The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 64
(Part 6 of 7)

Q. Did they also inflict terrible maltreatment on you, the team of workers?

A. It is simply difficult to describe. It can be said that it is hard for me to believe it today. I can talk about one of the many days that passed. We were then working in the sorting camp. We began sorting out the piles that had been heaped up in the course of time. We finished taking out personal belongings from one shed. Paul was then our commander. It so happened that, between the rafters and the roof, a torn umbrella had been left behind. He sent one of our boys to climb up and bring the umbrella down. It was at a height of seven to eight metres - these were large sheds. The lad climbed up through the rafters, moving along on his hands, he was not agile enough and fell down, breaking his limbs. Because he had fallen, he received twenty-five floggings, and Beri dealt with him.

This appealed to Paul, and he went and called other Germans. I remember Oberscharfuehrer Michel, Schteufel and others. He called out to them: "I have discovered parachutists amongst the Jews. Do you want to see? They burst out laughing, and he began sending up people, one after the other, to go on to the rafters. I went over it twice - I was fairly agile; and whoever fell - these were older people, or they fell out of fear - fell to the ground. When they fell to the ground, they were given murderous blows, and the dog bit them incessantly. In the midst of all this, Paul began running around, went into an ecstasy; when anyone was bitten, he put a bullet into him on the spot. All of those working there went through this "game".

After that someone invented something else. There were many mice there. When the personal effects were piled up, there were a lot of mice. An order was given: Five men were to go outside, the rest were to catch mice. Everyone had to catch two mice; whoever failed to do so would be put to death. It was not difficult to catch them. We caught mice. They tied up the bottoms of the trousers of the five men, and we had to fill them with mice. The men were ordered to stand at attention. They could not stand that. They wriggled this way and that way and were given murderous blows. There was loud laughter on the part of the Germans.

When this business was over, another one began. There was a certain Jew there, whom Paul and all the Jews called "Der schreckliche Ivan" (Ivan the Terrible). Half the beard of this man had been shaved off, half the hair of his head, half his eyebrows and half his moustache.

Q. Who shaved him in this way?

A. A Jewish barber. He was given instructions to do so. There was another one, on the other side. They used to appear every day at the roll call, half shaven. This Jew was severely maltreated. I heard that the man begged them, many times, to shoot him. He was strong. No matter they continued to do to him, he still remained alive. They gave an order to bring something. Michel then went out. Next to the cash desk, there were all sorts of medicines. They fetched some bottles. I don't know what was inside. They made him drink it. He turned yellow and fell down as though dead. The Germans gave orders for water to be brought. They poured water over him. They beat him - but he did not feel anything. The whole affair continued throughout the entire day, until the time came for us to go to our camp.

They gave orders to bring a wooden board, to place him on top of it, to walk slowly and to sing a funeral march. This was the way that day ended. People were killed that day - I don't know how many. I saw a number of incidents myself. I think five to six people were killed there.

There was maltreatment. I only want to point to a number of cases in a general way. They turned us into animals there. People in the yard were made to walk on all fours and to bark. There was one young man who, for several days, all the time he was at work, was given the task of running on all fours and barking, to seize everyone by the trousers.

They invented all kinds of things. In fact, by so doing, they interrupted the progress of the work. Sometimes it became impossible to work at all. One hid behind the other, one ran, one did something or other. This was not work. These were only days of amusement.

Q. What unit did these Germans belong to?

A. The SS.

Q. Do you remember a particular day when they informed you that a visit of some important personage would take place? Is that right?

A. Yes.

Q. Himmler arrived - do you remember?

A. Yes. I was working for the Ukrainians. In fact, they had already been talking about it. They cleaned the camp thoroughly. There was a general state of preparedness, and the whole camp knew that Himmler was due to come. The camp workers did not go out to their work that day. It was forbidden for anyone to be seen outside the closed confines of our place. But I, and a few others like myself, who worked at these jobs, worked with the Ukrainians.

I remained there, and I saw how a special train arrived; it was the first time that such an entourage had arrived for a visit. Several hundred people alighted. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but there were very many. In the centre - and one's eyes turned immediately towards the centre - there walked Himmler.

Q. How did you know that it was Himmler?

A. I knew, for I was watching. I knew he was about to come. And I noticed the respect which the other SS men accorded him.

