The fifteenth day of the trial, 25 January 1947.
Józef Gitler-Barski, aged 48, resident of Warsaw, secretary general of the American Children’s Relief Committee, no relationship to the parties.
Presiding judge: What will the witness’s testimony pertain to? This is a witness for the prosecution, is that correct?
Prosecutor Siewierski: The witness will testify regarding the relief operations in the ghetto, in order to establish the extent to which such relief was needed.
Presiding judge: Would the witness please present what he knows concerning the case.
Witness: In the ghetto, I was director of the Child Care Committee, the central organization for childcare. Out of the 500,000 residents of the ghetto, a group of some 100,000 were subject to particularly ferocious persecutions on the part of the ghetto authorities. These were the Jewish children. It is their lives, their experiences, and their feelings that I would like to testify about. These children suffered two-fold. On one hand, they had to live through the horror of losing their parents and relatives, and on the other, they were themselves subject to repressive measures, and eventually to extermination. I am in possession of materials concerning not just my direct observations and experiences related to providing care to the ghetto children, but also of the first-hand testimonies of children who survived the ghetto and of those who died in camps but had managed to have their experiences recorded. I am asking Your Honors for permission to use these materials.
Presiding judge: What age group do you mean by “children”?
Witness: From the smallest up to 16, 17-year-olds.
The only welfare organization was the Jewish Social Self-Help. This organization comprised departments dealing with different aspects of welfare: health, homeless children, etc. I was in charge of providing childcare. The children in the ghetto were in a particularly dire situation because they had lost their relatives. Parents were regularly taken to camps from the very beginning and the children were orphaned very early on, so the number of orphans, which stood at 1,200 before the establishment of the ghetto, reached 6,000, and these children quickly filled the orphanages we set up in the ghetto. The other children, half- orphans from emigrants stations, loitered in the streets and inspired horror in whomever found himself in the streets of the Warsaw ghetto: lying there next to each other were turgid, hungry, ulcerated children pleading for help.
On the other hand, children in good health tried to provide for their families. They would sneak over to the Aryan side and sell items from the ghetto to get some food. The ghetto walls witnessed scenes of horror. The returning children were often caught by gendarmes and executed on the spot. I witnessed one such scene from a window of my office on Leszno Street. There was a gate there which led into Leszno Street. Once, a child, a nine- year-old boy, sneaked through with a little bag containing bread. A gendarme caught him and executed him straight away. The corpse lay there for a few hours and could be seen from the windows of my office until the Ordnungsdienst removed it.
Children were also decimated by typhus, which constantly plagued the dormitories and emigrant stations. Each day, hundreds of children were taken to the cemetery as typhus causalities.
Children would beg, but not only that. There were the haper type children: those would wait for people exiting grocery stores and then pounce on the packages, biting into the food at once so that it would not be taken away from them. These children were severely beaten by the Jewish police (?).
The childcare institutions could not cope with the problem of homelessness and destitution among the Jewish children. Orphanages were overfilled, there were no places in dormitories, and kitchens could not provide enough hot meals.
At the beginning, I said that our activity was legal. This is not exactly accurate. In the ghetto, no activity whose aim was to save anybody, especially children, could have been legal. The basic goal of the ghetto was to exterminate people, not save them. This is why our activity was illegal. This illegality showed in our not having food for children. If we had settled for the rations that the ghetto’s alimentation department received to be distributed among people, including children, then the children in our orphanages would have died of starvation. We bought food on the black marked, food that had been smuggled in. At any time, this could have seen the institution dissolved and its board liquidated. Our budget was one million zlotys per month, while we were allowed to have 2,000 zlotys at our disposal. The budget was thus clandestine. On countless occasions, we did things which were punishable by death under the regulations laid down by those who considered themselves to be the authority in the ghetto and outside.
There was a committee in the ghetto tasked with combating the beggary among children. Its chairman was Prof. Hirszfeld, and I was one of the members. We were helpless. It was impossible to put the children off begging since it provided a livelihood not only for them but also for their parents and siblings.
There was a schooling institution in the ghetto. It was prohibited to teach children. We circumvented this ban. Kitchens were set up, which were used by some 30,000 children. We were to limit ourselves to serving meals. These kitchens were clandestine schools for children. They were located in school buildings. The kitchen personnel, that is those serving the meals and the cooks, were teachers. After a meal was issued, the building was locked, someone was posted outside, and secret teaching took place. The hungry children learned, and the teaching personnel risked their lives teaching.
