The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
Session 68
(Part 2 of 9)

Q. Later on there was an outbreak of scarlet fever in the hut?

A. Yes. One or two of the boys, I think, caught it and something similar happened in Hut 27. We were immediately transferred to Camp A and there we were housed in Hut 11 and Hut 12.

Q. And then did they tell you what would happen if the epidemic spread?

A. First they spoke of putting us into quarantine for three weeks, and Dr. Mengele would come to visit us every second day. Dr. Mengele and his assistant, Dr. Thilo, visited us every two days. They assigned three doctors to us in the hut and almost every day we underwent a medical examination. They brought us an antiseptic and every morning we had to rinse our mouths with this disinfectant. Each week Dr. Mengele held a parade, and we would pass in front of him naked and he would examine us.

Afterwards, three weeks later, there was an outbreak of mumps - several of the youths contracted mumps. Then Mengele came and each time would argue and talk to the doctors in a loud voice. There were three doctors, one was a Polish Christian and another was a Jew, a Norwegian doctor; he was the only Jew I had ever met from Norway.

Q. Do you remember his name?

A. I don't remember his name - I only remember that he was one of the most cheerful people I met in Auschwitz. And we had another Jewish doctor, from the city of Tarnow. This doctor was a terrible pessimist, and always used to say: "Yes, yes, children, it is impossible to leave Auschwitz except through the chimney, and when your time comes, you will also leave that way." He died several weeks later from dysentery, or something like that.

Q. Were the Festivals, the Jewish Holidays, days of special anxiety?

A. Yes.

Q. Why?

A. The old-timers always used to hint to us: "Wait, wait children, you won't get sweets in Auschwitz, the Festivals are approaching." Here I should like to mention...

Q. Please answer my question; why were the Festivals days of anxiety?

A. That's how it was, evidently it was a custom of theirs, of the Germans, to choose the Jewish Festivals for all kinds of special operations.

Q. Do you remember Rosh Hashana?

A. Yes.

Q. Tell us what happened.

A. This happened in the Gypsies' camp. At that time the Gypsies' camp already served as a transit camp for the Jews of Hungary and, after that, for the Jews of the Lodz Ghetto. There were three thousand of us youths in special barracks, inside the "Kinderblocken" (children's blocks). This occurred on the Friday before Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana that year fell on a Monday and a Tuesday. Mengele showed up, together with his assistant, Dr. Thilo, on the Friday, towards evening, while the roll-call was taking place. He passed by the "Kinderblocken" during the roll-call, made a selection, ordered us to undress to the waist, and he moved on. We were in the last hut of the boys' row.

Q. How many boys were there?

A. Three thousand boys, almost all of them under sixteen. And we were the last hut in the row. He ordered us to undress to the waist, and he walked in front of the lines. This was at the roll-call. He sent the small and the thin ones to the road, and the bigger ones to the rear gate of the barracks. I was sent with the smaller ones to the road. When I reached the road, they were sending groups of fifty to sixty each time further down, towards Huts 9 and 11. And while I was standing on the road, I thought that, perhaps, it might be possible to escape. I stood there for a few minutes; suddenly I took a decision: "I am going to escape." I left the line, I ran away to my brother's hut, Hut 25. Meanwhile about one thousand youths had been gathered from all the huts and were locked into Huts 9 and 11.

Q. And was it clear what the purpose was?

A. Yes.

Q. They locked them into these huts?

A. Yes.

Q. Until when were they shut in there?

A. Until the end of Rosh Hashana.

Q. And what did they do with them, then?

A. At the end of Rosh Hashana they decreed a Blocksperre (a curfew for the block). They assembled all the Kapos and gave them the strictest instructions - anyone leaving the hut was to be killed. Outside, when it began getting dark, trucks started arriving at the hut and they began loading the boys on the trucks.

