|Tzvi Pachter, a man from Hrubieszów, tells the court about the death march from Hrubieszów to the Russian border in December 1939|
From Protocols of the Court
Translated by Miriam Bulwar DavidHay
Before: His Honor the Presiding Judge, Judge Moshe Landau.
His Honor Judge Binyamin Halevi.
His Honor Judge Yitzchak Raveh.
Date: 15 Iyyar 5721 (May 1, 1961).
The Presiding Judge: I am opening the 21st session in the trial. The prosecution continues.
The Attorney General: I call the witness, Tzvi Pachter.
[The Presiding Judge: Do you speak Hebrew?]
The witness Tzvi Pachter: Yiddish.
The Presiding Judge: Are you able to be sworn in in Hebrew?
The witness Tzvi Pachter: Yes. I have a request: If I cannot stand, that I be permitted to sit.
The Presiding Judge: Place your kippah on your head. Say: I swear by God that my testimony in this trial will be the truth, the whole truth, and only the truth.
The witness Tzvi Pachter: (Repeats the words of the Presiding Judge): I swear by God that my testimony in this trial will be the truth, the whole truth, and only the truth.
The Presiding Judge: What is your full name?
The witness Tzvi Pachter: Pachter Hersh.
The Presiding Judge: In Hebrew Tzvi?
The witness Tzvi Pachter: Yes.
The Presiding Judge: How do you write Pachter?
The witness Tzvi Pachter: Pachter.
The Presiding Judge: Answer Mr. Hausner.
Q :Tell us about the march from Hrubieszów and Chelm on the 2nd of December 1939.
A: On the 1st of December 1939, the beadle of the synagogue, Duvidl Shmerl, announced in all the streets and houses that the next day, the 2nd of December 1939, Shabbat at 7 in the morning, all the men aged from 15 to 60 had to go out to the Vigon, to an area that was pasture for cattle.
Q: In which city was this?
A: In the city of Hrubieszów, 50 kilometers from Chelm and 120 kilometers from Lublin.
Q: Were there then Jews from Chelm in Hrubieszów?
A: We didn't know anything about that.
Q: Were Jews from Chelm led to Hrubieszów?
A: We stood outside for four hours on Shabbat in the morning, and we were then informed that Jews from Chelm had also come.
Q: Please, continue to tell us what happened on Shabbat.
A: On Shabbat in the morning all the Jews aged 15 to 60 thronged there in their masses. There also came children under the age of 15 and men over the age of 60, out of curiosity.
Q: How many men were there?
A: More than 2,000. When we came, they surrounded us, around, in a chain that was so strong that I had only seen something like that on the [war] front. When the people stopped congregating, they told us to stand in a semicircle. A Volksdeutsche from Stryszów, who was the spokesman, began to tell us what we had to do. He began to read from a list and to check if the people had turned up. They realized that more people had appeared than they had calculated in advance. They informed us that we were going on a march and that we had to hand over everything we had in our possession: coins, gold, silver, watches, and we would be left with 20 zlotys on us.
Q: How much was that, 20 zlotys?
A: The value was 10 marks. This continued for a number of hours. Our walking was accompanied by the shouts and pleas of women and children, who had all run to join us, because no one knew that it was a death march. They held them back, pushed them away, and their shouts were heard from a distance of 2 to 3 kilometers. It was not so easy to hold back those shouts. Then they announced: All those who were under the age of 15 should leave the line and go back home. After that they added to this and said: Everyone who was above the age of 60 should leave the line and go home. Afterwards they asked the tradesmen: carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, and others like these go out [of the line]. Half of them they sent home and half of them they put back in the line.
Q: When you say they, to whom are you referring? Who did this?
A: These were the people of the S.S., Gestapo, people with black uniforms and dark green uniforms. When they sent all those people home, that calmed people's spirits. The shouts subsided and we also calmed down, because we thought it was truly nothing but a march. Afterwards they stood us in four rows, one behind the other.
The witness Pachter: After that they told the second and third person in each row to move forward, so that the first and fourth remained. When there remained, in this way, an empty space between the first and the fourth in every row, they placed the people of Chelm in there, who had been brought there the previous day. The people of Chelm did not take up a lot of space. There were not many of them then, they closed up the rows and there were rows of four people.
The Attorney General: Approximately how many people were there in your opinion?
A: They gave an order not to speak, not to turn around, not to look, not to come in contact [with anyone else]. Whoever would breach the order would be shot. They gave an order: to march forward. We began to walk. The road they led us on was not a [paved] highway. We walked in this way until we reached the village of Holotoshines. A girl managed to run behind the line and to shout all the time until we reached that village: Father, Father! Next to Holotoshines the girl was removed. We did not know what had happened to her, we only heard a shot. On that first day our eyes did not see killings. Only from time to time it was said of everyone who stood still to fix
his clothing, who left the line, and after this we heard behind us the sound of a shot. In this way we marched 12 kilometers from Hrubieszów, with our legs plodding in mud, because that was the season of the strongest rains. It was in the month of December. Then they said to us: Sit or lie down, because here we will lodge [overnight]. When we were already sitting on the ground, they came to argue with us and to tell us that we were to blame for the war.
Q: Who are they?
A: The S.S. people. They told us, it is hard to argue here, maybe we should go into a room and there continue the argument. They took all the religious leaders, the two rabbinical court judges, Hershele Rozentzveig and Naftali Rokach, the two beadles, Moshe Kuzhuk and Kutcher, and several other men with beards. From time to time we heard that they also took people from other groups. We estimated that on that evening they took about 200 people. We did not see what happened to those people, but there was still hope in our hearts that maybe this was not a death march. The next day they stood us in columns again, but in every row there were only three people.
Q: Did the rabbis and the beadles return?
