On 11 May 1945 in Oświęcim, Regional Investigating Judge Jan Sehn, member of the Commission for the Investigation of German Nazi Crimes in Oświęcim, on the motion, in the presence, and with the participation of Dr. Wincenty Jarosiński, deputy prosecutor of the Regional Court, in accordance with art. 254 and 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, interviewed as a witness Lejzor Braun, a former prisoner of the Auschwitz concentration camp, prisoner number 32 626, who testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Lejzor Braun|
|Date and place of birth||24 November 1920 in Żuromin, Sierpc district|
|Names of parents||Icek Moszek and Freida née Drobiner|
|Occupation||locksmith and boot maker|
|Place of residence||Żuromin (before the arrest and presently)|
Toward the end of January 1942, an SS man was killed in Mława. As a result, 26 Jews were selected from the ghetto where I was at that time. I was one of those selected. We were transferred to the Mława prison, where we remained for about ten weeks. The Gestapo men treated us violently and we were beaten and kicked for no reason whatsoever. After ten weeks, not having been interrogated once, we were transferred to the Auschwitz camp. Before we were loaded onto wagons, each of us was told to sign some document. I do not know its contents because I did not even try to find out. One of my fellow prisoners, who refused to sign the Auschwitz document, saying he did not understand its contents, was severely beaten by an SS man, so the rest of us signed the document without putting up any resistance. We do not know if any SS man was actually killed in January; in any case, this is what we were told when we were taken away from the ghetto.
The prisoners’ train was headed straight to Auschwitz, but took a detour through Działdowo, Toruń, Poznań, Wrocław, and Bytom, where the remaining prisoners’ transports were collected. We arrived in Auschwitz after a journey which lasted close to a month. On 24 April 1942, we arrived at Auschwitz I. There, after we were bathed, had our heads shaved and prison numbers tattooed, our group was sent to the SK [Strafkompanie, penal company]. We were with the SK for a week. We would not go to work, but both the SS men and the block senior ran us into the ground with exercises, in the course of which – for no reason at all – we were treated violently, being beaten and kicked.
After a week, we were released from the SK and sent to work at the camp. Our entire group was assigned to the Buna detail. During that time we would go to work in the morning on trains, and return in the evening. Around 2,000 people worked with the Buna detail. It was an extremely demanding detail. We worked leveling the ground, laying down railway tracks, and erecting barracks. The SS men, and Kapos in particular, beat us mercilessly. The SS men guarding the perimeter would beckon the prisoners, and when they approached, they were shot at for allegedly attempting to escape. If the prisoner would not come up to the SS man, the latter would come up to him and beat him mercilessly. Each day, a couple hundred people perished during work. After two months with the Buna commando, I contrived, being a locksmith, to get an assignment with the Schlosserei [locksmiths’] detail. I worked with this unit for three months. It was a tad less demanding because the Kapo would not beat us for no reason.
One day in September 1942, Kapo Bruno selected myself and a few others from the block to work at the Aufräumungskommando, the so-called Canada. The Canada detail was some 2000-people-strong, both women and men, and worked in two shifts. The Canada detail was responsible for taking packages away from newly arrived prisoners, unloading these packages from trains, loading them onto vans, and then sorting them and storing them in particular storerooms. I worked with this detail until the end of 1942. During that period, I personally saw the arrivals of transports carrying French, Slovak, Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian, and Czech Jews. There were a lot of such transports, and there must have been upward of 1,000 people on each. There were transports carrying about 4,000 people. Immediately after stepping out of the wagons, they were ordered to put all their belongings aside. If a newcomer resisted and would not relinquish his parcels, SS men, especially crematorium Oberscharführer Moll, beat them, and often shot at them.
During that period, there were also Polish transports from Grodno, Warsaw, and other towns. I clearly remember that one day a transport of Jews from Tarnów arrived, some 3,000 people on it. All these Jews were already dead on arriving at Auschwitz. Occasionally, some would show signs of life. I personally removed corpses from the wagons. These corpses were then loaded onto vans and transported to the crematorium. The rumors circulating among the prisoners were that these people had suffocated in the wagons because the transport had arrived in July or August and it was very hot, the journey had lasted some four days, and 120 people were loaded into each wagon, having been given nothing to drink.
