TESTIMONY AT THE TRIAL OF REINHOLD HANNING: HEDY BOHM, April 06, 2016

My name is Hedy Bohm. I was born in Oradea, Romania on May 11th, 1928. I was an only child to my parents, Elisabeth and Ignac Klein. My father was a master carpenter. As an only child, I was overprotected, and sheltered from the harsh realities of life.

My father was a gentle quiet man, I never once heard him raise his voice my entire life. My mother, a homemaker, was always there quietly managing our lives. My parents didn’t believe the rumors about the terrible things that were done to Jewish people as Hitler’s army took over one country after another. They were convinced the Hungarian government would not betray them. So we went peacefully to the ghetto when so ordered. We had to leave everything in our apartment and were allowed only a small suitcase to bring with us, nothing valuable, only the bare necessities. I had just turned 16 years of age.

Transports left daily, the Hungarian soldiers collecting people, from the buildings and marching them to where the cattle cars were waiting to take us away. We were in the ghetto about one month before they came for us around the end of May 1944. They pushed and shoved us. They put about eighty to ninety people in each cattle car. There was only standing room. We were like sardines in a can. We were given one pail of water, and another empty pail. The doors were locked from the outside and we were on our way. A very small window with barbed wire was our source of fresh air. With our bodies pressed close, the air became awful. There was no food or drink. The children and babies were crying. There was stench, hunger, thirst, and sick people moaning. The buckets overflowed with human waste. For three days and nights the train went, stopping at times, and then continuing. We didn’t know where we were going. We still believed we were being taken to work. I remember fanning my mom, when she complained she couldn’t breathe.

After those three days in the cattle car, the train finally stopped. We had arrived, but where were we? The doors were opened, and immediate chaos followed. There were shouts of, “OUT! OUT! FAST!” as we got out.

I was looking at a scene that was alien and incomprehensible. Immediately in front of me there were people pouring out of the cars; mostly women holding on to their children’s hands, or with babies in their arms, older people helping each other down. And overlooking all this were the black uniformed German guards with rifles pointing at us, others holding, large, snarling dogs on tight leashes. The guards and other men dressed in black and white striped uniforms were shouting at us to hurry. Beyond this swirling mass of frightened people, there were tall fenced enclosures as far as the eye could see. The physical size and scale of this place was beyond anything I had ever seen or heard about. Yet, it was overshadowed by the horror of what was being done.  There were barn like barracks lined up. Everyone was yelling and screaming; orders were being given rapidly, one after another.

The first order was for men to go to the left.  Before I could say goodbye, my kind gentle father was gone. I never saw him again. Women were ordered to proceed on the road ahead. I saw my mother way ahead of me and I ran to catch up. I was suddenly stopped by a rifle in front of me across my chest barring my way. The SS-man me, “NO”, pointing to the right, “Go there!” I begged him to let me go with my mom, quite far ahead by then, but he continued to bar my way. He repeated, “To the right!” I cried out after my mom. She heard me and turned, looking at me. Time stood still.  I don’t know if it was a moment, or a minute. I looked at her. Her eyes met mine. Then, without a word, she turned and marched on.  I was stunned and bewildered. This was beyond my understanding. I was totally alone, amongst strangers for first time in my life. I was in shock. Though I longed to see my mother again, I would never do so.

We were ordered to form rows of five and proceed ahead and then through the open gate.  We found out later that this was the section of the camps referred to as C Lager.  On entering the first barrack on our right, we were ordered to undress in preparation for a shower and disinfection. We were told to leave our clothes and shoes in a bundle and that we would find them on our return. We entered a grey, bare, concrete room
with showerheads above us on the ceiling. After our shower, we were ordered into the next room. Naked, dripping wet, trying to cover ourselves with our hands, we entered a large room, with men and women who shaved our heads and bodies of all hair. They then blew a yellow powder on our lower bodies. Next, we had to pass by a long table piled high with dresses, and were thrown a dress. It didn’t matter if it was too small or too big, that was what we had for the rest of our time there. I was given wooden-soled shoes. No panties, no slips, no bra, no socks, nothing but the dress and shoes.

