Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Warsaw
Testimony of citizen Jadwiga Lauterbach, domiciled in Warsaw at Wileńska Street 63, flat no. 8, concerning her stay in Pawiak prison in the Women’s Ward (from 13 April to 23 May 1943).
I was kept in Pawiak prison for six weeks from 13 April to 23 May 1943. The reason: a false report. Gendarmes came to my flat and arrested me without giving any reason. I was transported to the Gestapo HQ at aleja Szucha, where I was kept for 12 hours. I was in the so-called “tram.” It was a room divided into separate locked cages, each with its own door. One had to sit in there facing the wall, motionless, otherwise one was hit in the face. There was one Gestapo man in the room guarding us. His soles were so silent that it was impossible to hear him walking. All of a sudden, he would materialize in front of you.
I was prepared for the worst. I did not know what they were accusing me of, what danger lay ahead of me. Out of my nervousness, I had a coughing fit. The Gestapo man rushed up to me and gave me a dressing-down, accusing me as of trying to communicate with somebody in the “tram.” People were called out to the toilet every three quarters of an hour. First men, then women. Women were also used to do the cleaning and to wash the floors. While I was being kept in the “tram,” I could hear a young boy being interrogated in the adjacent room. I could hear them shout: “You Polish swine, you Polish cadet, where did you stay last night?” He was heavily beaten. At first, one could hear his horrible wailing, but then they switched on a radio, apparently to drown out his moans. They broadcast very loud music, nothing but the most beautiful tunes. After some time I heard somebody shout on the phone: “ Schon enigebrecken ” (He has broken down).
After 12 hours, when my papers were taken away from me and my personal details were taken down, I was transported away, together with a few other people, to Pawiak prison.
After I had had a bath, I was in so-called quarantine for the first two weeks. I was in a group of 14 people in a tiny temporary room. Mattresses folded up for the day lay on the floor side by side.
When the quarantine was over, I was transferred to a permanent cell, which had a capacity of a maximum of 25 women. This number kept changing, some women were taken away, others were brought in. The conditions were not bad thanks to the considerable help on the part of the Patronat. When I was released, the conditions allegedly deteriorated since they limited the Patronat’s help.
There were many women in my cell; however, their number obviously fluctuated. I remember some names, for example:
1. Wiktoria Dąbrowska, the wife of an officer, was executed later.
2. Anna Dzwonkowska, the wife of a professor and doctor. The Gestapo men had in fact come for her cousin, Katarzyna Tomaszewicz, but during the search they found her husband’s military trousers in a suitcase, which was enough to arrest her. 3. Katarzyna Tomaszewicz, sent to Auschwitz; she went missing without a trace. 4. Jadwiga Pruszkowska, the niece of the painter Pruszkowski, was sent to Auschwitz. 5. Sujkowska, a teacher in the Szachtmajerowa lower secondary school in Warsaw. 6. Alexandrowicz, an artist from Vilnius; she was sent to Auschwitz.
7. Breza, was sent to Auschwitz for communist activity while seriously ill. 8. Trzcińska – both the mother and her three daughters – they were in prison because of their brother; they were sent to Auschwitz. The father, the architect Trzciński, and his son were kept in the men’s ward.
9. Maka (I do not remember her surname), a colonel’s daughter; she was held for three escape attempts from a camp in Berlin. She was later taken away as a secretary of a prison commander, the infamous Bürkl (?), who set his dogs on Jewish women. Eventually, he was sentenced to execution by underground organizations.
So, a lot of women went through our cell, whose names I usually do not remember.
There were seven solitary cells on our floor. They were for women whose cases were serious or apparently connected, so as to prevent any contact among the accused. The conditions in there were very unpleasant since above all one was not allowed to talk to them, and they could only see the prison personnel. I remember that during my stay in Pawiak prison, one of the women kept in a solitary cell died.
We were transported to the Gestapo HQ on aleja Szucha for interrogations. After the attempt to rescue prisoners on Długa Street we were transported in a convoy. Some women returned from interrogations so cruelly beaten that they were immediately sent to hospital. One of my fellow inmates was so badly beaten that she was able to neither lie down nor sit down for some time.
There was a mother with her own daughter in the adjacent cell. The daughter was kept for distribution of clandestine publications, and her mother for not wanting to let her daughter go to prison alone. During an interrogation her daughter was so badly beaten that she got a fit of nervous laughter. The Gestapo men were dumbfounded and stopped beating her. On the following day, they started beating her again, but the girl managed to hold up and did not turn anybody in. She was transported with her mother to Auschwitz.
The conduct of the imprisoned women was extraordinary. Some of them painted their lips red with pieces of red paper, gathered specially for that purpose, so that their appearance would not reveal that they had grown faint.
I was taken for an interrogation twice. The first time was after two weeks’ stay in prison. I was kept at Gestapo HQ at aleja Szucha for six hours but the interrogation was not conducted. The second time was after three weeks and then the interrogation took place. There were two people interrogating me. One of them was a clerk, the other one was for beating but he also “took the floor” from time to time. I was not beaten, but this was exceptional.
During my stay in prison, the Ghetto was ablaze. There was a sea of flames raging in front of our windows, and it seemed it would devour us. The bars in the windows were hot with heat. There was an air raid on 12 May. I had a very unpleasant feeling of complete defencelessness.
I was released on 25 May. The moment when I was called out of my cell was not pleasant. One could never know if they were calling one out to be released or to be interrogated or to be executed, or alternatively, perhaps to be sent to Auschwitz. Generally, they took one for an interrogation without one’s belongings, but it often happened that a person was called out for what seemed to be an interrogation, but they would never return to their cells. They sometimes took prisoners for an execution with their belongings. Only the person who read the name out knew what would happen to the prisoner, as the sheets of paper were of different colours depending on their purpose. (So, there were different sheets for executions, different for releasing prisoners, and still different for interrogations). But the prisoner did not know any of that.
After what I had gone through, nothing seemed terrible to me. The things that I experienced first-hand and that I saw and heard caused a shock so strong that I sank into a state of torpor for a long time and I did not respond to any stimuli.
I have testified truthfully. Before signing my name, I have read the witness interview report.