A: No. When we returned to the road, we saw blood by the side of the road, we did not see bodies. When we arrived at the village of Szychowice, we saw a burned vehicle by the side of the road, which had remained from the days of the battles. We stood there about five minutes, while the elder of the march, the man who was leading us on his horse, and two of his helpers consulted each other. After that consultation they informed us that we were forbidden to look to the right, left or behind, but only to the front. First of all they took out two Jews, one Jew with a golden beard, Shmuel Hersh Kupershtok, another Jew with a beard, Binyamin Rozenberg, and the third was Lebenfus. When they took Lebenfus, the tragedy was great. His son jumped up and said: Leave my father alone, I will go in his place. They said: Come, you too. They took him with the other Jews. The four of them they shot in the head and the bullets came out through their foreheads.
Q: You yourself saw this?
A: Yes! They placed a hand on a person and hit him on the head with the butt of the rifle. There was, for example, a man by the name of Noach Vertman. They placed a hand on him, he wanted to remove the hand, they hit his shoulder, broke his hand with a blow, and hit him on the head with a rifle butt, and immediately he was shot.
The shooters exchanged places every half an hour, because it was hard to keep up with the march. They made us run all the time. Prędzej, all the time they urged us on. It continued like this for the whole day, until we reached the village of Małków. All the time they asked each other: How many did you manage to kill by shooting? One said: 89. The other said: 102. And so it went.
In the evening we went into Małków, not in the mud, but in a hall. But the hall was so small that it could not contain all the people. We were so crowded that we could not move. It can be said that we almost lay one on the back of the other. People were in the corridors and in the rooms, because there was no room to put so many people in the hall.
Q: How many people were there?
A: I think there were more than 2,000 people. The distance from the head of the column to the back stretched for about a kilometer. Afterwards a kind of prank began. They sent us a message that everyone who wanted to buy a bread roll should send three gold coins [zlotys].
In my pocket there were about 15 zlotys. I gave this to the man who was nearest to the corridor and he gave us five bread rolls. We divided up those five bread rolls, everyone got a small piece. But we did not manage to swallow, because our throats were dry from thirst from the walking, we simply could not swallow, we were cold and tired.
In the morning we again set out on the march, this time we were three in a row. We walked to the village of Dołhobyczów. On the third day they shot without a limit, every hour they shot. They put a hand on a person, made him lie down, and shot him. We walked until the blood was flowing, we did not have the strength to march further, and the slaughter was terrible on that day. When we reached the village of Dołhobyczów, they told us to lie on the ground, and they began shooting in the air above us, so as to scare us.
After these shootings, they divided us into two groups and told us that one group would turn to Sokal and the other to Belz.
Q: In which group were you?
A: I was in the group that turned towards Sokal. When we reached a distance of 4 kilometers from Sokal they announced that they would stop the shootings. We continued to march .
Q: Who was this elder [officer in charge] of the march?
A: He had a dark green uniform. It seems to me that he had black markings on the lapel of his coat. The elder of the march turned to one boy and threw a piece of bread towards him, the youth bent to pick up the bread he was one of the children of Pinye Nadan, about 15 years old. When the youth bent to pick up the bread, the elder of the march shot him, but he did not kill him with the shot and he ordered another [German soldier] to finish the job. He, as it were, justified himself and said he was not to blame, because the youth had jumped out of the line. If he had not jumped out of the line, I would not have shot him, he said. And then we advanced to the city a sister of Sokal, Zabuże.
This was the border between the area of the General Government and the Soviet Union, before the Bug River. When we reached the river, they told us to sit and to sing, because the sun was shining. Whoever does not sit and sing will be shot! When darkness fell, they told us that we were going to advance towards the border and that there was a bridge there. The bridge was divided into three parts. The first part belonged to the Germans, the last to the Soviet Union, the middle was a no man's land or neutral. And this is how they instructed us to walk: on the first part of the bridge slowly, on the middle part to speed up our steps, and on the last part to raise our arms [in surrender] and to shout: Long live Stalin! They said this to us in German, and they explained to us that this would have an effect on the border guards so that they would not shoot us.
When we arrived on the Soviet side, this confused the people from the Soviet Union, because it was prohibited for them to allow crossings at this border. But our arms were raised, and then they asked us: What is going on, and they asked that a person who could speak Russian step forward and explain things. I came out of the line and explained and I told them about all that whole march. They told us to lie on the ground and they would go and check the possibilities for admissions to the hospitals, because we were all injured from that march and our legs were wounded. Moshe Moskol's leg was completely split open and the bone could be seen.
I do not want to go into the tragedy on the Soviet side, because it does not belong to this trial. But they returned us back there.
Q: Where there, to the General Government area of Germany?
A: Yes, to that bridge, because the bridge was between Sokal, which belonged to the Soviet Union, and the suburb Zabuże, which belonged to the German General Government. And indeed to the Germans, yes, to the Germans they returned us. The Germans were already no longer interested in us, and we went into houses. That village was full of rabid antiSemites, but despite this there were those who hurried to our assistance and helped us: They gave us money, clothing and food, and helped a few people cross the border. I was in a group of 29 people who went into the school.
Q: Were these Poles?
A: These were Poles Ukrainians, maybe a few individuals. We, about 29 people, went into the school.
Q: From those 2,000 who began the march, how many arrived at the border?
A: Few, very few, maybe about a hundred people. I of course do not know what happened in the second part, as indeed we had been divided into two parts. When we went into the school, we lit a fire in the stove, so as to warm up a little. We began to take off our shoes and to remove our clothes, so as to warm up and to rest. But at the hour of 10 in the evening the Germans appeared again and urged us to cross the border. We approached a different bridge, that functioned in part as a crossing to the Christian monastery. Half of the bridge on the German side was still complete, and after that it was necessary to jump into the lake and to swim to the other side. The Soviets caught us in the lake and after a struggle of an hour we managed to get out of the lake on the other side, in Sokal. The Jews of Sokal took care of us and offered us all the help possible.
The Presiding Judge: This was on the Russian side?
A: This was on the side of the Soviet Union.
The Attorney General: I will ask you a number of further questions. Mr. Pachter wants to tell of another matter, which was before the march. I will present to you, therefore, a number of questions. Actually this request of Mr. Pachter's is addressed to the court.