Q. Who did that?

A. I was not outside - perhaps they were SS men, as was usual in such cases, or the Kapos.

Q. German or Jewish Kapos?

A. Most of them were German criminals. And they began loading them on the trucks - there were terrible shouts; cries of "Shema Yisrael" - we had never before heard such a thing in Auschwitz; hundreds of thousands of people in Auschwitz had been taken to the gas chambers during the summer but usually they did not shout, they did not know where they were being taken to. But we, who had already been in the camp some time, knew what was happening in Auschwitz.

Q. What happened on Yom Kippur?

A. There were about two thousand youths left. We thought that perhaps that would be the end of the matter. Then, the day before Yom Kippur - I remember - in the morning the news spread around that they were going to distribute an additional ration of bread. Usually they would hand out a quarter or a fifth of a loaf of bread; that day they brought to our hut a ration of a quarter, a third of a loaf of bread, together with additions of cheese and other items. There had never been anything like that in Auschwitz. We were very glad that we would be able to fast the next day.

Q. That means, you thought that you would be able to eat more on the eve of Yom Kippur in order to fast the following day?

A. Yes. All day the boys spoke about this sudden generosity. And we were happy that we would be able to fast the following day. But we still did not know what was in store for us that day. During the afternoon, roughly at three o'clock, suddenly there was an order for a curfew. There was shouting in the street. We had hardly managed to get inside the barracks when a new order was given - all the boys were to go to the football field. There was a football field in the camp which evidently was intended for the Gypsies who had previously been in this camp and who were put to death a few weeks before. Each hut commander brought his boys to the football field.

A lot was happening there. The chief official, all the camp officials, every Kapo and the hut commanders were assembled on the field and arranged us in groups of hundreds. Someone started the rumour that they were going to take us to gather the potato harvest from the environs of Auschwitz. They formed us into groups - we were two thousand youths. Suddenly a shudder passed over the entire ground as if we had been struck by a electric shock. The "Angel of Death" appeared.

Q. Who was that?

A. Dr. Mengele appeared, riding his bicycle; someone approached him, took the bicycle from him and placed it near the hut. I was standing near the road with my group. Dr. Mengele folded his hands behind his back, he was tight- lipped as usual, he went onto the field, lifted his hand so that his gaze could take in the entire field. Then his glance fell on a small boy, about fifteen years old, possibly fourteen, something like that, who was standing not far from me in the front row; he was a boy from the Lodz Ghetto, I remember his face very well, he was blond, thin and very sunburnt. His face was covered in freckles. He stood in the front row, Mengele came up to him and asked him: "How old are you?" The boy was shaking and said: "I am eighteen years old." I saw immediately that Dr. Mengele was very angry and he began shouting: "I'll show you!" Then he started shouting: Bring me a hammer, nails and a "Leiste" - a sort of narrow plank.

Somebody ran off right away and we stood there, looking at him in absolute silence. The silence of death prevailed on the field; he was standing in the middle and all of us were looking at him. Meanwhile this man came back with the tools, and as soon as he approached, Dr. Mengele went up to one of the boys, standing in the front row; he had a round face and looked fine. Dr. Mengele went up to him, grabbed him by the shoulder and took him to the goal-post on the football field. There were two goal-posts for a game of football. He led him by the shoulder, and the man with the tools walked with him. He stood him against one of the goal- posts and gave orders to knock this plank in at a height above the boy's head so that he formed a kind of inverted "L." And then Dr. Mengele gave orders for the first group to pass underneath this plank. The first group began walking in single file.

Q. Did he say what was going to happen to you?

A. He did not have to tell us any longer - we understood.

Q. What did you understand?

A. We already understood that the smaller ones, whose height did not reach the plank, were destined to die.

Q. Did you think there could also be another explanation?

A. No, no, there was no other explanation; it was one hundred per cent clear to everyone why this was being done. All of us began stretching ourselves, each one wanted to be another centimetre higher, another half-centimetre. I also tried to stretch myself a little but I soon gave up in despair, for I saw that even boys taller than I was, failed to reach the required height - their heads did not touch the plank.

