EXTRACTS FROM THE HOLOCAUST
By MARTIN GILBERT
The heat and stench inside were fearful. Before our eyes our children
fell, our parents and our friends. They might possibly have been saved if only we had a few drops of water. There were some
who drank their own urine and that of friends. A little water was afterwards poured into the trucks through its holes when
the death train was halted at different stations. Meantime the heat in the truck became fearful, it was literally an inferno.
The journey of the living, together with the dead lasted for four days
and then the traini halted at Tromat so that the corpses could be removed. On the way to Kalaresh the train stopped at Mirteshet,
near a pool of filthy water. The reckless victims or madmen, whatever we ought to call them, broke the doors of the trucks
and made for the pool. They paid no heed to the warnings of the trainmaster that they would be killed and refused to move
away from the turbid water. Dozens of them were shot by the guards as they stood in the pool and drank the filthy water.
I was taken to a group of young men, about 25 or 30. We were first given
food and then we were given shovels and other tools and were taken about 2-3 miles out of town beyond the hills.
We had been taken up there and they told us to start digging ditches.
We believed that this was for the tanks, that perhaps the Russians were coming back and the size of the ditches had us almost
convinced of that.
We finished one of the trenches at about late evening, I dont know what
time. The size of the trench was about 20 metres long and 5 metres wide and about 2.5 metres deep. That night we were sent
to our place of sleep. Before going to sleep they gave us some food.
Next day we started to dig another trench until late afternoon when we
saw two cars coming to the place. Stepping out were very high ranking SS officers, about 6-7 of them. They were talking to
our commanders and to our guards. We could not hear what they were saying but they pointed to our trenches.
Shortly after this we saw the people coming up also with shovels and
different tools in their hands and they had been ordered to lay down their tools. These people were ordered to take off all
their clothes, they were put in order and then they were all naked. They were sent to these ditches and SS men, some of them
drunk, some of them not and some of them taking photos, it seems, these people numbering 300 to 400. I dont know the exact
number, were all executed and most of them only got hurt and buried alive. Quicklime was brought there too, 4-5 trucks of
Firstly after the shooting we were ordered to put some earth back on
the bodies, some of them were still crying for help. We put the earth back on the bodies and then the trucks emptied their
loads into the trenches. I am talking about all people that were Jews, no exceptions. There were some Christians who were
trying to hide some Jews and they were hanged.
People were taken out of their flats, some carrying a few of their possessions,
some without any, out of all the courtyards, out of all the flats, they were driven out with cruel beatings. I dont know whether out of wisdom or instinct or weakness, I found myself in a stairway, in a dark recess
and I stood there. Out of a small window I saw what happened in that narrow street.
Until 1am, this operation was still in progress. During those hours at
about midnight, I saw across the street, a woman dragged by the hair by two soldiers, a woman holding something in her arms.
One derected a beam of light in her face, the other threw her onto the pavement.
The infant fell out of her arms. One of the two, the one with the light,
took the infant, raised him above his head, grabbed him by the leg. The women crawled on the earth, took hold of his boot
and pleaded for mercy. But the soldier took the boy and hit him with his head against the wall, once, twice, smashing him
against the wall
All around and beneath her
she could hear strange sounds, groaning, choking, sobbing, many of the people were not yet dead. The whole mass of bodies
kept moving slightly as they settled down and were pressed tighter by the movements of the ones who were still living.
Some soldiers came out on to the ledge and flashed their torches down
on the bodies, firing bullets from their revolvers into anything which appeared to be alive. But someone not far from Dina
went on groaning as before. Then she heard people walking near her, actually on the bodies. They were Germans who had climbed
down and were taking things from the dead and firing at any signs of life.
Among them was the policemen who had examined her papers and taken her
bag. One SS man caught his foot against her and was suspicious. He struck her with his fist, she stayed limp and gave no signs
of life. He kicked her in the breast with his boot and trod on her right hand so that the bone crushed but he didnt use his
gun and moved on.
A few minutes later she heard a voice from above telling someone to start
shovelling. There was a clatter of spades and then heavy thuds as the earth and sand landed on the bodies, coming closer and
closer until it started to fall on her.
