Its History * Development * Destruction
Volume II, Tel Aviv 1984
My Testimony Against a Nazi Criminal
By Avraham Hendel
I was contacted by the Israeli Police and was requested to relate what I knew about the Mlawa ghetto. A man from the department of Nazi hunters was sent to my home and for three days he sat with me and recorded my story. Briefly, I described the Nazi criminals and their principal duties in the ghetto. Among those I recalled, was the infamous criminal, Policat. I subsequently received a notice from Germany on February 3, 1971, that Policat had been arrested and would stand a trial. They requested that I testify against him. The Israeli Police encouraged me to travel to Germany in order to testify. I had the option of testifying in Israel as others had done. I agreed to travel to Germany on condition that I could give my testimony in Hebrew and that a translator would be provided. My purpose was twofold: in Hebrew I would be able to express myself freely, and the criminal would thus be forced to hear testimony against him in this language. Those who remember and know Policat understand the significance of this request.
The police objected to my condition, maintaining that it was difficult to find a good translator from Hebrew to German. I stood my ground, refusing to travel if my request was not granted, and finally they relented. Zelig Avraham, Pesach Sheiman and I were scheduled to leave for Germany on June 9, 1971. Avraham Zelig changed his mind at the last minute so only the two of us departed.
We flew to Frankfurt, where we stayed for two days. Pesach Sheiman stayed at the Rex Hotel which was owned by Reuven Shroot (of Mlawa), and I stayed with relatives who reside in Frankfurt. We then flew to Dusseldorf where we discovered that the city of Irnsberg, where the trial was taking place, was located on the German-Belgian border and there was no direct train to the city. We decided to travel by taxi and arrived at Irnsberg three hours later. We had been registered in advance at the largest hotel in the city. Each of us received a private room and food according to his choice.
The city of Irnsberg is situated between mountains and forests, and is very beautiful. The people there were very cordial to us. On the day we arrived, we were contacted by a Protestant
priest who had been asked by the Friends of Germany and Israel Association to look after us. Representatives of the Red Cross saw to it that we did not become bored. The evening before the trial we had an interesting discussion. They were very interested in knowing about Israel and we provided the explanations. The priest was well informed since he had visited Israel two years earlier with his family. They brought us newspapers reporting that witnesses had arrived from Israel and would be testifying the next day. In the morning we arrived at the courtroom, where many people awaited us. Among them was the only Jew living in Irnsberg and his wife. This man had lived in the Borochov neighborhood of Givataim before leaving Israel 30 years ago. His wife spoke Hebrew very well. I asked him how he felt to be the only Jew in this isolated city. He explained that in the beginning it was difficult for him, having been born in Israel, but circumstances had forced him to leave. He invited us to his home. In the meantime we were photographed by journalists who were present. The photographs were published in the local papers the next day. Before the start of the trial we were approached by a young man, who in fluent Hebrew presented himself as a "Sabra" from Tel-Aviv. He explained that he would serve as my translator since Sheiman Pesach would be testifying in German. We did not know then how helpful this young man would turn out to be. He served not only as a translator but as lawyer as well. His knowledge of fluent German and Hebrew aided us greatly.
The courtroom was full when we entered. Sheiman and I entered, and immediately recognized the criminal Policat sitting with his lawyer on the right side of the room. Pesach suffered a terrible shock and was taken out of the courtroom in order to recover. He was supposed to have been the first to testify, but under the circumstances it was decided that I would testify first.
The judge and 12 jurors entered the courtroom. Everyone rose as they took their places in a semi-circle. The judge called out my name and that of my translator. We approached the bench where I was asked by the judge if I understand German. I replied that I did understand, but that it was difficult for me to speak since I had not used the language for so many years. He politely asked me to remove my hat. My translator explained to him that as a religious Jew, I was unaccustomed to appear with my head uncovered. They were surprised to hear this but after a short consultation between the judge and some of the jurors, I was allowed to testify with my head covered. I noticed that they removed the cross that stood in the middle of the courtroom. The judge asked that we be seated, and explained that the testimony would proceed by a series of questions and answers. My testimony lasted two hours. I was questioned by the judge in German, and answered him in Hebrew, with the translator translating. I explained that the accused was one of the worst sadists in the Mlawa ghetto, had participated in all of the executions and played an active role in the liquidation of the ghetto. With my own eyes, I had seen him shoot a young girl named Kleiner, the granddaughter of Yehoshua Nachowitz, when he discovered money sewn into her clothing. All during my testimony, the criminal sat with downcast eyes, not daring to lift them. This was probably because I spoke Hebrew, since he started to argue with Pesach during Pesach's testimony in German. So passed the first day of my testimony. The next day the investigation went into even greater detail. This lasted for a half day and towards the afternoon we returned to our hotel. The audience in the courtroom behaved very well, and took great interest in every detail of the trial.
We were informed that up until one year earlier, Policat had served as the chief of police in Hassan, a city near Irnsberg, and had been looked upon as a very respectable citizen. People could not grasp how this man could have acted in such a barbaric manner. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, although he submitted an appeal. We felt that we had fulfilled our obligation by sending at least one of the criminals to his punishment.
In the early evening we left Irnsberg and parted ways. Pesach traveled to Belgium to visit family, and I continued on to Frankfurt where I met Peles (Poltusker) and his friend Haussman, who were to testify with the second group. I related to them details of the trial so that they would know what to expect.
Last Updated January 23rd, 2002