Next, they ordered us to go and find ourselves a place in one of the large barracks referred to as blocks. C Lager had about 30 of them; lined up along barbed wire fences, with a wide path between them. Each block had several hundred women in them.  I went with a small group, walking along the wide lane. The big barn-like doors of the blocks were open. As we passed by, I saw that some had wooden bunkbeds.  Others had nothing but the same beaten earth that we were walking on outside.

In the middle of everything, was a tall guard tower, with armed SS-guards overseeing the compound at all times. We were told not to go close to the fence surrounding us or the guard would shoot. Some people committed suicide by running up to the electric fence and grabbing on to it. We were aware of being watched at all times.

As we passed by several structures, I noticed one on my left that had a window. The sun was shining, turning the glass pane into a mirror. I stopped to look. So did a half dozen others. I looked in the mirror at the strange faces looking back at me and didn’t recognize myself. Counting from my right I was third.  Then, counting the reflections of the faces in the window, I stared at the odd looking bald girl for some time, until I could accept that it was me.

I went towards the end of the camp and found in one barrack, what looked like a tiny unused spot on a wooden platform. I asked if it was occupied and was told no. I settled down there.

Soon I realized why it was available. The wooden slats covered only half the length of that spot. There was nothing to support my lower body. After a few uncomfortable nights curled up in a ball or trying to rest my legs on a frame post, I left and settled in another block with no beds, just the hard beaten earth to sleep on.

In C Lager one barrack served as our washroom.  It had wooden holes on a seat and several, large cement sinks with a faucet, where we could wash; cold water only.

Days and weeks went by. When it rained, the roof leaked in several places and puddles would form in my sleeping spot. I moved to the back to squat on the ledge of the concrete sink to stay dry, because everywhere else that was dry was jammed with people. Walking around the lager later, I discovered some help for this problem. I found three little bits of wood that were left over from the building of the structures. They were about 2-3 centimeters square and about 1 centimeter thick. The next time it rained, I put one piece under my knee, one under my hip and the third under my shoulder. It lifted me up a fraction above the puddle, and that is how I slept.

I convinced myself that my mother was in a similar place, and being intelligent and strong, she would survive. I told myself that we would meet again after the war. Until then, I had to do everything in my power to stay healthy, clean and well. I had to look after myself as best as possible under the circumstances.

I didn’t understand the place I was in, where it was, or what the purpose of it was. I didn’t know that the road my mother followed was taking her to the Crematorium, to be killed along with all the children, young mothers with babies in their arms and grandmothers I witnessed being led away by the Nazi soldiers. I had no idea and therefore kept on hoping and believing that one day this would all end and I would be reunited with my mom. I understood that my father being handicapped didn’t have a chance, but I kept on telling myself that my mother will survive, and we will be together again. All through the months in C Lager, and later in Germany, I kept on hoping and not knowing.

Every morning while it was still dark, I would go into the washroom barrack and take off my dress and shoes. I washed from head to toe in the cold water and dried myself with only my hands. I put my dress back on and would go back to my sleeping spot in time for the roll call. One night, I remember waking up to some unusual sounds of moaning, crying, and whispering. The next morning I was told that a woman gave birth. She was helped by several others who took the baby away afterwards to save the mother’s life. I didn’t understand at the time what was happening.

Our life in C Lager started out every morning with the roll calls. In front of the barracks, we formed columns in rows of five. The SS-guards referred to us as the “Heftlinge.” We were ordered to stand straight and not to move or talk. We stood like this for hours until the counting was done. SS-guards with whips enforced these rules. Sometimes the process was repeated if the numbers were thought to be off. This was exhausting. Sometimes I lost all feeling in parts of my body. When this process ended we had a few hours until it was repeated all over again in the afternoon.

Hunger was my constant companion.A barrel was brought to each block, and the contents ladled out in to bowls, or small pots. They were handed to the first person in a row of five to take a few sips and pass it on, until it was gone.

