Whatever the assessment of the Dutch Council’s early behavior may be, the Germans did not ask for its approval when it came to dispatching the four hundred young Jewish men arrested after the Koco incident to their death. At first they were deported to Buchenwald, then to Mauthausen. They arrived in Mauthausen on June 17, 1941. A batch of fifty was immediately killed: “They were chased naked from the bathhouse to the electrical fence.” The others were murdered in the main quarry of the camp, the ‘Vienna Ditch.’ According to the German witness Eugen Kogon, these Jews were not allowed to use the steps leading to the bottom of the quarry. “They had to slide down the loose stones at the side and even here many died or were severely injured. The survivors had to shoulder hods, and two prisoners were compelled to lead each Jew with an excessively heavy rock. The Jews then had to run up the 186 steps. In some instances the rocks immediately rolled downhill, crushing the feet of those that came behind. Every Jew who lost his rock in that fashion was brutally beaten and the rock was hoisted on his shoulders again. Many of the Jews were driven to despair the very first day and committed suicide by jumping into the pit. On the third day the SS opened the so-called ‘death-gate,’ and with a fearful barrage of blows drove the Jews across the guard line, the guards on the watchtowers shooting them down in heaps with their machine guns. The next day the Jews no longer jumped into the pit individually. They joined hands and one man would pull nine or twelve of his comrades over the lip with him into a gruesome death. The barracks were ‘cleared’ of Jews, not in six but in barely three weeks. Every one of the 348 prisoners perished by suicide, or by shooting, beating, and other forms of torture.”

By Saul Friedlander


“I was holding a whip or a pistol [at Slonim, Russia]. I was loading or unloading. The men, children and mothers were pushed into the pits. Children were first beaten to death and then thrown feet [first] into the pits…There were a number of filthy sadists in the extermination commando. For example, pregnant women were shot in the belly for fun and then thrown into the pits…Before the execution the Jews had to undergo a body search, during which…anuses and sex organs were searched for valuables and jewels.”

By Richard Rhodes


Villagers, including children from the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls, stood outside the home of Salomon and Elise Frank, breaking open the shutters and smashing the windows. Nazis rampaged through their house with their axes. They destroyed the furniture and the dishes and shoved the family out onto the street, where they beat Salomon, who was disabled, with clubs.

By Robert K. Wittman & David Kinney


“I attended lectures on anatomy by Professor August Hirt, who later went to Strasbourg. He was a repulsive man. He told us that he went to concentration camps and picked out the skulls of the Jews that he wanted to measure. That was his hobby, measuring skulls. When he found skulls that interested him, the Jews were killed.”

By Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband


A Jewish woman in the Lvov Ghetto fleeing for her life.

Hermann Grabe, a German engineer witnessed a massacre in Dubno in the Ukraine

on 2 October 1942:

