Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
The IMT Series
Testimony about Sobibor at the Eichmann Trial 1961
[photos added to enhance the text]
Attorney General: I call Mr Moshe Bahir
Presiding Judge: What is your full name?
Witness: Moshe Bahir – my name was originally Shkalek
Question: You were born in the town of Plock in Poland?
Question: You were there until 1941?
Question: And there you were deported from Plock?
Question: Where to?
Answer: To the Zhodova camp
Question: And from there?
Answer: We were there for four days, from there we were deported to Czestochowa
Question: You were there for several months?
Presiding Judge: How old are you now?
Answer: I am now thirty-three your honour
Attorney General: You were transferred to Zamosc, and two weeks later to a nearby village called Komarow?
Question: You were there until 16 March 1942?
Answer: Either the 16th or 17th
Question: What happened to you on that day?
Answer: It seems to me that it was 17 March. We were taken to the large market place in Komarow. They selected all the men who were employed at places of work that were of value to the Germans. Amongst them was my father who worked at the airport, twelve kilometres from Komarow.
Question: And you too?
Answer: I was not working
Question: But you were also selected?
Answer: I was in the market place, together with my mother and brother. My father was taken away from the market place. I was left there with my mother and brother and other persons who were older than I.
I could easily have escaped, because we were not so strictly guarded. My father was also standing there, since he had a card indicating that he was an airport worker. He asked me to run away. I told him I wanted to go with my mother. We did not know where we were being sent to. We left the next day for Zamosc and, on the 18 March, we went from Zamosc to Sobibor.
Question: How long did the journey last from Zamosc to Sobibor?
Answer: I reached Sobibor on 20 March 1942, in the afternoon
Question: How many people, approximately, were there on that train?
Answer: I think there were about two thousand five hundred people
Question: What did things look like when you got off the train?
Answer: I remember that before we went in, the first five railway carriages were brought into the camp ahead of us. I was in the second section of the transport. When the first five carriages were brought into the camp, I saw that the people inside the carriages were beginning to say the confessional prayer.
According to Jewish tradition, a person who is critically ill should be urged to confess his sins. If he is unable to compose his own confession, he may recite the customary formula. I did not know what this meant. I also did not know the meaning of the term “the death camp Sobibor.”
I must say that the majority did not know it, my mother also was not sure. But it was only then that I became aware of, or I understood, what was the meaning..
The moment my mother took out her last slice of bread, which she was preserving for the time when my brother or I might faint from hunger, and began to share it out to other children, I said to myself – despite the fact that I was a boy of fourteen and a half – apparently there is no longer any need for her to keep a slice of bread for her own children. This made me understand that we would no longer need to eat. About half an hour later, the remaining carriages, including the one I was in, were brought into the camp.
Question: Now, please tell us, were the doors opened from the outside?
Answer: All the doors of the carriages were opened, German SS men, in green uniforms, were standing there, as well as Ukrainians in black uniforms. While I was still on the train, I heard the word “Aufmachen” (Open –up) and all the carriages were opened up simultaneously. There was terrible shouting. They began taking us to Camp 1.
Question: All of you together?
Answer: The second transport – that is to say, the second section of the transport.
Question: What happened to the women and the children from the train?
Answer: When we entered Camp 1, the women and children were separated to the right and the men to the left. I went along with my mother and brother. My mother held my hand. My mother held my hand from the moment we were about to leave, since the women and children went ahead of the men towards the gas chambers.
At the point when I was already at the exit point of Camp 1, together with the women, Oberscharfuhrer Gustav Wagner held me back, he halted me and said, “Du bist ein Mann,” (you are a man) and pushed me towards the men.
They waited for half an hour, fifty of these men were chosen for work, including myself. I should like to point out that there were not many men in this transport – most of them were women and children.
Question: Have you seen your mother and brother since then?
Answer: I have never seen them since. My brother was younger than I was he was twelve and a half.
Attorney General: And they walked towards the gas chambers in Camp 3?
Answer: First of all to Camp 2, where the women took off their clothes, and from there towards Camp 3
Question: What kind of work were you given at Sobibor, Mr Bahir?
Answer: The first job of work I had to do was to clear a hut of pots and all kinds of eating utensils belonging to victims who had preceded us, since there was no place to sleep. There were a number of small huts for artisans. They were from the first transport, from which people had been selected for work. I was in the second transport, from which they kept back men for regular work.
Presiding Judge: You say that they emptied a hut of eating utensils?
Answer: Yes, your Honour, the hut was full of eating utensils, and around the hut there was a pile, three times as large, of eating utensils only, pots which the people had brought to the camp at Sobibor before my arrival.
Attorney General: And you had to clear them away?
Answer: Yes, and after that we constructed bunks. I also worked, at first in transferring personal belongings from Camp 2 to the train.
