Auschwitz held 'show trials' until just before liberation

EXCLUSIVE: Even as Red Army was closing in, Jews were sentenced to lashes, death for 'criminal offenses'.

auschwitz 298.88 (photo credit: )
auschwitz 298.88
(photo credit: )
Three weeks before the liberation of Auschwitz, the Germans continued to carry out show trials of the few Jewish inmates who had been selected to work in and around the death camp and had managed to survive, according to newly-found Nazi legal documents. The documents, uncovered at the Ghetto Fighters House at Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot, show that in addition to killing Jews upon their arrival at Auschwitz, until its liberation by the Soviet Army the Nazis continued to systematically try Jewish inmates. Most were killed in a matter of days, for various "criminal infractions" such as acquiring bread from non-Jewish workers. The stamped and signed documents show how systematic the Nazis were in carrying out show trials and punishments even as they prepared to destroy the gas chambers and flee the camp ahead of the advancing Red Army, museum archive director Yossi Shavit said last week. "Such was their madness that they were trying people whom they would be murdering in a few days," Shavit said. While the vast majority of Jews who arrived at the camp were immediately gassed, a small number of the most physically fit and skilled prisoners were sent to work in and near the death camp. The 13 legal documents uncovered, which include the names of the Jewish victims as well as their "offenses," are dated between November 1942 and January 1945. Yellowed and tattered with age, the court protocols include a mix of indictments and sentences of Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz and at the Blecheimer and Monovitch labor camps. Mendel Fikman, for example, was tried together with 14 other prisoners for causing the destruction of three hoses and was sentenced in November 1942 to six weeks of standing in solitary confinement. Jewel Kamienski was sentenced to 10 days in solitary confinement in May 1943 after food was found in his possession. One court document refers to the trial of Eliezer Papo, who tried to hide a diamond ring, while another to that of Max Ostrowiak, after 10 marks were found in his possession. The May 1944 documents read, "Demands heavy punishment." Another document asks for a "severe punishment" for Chaim Zelianski, whose shirt was stolen. Josef Lajtner was given 25 lashes for selling a diamond to a non-Jewish worker for 500 marks, money he used to buy food. Josef Potok was sentenced to 15 lashes after 10.5 marks were found in his possession, while Michel Patron received the same sentence for trading copper coins he made to non-Jewish French prisoners for bread. Jacob Mandel and Nuchim Piwnik were given 20 lashes each for stealing money from a superior and buying eggs from a non-Jewish inmate. In one of the final documents, dated October 6, 1944, an "appropriate punishment" is asked for Henry Nazewsky for buying eggs from a Polish inmate. The last legal document in the collection is dated January 2, 1945 - three weeks before the camp was liberated - asking for a "severe punishment" against Natan Prochownik after food and cigarettes were found in his possession.