The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Excerpts from The Belsen Trial

Part 4 of 5:
Testimony concerning Auschwitz

Charles Sigsmund Bendel, sworn and examined by Colonel Backhouse concerning the Auschwitz camp (pp. 130-133):

-- I am a Rumanian doctor living in Paris and when I was arrested on 4th November, 1943, I had lived in France for 10 years. The reason for my arrest was because I did not wear the Star of David, the Jewish star, which I was forced to wear. I was taken to a camp called Drancy, near Paris, and then to Auschwitz on the 10th December, 1943, where I worked as a stone mason in a part of the camp called Buna. On the 1st of January, 1944, I was transferred to the main camp, and on 27th February, 1944, into the gipsy [sic] camp in Birkenau, where I worked as a doctor. The senior doctor was called Dr. Mengele. He was in charge of the whole medical side of that camp, particualrly infectious diseases in which Professor Epstein from Prague and myself assisted. Dr. Mengele engaged in the research of injections in the crematorium. These were injections which were supposed to produce instantaneous death, and in the gipsy camp he worked mainly on research tests against twins. He continued to make all sorts of tests on those twins, but it was not enough. He wanted to see them dead, to see what they looked like. When first I went to that camp there were 11,000 occupants, but at the end of July, 1944, 4300 had gone to the crematorium. Prior to that, 1500 had been selected for working parties and all the others had died of natural causes or some other sort of death in the camp. Those who went to the crematorium never left it alive -- they were gassed.

In June, 1944, was your employment changed?

-- Indeed it was changed. Dr. Mengele gave me the honour to attach me to the crematorium. the men who worked there were called Sonderkommando, a Special Kommando numbering 900. They were all deported people. Just as there existed Sonderkommando amongst the prisoners so there was a Sonderkommando also amongst the S.S. They enjoyed special privileges, for instance, in alcohol, and were completely separated from the other S.S. There were about fifteen S.S. in this Sonderkommando, three for each crematorium. The prisoners amongst the Sonderkommando lived in the camp in two blocks which were always locked, and were not allowed to leave them. [...] At first I lived in the camp with the other prisoners, but later on in the crematorium itself. The first time I started work there was in August, 1944. No one was gassed on that occasion, but 150 political prisoners, Russians and Poles, were led one by one to the graves and they were shot. Two days later, when I was attached to the day group, I saw a gas chamber in action. On that occasion it was the ghetto at Lodz -- 80,000 people were gassed.

Would you describe just what happened that day?

-- I came at seven o'clock in the morning with the others and saw white smoke still rising from the trenches, which indicated that a whole transport had been liquidated or finished off during the night. In Crematorium No. 4 the result which was achieved by burning was apparently not sufficient. The work was not going on quickly enough, so behind the crematorium they dug three large trenches 12 metres long and 6 metres wide. After a bit it was found that the results achieved even in these three big trenches were not quick enough, so in the middle of these big trenches they built two canals through which the human fat or grease should seep so that work could be continued in a quicker way. The capacity of these trenches was almost fantastic. Crematorium No. 4 was able to burn 1000 people during the day, but this system of trenches was able to deal with the same number in one hour.

Will you describe the day's work?

