Testimony at the trial of Reinhold Hanning: Max Eisen, February 18, 2016

My name is Tibor Eisen, also known as Max. I offer this testimony today as a witness to atrocities, horrors, and deprivations I experienced in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau from May 1944 to January 1945. I was born on March 15, 1929 in Moldava nad Bodvou, Czechoslovakia. A year prior to the war, the region in which I lived was annexed to Hungary. Like most Hungarian Jews, I was offered relative protection from the Nazis’ “final solution” until the final year of the war, when they initiated mass deportations of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

In May 1944, at the age of fifteen, I was deported – along with my entire immediate family and the other 450 Jews living in my town – to a brickyard in the city of Kassa (Košice). From there, we were loaded into cattle cars. There were approximately 100 people crammed into each car, and I was forced to stand for the entire trip, which lasted 2 nights and 3 days. There was one pail of water and one pail for use as a shared toilet. The water was consumed almost immediately and the bucket was never refilled. The slop pail of urine and feces spilled all over the floor of the cattle car. The stench, the physical discomfort, and the deprivation of all of our senses was a deeply dehumanizing experience. Two people died in our car and we had to endure the presence of their bodies amongst us for the duration of the journey. I could not see my mother, who was still nursing my baby sister, Judit. Nor could I see my two younger brothers, who were hidden from view amongst the taller people. We all were separated and we could not communicate with one another. I recall falling asleep standing up and feeling hypnotized by the sound of the wheels on the rail track. Suddenly, the whistle of the locomotive woke me up. I thought that I was having a nightmare, but in actuality, I was living it.

When the train stopped, I heard the doors of other cattle cars being opened and I thought that my ordeal must be over. I imagined that there could be nothing worse than what I had just endured. When our door was opened, light flooded in and a prisoner wearing a striped uniform and cap yelled out to us, “RAUS, SCHNELL!” We were a wobbly group, hardly alive, groggy and weak. We were dejected, confused, and both physically and mentally exhausted after this very trying journey. The SS men on the platform deceived us with their behavior; they gave us the false impression that everything was in order here, which kept our group calm. Their uniforms with the various SS insignias and the skull and crossbones on their caps gave them the power to do as they pleased. The brutal system was endorsed without remorse.

My family and I had only a minute or two together on the platform and I was so happy to see my mother and my two brothers. I could see that my baby sister was not responsive, probably because my mother could not breastfeed her. We were numb from the shock of the journey, and confused by the harsh orders that were barked at us. Still, my mother, who was clearly concerned for our well being, projected strength and hope.

To one side of this platform there was a plume of flame and smoke, and I thought, this must be some kind of a factory. I smelled burning flesh. Beyond the floodlit platform, all was dark. The men in the striped outfits told us that our bundles would be delivered to us tomorrow. Forcefully and systematically, they separated the men and women into different columns. All older males and children were sent over to the women’s line. The men in striped outfits kept telling us that we would see each other tomorrow morning. There were no goodbyes spoken here.

I found myself in the men’s line with my father and my uncle. My grandfather, my grandmother, my mother (still holding baby Judit), my two younger siblings, and my aunt were all marched away. Everything happened swiftly and we had no time to think rationally. The Kapos told us that we would be reunited the next day. I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to my mother, nor did our eyes ever meet, and I wasn’t able to say any final words to her. I found out later that my mother, grandparents, and siblings were all gassed in Crematorium II.

My father, uncle, and I moved forward in a single column towards an SS officer wearing white gloves. He looked at each person and with a flick of his hands, he indicated whether that person should go to the right or left. My father went first, then my uncle, and I was next. He looked at me and sent me to the same group as my father and uncle. We were guarded by SS soldiers and marched through a forest of birch trees with the other men who had been selected from our transport. We entered a building called the “Sauna,” where more of the men in striped outfits ordered us to hand over any remaining documents and jewelry, and told us to strip naked. They took our clothes away, but permitted us to keep our boots.

            In the next stage of processing in the “Sauna,” our hair was cut from our heads, underarms, and groins by prisoners who wore striped uniforms. They had numbers and triangles printed on strips of cloth, which were sewn on their jackets. The man in charge of this unit wore a band on his arm that said Kapo (which meant boss) printed on it. The Kapos lined up the older people and had his men check if the new arrivals had gold crowns or fillings in their teeth. Those who did were taken aside, and their teeth were extracted on the spot with a pair of pliers. They ordered us to bend over and checked our rectums for hidden items.

            The next stage of our processing was the showers. I had never seen a shower before in my life and I was in awe of the installation. There were numerous showerheads and large wheels used to control the flow of the hot and cold water. Although I had been in a mikvah (ritual bath) at home, it was intimidating to be naked in a large group of naked strangers. We had to lay our boots on the edge of the shower while we bathed and we kept a good eye on them because we had custom made boots that would last for a long time. Suddenly the Kapo and his helpers started to collect our boots. When my father saw this, he warned us and we grabbed our boots and kept them under our arms while we showered. Had we lost these boots, our lives would have been even more at risk. Those who lost their boots were lucky if they got a pair of wooden clogs instead. These clogs were more like a piece of 2 inch x 4 inch wood with a canvas top stapled to it. Our boots were treasures that we had to guard day and night.