“I drove to the site…and saw near it great mounds of earth, about 30 meters long and 2 meters high. Several trucks stood in front of the mounds. Armed Ukrainian militia drove the people off the trucks under the supervision of an SS man. The militia men acted as guards on the trucks and drove them to and from the pit. All these people had the regulation yellow patches on the front and back of their clothes, and thus could be recognized as Jews…My foreman and I went directly to the pits. Nobody bothered us. Now I heard rifle shots in quick succession from behind one of the earth mounds. The people who had got off the trucks – men, women and children of all ages – had to undress upon the order of an SS man who carried a riding or dog whip. They had to put down their clothes in fixed places, sorted according to shoes, top clothing and undergarments. I saw heaps of shoes of about 800 to 1,000 pairs, great piles of under-linen and clothing. Without screaming or weeping these people undressed, stood around in family groups, kissed each other, said farewells, and waited for a sign from another SS man, who stood near the pit, also with a whip in his hand. During the fifteen minutes I stood near, I heard no complaint or plea for mercy. I watched a family of about eight persons, a man and a woman both of about fifty, with their children of about twenty to twenty-four, and two grown-up daughters about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. An old woman with snow white hair was holding a one year old child in her arms and singing to it and tickling it. The child was cooing with delight. The parents were looking on with tears in their eyes. The father was holding the hand of a boy about ten years old and speaking to him softly; the boy was fighting back tears. The father pointed to the sky, stroked his head and seemed to explain something to him. At that moment the SS man at the pit started shouting something to his comrade. The latter counted off about twenty persons and instructed them to go behind the earth mound. Among them was the family I have just mentioned. I well remember a girl, slim with black hair, who, as she passed me, pointed to herself and said, ‘Twenty-three years old.’ I walked around the mound and found myself confronted by a tremendous grave. People were closely wedged together lying on top of each other so that only their heads were visible. Nearly all had blood running over their shoulders from their heads. Some of the people shot were still moving. Some were lifting their arms and turning their heads to show that they were still alive. The pit was nearly two-thirds full. I estimated that it already contained about a thousand people. I looked for the man who did the shooting. He was an SS man, who sat at the edge of the narrow end of the pit, his feet dangling into the pit. He had a tommy-gun on his knees and was smoking a cigarette. The people, completely naked, went down some steps, which were cut in the clay wall of the pit, and clambered over the heads of the people lying there to the place to which the SS man directed them. They lay down in front of the dead or wounded people; some caressed those who were still alive and spoke to them in a low voice. Then I heard a series of shots. I looked into the pit and saw that the bodies were twitching or the heads lying were already motionless on top of the bodies that lay beneath them. Blood was running from their necks. The next batch was approaching already. They went down into the pit, lined themselves up against the previous victims and were shot.”

By Alexander MacDonald


“The head of our commando was called the Shef, which meant master or boss. He was a man who drank a lot. He wore a green SS uniform and when he was drunk he was a terror. And he was drunk quite often. At times he would stagger among us drunk and would start beating one of us for no reason at all. Sometimes for fun he would sit himself on a pile of clothing. He would make us line up and march passed him as he hit us. Once he took a liking to one of the girls. He walked up to her, and in front of all of us grabbed her. As he tried to kiss her he put his hands up her dress. She struggled with him until he became angry. He then started beating her. He beat her for so long that when he stopped she was almost dead.”

By Louis Brandsdorfer


“One case I witnessed was that of a female patient at an advanced stage of starvation whose soles were chewed off at night by rats in such a way that on the surface only the carefully preserved tendons were left. The woman did not react at all. After a bandage was applied, she lived for two more days.”

By Hermann Langbein


Hundreds of thousands of Jews were imprisoned in more than 100 ghettos and camps in Belorussia. The largest ghetto was in Minsk (100,000 people); others were in Brest (34,000), Bobruisk (20,000), Vitebsk (20,000), Borisov (10,000), Baranovitz Lida Grodno (2,000), Slonim (24,000), Novagrodek (65,000) and so on. During the years of occupation about
400,000 Jews perished.

By Jack Kagan and Dov Cohen


The local German authorities at Karelitz issued an order: all men over 16 must report to the town square within one hour. Anyone who disobeyed would be shot immediately. I reported to the market-place with my uncle Yankel. All the town’s men were there, we formed straight lines and waited anxiously. We were told that a list would be prepared, in which the residents of Karelitz would be identified by their verified names, and classified according to profession and place of work. I was terrified. I wasn’t a resident of Karelitz, and I knew that if the Germans found out, I would be questioned, tortured and finally shot. A short while later, the SS and gendarmerie men arrived. They brought Rabbi Vernik, the head of the town’s congregation. He was given a list and told to read the names. The Jews whose names were called out were ordered to line up separately. I will never forget this scene. The venerable Rabbi Vernik, with his well-combed beard, stood between two SS officers, bareheaded and without a coat, in a torn shirt. His belt had been removed, and once in a while he pulled up his trousers. With tears streaming down his face, the rabbi read out 105 names. The men whose names had been called, mostly the dignitaries of the congregation, were locked in the cellar of the synagogue. Rabbi Vernik was one of them. Those who remained in the square were sent away with blows and gunshots. The 105 men imprisoned in the cellar were taken to Novogrodek the next day, and shot in pits prepared ahead of time.

