Warsaw, 5 October 1945. Investigating judge Mikołaj Halfter interviewed the person specified below as a witness. Having advised the witness of the criminal liability for making false declarations, of the obligation to tell the truth, and of the significance of the oath, the judge swore in the witness, after which the latter testified as follows:

Name and surname Maria Kuśmierczuk
Age 25
Names of parents Leon and Natalia née Dziubińska
Place of residence Zamość, Szczebrzewska Street 50
Occupation before the war a student at the faculty of mathematics and natural sciences in Wilno
Religious affiliation Roman Catholic
Criminal record none

In 1938, I enrolled in the Stefan Batory university in Wilno. After the first summer break, in fall 1939, I could not continue my studies because it was already impossible to get to Wilno. At that time, I was staying with my parents in Zamość, where my father ran a tiler’s shop. In the fall of 1940, in September, to be more precise, I left for Ujazdów, 25 kilometers from Zamość, to work for the Koziełło family as a teacher of two girls aged ten and fifteen.

On Saturday, 9 November 1940, some Gestapo men came to Ujazdów in two or three carts, five Gestapo men entered the house and immediately mentioned my name, which they knew. They searched the room where I was living, rummaged through my stuff, but found nothing that could be of interest to them. The gendarmes loaded me on a cart and my landlady managed to pass me a small food parcel. During the search, the gendarmes did not beat me, but they bawled at me, saying that I was a liar and demanding that I hand them the leaflets. The Gestapo men addressed us in German and only one of them could speak Polish.

I believe that those who arrested me were the Gestapo because they wore green uniforms and had skull emblems on their caps. One of them – the one who spoke Polish – wore civilian clothes.

Back to my arrest: in the evening, around 7.00 or 8.00 p.m., the Gestapo men drove me in a cart to a prison in Zamość. There, I was thoroughly searched by a prison guard, but nothing was confiscated. Before that, in the office, they recorded my personal details and took my purse. After the search, they took me to a cell. The cell was really filthy, but it had two windows and convertible wooden bunks, covered with sacks filled with straw, and also with some bugs inside. There were around thirty women in this cell but none of them were political prisoners, just common criminals, which I was uncomfortable with. I remained in that cell for ten days. During that time, I received food from home.

They arrested me on Saturday, and on Monday, 11 November 1940, I was interrogated for the first time. Together with other prisoners, I was taken in a van to the Gestapo office, where I was interrogated by a Gestapo man whose name I do not know, but I know they addressed him as “commissar.” When they led me into the building, the gendarme who was escorting me took me to a room to show me a man being beaten there, who groaned terribly. It upset me a lot. Next, at the door of another room, we passed a short Gestapo man, whom the gendarme addressed as “commissar.” Then, this short Gestapo man jumped up, said, “That’s the one!”, and hit me in the face hard. I spent some time in a room, sitting on a chair and waiting for an interrogation, with a mocking expression on my face. Some gendarme was passing through the room, who shouted in German, “Just look at her, she’s laughing, it’s what they are, the insolent lot,” and then he hit me in the face and opened the door of the room where they were still beating the man I have mentioned. Then, the “commissar” came, along with some Gestapo man who typed on a typewriter and Mr. Mazuryk, a music teacher from Zamość, whom I knew as a Pole before the war, while now he was working as an interpreter. The “commissar” started to interrogate me, demanding that I give him my bio-sketch, and then he showed me pamphlets printed by the underground, asking if I was familiar with these and if I was a member of some organization. He asked all these questions in a raised voice. I realized immediately that I had been arrested after I was named by Józef Antoniewski, who was arrested earlier and to whom I delivered a pamphlet once.