The cruelty of the SS guards first became apparent in the shower room. While we were showering, an SS soldier who stood by one of the big wheels that controlled the water temperature turned on hot, scalding water just for sport. As we tried to jump around to avoid getting burned, another soldier with his truncheon would beat us to get back under the showers. Then he turned on the freezing cold water. A young man who was showering with us held his eyeglasses in his hands. They had very thick lenses and he was obviously short sighted. The rush of water washed his glasses out of his hands, and when he got down on his knees to try and find them, an SS guard came over and kicked him in the side of the head with his jackboots. The young man rolled over and the guard continued to stomp on his chest. I could hear the cracking of ribs. The guard, who was now in a frenzy, continued to kick and stomp on the man until he was dead. The rest of us continued under the showers as if nothing had happened, but I was shocked and terrified. To this day, I can’t figure out what precipitated the guard’s horrible act. Perhaps he thought seeing a naked man on his hands and knees was comical and he wanted to continue to humiliate him.

After the processing in the Sauna was complete, we were marched, still naked, to a barrack where I was assigned to the middle of a triple-tiered wooden plank bunk without a mattress or blanket. After the ordeal of standing for 3 days and 2 nights in one spot in the cattle car, this bunk felt more like luxury and I instantly fell asleep from exhaustion.

We awakened early the next morning and ordered to go outside of the barrack where I had my first glimpse of Auschwitz II-Birkenau. It was a bright, sunny morning. Two inmates brought a canister of hot tea out and we were lined up to get bowls (Shissels) for a ladle of tea. This was the first liquid I had consumed in 3 days. My father asked the men who ladled out the tea, “when are we going to see our families?” The inmate laughed and asked my father, “where did you come from?” My father answered, “We arrived during the night from Hungary.” The inmate said, “this is 1944 and you do not know what this place is all about? Your families have gone through the chimney.” My father continued questioning him, but I could not understand their conversation. In my naivety, I thought, how does a person go through a chimney? I soon learned that this was the common vernacular used to describe the mass killing process in the camp.

We were given tattooed numbers. My father’s number was A9891, my number is A9892, and my Uncle Jeno’s number was A9893. We were given a camp striped uniform consisting of a cap, jacket, and pants. We had no underwear, socks, toilet paper, toothbrushes or any tool for grooming or care. We had no locker for storage. Whatever paltry belongings we had were on our body, day and night.

About one hundred of us were chosen for farm work and we were marched down the road to Auschwitz I. There, we were handed over to a Kapo named Heindrich, who was a psychopathic killer from a German jail. Heindrich introduced himself and told us that we were now in the Landwirtschaft Commando. The under-capo was a Polish political prisoner, Stasek, and the Commandant was Unterscharführer Kuntz, an Austrian. For the first few days in this commando, we had to harvest mustard with scythes and doing this work up to 10 hours a day caused my hands to blister, break open and bleed. They assigned us other backbreaking work, a list too long to recite here.

I lived on a 300 calorie diet a day, which consisted of a cup of tea in the morning and lunch was a ladle of soup that was mostly water and dinner was a cup of ersatz coffee, a thin slice of bread and a tiny square of margarine. This diet took a heavy toll on all of us. Our bodies were fast disappearing and breaking out in boils, and had my father and uncle not been with me, I would not have survived the first week in this place. I experienced the continuous pressure of hard work, beatings, very little food, and a body that was not functioning well. During the day’s exhausting work, there was no liquid given to us. I noticed that young men in their 20’s or so were falling by the wayside. They could not survive on this diet and simply gave up. The hunger drove some people to desperation – it was dehumanization by starvation. I recall one day when the daily soup was dished out, several inmates fought each other to push into the drum to get the last drop out. I made a decision then that, no matter what, I would never stoop to this level.

Another day after coming back from work, I saw my father and my uncle waiting for me inside the gate as they usually did. My unit was always the last to come back in the evening, and I always saw them waiting there for my return. A few times, they had managed to bring back a piece of bread or a potato during a work detail and they always shared their good fortune with me. As the work units came marching back to camp from their daily labor, the SS Sargent in charge of the gate scrutinized the prisoners to see if anyone was carrying contraband hidden under their jackets or pants. If he saw any suspicious demeanor, he would simply yell to the prisoner to lift up his hands and he pulled up his jacket. If he had anything hidden under his armpit, it would fall out. The SS would immediately take offenders out of the column and record their tattoo number and barrack. Eventually, back at Appel, the punishment would be meted out: sometimes lashes from a whip and sometimes reassignment to a Penal Unit (Strafkommando). In spite of all these punishments, when a prisoner managed to find something, he would always take the risk of trying to smuggle it into the camp. We were constantly vigilant for items that might improve our chances of survival. We called this process “organizuj” or “to organize.”