The Presiding Judge: Counsel will take care of this.
The Attorney General: Yes, please say, if you can remember, what happened in your city before the march. Tell us a few episodes.
The Presiding Judge: Has he finished the main part of his testimony?
The Attorney General: He was called in order to tell of this march, but he strongly requests and in fact he already asked me and only due to the instruction of the court I did not respond to him to tell of several things that occurred in the town before that. If the court will allow, I will ask him to tell.
The Presiding Judge: Does Counsel think this is important?
The Attorney General: It is likely to be important. Through him I will do, perhaps, what I did not manage to do on Friday to identify a number of pictures of the abuse of Jews that occurred at that time. I thought of doing this through another witness, but given that he is here, he will tell of it. May I go and approach the witness and show him the album?
(To the witness): Can you remember pictures numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4? Where was this?
A: By us [in our town], in the synagogue.
Q: What happened in the synagogue?
A: They caught Jews who were bearded and they began to shave them with knives, sometimes even to the point of drawing blood. After that they forced those same Jews to shave others. Whoever did not want to would be beaten.
Q: To shave, like here, in picture 13, on page 5?
Q: Like on page 6, in picture number 16, for example? If not, say that you did not see it.
A: Yes, all right.
Q: Page 7, the picture on the right, did you see?
A: Yes, I saw.
Q: This picture, did you see?
A: I did not see.
The Attorney General: I will present the album [to the court], only I will ask that it be returned to me, because I will present several pictures to a number of witnesses.
The Presiding Judge: In the meantime it will remain here. Please show it to the Defense Attorney before it is presented. Counsel will point out the pictures that the witness identified.
The Attorney General: Did they mock these Jews?
The Presiding Judge: This book will be exhibit number Tav /199.
The Attorney General: What did they do, Mr. Pachter?
A: Jews with beards were dragged to the synagogue, there they cut their beards, hit them on their hands, and forced Jews to shave the beards of other Jews.
Q: Can you tell us about the contributions?
A: If I tell about the contributions, I have to tell how they behaved to people. It is my wish to tell of the free crossing between Vedenke and Horodok. In the 10th month, they said that every person could cross over freely to the Soviet side.
The Attorney General: He said that this was in the 10th month, the month of October.
A: At the end of the 10th month of the year, they announced that people could cross over to the side of the Soviets, if only they would go into the magistracy, a type of local city hall, and receive a note. For the note they would pay 5 marks or 10 zlotys. On the first day of the week, people would be able to cross over freely. Many, hundreds of people, went and bought these notes and on the first day went out in their hundreds in the direction of Vedenke. When they arrived there, they turned them around and beat them, until they drew blood.
Q: And did they take their property?
A: They took everything they had on them. After Vedenke they [the Germans] announced that they [the Jews] had to raise a contribution of 300,000 zlotys within seven days.
The Attorney General: The intention to fine them.
A: When they came with the money in their hands, they told them that they had missed the deadline by two hours. That never happened. And they imposed an additional fine of another 200,000 zlotys. When they announced for the second time the second fine, they called Rabbi Yochanan Tversky, the brotherinlaw of the Rebbe of Belz, and announced that he was personally responsible for the matter. He fled towards the village of Skryhiczyn, and on the eve of Shabbat [Friday evening] two troopers appeared and shot him while he was at prayer.
The Attorney General: That is all, Mr. Pachter.
The Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, does Counsel have questions for this witness?
Dr. Servatius: I have no questions.
Judge Halevi: Are you saying that at the end of October the Germans announced that there would be a free crossing over to the Russian side?
|Yaakov Biskowitz, a man from Hrubieszów, explains the diagram of the Sobibor camp to the Attorney General at the Eichmann trial|
From Protocols of the Court
Translated by Miriam Bulwar DavidHay
The Attorney General: I call on Mr. Biskowitz.[Columns 635-636]
The Presiding Judge: Place your right hand on the Tanach [the Hebrew Bible] and repeat after me: I swear by God that my testimony in this trial will be the truth, the whole truth, and only the truth.
The witness Biskowitz: (Repeats the words of the Presiding Judge): I swear by God that my testimony in this trial will be the truth, the whole truth, and only the truth.
The Presiding Judge: What is your full name?
A: Yaakov Biskowitz.
Q: Are you a policeman?
A: I am a policeman who is serving in the National Headquarters of the Israeli Police. My number is 8877.
The Presiding Judge: Answer the questions of Mr. Hausner.
The Attorney General: Mr. Biskowitz, at the beginning of June 1942, were you taken with your family from Hrubieszów to the Sobibor camp?
Q: What is the distance between Hrubieszów and Sobibor?
A: The distance between Hrubieszów and Sobibor is about 60 kilometers.
The Presiding Judge: How old were you at that time?
A: Age 15 and a half.
The Attorney General: How long did the journey last?
A: It is possible that I made a mistake and the distance is slightly greater. The journey continued for the entire night, but they also held us for an entire day in the [train] carriages. We also stopped a little on the way. When we arrived at Sobibor and we did not yet know this we drove back and forth until we arrived inside the camp.
Q: When you arrived there you met a number of S.S. people. Do you remember names?
A: Sort of. Actually not sort of, just not all of them. There I met afterwards I was informed Tomleh, Vogner, Paul Gross, Greshov, Hermann Miller and a number of other people.
Q: You were asked if there were carpenters among the arrivals, correct?
A: Correct. By chance they selected carpenters from our transport.
Q: And your father and you stated that you were carpenters?
A: It was not exactly like that. They selected my father, who was a carpenter. I, who was a boy, was dragged along by my father. From that transport they took about 12 people, three carpenters, three builders, and a number of other people for different jobs.
Q: What happened to all the others?
A: The women went to the right side, the men to the left side. I saw the women being led quickly with beatings in the direction of field number 3. Two hours later, the same thing happened with the men.[Columns 637-638]
Q: What did you work at in Sobibor?