The day was approaching which has likely been mentioned here on multiple occasions, that is 22 July 1942, the beginning of the liquidation of the ghetto. We feared for the children. The authorities of the welfare institution watching over 45,000 children explored ways of saving them. In hindsight, our ideas may seem naïve. We thought that we would manage to save some of the children. During the first week of the Great Action, when the Germans would merely supervise the action and delegated its execution to the German police, we were successful in saving Jewish children in the orphanages. These were left alone. In the second week, when the Germans took matters in their own hands, the orphanages went down one after another. The first to be deported were the children from Mr. Korczak’s orphanage, together with the teachers. Then, it was the half-orphanages: children were snatched in the kitchens in the middle of their meals and sent to Treblinka. I must emphasize the heroism of the teachers, Mr. Korczak among them, who made a conscious decision to go with the children to meet their death.
I would like to describe one scene. During one of the deportation actions, at night, I managed to get on the premises of the institution to see if maybe some children had been left behind. The building looked like it had been plundered. The furniture was smashed, the pots broken, and the feathers from the bedclothes were everywhere. In the last room I checked, I found a quilt rolled in a tube. I wondered why that was the case. I unfolded it and I found a five- year-old boy. I thought he was dead, but he showed some weak signs of life. I started to revive him. His first words, in the Jewish tongue, were, “I want to live”. We saved this child only to lose him after a few weeks in one of the subsequent operations.
Out of the 100,000 children from the Warsaw ghetto, no more than 300 survived, according to my rough estimations. These were the children who had escaped outside the ghetto walls and took shelter with Christian families. Around 100,000 children perished. Those children who survived and those who died left documents concerning their experiences. I think that those first-hand accounts of the children should be heard during this trial.
Julian Goldman, 13 years of age
When we later moved from Gęsia Street and lived at the corner of Żelazna Street and Prosta Street, our place overlooked the border wires. Every day, I could see the police shooting little children like ducks if they caught them carrying food. Each day, there were bodies by the wires. The following would happen, for instance: every morning, a mother, who was a beggar, came to us with her two children. She would get some breakfast and then move on. After a while, the children came alone. “Where’s your mother?” “She died”, they say. They would continue like that for some time, until one day only one child came. The other one had died and the surviving one was all swollen already, and then it would stop coming round, too.
Diza Beler, 12 years of age.
Once, I saw some Gestapo men detect a group of people who wanted to escape from the ghetto, and they were hanged. They were Mr. Fast with his wife, Mr. Szternlicht with his wife and child, Mr. Stub with his wife and child, and one more woman with her child. I saw them being driven to be hanged. Then, the witnesses said that these people asked the Germans not to hang the children, and they were magnanimous in that the children were shot, and one woman, too, who was very fat. The rest were hanged from a balcony on the fourth floor and then burned.
In Sącz, my mommy ran an umbrella factory, and different Germans would come to my mommy. There was one whose name was Haman, and the other one, Johann, and these two were the worst. When he sometimes caught a Jew, this Johann would rub him with a brush so hard that his skin came off, or he would set his beard on fire and did not allow for it to be put out, until the victim had burns everywhere, or he would unleash dogs that would bite people to death.
Helena Arbeiter, 13 years of age
We had to escape to avoid deportation. It was cold. My mother gave birth on the snow. Nobody wanted to take us in. The baby cried very loud. It had survived two weeks. My mother was very feeble, she could not walk. We sneaked into some barn and slept there unbeknown to the host. But my mother died and my sister would not walk on, saying she wanted to stay where our mommy was buried.
Marlena Walisch, 10 years of age (daughter of a secondary school professor).
One day, they caught my brother. Daddy went to the Gestapo to get him out. We haven’t seen either of them ever since. Later, they searched our place and took my mommy. We chased the car until it disappeared into the distance. Mommy only managed to throw a note out of the car, in which she asked Irka to take care of me. At that time, children were again being killed in the ghetto, thrown against the fences or walls, their heads crushed. I saw it myself.
Fryda Koch, 14 years of age
Daddy was taken away and killed. Mommy did not tell us for a few days. Our uncle, a pharmacist, gave mommy three measures of a poison. Mommy wanted us to take the poison immediately, but me and my brother did not want to, and we said to mommy that she had no right to do it to us because maybe daddy was still alive somewhere. But at the end of May the Germans took my mommy and my brother, and then I wanted to kill myself.
Samuel Eisen, 13 years of age.