On this particular day, their unit was working near a barracks called “Canada” (a place where the belongings of murdered prisoners were stored and sorted) and a girl from our town recognized my father and managed to slip him a chunk of bacon wrapped in a rag. My father smuggled it into the camp under his jacket. He slipped the piece of bacon under my jacket while we were standing in a huddle and my uncle blocked the view so that nobody would see this transfer. I was surprised that I was holding a piece of bacon in my hand. Coming from a traditional Orthodox family, we did not eat pork and yet my father told me that I must eat a little piece of it every day.

As slave laborers, we had no lockers to store things, but I slept in the top floor of my barrack and I could reach the ceiling from my top bunk. Prior to receiving the bacon, I had managed to dislodge one of the tiles on the ceiling, which created a small secret storage space where I hid a few odds and ends, including pieces of rag. I hid the bacon in the space behind the tile. During the subsequent nights when the lights were out and everyone was confined to his bunk, I waited until everyone was asleep. When I was certain that nobody could observe me, I dislodged the ceiling tile and pulled out the bacon wrapped in my rag. Without a knife or any utensils, I chewed a small piece of the bacon. I could actually feel the energy flowing into my body from this sustenance. Every night, I had another bite, a small shot of this energy, and I am positive that this little bit of protein gave me the strength to face the next day.

In early July, another selection took place. My father and uncle and I were in separate blocks by this time. I was awakened from a dead sleep to shouts of “RAUS! SELEKTION!” By this time, I knew what selection meant. I remember wishing that the earth would open up and swallow me. There was nowhere to hide. We had to walk through a barrack, nude and in single file, where the SS doctors examined our bodies. A man right in front of me was stopped, and I continued to walk out the door. Had I hesitated one split second, I am sure I would have been on the list for the gas chamber. At this time, I was worried about whether my father and uncle made it through. I had to wait until morning to find out and when I ran to their barrack, they were no longer there. I knew the worst had happened. I had to run back to my barrack for Appel and for the rest of the day, I was consumed by worry. When I came back in the evening from our work site, I ran to the quarantine area and yelled out their names. Luckily, they came to the fence and we had only seconds to say goodbye. The SS guard in the tower was only 100 feet away and he yelled out to me to move or he would shoot. My father blessed me and told me that if I managed to survive, I must tell the world what happened here. Then he told me to hurry and leave, and that was the last time I saw him. I was devastated to be left all alone.

Twenty years ago, Dr. Carson Phillips who did volunteer work at the Auschwitz Museum Archives, found Nazi documents showing that on July 9th, 1944, my father and uncle were selected for medical experiments. This document exists as their last will and testament as well as their death warrant. I would like to submit these documents, in the original German and the English translation, along with my testimony for the Court to have as evidence.

Soon after my father and uncle were selected out, I received a life-threatening blow to the head by an SS guard. I lost a lot of blood and went into shock. I was thrown in a ditch on the job site. My feet would not hold me up. At the end of the day, I was put on a 2-wheel cart that contained all the shovels and other work implements. My fellow inmates transported me to the surgery in block 2l.

I was operated by prisoner doctors and a few days later, I was put on a stretcher with other injured prisoners who were destined for the gas chamber at Birkenau. Dr. Tadeusz Orzeszko, a Polish political prisoner and the chief surgeon in block 21, rescued me from the stretcher and took me back into the hospital. He gave me a lab coat and told me I was now an assistant to the operations of the surgery. I witnessed how this small camp hospital was all part of the deception. People did not have time to recover; many of them were loaded onto trucks shortly after medical procedures and sent to the gas chambers in Birkenau. The drivers of these trucks returned several hours later to the operating room where they pulled bloody rags from their pockets that were full of teeth with gold crowns and fillings that I was instructed to remove with the instruments available to me. I was shocked to learn of these scavengers, who were enriching themselves in such a gruesome way.

Reinhold Hanning may deny his role in these atrocities. Although I do not remember his face, I can tell you that from the first moment I got off the cattle car in Birkenau in May 1944 — dazed from lack of sleep, food, and water — I was a witness to the cruelty of the SS guards who controlled the camp. Each one of them functioned as a cog in a well-oiled and destructive machine. Each one played a role in dehumanizing slave laborers and contributing to the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

To conclude my testimony, I want to tell the Court and Reinhold Hanning that to this day, I must live with these horrific memories, the unspeakable trauma of Auschwitz, and the nightmares about my experiences there. In particular, I have a recurring nightmare in which I see my grandparents, my mother, my three siblings and my aunt locked inside a crowded gas chamber, where the gas is spreading from the floor upward to the ceiling, engulfing everyone inside. I see them suffocating and dying while the SS officers watched this death struggle through reinforced, glass peepholes. This thought will never leave me.