-- At eleven o'clock in the morning the chief of the Political Department arrived on his motor cycle to tell us, as always, that a new transport had arrived. The trenches which I described before had to be prepared. They had to be cleaned out. Wood had to be put in and petrol sprayed over so that it would burn quicker. About twelve o'clock the new transport arrived, consisting of some 800 to 1000 people. These people had to undress themselves in the court of the crematorium and were promised a bath and hot coffee afterwards. They were given orders to put their things on one side and all the valuables on the other. Then they entered a big all and were told to wait until the gas arrived. Five or ten minutes later the gas arrived, and the strongest insult to a doctor and to the idea of the Red Cross was that it came in a Red Cross ambulance. Then the door was opened and the people were crowded into the gas chambers which gave the impression that the roof was falling on their heads, as it was so low. With blows from different kinds of sticks they were forced to go in and stay there, because when they realized that they were going to their death they tried to come out again. Finally, they succeeded in locking the doors. One heard cries and shouts and they started to fight against each other, knocking on the walls. This went on for two minutes and then there was complete silence. Five minutes later the doors were opened, but it was quite impossible to go in for another twenty minutes. Then the Special Kommandos started work. When the doors were opened the bodies fell out because they were compressed so much. They were quite contracted, and it was almost impossible to separate one from the other. One got the impression that they fought terribly against death. Anybody who has ever seen a gas chamber filled to the height of one and a half metres with corpses will never forget it. At this moment the proper work of the Sonderkommandos starts. They have to drag out the bodies which are still warm and covered with blood, but before they are thrown into the ditches they still have to pass through the hands of the barber and the dentist, because the barber cuts the hair off and the dentist has to take out all the teeth. Now it is proper hell which is starting. The Sonderkommando tries to work as fast as possible. They drag the corpses by their wrists in furious haste. People who had human faces before, I cannot recognize again. They are like devils. A barrister from Salonica, an electrical engineer from Budapest--they were no longer human beings because, even during the work, blows from sticks and rubber truncheons are being showered over them. During the time this is going on they continue to shoot people in front of these ditches, people who could not be got into the gas chamber because they were overcrowded. After an hour and a half the whole work has been done and a new transport has been dealt with in Crematorium No. 4.

Have you seen any S.S. doctors there?

-- Yes, Dr. Klein on one occasion when the gas was being brought by the Red Cross ambulance. He came out from the seat near the driver. I have seen him also on other occasions.

Dr. Fritz Klein, SS doctor, is examined by his council, Major Winwood (p. 184):

What happened to those people whom the doctors selected as unfit for work?

-- The doctor had to make a selection but had no influence on what was going to happen. I have heard, and I know, that part of them were sent to the gas chambers and the crematoria.


Was your work completed when you had divided the transports into fit for work and unfit?

-- Yes.

Did you ever go down to the gas chamber yourself?

-- Yes, once, when it was not working. I had no duties to perform there.

What was your personal opinion about this gas chamber business?

-- I did not approve, but I did not protest because it was no use at all.


Klein is cross-examined by the Prosecution, Colonel Backhouse (pp. 186-187):

Dr. Klein, you are an educated man and were educated at a non-German university. When you went to Auschwitz and found these transports of people being taken to the gas chambers and being killed, did you not realize that that was murder?

-- Yes.

Is it not true that those who were not fit for work were simply destroyed?

-- Yes.


When the Hungarian transports arrived was the gas chamber working day and night then?

-- It might have been.

Were they sent to the gas chamber?

-- I do not know exactly, but I believe so.

Examination, by the Prosecution, of SS member Peter Weingartner (p. 191):

Were not the people who were selected for the gas chamber taken down the road right along the side of the women's camp where you were working, to get to the crematoria?

-- Yes, I have seen people there, but whether they went to the bath-house or the crematorium I cannot say.

The examination of S.S. member Franz Hoessler (pp. 196-197):

Did you have to attend selections for the gas chamber?

-- Yes, I attended these selections because I had to guard the prisoners. I did not make selections myself, and there were no selections without doctors.

Will you explain exactly what happened when the transports arrived in the camp?

-- The transport train arrived at the platform in the camp. It was my duty to guard the unloading of the train and to put the S.S. sentries like a chain around the transport. the next job was to divide the prisoners into two groups, the women on the left, the men to the right. Then the doctors arrived, and they selected the people. The people who had been selected by the doctors and found to be fit for work were put on one side, the men and the women. The people who were found to be unfit for work had to go into the trucks, and they were driven off in the direction of the crematorium... . .


Did this mean that they [people in quarantine] were to be sent to the gas chamber?

-- No, but I believe that the witnesses must have thought that those people would come into this banned Block 25, which really did lead into the gas chambers.

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