The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 34
(Part 5 of 8)

Q. Dr. Melkman, you told us that ultimately you were transferred to Bergen-Belsen. Were there also people who were registered for those transports to Palestine, who did not reach Bergen-Belsen, who were nevertheless deported, or were all those who were registered for that possibility of emigrating to Palestine transferred to Bergen-Belsen?

A. There were lists that were certain and lists that were doubtful. Those included in the two first lists were protected and all of them were sent to Bergen-Belsen, but some of them also reached Palestine during the War, by way of exchange. Those who appeared in subsequent lists did not get their certificates in time, and when human material was needed at Westerbork, such a list of persons who had been promised emigration to Palestine was cancelled. This was on 20 July 1943, and then, as always, in Westerbork, when they cancelled such a list or, as it was then called, in the terminology of the camp: "Eine Liste platzte."

Presiding Judge: "platzte" - that is to say, it exploded?

Witness Melkman: Yes. Actually, the people who were on that list were the first in line for deportation to the East. Thus it happened that, on 20 July - it was 17 Tammuz - the largest contingent of Zionists was deported from Holland. All of them were members of the movement, leaders, Rabbis, and there were also many Halutzim amongst them. And they were deported. I hardly remember any one of them returning.

Presiding Judge: Who compiled these lists, Dr. Melkman?

Witness Melkman: The Jewish administration in the camp.

State Attorney Bach: Dr. Melkman. You came to Bergen- Belsen together with your wife and that little boy you spoke of previously?

Witness Melkman: Yes.

Q. How long were you in Bergen-Belsen?

A. From 15 February 1944 until 9 April 1945. Before the liberation we were taken eastwards in a particular train. There were two trains. One train for Hungarians, and one, the passengers of which were partly Hungarians and partly Dutchmen.

Presiding Judge: Are you talking all the time about Jews?

Witness Melkman: Yes.

Q. Things which are understood by you are not always taken for granted in the record, and for this reason I ask you these questions.

A. In Westerbork, there were only Jews, and in Bergen-Belsen there was a special camp, Sternlager (Star Camp) it was called, and there were only Jews, and the Hungarians were also Jewish.

At the railway station of Zelle, which was the railway station of Bergen-Belsen, I was standing at the entrance to the freight car, for I was the "Freight Car Captain" there - that is how they called it. Suddenly a car arrived and two people got out. One was in the uniform of the SS, a senior officer of the type that I had not yet seen so far, for I had not seen anyone higher than a Sturmbannfuehrer, and he was evidently a Standartenfuehrer...

State Attorney Bach: One minute, excuse me, but...I have not yet reached this stage. You subsequently went by train.

Witness Melkman: No.

Q. Where were you actually freed?

A. We were freed in Truwitz, a small village about forty kilometres south of Torgau, the place where the American and the Russian armies met, and we were liberated by the Russians.

Q. You were liberated in the train?

A. Yes, on the train, for the train had not yet arrived at its destination.

Q. Do you know where the train was bound for?

A. People from Theresienstadt told us that gas chambers had been prepared for us there.

Q. Where?

A. In Theresienstadt.

Q. I want to ask you several questions about Bergen-Belsen. Can you tell the Court what were the living conditions in Bergen-Belsen?

A. When I came to Bergen-Belsen, the living conditions at first were not worse than those of Westerbork, perhaps a little better. In Westerbork we used to sleep in three tiers of bunks and there was hardly any room to sit - it was the same in Bergen-Belsen. In Bergen-Belsen the food was meagre but not bad. In Westerbork there was a Jewish administration all the time - it was like a Jewish village.

In Bergen-Belsen we were under the control and the orders of SS men all the time. In the course of time the situation at Bergen-Belsen became worse, and the position deteriorated terribly until it received this horrible and awful name, as many more people arrived. At first the camp was intended only for some thousands, but in the end there were tens of thousands there. There was no food. The sanitary conditions - it is almost impossible to describe them. In a hut for 400 people, there was one toilet, and the toilet was always out of order. Everybody suffered from diarrhoea. If we wanted to walk, there were also toilets in the field, but people could not walk, since they were ill.

In addition, the SS men often closed off the water pipe. The Elder of the Jews was a man called Weiss, and he instructed a plumber to open the water at night, and in the morning they closed it again, so that the Germans should not notice that we had water at night. In the beginning we received four centimetres [?] of bread a day - in the end we did not receive even that. There was no coal - I knew this for a fact, for I was in the detachment that transported the coal. There was neither coal nor wood. It was impossible to heat the place. Sometimes we received a little water which they called soup. In the end there were tens of thousands of people. The dead lay in the roadway. It was impossible to walk without treading on human excrement; it was simply horrible.

There were several camps there. The large camp of Bergen- Belsen was divided into a number of camps. There was the "Sternlager" camp - there were people there who still wore the yellow star. They were Jews. It was a concentration camp, and there were still categories of people. And to this large camp they scarcely brought food. As I have said, I was in the detachment which transported the coal, and since we came to all the kitchens - we were also in all these separate camps because we were given this opportunity. In this way I also entered the concentration camp of the women who had arrived at Auschwitz, I think that this was in November 1944.

And there I saw terrible things - women who fell upon some barrel where a few remnants of food still remained, and when they fell upon the barrel, a German woman soldier came up, beat them up and dispersed them. There were even instances there of cannibalism. In a survey made by Mr. Weiss, who was the Elder of the Jews and who is now in Jerusalem, he had to record all the particulars of the camp, and he mentions fourteen cases of cannibalism in the camp.

Q. Dr. Melkman, can you describe one further matter about the "Appells," the roll-calls at which people had to stand every day in Bergen-Belsen?

A. I myself did not suffer so much from this, for I had to work outside the camp a great deal. We got up at 6 in the morning and worked until 6.30 in the evening.

