Unbeknown to me, on February 13, 1970, while I attended a history class on the Shoah at the the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, 1,300 miles to the north, my father testified in the German Consulate in New York City about his place in the Holocaust.
My dad, nor my mom, ever mentioned this trip to the City.
And now that they are long gone, I wondered, “Why did they fail to bring it up? I was not a kid. I was a Junior in college, studying about the horrors that my father witnessed and experienced.”
But eventually, I did learn about that day—50 years later in year 2020.
Thanks to Sari Siegel—a scholar, a historian and a professor—who emailed me a transcript of my dad’s testimony written in German.
And thanks to the excellent translation, by Alex Kurze of New York City, I studied the transcript and I learned about parts of my father’s life that I knew nothing about.
Sari provided me with a missing jigsaw puzzle piece for insertion into my dad’s puzzle board.
But for years, whenever I discovered new information about him, I knew that with each additional piece of the puzzle new questions arose.
“Why had German Republic asked my dad to testify in 1970?”
“What was their purpose?”
“Who was the accused?”
“What information did they want?”
“Why did he go?”
So for months, I mulled over what I read. I had to decide what to do with my dad’s testimony.
Publish it or to leave it buried in my computer’s hard drive.
I asked, “What would Dad tell me to do?”
“Mort, I leave it in your hands. It’s up to you. Whatever you think is best.”
But Dad, why present it now?
It’s 50 years since its transcription?
Will anyone be interested?
Will anyone care what you felt like, while testifying before German Consul in the German Consulate about your life under the Third Reich?
Will anybody want to read your testimony about the horrors of the Camps?
Will anyone care about what you endured for five years as a slave of the Nazis.
Finally, Dad, will anybody take the time to read your story?
Well, since my father left the decision in my hands, here it is.
My dad’s unedited testimony (with some editorial comments by the translator) before the German Consul.
New York, February 13th 1970
Negotiated on February 13th 1970 in the offices of the General Consulate of the FederalRepublic of Germany in New York, NY / USA.
Present: 1. Dr. Wolfgang Hoffmann Consul
2. Helga Doyle Secretary / Transcriber
In front of the signed, the consul to hear testimony of witnesses and with the power to swear in by oath, arriving on free will for the preliminary investigation regarding the Sub camp mp Parschnitz of the KL (Konzentrations-Lager = Concentration Camp) Gross-Rosen, pending at the central location in Ludwigsburg under the case file IV 405 AR 560/69, is the witness Dr. Wolf Laitner.
The witness has been familiarized with the matter of the interrogation, cautioned to tell the truth, made aware of the free will nature of his testimony as well as the significance of an untruthful testimony both under oath as well as not.
He explained about the person:
My name is Dr. Wolf Laitner (previously Lajtner), I was born April 2rd 1914 in Dombrowa/ Poland, I am a doctor, American citizen, married, and with the accused neither related or related by marriage. My address is Woodridge, NY PO Box 337, Tel. 914 434 6333
To the case:
In 1940 at first I was in the Labor Camp Geppersdorf in Upper Silesia. I was a doctor for three camps in the surrounding area. I was also in other miscellaneous camps, among others I was on the eastern front at the lane changeover of the Russian railroad.
In the year 1942 I came to Parschnitz. I was there for approximately one year. Parschnitz was at this time a forced labor camp. There were eight to ten smaller camps nearby, for which I was the doctor. One female supervisor always went with me from camp to camp.
Parschnitz was exclusively a women’s camp, there were roughly 300 girls. They had to work in the spinning mill. They were housed in an unused factory. At my time the camp was not surrounded by barbed wire. As far as I can recall guards were always women. There was no real guards for that matter. The women wore civilian clothes, I am not sure if they belonged to the SS.
I recall one women, Frau Hawlik. She was around 35 years old, she was pretty, a little taller than average, not thick, but also not slim. She was Volksdeutsche (Volksdeutsche were “people whose language and culture had German origins but who did not hold German citizenship”.) and seemingly married a Czech man in Parschnitz. She managed the camp Parschnitz as well as the smaller camps nearby. There was also another woman who had some decision-making power, but I cannot remember her name.
One time in Parschnitz I also saw Obersturmbannführer (Senior Assault Unit Leader) Lindner, of whom I knew that he selected girls in Sosnowitz to send to the Camp Parschnitz. I myself was from the area of Sosnowitz.
I made it out of Parschnitz, because I got news that my parents had been sent from the camp in Sosnowitz to the camp in Blechhammer. Because of that I also wanted to be there. One morning the order came. A police officer took me and four girls on a train. I was brought to Blechhammer. The four girls were also brought to Blechhammer. One of them had consumption, TB, another was mentally ill, the other two also had something. They were to be annihilated. I cannot say who selected these girls. I was not part of the selection. Frau Hawlik was likely the only one, who could have made that decision. The girls were definitely not selected at a large assembly, but suddenly one morning the order was given, and we departed without much attention. We travelled on a regular train.
Questioned regarding acts of killing: To my recollection there were no killings in Parschnitz.
