Pinchas Epstein - Czestochowa to Treblinka

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Pinchas Epstein left with Michal Chocolaty - Israel 2008 (Michal Chocolaty)

Pinchas Epstein was born on March 3, 1925, in Czestochowa, Poland, from where he was deported on September 22, 1942. On arrival at the Treblinka death camp he was selected to live, and when his brother David tried to join him, an SS -man hit him with the butt of his rifle and killed him. Pinchas witnessed the incident. After only a few days in the Lower Camp he was assigned to the Upper Camp, the so-called 'Totenlager' where he carried corpses from the gas chambers to the burial pits.

After the prisoner revolt on August 2, 1943, he escaped and returned to Czestochowa. Using false documents he was employed as a labourer in Germany. In July 1948, he settled in Israel, and in 1978, he gave evidence at the Fedor Federenko De-naturalization hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. He also appeared as a witness at the Ivan Demjanjuk Trial in Jerusalem in 1987. Pinchas Epstein died in Israel during 2010. 

From the above mentioned Federenko hearing, Pinchas gave an account of his deportation from Czestochowa and arrival at the Treblinka death camp. What follows is an extract of his witness testimony:

We were all commanded to gather in a large area that was formerly the general bus station. When a lot of people, Jews had been gathered in that area, we had been divided into groups of five, and taken to a train. To a section of the train station where passengers are not normally taken, accompanied by SS and Ukrainian guards.

How long had the SS and Ukrainian guards been at Czestochowa?

As for the Ukrainians, I saw them only at the time of this so-called 'Aktion,' not before that.

You saw the Ukrainians only when it was time to load you on the transports and not before that?

They accompanied us from the former bus station to the train station.

And was the first time you saw the Ukrainians ever in Czestochowa at the bus station?

The first time I saw the Ukrainian guards in my home town was that night when we were all awoken.

How long had the Germans been in your home town to that night?

I had seen no Germans in my town prior to that Yom Kippur

Prior to that night?

The first time I saw Ukrainian guards and German SS in my home town was the night of this 'Aktion.'

Did your town of Czestochowa work or perform certain duties for the Germans prior to that date?

Unknown to me. There were individuals in my town who worked for the Germans on the trains, clearing out the coke on the trains

The Coke?

The coals more correctly.

And these friends were Jewish?

Yes they were Jewish

Prior to this particular night that we have discussed were you or was the community of Czestochowa guarded by anyone of any nationality?

The Interpreter: The witness would like to explain what a ghetto is in this connection

Was Czestochowa a ghetto?


Please explain?

The ghetto was a section of the town set off for Jews with very distinct and defined boundaries. It was forbidden to go beyond these boundaries. Inside the ghetto, per se, there were no German guards.

Were you in that area, this ghetto area, inside these boundaries?

Yes I was inside

And what prevented you from going past these boundaries?

It was absolutely forbidden to leave the defined boundaries. There were signs throughout which said, 'Jews, anyone leaving will be put to death.'

By whom?

By the Germans

Were the Germans there?

Yes there were Germans outside of the ghetto

So you did see Germans before that particular night at the bus station?

Yes I saw Germans outside the ghetto while i was inside

Did you see any other nationalities outside the ghetto?

The Interpreter: The witness wants to know if you are referring to military personnel or just other nationalities

Mr Pomeroy: Guards, military personnel

Were there Jewish police inside the ghetto?

Correct, there were

And who selected these Jewish police inside the ghetto?

i don't know

What did these Jewish police do?

They were in charge of keeping general order

Who did they answer to?

That's unknown to me also

Were there Polish police or Polish guards in the ghetto or around the ghetto?

Inside the ghetto, there were no Polish officials

Were there any outside the ghetto?

Unknown to me

Was everybody taken out of Czestochowa in one night, or were there periods where different groups of people were removed over a period of time?

It was arranged by the streets and areas, one at a time

Was all this accomplished in one night, or over a period of days?

I can only speak from my own experience. I was taken out that first night and others were left.