Question: What personal belongings were there in Camp 2?
Answer: There was a very high heap. I do not remember its length or dimensions, but it was a very large one. We worked for a month in removing it from Camp 2 to the carriages.
Question: What did this pile contain?
Answer: Only personal belongings of the people who preceded us
Presiding Judge: Clothing?
Answer: I am talking only about clothing. Apart from the large pile at Camp 2, which stretched as far as the Lazarett – close to the Lazarett there were also three huts full of clothes, near the railway station, at a place which was subsequently evacuated and occupied by the Ukrainians.
Question: What was it that you referred to as the Lazarett?
Answer: It was a pit, not far from the camp – five hundred metres away from the camp and from where we were working. When we were running two hundred metres with the bundles, there was a pit, and when someone was injured or had his sexual organs bitten by the dog Barry, Unterscharfuhrer Paul Groth would say to him: “What happened to you, my poor man? You can’t carry on like that. Who did that to you? Come with me to the Lazarett.”
And he went with him, a few minutes later we would hear a shot.
He would accompany tens of workers in this way every day. I am referring to men who were selected for work, for they did not choose men for work every day. They selected them when they needed them for work, if on one day, fifty men were selected for work, the following day they killed eleven men of our group.
This was done by Paul Groth, who led them all to the Lazarett.
Attorney General: Were those who arrived on transports also transferred to the Lazarett? Those who arrived on the transports – men, women and children – were they also taken to the Lazarett?
Answer: At a later stage, not at the beginning. At a later stage, there were small carts that came right up to the hut, and into these they used to throw the sick people and the aged, together with those who were dead. On the way, it often happened that the dead bodies lay on top of the old persons, and the old ones on the sick. These were sent directly to the Lazarett and not to Camp 3.
Question: To the gas chambers?
Answer: They did not go to the gas chambers, but to the Lazarett
Question: So you were in Sobibor from 20 March 1942, until when?
Answer: Until 14 October 1943, the day of the revolt
Question: Did you also have work to do at the railway station?
Answer: My first job after transferring the personal belongings from Camp 2 was with the Bahnhofkommando (Railway Station Unit)
Question: What was the Bahnhofkommando?
Answer: It was a group of twenty or twenty-five men who helped to remove the bundles belonging to the people who were transferred to the death camp of Sobibor, after the victims had alighted from the wagons, and they cleared the platform, in order that the transport waiting outside would be able to come in.
Later we had a truck on to which we loaded the personal belongings in order to speed up the work, and they used to transfer the belongings to Camp 2 in this manner.
Question: You also had another job – polishing boots?
Answer: Yes. That was additional job. I used to get up an hour and a half before work and for this reason did not have to attend the morning roll call. I used to polish the boots of the officers – I and my friend Joseph Pines.
Question: On one occasion, did Senior German officers arrive at Sobibor when you were polishing boots?
Answer: Yes I remember that.
Question: Please describe it to us
Answer: It was in the month of July 1942. I remember this incident well. I remember that two hours before the arrival of the train, my friend Joseph Pines, and I was called to polish the officer’s boots.
The officers’ quarters were near the platform, at approximately 11.00 or 11.30, two hours after I had been called, I saw a luxury train coming in to Sobibor.
Question: In what way was this a luxury train?
Answer: The victims who arrived in those days were brought in freight cars, and you could see all kinds of belongings hanging out of the cars. This one was a train with passenger carriages.
A group of senior officers alighted from it, and it was headed by Himmler who stood out with his spectacles and long coat. There were eight other officers, one of whom was Eichmann and together with them three civilians.
Question: How did you know that this was Eichmann?
Answer: Sir, I did not know that it was Eichmann, I also did not know that it was Himmler. On that day, the Jews were not at work, and when I came to the camp, I told my comrades what I had seen, and then I was told that the first officer was Himmler, according to his pictures.
They did not know Eichmann, I did not know it was Eichmann until after I had left the camp. In 1945 I was in Lublin. By the time I was in Lublin, half of Poland had already been liberated in 1944 and I went around all the time with a feeling that I had undergone something which no other Jew had experienced, possibly because I had been a young boy.
I had this feeling and I tried to give vent to my emotions, I tried to unburden my heart to people, one of whom was Dr Emil Sommerstein. He was the only Jew in the first Polish Government which had come from Russia. I came to him and told him; I told him a great deal. And he said to me, “In Lublin there is an Institute of Documentation (The Central Jewish Historical Commission in Lublin whose materials were transferred to Lodz in 1945, and in 1947 became the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw) since you remember these officers so well, perhaps you will be able to identify some of the SS officers in Sobibor.”
I went there and was shown some pictures and, in one of the photographs, I pointed out the men whom I had seen. First of all I pointed to this man – he was the first, Himmler, and I saw one other, there were four men in the picture I saw – and amongst them I pointed to Eichmann.