The first day after our three day journey in the cattle car without food and drink, I was very hungry.I hungrily watched the girl first in line as she took a sip from the bowl. She burst out crying, stopped drinking, and gave the bowl to the next person. When it came my turn and I took a sip, I understood why. That was not like any soup I ever tasted. It was a brown liquid, with almost nothing in it. No Meat, no potatoes, no carrots, no vegetables, or anything I recognized as food. There were twigs, floating around in it, little pebbles and a sandy residue. It tasted awful. I imagined my mother saying, “Drink it: for whatever nourishment may be there.  It will help you to survive.”  So I gulped down the terrible liquid, while tears flowed from my eyes. This and a piece of dark bread with a tiny square of jam, or cheese made up our daily ration for the next three months. We were starving. There were some who could not drink the so called “soup”.  They were the first to become ill, and get diarrhea that weakened them until they had no strength to walk. They were the first to perish.

One day, walking around between roll calls, I met a favorite classmate of mine,  Mazso. She was a talented, sweet girl, who sat behind me in class.  Two years earlier, I invited her to contribute to my “memory book”; a little diary like booklet of blank pages given to me by my parents, to be filled by my friends and family. She drew a lovely picture in ink, with her good wishes. She said, “Hedy, I have a favor to ask.”  I looked at her puzzled and asked, “What can I possibly do?”

She asked, “Do you remember my boyfriend?” I answered, “Yes, why?”She replied, “When you go home after the war, find him and tell him that I loved him very much.”

I asked, “Why are you telling me this?  You can tell him yourself, when you go home.”

She just looked at me with a gentle smile on her face and said, “I know I won’t go home, I won’t make it, but you will.” She was right.

I was selected and taken out of the camp shortly after to work in a factory.  I never saw her again. Selections were done by SS-officers and SS-guards daily. Hundreds of people were taken away never to be seen again. We did not know their fate. We wondered, was it better to go, or stay? Could it get worse, or maybe better?

Months went by with the same exhausting endless roll calls, selections and hunger.  Our crowded and insecure existence continued. One day, I went to visit my Aunt Margit, with her two daughters, Kato and Eva. No sooner than I arrived, whistles blew and orders were given for an immediate roll call. With no time to go back to my block, I lined up there. On that day, I was selected with my relatives, and about a thousand others. We were immediately marched out of Camp C to be disinfected, showered, dressed and made ready to be transported. After waiting a long time, we were ordered to go back toward our Camp C.  But instead, they opened a gate opposite to ours, and marched us in to an empty block. We were ordered to take off and return our dresses, and were locked in naked, without any explanation. Frightened, we huddled there through a whole day and night. When we were then let out, we were given our dresses and marched to the train station. There we were ordered to get into waiting cattle cars.

It was around the end of August 1944. I don’t remember exactly how long it took for us to reach our destination; I would estimate around two days. At one of the stops, they divided the train and left about 500 people, while the rest of us continued on. We had no idea what their fate would be. When the train stopped, we were ordered to form rows of five and march to our destination. We marched to an ammunition factory near Fallersleben, now Wolfsburg Germany.

Across the road from the factory was a bombed down building with the basement intact. That was to be our base, our home for the rest of the war, working as slave labour.  On April 14th, 1945, I was liberated by the American Armed Forces.  I was one of the fortunate few.

I survived.

Hedy Bohm

 

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Testimony at the trial of Reinhold Hanning: Bill Glied, February 18, 2016

My name is William Glied but everyone calls me bill.

I was born in 1930 in the city of Subotica in the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, into a prosperous Jewish family.

My father ran the local flourmill while my mother looked after my sister Aniko and me. We had a good life in Yugoslavia, I went to public school and never encountered anti-Semitism from my school mates.

On April 6th 1941 axis forces led by Germany attacked Yugoslavia and swiftly conquered it.

Subotica, my city and the province we lived in, Bačka, was ceded to Hungary and was thereafter ruled by the fascist Hungarian government.

