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Posted Friday, August 13, 1999

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Testimony (1961) of Auschwitz survivor Szenes against Eichmann:

The testimony of the Hungarian Jewish witness Mrs Elisheva Szenes at Session 53 of the Eichmann trial, on 25 May 1961 (as reproduced on the Nizkor website), contains some interesting material.

"STATE ATTORNEY BACH: What happened to the people of that transport who arrived at Auschwitz?

WITNESS SZENES: They went off, group by group, to the right and to the left. I was sent off with the group that was sent to the side of life, and the others, as we know, went to the gas chambers. Mengele was standing there - he indicated to the right or to the left. As he divided up the groups, roughly half by half, in each of the two directions, to the side of life and to the side of the gas chambers - roughly, I cannot say exactly.

Q. How do you know that one side led to life and the other to death, to the gas chambers?

A. They did not conceal that at all, they made no secret of it. They said that to us right away, when we were directed to the side of life, the women who were there told us. Incidentally, I met acquaintances there. there was actually no need for gas, since many people died in the first weeks, even in the first days - within a few days they perished.

Q. Do you know roughly how many persons of the transport survived?

A. No. I cannot tell you that, since they were transferred to various places.

Q. To what place were you transferred from Auschwitz?

A. I was transported as part of a group of 500 people, but within this group there were only a few people left of those who had come from Kistarcsa. They took us to Fallersleben in West Germany, to a factory for War production.

Q. Did you ultimately reach a place called Salzwedel?

A. Yes. Ten days before the liberation, the group was transferred to Salzwedel; but by that time the group had already grown to 800 who had come from a death march, had stopped at Fallersleben and were joined together with us.

Q. Do you recall a particular incident concerning railway waggons that arrived - waggons full of Jewish men who came to Salzwedel?

A. Yes. They came after us. But then they no longer opened the doors of the waggons.

Q. What did that mean? What was the outcome?

A. Since the Americans only arrived ten days later - this happened on 14 April - they all died there in these sealed trucks.

Q. You mentioned earlier a place called Fallersleben. What happened there to women who gave birth to children?

A. In Fallersleben there were two women who gave birth to babies. At the beginning the SS women nursed them fondly, for about four or five days, but afterwards, they took them away together with their mothers. As we learned they brought them subsequently to bergen-Belsen and to the gas chambers."

Michael Mills comments:

SZENES describes the transport on which she arrived being divided into two groups of roughly equal size. That contrasts with claims that only 10% of each transport was selected for labour, with 90% being gassed. The division into two equal groups suggests separation for two different destinations, with perhaps one group selected for retention within the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex and the other for transfer to other camps - Szenes herself was transferred.

Szenes claims that the selection was carried out by Mengele. But how does she know who the selecting officer was? It is likely that she had not even heard of Mengele before her arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and she could have not have known who the person doing the selection was. It is possible that she was told later by other prisoners. But it is equally possible that she read about Mengele after the war, and assumed that he must have been the one who selected her. If that is the case, this is a possible example of witness testimony being contaminated by what they learned subsequently.

Szenes does not say whether she was registered and received a tatooed number. It is possible that she was held as an unregistered "Depot-Haeftling" pending her transfer to a work-place. If that was the case, then the other half of the transport may have been the one that went through the registration process.

Szenes claims that the other group into which the transport was divided was sent to the gas chambers, but her grounds for that claim appear flimsy in the extreme. It was based purely on what the other women in the camp told her, which may have been purely rumour.

Szenes says she met acquaintances in the camp. I presume she is referring to persons who reached Auschwitz-Birkenau on earlier transports.

A large proportion of the half of the transport selected with Szenes died before they could be transferred elsewhere, presumably from disease, exacerbated by semi-starvation. Some died within a few days, which could only have been from disease. Szenes' comment that "there was no need for gas" suggests that the number who died in this way was quite considerable. Indeed, the rapid reduction in the numbers of the Hungarian Jewish deportees soon after their arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau might well be explained by such deaths due to disease, without having recourse to putative large-scale extermination action on the part of the camp administration. As Szenes says, there was no need for gas. It is entirely possible that the other group into which the transport was divided was elsewhere in the camp complex, undergoing the same attrition.

Szenes states that members of the transport were transferred to various places. We know that Hungarian Jews were sent to 380 different locations, and her testimony is consistent with that.

Szenes states that she was transferred to a factory in West Germany for war production. Her testimony confirms that Jews were sent to Germany for labour, and refutes the claim that there was a ban on importing Jewish slave labour into Germany.

Szenes states that there were gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen, to which mothers and babies were sent. That can only have been a rumour that she heard, since there were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen according to the orthodox account. This part of her testimony casts doubt on the value of her testimony about half the transport on which she arrived being sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.square

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