There were, however, occasional beatings of inmates. Aside from the incident I mentioned, there were as far as I remember no selections of inmates incapable of work.
I cannot remember the name of the oldest of the Jews in Parschnitz. (Judenältesten, which literally translated means oldest of the Jews was the leader of the Judenrat which means as much as Jewish council. A Judenrat was a World War II administrative agency imposed by Nazi Germany on Jewish communities across occupied Europe, principally within the Nazi ghettos.)
She was from Stackowa/Poland.
I was in Blechhammer for four to six weeks. At the end of that time there was a large selection.3000 pregnant women, children and cripples were selected. Those girls were sent to Birkenau.
During my time in Blechhammer it was not yet a labor camp. I did a variety of jobs while there. I was then sent away with the transport among those 3000.
I had already been in the gas chamber in Birkenau. But a female friend of mine told an SS doctor that I was a doctor. He then pulled me back out of the gas chamber. I was then driven with an ambulance to Auschwitz, to block 13. That was the block where every morning executions took place. I thought, that I was also meant to be executed there. I asked the SS folks, what sense it made to pull me out of the gas chamber, only to execute me here. They took to my case and then sent me to the main camp in Auschwitz. At block 13, among others, I had to pile up the corpses of the shot. If you didn’t do it right, you were shot yourself.
I was brought from Auschwitz to Buna. There I had to work with cement. Once there was talk of using intellectuals to perform work in chemical factories. There I also had to work with cement bags.
The conditions in Camp Buna were very bad. There were a lot of beatings, there were many hangings, there was no food and work was hard. I cannot remember names of the German guarding personnel.
The last two months in Buna I worked as a helper in the hospital. I had it a little bit better there, I received one soup.
Every week in Buna at the assembly there was a selection. Inmates with swollen feet, fallen in cheeks and those with sores, were sent away. They were sent to Birkenau. This selection was carried out by the SS in the camp.
They were assisted by the Polish prisoner doctor Dr. Budcaszik, who was not a Jew.
In the hospital there were selections at irregular times intervals. That was maybe twice a month.
When there was an epidemic, and many were ill, it happened more often. If you spent four to five days in the hospital you were generally sent away. This selection was also carried out by the camp SS alongside Dr. Budcaszik.
At the end of 1944, I was brought from Buna to Buchenwald with a transport. I only stayed there a few weeks. Then I came to Camp Zwieberge near the town Langenstein near Halberstadt.
I arrived in Zwieberge in February 1945. On April 11th 1945 I was liberated there by the Americans. Zwieberge was the worst camp I had been in. There was no food. The inmates, gypsies, Russians and Poles often cut off the dead flesh from their thighs and ate it.
Zwieberge was an all men camp. When I arrived, there were maybe 3000 to 4000 inmates. The mortality rate was very high. Every day a few hundred died, were hanged or shot. At first the corpses were still buried. After a few weeks it was clear that the war was ending. You saw planes of the allies in the sky. At this time the corpses were no longer buried but lay around the camp.
After the liberation civilians of the surrounding area had to bury the dead.
Camp Zwieberge was made up of barracks. It was patrolled by guards on towers. The camp fence was electric. We were guarded by the SS and they escorted us to work. We worked deep in a ditch. I do not really know what was made there, I think maybe ammunition.
In the camp there was a row of big old trees with many branches. They had inmates hanging from them every day. For every small thing there was a penalty. I estimate that every day seven to eight inmates were hanged. If you came out of the barracks in the morning you saw the dead hanging there. There were no hangings at the assembly with “Judgement”.
I did not work in the hospital in Zwieberge. When I once mentioned that I was a doctor an SS-man almost beat me to death. I didn’t say anything after that.
I do not remember names of the German guard personnel. I didn’t know the names back then either. I was content, when they left me alone.
In the last days before the liberation, transports with inmates were put together and sent into the forest. I do not know if they were meant to be evacuated or if they were meant to be shot in the woods. There were always three or four SS men with a few hundred people. They had tripod mounted machine guns. The SS men, as far as I remember, did not return to the camp either.
When I was assigned to such a transport at the assembly, it was clear to me, that I could not march in my condition. Therefore, I ran away. An SS man shot after me with a revolver and yelled “Where are you running to, damn Jew”. I ran into a barrack with Belgians and French, they were not Jews. There I laid down on the floor. Nobody came to get me out. I was afraid that the next day the entire barrack would be taken out. But that didn’t happen. The SS of the camp ran away overnight. The next morning two SS men came back, who kept themselves upstanding.
They gave up rifles and backpacks and submitted themselves to the protection of the inmates. I also cannot give the names of these SS men.
Mr. Mordekai Blumenstein, who lives in Los Angeles today, was together with me in Camp Zwieberge.
After dictation approved and signed.
(Dr. Wolf Laitner)
(Dr. Wolfgang Hoffman)
Thanks for reading about my dad’s wartime experiences.
I know it was tough.
Remember by reading this transcript you may have just added a jigsaw puzzle piece to your life’s puzzle board. A piece painted in red and black with the words “Knowledge of the Shoah” engraved in yellow.