Her whole body was buried under the sand but she did not move until it
began to cover her mouth. She was laying face up and in a panic, started to struggle, she would rather be shot than buried.
With her left hand, the good one, she started scrapping the sand off her. She started to feel easier. Finally she got out
from under the earth.
The Ukranian police up above were apparently tired after a hard days
work, too lazy to shovel the earth in properly and once they had scattered a little in they dropped their shovels and went
away. It was dark and there was a heavy smell of flesh from the mass of fresh corpses. She could just make out the nearest
side of the pit and started slowly and carefully making her way across to it, then she stood up and started slowly making
her way across to it, then she stood up and started slowly
making little foot holds in it with her left hand. In that way, pressed close to the side of the pit, she makes steps and
so raised herself inch by inch, likely to fall back into the pit at any time.
There was a little bush at the top which she managed to get hold of.
With a last effort she pulled herself up and as she scrambled over the ledge, she heard a whisper which nearly made her jump
back. Dont be scared lady, Im alive too
It was a small boy in vest and pants, who crawled out as she had done.
He was trembling and shaking all over. They crawled away silently, without a word. As they escaped, he called to her that
danger was near and was shot on the spot. Again Dana survived because the Germans didnt understand what he was saying.
The next day we continued to work and more people were brought in we
heard the screams from the trucks as the engine began working and the gas flowed in, then the screams died away and we, five of us, were taken from the cellar and we had to take the clothes and shoes left
behind and put them in a room which was already full
And in the evening people came back from working in the woods. They returned
from work but two or three were already missing these people had grown weak and could no longer work, they were shot and left
behind. The next day I didnt want to stay where I was. I was among the first five who were taken out to work in the forest.
Thats where they dug trenches, there were twenty-five people there and they were all digging
They were all dead, no-one was alive any more. These people who were
taken from the trucks were dead. But I remember that there was one in all that period, a man of my town, a healthy and strong
man who still showed signs of life and then someone approached him and shot him dead. But this was the only time. When the
trucks arrived we were still not permitted to go near them, we had to wait until they had stopped for two or three minutes
and the fumes had gone. Then a few people would open the doors and take out the corpses and place then in the trenches.
One Sunday, when no-one was going to work, an was issued. Panic broke
out at once. What now? We were all out in the yard when an announcement was made. We were terrified. You are about to witness
what happens to a woman who wants to hide her Jewishness A blond woman was brought out in a noose and publicly hanged. Her
crime? She was found walking in the street with her shawl covering her yellow star.
They put chips of wood under his finger nails and put fire to them. They
put him in an iron net and held him there for 48 hours. And when he screamed all he said was I will not speak, I am dead already
They brought his mother and she prayed and begged with him. He told his
mother I am doomed, I will not speak They kept him for two weeks. Usually Jews
were hanged in public and people
ordered to watch. This boy was hung before dawn, during curfew hours because they were terrified. They saw something in this
boy and they admired him
EXPERIMENT NO 1
These were performed by a Professor Samual who was forced to do them.
Three or four operations a day. The abdomen was opened and an incision made in the uterus, whereupon, neoplastic cells were
implanted. The origins of these neoplastic cells is unknown. Three to six operations were performed after this at three to
four week intervals and pieces of tissue from the uterus were taken and frozen sections made. The discharge which occurred
through the cervix was clear and gave no indications of changes. Women were unaffected.