In the following years, many anti-Semitic laws were enacted aimed at the substantial Jewish population. Nevertheless, I was allowed to attend school, which I did in spite the continued harassment by my teachers and classmates, in contrast to previous years.

I had to wear a large yellow star on my jacket, which added to the laughter and derision from my fellow students.

Our flourmill was confiscated and we were subjected to daily harassment and persecution, but were able to make out a living under these difficult circumstances.

In the spring of 1944 the German Nazi government discovered that the Hungarians were secretly negotiating with the western allies for a cease-fire. As a result on march 19th 1944 German troops occupied Hungary and installed a puppet government, led by Ferenc Szálasi and the Arrow Cross party.

From that moment the life of the Jews and my life turned from bad to worse.

In the next few weeks a whole series of anti Jewish laws were promulgated. I was expelled from school and a strict curfew was imposed on all Jews.

Within days posters were hung throughout our town ordering all Jews to report to the police headquarters for immediate “relocation to the east”.

My family was first shipped to the city of Szeged where we were housed in the former Jewish school, but in a few days we were again shipped out, now to the city of Baja, Hungary, to a very large brickyard. All the Jews from the surrounding towns and villages were gathered in this brickyard where our only accommodation were the open sheds where the bricks were formerly set to dry.

I don’t know how many days we spent in this brickyard, but they were days not weeks. Hungarian gendarmes and a few German officers guarded us.

One day we were informed that within days we were leaving to the east to work, but we were assured that only the able bodied men would be working, that we would have proper accommodation and food.

We were told that as there would be two trains leaving and we had a choice whether we want to be on train one, or two. After much arguing and discussion my family,–my parents and relatives– chose the first train on the assumption that this would give a better choice of accommodation.

Oh! The duplicity of it all!! The terrible irony of our choice: the second train wound up in Wiener Neustadt! All the people, including an aunt and a cousin on board the second train survived and came back unscathed. I think but am not sure that it was part of the Eichmann/Kasztner deal.

On the fateful day I expected to see a passenger train, but when the train arrived it consisted of a row of cattle-cars. We, aboard this first train, these dark cattle cars, were packed in like sardines. I don’t know how many of us were crowded in, men, women, children, sick people, somebody in a wheel chair, packages all over, people pushing and shoving trying to find a place to sit down.

My sister and I found a place to sit near the door and my parents right behind us sitting on the suitcase we brought with us. The train started going and in the first hour or two, my sister Aniko and I had no trouble, mom brought food with her, but then a problem arose in this cattle car: somebody needed to go to the toilet. Is there a washroom? A curtain for privacy? A container?

And we were in this terrible cattle car for two days and nights, no food, no water, no consideration for personal hygiene. Just humiliation – just another way to dehumanize us. The train stopped from time to time, sometimes for a few hours. They could have provided us with some provision or cleaned the place, but nothing. We were shut in like cattle, for whom these boxcars were originally intended.

On the third morning the train stopped. A few hours went by and then we heard some noises outside. The doors were flung open. I looked out, it was a bright sunny morning, may 28th to be exact, I saw a gravelled platform. On the far side in front of a fence some soldiers stood with rifles and on the platform itself a number of Nazi soldiers were walking with walking sticks, at least that’s what I thought they were. And among them a bunch of blue and gray pyjama clad men, with little round hats ran and shouted:

“Raus! Raus!” “Leave your packages in the car. You’ll get them later.”

We scrambled out of the car. I held my dads hand while Aniko, my sister, hung on to mom.

The chaos the tumult that ensued is indescribable. Babies crying, women calling for their husbands, arguments among people. The cloying stench which pervaded the whole area.

All the while the SS meandered among this swirling crowd viscously swinging their canes, splitting families apart, herding us like sheep to the slaughter. I was desperately scared. I clung to my dad’s hands and when the order from these pyjama clad men came, that the women and girls were to assembly into a column five wide, while we men and boys were to assemble into another column five wide, I began to panic. My dad tried to reassure me that everything will be all right and that now I have to act like a man and not like the thirteen-year-old boy I was.

