On 10 May 1945 in Oświęcim, Regional Investigative Judge Jan Sehn, member of the Commission for the Investigation of German-Nazi Crimes in Oświęcim, at the request, in the presence and with the participation of Deputy Prosecutor of the Regional Court Dr Wincenty Jarosiński, pursuant to Articles 254 and 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, interviewed Motek Popiół as a witness, former prisoner no. 73832 of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Motek Popiół|
|Date and place of birth||17 July 1923, Żuromin, Sierpiec District|
|Parents’ names||Wiktor and Idka, née Gruszka|
|Place of resident before the arrest||Ciechanów|
|Current place of residence||Żuromin|
On 5 November 1942, together with a group of other Jews numbering 1500 people, I was transported by train from the Ciechanów ghetto to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Right after we got off the train, the prisoners were subject to a selection, and the healthiest were taken to the camp to work. From the total number of people who had arrived, only 500 Jews, including myself, were sent to the camp. The remaining thousand were sent straight to the gas chambers and poisoned. I found out about this later on. After we showered, dressed in camp clothes and had our numbers tattooed, we were placed in blocks. I was assigned to block 9, and I started work the following day. I worked in the Dachdeckers [roofers] commando. I stayed in that block until Christmas of 1943.
On 25 December 1943, SS men came to the Birkenau camp and instructed us to carry dirt in our coats from one place to another. It was completely pointless. In the meantime, both the Kapo and the SS men were kicking and beating us without any reason with sticks and hands, which resulted in the deaths or serious injuries of several hundred people. The SS men were also setting dogs on us. On the following day, due to the received injuries and dog bites, I went to the hospital in block 7. The block was divided into four rooms: the first two were intended for less seriously ill patients, and the next two – for those who were to be sent to the gas chambers. The prisoners lying in the last two rooms had the letter “L” tattooed on their arms. All of them knew very well that they would be gassed. During my four-week stay in that block, I saw with my own eyes several selections for gassing. At every such selection, about three-fourths of the 1500 prisoners were taken from the block. The prisoners selected for gassing were told to undress while still in the block, and were pushed into trucks. If a prisoner who had been chosen for death resisted, the SS men beat him.
When I regained full health, I was sent back to the Dachdeckers commando and placed in block 13. At that time, our job consisted in laying roofs in the so-called Gypsy camp. The Gypsies were brought there in winter, I do not remember the exact month, but I believe it was in February. They lived with their wives and whole families, and they behaved as if they were free, not imprisoned in a Gypsy camp. I know that infectious diseases were spreading there, which resulted in the deaths of many Gypsies. The Gypsy camp existed until 1944, when some of the healthiest Gypsies were sent to the camp in Auschwitz I, and then to work outside the camp, but I do not know where. The rest were taken away by trucks and gassed. The sight of the Gypsies being loaded into the trucks was horrible. They were screaming, resisting and crying, while the SS men were rushing them mercilessly into several trucks. Both the Gypsies and we knew that they would be taken to the gas chambers.
At a roll call in March 1943, one of the German Kapos wrote down my number, which was then read out, along with other numbers. We were sent to block 16 and told that from then on we would work in the Canada detail. I worked in that detail for three weeks. While working in Canada, I had a chance to see constant transports arriving at Birkenau. Right after the train stopped, people were instructed to get off, and we were supposed to take out everything that they had left inside. When the train cars were emptied, the people were lined up at the so-called ramp. After a short while, one of the German doctors arrived by ambulance. He performed a selection and chose only a small percentage of the healthiest people to work in the camp. The rest was transported by trucks straight to the gas chambers. I often saw children being taken away from their mothers: the mothers were sent to work, the children – to the gas chambers. Other prisoners told me that the ambulance, which arrived before the selection at the square where people were unloaded, transported zyklon. I do not know how many people the SS men poisoned with that gas at that time. People in the camp claimed the number amounted to about three million.