And that night you were taken out, is that the first night anyone was taken out of Czestochowa to your knowledge?

That was absolutely the first incident in this town and i was among the first.

You stated that people were taken out on the basis of streets, who made the determination as to what people were taken out, what streets?

I have no knowledge of that

When your area was chosen to be removed, did German guards, or any other guards, come into your area to remove the people? Did they come into the ghetto?

That night Germans and Ukrainians. Ukrainian guards came into my street and rang all the bells at the courtyard of each apartment house and forced everyone to leave immediately.

Were you told where you were going?

First we were all assembled on the block and later we were marched to the old bus station as a group.

Were you told where you were going before boarding the transports?


Up until that time that you boarded the transports, were you and your family together?

Yes, i was together with my family until we boarded the train.

Did the Jewish police assist in escorting you to the trains and boarding you on the trains?


Were any of the Jewish police boarded on the trains with you?

I personally didn't see any Jewish police on the trains

Did any guards of any nationality accompany the train to Treblinka?

Yes, i saw some Ukrainians. I'd like to elaborate on this point.

Please do

That first night on the way to Treblinka, two Jews succeeded in breaking open the bars that were on the window at the top part of the railroad car, cattle car. Apparently the guards sensed what was up. The train stopped and the door was opened. They started screaming at us and threatening us and at that point, i saw Ukrainian guards. They threatened us by saying if someone - if anyone among us tries to flee or to break out, we will all be shot dead.

Did they shoot the men that were trying to break out?

It's my hope that they succeeded in getting out

Did the guards shoot the men that were attempting to break out?

They did shoot, but whether they hit them, I have no way of knowing

When the train was stopped on the way to Treblinka because the two men had escaped and the doors were opened, how do you know those were Ukrainians at the door? It was at night, was it not?

They had flashlights, that they shined on us at night and in that process, the light lit them up as well. And another point they were speaking Ukrainian.

Do you understand Ukrainian?

I speak Polish fluently and as a result of that, I understand some Ukrainian, which is similar, and I can identify Ukrainian.

When you were asked earlier, you testified that you don't understand Ukrainian, is that correct?

Mr. Boswell: I object. I think he said he did understand some Ukrainian. He gave a different answer.

The Court: I'm not sure what question you are referring to.

Mr Pomeroy: On direct examination he testified that he did not understand Ukrainian?

I'd like to clarify that.

Please do

In Ukrainian, he said:

The Witness: Ja was ubije

And in Polish?

The Witness: Ja was zabije

I think the Polish saying is almost the same

Isn't it almost the same?

The Witness: Ja was ubije- ja was zabije

Doesn't it seem almost the same, that there's a great similarity?

What does it mean in Polish?

I will kill you

How many Ukrainian guards did you see at the door of the transport when the train was stopped?

I saw two

Did you ever see these guards again after that night?


How long was the trip from Czestochowa to Treblinka?

Around twenty-four hours

Did you stop any more than that one time that you told us about?

Yes the train did stop a number of times

When you got to Treblinka and the doors to your car was opened, what was the first thing you saw outside?

I saw two bodies with their heads split open and their brains lying out on the ground.

The Interpreter: The witness asked what also are you referring to?

Where were those two bodies in relationship to your car, to the doors?

Right in front of the doors, about ten meters in front of me.

And what else did you see, looking out?

Are you referring in general or in terms of people?

Please just tell me everything you saw looking out that door, as far as people, buildings etc?

I saw Ukrainians, SS men and barracks

All right, can you tell me approximately how many Ukrainians and how many SS you saw?

I can't say how many

Alright. What colour were the uniforms of the Ukrainians?

I recall that they were black

Do you know if these were the same Ukrainians that accompanied your train from Czestochowa?

That's unknown to me.

Did you see Mr. Federenko standing there waiting on that date?


What were these Ukrainians and SS doing when you saw them?

They were screaming at us, 'Get out of the trains,' commanded us, ordered us to be seated, to sit down.

Was this in German or Ukrainian?

