Testimony of Marie Claude Vaillant-Couturier

Marie Claude-Valliant-Couturier, a former member of the French Resistance who spent three years at Auschwitz, provided the following testimony concerning atrocities she observed at the camp.  She was examined by French prosecutor, Charles Dubost.

[Testimony on January 28, 1946]

MME.  VAILLANT-COUTURIER: ... [W]e saw the unsealing of the cars and the soldiers letting men, women, and children out of them.  We then witnessed heart-rending scenes; old couples forced to part from each other, mothers made to abandon their young daughters, since the latter were sent to the camp, whereas mothers and children were sent to the gas chambers.  All these people were unaware of the fate awaiting them. They were merely upset at being separated, but they did not know that they were going to their death.  To render their welcome more pleasant at this time--June to July 1944--an orchestra composed of internees, all young and pretty girls dressed in little white blouses and navy blue skirts, played during the selection, at the arrival of the trains, gay tunes such as " The Merry Widow," the "Barcarolle" from "The Tales of Hoffman," and so forth.  They were then informed that this was a labor camp and since they were not brought into the camp they saw only the small platform surrounded by flowering plants.  Naturally, they could not realize what was in store for them.  Those selected for the gas chamber, that is, the old people, mothers, and children, were escorted to a red-brick building.

M. DUBOST: These were not given an identification number?


DUBOST: They were not tattooed?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: No. They were not even counted.

DUBOST: You were tattooed?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Yes, look. [The witness showed her arm.]  They were taken to a red brick building, which bore the letters "Baden," that is to say "Baths." There, to begin with, they were made to undress and given a towel before they went into the so-called shower room.  Later on, at the time of the large convoys from Hungary, they had no more time left to play-act or to pretend; they were brutally undressed, and I know these details as I knew a little Jewess from France who lived with her family at the 'Republique" district.

DUBOST: In Paris?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER:  In Paris.  She was called "little Marie" and she was the only one, the sole survivor of a family of nine.  Her mother and her seven brothers and sisters had been gassed on arrival.  When I met her she was employed to undress the babies before they were taken into the gas chamber.  Once the people were undressed they took them into a room, which was somewhat like a shower room, and gas capsules were thrown through an opening in the ceiling.  An SS man would watch the effect produced through a porthole.  At the end of 5 or 7 minutes, when the gas had completed its work, he gave the signal to open the doors; and men with gas masks-they too were internees-went into the room and removed the corpses.  They told us that the internees must have suffered before dying, because they were closely clinging to one another and it was very difficult to separate them.
After that a special squad would come to pull out gold teeth and dentures; and again, when the bodies had been reduced to ashes, they would sift them in an attempt to recover the gold.
At Auschwitz there were eight crematories but, as from 1944, these proved insufficient. The SS had large pits dug by the internees, where they put branches, sprinkled with gasoline, which they set on fire.  Then they threw the corpses into the pits.  From our block we could see after about three-quarters of an hour or an hour after the arrival of a convoy, large flames coming from the crematory, and the sky was lighted up by the burning pits.
One night we were awakened by terrifying cries.  And we discovered, on the following day, from the men working in the Sonderkommando - the "Gas Kommando" - that on the preceding day, the gas supply having run out, they had thrown the children into the furnaces alive.

 DUBOST: Can you tell us about the selections that were made at the beginning of winter?