A: In the beginning I worked together with everyone. This was at building the camp, barbed wire fences, and trees that we dragged on the run from a distance of 3 kilometers. There were 80 people who were working, almost all of them, at this. From the transport that arrived they selected 200 people [for work]. They took the transport to the Lazarett, that means a hospital, a smallish forest, and there they killed them by shooting them into the pits.
Q: Was it really a Lazarett?
A: No, they just called it the Lazarett.
Judge Halevi: What was that Camp Number 3?
A: Camp Number 3 was a camp in which there were only dead people. About 80 people worked there who had been selected from our transport. They worked there for eight months, approximately. No living person was there, apart from the 80 who were working.
The Attorney General: There were gas chambers there?
Judge Halevi: And what did those 80 do?
A: Those 80 who had been selected were brought to Camp No. 3 and worked there on the bodies that fell from the gas chambers, and burned them.
The Attorney General: You also worked at this work for some time?
A: No, I worked in Camp Number 3.
Judge Halevi: In Camp Number 3 you worked?
A: No, in Camp Number 1. There were a number of camps. That was a transit camp, an interim camp. In that camp we were based and there were tradesmen there, shoemakers, carpenters, tailors, goldsmiths, a barber, a medical clinic, everything inside Camp Number 1. In a wing before the gate lived the S.S. people with the Ukrainians. Camp Number 2 was the Schweinestall, the place people went into before death, a yard that was enclosed on all four sides by planks 2 meters high.
The Presiding Judge: What is the meaning of the word Schweinestall?
A: There were a number of buildings there. For example, there was a yard surrounded by four walls of planks 2 meters high, and inside it was a building in which they raised pigs. On the other side stood a building inside which there was the bank, as it were, where they counted the property of the Jews.
Q: It was an actual pigsty?
A: No, a number of pigs were raised for the S.S. team.
The Attorney General: May I approach the witness, Your Honor? I will go over to him, with the permission of the court. (Shows the witness a sketch of the camp.)
Q: Did you prepare this sketch?
Q: Perhaps now describe this sketch for us. In the top corner above is written: Railway tracks into the camp, what is that?
A: Those are railway tracks, which went into the camp.
Q: Underneath this writing there are buildings, what are they?
A: They are the buildings of the S.S., to the left of this are the buildings of the Ukrainians.
Q: What is this?
A: That is the mess hall of the Ukrainians.
Q: Under this block, in the middle of the sheet, on the right side are a number of structures?
A: That is Camp No. 1.
Q: And you wrote here: Camp No. 1?
Q: When I advance to the left from Camp No. 1, here is marked something fenced, what is that?
A: Here there was a yard, in which they kept the kitchen utensils. There was a big pile there, 5 to 6 meters in height and 150 meters in width, of kitchen utensils and all sorts of other utensils.
Q: What is the thing that is found in the center of the sketch?
A: That is the yard that a few minutes ago I spoke about, in which people undressed before death. And when I spoke about the pigsty that is the building.
Q: Here this is the pigsty?
Q: Write here: Pigsty.
Q: What is the stage for speeches?
A: Onto this stage for speeches the S.S. man Hermann Michel would go up and would make speeches to the people who had come in to the yard and undressed. He told them that they were now going to the shower, that they should hand over all their property and they would receive receipts, and that when they returned from the shower they would get their things back. Here, the red dot, that was the cash register (?), before the path that led to the gas chambers.
Q: Here you have marked path to the gas chambers, and on both sides fences. What sort of fences were these?
A: This is a barbed wire fence hidden by branches of greenery, which we had brought from a distance of a number of kilometers, as I told you earlier, so as to camouflage [the fences].
Q: Here, to the left, is a place that you have marked Camp No. 2, what is this?
A: This was a large roof, as big as this building, possibly even bigger, to which they brought the bundles. Here I have marked two gates, there 100 people worked on the bundles. They took out the belongings of the people who had been brought into the gas chambers, they had to go in quickly and take the items. And here there was a storeroom, in which they sorted the clothing and they made bundles of coats, shirts, and trousers, and sent them to Germany.
Q: Mr. Biskowitz, here are marked two pits and is written Lazarett, is this the Lazarett about which you spoke?
A: That is the Lazarett, in which they killed the elderly, the sick, and those who were not able to walk. They brought them in a small train to that place. The people who arrived on a transport and could not walk were taken straight here.
Q: On the left the gas chambers, and at the bottom on the left the fire pit. What is that?
A: Yes, that is the fire pit, in which the victims were burned, who were brought from the gas chambers. After a number of minutes, a buzzing was heard, the floor opened up, and the victims fell into a chasm and were transferred to the fire pit. The bonfire that was in Sobibor could be seen for a distance of 20 kilometers.
Q: Here you have marked: military camp, what is this military camp?
A: That I saw afterwards. I do not know exactly if it was the Wehrmacht or Ukrainians there. I saw a road there that passed next to the large tower that stood next to Camp No. 1. Inasmuch as I was working as a carpenter, Der kleiner Tischler, I went outside, I wandered around, I built the camp, which was nearby, and I saw that they had prepared a place for landing an airplane, ahead of the visit of Himmler. I was
close to the camp and I saw a number of huts, soldiers and Ukrainians. Here too was killed an S.S. man, who passed by this place before the uprising.[Columns 639-640]
Q: About the uprising we will still speak. Here is written high tower, is this the tower?
Q: Allow me here to correct a small spelling error. (Corrects it.) I present the sketch to the court.
Judge Halevi: You said that they prepared something for the visit of Himmler, what was that?
A: They prepared a place to land an airplane.
The Presiding Judge: This sketch has been marked Tav/1292.
The Attorney General: One of the friends who were with you, who worked at burning the bodies, one day brought you a number of familiar pictures.
The witness Biskowitz: I want to correct a small error. He burned the [victims'] items along with the papers [not burned the bodies].
Q: He brought you pictures?
Q: Pictures of whom?
A: Pictures of my family. He was from my town, and the same age as me, we were friends from home, and he recognized the pictures when he was burning the papers.
