The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 44
(Part 6 of 7)

Q. When you say "Lager" - do you mean warehouses or camps? What do you mean?

A. All the synagogues in Prague were turned into warehouses. All the gym halls of the Czech gymnastics organization "Sokol" were adapted as warehouses. Several apartment houses were also vacated and the apartments turned into depots.

Q. Who managed these warehouses?

A. The warehouses were set up by the Community in accordance with instructions from the Head of the Central Office for the Solution of the Jewish Question, Guenther.

Q. Did you know this office, which was headed by Guenther, also by another name? Did it have a different name before?

A. Yes. At first it was called "Central Office for the Regulation of the Jewish Question in Bohemia and Moravia," that is to say Emigration Office.

Q. Do you remember the name: Central Office (Zentralstelle)?

A. I should remember it, because all orders which were passed on to the Jews were given by this office.

Q. That is by Guenther?

A. Yes.

Q. Who were the workers, the persons who did the actual clearing of the homes and transferring the contents to the warehouses, all the work which you have just described?

A. As I said before, Jews were, of course, employed in this "Kramer Operation," and later in the Trusteeship Office. There were also many furniture depots where there were German storekeepers, but although there was a German storekeeper, many Jews also worked there under these storekeepers. I should like to point out that these German warehousemen were, of course, also appointed by the Central Office.

Q. Do you remember SS officers and SS personnel who were responsible for these activities of the "Kramer Operation"?

A. Of course, The first operation head on behalf of Guenther was Guemmel. He was one of the most decent of all.

Q. Whom else do you remember?

A. Later, when I was head of the Trusteeship Office, I saw in Guenther's antechamber also Hauptsturmfuehrer Ullmann, Oberscharfuehrer Weissel, Untersturmfuehrer Buchholz, Scharfuehrer Hahn, and several others whom I did not all know.

Q. Were you a member of the Council of Elders?

A. In 1943, the so-called full Jews (Volljuden) were deported from Prague. On Guenther's instructions, some forty to fifty full Jews still remained in Prague, among them the architects Blitz and Schalek. Architect Blitz was appointed Head of the Trusteeship Office, and architect Schalek was made his deputy.

Q. Who was then the Head of the Council of Elders?

A. At that time, it was already Franz Friedmann.

Q. And at that time, in 1943, you were made a member of the Council of Elders?

A. No, in 1943 I was made Head of the Transport Department at the Trusteeship Office.

Q. And who was then the Head of the Trusteeship Office?

A. The full Jew, the architect Blitz, as I said already.

Q. Until when did they continue?

A. They continued until almost the end of summer 1944. On that day the full Jews, the architect Blitz and the architect Schalek and several good friends of mine were deported from Prague.

Q. Do you know where to?

A. Guenther promised these people the best treatment in return for their services. And the best he could do was that this transport - maybe two carriages destined for Theresienstadt - never reached Theresienstadt, and I do not know where they went. That same day, after the departure of this transport, I was ordered by telephone to come to the Council of Elders, to the office of the Council which was in Meisen Street. When I arrived there, Dr. Kollek, Dr. Engel, Kraus and others were sitting next to Dr. Franz Friedmann. Dr. Friedmann informed me that I was being appointed a member of the new Council of Elders. This new Council of Elders consisted of Dr. Franz Friedmann as Elder of the Jews, Dr. Kollek as co-worker, and myself. Dr. Stefan Engel was named Secretary of the Council of Jews. On this occasion, Dr. Friedmann also informed me that I had been appointed Head of the Trusteeship Office.

Q. And from then on you were in closest contact with Guenther?

A. Still on that day, or the next, I was ordered to appear before Guenther. Guenther again informed me that I was being appointed Head of the Trusteeship Office. He explained my duties to me, and the first thing he said was: "Recht, if you won't be in order, I shall send you to a concentration camp and have you shot." This is what I heard almost every day.

Q. Please tell the Court what were the most important instructions you received from Guenther from that time on in connection with the management of the Trusteeship Office.

A. I received almost daily instructions from Guenther's office, mostly through Miss Matzke, whom I mention in particular because this lady, who worked for Guenther, helped me a lot during the course of the year, the months, and often called my attention to things where, as she used to say: "Recht, there it stinks!" After the War, I spoke in her defence before the Czech authorities. When I received instructions from Guenther, I came into his room and had to stand before him like a soldier before an officer, and he would say: "Recht, you have to send this or that, you have to prepare this or that, you have to arrange such and such."

And then this order was given a consecutive minute number, and on completion our minute was sent to the Central Office. The instructions I received from Guenther were sometimes secret, and then he told me so expressly, because the other functions were open and public and passed through the Central Office, and all the staff of the Central Office were allowed to know about them.

When I was appointed as Head of the Trusteeship Office in 1944, when it was already late, the warehouses and their contents were, of course, no longer in the state they had been in after the deportation of the Jews. Therefore Guenther's instructions were very guarded. Thus, for instance, Guenther called me and said: "Recht, tomorrow people are coming from Berlin, a commission from Berlin, which is authorized to inspect the carpets in the warehouses." According to the lists we had, there were some 44,000 carpets in the warehouses in 1943. Guenther said: "Recht, put into the last room..." - this was in the Langegasse, in what had once been the Jewish Cafe Aschermann - "clear out the last room" - which was the sixth one, the last of a row of rooms. He ordered me to put into it the best carpets, to lock it up, and to put a cupboard outside the door, so that the existence of another room would not be noticed.

If these details are of interest to the Court, I have more to add.

Q. I have another question in connection with the secret orders: Do you remember a letter in connection with the book depot of the Trusteeship Office?

