Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington
Transcript of statement given by Jeanette Kaufmann in Belsen Concentration Camp, 21 April 1945 (D/DLI 7/404/12)
Please remember that all transcripts show what is written on the page; spelling and grammatical mistakes are not corrected.
"STATEMENT given by JEANETTE KAUFMANN (born 6 Oct 1880 at ZLOCZOW - daughter of JEREMIAS HAMMER) in BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP 21 Apr '45.
'I was married during 1925 in Vienna my husband being the bank clerk, Johann Kaufmann, son of David Kaufmann and Franzisca Kunstlinger. My first son Maximilian was born 19 Nov 1925. My second son was born 20 Jun 1927 and was christened Herbert. My only sister, Charlotte married a certain Imre Bieler of Hungary. Her son, Heinz Georg was born 7 Aug 1905 in Limburg.
I lived in Vienna, District 7, Kellermangasse 6. My husband succeeded in buying two cars and drove them himself. I was given a job with the Phönix Insurance Co Ltd in the capacity of cashier.
11th March 1938 is the date of the Nazi revolution in Vienna. Both my husband and I had to stop working and my two boys were turned out of their secondary school. All members of my family were detailed to emigrate to Colombia on the 24th Aug 38 but at the last moment it came to light that the Colombian Envoy in Vienna had produced the various Visas without having previously consulted his Govt. Due to this mis-management we lost nearly all our savings. Our efforts to emigrate to a cousin in America (Morris Fortfflich) failed. Then started the days of evil.
My husband was arrested and imprisoned for a period of 3 months. Many of the family members were arrested and sent to the Concentration Camp at Dachau and eventually died there. I was put to hard work in a brick works at VOSENDORF. My husband and children were arrested and imprisoned and put to such jobs as street cleaning.
On the 27th Feb 1941 we were removed from Vienna. We had to give up our money and valauables still in our possession and were given 20 Zloty each instead. A warning was issued to the effect that if any person was searched and found to be hiding anything of value the penalty would be death. The punishment would be immediate and would affect all members of his or her family. We were allowed to carry 50 K. of luggage each.
The transport consisted of a 1000 former inhabitants of Vienna. Together with a former transport of 1000. the 2000 of us were to live in a place called OPOLE near Lublin, formerly occupied by 200 Jewish families. On our arrival they put us into a destryed Synagogue. A Cookhouse for the poor supplied us with soup daily. The price of a K.g. loaf of bread rose in a few days from 3 up to 20 Zloty consequently we had to dispose of our few remaining belongings in order to obtain food. Later on we were sent parcels from Chzechoslovakia.
After some time, a family consisting of a married couple and their three children took us into their home where we had a room with a soil floor and two plank beds.
It often happened that the 'Volkdeutchen' (people of low mentality claiming to be of German origin in order to be on the winning side) assaulted Jews and deprived them of any property that they might have.
On a certain Friday evening a gang of such drunken ruffians lead by an S.S. man Hans HANNES (manager of the local refinery) broke into our home and destroyed all the windows and crockery etc and beat us all until we bled. HANNES then dealt several blows on the landlord with a candlestick. He ordered my husband to kneel and say 'I am a swinish Jew['] and he kept raining blows the whole time with a chair. Only when the chair was no more did he stop. My protests induced one of the gang to throw an open pocket knife at me. A scar on my breast is evidence.
It was during that incident that Hannes stated that he had been in the prison STEIN on the Danube but had been released by the Nazis. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment for placing a bomb under the house of a Jewish jeweller in Vienna.
After the war with Russia started things took a still worse turn. No food could be provided. Manhunting, the aim of which was to find slav workers for the camps at KAMIZIERZ, DEMBLIN and JOZCFOW on the Vistula became a daily routine. We had to flee for our lives in the night hidden under a load of hay being conveyed to Kunow, OSTROWICE, a place my parents and my sisters family had lived in. The conditions there were much the same as at Opole. My boys did the grooming for the local Gendarme and my husband worked nearby roadbuilding.
