Kurt-Hubert Franz, the last commandant of the Treblinka murder camp, reversed himself in trial testimony today. He insisted first that he always left the camp when a transport of new victims arrived because he was “unable to watch” but later admitted he had seen how the victims were handled. An estimated 700, 000 victims were murdered at the camp, most of them Jews.
Franz, one of 10 former Treblinka personnel on trial, said he always gave orders to another camp official and then left the camp for a horseback ride. Prosecution witnesses, however, had testified that Franz watched every detail of the killings and he admitted in today’s testimony that he had seen other Jews driven by Ukrainians “with whips when I took over the job. “
Otto Stadie, a former warden, testified how the victims were handled on arrival of a transport. He said the SS men or Ukrainians on the camp staff would get the Jews who were still alive out of the trains; “There were always some dead,” he stated.
He recalled a transport of 4, 000, “half of them dead, the others half-dead from the long journey without food or even water. ” He said he told the newcomers that after they were bathed and disinfected, they would be sent to labor camps, adding “I knew that was a devilish lie but they believed me. ” He said those who could not understand German were addressed in Polish or Yiddish.
He was asked by the judge whether the guards had tried to separate mothers and children and replied that “this was impossible even for us. You don’t know Jewish mothers. He broke down at this point and wept before proceeding with his testimony.
NAZI WARDEN DESCRIBES KILLING OF JEWS IN SIX GAS CHAMBERS
He said each of the six gas chambers of the camp could “accommodate” 200 to 300 victims, who were marched to the chambers and pushed in. The iron doors were locked and the next group waiting outside could not hear them die. In about 45 minutes, he testified, the doors were opened and the bodies removed, the mothers with babies still held tightly, and tossed aside until there was a pile of about 300 bodies. These were then burned with wood and gasoline, he said.
Willi Mentz, who served in the so-called camp hospital, testified that those too old or sick to walk were killed sitting or lying on the edge of huge mass graves. He said he marched down the line, shooting each victim in the neck. When the judge asked if any of the victims cried or begged for their lives, he replied, “No, most of them were praying and sometimes one would say, ‘kill me first.’ He added that victims were never checked to see if they were really dead.
Franz Suchmomel, a former Czech tailor who became an SS sergeant, and who was in charge of the personal effects of the victims, said their shoes were always tied together “as the commandant wanted it all proper. ” He described the arrival of a transport from Bialystok whose passengers threw hand grenades and bottles at the waiting Guards when the transport was opened “and hurt some of them.”
Gustay Muenzberger, another Czech, admitted he had been cruel and struck prisoners with a whip but said that he never shot them. “I hurried them because I couldn’t bear to see the poor women and children waiting in the cold, ” he stated. He was asked by the judge as to how many persons the defendants killed in Treblinka. He estimated the number as between 300, 000 and 500, 000.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.