The Interpreter: I am clarifying

The Germans were screaming in German and the Ukrainians gave hand signals and screaming

Screaming in German or Ukrainian?

Yes, they were screaming in Ukrainian and giving us hand signals where to sit and where to move

Alright, were you told to sit in the transport or were you removed from the transport and told to sit?


How many cars were with your transport?

I don't know

Were there other cars, other than your car?


Were they all told to sit, as well?


At this time, did you see anybody whipped, beaten or shot?

I saw people being beaten.

How long did you remain seated before something else happened?

I remained seated a very short time, maybe two minutes

Were you told anything by the guards? Given any instructions other than to be seated?


Who was the SS man who passed in front of you and pointed out people to be set aside?

I don't know him. I didn't know who he was. I don't know him

Okay, did you ever see him again?


Where did you see him again?

In the camp

Numerous times?

I was in that camp for three days and during that period I continued to see him

And this is the same SS man who you claim struck and killed your brother?

That's correct

What did you do when this man struck and killed your brother?

I was in extreme shock and I burst out into crying

Did you make any attempt to stop this SS man or to retaliate against this SS man?


Was that because you knew you would be killed?

i knew. I sensed that i would be tortured if I did anything and I wanted to add to that, if I could have been assured that I would have been killed with a bullet, I would have retaliated: but I knew that I would have been tortured bitterly and cruelly, and therefore I restrained myself from doing anything.

Had you seen anyone up to this time been tortured?

Torturing took place every day, every hour

At Treblinka?

At Treblinka

Up until this point, had you seen any torturing?


All right. What happened to you after you were set aside by this SS man?

I and the group I was with were ordered into a barracks to disrobe

How many were in the group you were with?

Fifteen, perhaps twenty men

Were you escorted to this barracks?

Would you be good enough to rephrase the question?

Did guards accompany you to this barracks?

Yes, there was a guard accompanying us to the barracks and made us undress

Was that guard German or Ukrainian?


Do you know who he is?


What happened after you were made to undress?

I could clarify it. We were not forced to get undressed. My group was not forced to undress. The rest of the people from the train were forced to undress.

What happened to you when you went to this barracks?

We were ordered to take the clothes that they had undressed and to take them from this barracks to another barracks. That was our job.

Were you ordered to search the clothes?

That wasn't our job.

And did the same German guard continue to supervise you as you carried the clothes back and forth or carried the clothes?

In that area there were many German guards and Ukrainian guards in a very limited area.

And you continued to perform this duty of carrying clothes for three days?


Did you have any other duties besides carrying clothes during those three days?

There were few occasions when i was required to accompany or to lead an old lady or deformed person to the Lazarett.

Is that from the transport?

Not from the transport that I arrived on, but from another or other transports

And what happened on these occasions when you got to the Lazarett with these people?

On one occasion when I arrived at the Lazarett, I saw these two infants who didn't know how to crawl.

The Interpreter: I am trying to clarify a difficulty with a word

The infants were covered with burns from the Lazarett all over their bodies, completely covered with burns. I was terrified of what I saw in the Lazarett. I left the old lady at the edge of the Lazarett and I turned and went and the SS man there called me back. We had called this particular SS man by the name of Frankenstein, which was our derogatory name for him. He forced me, he commanded me, to bring the lady down into the Lazarett, and at that point he shot her dead in the skull from the back.

What does Frankenstein mean?

i am not fully sure, but i have the impression it comes from a Boris Karloff movie of the same name.

The Interpreter: The witness is repeating that 'we called him Frankenstein.'

When you stated that you took the old lady to the edge of the Lazarett, what was the edge of the Lazarett?

Right to the edge of the pit

And where were these two children you say you saw?

They were in the pit in the Lazarett

Were there any Ukrainians in the area of the Lazarett around the pit?

i personally don't recall any Ukrainians in that area.

Were there any other SS in the area of the pit?

I personally saw only the one who I mentioned, 'Frankenstein.'

And why did 'Frankenstein' call you back?