When the columns were finally assembled to the satisfaction of these grey clad men, I could hear only a steady agonizing moaning and murmur from this desperate crowd interspersed with the crying of the children.

This sound still echoes in my ears, whenever I encounter a crowd shouting – even at a football match. I get claustrophobic.

Finally my column started to move forward and within minutes our row was in the front. What I saw was calmness. Three or four SS soldiers stood there, relaxed, nonchalantly looking at us. Some pyjama clad men stood on the side. One officer stood out, tall and handsome. I can’t recall his face. He stood there without saying a word.

A row of us bedraggled Jews came in front of him. He looked at us with contempt in his eye. And then he pointed to the person next to me. He waved his hand to the right and the man walked there to a group already assembled there

Then he looked at me, – I swear no more than a second – spoke nothing – didn’t ask my name, my age, where I came from. He just pointed to the right. I didn’t move. One of the pyjama clad men waved his hand furiously, while looking at me. I hurried to the group of men already standing in a cluster. A second later my father joined me.

What happened to the women’s column? Everything happened so fast, so chaotic, I never had a chance to think. All I know is that I never saw my mom and sister – never again. I didn’t say good bye to them didn’t hug or kissed them, they disappeared from my life forever.

Of course, I know now. And in my nightmares I see the columns disappearing over and over again.

In retrospect in my almost daily recurring thoughts, and they do recur every day, I see this piece of god forsaken earth—this ramp, as the worst piece of ground on earth. Worse than Dante’s seventh circle of hell. And as much as the bombing of Hiroshima, Dresden or London were terrible, this football size of ramp, this hell on earth surpasses them all. This site is the silent witness to the unbelievable occurrence where a small group of men, supported by some thousand SS men, guarding the place, condemned innocent people to a horrible death. Condemned, children with their mothers and old men and women. These heartless murderers decided with a flick of a finger, who is to live and who is to die. No warrant, no document, no judge nor jury. They could spare a person whose appearance they liked or condemn him to death because he wore a handlebar moustache.

Not accountable to anyone as long as they fulfilled the daily quota of human bodies to the factory of death.

And as much as the death factory that followed was terrible, it was -as Oscar Groening so recently said – simply the “process”, the execution of a predetermined fate, a fate decided by these few ss men on the ramp.

That in the twentieth century people from among the most cultivated of European nations were intent to wipe out a whole people from the face of the earth and that they nearly succeeded.

We were eventually led into a large building, told to undress. We stood there naked – I was shy and embarrassed in front of all these naked, grownups. Then other “pyjamas” came in and cut off all our hair. We were herded into another large hall. Shower heads were mounted on the beams above us and soon hot water spurted from them. I tried to wash off all the dirt from my body, my daddy helped, but there was no soap and water stopped flowing after a few minutes. There were no towels and so all of us wet were herded into the open

Where on long tables blue and grey pyjamas were spread out. I now realized that they were uniforms, jacket, pants, wooden shoes and a little round hat. We put it on to our wet bodies and were then marched in to an empty large barrack where we stayed for the next two weeks.

I could speak for hours of the various horrors that we discovered and experienced during those short weeks my father and I spent in this barrack.

The traumatic discovery and implication of what happened to those who were “unfit to work” the gas chambers and crematoria and what must have happened to my mother and sister and the other 18 close relatives who were with us in the cattle car.

The daily “appell”, the indiscriminate beating.

I carry with me and will forever carry one little incident. In the context of Auschwitz it is insignificant but to me life changing. We stood outside, my father and I on the main street of this row of barracks when an SS officer approached us, looked at my father and then gave him a tremendous backhanded slap to his face. “When I approach, you take off your hat, Schweinhund”. And my father stood there, now with his cap in his hand, and apologized. My father, the person who was like god to me, who was respected and admired by all who knew him, who could do no wrong, stood there beaten and humiliated.

