Testimony of Abram Suzkever

Abram Suzkever, a witness to Einsatzgrruppen atrocities in Vilna, was examined by L. N. Smirnov.

[Testimony on February 27, 1946]

SMIRNOV: You stayed in this town for a long time during the German occupation?

SUZKEVER: I stayed there from the first to nearly the last day of the occupation.

SMIRNOV: You witnessed the persecution of the Jews in that city?


SMIRNOV: I would like you to tell the Court about this.

SUZKEVER: When the Germans seized my city, Vilna, about 80,000 Jews lived in the town.  Immediately the so-called Sonderkommando was set up at 12 Vilenskaia Street, under the command of Schweichenberg and Martin Weiss.  The man-hunters of the Sonderkommandos, or as the Jews called them, the "Khapun," broke into the Jewish houses at any time of day or night, dragged away the men, instructing them to take a piece of soap and a towel, and herded them into certain buildings near the village of Ponari, about eight kilometers from Vilna.  From there hardly one returned.  When the Jews found out that their kin were not coming back, a large part of the population went into hiding.  However, the Germans tracked them with police dogs.  Many were found, and any who were averse to going with them were shot on the spot.

I have to say that the Germans declared that they were exterminating the Jewish race as though legally.

On 8 July an order was issued which stated that all Jews should wear a patch on their back; afterwards they were ordered to wear it on their chest.  This order was signed by the commandant of the town of Vilna, Zehnpfennig.  But two days later some other commandant named Neumann issued a new order that they should not wear these patches but must wear the yellow Star of David.

SMIRNOV: And what does this yellow Star of David mean?

SUZKEVER: It was a six-pointed patch wom on the chest and on the back, in order to distinguish the Jews from the other inhabitants of the town.  On another day they were ordered to wear a blue band with a white star.  The Jews did not know which insignia to wear as very few lived in the town.  Those who did not wear this sign were immediately arrested and never seen again....

In the first days of August 1941 a German seized me in the Dokumenskaia Street.  I was then going to visit my mother. The German said to me, "Come with me, you will act in the circus." As I went along I saw that another German was driving along an old Jew, the old rabbi of this street, Kassel, and a third German was holding a young boy.  When we reached the old synagogue on this street I saw that wood was piled up there in the shape of a pyramid.  A German drew out his revolver and told us to take off our clothes.  When we were naked, he lit a match and set fire to this stack of wood.  Then another German brought out of the synagogue three scrolls of the Torah, gave them to us, and told us to dance around this bonfire and sing Russian songs.  Behind us stood the three Germans; with their bayonets they forced us toward the fire and laughed.  When we were almost unconscious, they left.

I must say that the mass extermination of the Jewish people in Vilna began at the moment when District Commissar Hans Fincks arrived, as well as the referant, or reporter on the Jewish problems, Muhrer. On 31 August, under the direction of District Commissioner Fincks and Muhrer ...

THE PRESIDENT: Which year?



SUZKEVER: Under the direction of Fincks and Muhrer, the Germans surrounded the old Jewish quarter of Vilna, taking in Rudnitskaia and Jewish Streets, Galonsky Alley, the Shabelsky and Strashouna Streets, where some 8 to 10 thousand Jews were living.

I was ill at the time and asleep.  Suddenly I felt the lash of a whip on me. When I jumped up from my bed I saw Schweichenberg standing in front of me.  He had a big dog with him.  He was beating everybody and shouting that we must all run out into the courtyard.  When I was out in the courtyard, I saw there many women, children, and aged persons all the Jews who lived there. Schweichenberg had the Sonderkommando surround all this crowd and said that they were taking us to the ghetto.  But of course, like all their statements, this was also a lie.  We went through the town in columns and were led toward Lutishcheva Prison.  All knew that we were going to our death.  When we arrived at Lutishcheva Prison, near the so-called Lutishkina market, I saw a whole double line of German soldiers with white sticks standing there to receive us.  While we had to pass between them they beat us with sticks. if a Jew fell down, the one next to him was told to pick him up and carry him through the large prison gates which stood open.  Near the prison I took to my heels.  I swam across the River Vilia and hid in my mother's house....