Mr. Boswell: Objection your Honour. He is calling for speculation on the part of the witness

The Court: Sustained

By Mr. Pomeroy

When 'Frankenstein' called you back, did he give you any orders?

Yes, he told me, 'Bring that woman down into the pit.'

Could you go down into the pit itself?


And wasn't the pit full of fire?

I'd like to clarify that point. It wasn't a fire that was a burning fire. It was a fire without flames going up, without flames visible. As much as my ..... I will say as much as i can recall. I think they also burned in that pit garbage and refuse from the camp.

Can you describe the pit?

First of all it was a round pit. Truth be told, I don't recall a great deal about this particular camp. I was there only for three days.

Please describe the pit as well as you can?

It was a pit surrounded by wood.

The Interpreter: I am clarifying

There were sticks or boards around the pit about the height of a human being, five, six feet, to block the view of what took place in the pit.

Was this all the way around the pit?

All around except for the entrance way

How many entrances or exits were there?

I recall only one.

And were the side walls of the pit straight up and down?

It isn't possible in sand to make a straight wall. The walls were not straight

And this SS guard told you to take the woman down into the pit from the edge of the pit?

Yes. I took her... yes i went halfway down

The Interpreter: The witness repeated

And what happened after you took her down into the pit?

Mr. Boswell: Objection. He said halfway down, the last answer

Mr. Pomeroy: I didn't say how far down

The Court: Overruled

The Witness: Please repeat

By Mr Pomeroy:

What happened after you took the woman down into the pit?

The SS man shot her in the back of the head

Were you standing next to her at that time, or had you come back up out of the pit?

As i was leading her down, holding her up and leading her down, at that point he shot her.

Was he down in the pit with you or up on the edge?

He stood behind us

In the pit or outside the pit?

Behind us

Was he in the pit with you or outside the  pit?

He started coming down into the pit

Could you observe any other prisoners at any time being shot in the Lazarett?

i didn't see any shooting but i saw the bodies in the pit

Other than this German guard, was there anybody that you met at the Lazarett?


When you entered Camp Two where did you see these piles of dead bodies?

i saw them, on the floor right in front of the gas chambers

Would you describe these gas chambers please sir?

it was made up of three rooms and in the anteroom where the bodies were taken out there was a large door that opened upwards

What was that door used for?

Through that door the bodies were taken out


We had to drag them, holding their hands or their feet, through that door and then throw them off the ramp.

Did you ever go inside the gas chambers?


What did the gas chambers look like from the outside?

They looked like rooms covered with tiles

That's from the outside?

What do you mean from the outside?

Standing outside the gas chambers on the ground outside the gas chambers, what did the chambers look like, what did the building look like?

My impression is the building itself in which were housed the gas chambers was built out of concrete

Did it look like a barrack?


Did you ever see inside the gas chambers?

If I stand outside - when I stood outside, I could look in and see the gas chamber

Could you see all three of them?


How long were you at Camp Two before the new gas chambers were built?

I was in that slaughterhouse.... It's hard for me to say how long before the new gas chambers were opened. You have to understand that we lost all track of time. We were separated from elements of time in that environment.

Was that true of all the prisoners in that environment, to your knowledge?

Mr. Boswell: Objection Your Honor. How could he know?

The Court: Sustained

Who built the new gas chambers, who actually constructed them?

Jewish prisoners were forced to build them. Correction. Jewish victims were forced to build them

Under the direction of the Germans?

I really don't know anything about that

Were there Germans there directing the Jewish prisoners?

I really don't know . I really don't know. The whole question isn't clear to me what you are referring to. If the Jews designed them or ........

Let me try to clarify it. While the Jewish prisoners were building the new gas chambers, were there German guards with them, directing them, or supervising them?

Yes. German guards and Ukrainian guards

You stated that in traveling from Camp One to Camp Two, you were beaten along the way. Whom were you beaten by?

Germans and Ukrainians

Were you ever beaten by Fedorenko?

I was personally never beaten by Fedorenko

Who commanded you to load bodies on stretchers and carry them to a deep pit?