I will never forget nor forgive this one incident. This incident that stays with me every day and will stay for the rest of my life.

I spent only twenty days in Auschwitz/Birkenau, but those twenty days seemed like twenty years. We were again packed into cattle cars and shipped into the heart of Germany to Dachau and from there directly to Kaufering. Both my father and I contacted typhoid fever and my father died on April 21st 1945 eight

Days before liberation. I survived and was liberated by the American army in Dachau on April 29th 1945.

I immigrated to Canada in 1947 as a 17 year orphan. I am married to my beautiful wife, have three daughters, all married, and eight grandchildren.

Why did I come to bear witness as a co-plaintiff? Not because of hate – I don’t know Herr Hanning – I came because while I don’t hate I cannot forget and it is my hope that the conviction of this SS officer will further still the disbelievers of the holocaust and the world will know that humanity cares. Thank you.

Testimony at the trial of Reinhold Hanning: Irene Weiss, February 18, 2016

 

My family lived in a small town in Hungary. My father had a lumber business. We were a family of six children, between the ages of 7 and 17. I was a schoolgirl of 13.

Life had already begun to change for us in 1940, when Hungary joined the alliance with Germany and began to institute the Nuremberg Laws. Jews who had lived there for generations had to prove their citizenship. My father’s business was confiscated by the government and given to a non-Jew. We were required to wear the yellow star. I was expelled from school.

In April 1944, it was announced that all Jews had to assemble at the town hall the next day, bringing with them not more than one suitcase each. My mother began preparing food to take with us without knowing where we were going. She also sewed some family jewelry into pieces of clothes, with the idea that it could later be exchanged for food for the children.

The next morning, the mayor, police chief, and my school principal knocked on the door. They demanded our valuables, and my father gave them some money and jewelry. We left our house, my father closed the gate behind us so our dog wouldn’t follow.

Along with the 100 or so other Jews in our town, we were taken to an abandoned brick factory in the city of Munkács, some miles away. There we joined hundreds of Jewish families from neighboring towns.

 We stayed there for about a month, sleeping on the crowded floor of the factory. Our food from home was soon gone, and we were dependent on a daily soup ration. One day there was an announcement that all girls under 16 must have their heads shaved or their fathers would be beaten. My mother gave me a kerchief to cover my newly shorn head.

In the middle of May 1944, a freight train arrived on the tracks alongside the factory. Loudspeakers announced that everyone must get into the train. No one told us our destination.

Flanked by guards, my family struggled to stay together, managing to get into the same boxcar along with some 80-100 people. For the sake of modesty, men moved to one side and women to the other. A guard slammed the door shut and bolted it from the outside. Instantly it was dark. The only air and light came from a small slit in the upper corner of the car. Hours later, the train began to move.

There was a bucket for the toilet in the middle of the car. Hours passed, two nights and a day. The bucket filled. Peering out the slit, my father confirmed our worst fear: the train was crossing into Poland. We had heard rumors of mass shootings of Jewish families in the forests of Nazi occupied Poland. We had never heard of Auschwitz.

Finally, on the morning of the third day, the train stopped. “We are at some kind of camp,” my father said. “There are barracks and prisoners in uniform. This must be a work camp.” We were relieved. The rumors had been wrong: we were not going to be shot in the forests of Poland.

When the doors of the train opened, we heard shouting, “Out! Out! Fast!

Leave everything behind!” Hearing that, my mother pulled out extra clothing and told us to put on more layers. My head was already covered with a kerchief, and I put on an over-sized winter coat.

Hundreds of people poured out of the train. Prisoners in striped uniforms jumped into the boxcars, began dumping suitcases and possessions onto the platform, and loading them into trucks.

On the platform, my family clutched at each other, trying to stay together in the crush of people, noise, and confusion. SS Guards with guns moved the huge crowd forward, up the platform.

An SS guard shouted, “Men to one side, women and children to the other!” In an instant, my father and 16-year-old brother disappeared into a column of men off to one side. I never saw them again.