After people were unloaded from the wagons at the Birkenau ramp, they were divided into separate groups, of men and women. Then a camp doctor held a so-called selection, appointing people for camp labor and sending the rest straight to gas chambers. The number of people appointed for labor amounted to around 5% of the entire transport, and they were the fittest ones. All those earmarked for gassing were then loaded onto vans and sent straight to the gas chambers; beforehand, the doctor in charge of the selection would tell the newcomers that they were going to the bathhouse, and that afterward, once they had been issued food, they would be assigned to camp labor. Women with little children were all sent straight to gas chambers.
The Canada detail was considered less demanding because of the fact that it was easier there to rustle up some food, clothes, or even jewelry. Although prisoners were frisked every day after finishing work, they nevertheless, having nothing to lose, had valuables hidden on themselves and thus saved their lives.
One day, wanting to help my comrades working at the camp, I threw a package with food over the fence. The SS man who was supervising us noticed that. He beat me severely all over the body with a rod and then filed a report against me, as a result of which I was sentenced to ten days in the bunker and five Sundays of penal labor. In the bunker, 70 by 60 cm, there were four prisoners, including myself.
The Canada warehouse where we worked comprised six blocks, each storing different items. These storerooms were full of clothes, underwear, and bedsheets. The jewelry we found on the transports had to be handed to an SS man who recorded it and then put it in a special chest. This function was at that time fulfilled by Oberscharführer Willi Kubaś [Kubaschk]. Low-quality clothes and underwear were sent to factories in Łódź and Memel, while those of better quality were sorted and transported to Berlin. Despite these constant outbound shipments, the storerooms filled fast, because new Jews came in from different parts of Europe.
In 1944, a friend of mine (Kapo Lew, a Jew from Żuromin) admitted me to the detail he was in charge of, the Strassenbau Lens. I enjoyed rather favorable conditions with this detail, because Lew had a positive disposition toward me. I worked there until 27 October 1944, and then my fortunes improved still further because civilian workers also worked there, who brought food from outside the camp.
On 27 October 1944, I was transported in a group of 1,500 prisoners to the Stutthof camp near Gdańsk, where we stayed for about a month, employed at different camp duties. On 27 November 1944, myself and another 250 prisoners were moved to Gdańsk, where I worked for the Schichau company as an electrician involved in the construction of submarines. Since the company was located 15 km outside the camp, we had to travel on trains in the morning and then back in the evening. We worked together with civilian workers, but we were treated much worse. Civilian workers dined separately and were issued quality food, while we only got bread and a lean soup at the camp – soup, or rather colored water – while on the company’s premises, and just coffee in the evening. A loaf of bread of 1.2 kilos was divided between three prisoners, each getting 40 decagrams. We worked at the Schichau factory until January 1945. Then, for around three weeks, we were at the camp near Gdańsk, and we could not be sent to work because the front was drawing closer.
Toward the end of January 1945, all healthy people in the camp, i.e. around 700 persons, were sent on foot to a camp near Lohenburg. It was a small camp comprising a few barracks, which was located some 5 km outside Lohenburg. We worked logging wood in the forest. We were fed very poorly. Daily, we would get 7 decagrams of bread and half a liter of soup. As a result of this diet, 160 out of 360 men who had arrived with me died, and only 200 men departed for Gdańsk. Before the transport, nobody told us anything about where we were going to be moved to. We traveled on foot at night. Myself, my brother Adam Mendel, and Kotek Popiół, as well as another Jew I did not know, decided to escape from the transport, using the cover of night and the fact that the road cut through the forest. We wandered around the forest for five days, eating only what we could dig up from the mounds. Then we came across the Soviet troops. The soldiers, having learned that we had escaped from a camp, gave us some food and clothes, and then let us go home. Together with my comrades, I went to Żuromin, where I have been staying since.
At this the report was concluded, and, having been verified to be a faithful record of witness Lejzor Braun’s testimony, was read out and signed.