Mr. Antoniewski was later taken to Auschwitz and never returned, which I only learned after I returned from Germany earlier this year. Mr. Antoniewski could not have said much about my underground activities. During the interrogation, asked by the “commissar” if I was a member of the underground and if I was familiar with the clandestine press, I replied in the negative. Then, the “commissar” would hit me in the face with his hand, grab my head, especially the hair, and hit my head against two walls because I was standing in a corner of the room. After a while, I felt woozy, I would dash from wall to wall, around the room, and I was being beaten. The interrogation lasted two hours, and all this time, the “commissar”, beating me, tried to extort my confession. He would simply ask, “Yes?”, and I would say, “No.” Eventually, they gave me a report to sign, which read that I pleaded not guilty, so I signed it.

After the interrogation, I was taken to some dark cell the size of a regular bathroom, but without any amenities and with one chair, on which some battered man sat, groaning terribly, while another one, in an equally bad shape, lay on the floor. Aside from them, there were another two people in the room, but soon some of us were taken for an interrogation. I do not know how long I spent there because it was dark, but after some time, a Gestapo man once more took me to the “commissar,” who started interrogating me again and shouted that he would confront me with Mr. Antoniewski. I still refused to confess to anything. The interrogation was short and this time I was not beaten. Once more, I signed a report, pleading not guilty. It was already evening, so they put me and a few others on a van and took us back to the prison.

The next morning, I was again taken to the Gestapo office in a car, and again the “commissar” and the same Gestapo man as previously, but this time without interpreter Mazurczyk, started to interrogate me. They confronted me with Mr. Antoniewski, who recognized me and said that I was the one delivering the pamphlets to him. I denied that, pointing to the fact that Mr. Antoniewski was wearing glasses and was short-sighted. Mr. Antoniewski was in a mess, apparently he had been beaten before and was scared. He said I was the one who gave him the pamphlet. Once again, I signed a report indicating that I denied the charges. Again, they took me back to the prison. The next day, on Wednesday, around noon, they took me to the Gestapo offices again and the “commissar,” alone, without an interpreter, partly in Polish and partly in German, tried to convince me to come clean, otherwise I would be shot, he said. I still denied everything and I was even smiling. I was taken back to the prison, where I remained until 20 November, at which point I was moved to the prison at the Lublin Castle.

On 6 February 1941, I was driven to the Lublin branch of the Gestapo at Uniwersytecka Street 6, to the so-called “Under the Clock” building. When they brought me in, some man said, “The lady already knows the SS,” and then I was taken to the basement with cells whose doors were just bars and the windows were covered in brown paint and it was only possible to open them very slightly. The cell also had radiators painted in silver, which looked like instruments of torture. When I was going down the corridor toward my cell, through the barred doors I could see battered people groaning. It was a terrible sight. There was another woman in the cell where they locked me. I remained in the basement cell until the end of April 1941. The interrogations were not frequent: there were three, to be precise. During the first one, I was again confronted with a person I did not know, who was supposedly from Zamość. This person also recognized me. I was not beaten during the interrogation. During the second interrogation, I was asked about different names, and on the third occasion, they asked if I confessed to being a member of the underground. Twice, they took me to Zamość: first, to be confronted with Mr. Maćkowski, whose name I have forgotten, and on this occasion they asked if I collaborated with him. Thanks to “Janeczka,” a prison guard at the Zamość prison – whose name I did not find out and I only know she was a Pole – I spoke to Mr. Maćkowski before the interrogation and we both testified that we were merely casual acquaintances. The second time they took me to Zamość I was told to walk down the street. I do not know if this was in the expectation that somebody would recognize me or for some other reasons.

In April, I was taken back to the prison at the Lublin Castle, where I remained until 21 September 1941. On that day, I was put on a transport headed for Ravensbrück. The conditions in transit were manageable: it was a passenger train and I had a seat in a car. Before we departed, we were issued a loaf of bread and a quarter kilo of sausage.

Upon arriving at Ravensbrück, we were received at the station by SS women with dogs, who, shouting, made us form rows of five and loaded us onto vans, and that is how we reached the camp. At the camp, German prisoners, ordered by SS women, removed all our clothes and, after the shower, issued us with the camp nettle clothing: it was a shirt, pants, petticoat, dress, headscarf, and clogs without the quarter. The garments were not sufficient. Me and the other girls were placed at the quarantine block for around four weeks, and we did not work for the duration.