Presiding Judge: That means that all of them passed under the plank?

Witness Kleinman: Yes. All of them passed through in single file. And each one whose head did not touch this plank went to the other side of the field, together with the little ones who were doomed to die.

Attorney General: Did your brother succeed in touching the plank?

Witness Kleinman: Yes. My brother was standing next to me. In general I was so preoccupied with myself that I scarcely worried about him, for he was one of the taller boys - he was sixteen years old; by chance, that was his sixteenth birthday.

Q. Did he manage to touch the plank?

A. Yes. I stood there in total despair. I thought to myself "My life is ending here." Suddenly my brother whispered to me, saying: "Don't you want to live? Do something!" I woke up, as from a dream, and began searching for a way of saving myself. My mind worked rapidly. Suddenly I caught sight of pebbles scattered around me. I thought that perhaps I could be saved in this way. We were all standing in line, at attention. I bent down without being noticed and seized some handfuls of pebbles. I untied the laces of my shoes and began stuffing pebbles into my shoes. I was wearing shoes which were larger than my size. I filled my shoes with pebbles under my heels and I gained two centimetres. I thought that, perhaps, this would be sufficient.

Meanwhile I felt that I was unable to remain standing at attention with the pebbles in my shoes. It wasn't easy. I told my brother I was going to throw the stones away. My brother said to me: "Don't throw them away, I'll give you something." He gave me a hat. I tore the hat into two pieces and I began inserting the rags made from the hat into my shoes, so that it would be softer for me.

Q. Perhaps we could make it briefer, Mr. Kleinman. Did you pass the test?

Presiding Judge: But, nevertheless, let us hear how he got through.

Witness Kleinman: I stood for ten minutes with the stones and the rags inside my shoes. I thought that perhaps I might reach the required height. Meanwhile all the boys went on passing that spot. Two would reach the necessary height and two would not. I stood where I was. Ultimately my brother looked at me and said: "That is not high enough." Then I began to fear, perhaps I would fail because of nervousness lest, when I began walking, they would realize that I had something in my shoes. I asked my brother and someone else, who could look around better, that they should estimate what my height was. Both of them said that I had no chance of reaching the desired height.

So I then began looking around for a way to escape and get to the taller ones who had already passed the plank, the selection. They were drawn up in ranks of hundreds, on the opposite side, and the shorter ones who had not reached the plank and the required height were lined up on the other side of the field. The shorter ones were trying to force their way into the second group. I also stole my way into the taller ones. For a short while I thought that I had already saved myself. Then one other boy tried to steal into the group of the taller ones.

Dr. Mengele noticed what was happening. He began shouting at the guards and at the Kapos: "What are do doing here - sabotage?" And he gave orders for the whole group to pass once again under the plank. On the way to the plank I again got away to the place where I had formerly been standing. There was a narrow passage, guards walked in front of each one and another behind; nevertheless I stole into my former group.

Attorney General: Those who passed under the plank?

Witness Kleinman: No, the ones who had not yet passed through. I thought it was worthwhile to live even for half- an-hour under an illusion. From there, a quarter of an hour later, I again stole my way into the taller ones - nobody noticed me. Thus the selection ended. About one thousand out of the two thousand did not reach the required height.

Q. What happened to them?

A. When this selection of the thousand ended, the thousand who reached the required height, that was not enough for Dr. Mengele. He examined our bodies. We had to undress to the waist.

Q. My question is: What happened to those who did not reach the required height?

A. Those who did not reach the required height were locked into Huts 25 and 26. Darkness was falling.

Q. What happened to them eventually?

A. They kept them locked up in the two huts until two days after Yom Kippur.

Q. And after that, what happened?

A. They were transferred to the gas chambers - they were exterminated in the gas chambers. There were a thousand of us who remained. Then we knew that this was the system.

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