By Jack Kagan and Dov Cohen


On our left side an SS officer stood in the company of an attractive woman. Talking and laughing together, he never even gave us a glance. As we ran past him, he motioned with his finger to the left, or to the right – to the left, or to the right – on and on. Some of us ran the distance quickly, while others just managed to limp past the officer. We soon learned that our speed or lack of it didn’t matter at all. Waiting for us at the end were a few capos who, under the watchful eye of SS guards, pushed us to our assigned direction, left or right. Those headed to the left boarded a waiting truck, while the others were steered to a nearby barracks. When it was my turn to run, I remember seeing the SS officer laughing heartily and embracing his female companion with his left arm, while giving signals with his right hand. When I completed my run, a capo immediately pushed me toward the barracks on the right and my immediate fate was determined. As I came through the door, confused and bewildered, an inmate grabbed my left forearm, pushed up my sleeve, and whispered in my ear, “You’re a lucky one, you’ve just passed Dr. Mengele’s inspection.” Still holding my arm, he told me to look at the scene outside the window. “Look at your friends on the truck, look at them well – it will be the last time you’ll ever see them. All those on the trucks,” he said, “are being taken to the gas chambers.” As I looked in horror, I recognized Leo Hirschel and his sons, Benno Mendelsohn, the Klein brothers, Hermman Blumenreich, a former captain in the German army, Felix Gompert and Abram Herschkowitz, and Leon Blumethal, well-known actors of the Yiddish stage in Paris, among this group. Why was I spared from the gas chambers? Why was I selected to be in camp? My friends, now on the truck, didn’t look any different than I did, or the others who stood at my side.

By James Bachner


“In Birkenau we didn’t have fleas. Instead we had rats. They gnawed not only at corpses but also at the seriously sick. I have pictures showing women near death being bitten by rats. These animals were bold and impudent; they were not deterred by anything and at night even helped themselves to the bread the prisoners had saved in their pockets from the evening meal because at “breakfast” there was nothing except a coffee-like brew. Then the prisoners would often accuse each other of having stolen bread from each other, but it was the rats.

“One hurried to get to the latrine [at Birkenau]. That was a concrete trough across which lay boards with round holes. There was room for 200 to 300 at one sitting. Latrine details watched to see that no one stayed too long and used sticks to chase the prisoners away. But some couldn’t move so quickly, and others weren’t through, and because of the strain a portion of the rectum would still protrude. When the latrine detail hit them they would run away and then once more get in line. There was no paper. Those who had jackets with linings would tear off a little piece at a time to clean themselves. Or they would steal a piece from somebody during the night to have some in reserve. The waste water in the washrooms was piped into the latrines to wash away the excrement. But again and again there were major stoppages, especially in places where the water pressure wasn’t strong enough. When that happened a terrible stench spread throughout. Then pump details – ‘shit details’ – would come to pump out the mess.

“The people in the camp [Birkenau] were so hungry that if a bit of soup spilled over, the prisoners would come running from all sides and like a swarm of wasps converge on the spot, dig their spoons into the mud, and stuff the mess into their mouths.  Hunger and extreme want made them into animals.”

By Roselle K. Chartock and Jack Spencer


“When the last layers of subcutaneous fat had vanished, and we looked like skeletons disguised with skin and rags, we could watch our bodies beginning to devour themselves. The organism digested its own protein, and the muscles disappeared. Then the body had no powers of resistance left. One after another the members of the little community in our hut died. Each of us could calculate with fair accuracy whose turn would be next, and when his own would come.”

By Viktor E. Frankl


Uncle Nachman, who lives near the Polish border, came to visit us a few days ago. He told us that a Jew who crossed from Poland came to his house covered with blood. The man said he crawled out of a mass grave. Everybody else was shot, but because he fainted as the German SS were shooting, he lived. He said hundreds of people were killed. It’s hard to believe that this could happen.

By Sara Lumer


Dr. Fritz Klein, camp doctor and convicted war criminal, standing in a mass grave at the Belsen concentration camp.

One day, I was sweeping the kitchen floor when the German guard who was in charge of us – a tall, ugly man in his forties – began shouting at a young, fourteen year old girl. “Get up, get to work you lazy Jew!” He prodded her with his rubber truncheon and she started crying, at which point he hit her hard in her back, until she really started screaming. I turned away and just kept sweeping.