He said: “Don’t think that Himmler was the only one who dealt with the Jewish question, there were others as well; there was also Heydrich, there was someone else called Eichmann – he was responsible for the transports to all the extermination camps.” Then I got to know that that man was called Eichmann, until then I did not know, nor did anyone else know, that he was Eichmann.
Question: That man that you saw in July 1942 – did you see him again in Sobibor?
Answer: I saw him for the second time in 1943 – roughly in the month of February, but then it was not a train that arrived – then the officers arrived by plane – we also knew that.
I was then working in the German officers’ casino. I worked there for eight months, starting the day after the first visit, for on the day after that first visit, the two Jewish girls who worked in the German casino were killed, and in their stead I was chosen to work there, together with my friend, Joseph Pines. From that day, I worked in the casino until March 1943, about one month after the second visit of Himmler, and his colleagues.
Question: Is this Joseph Pines still alive?
Answer: He was killed during the revolt
Question: In the casino you were engaged in cleaning, cooking and sewing?
Answer: Yes, I was engaged in cleaning, cooking and serving. I also had a special uniform and I used to change it twice daily, and I also took a shower before serving.
Question: On the day the plane arrived, did the Jews go out to work?
Answer: No. Again, they did not go out to work. We prepared special food and I remember they ate horse-flesh - that was something “special”.
Presiding Judge: Was this prepared for the officers?
Answer: No, for the Jews, a festive meal, on that day – the day of Himmler’s second visit – the Jews did not go out to work.
Judge Halevi: On the second occasion was it without Himmler?
Answer: Himmler was there also.
Question: Exactly the same officers?
Answer: Not exactly the same officers. On the first occasion I saw Himmler, Eichmann, the three civilians were not present on the second occasion. They were escorted on the second occasion by officers armed with guns. I did not notice any guards on the first visit. This was apparently Himmler’s personal guard.
Presiding Judge: How much time elapsed between the two visits?
Answer: About seven months, from July 1942 to February 1943
Question: Did these officers, Himmler and the others, go into the casino?
Answer: On the first occasion, they did not enter the casino
Question: And when you worked in the casino?
Answer: On the day of that visit, when he had already returned from Camp 3. He visited only Camp 3, accompanied by Franz Reichleitner, who was the camp commander at that time
Question: Where did you see them?
Answer: My immediate superior in the casino Paul Bredow, heard from Oberscharfuhrer* Beckmann who had returned from Camp 3, that the visitors were soon coming back from there.
He was not even aware that the plane had already landed, as soon as he heard this he sent me hurriedly to the camp with my friend, Joseph Pines. When I arrived there, the gate was locked, and by the time the Ukrainian guard opened the gate they had already come quite near, two or three metres away, and then I recognised them.
Attorney General: Mr Bahir, at what intervals did the transports arrive at Sobibor – roughly as far as you are able to remember? Did a train arrive every day?
Answer: I remember certain periods. I remember a period when there were fewer trains, during the first period, when I was selected for work, fewer transports arrived – two transports came daily, perhaps there had been an instruction not to send so many.
Question: I am not asking you about instructions. My question is: What did you see? Who arrived?
Answer: Later on, there was a time when many transports arrived – two each day, sometimes three. One at night, which had to wait until morning, and two more during the day. There were several such periods. The peak period which I can remember was from May to July, August 1942.
The second period was from October 1942 to the beginning of January 1943, when there were again many transports, two and sometimes three, daily.
Question: May I have exhibit T/1294 the photograph which the previous witness identified?
Can you identify the man in the picture?
Answer: Yes. He was called “Hauptmann” – I remember him well, he was the first commandant before Franz Reichleitner.
Question: What was his name?
Answer: I don’t remember his name exactly – Waran or Wirren. ** They called him Hauptmann, he was always riding on horseback with a long cape in the direction of Camp 3. Wiron, or something like that, I don’t remember his name.
Dr Servatius: Witness, you said you recognised Eichmann in a photograph that was shown to you in Lublin. In which office was that? Perhaps it would be possible to obtain the photograph some time today?
Answer: Certainly. I saw the picture at the Institute of Documentation in Lublin and a second time about one and a half or nearly two years afterwards. A book was published in Poland in three languages. The title of the book was We Shall Never Forget – both in English and French. It consists of photographs only, and amongst them there is one on which I recognised Eichmann.
Question: Would that be a photograph from the camp at Sobibor?
* Listed in the transcript as Unterscharfuhrer
** Christian Wirth – Aktion Reinhard Inspector
The Complete Transcripts of the Eichmann Trial – Nizkor Project
Holocaust Historical Society
Copyright. David Nash H.E.A.R.T 2010