The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 64
(Part 5 of 7)

Q. What was the method of dealing with these people, from the moment they arrived at Sobibor, at the railway station?

A. In 1942, in the middle of the year 1942, transports arrived from Poland; others came from Czechoslovakia, from Slovakia, Austria and Germany. Most of these people did not know or suspect anything but were incredulous. The treatment was like this: They arrived, the freight cars were brought in, the people were taken off rapidly and made to run to this place where they separated the men, women and children. That was a kind of half-way station. The people were put into a closed-in yard.

The entire path lay between barbed wire fences, and, on the way, there were signs "To the Showers." Inside the yard,there were also large signs "To the Showers," and there were also signs "To the Cash Desk." The cash desk stood in a corner. There was a door there, and that was where the people assembled.

Then Oberscharfuehrer Michel would appear, whom we called "the preacher," and he addressed the people. His speeches were usually adapted to each transport. But, at that time, he would repeat the same story about what would happen there. They were going to the Ukraine where they would establish farms, they would have to work - work hard. And sometimes people used to ask questions: "What is going to happen to the women?" And he would reply: "If they want to live under better conditions, they, too, will have to work." After that, he would add: "You have to get undressed, but you must leave your belongings in order - we don't have much time - so that when you come out of the showers, it will not take long."

The people believed him. They undressed, they arranged their possessions: money, gold and securities - these they handed over at the cash desk. In most cases, people handed over their money, but, at any rate, there were also some who buried the money and the gold in the sand - there was sand there - or in all sorts of corners, in the hope that on their return they would have some money. And then they walked through this narrow door, passing between two barbed wire fences, for a distance of three hundred metres.

Attorney General: I have, here, a plan of Sobibor, sketched by one of the later witnesses, Biskowitz. I don't have a copy but, with the Court's indulgence, I should like to ask the witness to point out various places on the plan. He has seen it, he has identified it, and he says it is accurate.

Presiding Judge: Very well. It is going to be a little difficult - for either he will see the plan, or we will.

Attorney General: If the Court will permit the witness to come closer...

Presiding Judge: In that case, I would ask you also to approach the bench.

Attorney General: If the Court will allow us.

Presiding Judge: Certainly. Dr. Servatius, as well, if he wants to see it.

Attorney General: [To witness] You arrived by train - at what point?

Witness Freiberg: It was a kind of siding into the camp.

Q. This place that is marked with the words "SS, Train into the Camp"?

A. Yes. It is not drawn accurately, it was a little further away, and here there were, apart from the external barbed wire fences of the camp, additional interior barbed wire fences. It was along this path that the people walked and reached this place...

Q. Please look here, in the centre - do you recognize this place?

A. Yes.

Q. What is this, here?

A. To begin with, they came to this spot. There was a kind of covered shed here, which was the first stop for the people, and there they were sorted. At first, they would sort out the men, women and children. After that, they continued walking along this path, until...

Presiding Judge: It is impossible to proceed in this way. Let the witness return to his place. Without our seeing it, let him give a general description.

Attorney General: Thank you very much. [To witness] Please point out the spot where that speech was made to the people. Mark it in pencil with some kind of sign and tell the Court how you have marked it.

Witness Freiberg: I shall write it here. The people walked from the yard where they undressed along the path between two fences.

Q. Is the path marked here?

A. Yes, the path is marked, "To the gas chambers." That was at the beginning. Afterwards, the situation was slightly changed - I don't know whether I should talk about that now.

Q. We shall talk about that later. That is how it was at the beginning?

A. Yes.

Q. Did the Germans also use violence, sometimes, on these victims before they were gassed?

A. In most cases. I believe this was only a question of time! If they had time to be brutal, they maltreated them as much as they could.

Q. In what way were they maltreated?

A. I saw very shocking instances. They would stab them, cut off people's limbs, hit them continuously. They would urge them on with whips. All the time they kept them on the run. They did not allow people a moment to think of what was happening at all. But there were cases where they especially kept people behind for their amusement. They used to leave behind the last ones of the transports. We were on the outside of this yard and heard what was going on inside. The shrieking was terrible. And, afterwards, when we went in to remove the belongings, we saw enough horrors and a great deal of blood.

Q. What were you engaged in at the time you were in Sobibor?

A. I was involved in many kinds of work. Most of my work was in the stores for sorting out personal effects. But I was also employed in erecting the camp, in all possible aspects of maintenance. I used to clean the living quarters of the Ukrainians. And, for a short while, I also used to cut off the hair of the women before they entered the gas chambers.

Q. You had to cut off the hair of women before they went into the gas chambers?

A. Yes.

Q. Who ordered you to do this?

A. There was a time, after they made substantial improvements to the camp, after there had been an interval in the transports, and trains arrived full of building materials; they put up huts, they enlarged everything, they enlarged the guards' positions, additional SS men arrived...

Presiding Judge: Did you hear the question?

Witness Freiberg: Yes.

Q. Who ordered you to do this?

A. After that, they built three...

Attorney General: Who gave you the order to cut the hair?

Witness Freiberg: It was the SS man Gumerski.

Presiding Judge: Men and women?

Witness Freiberg: Only women.

Attorney General: What happened to the hair?

