On the Auschwitz Trial in Kraków
They sit in the dock as looking as though nothing has happened. Their facial expressions are blank or ironic, sometimes confusedly embarrassed, mainly arrogantly self-assured. They whisper something among themselves and laugh. They note something on a piece of paper. Whenever a new witness comes to the microphone, they eagerly put on their earphones; a moment of concentration—the name of the defendant is spoken. The defendant usually goes slightly pale, the others try impassively to conceal the tension that has coursed through their nerves and facial features.
And words of horrendous truth issue from the microphone: murders, abuse, beating, beating, shot, gassed—these words sticky with blood, the uninterrupted leitmotif of every testimony. Majdanek, Płaszów. Auschwitz, Ravensbrück—the names come like milestones marking out the prisoners' Via Dolorosa,1 and the career path of these present defendants.
Numbers: Block 25 in Auschwitz.2 General roll call. Four thousand to the gas. Transports. Three thousand, five thousand a day. On one day in November at Majdanek, several thousand Jews were shot.
Astonishing words come from the microphone, terrifying in their frightful horror and truth—and they are reflected on the numb faces of the criminals, who sit with expressions as though this had nothing to do with them.
"Witness, whom of the defendants do you recognize?"
My gaze slowly passes along the dock. The Germans' faces—as usual—are indifferent, and yet there is a familiar look in their eyes. That same look of inner stress and trepidation which I knew so well from the selections and the transports. Except then wearing this miserable gaze was our lot—the roles were reversed—I wonder if my eyes today have that cold glow of absolute hatred and contempt typical of the "Herrenvolk?"3
The women defendants stand. We eye each other up and down. And suddenly the huge, packed hall of the National Museum4 vanishes and I am back in the camp.
Roll call. An hours-long roll call in Płaszów. Equal-length rows of women in headscarves on the left, men with shaved heads on right. The parade ground slopes slightly, the silhouettes of SS officers can be seen clearly at the bottom. Vulgar, loud laughter.
"Block warden, when will they finally count us?" Our legs, exhausted from standing so long, refuse to obey. In fact, only the first rows are standing—concealed behind them, prisoners sit on mess-tins or squat on the ground.
"Watch out! Orlowski is coming!"5
The lines immediately straighten up. The "tomboy" is coming, a huge, burly old gorgon, already hurrying us along from afar in a stentorian voice: "hop-hop, dali-dali!" She counts off groups of five, standing at attention frozen and motionless. One of the women, weakened from standing so long, staggers to the side. "Ah, du Sau!"6 Now she's yanked her out of line and is bashing her with her fists, showering her with a stream of filthy invective. When the prisoner groans and shifts a little on the ground, she kicks her with her polished "jackboots," and pulls her up by her hair, the anger and screaming working her into a frenzy and she beats, beats, beats...
And roll-call again.
This time, in faraway Malchow,7 in Mecklenburg. Five thousand shadow-women barely holding themselves up on unnaturally thin legs with protruding shins. From their eyes flows a river of five years of war, the misery that follows the German camps and hunger, tremendous hunger. In front is the tall Oberaufseherin Danz8 with the hard face of a wicked boy. She places her white-gloved hands in the pockets of her ski pants—February in northern Germany is very cold—in an unpleasant, harsh voice, she announces a several-hour roll call as punishment for the escape of two prisoners.
"You will get no bread today either!" she spits out at the end, and goes off to her warm quarters.
And the five thousand shadow-women stand helplessly, fainting one after the other. Like a row of dominoes when one is inadvertently knocked over. They collapse from weakness and exhaustion, pick themselves up again and stand numb, with one desperate thought: that today there will be no one-eighth portion of bread, green with mold.
Transport to Leipzig: Danz carries out searches, distributes to the prisoners what remains of the warm clothes and shoes, and smashes a water bottle on the head of a prisoner who'd taken it along on the road.
"I did not beat, I did not bully, I never performed any searches," that same harsh, unpleasant voice.
Before the Supreme National Tribunal9 the defendants deny any guilt, accusing the numerous witnesses of lying.
There is something horribly disgusting in the behavior of the defendants. If even one of them had the courage to admit: yes, I did this. For this reason or that, because it was an order from the top, because I enjoyed it so much. Then these inhuman criminals would remain to the end a symbol of inhuman evil and cruelty.
There is something base in impudently denying any responsibility (when—surely—they are fully aware of their guilt)—in shifting the blame onto others, betraying one another.
This is proof that the defendants are not driven by any idea they would fight for, taking responsibility for the death and suffering of thousands of innocent victims. They do not have within them the greatness of devils. They murdered on command, they tormented for pleasure.
Criminal, despicable little people.