrance of the women’s camp, between camps C and D.
At that time, on average around 18,000 Hungarians were murdered daily at Birkenau. Transports would come from dawn till dusk, one after another, and around 20% of those arriving were sent to the camp. They were recorded in series A and B. The rest were gassed and incinerated in the crematorium furnaces. In cases where there were not enough prisoners, they were executed by shooting and burned in pits. As a rule, a gas chamber was only utilized for groups bigger than 200 people because it was uneconomical to use it for smaller groups. It sometimes happened that during executions by shooting some prisoners put up a fight or children cried, and then Oberscharführer Moll would throw these people into the burning pits alive.
I personally witnessed the following scenes. Moll ordered a naked woman to sit on the corpses near a pit, while he shot at prisoners and threw them to the burning pit, ordering the woman to jump and sing. Of course she did so, in hopes of saving her life. After executing everybody, Moll shot this woman and she was then incinerated. On another occasion, Moll found a few rings and a watch on a boy from our group. He halted him at the crematory, had him thrown him into a furnace, started a fire using paper, and then they got him out, hanged him by his arms, tortured and interrogated him to find out where he had gotten the items found on him. Of course, he told them everything, identified the prisoner who had given these items to him, and then he was set on fire from the waist down and was ordered to run toward the wires, where he was executed.
Because of increased activity in the crematorium, starting with the first arrivals of Hungarian transports, our group was expanded to include 900 people. This group, which, as I said, initially numbered around 400 people, had previously shrunk, because at the beginning of 1944 200 people were sent to Majdanek. This was done in connection with the escape of a prisoner. This prisoner was executed together with four others seven kilometers outside the camp, and the ramification was the selection of these 200 people. They were told that they would go to Majdanek as skilled workers for operating the crematories. It turned out that right after arriving at Majdanek these people were executed and then incinerated.
At the beginning of 1944, Birkenau received a transport from Majdanek, on which there were 300 Polish Jewesses, 19 Soviet POWs, and one German prisoner, a Kapo from Majdanek. The men were put in block 13, with the Sonderkommando, being assigned to work at the crematorium. The 300 women were kept in the sauna, that is the bathroom, for three days, and then they were taken to the crematorium, where at night they were executed and incinerated. I know about the execution and incineration of these Jewesses directly from
my Sonderkommando comrades, who worked a shift that night and personally witnessed the execution and later assisted in burning the corpses. Of course, this entire transport of Jewesses later executed was never recorded.
Before I arrived at Birkenau to operate the crematories, a Gypsy camp had been set up, the so-called lager E. It was a camp where Gypsies rounded up from different countries were interned with their wives and children, several thousand people altogether. They had been recorded as a special Gypsy group and assigned separate numbers, the difference being that they had the letter ‘Z’ added to the tattooed number, and also their clothes bore this letter. They were allowed to keep their own civilian clothes, and they had their own bedsheets, as well as money and valuables, which they had not been divested of. They also had a canteen at the camp, where they could buy cigarettes, beer, soap, soda, onions, and biscuits, all at exorbitant prices. The canteen head was a German and it was run by a Gypsy prisoner. The only grocery items available were biscuits. The Gypsies shopped in the canteen for quite a while, but then they ran out of money and suffered hunger just like the other prisoners. The Gypsy camp was obviously off limits to other prisoners. Nevertheless, you could get in if you paid a special bribe to the SS man who was Blockführer. Prisoners who could afford a bribe in the form of a pack of cigarettes capitalized on that fact and got his permission to enter the Gypsy camp, where they had sex with Gypsy women; they were starving, so they sold their bodies for cigarettes or other items. The husbands or fathers of these women acquiesced, since they were starving too and wanted to benefit from these practices. Essentially, the Gypsies were not employed for work outside the camp. They did works inside the Gypsy camp, but their life was no easier compared to that of other prisoners, especially after they had run out of money. They were treated as brutally as the other prisoners were. Each day, from exhaustion or beating, around 100 Gypsies perished, 60% of them children. As a result, in the spring of 1944 only about 3,000 Gypsies remained in the camp.
Precisely around that time, the Germans finished off the remaining Gypsies through gassing. This was done in the following way. First, the camp authorities announced to them that those fit for work could volunteer for an assignment outside of Auschwitz. When some of them did volunteer, they were loaded onto vans and taken to Auschwitz. A few days later, those who remained in the camp were rounded up in front of crematorium IV at Birkenau, and at the same time the Gypsies previously taken to Auschwitz were brought there too, and, having been made to undress, all of them were crammed into the crematory rooms, where they were gassed and then incinerated in the pits by the crematorium, since the crematorium IV furnaces were inoperative at that time. I witnessed this gassing, as did the remaining members of the Sonderkommando.
Around the time when the transports of Hungarian Jews were being gassed, that is, toward the end of spring and at the beginning of summer 1944, some 50-60,000 Jews from Łódź and around 30,000 Jews from Theresienstadt were also gassed. The staff from our Sonderkommando were told that larger transports of “material”, i.e. people designated for gassing, would arrive. Soon after this announcement, transports of people from Theresienstadt began to be brought in, between 1,000 and 2,000 people, as well as people from Łódź, on equally numerous transports, out of whom just a small portion were sent to the camp and the others transported directly to the crematorium (without being recorded) and gassed, and then incinerated in the crematories and pits. I established the number of Jews from Theresienstadt and Łódź who were incinerated, having worked on the crematorium staff at that time. I could personally count the number of those incinerated in front of my very eyes. To this I added the numbers of incinerated bodies which were reported to me by my Sonderkommando comrades, who worked different shifts at the crematorium.
