The Holocaust Historiography Project

Maria Van Herwaarden

[Maria van Herwaarden was the ninth witness called by the Crown. She testified on Monday, March 28, 1988.]

Maria van Herwaarden was in Auschwitz-Birkenau from December 1942 to January 1945. She was sent to the camp at the age of 20 for having sexual intercourse with a Polish man who worked on the same farm in Upper Austria that she did. (25-6623)

She was arrested at the farm and taken to the police station; two days later she went to Linz where she was questioned by the Gestapo. She was released for six weeks because she was pregnant. The child was born in October and in November she had to return to Linz. The child was cared for by her parents. (25-6624)

From Linz, Herwaarden was transported to Vienna and from there to Auschwitz. There were about twenty other women on the train travelling from Vienna to Auschwitz. She could not say if any were Jewish. They received food on the train. A gypsy told Herwaarden that they were going to be gassed when they arrived at Auschwitz. They arrived in the camp on 2 December in the afternoon. (25-6625, 6626, 6627)

That night the SS people came and took them to Birkenau. They were taken to a cold, windowless room and told that they had to take a cold shower. They handed over their clothes and all hair was shaved, both head and pubic. Herwaarden was "terribly scared" when she went into the shower room because "they said gas would be coming from the top but it was only water." They received soap, but the water was cold. When they finished, they received their numbers and prisoners clothing and were taken to the barracks. Herwaarden was listed as an Aryan. (25-6628, 6629)

For the first two weeks, everybody was together, including criminals. Later they were separated and went to different places. There were 1,000 people to a barrack; five people to one bed, and three beds stacked on top of each other. Herwaarden was put in the non-social block. (25-6629, 6630, 6634)

There were open toilet facilities at Birkenau in 1943 behind the block. There was also a sauna at the camp. Herwaarden remembers taking a sauna bath twice in it. Some people passed out because they could not take the heat. (25-6633)

The prisoners had to get up at 5:00 a.m. and do appel for two hours. This meant standing silently outside in the rain and in the cold. The SS counted them and then they went back to the barracks where they ate breakfast, one slice of bread and a cup of tea. (25-6630)

Around noon a huge pot was brought around with stew in it. Prisoners ate this with a bowl and spoon which each received upon entering the camp. Supper consisted of a cup of tea and a piece of bread. (25-6630)

Groups of 60 to 80 people, sometimes a few hundred left the camp each day to go to work at different jobs, and returned at night. (25-6647) There were many inmates, however, who never worked in the camp. These included the block senior and the people who cleaned the barracks. Herwaarden herself volunteered to work after arriving at the camp and did agricultural work at a tree plantation. They would march from Birkenau for one hour to get to the plantation, got good food and worked nicely together. The food was better than in Birkenau; there was enough there. (25-6634, 6635)

Herwaarden saw Jewish prisoners at Birkenau. They were not treated any differently from the other prisoners. "We were all equal." (25-6633) However, Jews had nice jobs such as block seniors, working in the offices and as doctors. Jews were not in Herwaarden's barrack but they went back and forth. (25-6637. 6638)

Asked if she saw any movement of people toward smokestacks, Herwaarden testified that she saw smokestacks smoking at a far distance but didn't see anything else. She could not say whether the smokestacks were in the camp or not but she thought they were about 5 km. away. They were very tiny. (25-6638)

Herwaarden did not have friends in the camp but was pleasant and talked to people. (25- 6638) Prisoners were not allowed to sing German songs but prisoners did their own singing. They were also not allowed to get newspapers or anything from the outside. They were allowed to write twice a year and at Christmas in 1943 received parcels. Although black market activities were definitely prohibited, Herwaarden saw it going on with food and clothes. (25-6636, 6646)

She saw very many prisoners die in the camp from diseases and also people who took their lives on the electric fence. But she never saw any prisoners killed by anyone in the camp. Of 1,000 Germans who had arrived in March of 1942, there were only three left when Herwaarden arrived in December. They had all died of black fever. There was nothing to do against the disease, although Herwaarden and other prisoners got very painful injections so that they couldn't get the disease. She thought the SS tried to stop the typhus but nothing was successful. (25-6636, 6637, 6647) The bodies were taken away in wheelbarrows, but she did not know how they were disposed of. (25-6638) Herwaarden never saw a crematorium at Birkenau. It was a big place. (25-6645)

After about a quarter to half a year, she felt very poorly and got diarrhea during one of the morning appels and passed out. She woke up in a barracks where sick people were. A Jewish doctor was there and said to her: "Are you still alive?" They were very surprised and brought her some pills and medication. Herwaarden stayed for three days in the hospital and then went back to her own block for another six weeks.(25-6631, 6632)

After her sickness, Herwaarden was taken to an SS hospital where she cleaned and looked after the patients. There was only one nurse and one doctor. Because it was an infection ward, Herwaarden was not allowed to go outside and had to sleep in the building. Nine girls shared one room where they were locked in at night. She believed she worked there about half a year but testified it was difficult to know because they had no newspapers or means of ascertaining dates. (25-6633, 6639)

Herwaarden was next taken to Auschwitz to be a cleaning woman in the women's SS building. There were twenty girls who did the cooking and cleaning and the laundry. Herwaarden was in this building when Auschwitz was bombed. The air pressure broke all the windows. (25-6639, 6640)

In September of 1944, there was a big explosion at Birkenau and seventy prisoners escaped. They were all caught within a couple of days. (25-6646)

On January 2 or 3 of 1945, the prisoners were told by the SS that the Russians were approaching and that they had to leave. She marched with a group of about 600 or 700 people to Oppeln in Upper Silesia. This group comprised all different nationalities, including Jews. Herwaarden took 2 kg. of sugar to eat along the way. They travelled only at night. During the day they could not walk because of the bombings. (25-6641, 6642)

At Oppeln, they got onto an open train car and in three days arrived at Ravensbrück. They were bombed along the way. There was no food on the train. In total, it took one month to reach Ravensbrück. Herwaarden testified that many people died on the march but not on the train. (25-6641, 6642)

At Ravensbrück, a band was playing when they arrived; they got hot showers and food. Herwaarden was sent on to a small camp about 45 km. from Berlin where she worked as a cook. There were maybe 500 inmates there, not more. All were women. (25-6642, 6643)

Herwaarden confirmed many of the observations of Thies Christophersen quoted in Did Six Million Really Die?. In the period of time she was in the camp, she saw no indication of "millions" of people; nor did she ever see any indication of a mass murder or extermination of Jews. While gassings were talked about at the camp, she personally never saw anything of the sort. There was a terrible smell in the camp, however, and she confirmed that there was a horseshoe place on the way from Birkenau to the tree plantation. Herwaarden agreed that she had difficulty getting people to believe what she saw in Auschwitz-Birkenau: "Many don't believe that." (25-6643 to 6647)

On cross-examination, Herwaarden agreed that it was forbidden to have sexual intercourse with a non-Aryan and that was why she was sent to Auschwitz. She agreed that Hitler was opposed to race mixing. (25-6647, 6648)

The gypsy woman with whom she had travelled to Birkenau died three weeks later of the black fever. (25-6648)

Herwaarden was given a uniform with a half red and half black triangle. The red was political because the man she had relations with was Polish. The black was anti social. She emphasized that there were many, many Germans in the camp who had the same sign that she had. Jews had a star. (25-6649)

Asked on re-examination if Poles were considered Aryan as well, Herwaarden said, no, that Poles were considered the Germans' enemies because they were leading a war against the Germans. (25-6651)

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