On 6 September at 6 o'clock in the morning thousands of Germans, led by District Commissar Fincks, by Muhrer, Schweichenberg, Martin Weiss, and others, surrounded the whole town, broke into the Jewish houses, and told the inhabitants to take only that which they could carry off in their hands and get out into the street.  Then they were driven off to the ghetto. When they were passing by Wilkomirowskaia Street where I was, I saw the Germans had brought sick Jews from the hospitals. They were all in blue hospital gowns.  They were all forced to stand while a German newsreel operator, who was driving in front of the column, filmed this scene.

I must say that not all the Jews were driven into the ghetto.   Fincks had set up two ghettos in Vilna.  In the first were 29,000 Jews, and in the second some 15,000 Jews.  About half the Jewish population of Vilna never reached the ghetto; they were shot on the way.  I remember how, when we arrived at the ghetto ...

SMIRNOV: Just a moment, Witness. Did I understand you correctly, that before the ghetto was set up, half the Jewish population of Vilna was already exterminated?

SUZKEVER: Yes, that is right When I arrived at the ghetto I saw the following scene: Martin Weiss came in with a young Jewish girl.  When we went in farther, he took out his revolver and shot her on the spot.  The girl's name was Gitele Tarlo.

SMIRNOV: Tell us, how old was this girl?

SUZKEVER: Eleven.  I must state that the Germans organized the ghetto only to exterminate the Jewish population with greater ease. The head of the ghetto was the expert on Jewish questions, Muhrer, and he issued a series of mad orders.  For instance, Jews were forbidden to wear watches.  The Jews could not pray in the ghetto.  When a German passed by, they had to take off their hats but were not allowed to look at him.. .. At the end of December 1941 an order was issued in the ghetto which stated that the Jewish women must not bear children.

SMIRNOV: I would like you to tell us how, or in what form, this order was issued by the German fascists.

SUZKEVER:  Muhrer came to the hospital in Street Number 6 and said that an order had come from Berlin to the effect that Jewish women should not bear children and that if the Germans found out that a Jewish woman had given birth, the child would be exterminated.

Towards the end of December in the ghetto my wife gave birth to a child, a boy.  I was not in the ghetto at that time, having escaped from one of these so-called "actions." When I came to the ghetto later I found that my wife had had a baby in a ghetto hospital.  But I saw the hospital surrounded by Germans and a black car standing before the door.  Schweichenberg was standing near the car, and the hunters of the Sonderkommando were dragging sick and old people out of the hospital and throwing them like logs into the truck.  Among them I saw the well known Jewish writer and editor, Grodnensky, who was also dragged and dumped into this truck.

In the evening when the Germans had left, I went to the hospital and found my wife in tears.  It seems that when she had her baby, the Jewish doctors of the hospital had already received the order that Jewish women must not give birth; and they had hidden the baby, together with other newborn children, in one of the rooms.  But when this commission with Muhrer came to the hospital, they heard the cries of the babies.  They broke open the door and entered the room.  When my wife heard that the door had been broken, she immediately got up and ran to see what was happening to the child.  She saw one German holding the baby and smearing something under its nose.  Afterwards he threw it on the bed and laughed.  When my wife picked up the child, there was something black under his nose.  When I arrived at the hospital, I saw that my baby was dead.  He was still warm....

Shortly afterwards the second ghetto was liquidated, and the German newspaper in V'ilna announced that the Jews from this
district had died of an epidemic....

SMIRNOV:  Please, Witness, I am interested in the following question: You said that at the beginning of the German occupation 80,000 Jews lived in Vilna.  How many remained after the German occupation?

SUZKEVER: After the occupation about 600 Jews remained.

SMIRNOV: Thus, 79,400 persons were exterminated?


SMIRNOV: Your Honors, I have no further questions to ask of the witness.

THE PRESIDENT:  Does any other Chief Prosecutor want to ask any questions?

MAXWELL-FYFE: No questions.

DODD: No questions.

THE PRESIDENT: Does any member of the defendants' counsel wish to ask any questions?  No?  Then the witness can retire.

[The witness left the stand.]