Let me add that the number of Jews from the Hungarian transports incinerated at that time, which I forgot to mention previously, was around half a million people.
The Birkenau crematories were operative between the beginning of 1943 until the autumn of 1944. I arrived at Birkenau in the summer of 1943, together with seven others. We were incorporated into the existing Sonderkommando, which, before the commissioning of the crematories at Birkenau, also burned bodies in special pits next to the so-called bunkers 1 and 2. From my own observations and conversations with other prisoners from the Sonderkommando, I conclude that during the existence of the Sonderkommando, that is, for around two years, no less than two million people were incinerated in the Birkenau crematories and bunkers. This number does not include those incinerated at Birkenau by former Sonderkommandos, which had been liquidated by SS men and so could not provide us with information concerning the number of people incinerated at the time said Sonderkommandos operated.
Let me emphasize that the only individuals who were recorded and tagged with numbers at the camp were those assigned to do particular tasks. On the other hand, all those who were sent to be gassed right after the arrival of a transport or those who for various reasons were not terminated straight away, but right at the outset were designated for incineration and merely awaited their turn incommunicado – all these were neither tagged with numbers nor otherwise recorded. A case in point was the so-called Mexico camp, which was built toward the end of 1943 for the English and Americans, as we were told at the time. However, neither English nor Americans were interned there, the camp being instead populated with women and children from transports of Hungarian Jews. They were put there when sizeable portions of Hungarian transports were sent straight to the crematories. These Jewesses and their children were not employed for any work, but were kept for a few months in the unfinished barracks of the Mexico camp, with almost no food, in poor clothes, and with no blankets. Under these conditions, people died on a massive scale. Their corpses were then moved to the crematorium. Additionally, muselmanns, who were the living dead already, were sent to the crematorium. If a child was born in this camp, it was taken to the crematorium, thrown into a crematorium room like a stone, and executed. That way, the majority of the Mexico camp prisoners were gradually liquidated, while others were moved outside Auschwitz.
I need to make a mention of one more thing. At the Gypsy camp, which I mentioned before, medical assistance was being provided by Jewish doctors. After the entire Jewish camp was gassed, the Birkenau camp authorities wanted these doctors to declare that the Gypsies had been suffering from different contagious diseases. Since the doctors would not sign off on such a false medical opinion, they were assigned to the penal company and then moved outside of Birkenau.
As regards the procedure of gassing itself, it needs to be added that when senile old men, children, or sick people were brought to the crematorium, they were not told to disembark from the van, but instead the front part of the vehicle was lifted and they were dumped into the yard, like garbage is dumped into special pits. When after the gassing we were ordered to throw bodies into a furnace, we would sometimes find someone who was still showing signs of life, and we did not want to throw them into a furnace alive; then, one of the SS men would finish them off with a shot from his revolver.
In summer 1944, knowing that the Germans would normally liquidate a Sonderkommando, we, the Sonderkommando crew, decided to stage an escape, organizing a mutiny. After we liaised with other camp units, especially the bathhouse, Canada, Soviet POWs, and the women’s camp (FKL), a mutiny indeed broke out, which, however, did not work out for us, because the SS men managed to get the situation under control and put down the rebellion. Four Unterscharführers died in the process, and 12 SS men were injured, while 455 people were taken away. In connection with this case, four women were hanged, but it was six months later, after it was proved that they had supplied us with weapons.
Just before the attempted rebellion, I planned to escape from the camp, and as a result I ended up in a different detail. There, I was intercepted and meted out a singular punishment of 200 blows with a rod. If they had known I was planning an escape, they would have executed me.
On the premises of the Birkenau camp, close to the crematorium, I buried in the ground a camera, a metal can containing the residue of gas, and notes in Yiddish concerning the numerical quotas of transports sent to be gassed. I remember where these items are located and I can point to them anytime. Should the Commission come across these items themselves, I obviously give permission for them to be kept and used appropriately, since the notes were made for posterity, because we held out no hope of ever being free again.
In the next couple of days I plan on going to Auschwitz on personal business. Then, I am leaving for France via Czechoslovakia. Let me add that in the future I will be using the name of Stanisław Jankowski, which I assumed already during my time in France to conceal my true identity from the Germans. I have been using this name ever since.
Toward the end of my time at Auschwitz, or rather Birkenau, when the liquidation of the camp had already started, my Kapo, who had worked with me for two years, managed to save me from an early departure from the camp. As a result, I remained there until 18 January 1945. On that day I was sent off in a transport of around 7,000 people and sent westward. In the town of Königsdorff [Jastrzębie-Zdrój], near Rybnik, I managed to escape from the transport, and after two months of wandering, I reached the Soviet frontlines. This was in the final days of March 1945 in Wodzisław, near Rybnik. I have enjoyed full freedom ever since.
The present report was read out to me and I sign it as a faithful copy of my testimony.
At this the proceedings and the report were concluded.