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Post-Holocaust Testimony

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Eichmann Trial Testimony of Zivia Lubetkin

Testimony of Zivia Lubetkin
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer integral in organizing the "Final Solution," was captured in Argentina in 1960 and brought to Jerusalem to face trial for crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, and membership in criminal organizations.

Broadcast internationally, Eichmann's 1961 trial became one of the most closely watched in history. The Israeli prosecution team prepared for months, questioning Eichmann, assembling documents (many of them signed by Eichmann himself), consulting historians, and—most importantly—selecting and preparing witnesses to testify. Among those to take the stand were Jews deported to the Treblinka death camp, as well as survivors of ghettos and camps.

These survivor-witnesses soon became the focus of the trial. Though the majority had never before spoken publicly about their experiences, the prosecution hoped that witnesses could educate the public about the Holocaust. Through vivid and moving narratives, they helped depict the Jewish genocide as a discrete series of crimes committed by the Nazis and their allies during the war.

Among those to testify was Zivia Lubetkin, a leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization, a hero of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and a founding member of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. Lubetkin gave an account of the Uprising, a portion of which is included here. In contrast to the Nuremberg trials, where the story of the Uprising and its suppression emerged through Nazi records, Lubetkin offered a description from a Jewish perspective. And while the Nuremberg trial had given many the impression that Warsaw's Jews had gone quietly to their deaths, Lubetkin cast them as determined fighters. For Lubetkin, the Jews of the ghetto faced impossible odds and, even in death, achieved victory.

Lubetkin's testimony, along with those of more than 100 other Jewish survivors, elevated survivor-witnesses as authorities in the history of the Holocaust.1 The chorus of survivors gathered in Jerusalem, as representatives of a postwar Jewish community, also drew connections between Jewish suffering and resistance during the Holocaust and the continued survival of an Israeli state.2 As chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner proclaimed in his opening statement: "When I stand before you, judges of Israel, to lead the prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I am not standing here alone. With me are six million prosecutors."3

The lasting impacts of the Eichmann trial on Holocaust historiography and public memory are discussed in Deborah Lipstadt, The Eichmann Trial (New York: Nextbook Schocken, 2011) and Annette Wievorka, The Era of the Witness, trans. Jared Stark (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).

Far from the portrait of valiant Jewish resistance proffered by Lubetkin and others at the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt voiced a much more critical assessment of Jewish responses to genocide; Arendt's account of the trial, published in 1963 as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, sharply criticizes the role played by Judenraete in facilitating the Nazi campaigns of deportation and extermination.

The full text of Hausner's now iconic opening remarks is available in 6,000,000 Accusers; Israel's Case Against Eichmann: The Opening Speech and Legal Argument of Mr. Gideon Hausner, Attorney-General, translated and edited by Shabtai Rosenne (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Post, 1961).

This English translation of Lubetkin's testimony is taken from the Nizkor project website.

Nalewki Street number 23 housed the headquarters of Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist Jewish youth organization. During deportations it served as a hideout for underground activists.

Refers to HeHalutz, a movement in the early twentieth century dedicated to organizing and training young Jews for settlement in Israel. It became an umbrella organization of the pioneering Zionist youth movements.

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What did we tell the Jews that night? We told them that anyone who possessed arms should come out to fight.1 Not only the Jewish fighting force but the ordinary Jews as well had arms. And we advised those who did not have arms, women, children and babies that they should go down into the bunkers, and at the first opportunity of the general confusion, which would arise following the battle, they should go over to the Aryan sector, they should break through and make their way to the forest—some would survive. And, naturally, we had no need to issue orders to the fighting units, for the members, those boys and girls had been waiting for months for the moment when they would be able to shoot at Germans.

And, indeed, the moment had come. When the day dawned, I was standing in the upper part of this building, at 23 Nalewki,2 and I saw the thousands of Germans who were surrounding the ghetto—with machine guns, with cannon—and thousands of them, with their weapons, as if they were going to the Russian front. And there we stood opposite them—some twenty young men and women. What were our weapons? Each one had a revolver, each one had a hand-grenade; the entire unit had two rifles, and in addition we had homemade bombs, primitive ones, the fuse of which had to be lit by means of a match, and Molotov Cocktails.