Germans and Ukrainians

Do you remember who, actually gave the commands?

No. Just Germans and Ukrainians is all I can say

Was the pit that you were taking these bodies to located in Camp One or Camp Two?

It was in Camp Two, which I call the slaughterhouse

Were you assigned to another prisoner as a team to carry bodies, or did you switch partners?

On a daily basis, the partners were changed

Were you always with these original twenty-five men that came from Camp One?


Were there other prisoners assigned to carry bodies in Camp Two when you arrived?


For how long were you assigned to the task of carrying bodies in Camp Two?

As long as there were bodies

On direct examination did you not state you did this for two months?

If i did indicate a time it was an estimated amount of time

Were you assigned to any other duties in Camp Two, other than carrying bodies?


What other duties?

After they had emptied out the pits of bodies, dead bodies, I was assigned to , with my bare hands, to scrape out of there the remains of the dead - of the bones. Pieces of flesh

Out of the pits?

Yes. After the machine that had been employed in that job, couldn't achieve any more. I and another person, prisoner, were lowered by machine into the pit, deep into the pit, and we had to scrape up with our hands the bones and put them into an........

The Interpreter: Excuse me one moment

To clarify and continue, while we were scraping up the bones at the bottom of the pit, the crane sent down a basket that we put the remains in, and then lifted it out.

Who was this other prisoner that was with you doing this?

One fellow

What's his name?

Shlomo. In English Solomon

Solomon what?

I don't recall

Did you work with him on any other occasion?


How long did this job in the pits?

The Interpreter: The witness is asking i alone, or with him?

How long did it last for you, whether with him or without him?

In this very pit, only, or in general?

Did you work with him in any other pit?

No. I worked with him only in this pit

And how long did the job last in this pit for you?

If I am forced to give an exact accounting of number of days and time, it will only be an estimate. You must understand that we were in this prison environment  completely detached from time all the restraints of time.

Please estimate

Maybe a week

How long did the job last in the other pits?

It's different in every pit. They were all of different sizes

Approximately how long in  each other pit?

I'll give you a very approximate time. I cannot say very accurately. Maybe around the same week or so, give or take.

Would that be a total of approximately three weeks for the three pits?

Not exactly

More or less?

There were actually more than three pits

Approximately how many Germans and Ukrainian guards were there in Camp Two on an average daily basis?

I can't give an exact number, but my impression is there were more Ukrainians than Germans

Approximately how many Ukrainian guards would there be on an average day in Camp Two, unless of course that fluctuated greatly. Just tell us about that?

Around twenty, twenty-five

All right. Let me ask the other question. Was this a steady number, or did this fluctuate from day to day?

I can't say

Approximately how many SS soldiers were there in Camp Two on an average day?

Maybe ten or twelve

Do you know if there were any barracks in Camp Two for the Ukrainian guards or the SS?

No, there were not

Now, these guards that were in Camp Two, were the same guards normally there, day after day, or did the personnel change often?

There were more or less the same guards on an on-going basis

Did you ever come to know the names of any of these SS officers and Ukrainian guards?

I came to know some of their names

Can you tell us what names you can remember of the SS?

Kurt Franz, who had a nickname Lalka, Matthes, Loefler, Schmidt, Gustav, and the other- another who was called 'Rasha' That was his nickname, translated from Hebrew. He had a Hebrew nickname given by the prisoners, which means the evil one. I also knew by the name of Hauptmann one, also by the name of Stangl.

Do you recall any of the names of any of the Ukrainian guards?

Yes, I know some

Please give us any names that you might recall?

Ivan, Nikolai, one who had a name that we gave him, Zhaki-Zhaki, another one who we gave the nickname of 'Teacher,' and I really don't know if that was his nickname, or that it was his true name.


Trial Proceedings re de-naturalisation against Feodor Fedorenko - Wiener Library 539a

Phtotograph: (Michal Chocolaty)

  Holocaust Historical Society - August 2019

Holocaust Historical Society 2018