On 'Jom Kipur' - (the Jewish Festival) all the Jewish inhabitants of the town were ordered to make personal appearance in the town's centre for the purpose of being shot. The Nazis contented themselves with shooting five persons picked at random. The others were permitted to return to their homes after witnessing the shooting. My boys were made to help burying the dead. A fragile youngster of 16 years old. thought by the Nazis to be lazy while performing this task was ordered to get down into one of the graves and was told that he was to be killed. In fact the bullet was fired into the earth near his head but the nervous shock made him permanently mute.
A few days later all the Jewish denizens of the General Govt. (German occupied Polish territory excluding the western provinces) were evacuated and moved to Triblana where they were poisoned by gas with the exception of a comparatively small number - inmates of the Forced Labour Camps lucky enough to be labelled 'Indispensible' by their Nazi Camp Leaders. My husband contrived to get a drivers job with the Forced Labour Camp at BODZECHOW and smuggled us all, myself and the boys as well as my sister and her child, into the same camp. - My parents were among those sent to the gas chamber.
The majority of the elder persons were not quick enough in leaving their homes and were shot on the spot. It took quite a few days to complete the evacuation. During these days I was able to witness the scenes as I was a worker in a gang set the task of building an 11000 volt conveyor in immediate proximity to the town.
The town's Central Square presented an indescribable shambles. The S.S. men in command used to tear babies from their screaming mothers and fling them against the wall or sometimes their little heads crush under their heel. I saw a woman choke her baby rather than leave it to the brutalities of the S.S. Many went mad, peculiar inarticulate cries could be heard and people could be seen tearing off their clothes.
Goods trains were used as transports, 1000 people being crammed into 9 or 10 trucks. The trains were usually side tracked during the journey, sometimes for three days at a time. There was no food during the journey - people died of thirst, starvation and in winter of exposure.
The Bodzechow camp used to be visited by the S.S. Control Squads. Awful deeds were committed on the ill and the children. None of these visits went by without a death case. Many children were hidden in holes scraped in the ground beneath the camp huts.
On the 4th January 1943 one of the S.S. search squads found my sister's child in its hiding place. We were all lined up outside the hut and at the sight of the baby being dragged barefoot by the S.S., my sister and her husband left the parade and ran to the S.S. men to explain that they were Hungarian, the child was Hungarian and that they had no power to take it away. My sister in her distraction had gone so far as to inflict several blows on the S.S. guard. The three (man woman and the child) were manacled together and were told that they were to be taken to OSROWICE for trial. But they had only got a 100 metres when a burst of machine gun fire killed them. JETZ was the S.S. man's name. He searched the dead bodies and took away a wallet containing some photos documents and my sisters wrist watch. I had to witness all this from close quarters. On similar mothers used to pretend that they had nothing in common with the abduced children in order to avoid sudden death.
On the 17th March 1943 the Jewish camp inmates were transferred to STARACHOWICE to produce munitions in the Hermann Goering Works. On arrival there the men were sorted out and sent to a Forced Labour Camp at RADOM BLIZYN. We were accommodated in a barracks full of Typhus carrying lice. We had by this time no belongings and had to lie on the bare ground. Within three weeks nearly all of us had Typhus. No drugs were provided and the menu was Turnip Soup - daily. With temperatures exceeding 40.C (100.F) people tried to go out to work because at sick parades they used to kill off those not capable of running 100 metres.
No Roll Call passed without bloodshed. For instance at one roll call it was announced that a certain Jewess had been found guilty of stealing her comrades bread ration. She was called out from the parade and shot. Two extremely young and weak minded persons of the Guard were detailed to bury the body. They eased nature on the corpse first. The roll call parade was still assembled all this time.
As soon as I had recovered from Typhus I offered one of the guards my wrist watch and a diamond ring which I had risked clinging to and he smuggled me into the Radom Blizyn Camp. I became a typist on the staff there and found my husband and children in a wretched condition. They worked in a quarry with Tartar-like Ukranians as guards. Every day dead were brought back to the camp - victims of bullets or some of the dynamite charges that were used for blasting rock.
Twice a day at 6am and 6p.m. roll calls were held. Scourging was a very common diversion. My son was sentenced to 50 lashes because he was three minutes late for the Roll Call parade. He was held hand and foot by some of the camp police while two S.S. men, one on either side administered the blows on his bare backside. The boy's body bled for days.
