Dr. Wells says he worked in the "Death Brigade", the Sonderkommando 1005, at the Janowska camp in Poland.
The job of the Death Brigade was to dig up bodies of people murdered by the Nazis and erase all traces of the evidence.
They piled the bodies in heaps like a pyramid, sometimes up to 2,000 bodies.
The Nazi in charge of the Death Brigade would lead the jews to work in the morning dressed in a devil's costume, with a hook on his hand. He would force Jews to make up songs as they marched to work. He also had an orchestra made up of Jewish prisoners march alongside the Jews, and accompany them as they sang their songs.
After burning the bodies, they put the bones into a bone-grinding machine, and then the "Ash Commander" would have them toss the ashes into the air to make the ashes disappear.
While at work, they ate lunch on top of the corpses.
No word if Leon slept or hid in feces.
Leon died Dec 19, 2009 at the age of 84. He was was the only member of his whole family of 76 people, including all cousins, uncles, his parents and six siblings to survive the Holocaust.
A personal friend of Elie Wiesel, his fairytales are "universally considered classics of Holocaust literature."
The USHMM claims this is a bone-crushing machine used to grind human bones in order to obtain fertilizer in the Janowska concentration camp. Poland, August 1944.
kosher source: Nizkor
The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
(Part 2 of 5)
(2 May 1961)
Q. Now you were back at the Janowska camp?
A. We marched in, to music played by a big orchestra.
Q. What orchestra?
A. We had, in the concentration camp - also in the Julag we had an orchestra playing every morning and every evening, when we went out to work and when we returned from work and also when people were taken to be shot - the orchestra used to have to play. It was made up of Jewish prisoners in the concentration camp and the orchestra at Janowska once amounted to sixty people, sixty musicians.
Q. Who ordered this orchestra to be organized and to play?
A. I believe that in general, it was something more than an order given by a single man because it happened that also in the Julag - also afterwards in the Death Brigade, in the concentration camp where there were different leaders, in every place an orchestra was formed, so I don't believe it was a specific idea...due to a Wilhaus or some other, when they came and started at this time.
Q. Dr. Wells, before we go on, tell me - now you had seen all your family dead, you were now back in the Janowska camp - how could you stand it? How could you survive it? What gave you the will to go on?
A. It was the will of responsibility, that somebody had to remain to tell the world that it was the idea of the Nazis to kill all the Jews - so we had a responsibility somehow to withstand this idea and to be alive. There was not one of us, as will be shown later, that had any interest whether it was he or the second man; it was always: who will be the best to survive and the others will go to death - so as to feel that one man or at least somebody would survive out of all of this.
Q. Now on 15 June 1943, forty people were taken out of the Janowska camp allegedly for road-building. You were among them?
Q. But this was not for road-building. It was the Death Brigade. The Sonderkommando 1005 (Special Commando).
Q. What was the job of this Sonderkommando?
A. The job was to remove at any time traces of the murdering of the people by the Nazis.
Q. What did you have to do?
A. We used to uncover all the graves where there were people who had been killed during the past three years, take out the bodies, pile them up in tiers and burn these bodies; grind the bones, take out all the valuables in the ashes such as gold teeth, rings and so on - separate them. After grinding the bones we used to throw the ashes up in the air so that they would disappear, replace the earth on the graves and plant seeds, so that nobody could recognize that there ever was a grave there.
In addition to this they used to bring new people - new victims; they were shot there - undressed beforehand - we had to burn these new bodies too.
Q. There was a Brandmeister - (Chief Fireman) what did he do?
A. The Brigade was divided into different corps. There were, in the beginning one, afterwards two Brandmeister, there were two Zaehler (Counters), there was an ash commander, there were carriers and there were pullers, and also there were cleaners. The Brandmeister was in charge of the fire. When they put up a heap like a pyramid, sometimes up to 2,000 bodies - one had to watch out so that the fire didn't go out. He was in charge of this fire, while the Zaehler was keeping a count of how many bodies were burnt to check out with the original list - how many were killed, because sometimes if we uncovered a grave we were looking sometimes for hours for one body or more because it was buried on the side; there was an exact list of how many people were killed. So he kept the number of bodies burned and taken out of each grave.
Attorney General: And in the evening a report had to be given to the Untersturmfuehrer - is that so?
Witness Wells: Yes, to Untersturmfuehrer Scherlack and, in his absence, it was Hauptscharfuehrer Rauch.
Q. How was the form of the report?
A. The report was given over with the pencil and paper - because we couldn't have with us anything left - and it was forbidden for anybody to tell the number, and he had himself to forget. So that if the Hauptscharfuehrer or Untersturmfuehrer next morning asked: "How many were burned yesterday?", he couldn't any more tell. He had to say: "I forgot."
Q. Tell me, how many hours did you work - burning corpses like that? How many hours a day?
A. Some days - eight; some days - ten hours; but normally it was an eight-hour day because here, all the Schutzpolizei and the SD men had to be on the job with us all day. When they finished work - we could go back.
Q. Were you fed while you were working? Did you get any food?
A. We got a lot of food.
Q. Where did you eat? Amongst the corpses?
A. On the corpses.
Q. On the corpses themselves?
A. Yes, on the corpses.
Q. Now 21st May, do you remember? This year...gravestones from the Jewish cemetery arrived - the Jewish cemetery of Lvov. Do you remember?