After this time, myself and twenty other prisoner were assigned to work off the camp’s grounds, building a garden. It was very hard manual labor: two people moved a handbarrow with soil over a distance of 300–400 meters, and we were only allowed to rest once. We were watched by two Aufseherinnen [female overseers] with a dog, who always rushed us along. The job exceeded our limits. It lasted until the end of November 1941, when our entire transport was tasked with sewing straw boots. Prisoners worked three shifts on this assignment, eight hours each, also at night. The first shift started at 5.00 a.m. During our work, we were watched by guards, who were there to ensure the high quality of the product, and if they noticed any defects, they beat us around the head with a boot. In eight hours, each prisoner was supposed to make two pairs of shoes. I worked there until spring and then I was assigned to the same workshop and tasked with making shoes from straw. I worked there for a month. Next, working in the same barrack, I cut fur, to be then used as lining for military coats. I worked like this until 7 October 1942.

As regards the conditions at the camp, I need to emphasize that extremely harsh discipline was imposed: we were not allowed to write anything, it was forbidden to support a fellow prisoner with your shoulder – which was punishable by having your hair cut – and it was prohibited to wear holey stockings, which you never had time to fix. Everyone was given two blankets, of which only one could be used to cover yourself, while the other had to be folded military-style and placed at the bottom of the bed. Violations were punished severely, e.g. they would hit you in the face, stand you by the bunker, or take away your lunch. Sometimes, they beat prisoners to the point of bleeding. Infamous for her cruelty was camp chief overseer Mandl (I do not know her first name) who beat prisoners with panache. Binder, an SS non-commissioned officer (I do not know his rank), also stood out in terms of cruelty, beating and torturing prisoners working on assignments for the military.

In July 1942, they summoned 73 prisoners from our transport, which was designated Sondertransport, meaning “special transport.” They mostly selected young individuals, whose names were read out. We were gathered by the camp’s head office, where a group of SS men and the commandant were waiting. Chief overseer Mandl verified our names and checked whether we did not work off the camp’s grounds.

Let me add that in spring 1942 our transport and a transport from the Pawiak prison, which arrived at the same time, were taken off duties outside the camp’s premises. The next day, we were again gathered, this time in front of the camp hospital, and the 73 of us were ordered to form rows of five. The first five were then taken to the hospital by some SS men, and these SS men then performed an external examination of them.

I was not among the five, but I know what it was inside the hospital from the other girls’ stories. After some time, six individuals – I think – were summoned to the camp hospital: Wanda Wojtasik, currently residing in Kraków, but I do not know her address, Zofia Kawińska, currently in Chełm, I believe, but I do not know her address, Róża Gutek, executed in 1942 or 1943, Ms. Zielonka, whose first name I do not remember, and who was executed together with Ms. Gutek, Aniela Okoniewska, currently living somewhere in the countryside in the Lublin region, but I do not know the exact address. I do not remember who else was in that group.

We know what happened to these people from subsequent accounts and from the notes that the patients threw out of the window. What I learned through these channels I can summarize as follows: first, the girls taken to the hospital were given some injections, then they were anesthetized and operated upon, and after the surgeries their legs bore cuts and the wounds suppurated profusely. The procedures they underwent were very painful.

I do not know what drugs were used for anesthesia and whether the girls were injected with any pathogenic bacteria.

After the first round of surgeries, more followed: I was in the fifth round, having been summoned by the camp authorities with the following eleven prisoners: Pelagia Maćkowska, currently residing in Zamość, works at a “Społem” cooperative branch, Leokadia Kwiecińska, currently residing in Lublin, works for the Municipal Board, Stanisława Jabłońska, I do not know her whereabouts; she came from Chełm, Jadwiga Łuszcz, I do not know her whereabouts; she came from the Hrubieszów region, Zofia Kiecol, who died after the surgery,
Genowefa Kluczek, I do not know her whereabouts; she came from Chełm, Kazimiera Kurowska, who died after the surgery,
Maria Kapłan, currently residing in the village of Łabunie near Zamość, Czesława Kostecka from Międzyrzecz, I do not know her address,
Irena Krawczyk, whose whereabouts I do not know,
Aniela Lefanowicz, who died after the surgery,
and myself.