When the action began, my father and I started to run, but daddy was hit and he crumpled at our feet. We did not stop and kept running into the field. Next day, we found daddy, but he was already naked, as were all the corpses around. The administrator allowed us to bury our daddy, he gave me and my brother shovels, and we dug a pit and buried daddy naked. We had no clothes to dress him in.
Maria Kopel, 12 years of age.
When the Germans came, they told mommy to undress, but mommy wouldn’t do so, because she knew she would die anyway, so they killed her in her clothes. My father was strong, they tied his arms behind his back and wanted to shoot him in the head, but daddy kicked the German in the stomach so he fell and passed out. Then, daddy grabbed the rifle and ran to the boys.
Until 24 March 1943, I was not in hiding, meaning I openly walked the streets, but on that day my life changed radically. They captured all the Jews from the neighborhood over one day. I went into hiding, but it got even worse: the Germans were burning down the ghetto. I watched the death of my father, the walls of the burning ghetto, where I had experienced so many good moments and so many bad ones. My heart was dying with the ghetto, wanting to be with those who were losing their lives there.
Lidka Stern, 16 years of age.
Daddy had faith in his papers and did not want to go into hiding. That was his undoing. Gestapo men came, unceremoniously tore up daddy’s Meldekarte, and took him, together with my brother. They disappeared without a trace. I don’t know if anyone who’s not been through such hell can understand me, but I can’t forget, and I hold every German responsible for the death and suffering of my father and brother.
Fryderyk Sztajnkeller, 6 years of age
I was sitting behind the wardrobe, I didn’t have supper, and in the morning they forgot to give me something to eat too. Whenever anybody came, I didn’t make a sound, and I wasn’t outdoors even once. I didn’t clean myself, I didn’t have any toys. I was completely quiet, I hid under a quilt which was infested with lice, and I thought I would remain there forever.
Jan Kulbinger, 13 years of age, in prison.
After a week, they read out names, for yet another interrogation. All the children from the prison were there, there were six of them, a girl among them. She was nine and she was a Jewess, to which she wouldn’t confess, so a Gestapo man told her that, if she confessed, she would be fine, but if she didn’t, they would beat her. He spoke to her so sweetly – telling her not to be afraid, that they wouldn’t hurt her, that she would be alright – that she, foolishly, eventually believed him and said she was a Jewess. Then, we were stood with our faces to the wall.
Anzelm Landesman, 13 years of age.
I got up in the morning, the Great Action had begun. I escaped that way, my mother that way, and my younger brother that way. A German shot at me and the bullet grazed my head. I went down. They thought I was dead and everybody trampled over me. I was just lying there. When the Germans left, I got up and went to the hospital, where I had my head bandaged up.
Szlama Kutnowski, 15 years of age
The landlord’s daughter was visited by a German gendarme named Wrona. He was informed that I was a Jew. They took me and tortured me three times a day during interrogations. They crushed my finger with a door, I still have a scar. They trod on my stomach and asked if I was a Jew. Third time around, when I did not confess, they tortured me. Then, they read out the sentence, which said I would be hanged in the morning. At night, together with Kowalczyk, we cut through a bar and escaped.
Once, on Unii Square in Warsaw, I was captured by a Volksdeutsch, who wanted to take me to the gendarmerie on Szucha Avenue. I knew the danger I was in, so I started to plead with him to let me go, but unfortunately he wouldn’t. We were almost there, and he still wouldn’t let me go, so I bit his hand and I ran. He couldn’t shoot at me because I blended in with the other people. In Mokotów, on Jana Czeczota Street, we set up a bunker in the bushes. First, we borrowed a shovel and dug a pit, one-and-a-half-meter deep, one-meter wide, and one- and-a-half-meter long. Then we bought some planks and covered it. We covered the planks with tin and leaves, and then put soil on top, so that the spot would not stand out.
Presiding judge: This material is sufficient illustration. If the witness has nothing else to add from his own experience, then I think that the testimony is complete. Just one more question: you claim that 100,000 children died in the ghetto during the occupation. As a person preoccupied with the fortunes of these children, could you tell us how many of them died of tuberculosis, how many of typhus, and how many sudden deaths there were?
Witness: For the time being, I do not know the exact figures, but deaths from more or less natural causes – if you can call these natural – made up some 15 to 20 percent, while the rest of the children was deported in the course of evicting the Jews from the ghetto and died in the crematorium furnaces in Treblinka.
Presiding judge: My understanding is that these children died mostly of hunger, is that correct?
Witness: Of hunger and as a result of epidemics.
Presiding judge: Thank you, I have no further questions. I am ordering a short break.