A. It wasn't 21st May.
Q. 21st June. I'm sorry - 21st June, 1943.
A. There arrived from the gravestones - we weighed them out and made a place for the Brandstelle (Burning Site) and the Aschkolonne (Ash Column).
Q. What was the work of the...no - we'll leave that. You tell me that you collected the gold and so on - can you give the Court an idea how much it came to a day?
A. Some days it came up to 8-10 kilos gold, when it was only from bodies. But when they used to bring new people - like if they brought 2,000 or 1,500 people - the amount of gold and rings and also money would be much more. But on some days, only from corpses, we used to get about eight to ten kilos a day.
Q. How was the murder of those who arrived alive at the fires carried out?
A. It depends. For example - at one time there arrived only two or three hundred people, or at other times there arrived 1,500 or 2,000 or 2,500 people. When, for example, arrived 24 of the girls from the concentration camp - on 26 August 1943 - after the night that they spent with the SS people - they were picked from the concentration camp. When they were offered to stay with the SS people - some of the girls started to run away and were taken this time right away to the fires. This time they were standing on the trucks; the trucks backed up to the fires and they were standing at the edge of the truck. Every one of them got a shot in the neck and was then kicked so that she fell straight into the fire.
Q. Who shot them?
A. One of the SS people always - whoever was available that morning.
When on Tuesday, 29 June, 275 people came in they were shot by setting them up in 25 with the machine gun. After the first 25 stepped in, the next 25 stepped in. With these 275 that were shot on 29 June 1943, on Tuesday, it explained one thing that we found before some graves where it didn't seem to us that the people were shot...but with their tongues out and open mouths it was more like suffocated people and it told us how these people were buried alive. Because when we came out to burn the bodies we found that some of them were only slightly injured due to the machine gun taking 25 people in one shot...so some of them were slightly injured in the arm and they fell down and above them the other people. So it happened at this night when we picked up a body and put it in the fire, at the last moments these bodies started to scream - yell aloud because it was still alive.
Q. So you were provided with hooks by the commanders of the Commando?
Q. And with gasoline and oil?
A. Gasoline and oil and wood, piles of wood, and a grinding machine.
Q. And you had to do your job very carefully and very efficiently so that nothing should be left of the bodies?
A. Yes, it was necessary to look on the ground for any hair, a piece of bone that was left and even a piece of paper, everything was burned.
Presiding Judge: What was a grinding machine?
Witness Wells: It was like a cement machine that was running and in it big heavy steel balls and the bones were put in from one way and when these balls were...
Presiding Judge: The bones or the bodies?
Witness Wells: So the steel balls were hitting bones. First the fire burned the bones and some of the parts of the body were burned to ashes. These went to the ash column and the ash column sifted through what was remaining in the sieves. The sieves were like sieves we use for flour, to sift flour. And what was left in these sieves was put into the grinding machine and the grinding machine ground them and again got out what was left over, and gold or platinum was in it. These were picked up and afterwards went to the grinding machine. It was a year and a month later when I uncovered also the grave where they looked for the 182nd body which had to be there.
Attorney General: May I ask the Court for the witness' book. I should like him to identify a number of pictures.
Presiding Judge: I didn't understand your last reply, Dr. Wells.
Witness Wells: It was in July, at the end of June 1943 I dug up the grave where I had to be buried the year ahead when I escaped among the 182 people.
Presiding Judge: I see.
Witness Wells: And they were looking that they were missing a body, and we looked about two days for a missing body.
Attorney General: Who had lists of the bodies?
Witness Wells: I don't know who had the list, but it always came. They often, one of the SD people will uncover, it will be exactly the location of the grave...and we will even go and it will be said from this corner you will have to measure six steps, right, south, east and so on. We measured and here we started to make the grave. It was also written how many people had to be in this grave.
Q. And they knew how many bodies were there exactly?
A. Exactly, because we were looking to fit this number with the Zaehler.
Q. There are some illustrations in your book, some pictures taken of the brigade during its work - how did you get those pictures?
A. These pictures weren't supplied by me - they were supplied by the Historical Commission in Poland...
Presiding Judge: But that's how it looked - just look at it.
Witness Wells: That's how it looked.
Presiding Judge: Do you know how the photographs got to this Commission?
Witness Wells: No.
Attorney General: Now, when you went to work in the morning and came back in the evening, you say you had to sing?
Witness Wells: We had to make up songs and sing while we were going to work, and also the Brandmeister would march in front, he was clothed like a devil; he had a special uniform with the hook in his hand and we had to march after him and sing. Afterwards we were also joined by an orchestra which would play as we sang and accompany us on our march to work.
Q. Sometimes people in the brigade identified bodies of their relatives?
A. Yes. Even more - I remember the name Mr. Brill - he was in his late forties at this time...He was taken to the concentration camp, to the Death Brigade; and he was brought together with his two young daughters, one of sixteen and one of eighteen. They were shot and he was put into the Death Brigade, and an hour later, while they were still warm, he himself had to put them in the fire.
Q. Let us continue. Do you remember Tuesday, 29th June?
A. Yes, I mentioned those 275...
Q. Now tell me - how long did a man in such a brigade usually live?
A. Normally, by order... we were told that after eight to ten days we had to be exchanged - we would be shot and another group would come; so when visiting SD men came over to the Death Brigade and asked us how long we had been there it was forbidden for us to say that we had been longer than six, eight, up to eight or ten days - no longer...