Wednesday, January 02, 2008

“When he opened his mouth, I saw the gates of the crematorium"

Though not from our town, Michael Goldman-Gilad's holocaust story revolves around Przemysl. His amazing story is recounted in the Yad Vashem E-Newsletter.
“In a Sentence, I Felt Like I was
Going Through the Holocaust All Over Again”
Interview with Michael Goldman-Gilad,
Investigative Officer for the Eichmann Trial
Interviewers: Yael Novogrodsky and Limor Bar-Ilan

Michael Goldman-Gilad was born in 1925 in Katowice, Poland. After the outbreak of the war, he escaped with his parents, brother and eight-year-old sister to Przemysl. From there, he was deported to Szebnie and later, in November 1943, to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After a month and a half in the camp, he was transferred to Buna-Monowitz – Auschwitz III – where he worked in the I.G. Farben factories until the evacuation of the camp in January 1945. He was then forced on a death march, from which he managed to escape and hide with a Polish family. In February 1945, after liberation, he volunteered to fight in the Soviet army and was wounded in one of the battles. In September 1945, he reached the Pocking DP camp in Germany, and in May 1947, boarded the immigrant ship “Hatikvah” to Israel. The ship was seized at sea by the British navy and forced to change course to Cyprus, where Goldman-Gilad spent a year and a half in a detention camp.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, he immigrated to Israel, settling in Tel Aviv, and enlisted in the police. In 1960, following Adolf Eichmann’s arrest, he was attached as an Investigation Officer to Bureau 06 – a special unit set up within the police to conduct the investigation. He also served as personal aid to Gideon Hausner, Attorney General, who headed the prosecution. In 1963, he left the police, and was sent twice to Latin America as emissary on behalf of the Jewish Agency. He later returned to Israel and served as head of the Central Administration for Schlichut, managed by the Jewish Agency, until his retirement in 1995. Today, Goldman-Gilad is a member of the Yad Vashem Council, a member of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, and a member of the Bialik Institute Directorate. He is married to Eva (nee Goldschmidt), who was born in Jerusalem, and has five children and eight grandchildren. He is currently writing a book of memoirs, due for publication in the near future.

His story is riveting; truely must-reading for any student of the Shoah and anyone interested in learning about the holocaust in Przemysl.

An excerpt:
“A story that other than once before, I’ve never told anyone”

While at a labor camp in the Przemysl ghetto – I was young, sixteen-and-a-half, closer to seventeen years old – and belonged to a group of boys called the “Transport Commandos”. We weren’t skilled laborers, so we were made porters. We had a horse and carriage, and under Gestapo supervision, we had to enter abandoned homes, empty the contents, and transfer it all to warehouses in the camp, in an orderly fashion: closets here, books there, shoes here. The collected possessions from the abandoned homes were processed at workshops by skilled workers: cobblers, tailors and other artisans. They would process, launder and repair the collected property, and this would be sent to Germany.

In the summer of 1943, shortly before they liquidated the ghetto, the SS discovered that the person operating the Przemysl railway station was a converted Jew, and he was executed together with his family, even though his wife wasn’t Jewish. We had to go to his home, which was outside the ghetto, with our carriage, empty the house and transfer the contents back to the camp. When we entered the house, I saw a very large library in the living room, and when we started taking the books out, I saw he had many books about trains. He was director of the train station and also a rail engineer.

We already knew about the trains. We knew what was going on, where Jews were being taken on the trains. I decided that when we brought these books into the camp, I would hide them so they wouldn’t reach German hands. This was sabotage of the first order, punishable by death.

When we reached the camp, I placed these books separately. With the help of some friends who were with me, we hid them in various workshops, so they wouldn’t reach the hall that was serving as a library, where they would arrange the books by subject. The Jewish prayer books would be gathered separately and sent to Berlin to the Alfred Rosenberg’s "Institute for the Study of the Jewish Problem”.

Three days later, I suddenly hear someone calling me. The Jewish head of the camp is calling me to come out; I didn’t know what for. I see Josef Schwammberger, who was the commander of several camps – Przemysl among them - on behalf of the SS, standing next to him, with a dog restrained by a leash. He had a heavy leather leash, with an iron buckle. He used to yell at the dog “man, get the dog!” (in German), and the dog would attack. That was his expression. This is why, when we were interrogating Eichmann, I was so angry at Less for referring to Eichmann as “sir’ – I was called “dog” and he’d be “sir”?

We all knew that if someone was summoned to Schwammberger, he was finished, because Schwammberger used to draw his gun and shoot for no reason. And so if there was a specific reason, all the more so.

I had no idea why I was being summoned to Schwammberger. I approached him. He removed the leash from the dog and looked at me. He had the same murderous look even [much later] when he was on trial as an octogenarian. He asked me: “To whom did you sell the books?” (in German). In the first moment I was confused, but I came to my senses and realized what this was about. I instinctively found an answer, I had to find some answer. I said that when we reached the courtyard with our carriage, it was time for a lunch break, we went to eat the soup we were given, and when we returned to the carriage, the books were no longer there – meaning that people had taken the books to read them.

Schwammberger struck me around the neck with the leash and said, “bring the bench!” I understood he did not believe my story.

The bench was a special bench where they would lay down whomever he [Schwammberger] decided would receive 25 lashes. After 25 lashes with the buckle at the end of the leash, he would then transfer the person to Ghetto B. (There were two ghettos: Ghetto A, which was the workers’ ghetto overseen by the SS, and Ghetto B, of the “non-workers”, overseen by the Gestapo, and Polish police at the entrance. They would occasionally transfer people from Ghetto A to Ghetto B, where the women and children were, and from where transports were sometimes sent to the death camps. Where we were, in Ghetto A, there were no longer any children.) After 50 lashes he would take out his pistol and fire; we knew that.

When I was laid down on the bench, I started counting. I thought I could last for as many lashes he would give, if it were 25 or maybe more. He started beating me, and I through the beatings I managed to count 13, 14, 15, and then fainted. Later, when I awoke, I again felt I was being beaten, and fainted several times.

Suddenly I couldn’t feel anything. I didn’t know there were eighty lashes. During the lashing, they took people out to the courtyard to be witnesses, and they were the ones who counted. My friends are the ones who told me later. They said they wanted to know if I am to be transferred to Ghetto B or shot. They are the ones who counted eighty lashes. Dr. Buzminsky stood in the courtyard, saw and counted [..]

Everything fell silent. I awoke and heard Schwammberger’s voice, “aufstehen!” (get up!) I want all the books back here in three minutes!” (in German).
...
Quoted text Copyright © 2007 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority

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