EXPERIMENT NO 2
Fifteen girls aged 17-18 years old. The girls who survived the following
operations are in German hands and little is known about them. They were placed in an ultra-short-wave field. One electrode
was placed on the abdomen and another on the vulva. The rays were focused on the ovaries. The ovaries were burnt up. Owing
to faulty doses several had serious burns of the abdomen and vulva. One died as a result of these burns alone. The others
were sent to another concentration camp where some were put in hospital and others made to work. After a month they returned
to Auschwitz where control operations were performed. The girls altered entirely owing to hormonal changes. They looked just
like old women. Often they were laid up for months to the wounds of the operations becoming septic. Several died as a result
The women were put on the table. With the assistance of an electric pump,
a white cement like fluid was driven into the uterus. As the fluid was pumped in, Rontgen photos were taken. The women were
extremely ill. They felt as though the abdomen was going to burst. After getting up from the table they rushed to the toilet
where the fluid came out again. The pains caused by this experiment were like labour pains. The fluid which came out was often
mixed with blood. The experiments were repeated several times. These patients that could not be used owing to small Os Uteri
or those upon whom the experiments were completed were sent to Bikenau, where they were killed. This was practised on all women at Auschwitz, about 400 in all. The aim was not to affect sterility, never the less it is
certain that many women owing to the inflammatory reaction set up did become sterile and many died from peritonitis due to
The train was made up of sixty covered wagons, crammed with people. There
were old people, young people, men, women, children and infants. The doors of the wagons were bolted, the sir gaps had a grating
of barbed wire. Several SS men, with automatic weapons ready to shoot, stood on the foot-boards of the wagons on both sides
of the train and even lay on the roof. It was a hot day, people in the
wagon were fainting. The SS rolled
up their sleeves and looked like butchers, who after murdering their victims washed their bloodstained hands and got ready
for more killing. Without a word, we understand the tragedy, since settling people coming to work would not have required
such a strict guard, whereas these people were being transported like criminals.
After the transport arrived, some fiendish spirit got into the SS men,
they drew their pistols, put them away and took them out again, as if they wanted to shoot and kill straight away, they approached
the wagons, silencing those who were screaming and wailing and again they swore and screamed. The settlers were strangely
huddled together in the wagon. All of them had to stand, without sufficient air and without access to toilets. It was like
being in a hot oven. The highest temperatures, lack of air and the weather created conditions that not even the healthy, young
and strong could not stand. Through some air gaps, terrified people looked out, asking hopefully How far is it to the agricultural
estates where were going to
We saw no dead bodies that day but a pestilential odour hung over the
whole area. Alongside the station there was a dressing hut with a window for valuables. Farther on, a room designated as the
barber. Then a corridor 150 metres long in the open air, barbed wire on both sides, with signs To the Baths and Inhalents
In front of us a building like a bathhouse to the left and right, large concrete pots of geraniums and other flowers. On the
roof, the Star of David. On the buildings, a sign Heckenholt Foundation
Piled up freight cars, unable to bend or budge, sticking one to the other,
breathless, crushed by ones neighbours every move, this was already hell. During the day, a torrid heat and after several
days and nights, the doors were opened. We arrived worn out, dehydrated, with many ill. A newborn baby, snatched from its
mother was thrown against a column. The mother, crazed with pain, began to scream. The SS men struck her violently with his
gun, her eyes haggard, with fearful screams, her beautiful hair covered with blood, she was struck down with one bullet.
Countless dead bodies lay there, piled upon each other. I think that
perhaps 10,000 bodies were there. A terrible stench hovered in the air. Most of the bodies had horribly bloated bellies, they
were covered with black and yellow spots, swollen and the surfaces of the skin already crawled with worms. The lips of most
of the dead were strangely twisted and the tips of the tongues could be seen protruding between the lips The mouths resembled
those of dead fish. I later learned that most of these people had died of suffocation in the boxcars. Their mouths had remained
open as if they were still struggling for a little air. Many of the dead still had their eyes open.
We the newly arrived were terror struck. We looked at each other to confirm
that what we were seeing was real. But we were afraid to look round much, because guards could start shooting any minute.
They drove them out of the various hideouts, broke down the gates and
doors, broke sutters and threw grenades into a few cellars and flats. They were shooting from various places. They beat them,
kicked them and were cruel in an inhuman way.
At 3 am they took 900 Jews, out of the town, forcing them to run by hitting
them and shooting the whole time. The action did not stop with their departure. They still looked for those hiding. Death
would wait for anyone hiding a Jew. Any who turned over a Jew were promised a prize. The Poles had to bury the dead. Estimated
numbers run at about 500. Maybe another 2000 were in hiding.