By Sara Lumer


One day in the Ghetto, while eating my meager portion of soup, I found a piece of meat in the bowl. I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I picked it up with my spoon and smelled it. In my spoon were part of an ear and a short whisker from a rat. I tried not to throw up since I didn’t know when we would eat again. Some other people with the same experience had the courage to complain the next day. We were told that the previous day’s soup had been prepared with dead rodents; a good joke on us.

By Manny Steinberg


In June 1942, Erna Petri arrived with her 3-year-old son in Lwow. They had left their farm in order to join her SS husband, and they took over the former manor house of a Polish noble outside the city. With its white-pillared portico and wide meadows, it looked more like the dwelling of a plantation owner than the modest family farm she had left in Thuringia. True to the precept that the Germans should assert themselves physically over the natives, within two days of her arrival she witnessed her husband flogging his farm laborers. Soon, Erna too was beating the workers. As she served coffee and cake to her husband’s SS and police colleagues on the villa’s balcony overlooking the gardens, talk inevitably turned to the mass shootings of Jews. In the summer of 1943, she was returning from shopping in Lwow when she saw a group of nearly naked children crouching by the side of the road. She stopped the carriage, calmed the six frightened children and took them home, where she gave them some food and waited for her husband to return. When he did not turn up, she took matters into her own hands. Pocketing an old service revolver which her father had given her as a parting gift, Erna Petri led the children through the woods to a pit where she knew other Jews had been shot and buried. There she lined them up in front of the ditch and went along the line firing into the back of each child’s neck. She remembered that after the first two, the others “began to cry,” but “not loudly, they whimpered.”

By Nicholas Stargardt


Here is a woman – she walks quickly, but tries to appear calm. A small child with a pink cherub’s face runs after her and, unable to keep up, stretches out his little arms and cries: “Mama! Mama!” “Pick up your child, woman!” “It’s not mine, sir, not mine!” she shouts hysterically and runs on, covering her face with her hands. She wants to hide, she wants to reach those who will not ride the trucks, those who will go on foot, those who will stay alive. She is young, healthy, good-looking, she wants to live. But the child runs after her, wailing loudly: “Mama, mama, don’t leave me!” “It’s not mine, not mine, no!” Andrzej, a sailor from Sevastopol, grabs hold of her. His eyes are glassy from vodka and the heat. With one powerful blow he knocks her off her feet, then, as she falls, takes her by the hair and pulls her up again. His face twitches with rage. “Ah, you bloody Jewess! So you’re running from your own child! I’ll show you, you whore!” His huge hand chokes her, he lifts her in the air and heaves her on to the truck like a heavy sack of grain. “Here! And take this with you, bitch!” and he throws the child at her feet. “Gut gemacht, good work. That’s the way to deal with degenerate mothers,” says the SS man standing at the foot of the truck. “Gut, gut, Russki.”

By Siedlecki, Olszewski, Borowski


“I once met a man in Metz who had come back in 1945. He was a Jew and had been in Auschwitz. His duty there was to pull the dead bodies out of the gas chambers and take them to be burned. He had been arrested with his wife and grandchild, and together they had been transported by train to Auschwitz. One day the gas chamber was opened and he pulled out a body. It was his wife. She was still holding the grandchild in her arms. The child must have been terrified because it was still clutching tightly onto its grandmother’s shoulders.”