We were gathered at the camp hospital, where camp doctor Oberheuser carried out an external examination of us, and then we were showered and given morphine drops, orally.

I know it was morphine because everybody at the camp knew that this drug was administered before surgeries, plus I felt dazed.

Then, one by one, we were wheeled to the operating theater. In the corridor, in front of the operating theater, I and the other girls received an evipan anesthetic injection, but I did not notice the cubage.

I know that evipan was used for anesthesia because I heard the name of this drug mentioned in the camp in that context. I passed out immediately and I woke up after the surgery already on a bed. My leg was very swollen and already bandaged. When I woke up, I was barely conscious, I had a fever of around 40 degrees, and this state continued in the following days, too. I felt very bad, everybody thought that I would die, and my leg hurt a lot. I knew that the leg was cut because it had been immediately bandaged. After the surgery, I received intravenous and intramuscular injections but I do not know what they were. The former were 5 or 10 cm, while the latter were greater in volume, but I do not know what they were.

I ran a high fever for a few weeks, short intervals aside. Then, it let up for a week or maybe two, and then it rose to around 40 degrees again. After the surgery, I had my dressings changed every second day, and it was a very painful procedure, during which I could not see my leg because they covered my eyes with a bedsheet. When I was already more lucid, during the third or fourth change, I realized that they applied some draining instruments to my wound. The leg suppurated a lot and the pus was odorous. The other girls also said that when they had their dressings changed they felt as if some draining instruments were applied to their wounds.

After dressing changes, the wound was sore but the fresh bandage created the illusion that I was feeling better. I remained in bed in the camp hospital until 7 April 1943.

Let me add that it was common knowledge that the surgeries were performed by Prof. Gebhardt, together with Dr. Fischer, his assistant, and one other doctor, whose name I do not know. At first, the dressings were changed by Dr. Fischer, and then by camp doctor Schiedlausky (chief camp hospital doctor), Dr. Oberheuser, and Dr. Rosenthal, both camp doctors. Dr. Oberheuser, delegated by Prof. Gebhardt, was in charge of the experimental station, so she kept the medical records and gave us all the injections related to the experiments we were undergoing. She did not torture us too much. However, Dr. Rosenthal was particularly brutal when he changed our dressings.

On 7 April 1943, I was discharged from the camp hospital and allowed to rest at the block because the wound on my leg was still open. I saw the wound for the first time three weeks after the surgery, when Prof. Gebhardt came to inspect the legs of the prisoners from our group. Then, I saw my leg without bandages: the section between the ankle and the knee looked like a pulp and the bone was visible, with an incision running along its whole length.

I did not notice if my leg was swollen at that time. In any case, it looked almost normal above the knee.

In September 1943, I returned to the camp hospital because the leg had not healed. The hospital staff had been replaced in the meantime and none of those who had operated on me still worked there. Dr. Treite, a new doctor, performed plastic surgery on me: he transplanted epidermis on the unhealed place. I remained at the hospital until 10 February 1944 and when I returned to the block, only 1 square centimeter of my wound was still open. At that time, all the “guinea pigs” were gathered at one block, and this is where I was headed after they discharged me. The girls worked knitting stockings, and I joined them.

Around the time of my surgery, Dr. Oberheuser ordered that the post-surgery patients receive better food rations, but those who took steps to that end were mainly the Poles working in the kitchen. When I was discharged from the hospital and assigned to the block where all the “guinea pigs” were gathered, our food rations were as meager as in the other blocks. Our block elder was Katarzyna Knol, a German, who fell over herself to torture us, most often psychologically, and denounced us to the camp authorities. I also want to add, in connection with what I testified earlier, that the following person from my group died following the surgery: Ms. Kraska (I do not remember her first name), Alfreda Prus, Zofia Kiecol, Kazimiera Kurowska, and Aniela Lefanowicz.