Q. Could this possibly have been some other high-ranking officer?

A. We knew that Himmler was about to come. The whole camp knew. The Germans also said so. It was well known. They went directly to Camp 3. This was at a time when there were no transports. It was after that that they made renovations and increased the capacity of the camp. They had brought several hundred women from the labour camp and had held them there for some days. As soon as the party arrived, they put the women into the gas chambers. Himmler, together with his entourage, went down there to see what it was like.

Q. But this you don't know, since you were not there.

A. We had contact with Camp 3. We received information about it.

Q. You heard from others?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know anyone else who was in Himmler's party? Only tell us if you know for certain.

A. I don't know for certain.

Q. Was Himmler there only once?

A. From time to time, a plane used to arrive. The plane used to land inside the camp. I did not know who it was. I remember his image. He was a short man with brown clothes. He always used to alight, usually hurrying directly to Camp 3. Sometimes he paid a brief visit to Camp 2, to see what was going on.

Q. Did you ever see Eichmann there?

A. At present, I don't remember. I am not sure about that. This does not give me any peace of mind.

Q. Did only Jews arrive at Sobibor to be exterminated?

A. I remember one instance of non-Jews. It was a transport of Gypsies. All the rest were Jews.

Q. How many people arrived each week during the time you were there - or each day?

A. There were various periods. Sometimes there were fewer transports; sometimes there were more. There were periods when several trains arrived on one day; in the morning, towards evening, and again in the early morning; in the middle of the night we could hear a locomotive bringing in more freight cars. At that time, a transport from Holland arrived every Thursday.

Q. Do you remember a hospital transport from Holland, people on stretchers, doctors, nurses and hospital workers?

A. Yes. I remember several hospitals. One, I remember, was a hospital of mental patients. The Germans maltreated them most severely - it was horrible to behold. The people were sick, they ran, and they laughed, they mocked them, they beat them up, they shot them. This was a transport of mental patients.

Later on, there was a transport of a complete hospital - I think it was from Holland. They got off with stretchers, sick people were taken down, some of them led by the hand, they were made to sit down. Doctors and nurses attended to them right there. They set up a table in the middle of the field, and the director of the hospital or the head doctor sat down there. He took out a note book, made entries into it and gave instructions. The doctors and nurses ran about all the time. One had the impression that the entire camp had been converted into a field hospital. After one and a half hours, there were no more patients, nor doctors, nor those who accompanied them.

Q. Did a transport once arrive from Bialystok, accompanied by a heavy guard?

A. Yes.

Q. Were you there when the freight cars were opened?

A. Yes.

Q. What did you see?

A. This was a transport, the like of which we had never seen before. The freight cars were broken. We saw the freight cars standing outside. There were perhaps hundreds, perhaps thousands, of SS men, Ukrainians, who accompanied this train. The freight cars were broken. Inside the people were half dead, half alive. The people were naked. The dead, the living - all together, the was something terrible. They began bringing these people into the yard where people were being undressed. There was screaming there, people resisted. They resisted, they would not move from place to place. They put up resistance to everything.

The Germans then increased the number of guards. They were all armed with machine guns. They were firing all the time. Under the pressure of the shooting, some fell, some walked on. Part of them were brought into the yard. Then Oberscharfuehrer Michel shouted, "Silence!"; he shouted loudly, "Silence!". He succeeded, people quietened somewhat. He said to them: "I know very well that you want to die, but that will not help you. You have got to work once more." He said that in a very determined voice.

To some extent, perhaps, his trick worked. Some people started walking. They undressed. This worked, perhaps, for a few minutes only, and then the screaming reached the heavens. And the Germans killed more people on the way than they brought to the gas chambers.

Q. Was there once an SS man who told you that he was not ready to continue with this work any longer?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell us in detail.

A. It was an unusual case. I was then working on laying down a narrow-gauge railway line that subsequently served to convey people, sick or dead, from the transports directly to the crematoria. I was working on laying down the rails, and a certain German was working there - Getzinger - who was a terrible sadist. He used to kill people on the way with his hammer.