Q: Do you, here, have the pictures?
Q: Show them, please, to the court.
A: (Takes pictures out of his pocket and passes them to the Presiding Judge.)
Q: Are these pictures of your family that were brought to you by one of the people in Sobibor from the items that he was burning?
A: Yes, when he burned the papers with the items.
Q: They would burn the items?
The Presiding Judge: Did he know you and your family?
A: He was my age, now he is in Italy, and we were friends from our childhood.
The Attorney General: I will request to return the pictures to the witness, I only wanted to show them to the court.
The Presiding Judge: Yes.
The Attorney General: This is one of the [only] mementoes that remain to him.
The Presiding Judge: Yes, of course.
Judge Halevi: Did he also see your family, or only the pictures?
The witness Biskowitz: We arrived together on the transport to Sobibor, we were the same age, and he managed to escape. He brought me the pictures when he was burning the items, after my parents were burned.
The Attorney General: What happened to your father?
A: He worked there a number of months.
Q: After that?
A: When he became ill, I began to drag him to work day after day. We worked in the mess hall of the Ukrainians, and I worked for him. I tried, as much as possible. But there came one day that I could no longer drag him. And on the same day two S.S. people came, Wagner and Frenzel, they took him out of the hut and led him to the Lazarett, to the accompaniment of blows and shouts, and they shot him in front of me. I wanted to run after him, but the laborers who worked with me held me back.
Judge Raveh: Who wrote on these pictures: The 18th of Sivan?
A: I wrote that, in the course of time. That was the day on which they were killed.
The Attorney General: That is the day that you keep as the anniversary of the death of your parents?
Q: What was the response of the S.S. people to the escape?
A: I remember heavy rain. In the hut there were beds, like shelves. From above the rain came in. One builder, together with whom we worked, asked me if he could come to me to sleep. He received permission from me. On that day rain fell. On that day he by chance worked at the gate, in a place where it was not necessary to pass through landmines. They escaped from me at night, and I remained.
Q: What did the Germans do after that?
A: They held a roll call. They were supposed to kill me, but I had some luck, and they counted, One, two raus! One, two raus! And they killed 20 people. I was saved, because I was number one.
Q: Now, tell us about the uprising at Sobibor, but in brief.
A: The uprising began at a time when the transports were coming from Russia. This was after they had already killed the 80 people in Camp No. 3, who had dug a tunnel and wanted to escape. Then they selected 20 people from Camp No. 1, [and] 60 people were chosen to work from the Russian transport.
Q: What was the role of Sasha in the organization of the uprising?
A: Sasha organized the uprising, after they took the 20 people to Camp No. 3.
Q: Was he an officer?
A: He was an officer, a prisoner of war.
Q: A Jew?
A: Yes. He began organizing the group of us who were close to him, about 20 to 25 people, and he prepared plans. We were very scared, because there were a number of S.S. people who had noticed the suspicious movement, and they almost took him to the Lazarett, to kill him. On Yom Kippur we were permitted to pray in a hut in Camp No. 1. In the hut we gathered all the 600 people who were in Sobibor and we prayed.
I want to point out that a third [of the assembled] were girls of tender age, 15 to 16, and also boys aged 15 to 16, apart from the tradesmen who were older, and the fellows from Russia who were military people [soldiers]. I saw in one corner a group speaking in a whisper. I as a boy noticed this, I went closer and I heard. After a day or two I was informed about the uprising. I was supposed to have escaped three days before that.
Q: What does that mean, you were supposed to have escaped?
A: I planned an escape.
Q: You yourself planned an escape?
A: Yes. But when I was informed about the uprising, I did not want to spoil it. I decided to wait for the uprising. They set the uprising for the 14th of October. I think that was a Thursday. From the hour of 3:30 [p.m.] until the Appell, at the hour of 4 or 4:15 [p.m.], we were supposed to kill every German possible and to escape.
Q: Where did you obtain weapons?
A: We did not have weapons, apart from what had been stolen by the girls who worked for the S.S. people, they polished their shoes and washed their floors. They stole, in the last minutes, a number of grenades, a rifle, a submachine gun, and a number of handguns, and brought them into the camp. I, by chance, was supposed to repair the gate of Camp No. 1. I worked with another friend by the name of David. Twenty people stood under the utensils storeroom. We took all the tools out of the storeroom. Inside every workshop we placed two fellows with axes. The Germans had ordered luxury items, so as to send them home. The man responsible for the workshop sent a message to the S.S. that the merchandise was already ready. The first one went in, Untersturmführer Niemann, on a white horse. He went into the carpentry workshop with a shout. There was a young fellow there, he caught the horse and put it into the old hut. Niemann went into the carpentry workshop and he did not come out of it. He was the commander of the camp. They killed him there. I saw one S.S. man go into the shoemakers' workshop of the Ukrainians. They killed him there. After him one of the Ukrainians went in on a bicycle. They killed him in the same shoemakers' workshop.
Q: And the Germans did not yet feel that there was an uprising?
A: No. One of them, Frenzel, did feel it, after they killed Niemann, and he went around with a whip and with shouts. In general he was always shouting. He felt it, but he was scared to go into the camp. In this way they killed 13 Germans and a number of Ukrainians, together perhaps 18. I saw how people from the forest were arriving. They killed two who came in a [horse and] cart and put them in the cart. Them they killed in the shoemakers' workshop of the S.S.
Q: Whom did they kill?
A: The Germans, of course.
Q: What did the others do in the meantime?
A: In the meantime they waited for the sign to attack the weapons storeroom. I was supposed to give a sign. But at the last moment Bauer arrived at Camp No. 2 with a vehicle of beverages, in order to look for workers. He did not notice anyone because everyone was busy at their tasks. That was mere minutes before the uprising. He dropped me with David at Camp No. 2, where there was the mess hall and the cashier's office. Within a few more minutes the uprising was supposed to break out. We arrived there. We unloaded the first crate of beverages into the building. We saw the cashier Hermann Michel as he was counting the money and he did not
know anything. We were ready. I had a knife, I stabbed him. David was also there. We closed him inside with the door of the cashier's office. We ran outside to carry the second crate. In the meantime we heard, Hurrah, the uprising has begun!Translator's Footnotes:
Q: Hurrah that was the password?