A. That was not an instruction. It was a regulation which had been in force long before I took over the job. We had a very large collection of books there, about a million books. This was accessible to the public for the purchase of these books. The buyer of these books was Andre, the proprietor of the German bookshop in Prague. This firm had access to the warehouse, where it could there select for itself whatever it wanted, and could take the books against payment to the Central Office. In addition to this central warehouse, there was also a small depot. This was located in the Stupartgasse, and there were about 20,000-22,000 unique volumes, i.e., as the name implies, books of which there were no other copies. The public did not have access to this depot, and neither did Andre.

One evening I was called to Guenther. He threw a letter in front of me, a letter from Andre, and said: Recht, read that!

He repeated this, because at that moment I did not know how to react. The Andre firm wrote: It has come to our knowledge that there is a special book depot in the Stupartgasse, and we know that those are earmarked for various purposes, but we know that there are a large number of books among them which do not belong there, and we request the right to visit and inspect this depot.

Guenther said: "Who divulged this?" I replied: "Sturmbannfuehrer, I do not know." Whereupon he said: "If you do not tell me by tomorrow morning who has perpetrated that, you go to the concentration camp."

Q. What special interest did Guenther have in this depot of 20,000-22,000 books?

A. This question is one hundred per cent justified. Guenther had an ambition to hide, in some way, the best and most beautiful objects and to save them for his own purposes.

Presiding Judge: What were these purposes?

State Attorney Bar-Or: What you said just now, does that concern only books or also other objects?

Witness Recht: Everything - books, furniture, art and everything else.

Q. Were there objects which had been sent from other countries?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell the Court what you call "besondere Auftraege" (special orders).

A. As regards this special order by Andre, I should like to say that I told Guenther that I would not be able to find an explanation by next morning either, because most of the people who dealt with these matters had already been sent to Theresienstadt.

Q. Please answer my questions.

Presiding Judge: Let him tell his story, otherwise...

Witness Recht: In the course of this conversation, I made the following suggestion. I told him: "Sturmbannfuehrer, with your permission, I have a suggestion to make. What use will it be to you if I am sent to the concentration camp and Andre comes to see the depot?" Then Guenther asked: "What do you suggest?" And I said: "I shall go to the depot today, remove all the books and bring in other books, before 6 o'clock tomorrow afternoon." Guenther said: "If you are able to do that, then do it." And it was done.

State Attorney Bar-Or: I come back to my question: What happened with these special orders by Guenther?

Witness Recht: There were orders, instructions, which were not disposed of by an ordinary file note. For instance, that this or that object has to be made ready for Police President Dr. Weimann in Prague at his order, or to be handed over to the movers. The same thing was done for others, such as Hunsche, Stahlecker, Rahm and others.

Q. Who was Dr. Weimann?

A. The Police President of Prague.

Q. Do you remember more names?

A. I cannot remember.

Q. When you speak of Hunsche, Stahlecker and others - did these people come to Prague?

A. With the exception of Rahm and Weimann, who were of course in Prague - and Rahm was later in Theresienstadt - I knew those people by name only from these instructions.

Q. Why do you think that these were special instructions? What was special about them?

A. These were Guenther's associates or colleagues, who were treated by him with special preference. When such persons demanded something, that is to say demanded it from the Trustee Office, it was as if they had come to a department store and were ordering and selecting some object. They did not even have to take the trouble of coming to him, since they got what was best for them, and in this respect they could absolutely rely on Guenther.

Q. Mr. Recht, this Trusteeship Office, which was attached to the Council of Elders in Prague - did it have to report to anybody?

A. Of course. The Trusteeship Office was first and foremost subordinated to Guenther. It was really a Jewish institution, and the purpose of the whole thing was largely to camouflage it vis-a-vis the public. We also dealt with the emptying out of dwellings in the provincial towns. There were often incidents of friction, and there were often pleasant moments when Czechs came - in the provincial towns they were more open than in the capital - and said: "Why are taking this away, this cannot last for long, these people will surely come back."

Q. I have before me an illustrated report entitled "Treuhandstelle beim Aeltestenrat der Juden in Prag" (Trusteeship Office at the Council of Elders in Prague), about 9,288 homes vacated by the Jews who lived there. When was this report produced and by whom?

A. This report, which I myself submitted, was produced at Guenther's orders, as a kind of justification vis-a-vis Berlin for his instructions and orders, so that they should know about his work, what had been done in the past and what was being done at the time, and what still had to be done. These yearly, or half-yearly, reports, which were mostly prepared by the architect Schalek and the architect Blitz, with the help of several other assistants, constituted a kind of confirmation given periodically by the Trusteeship Office to the Central Office, whence they were forwarded to Berlin.

Q. Look at this report, please. Is this the one?

A. Yes.

Presiding Judge: This will be marked T/855.

State Attorney Bar-Or: This is the report of which I have spoken, which refers to about 10,000 homes. Where were these homes, in Prague only or also in the provincial towns in the vicinity of Prague?

Witness Recht: In Prague and also in the vicinity of Prague.

Q. In this report, there is mention of the work of different departments. Please explain to the Court what this is about.

A. When one of our groups worked in the home of a Jew who had emigrated, we then had to close it up and seal it with a tag like this. This is my signature on this tag, and this was signed by me [points to the cover of the book].

Q. Can you see the number of homes on this page? It says that this corresponds to a certain number of inhabitants.

A. It says in brief: 9,288 homes correspond to a town of 45,000 inhabitants.

Q. What does this table in front of you show?

A. These tables contain so much that it is impossible to explain it all here. It says here, for instance: In order to clear away these homes which have been vacated, or to build a corresponding number of houses, 92 million hours of work would have to be invested.

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