An infants cry pierced the air. The mother covered the child with her
shawl, trying to quiet him. An impatient German, grabbed the bundle and dumped it in the nearest ditch. The mother was made
to march with the others, when she protested, she was struck with a rifle butt and thrown unconscious in another ditch.
For the SS this was an easy load. These people knew nothing of ghettos
and pogroms. They had never had their senses toughened by real persecution. They were docile to the point of apathy, in fact
and they did precisely what they were told without a murmur of protest, an utterly amenable mass of human putty in the hands
of the Germans.
Yet these were the people who nearly made the SS panic. It happened at
midnight in the cold winter of 1942. Men, women and children were queing for selection when something went wrong. Every night
a truck, carrying a harvest of dead from Auschwitz to Birkenau passed at right angles to the head of the ramp. Normally nobody
saw what it held and it was gone before anyone could even think about it but that night it was overloaded. That night it was
swaying and heavy with the weight of dead flesh and as it crawled over the railway lines, it began to bounce and buck on its
The neatly packed bodies began to shift. A hundred, two hundred scrawny
arms and legs flopped over the side, waving wildly, limply in a terrible mocking farewell and from those 3000 people, rose
a thin hopeless wail that swept from one end of the queue to the other, an almost inhuman cry of despair that neither threats
or blows or bullets could silence.
With one, last desperate lurch, the lorry cleared the tracks disappeared
out of sight of the arc lights, into the darkness and then there was silence. For almost four seconds, those French people
had glimpsed the true horror of Auschwitz but it was gone and they could not believe what they had seen. Already their eyes
untrained to mass murder has rejected the existence of that lorry and with that they marched
quietly towards the gas-chambers which claimed them half an hour later.
Yet the SS realized well what could happen if the mass hysteria of this
nature had time to catch hold of their victims, if the lorry broke down, for instance. Every night after that, a secret signal
was given when it was approaching and all arc lights were switched off until it was safely out of sight.
With that we marched into Canada, the commercial heart of Auschwitz,
warehouse of the body snatchers where hundreds of prisoners worked frantically to sort out all the clothes and the food and
the valuables of those whose bodies were still burning, whose ashes would soon be used for fertilizer.
An enormous rectangular yard with a watchtower at each corner and surrounded
by barbed wire. There were several huge storerooms and a block of what seemed like offices with a square, open balcony at
one corner. Yet what first struck me was the mountain of trunks, cases and bags. Nearby was another mountain of blankets,
fifty thousand of them, maybe a hundred thousand. I was so staggered by the sight of these twin peaks of personnel possessions
that I never thought at that moment where their owners might be. In fact I did not have much time to think, for every step
brought some new shock.
Over to the left I saw hundreds of prams, shiny prams, fit for a firstborn
Battered prams, modest prams, prams of all descriptions. But not once did I wonder where the babies were. Also there were
pots and pans by the thousand, from kitchens in dozens of countries.
They were escorted into lorries with pushes or blows, most of them not
clad for the cold winter night. More than one document mentions screams. From the very start, the patients were thrown together,
children with dangerous lunatics, imbeciles with those not fit to be moved. At first men and women were put into separate
wagons but later they were all mixed together. And it was certain not the sort of night that people could travel in open lorries
in only nightdresses.
In general the loading was done without great violence. The ghastly thing
was that the wagons had to be closed, the patients refused to take their fingers away. The result was a brutal and inhuman
No air, no water, no food. How long could we or how long were we in the
cattle cars. I remember someone saying 72 hours. We were horribly dehydrated. I saw people with faces that were literally
blue, licking their own sweat, there was urine on the floor.
When we stopped and the doors opened, blinding lights lit up the night.
A long line of SS men, each holding a police dog stood on the ramp. Several of the great beast leapt into the cars. In a space
of a few seconds, two or three half-conscious prisoners were torn to pieces. Other bodies laying on the floor the dogs did
not touch, they were dead. On the railway platform there was panic, blows, screams and the gruff barking of dogs. I held my
breath and my suitcase up to my chest for protection as I stumbled
As we were pulling out of the burning estate, I noticed a bulky form
crawling on all fours, like an animal and making very strange noises. We decided it might be human and we took him by the
arm and dragged him along after us.