A: Yes. The uprising had begun, and already shots were heard. David ran away in the direction of the uprising, to Camp No. 1. Bauer pulled out his gun, fired, and ran after him. Thus began the uprising. Everyone began to run and went into the weapons storeroom, held the position as long as they could, and afterwards fled.
Q: How did you break through the fence?
A: I was already unable to run in that direction. I was forced to run in the direction of Camp No. 3.
Q: Why could you not run in that direction?
A: Because I was sure I would have been killed. There were too many shots in that direction for me to be able to run there.
Q: How did you get out of the area of Sobibor?
A: I stayed next to the Lazarett, that is, inside the Lazarett, until after midnight. After I jumped over the fence that was 2 meters high into the yard in which the women undressed before [going into] the gas chambers, I ran next to two tall storerooms, which I had built for the bundles. A number of shots were fired at me by the guard on the tower of Camp No. 3. Because it was already dark, no bullet hit me. I managed to arrive at the Lazarett. That was a small forest next to Nord Camp.
Q: You said earlier, that in the Lazarett there were pits?
The Presiding Judge: He said that it was a grove.
A: If the honorable court will give me the chance, I will explain several camps and names.
The Presiding Judge: As I understand it, there were pits among the trees.
A: But behind the Lazarett was Nord Camp, in which they kept ammunition. I lay inside the Lazarett until after midnight. I also did not know how I would manage to get out. But to my good fortune, I had run alone in that direction. After that came many S.S. people with Ukrainians, and they began shooting in my direction. But they thought that no one had run in that direction, [so] they left the place. Only at night I began to make my way in through the barbed wire fence with my hands, until I noticed that the door was open next to the tower in Nord Camp. There they kept explosives and ammunition. There were sort of bunkers in the ground.
The Attorney General: And in the end were you able to get out of the barbed wire fences?
Q: You wandered in the forests and met up with another person who had escaped from Sobibor?
A: Yes. I met the first Jew after four months in the village of Iwanki. That was Nechemia, who had managed to get into the weapons storeroom, to take a submachine gun, and to hold the front.
Q: After that you met up with Sasha?
A: After that we met up with Sasha.
Q: And together you joined a group of partisans?
A: That is [telling it] too briefly.
The Presiding Judge: There is a lot to tell. You understand the intention.
A: I would ask permission from the court to tell how I found Sasha and Nechemia, or at least to finish [telling] how I got out of there.
The Presiding Judge: For every witness this is an important part of his life. There are people who are not even coming to testify. The limitations of the trial must be understood. In any case, if it is your wish to say something in brief, please.
A: Nechemia I met in the village of Iwanki. He told me about the uprising exactly. He only said that he was sorry that we had been removed from that place of vulnerability, because otherwise the uprising would have been more successful. At that moment there was a formation of Ukrainians. They [the Jews] had killed the S.S. [men] and the officer in charge. They [the Ukrainians] stood there and did not know what was happening. Nechemia held the front with a submachine gun. And then Bauer with Frenzel arrived. They broke into the weapons storeroom. He [Nechemia] grabbed a rifle with 200 bullets and fled.
Q: From where was Nechemia?
A: He was from the transport of the Russian army, a prisoner of war.
Q: After that the two of you wandered in the forests until you met up with Sasha?
A: The two of us wandered in the forests until we met up with Sasha.
Q: What was his surname?
A: Pechuri. I met him. There were three [people]. One of them had diseased legs. They wore white clothes made of material that they had made by hand. They had drowned in mud after the escape. After that we gathered together. We were already five [people], we walked to the Skorodnica forests. There we met the first Jewish partisans, by the name of Chiel's group. That was a group of Jews who were active.
Q: Did they operate under the command of Yechiel Grynszpan?
Q: Were you occupied in the sabotage of railway tracks, the cutting off of telephone lines, [and] hitandrun attacks on German military units?
A: Yes. On those that were in the villages.
Q: After that you were conscripted into the Red Army?
A: After that I joined the partisans. That was next to Maloryta. These were Russian partisans who had come from the east. After that, when Russia had already conquered the place, we all met up in that place. There was a concentration of partisans there. When I returned home, I was not able to stay there, I did not find a single person. I went to Lublin and there I volunteered for the Polish army. I was also at the front at Modlin, Jabłonna, and also Warsaw.
The Presiding Judge: Dr. Servatius, does Counsel have any questions?
Dr. Servatius: Witness, sir, you said that Himmler came in an airplane to Sobibor? Did you yourself see him?
A: I saw Himmler. Since I had heard about Himmler, Goering, Hitler, I saw him from a distance. He was wearing a long brown coat, glasses that seemed to be crystal. I also saw a number of other S.S. people, about eight in number.
Dr. Servatius: I have no further questions.
Judge Halevi: Who were the Ukrainians whom you always mention? Which Ukrainians are you mentioning constantly in your testimony?
A: They were prisoners of the Russians who had gone over to the side of the Germans. The Germans gave them a choice, either to remain as prisoners or to cooperate. They guarded the camp.
Q: In uniform?
A: In a black uniform. They received a rifle with five or 10 bullets. They also escaped. I met up with two guards, who had guarded me and had beaten me with many blows. I met them in the forest. They had also escaped at the time of the uprising. Their names were Pavlosha and Holosna.
Q: Did they take part in the uprising?
A: They fled at the time of the uprising.
The Presiding Judge: You described the gas chambers from the inside. You, for example, told us that the floor would open up and the bodies would fall down into rail carts. Did you see this with your own eyes, or are you speaking of things that you heard from the mouths of others?
A: I am speaking here of a shocking sight.
Q: Did you have the opportunity to see these things from the inside?