 VAILLANT-COUTURIER: ... During Christmas 1944-no, 1943, Christmas 1943-when we were in quarantine, we saw, since we lived opposite Block 25, women brought to Block 25 stripped naked.  Uncovered trucks were then driven up and on them the naked women were piled, as many as the trucks could hold.  Each time a truck started, the infamous Hessler ... ran after the truck and with his bludgeon repeatedly struck the naked women going to their death.  They knew they were going to the gas chamber and tried to escape.  They were massacred.  They attempted to jump from the truck and we, from our own block, watched the trucks pass by and heard the grievous wailing of all those women who knew they were going to be gassed.  Many of them could very well have lived on, since they were suffering only from scabies and were, perhaps, a little too undernourished....
Since the Jewesses were sent to Auschwitz with their entire families and since they had been told that this was a sort of ghetto and were advised to bring all their goods and chattels along, they consequently brought considerable riches with them.  As for the jewesses from Salonika, I remember that on their arrival they were given picture postcards bearing the post office address of "Waldsee," a place which did not exist; and a printed text to be sent to their families, stating, "We are doing very well here; we have work and we are well treated.  We await your arrival.  I myself saw the cards in question; and the Schreiberinnen, that is, the secretaries of the block, were instructed to distribute them among the internees in order to post them to their families.  I know that whole families arrived as a result of these postcards.

[Cross-examination by Dr. Hanns Marx, attorney for Julius Streicher:]

DR. HANNS MARX: ... Madame Couturier, you declared that you were arrested by the French police?


MARX: For what reason were you arrested ?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Resistance.  I belonged to a resistance movement.

MARX: Another question: Which position did you occupy?  I mean what kind of post did you ever hold?  Have you ever held a post?


MARX: For example, as a teacher?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Before the war?  I don't quite see what this question has to do with the matter.  I was a journalist.

MARX: Yes. The fact of the matter is that you, in your statement, showed great skill in style and expression; and I should like to know whether you held any position such, for example, as teacher or lecturer.

VAILLANT-COUTURIER:  No. I was a newspaper photographer.

MARX: How do you explain that you yourself came through these experiences so well and are now in such a good state of health?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: First of all, I was liberated a year ago; and in a year one has time to recover.  Secondly, I was 10 months in quarantine for typhus and I had the great luck not to die of exanthematic typhus, although I had it and was ill for 31/2 months.  Also, in the last months at Ravensbrhck, as I knew German, I worked on the Revier roll call,2 which explains why I did not have to work quite so hard or to suffer from the inclemencies of the weather.  On the other hand, out of 230 of us only 49 from my convoy returned alive; and we were only 52 at the end of 4 months.  I had the great fortune to return.

MARX: Yes.  Does your statement contain what you yourself observed or is it concerned with information from other sources as well?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Whenever such was the case I mentioned it in my declaration.  I have never quoted anything, which has not previously been verified at the sources and by several persons, but the major part of my evidence is based on personal experience.

MARX: How can you explain your very precise statistical knowledge, for instance, that 700,000 Jews arrived from Hungary?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I told you that I have worked in the offices; and where Auschwitz was concerned, I was a friend of the secretary (the Oberaufseherin), whose name and address I gave to the Tribunal.

MARX: It has been stated that only 350,000 Jews came from Hungary, according to the testimony of the Chief of the Gestapo, Eichmann.

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I am not going to argue with the Gestapo.  I have good reasons to know that what the Gestapo states is not always true.

 MARX: How were you treated personally?  Were you treated well?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: Like the others.

 MARX: Like the others?  You said before that the German people must have known of the happenings in Auschwitz. What are your grounds for this statement?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I have already told you: To begin with there was the fact that when we left, the Lorraine soldiers of the Wehrmacht who were taking us to Auschwitz said to us, "If you knew where you were going, you would not be in such a hurry to get there." Then there was the fact that the German women who came out of quarantine to go to work in German factories knew of these events, and they all said that they would speak about them outside.
Further, the fact that in all the factories where the Hafflinge (the internees) worked they were in contact with the German civilians, as also were the Aufseherinnen, who were in touch with their friends and families and often told them what they had seen.

MARX: One more question.  Up to 1942 you were able to observe the behavior of the German soldiers in Paris.  Did not these German soldiers behave well throughout and did they not pay for what they took?

VAILLANT-COUTURIER: I have not the least idea whether they paid or not for what they requisitioned.  As for their good behavior, too many of my friends were shot or massacred for me not to differ with you.

MARX: I have no further question to put to this witness.

[The witness left the stand.]