After we had covered about 5 miles, we sat down and looked at the human
mess. He was covered with hair like an animal, his clothes were torn, he couldnt stand and he was a skeleton. Listening to
his mumblings we found out that he had lived in the barn over a year. He ate food given to the cows and he never stood up.
Only the burning of the buildings forced him out. He was Yankel, a good friend of ours although we hardly knew him and the
following day he died.
Half naked and without shoes, Jewish men, women and children were pushed
along by Ukranian guards with rifles to the place of execution near the woods. As soon as one party arrived, it was moved
down by the SS with guns. Thus party after party were slaughtered. First one heard a burst of shot, then later single shots
killing those who had not fallen with the first one. Most of the victims walked to death calm and resigned. The children were
mostly unaware of what was going to happen to them and waved their goodbyes.
Clothing was removed from the bodies which left unburied until the next
day when Jews brought from another camp were ordered to pile them and set fire to them. When they had done so, they were shot.
Those bodies were then put on the pyre and burned for 48 hours. Later the bones were collected and thrown into the River Jasilka.
On them the naked women were piled, as many as the trucks could hold.
Each time a truck started, the famous Hessler ran after the truck and with his bludgeon repeatedly struck the naked women
going to their deaths. They knew they were going to the gas-chambers and tried to escape. They were killed. They attempted
to jump from the truck and from our own block, watched the trucks pass by and heard the wailing of all those women who knew
they were going to be gassed.
I saw shattered scenes. It was near the hospital. I saw cars which from
time to time would approach mothers with children. In the back of them, two Germans with rifles would be going as if they
were escorting criminals. I saw mothers screaming. A mother whose three had been taken away, went up to this car and shouted
at the German to give her children back. He said she could have one. All three children looked at her and stretched out their
hands. They all wanted to go and she couldnt decide so she left, alone. One wouldnt let go of the car and had the dogs set
were strewn all over the road, bodies were hanging from the barbed wire fence, the sound of shots rang out. Blazing flames
shot into the sky, a giant cloud ascended above them. Starving skeletons gasping out their last breath, stumbled and fell
in front of us.
If the number of persons to be gassed was not enough they would be shot
and burned in pits. It was a rule to use the gas-chambers for groups of more than 200 persons, as it was not worth while to
put gas-chambers in action for a smaller number of persons. It happened that some prisoners who offered resistence when about
to be shot or children would cry and SS Moll would throw them alive into the flames of the pits.
Moll told a naked women to sit down on the corpses near the pit and while
he himself shot people and threw their bodies into the flames, he ordered her to jump about and sing. She did this, hoping
it would save her life but when everyone else was dead, he shot her and put her into the fire too.
Its almost a week already that we are in the trucks. No water. They die
of thirst. Lips are parched. Every other day they are given a few cups of water, occasionally they bring a bucket of water
which is intended for 70 people. Theres nothing with which to take the water. There
are only a few cups in every truck and everyone wants a drink.
After a few minutes, I regained consciousness and when he passed by,
I stopped breathing, so he thinks I am dead. Others were being shot and even guarding the dead ones just in case one moved,
so they could shoot again.
Half ab hour later, those selected to die would be marched slowly to
barrack 25. An hour before, they had all been fighting for a piece of bread or for 1001 other trivial things people want.
Now it was over.
Barrack 25 got no food. Prisoners sat there locked up for hours, sometimes
days without food. Without a swallow of water, without toilet facilities, dying before their deaths. For in Auschwitz, it
was governed by a strict rule, Berlin always had to confirm the gassing of those selected and sometimes it was delayed.
From that death barrack came screaming Water, for Gods sake water But
no-one ever gave the dying water. Helplessly, hands stretched out between the bars but in vain. No 25 was taboo. When it was
dark, the trucks came for them, headlights flashing, engines roaring, then silence. When they started up again, there was
screaming as the women were taken to the gas chambers.
Thanks to the book The Holocaust
by Martin Gilbert for these extracts.