At that time, I was so severely sick that I did not see the symptoms which the girls who later died showed.

At the “guinea pigs” block, nothing essentially changed until 4 February 1945. On that day, a list arrived which included the names of all the patients, along with the camp commandant’s orders that we be transferred to Gross-Rosen. We knew that Gross-Rosen was already under Soviet control so we suspected that this order was paving way for our extermination. The order obliged us to gather in front of the commandant’s office. We believed that they were going to execute us then. Consequently, we did not obey the order. Acting on behalf of the “guinea pigs” group at that time were Zofia Baj and Jadwiga Kamińska (who are presently in the West, in the allied-occupied Germany), who negotiated with the camp commandant and camp authorities. Around that time, almost none of the “guinea pigs,” aside from the two who represented us, slept at the block, instead posing as new prisoners, so-called Zugänge, who wore rags. We slept in other blocks with our friends. We were on high alert and none of us were caught. At that time, the camp was in commotion: transports from Auschwitz were coming in, making pit-stops in Ravensbrück, to be eventually sent to factories. At the same time, the camp authorities were losing control of things. Around eighteen “guinea pigs” took advantage of that and left the camp, having joined the transports headed for the factories. The idea was to avoid mass execution. We knew that if some of us slinked away the Germans would search for others to augment the group and we would have bought time until the allied forces arrived and liberated us. I stayed in the camp because I limped.

Then, our issue was backgrounded because selections became priority. The Germans appointed a panel comprising SS men and doctors: Dr. Trommer, the chief doctor of the Ravensbrück camp, some doctor from Auschwitz, Schwarzhuber, who was adjutant to the camp commandant, and Pflaum, head of the camp’s employment office. This panel inspected blocks one by one and separated the prisoner who could work from those who could not, the latter being earmarked for execution, as we believed. I heard that as a result of selections around 4,000 prisoners were executed in the so-called Jugendlager [youth camp] and incinerated in the crematorium. I heard different versions of how they went: some said they had been executed by shooting, others claimed they had been knocked off with batons, etc.

Another issue the camp authorities were preoccupied with was the women brought in from Warsaw after the uprising of 1944. The women from Warsaw sent to Ravensbrück after the uprising were sent to factories for forced labor. Now, they were being withdrawn from these factories back to the camp, given back their clothes, and sent for regular working duty, like all foreign workers. In the meantime, the discipline at the camp relaxed more and more and you could sense the frontline approaching. The International Red Cross started to oversee the camp.

Red Cross vans came from Switzerland and collected around 300 French women and a Pole, Karolina Lanckorońska, who was very familiar with our situation. Rumors started to circulate that such pick-ups would be more frequent now. Our spirits lifted. Indeed, vans came again, probably Swedish, and collected the rest of the French. In the evening, they were secretly joined by Zofia Sokólska, one of the “guinea pigs,” who is probably in Sweden now, but I have had no news about her since.

After the foreigners, that is the French, Norwegians, and Swiss, were taken from the camp, vans arrived to collect the Poles and a couple dozen women were taken from hospital blocks. Our representatives still negotiated with the camp commandant, and we were still on full alert although we moved around the camp freely. Finally, around 20 April 1945, the Red Cross transported women to Sweden on a train. Up to 4,000 Poles left the camp on that occasion. Three of the “guinea pigs” wanted to join the transport but the commandant objected and threatened to check the identities of all 4,000 prisoners so our three girls stood up and came back. Then, we started to fear execution again. The camp commandant, in a conversation with our emissaries and allegedly in the presence of a Red Cross representative, promised that no harm would come to us and that we would be collected by special Swedish vans. Then, before 28 April 1945, we waited to be recorded before departure to Sweden, when all of a sudden the news broke that the camp would be evacuated. Our entire group of the “guinea pigs” and our close friends left the camp on 28 April and we reached Ziertow, where on 1 May 1945 we were liberated by the Soviet troops.

The report was read out.