Apart from unloading the luggage from the trains, we also had to load the packages into trucks, and then unload them and place them in individual warehouses. Several hundred people worked in Canada, both men and women. There were two shifts: a day shift and a night shift. The Canada detail was one of the best work units, because we were able to arrange something to eat. I personally did not want to work in Canada, because it would be better for me, as a professional, to work in the Dachdeckers commando. The Kapos in Canada were German and they usually beat us for the smallest violations. Before we left work, we were searched by the Kapos, accompanied by SS men, who wanted to make sure that nobody was stealing anything. If a prisoner tried to sneak out some jewellery, they were often shot dead. Sometimes the prisoner was reported, transferred to the SK [Strafkompanie] or beaten, which was the lightest punishment.
After three weeks, I was reassigned to the Dachdeckers commando. I worked there until 27 October 1944. During that time, I do not remember the exact date, when I wanted to warm up the tar cauldron, I threw a piece of good board inside. An SS man saw this and reported me and the supervising Kapo. As a result, I was punished with ten days in the bunker and ten days of penal works. The Kapo received the same punishment. The bunker was located in block 3, but it could be entered from block 2. It was an enclosed 70x80 cm space, 2 metres high. The bunker had a concrete floor. The entrance was very small, located near the floor, and had a door. Before we entered the bunker, we were searched. There was also a small, 18x10 cm window, which was the only source of air. Six men were placed in one bunker, so we were not able to turn around or move an arm. In the morning, we were immediately taken to work. We laid the roofs of the quarantine and other blocks, where Czech Jewish families were subsequently placed. The Kapo of that detail was a German, Alfons Gottinger, nicknamed “Seppel.” He was a very bad person, completely heartless, about 35 years old. He had stayed in the camps for as long as 11 years. He was a butcher who had no respect whatsoever for human life. He beat us with poles and bricks, and he often pushed us off roofs. During the time I worked in the Dachdeckers detail, he killed several hundred people, because the prisoners working in that unit constantly changed and new people joined us. Apart from people employed in that detail, he would beat and kill anyone he met.
On 27 October 1944, I was transported from the Birkenau camp to the Stutthof camp near Gdańsk, together with a group of 1500 people. I did various jobs there for a month. On 27 November 1944, I was assigned, together with 250 other people, to work in the Schichau submarine factory in Gdańsk. I worked as an electrician and helped building submarines. We were taken to work by train, because the camp was situated 15 kilometres away from the Schichau factory. We worked from 6.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. We were given the same food as in the camp, and we had to eat it in cold rooms, while other employees, who were not prisoners, received completely different and much better food, and ate in special dinning rooms. We worked in the Schichau factory until January 1945, when the Soviet front approached. In January we stopped working, but we stayed in the camp for three weeks. We were fed even more poorly at that time, because we received less soup and its quality was much worse. After those three weeks, all healthy prisoners, about 700 people, had to go by foot to the camp called, I think, Gotendorf [Choczewo] near Lauenburg [Lębork]. For the whole journey, which lasted five day – the distance was 140 kilometres – we received only a loaf of bread and 50 grams of margarine. When we reached the camp, we were placed in barracks, where we had to sleep on bare ground. Finally, after three days we were given half a litre of soup, and after five days we were given a bit of bread – every day a 1.5 kg loaf was divided between 20 people. Our task was to chop wood in the forest. As a result of the bad diet in the camp, many people died.
One day, after a month, it was announced that we would go by foot to Gdańsk, and all healthy prisoners were instructed to gather in the roll call square. There were rumours that we would be transported by ship to Hamburg. We had to walk to Gdańsk and we received no food at all for the journey. We set off at night and were escorted by SS men and sailors. During the march, my three colleagues – Lejzor Braun, Mendel Braun, and a third one, whose name I do not recall – and I decided to escape. We succeeded because the night was dark and we were marching through woods. We did not know our exact location, but we knew we were somewhere in the Reich territory. We were afraid to leave the forest, because we were dressed in camp clothes. We ate what we managed to steal from the fields. After five days of wandering around, we met Soviet troops. When the soldiers found out we were camp prisoners, they gave us food and allowed us to take civilian clothes from the wagons. Then, they let us go to our homes, where we have stayed until today.
At this point, the report was concluded, read out and signed by witness Motek Popiół as consistent with his testimony.