Q. But you witnessed the roll calls?

A. Yes. There were instances when we returned, and then people, old people and children, were still standing from the morning, and then we had to join them. My mother-in-law once stood at such a roll call for nine hours in the snow, and they were not allowed to move. There was always some excuse in order to claim that the numbers were not correct, someone was missing, or there was one too many, and every time these numbers were not exact, they had to count all over again; or they would declare an intermission, and afterwards the German soldiers would come and count them, and meanwhile the people were obliged to stand there without eating.

Usually, there were cases of punishment, such as the cancellation of a meal. It also happened many times that they cancelled a meal, especially when Josef Kramer was the Commandant, and then the regime in the camp was much more severe. The same Weiss heard this Josef Kramer once saying to the Chief Kapo of the camp: "The more dead Jews you bring me, the better."

Q. One thing I forgot to ask you. You mentioned at the beginning, after the first deportation of the Jews to Mauthausen, that it was said by the Germans that this would be the last time, and they would not repeat it. Was it only on this occasion that this was said by the Germans, or were there other occasions?

A. No, this was the system. Every time that there was such an "action," some round-up of Jews, they said "This is the last time, those who stay behind now - will remain." And again something happened, and again they tried to reassure the Jews. There were also threats in connection with Mauthausen, and there were also attempts to placate the people, so that they should not run wild, and also in order to make a good impression on the non-Jewish population which was sympathetic towards the Jews.

Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, do you have any question to the witness?

Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.

Judge Raveh: You told us about the early period, when the Jewish Centre for Emigration was established. Roughly how many cases of emigration of Jews were there at that time?

Witness Melkman: I don't know how many. I know about some people who emigrated.

Q. Tens or hundreds or...?

A. A few persons.

Q. That is to say, less then tens.

A. Yes.

Q. For how long did this continue - until when was this still possible?

A. As far as I know, a very short time, still in 1941.

Q. It was in the year 1941?

A. Yes.

Q. It began only in 1941 or did it begin in 1940?

A. 1940 and 1941. I am not so sure. I do not know all the people and all the details, but, as far as I know, it was only in 1941.

Q. And perhaps you know where these people went to?

A. I know of a case of one family that travelled to South America, and afterwards returned to Holland.

Q. Overseas?

A. Yes.

Q. Were most of the cases like this?

A. There were other cases as well. There was one family which reached America. But more than this I don't know.

Q. Was the possibility generally known, or was it passed on verbally?

A. It was passed on by word of mouth, by people who were close, who knew this family. There were also people who said "we have received a permit to leave the country." These people hid themselves, but they said that they were leaving the country, in order not to be caught. But there were very few cases of actual emigration.

Q. You used the expression "people who were close." I did not understand what you were referring to.

A. I did not use that expression.

Q. At any rate you said "by word of mouth."

A. Something was passed on about a very rich family which managed to leave the country, but they were extremely rich.

Q. What interests me is how did they know of the possibility?

A. Each one had his own ways, possibly there was someone he knew in the Government service, or something like that.

Judge Halevi: You said "extremely rich." Did they have to pay money?

Witness Melkman: Yes.

Q. To whom?

A. To the German authorities, the SS.

Q. Very large sums?

A. Yes.

Q. What was the role of the Judenrat in Amsterdam? Did they call it the "Judenrat"?

A. They called it by its Dutch name.

Q. What was the role of the Judenrat?

A. Its role was defined at first as "The representative body of Jews towards the Germans," so that the Germans could conduct negotiations with one body and that they would not have to deal with several bodies. And this body was supposed to deal with all Jewish affairs - at first only in Amsterdam and afterwards its authority was extended over all Holland. Later on the Germans imposed on this Council of Jews the task of doing everything they demanded of them, to submit lists of people whom they wanted to send to Westerbork and thence to Poland, to announce certain restrictions, to transmit travel permits, to maintain schools. It was like a municipal administration, this was a Jewish administration.

Q. And what was the Jewish administration in Westerbork?

A. It was absolutely different from this, for in Westerbork only German Jews, who had fled to Holland without legal entry permit, remained, and they had already settled down there, and they stood at the head of the camp. They constituted the administration, and they determined matters, to the extent that Jews were permitted to determine anything.

Q. You say this was absolutely different. What was the difference?

A. It lay in the fact that the authority of the Council of the Jews of Amsterdam did not extend to Westerbork, whereas to all the other places in the country they used to give orders or convey the orders.

Q. You say that this Jewish administration in Westerbork determined each week who were the persons to be deported.

A. Yes. The German commandant of the camp informed them how many people they had to send, and they were able to determine who they were, unless there were individual cases where the commandant himself was angry with someone, and then he told them that they had to make a change.

Q. But was this not an impossible role?

A. It was an impossible role, but they carried it out. They could also have refused, in which case people in the camp would have been taken at random. Actually, in the final analysis, it made no difference whether they carried it out or not.

Q. Yes. And they themselves were also deported afterwards?

A. No. Those who were in charge - they remained in Westerbork until the end of the War. A limited number of Jews remained in Westerbork. By the end of the War there were no more transports, there were no more deportations from Holland, and some of those also remained.

Q. And who determined the people, the lists of people who were to travel to other countries, as you said, to Palestine or to another country?

A. Orders came from Berlin. There were some who went to Palestine during the War, and there were others who possessed passports of South American states, and these were also not freed, but transferred to another camp. And there were also those who went to Switzerland during the War and from there to North Africa. But the Jews had no influence whatsoever regarding these lists. They were compiled in Berlin.

Q. The Germans determined them?

A. Yes.

Q. You also said that in Bergen-Belsen there were two trains, and that you travelled eastwards on one of them?

A. Yes.

Q. On what date was this?

A. 10 April 1945.

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