A: Not everyone had the opportunity; by chance I did have the opportunity. I was taken by chance to transport a rail cart with a barrel of chloride. When I passed by the two large storerooms in Camp No. 2, I detached the rail cart and pushed it in the direction of Camp No. 3. I was supposed to leave it next to the gate. [But] I couldn't hold the vehicle. The gate opened and dragged me inside. Since I knew that from there I would not come out alive, I began to run back quickly, and I managed to arrive to my place of work without anyone noticing. It was a secret I emphasize this even from the people in the camp who worked with me. From a distance I saw the pit and the chasm and the small train that transported the dead. I did not see the gas chamber from the inside, I saw it only from the outside, it had a very prominent roof, the floor opened, and the bodies fell down.
Q: This you understand from the manner of the structure?
A: Not from the manner of the structure, I saw it from a distance, even while I was running quickly, even if after 19 years I cannot describe it exactly.
Q: You are already familiar with these things. Did you see the floor opening up?
A: That I did not see, I only saw the chasm under the gas chamber, when the bodies were already there.
The Presiding Judge: Thank you, Mr. Biskowitz, you have finished your testimony. I know you have not told of everything. But there is no choice.
A: There was another shocking case that I saw and I would like to tell of that case.
The Presiding Judge: I am very sorry. Not only those who come here want to tell, and there is simply no possibility. Thank you very much and goodbye.
by Roza Zilbermintz - Tel Aviv, Israel
Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Bulwar David-Hay
The Germans entered Hrubieszów on the first day of Rosh Hashanah 1939. I was then living with my four children at Plac Wolności number 1, in the house of my father-in-law and mother-in-law.
According to the agreement, the Germans were supposed to remain stationary at the River Wieprz. On the eve of Yom Kippur they left Hrubieszów in order to fulfill the agreement. In those few days, nothing bad happened to the Jews. Once the Germans had left, the Poles came in and made great troubles for the Jews, beat, robbed, and forced them to keep their businesses open on Yom Kippur.
As Yom Kippur ended [in the evening], we heard a terrifying barrage of shots. After the barrage it became quiet and into the town came the Red Army. But they stayed only 11 days, and then they left and the Germans came in again. And this time they soon showed what they could do. The Poles rejoiced with the Germans and helped them in their cruelty against the Jews. Into our house came a German company, Geiser, that opened a storehouse with merchandise. The Jewish inhabitants of the house were thrown out, [and] we were left with one single room.
On the 15th of November 1939, the Germans hung up signs, saying that whoever wanted to go to the Russians could receive a permit for 5 zlotys. Thousands of Jews packed up, taking everything that they possibly could, and set off on the way. When they came to the Russian border, on the Bug [River], the Germans suddenly gave an order:
Back!On the way back the Gestapo came with Ukrainians and murderously beat [the Jews], stripped them, actually naked, and robbed to the last. In this way the Hrubieszów Jews returned home, more dead than alive, naked and barefoot.
A day later, on the 1st of December, Friday evening, we were informed by the magistrate that on Saturday morning, at 8 o'clock, all the Jews aged from 15 to 60 years had to assemble on the Vigon. There each person would be able to decide whether he wanted to remain here or whether he wanted to go to Russia.
The Germans also played the same game in Chelm, only one day earlier. On the 2nd of December, they brought the Chelm Jews to the Hrubieszów market, naked, barefoot, beaten and weakened. Both groups, the Chelm one and the Hrubieszów one, were driven towards the Russian border.
On the way the Germans shot about 1,500 Jews, and the rest were forced to cross the Russian border, through the River Bug. That was on the 6th of December. Unlucky ones went in the stinging frost into the water. A large portion perished in the river. Those who crossed the river were detained on the Russian side, until an order would come to allow them in. After a day of waiting, an order came to send the Jews back. There was no other choice except to go back to the Germans.
In Hrubieszów at that time a Judenrat was established. In the winter of 1940 they brought Jews from Lodz and the surrounding area with frozen hands and feet for work. They placed the sick ones in the Polish hospital, but within a day the Germans threw them out into the street. The healthy were quartered in Jewish houses, where they also received food, because the Germans did not give them any food at the places where they worked.
It was the infamous winter of 1939 to 1940. The frosts were terrible, not to be borne. The Judenrat then opened a hospital for the seriously ill in the orphanage building. The orphaned children were divided up into the Jewish houses.
I was with my two sons and two daughters aged between 17 and 25. When an order came out that those aged from 16 to 60 years had to register themselves, I first of all sent away my two sons with the younger girl. At night they smuggled themselves over the Bug towards Russia. Never more did I see or hear from them again. I was left only with my eldest daughter.
In the spring of 1940, the Germans caught young boys and girls and sent them to work in the village Obrovitsa. Apart from that, every day the Judenrat delivered a large number of Jews for assorted jobs.
At the end of Tisha B'Av 1940, the Germans drove the young and old men out of the houses and locked them up in the large synagogue. The aktzia lasted a whole night. The voices of the wives and children reached to the heart of the heavens.
On the second and third days they began bringing to Hrubieszów Jews from the entire district: from Grabowiec, Belz, and other towns, and all of them they imprisoned in the synagogue.
Inside the synagogue they soon could not sit down, only stand, squeezed and pressed together. Their needs they had to relieve under themselves. In this way the Jews were locked up for three days without food and without drink.
First thing in the morning, the intermediary from the Judenrat allowed the wives to bring food. And the Germans divided it up, then they gathered up Jewish girls who with their hands cleaned up the excrement in the synagogue.
On the fourth day they ordered the closure of the Jewish and the Christian businesses. A large reinforcement of Gestapo arrived and all the Jews were led out of the synagogue to the train. Soon the mayor of Hrubieszów, Jaworowski, came to the train. He lived with a Jewish wife and was a friend of the Jews. He saved a fair few Jews. On his demand they sent a number of Jews away [to go] home. The rest they sent away to Bełżec, where they had to dig mass graves for Jews.
Until December 1940, the situation was one that was still bearable. Against that which came later, it was now a Garden of Eden. Every day the Judenrat delivered the demanded number of Jews. The rich bought their way out, and those who had no money worked.