Witness Freiberg: When we returned from the place, we dragged the sacks along with us to the stores.

Q. Do you know what they did with the hair later?

A. We loaded the sacks on to freight cars.

Q. What happened to your group of 100-150 people? How many survived after one month?

A. About fifty persons.

Q. What happened to the one hundred?

A. All of them were killed, in all kinds of ways - some of them committed suicide, some went out of their minds, some were injured in various ways and the Germans shot them on the spot.

Q. Did you try to commit suicide?

A. Yes. I made an attempt. I did not sleep that night. It happened after an incident in which a friend of mine - in all these troubles, we immediately found friends - also committed suicide. Anyone who committed suicide or was killed in any way whatsoever was envied by everyone; everybody said: "Oh, how good for him - how wonderful that he is now beyond all this. What are we still here for, to await certain death, and before that to suffer so much, and to a certain extent still to assist the Germans?" Everyone said it, but carrying it out was difficult.

That night, I decided to end my life. I took a belt, I tried again - yes and no. I must admit that I felt certain signs, hopes - I don't know...If I was not killed here, if I was not killed there - perhaps this is it. In the end, I couldn't continue any longer, I gave up the idea. I also went out once, I made my way into the Lazarette to be shot. Somehow, the German there sent me back - that was in the first period...

Presiding Judge: If, as you say, it was in the first period, would you complete this part of your story?

Witness Freiberg: This was in the first period, in the first month or months, with the old-timers who were there.

Q. And after that?

A. We simply did not know what was happening. It is quite indescribable. Everyone awaited death. And, when another transport arrived, of course we sat there and wept, all of us. We did not talk about food or anything.

But, later on, there were cases where some extent, we became accustomed to it. We acquired another way of thinking. We saw what was going on, but thought the whole world was being destroyed. We saw that transports were arriving in all kinds of ways, the people were well dressed, as if they had gone on a visit somewhere, people from France and Holland, from all sorts of countries, and all this went on, day after day, day after day. We became used to the nature of the internal regime. In some way, we became accustomed to it. To some extent, we got used to the way of life.

I must also point out that new victims were always arriving. These suffered more than those who were called old-timers. In certain cases, the old-timers obtained particular jobs. I also received such a job, afterwards. I worked as a cleaner of the living quarters of the Ukrainians.

Relatively speaking, I was not involved in all this business. Then, too, I was given beatings, but in a different way, in a way which could be tolerated.

It was like this, on the one hand. On the other hand, we began thinking of a possible escape, perhaps of revolt. That began to give us hope. People who arrived on the transports shouted at us: "Take revenge," they threw gold at us: "Perhaps you will save yourselves." Meanwhile, everyone of us had undergone all kinds of experiences and survived; that gave him some kind of hope that, perhaps, someone would get out.

Attorney General: Where did the band which you mentioned play, and what was its role?

Witness Freiberg: The band was at Camp 1; it played in various places and on various occasions.

Presiding Judge: Who were the members of the band?

Witness Freiberg: Jews. When the transports were moving, they used to play. They used to play inside our yard. The band also played when the Germans came in the evening and told us to play and to dance. And we danced - everybody danced.

Attorney General: Did they order you to sing?

Witness Freiberg: Yes. At the end of each day's work, which began early in the morning, sometimes in the middle of the night - it went on until the middle of the night or later into the night. And then the Germans came. Then exercises began, Strafexerzierung (punitive exercises), and we had to sing songs, and if the singing was not as it should be, there would again be exercises, and yet more exercises, and again blows, blows. And so this went on, for hours.

Q. Someone composed some kind of hymn that you were required to sing there - is that correct?

A. Yes, that was Untersturmfuehrer Weiss. Once he came to us after work. We were lined up - all of us - on the roll- call ground. First of all, he read out the words to us. Then he taught us the tune. There were two songs in German against the Jews. I remember the words. Perhaps, here and there, it is a little inaccurate.

Q. Perhaps you would recite to us one or two typical verses from these songs that you were obliged to sing?

A. "Oh, gib uns Moses wieder. Zu Deine Glaubensbrueder soll sich das Wasser wieder teilen, stellen auf Wassersaeulen, fest stellen wie eine Felsenwand; dass in die schmale Rinne die ganze Judenschaft drinne. Mach die Klappe zu, und alle Voelker haben Ruhe. Jerusalem, Halleluja, Amen." (Oh, send Moses back to us. Let the waters again part for the members of your faith and erect columns of water, firm as a rock, so that in the narrow channel the whole of Jewry is inside. Close the hatch, and all the nations shall have peace. Jerusalem, Hallelujah, Amen.)

This was accompanied by movements, raising the hands, bending the knees, with all kinds of grimacing. It lasted three to four hours.

Q. Was there another song you had to sing, the content of which was that all the Jews are swindlers?

A. Yes.

Q. Repeat one verse to us.

A. The final part ended as follows: "Von Israel abstamme ich. Die Ehrlichkeit verdamme ich. Zwei sind wie eins. Dann esse ich nicht vom Schwein. Ich bin eich Jude, will ein Jude sein." (I am of Jewish stock. I damn honesty. Two are like one. I don't eat pork. I am a Jew, I want to be a Jew.)

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