My mother, my older sister, Serena, 17, my younger sister, Edith, 12, my two younger brothers, and I, joined a column of women and young children. Smoke billowed from a chimney in the distance. The column edged forward. When we reached the front of the line, our way was blocked by 10 or more SS guards. One held a small stick.

The SS guard with the stick motioned my older sister, Serena, to one side, and she moved down a road in that direction, disappearing from view. The guard motioned my mother and my two little brothers to the other side, and they also disappeared from view. Only my younger sister Edith and I remained. The stick came down between us.

Edith was sent in the direction that my mother went. The SS guard looked at me and hesitated for an instant. Although I was only 13, my kerchief and coat may have made me look older. He motioned me to go in the direction that Serena and the other young adults went, and turned his attention to the women and children lined up behind me.

Irene (second woman from left with a scarf) upon arrival at the

Irene (second woman from left with a scarf) separated during the selection at the “Rampe” from her sister and trying to see if she had caught up with her mother (higher resolution).

I didn’t move. I leaned over, peering into the crowd and trying to see if Edith had caught up with my mother and my two little brothers. Women and children continued to move in that direction. It was not possible to see what had happened to Edith in the fast-moving crowd. During the separation, we made normal assumptions that this was a work camp and that we would be reunited with the family. I was horrified that she would not find our mother. No names or identity information were taken. She would be lost to our family, alone among strangers.

 Our family had tried so hard to stay together, with the older children looking after the younger. We were now completely torn apart. The trauma of this separation lingers with me to this day.

The SS guards motioned for me to get going and I ran, catching up with Serena. “Why didn’t you go with Mom?” she said.

 Serena and I were directed into a bathhouse, where newly arrived women were shaved, disinfected, and handed prison clothes. We were then moved to a barrack with about 200 other women. We still didn’t know where we were. We asked the other prisoners, “When will we see our families?”

A woman pointed to a chimney and said, “Do you see the smoke? There is your family.”

I thought—“Why would anyone say such a thing?”

Serena and I were assigned to a bunk – basically a wide wooden shelf. Six of us shared one thin blanket. None of us could sleep. My sister tells me I cried for days.

We were awakened before dawn every morning for inspection or “Zähl Appell”. We were made to line up in the morning cold, five in a row, standing for hours to be counted. This was also another opportunity for the SS guards to pull out children they missed at the selection ramp, and those who looked sick. This was a very dangerous time for me because I was only 13 and small. I tried to stand on a rock, so that I would seem a little taller, and pinched my cheeks, so that I would look healthier.

By sheer luck, we discovered my mother’s two sisters, Roszi and Piri, in a nearby barrack. Their loving devotion helped to protect and shield us in this terrifying place.

After a month, numbers were tattooed on our arms. Soon after that, we were sent to work near crematoria # 4 at a storage and processing area that the prisoners called, “Kanada.” There we sorted through mountains of clothing, shoes, bedding, eyeglasses, toothbrushes, baby carriages, suitcases, books, pots and pans, and every other household item. We were ordered to hand over any valuables that were found among the belongings.

While at work one day, sorting clothing, I found my mother’s white dress, and beige shawl.

We worked outside day and night, to bring the belongings into the barracks, out of the weather. But the trucks kept bringing more and more from the platform and the crematoria, and the piles never became smaller. The piles reached as high as the roof of the barracks. Once the goods were sorted inside the barracks, we tied them into bundles. Male prisoners then came and loaded them into trucks.

It was clear that to the SS guards, we did not even have the value of slaves, but were less than human, and at any moment, for the slightest of reasons, or for no reason at all, they could exercise the power of life and death over us. One day I was part of a group of women in the bathhouse, when an SS guard entered. The naked women huddled to the side, opening a path for him, when he suddenly used his whip on us, as he passed. Was there a reason? He did it because he could. I also remember being marched from one part of the camp to another, when suddenly a guard unleashed his dog on my aunt Rozi. After a terrifying moment, the dog was called back. The other guards watched and laughed.