At the beginning of 1941 things grew worse, and the misfortune grew even further. First, they took away from the Jews their belongings and goods; we gave up all our furs for the German soldiers on the front. If they found that a Jew had even a small fur for a little child, they shot him for that.
In June 1942 the Gestapo came to the Judenrat and there left sealed letters for all the Judenrats in the surrounding towns that
belonged [administratively] to Hrubieszów. They ordered that the letters were not to be opened until they would allow it.
Within a few days the letters were sent. They reported that, according to the order, Hrubieszów had to become Judenrein. Therefore, every person had to pack up to 16 kilograms and stand ready to be transferred to Pinsk, there to dry up the swamps. Many Jews felt that the work in Pinsk was just a German trick, and hid themselves. But the majority believed and came to the agreed place. Three thousand Jews were led to Sobibor (next to Wlodawa) in freight carriages. The Polish conductors, who returned from the journey, told that all the Jews had been poisoned to death in the wagons and their corpses had been thrown into the graves that the gentiles had already prepared.
Later the district captain called in the Judenrat and reported to it that he would leave up to 2,000 Jews in Hrubieszów, and the remainder would have to be sent away to other places for work. Those who wished to remain would receive cards as useful Jews.
Also in the second aktzia many Jews hid themselves, knowing already what being sent away for work smelled of. The Germans then swept through the whole town, and searched in every hole and pit, cellars and attics. To our pain and great shame, the Jewish police here played a very sad role. Knowing better than the Germans did all the hiding places in homes, they were successful in catching many Jews. One hundred and eighty Jews were then tied together with barbed wire, led out to the cemetery, and shot there. The second group of Jews was sent away to Bełżec. That group too was poisoned to the last one.
After the last aktzia, on the 28th of October 1942, Hrubieszów became Judenrein. The small remnant of Jews was imprisoned in a camp. But in the town there were still, despite this, many Jews, who lay hidden in pits, bunkers and in other hiding places. The Germans issued a reward of 50 zlotys and a kilogram of sugar for every Jewish head. Many shketzim then did a splendid business.
After the third aktzia, I, my daughter, and a female relative lay hidden in a small attic in our house. On the first floor lived a Polish [business] agent, Szudem. We lived there seven days and in that time withstood a hell from the agent's wife, who every day demanded money of us, and each time threatened that she was going to hand us over to the Gestapo.
On the eighth day we covered ourselves in scarves and were away. Three kilometers from the town lived a Christian acquaintance. He took pity on us and let us in, into a cellar that he shared with his neighbors. The Christian was a socialist, a Polish professor, and on such people the Germans kept an eye.
After several days we had to leave the cellar. In front of the house lay a pile of straw, under which had been built a bunker for his nephew, who had hidden there for some time from the Germans. Afterwards he went away somewhere. The professor let us in there.
During the day we lay there and at night he led us into the cellar. Every day he brought us honey-water and bread.
We were there for seven weeks, until the 15th of December 1942. He could not keep us any longer, because he himself stood under suspicion. On one occasion he even had to stay away overnight for several days.
On the 17th of December at night we covered ourselves in scarves and shawls and went to the mill of a Christian acquaintance. In front of the mill a small rail track ran by. The Christian bought tickets for us and we climbed into the carriage. The aim was: Sokal. There, we heard, all the remnants of the Jews who remained after all the aktzias had been driven together, and the town had been given the name Jew-town. There, in the Jew-town so it was said Jews were safe.
The small train drove to Rava Ruska. There we had to climb aboard a normal train, toward Sokal. In the small train and in the larger train, we had luck, in that they did not discover us.
When we disembarked from the train, we were 3 kilometers from Sokal. With great effort and torment, and under the greatest danger, we came to Sokal. In front of the town we met a Jew who had a permit to go to the Aryan side. When he saw us, he shouted out:
What are you doing? Why are you coming to Sokal? There is going to be an aktzia here tomorrow!But already we had no choice. For several days we had not eaten, had not drunk, [we were] barely standing on our feet, and it was already all one to us. Having heard that Sokal was a Jew-town, where Jews lived completely free, many Jews had run away there. Many Hrubieszów Jews were here. The town was guarded by Jewish police, who did not allow any unfamiliar Jews to come in.
We had success in passing through the watch unnoticed and entering the town. Upon paying a Jewish policeman a handsome sum, he was prepared to hide us. He led us into a dark bunker, which was connected to the [sewage] canals. The hiding places we had been in until then were palaces in comparison with this hiding place. Here it was so tight that one had to lie on top of the other. The air was thick, the stink choked us into faints, and it was dark, like in a grave.
The aktzia did not take place on the agreed day, only two or three days later. After the aktzia we emerged from hell.
In the interim, we heard that in Hrubieszów the situation had normalized itself. After all the aktzias, there remained a small handful of Jews, whom the Germans needed for work. They lived in a camp and no one bothered them any more. Here, against this, a second aktzia was being prepared.
I decided to send my daughter with my relative to Hrubieszów. They succeeded in arriving there, and I heard that they were working with three other Jewish children for the Germans, outside the camp.
On the 15th of April, 1943, the girls paid two shketzim 2,000 zlotys and sent them to Sokal with Ukrainian clothes and documents in order to bring me back. In this way I came again to Hrubieszów.
On the 8th of September, 1943, the whole camp was taken away to Majdanek. We were there until May 1944.
On the 22nd of July, we were led from Majdanek by foot towards Oświęcim. I soon could not carry on with the march. I remained lying in a field, waiting for a German bullet to free me from my troubles. But it was approaching the end and the Germans did not have me in their sights. I was lying right on the front. Cannons thundered and airplanes flew over my head.
On the 29th of July, the Russians liberated me. My beloved daughter and the other three Jewish children (two boys and a girl) the last five children from Hrubieszów had been shot on the 11th of November 1943. I do not even know where the bones of my children, may their memories be a blessing, are to be found.
I remained all alone in the big world.
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