Twelfth day of the hearing, 6 December 1947
Presiding Judge: I would ask the next witness, Marian Kopta, to approach.
I hereby instruct the witness, pursuant to the provisions of Article 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, that you are required to speak the truth. The provision of false testimony is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to five years. Do the parties want to submit any motions as to the procedure according to which the witness is to be interviewed?
Prosecutors: We release the witness from the obligation to take an oath.
Defense attorneys: We likewise.
Witness Marian Kopta, 35 years old, an office worker by profession, religion – Roman Catholic, relationship to the accused – none.
Presiding Judge: I would ask the witness to inform the Tribunal whom of the accused he recognizes, and also to describe, in specific and concrete terms, their behavior in the camp, whether they beat and tormented people.
Witness: I arrived in Auschwitz on 14 June 1940 and was incarcerated there until October 1944. After a few months I started working in the so-called Reinigerkommando [cleaning squad], the duties of which included sweeping the offices, the political department, and also the living quarters of the Blockführers [block commanders] and headquarters staff. Since I worked for a length of time as a cleaner in the political department, I was able to observe the activities of the accused Grabner. As the head of the political department, he was the master of the camp right until the arrival of Liebehenschel. You could say that he was the master of life and death.
All the interrogations took place in his room and in the offices of the political department.
I would be summoned after each such examination in order to clean up the blood and throw out the broken sticks.
The accused Grabner, and this I may state with certainty, took part in shooting executions. The rifle which he used to shoot people in block 11 and in the crematorium near the central camp was kept in a cabinet in the room of Kirschner, Grabner’s secretary. When a shooting was to be carried out, Grabner would fetch the rifle, and I myself saw him leaving the crematorium [afterwards].
The accused Grabner was present at the first gassing test, when a few hundred Russian prisoners of war and selected sick prisoners were gassed. He also took part in gassing trials conducted in the crematorium.
I may state that Grabner together with his assistant, Dylewski, inspected the hatches through which Zyklon B entered the building’s interior.
The accused Grabner was present in the camp during the first test, wearing a gas mask.
Nearly all the death sentences carried out at the camp were ordered first and foremost by the head of the political department. In the first months of 1941, no more than a few of the [death] sentences were handed down from outside the camp.
Among others the sentence against the Kraków hostages, who included the president of Kraków, Czuchajowski.
In addition, the camp was the site of fictional interrogations of people delivered to Auschwitz in civilian clothing. The Gestapo would arrive, and Grabner would be present at these examinations.
I can confirm that the most refined method of torture, the so-called swing, was used by Grabner’s main assistant, Boger. This consisted in placing a steel pipe between two desks, with the prisoner seated upon it. I witnessed such an execution. When the prisoner fainted and fell, he would have water poured over him.
Presiding Judge: Did the witness encounter the accused Aumeier?
Witness: More or less in 1942, when the first transport of women arrived. Since I worked in the headquarters, and the buildings housing the women’s camp were located right next to it, I was able to observe the goings on.
While Aumeier was segregating the prisoners, I decided to say something to my colleague. Aumeier jumped up to me and hit me in the face.
Aumeier was a frequent visitor to the political department and accompanied Grabner during the interrogations.
Presiding Judge: Did the witness see the accused Aumeier during the selections?
Presiding Judge: And what about the children?
Witness: When in 1941 the women with children arrived, they were led to the camp gate, and I saw Aumeier tearing the children away from their mothers and sending them to the crematorium.
Presiding Judge: And as regards the other accused?
Witness: I recognize Liebehenschel, but I cannot say much [about him]. I would like to cite what I read in the newspapers, namely that Liebehenschel turned Auschwitz into a “sanatorium” – if this was indeed the case, it was not because of his doing. While working in the barracks, we had access to the SS men’s radio while they were on duty before noon, and so we knew what went on in the world. In 1943 the world became more interested in Auschwitz. Höß was replaced by Liebehenschel. Grabner was arrested and a fictitious court case was brought against him in Weimar. Basically, the regime changed: up till then, whippings had been meted out directly, while later – officially only after a doctor had checked the prisoner. But every inmate was fit to receive the punishment, and the doctor did not exempt anyone.
As regards the accused Plagge, I would like to say that when I arrived at the camp with the first transport in 1940, I was sent to quarantine, where “exercises” were conducted all day long. Simply put, we were ordered to run around all day long and assume various straddle positions. Palitzsch, sitting with his pipe, gave instructions to the German kapos, who tormented the prisoners with their “gymnastics” until they lost consciousness.
Presiding Judge: And what can the witness say about the accused Nebbe?
Witness: The accused Nebbe was the head of company staff. He lived in a barrack near the block, and so he could beat and torment the incoming prisoners at his leisure. I was a member of the cleaning kommando, which was tasked among others with tidying his room.
One time he kicked the orderly (Polish kalifaktor, from the German Kalfaktor) because he had not cleaned his room well; the blow was so hard that the poor man was unable to regain his senses for some time. In actual fact, he was a thief, for he lived off what he extorted from the prisoners. Thus, he was provided with margarine, sausages and numerous other articles. He once caught me with a packet of margarine in my trouser pocket; he took it from me and said that he would file a report. Since, however, he had appropriated the margarine, he did not proceed with his threat (or so I think).