Steinhoff, Pechel and Showalter


At the marketplace during the last large deportation from Miedzyrzec, the Germans forced the Jews to sit or squat huddled together.  The Jews were praying and crying, and therefore making much noise. This disturbed their German masters: “Intermittently, Hiwis beat the people with their rifle-butts, in order to enforce silence. The SD men had knotted whips, similar to horse whips. They walked along the rows of the squatting people, sometimes beating them vehemently.” The men of the Police Battalion 101 themselves were not to be outdone by their eastern European minions. Although they also degraded and tortured Jews at Miedzyrzec in the most gratuitous, willful manner, their deeds are entirely absent from their testimony. The accounts of survivors tell a different, more accurate, and revealing story. Survivors are adamant that the Germans were indeed incredibly brutal, that their cruelty that day was wanton, at times turning into sadistic sport. At the marketplace, the Jews, who had been forced to squat for hours, were “mocked” and “kicked,” and some of the Germans organized “a game” of “tossing apples and whoever was struck by the apple was then killed.” This sport was continued at the railway station, this time with empty liquor bottles. “Bottles were tossed over Jewish heads and whoever was struck by a bottle was dragged out of the crowd and beaten murderously amid roaring laughter. Then some of those who were thus mangled were shot.” Afterwards, they loaded the dead together with the living onto freight cars about for Treblinka.

By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen


One of the largest ghettos was established in Lodz in the incorporated territory in the incorporated territory in the winter of 1939. By April, 1940 it had been sealed off completely from the rest of the city. The Lodz ghetto lasted in part at least until August 1944, when the Jews remaining there were shipped to Auschwitz…The ghetto was disastrously overcrowded. In Lodz, an average of seven people occupied a single room – that is, in 1940 an estimated 230,000 people were crammed into some 30,000 apartments, most of them one room only. Only about 725 of those lodgings had running water. Many had electricity, but it did little good; police forbid those in the ghetto from using their lights most of the time…Food was extremely scarce – potato peels became a prized item. Lice and rats thrived; such diseases as typhus and tuberculosis ran rampant. Nevertheless, hard work was required of everyone in the ghetto who wanted a chance to stay alive. By 1943, ghetto workshops were churning out uniforms, boots, underwear, bed linen for the German military; ghetto workers produced goods of metal, wood, leather, fur, down, and paper, and even electrical telecommunication devices. Children as young as eight slaved away for pathetically small rations of food…Under these conditions it was no surprise that people died in terrible numbers. In 1940, some six thousand Jews died in the Lodz ghetto. By the following year the number had almost doubled, to eleven thousand. In 1942, there would be eighteen thousand dead. Of course, by the end of 1941 the primary cause of Jewish death would no longer be starvation and illness in the Ghettos, but deportation to the new killing centers.

By Doris L. Bergen


According to the historian Jonathan Steinberg, “Serbian and Jewish men, women and children were literally hacked to death. Whole villages were razed to the ground and the people driven to barns to which the Ustasha set fire. There is in the Italian Foreign Ministry archive a collection of photographs of the butcher knives, hooks and axes used to chop up Serbian victims. There are photographs of Serb women with breasts hacked off by pocket knives, men with eyes gouged out, emasculated and mutilated.”

By Saul Friedlander


[SS officer] Hesse particularly noticed one young woman in the cellar. “She was a beautiful woman,” he testified, “aged between twenty and thirty.” After the night visit Hesse began to worry that she would fall into the hands of the Untersturmführer. He resolved to protect her. He watched for his chance, and when it was possible to do so he went down into the cellar and ordered her out, telling her that Taubner wished to speak to her. Outside, Hesse made the woman walk in front of him, heading toward the killing pit, which still gaped empty awaiting its burden. “My only thought was that if I had to do something I should cause the person as little pain as possible. I did not want the Jewess to suffer fear of death.” As she walked ahead of him, he raised his carbine and shot her suddenly in the head from behind. “I was glad to be able to shoot her,” he testified, “but please don’t take that to mean that I enjoyed it.”

By Richard Rhodes


The deportations had become routine. On October 22, Frieda and Max arrived at the assembly camp. They registered their remaining assets, which were then confiscated. Their bags were searched for stray valuables. Early in the morning four days later, they walked form the camp to the freight depot two miles north. Along with nearly eight hundred others, including eighty-eight children under fifteen years old, they boarded third-class passenger cars and set off for the East. Their luggage did not make the trip. Back in Berlin, their apartments were in demand. On October 29, Frieda and Max and the rest of the Jews condemned to death arrived at a station on the outskirts of Riga, Latvia, more than seven hundred miles away from Berlin. After they disembarked, they were taken into the forest and shot.

By Robert K. Wittman & David Kinney


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