On one morning all children below the age of fourteen were collected, taken into the woods and shot. This was supervised by the S.S. Troop Leader Leopold Mayer.
On January 1st 1944 the camp was taken over by an S.S. Group from Lublin. Our new Camp Commandant was S.S.Unter scharführer GOSBERG of Wuppertal. He took particular delight in calling youths to him on a bridge in the camp and throwing them over the parapet into the stream Kamienna. Any bespectacled inmate that he saw was liable to be stopped, his spectacle lens broken and crushed and the dust from the crushing blown into the unfortuneate person's eyes. He used to boast about his part in the evacuation of Warsaw - how he saved good ammunition by forcing Jews to jump to their death from a fourth floor window.
Menaced by the Russian advance we were moved by rail to the horror camp at AUSCHWITZ near Birkenau. The conditions at Auschwitz are well known. I will only mention that we were stripped, shaved head and body and given rags to put on. We were then beaten and addressed as 'Old Whores'. The S.S. women were perpetraters of acts we never experienced at the hands of the most sadistic S.S. Men.
Six weeks there as part of a gang dismantling the crematorium taught me what was beyond human conception. The crematorium was pulled down to try and hide traces of it's vile work.
The building was rather deceptive in appearance. It consisted of five chimneys, from their respective furnaces, looking from the outside rather like a laundry. The output of the establishment was 20 bodies every 10 minutes. The place was camouflaged to represent a sanatorium with a light railway line running into it for conveying sick persons too ill to walk. Inscriptions explained the passageways leading to the various departments - 'Waiting Room' - 'Clothing Room' - 'Bathroom'. The last mentioned room had a very big door like that of a bank safe. The bathroom was actually fitted out with shower sprays, but they were connected to gas pipes instead of water pipes.
Our colleagues forming part of the permanent staff of the building explained some of the routine details of the working to us. The 'Bathroom' was designed to cope with 2,000 people in 15 minutes. Small transports had to wait for hours on end and even days until the required number could be made up in order to conserve gas. The big majority of the victims were conscious of what was about to happen to them in spite of the elabourate camouflaging of the place. A detailed account of my knowledge of the place would fill a large volume.
On January 5th 45 we left for Hundsfeld, Breslau but en route Breslau was declared a fortress. We were diverted therefore and marched to GROSS ROSEN. In the midst of a haggard winter with only our striped cotton suits to wear - many died. We trudged along past many a corpse. Our guards shouted to civilians 'This is the lousy pestilence - they caused the war - they are to blame if you must flee before the Russians and leave your homes - Spit on them'
After a routine halt we were ordered to bury theose that had died during the halt. While we were lifting one of the bodies the poor soul moaned 'Leave me alone'. The S.S. Oberscharführer was unmoved by this and ordered us to proceed with the task. I was told 'Death won't be easy for you either'. Half of us arrived at Gross Rosen. And so we journeyed on to BUCHENWALD which proved to be full up - on to MAUTHAUSEN in Austria.
Mauthausen was a camp for 'Anti-Social' prisoners - They were the aristrocracy of prisoners in Germany.
Another five days and we were to go to BELSEN. This time we were to travel in a proper train. The trip lasted fifteen days due to Air Raid damage.
Details of BELSEN are only too well known I suppose. I suffered dreadful hunger. With only turnip soup as a ration we had to go on working for fourteen days. The usual sight - half dead bodies being forced to drag the dead ones to the crematorium. - Mental suffering exceeded even that of the body.
My husband and children had been torn from me at Birkenau and sent to Orienburg on October 26 1944. When looking at the corpses laid about I believed each one of them to be that of my husband. A fixed idea that goaded me into a frenzy.
After being liberated by the British I contrived to creep - I couldn't walk - into the men's lager. There I leaned the horrible truth that my husband had been there for five weeks and had died of starvation only three days before the English arrived.
My boys (aged now 18 and 20) were supposed to be at Ordruf camp but all reports that I have heard up to now indicate that when the area was liberated there was no camp there - only a big cemetery.
I am liberated, but then my life is crushed.
(signed) Jeanette Kaufmann
21 April 1945"