Presiding Judge: Are there any questions to the witness?
Prosecutor Szewczyk: In which kommandos did the witness serve?
Witness: Initially, I worked on ramming stakes when the camp fencing was being built. Later they transferred me to the mowing kommando.
Prosecutor Szewczyk: Did the witness work in the Entwesungskammer [disinfection hall]?
Witness: I never worked there, for I was [kept] only in the central camp.
Prosecutor Pęchalski: The witness worked at the political department for a length of time, and testified that he frequently had to remove broken sticks and clean up the blood from Grabner’s room. Was the swing or the buck located in that room on a permanent basis?
Witness: Both of them were, for that is where the interrogations were conducted.
Prosecutor Pęchalski: Did the witness see these people? How did they look after an interrogation?
Witness: Usually, they would be carried off to the hospital.
Prosecutor Pęchalski: In other words they were incapable of walking unaided?
Witness: Yes, they would normally lie in the corridor until they came to and could walk away unaided, or otherwise the nurses took them to the hospital.
Prosecutor Pęchalski: Were relations between the SS men and Grabner official, and did they fear him?
Prosecutor Pęchalski: I am asking because the accused Grabner has stated that he tried to influence the SS men’s behavior, but could not force them to act as he wished, because his garrison was undisciplined. How was it in actual fact?
Witness: In actual fact, Grabner was the master and everyone was scared of him. He was, after all, a superior criminal police assistant.
Presiding Judge: Does the defense have any questions?
Defense attorney Kossek: I would like to ask whether during Liebehenschel’s period of office the prisoners felt better?
Defense attorney Kossek: The witness stated that Berlin ordered a change in the approach towards prisoners. Did the witness see such an order?
Witness: I did not see the order, but I am putting forward an assumption based on what I saw. For a commission was indeed sent from Berlin at the time to inspect what went on in the camp.
Defense attorney Kossek: The witness is aware that after Liebehenschel left, Höß came in for a second term?
Witness: Yes I am.
Prosecutor Szewczyk: I would like to observe that this statement is erroneous. For Liebehenschel was replaced as camp commandant not by Höß, but by Baer.
Presiding Judge: Does the accused Grabner wish to make a statement or pose a question?
The accused Grabner: I would like to ask the witness where this device, the so-called swing, was located.
Witness: It was located in the political barrack, where the executions were carried out. As a matter of fact, there were two “swings”. I am sure that the accused Grabner was present at these interrogations on more than one occasion.
The accused Grabner: Responding to the witness’ statement, I would like to stress that in the room in which I worked there was no swing, and no blood. I must also reject his statement that I would come to the camp with a rifle; I did not do so even once.
Witness: There was no swing in Grabner’s office, but he would go to the room where interrogations were conducted and where this swing was located. During the first examination in 1941, the arrestees were workers from the Bekleidungskammer [clothing warehouse] and the Unterkunftkammer [accommodation chamber], some 15–20 prisoners. All were interrogated in Grabner’s room exactly. That day the prisoners did not go out to work. The next day, when I was cleaning Grabner’s room in the political department, I saw traces of blood on the walls and floor.
The accused Grabner: I would like to declare that the witness could not have seen this, for this is inconsistent with the truth, and also that he never had access to an official chamber during the day.
Witness: I did have access to the room during the day, for I worked as one of Grabner’s cleaners. I think the accused should recollect this fact. Cleaning was always conducted in the evening or in the morning, for the SS men themselves did not ever remove any blood traces or throw out broken sticks.
The accused Grabner: I would also like to ask the witness how does he know that I was present at the interrogations, if he himself was not?
Witness: The head of the political department had to be present if an interrogation was taking place in his office. If an examination was being conducted in another room, then quite rightly Grabner may not have been present.
The accused Grabner: Can I put another question to the witness?
Does the witness recollect, or perhaps know with certainty where my official chamber was located at the time?
Witness: On the ground floor, in the SS hospital building, the last room from the Standortverwaltung [garrison administration].
The accused Liebehenschel: Concerning the statement made by the prosecutor, I would like to explain that on 8 May 1944 I handed over the camp to its former commandant, Höß, who in turn passed it on to a new commandant, Baer. I did not see the new commandant, Baer, at all – it was Höß who passed on the camp to him, informing him of the number of prisoners. As far as I am aware, during his second term of office Höß carried out the so-called Hungarian action.
Prosecutor Szewczyk: As regards the testimony of the accused Liebehenschel, I would like to add that it is indeed true that he handed over the camp to Höß, for he was relieved of his command with immediate effect and instructed to pass on the camp to Höß, who was to carry out the “action”, however Baer’s nomination came in concurrently, and it was he who took over the camp as commandant, for Höß did not occupy the position following Liebehenschel’s departure.
Witness: I would like to add something about the accused Kirschner. He was one of the most bloodthirsty SS men in the entire garrison, assisting and participating in the beatings and deportations of prisoners.
Presiding Judge: I order a recess of five minutes.