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Ada Lichtman

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5023 | Film ID: 3270, 3271, 3272, 3273, 3274, 3275, 3276, 3277

Ada (Eda) Lichtman talks about her experiences in the Krakow ghetto, her father's murder, and her transport to Sobibor. She was chosen to do the SS laundry in Sobibor and remembers cleaning dolls and toys seized from a transport of children for the SS families. She talks about Franz Stangl and Gustav Wagner and relates a story about a Dutch transport where the prisoners were given postcards to write home before they were murdered. At Lanzmann's urging, Lichtman sews doll clothes during the interview; this is a duty she used to perform in Sobibor.

FILM ID 3270 -- Camera Rolls #1-4-- 01:00:18 to 01:34:00
Ada Lichtman and her husband sit on a couch. Two dolls sit on a table in front of them and Lichtman sews clothes on another one. The camera sometimes focuses on Lichtman's husband. After several seconds Lanzmann begins the interview. Lichtman was 13 years old when she moved to Krakow with her parents. When the Germans came the family was living in a small town near Krakow. The Germans immediately took the men for forced labor.

Lichtman witnessed her father being shot in a wood, along with many other men of the town. Lichtman and the other women managed to bring their men back to town for burial but they were harrassed by the Polish peasants. A few days later Lichtman went to Krakow to live in the Jewish quarter. She saw with her own eyes how the Germans harrassed and mistreated the Jews every day, including beard shaving. They brought mentally ill people from an asylum to the town and mistreated them. Lichtman married her fiance and moved to a town called Mielic (?). She and her new husband had planned to flee to the Soviet Union but found that it was impossible.

Lichtman's husband was killed when a large stone was dropped on his head (she said previously that she married after the German invasion, but here she says she got married in May, 1939). The Judenrat confiscated the Jews' valuables and gave them to the Germans in exchange for a promise that they would not have to leave Mielic but the next day they were rounded up and taken to another town. The Jews of this town were forced into the synagogue and burned alive (it's not clear whether she is talking about the Jews from Mielec or the Jews from the other town). She says that many of the Poles helped the Germans to persecute the Jews and that they were antisemetic even before the war.

FILM ID 3271 -- Camera Rolls #5-9 -- 02:00:18 to 02:34:26
Lichtman says she gathered a suitcase with photos together to take with her when they were resettled, but a German grabbed it and threw it away and her photos flew away in the wind. The Jews, perhaps 6,000 or 7,000 arrived in deep snow at an airplane factory in Berdighof (?) where they were beaten and given a little bread. Many were shot. Eventually they were marched further on, to the town of Dubienka, near the Bug river. They were settled in a ghetto there. There was very little to eat. In the spring, before Pesach, those remaining Jews were marched on to a railway station, where they boarded trains for Sobibor. She tells a somewhat confusing story of being transferred from train car to train car, and being deloused and made to dance for the Germans' amusement, while the trains travelled continually for several days. Lanzmann sounds skeptical, saying that Dubienka is not far from Sobibor, but Lichtman insists this is what happened.

Lanzmann asks Lichtman if the Poles ever tried to warn the Jews about Sobibor. Lichtman says no, only the Ukrainians told them that they would no longer need their possessions. When they arrived in Sobibor, Lichtman was selected by an SS man to do laundry, along with two other women. Lichtman says that these three were the only ones who remained of the transport of 7,000 people. The women were taken to a villa called the Jolly Flea, so-called by the Germans because it was dirty and the camp was flea-ridden. Every day Lichtman washed and ironed the laundry of the SS men.

Lichtman describes her arrival at Sobibor. After the chaos and the violence of her arrival at Sobibor, the camp gave the impression of a summer resort. For a couple of days she did not realize what happened at the camp, until the workers began to build a building to contain the possessions of the murdered Jews. One of the workers saw the corpses from the roof of the building and reported back. She says that the transports came three times per day.

FILM ID 3272 -- Camera Rolls #10-12 -- 03:00:19 to 03:34:31
The camera pans over to Lichtman's husband, who watches his wife as she speaks. Lichtman slept with the other women in a small room. Roll call occurred every morning at 5 am. They were the first laundry women but more were chosen from later transports, all of them beautiful young girls. Some of them worked in the casino and were taken by the Germans "for their personal use." Lichtman worked from 5 am until dark, with one hour for lunch. She describes the camp and how it was enlarged over time. The workers were not allowed to leave their work stations when the transports arrived but they could hear the noise of the arrivals. Lichtman describes a transport which contained many Austrian children. [Gustav] Wagner threw the children from the train into another wagon and Lichtman could hear their screams.