One day, I came to work and found Untersturmfuehrer Schwarz there - his name is engraved in my memory thus - but I am not sure that the name is correct. Our comrades, as much as they feared SS men, were afraid even more of someone new. I don't know, it was something like that. We saw a new senior officer. We were terribly afraid.

Presiding Judge: What was his rank?

Witness Freiberg: Untersturmfuehrer. I took hold of the railway sleepers, loaded them on my back, and began running. He called out to me and said: "Are you crazy? Why are you taking so many?" I thought he wanted to "fix" me, I put down one sleeper; he came up to me and himself removed a few more. I began running; again he stopped me and said to me: "Why are you running? We have enough time, you can walk slowly." I proceeded accordingly. When I returned from work, I told this to my companions. And it actually turned into a legend, namely that there was one SS man who behaved like a human being.

At first, they would not believe me, but everyone of them came across him in some fashion. I saw him at the time of a transport; he turned aside as if ashamed and would hang his head. Sometimes he would come up, say a kind word; he never beat people. He was there a month or a month and a half - roughly for such a period. He once came to us in our hut and said to us: "I did not know where they were taking me, and when I became aware of it, I immediately requested a transfer, so now I am going to leave you." He shook hands with some of us and expressed the hope that we would survive - and in this way he took his leave.

This was a unique case. There was one other example which had nothing to do with us. He was a baker, an old SS man. All the others carried out orders. They did so gladly, and they even contravened the orders, for if they had carried out orders, they would have gone on with extermination but would not have maltreated people, for that meant losing time. One SS man was even transferred for this reason, for matters had come to such a pass that the work was no longer what it should be.

Q. You yourselves, amongst yourselves, had plans to escape all the time. Is that not so?

A. Yes.

Q. Perhaps you would tell us briefly of the case of a Jew, a ship's captain, a Jew from Holland, who tried to organize an escape?

A. May I describe the atmosphere in the camp?

Q. Please do.

A. As I have already indicated, one must distinguish between two periods in the camp, the first and the second.

Q. Each period from the prisoner's point of view?

A. From the point of view of the prisoner. In the course of time, we became accustomed, in some way or other, to the way of life.

Presiding Judge: You have already mentioned this.

Witness Freiberg: But there were several factors that made life possible for us. We recovered, we began to think. First of all, we had to inform the world; somebody had to be sent outside, we had to try to escape, we had to try to organize a revolt, and indeed, in spite of these difficult circumstances, it was possible.

Attorney General: Did the prisoners help each other?

Witness Freiberg: Yes they did. The mutual aid was very strong. Without this, I would not have been alive today, for I also fell ill with typhus. And, however strange it may seen, I endured the entire period of typhus without the Germans knowing about it.

Q. What were the manifestations of this mutual aid? How did it express itself?

A. Bonds of friendship were created, and people helped their comrades as much as possible. People risked their lives for that. Life, indeed, was not important; it was a minor matter, and one used to joke about it. But, nonetheless, day after day, whoever worked in a place from where it was possible to bring food or a cigarette, did so without thinking of the consequences. And there was help for anyone who did not feel well, we knew that anyone who was just beginning to be ill would be killed, and it was necessary to cover up for him and, in certain cases, we did this also with the aid of the Kapo.

Q. Tell us something about attempts to escape. Once there was a case of the theft of a can of petrol and arson, do you remember?

A. Yes.

Q. Please tell us about it, about the Dutch captain and, finally, about the revolt in which you escaped.

A. We made various attempts. Once, at the beginning, two persons escaped from the camp and, forthwith, a group of people were shot. After that, the feeling of collective responsibility became stronger. Each one of us got to know the other, and we considered how we could all escape together.

Once a plan was prepared, and one young man volunteered to get in by stealth, at night, into the huge storerooms and steal petrol, so that we could start fires at midnight, and the moment the fires would start and the Germans would start running about - we were to break out and flee from the camp. The plan failed at the last minute. Actually, it was not at the last minute. In the evening, when we were to inform everyone, so that no one should be asleep at the time it was due to occur, there were two who said that if we carried out this plan, they would inform the Germans.

Presiding Judge: Jews?

Witness Freiberg: Jews. They argued: "If we have two or three more weeks to live - don't kill us now." Thus, we had to give up the plan. There was a case where there was a captain from amongst the Dutch.

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