Because we worked and lived next to the gas chambers and crematoria, I had first-hand knowledge of what had happened to our families. Day and night, columns of women, children, and elderly would pass by our barrack and disappear into the gate that lead to the gas chambers.

Much later, in 1982 when I first saw the picture from the Auschwitz-Album showing me at the selection, I also found out what had happened to my mother and two little brothers in another picture:

Her two brothers (to the left) and her mother (kneeling behind) in the birch forest in Birkenau waiting near the gas chamber.

Her two brothers, Reuven and Gershon (left) and her mother, Leah (kneeling behind) in the birch forest in Birkenau waiting near the gas chamber (higher resolution).

My brothers Reuven, age 9, and Gershon, age 7, stand in the lower left. My mother Leah, age 44, is seated just behind them. They are waiting with others in a grove just outside of crematorium 4 and 5. My little sister Edith is not in the picture. I have to assume that she did not catch up to them and must have been alone. To this day, this realization causes me great sorrow. Soon after this picture was taken, everyone in the picture would be killed in the gas chambers.

The sounds were magnified when I worked outside at night in Canada. First, I would hear the whistle of the train, and the hissing of the steam engine arriving at the platform. The people coming from the train at night saw the fire from the chimneys and open pits where bodies were being burned, and began to scream and pray. I plugged my ears to block out the sound. Then there was silence. In the distance I would hear the whistle of another train arriving. Day and night, the transports kept coming.

In January 1945, as the Russian front approached, we were taken on a death march from Auschwitz into Germany. Those who stopped to rest or fell from exhaustion were shot on the spot. By the time we reached Ravensbrück, and then Neustadt-Glewe, we were sick and emaciated. My aunt Piri came down with Typhus and was taken away by a truck and killed. Soon after, Serena, was also selected for death. When I realized that we were about to be separated, I said, “I am her sister!” I was told, “You can go, too.”

We were put in a room with other selected women, awaiting a truck that would take us to be killed. Perhaps because of the approaching Russian front and the resulting chaos, the truck never came. Soon after, the guards fled and the remaining survivors drifted out of the camp.

In the years since I was in Auschwitz, I never talked about my father, other than to say that he didn’t survive. I couldn’t bear to talk about how he died.

He was a loving, gentle, kind person. When we were little, he found a fun way to teach us the Hebrew alphabet, so that we would be able to read the prayers. Our living room ceiling had wood beams, with knots in them. He would attach a coin to the tip of a broom handle, and when we performed well, he would lift the broom handle to the ceiling and hit a knot in the beam, causing the coin to fall, as if from heaven. We were delighted and amazed, and would run to the store across the street to buy candy with the coins. Every night, when he came home from work, we children would surround him, and he would give each of us his attention and love. His whole life was his family and his faith.

This was my father, aged 47, who upon arrival in Auschwitz, was forced to work in the Sonderkommando, pulling bodies from the gas chambers. We learned that he was in the Sonderkommando from a young man from our town, who passed us a note over an electrified fence separating us from crematorium 4. From this note, we learned that he was shot not long after being made to do this work.

We never learned what happened to my 16-year-old brother…… From my immediate family of eight, only Serena and I survived. All thirteen of my young cousins perished along with their mothers. When I saw children after the war, I stopped and stared. I had not seen children in almost a year and a half. Children were condemned to death in the world I had just come from.

Condemned to death, but what was their crime? Even as a thirteen year old, I knew that we were not the guilty ones, we were not the criminals. The SS guards, who tore families apart, herded mothers and children into the gas chambers, enslaved and starved innocent civilians, and kept this factory of death running, are the ones guilty of mass murder.

         The defendant might say, that he was merely a small cog in the machine. But if he were sitting here today wearing his SS uniform, I would tremble, and all the horror that I experienced as a 13-year old would return to me. To that 13-year-old, any person who wore that uniform in that place, represented terror and the depths to which humanity can sink, regardless of what function they performed. And today, at the age of 85, I still feel the same way.

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.