Lichtman says she thinks that the distance to the gas chambers was two or three kilometers but Lanzmann tells her it was only 400 meters. She says that she was near the gas chambers only once, when the Germans took them to see some workers who had escaped and were caught in the forest. The workers were shot in front of them as an example of what would happen if they tried to escape.

Lanzmann interviews Lichtman's husband. He speaks German with a heavy accent (or Yiddish?), which is translated into French. He met Ada in Sobibor, where he was working as a shoemaker. His entire family was killed at Sobibor. Fifty men were taken from his community and deported to Belzec, so he knew that people were killed there but not at Sobibor. He describes his arrival in the camp. He was chosen for work because he was a shoemaker.

The interview continues with Ada Lichtman. She sews a doll as she speaks. She works on the dolls throughout the rest of the interview and at several points she simply sews for several seconds without speaking. She says that the Germans took dolls from the arriving Jewish children, sometimes tearing them out of their hands and sometimes taking them after the children were already dead. They ordered Ada and her colleagues to clean the dolls and sew new clothes for them, so that they could bring them home to their own children when they went on leave. She says they also took other toys, and that Wagner took home with him a newborn baby's basket. There was a young girl, perhaps ten years old, who worked with Lichtman, and she played with the dolls. Lichtman says the girl was alive until the revolt but she doesn't know what happened to her after that. Lichtman and the other prisoners also made shirts for the SS men from the nightgowns of Jewish women. Lanzman points out that the dolls came from the transports of Western Jews. The female workers were careful to appear always busy because they were afraid they would be killed if there was not enough work for all of them.

FILM ID 3273 -- Camera Rolls #13-15 (including #13A, which is indicated in the transcript but not by a clapper board in the video).-- 04:00:17 to 04:31:45
Lichtman says that sometimes the women had hope that they would survive. She says they used to sing songs and at Lanzmann's urging she sings a couple of them but she can't remember the words. She sings a little bit from a song about the sun and says that during the last days of the camp the weather was so cold and the song cheered them up and gave them hope. Lichtman says that after a transport arrived and the Jews in it were killed the atmosphere in the camp was depressed. Franz Stangl used to come and talk to her husband, telling him that the Jews who arrived on transports were bound for work assignments in the Ukraine and that the Sobibor workers would get special certificates to go work in the Ukraine. Eventually the Germans started burning the corpses. The water at the camp was already spoiled (from the corpses in the mass graves?). The prisoners were not permitted to communicate with anyone in the transports, but because Lichtman had to go to the well to get water for the laundry, she was sometimes able to slip away and give the new arrivals water and food. Lanzmann asks Lichtman about Wagner. She says that everyone was afraid of him and that she would like to know today what he has to say for his crimes (Wagner was discovered in 1978 living in Brazil but the Brazilian government refused to extradite him. He committed suicide in 1980). She says that Wagner intervened once when she was being beaten by a Ukrainian and generally treated her better than he treated some of the others, perhaps because she made things for him and his family. Eichmann visited the camp icognito at least once, although Lichtman didn't realize until she was called as a witness before the Eichmann trial.

FILM ID 3274 -- Camera Roll #16 -- 05:00:18 to 05:11:20
Lanzmann compliments Lichtman on the work that she is doing. He says he thinks that is why Wagner kept her alive. Lanzmann asks Lichtman to talk about Ilana Safran (or Shafran), a Dutch Jew who worked with Lichtman, but she starts to tell the story and does not finish it. The Dutch transports were made up of sleeping cars and the Germans set up food for them when they arrived so they would not guess they were to be gassed. Some of the Dutch Jews were ordered to write postcards home to tell people how nice the camp was.

FILM ID 3275 -- Camera Rolls #8A,14A,15A,16A -- 06:00:17 to 06:05:40 Mute shots of Lichtman and her husband

FILM ID 3276 -- Camera Rolls #12A,12B -- 07:00:18 to 07:02:42 Mute shots of Lichtman sewing clothes on a doll.

FILM ID 3277 -- Camera Roll #16A -- 08:00:18 to 08:07:41 Mute shots of Lanzmann, Lichtman, and her husband.

Event:  September or October 1979
Production:  1985
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2021-06-03 12:47:12
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