It was very strange to see that some Jewish boys and girls, confronting this enormous enemy with all his weapons, were joyful and merry. Why were they joyful and merry? We knew that our end had come. We knew beforehand that they would defeat us, but we also knew that they would pay a heavy price for our lives. Indeed, they did. It is difficult to describe, and there will surely be many who will not believe it, that when the Germans came near the foot of one of our strong points and passed by in formation, and we threw the bombs and the hand-grenades, and we saw German blood pouring in the streets of Warsaw, after so much Jewish blood and tears had previously flowed in the streets of Warsaw - we felt within us, great rejoicing and it was of no importance what would happen the following day.

There was a great rejoicing amongst us, the Jewish fighters. And behold the miracle: the great German heroes withdrew in tremendous panic in the face of the handmade Jewish hand- grenades and bombs. And we noticed, one hour later, how a German officer was spurring the soldiers on to go to battle, to go out and bring in the wounded, and not one of them moved and they abandoned their wounded men whose weapons we subsequently collected.

And so it happened, that on the first day we, the few—with our scant arms—drove the Germans out of the ghetto. Naturally they came back. They were not short of ammunition, of bread and water as we were. And they returned. They returned that day, for a second time, in greater strength; with field-guns and tanks, and we with our Molotov Cocktails also set a tank on fire- although this was not at the post where I was but in Mila Street, with another fighting unit.

That day, when we met in the evening, we each reported. We had seen that, with our meagre arms, the number of those killed in our ranks was negligible—two in all. Apart from these there was a number of wounded. And we knew that, on that day, hundreds of Germans had fallen, killed and wounded. When, by chance, I once met a German on the Aryan side, a year after the Warsaw Ghetto revolt (I was posing as an Aryan, and he had only one eye), he told me that on that very day, at 23 Nalewki [street], he had lost his eye in a battle with the Jews and that "it was a big fight and we paid for it with many casualties"—I did not know then how to appreciate this. But if one may evaluate this years later, when I saw my people proceeding on its final journey—this was some slight consolation.

The battle continued for a number of days at the same pace. The Germans could not subdue us and on each occasion retreated from the ghetto. Naturally, not all the days were like the first day. We paid with more losses and also killed less Germans. But, in the days following, the Germans changed their tactics and tried also to change our tactics. From street-fighting in places we had prepared for ourselves, we changed to a method of fighting in small groups. We split up into several groups who at night would find for themselves houses and strongpoints, and they simply hid, waiting for the Germans. The Germans, indeed, no longer came into the ghetto in large numbers, but in small units. They were like us—we had rags on our feet so that they should not hear our footsteps, and they had rubber boots so that we should not hear their footsteps - and each side sought the other. In these days, also, we had the upper hand: we knew the terrain, we knew the houses, we had prepared for ourselves places of refuge in attics and cellars which were not known to the Germans. It continued in this way for days.

It is difficult for me to describe life in the ghetto during that week, and I had been in this ghetto for years. The Jews embraced and kissed each other; although it was clear to every single one that it was not certain whether he would remain alive, or it was almost certain that he would not survive, nevertheless that he had reached the day of our taking revenge, although no vengeance could fit our suffering. At least we were fighting for our lives, and this feeling lightened his suffering and possibly also made it easier for him to die.

I also remember that on the second day—it was the Passover Seder3—in one of the bunkers by chance I came across Rabbi Meisel. There had been contacts between us and him, since the days of the Halutz underground in ordinary times as well. The Halutz underground, in its operations, had not always had an easy time on the part of the Jewish population—they did not always accept us. There were those who thought that we were bringing harm to their lives—as I have pointed out, the collective responsibility, the fear of the Germans. But this time, when I entered the bunker, this Jew, Rabbi Meisel, interrupted the Seder, placed his hand on my head and said: "May you be blessed. Now it is good for me to die. Would that we had done this earlier."

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 60.2100*037
Accession Number 1999.A.0087
Date Created
May 3, 1961
Sound Yes
Language(s)
Hebrew
Location
Jerusalem, Israel
Moving Image Type Raw Footage
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