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Death Camp Killings by Nazi Suspect Described

November 24, 1987|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Three concentration camp survivors said Monday that they saw Josef Schwammberger, an elderly Austrian who was arrested this month on an Argentine ranch, pull on white gloves and shoot scores of Jews while he was commandant of the Przemysl ghetto in Nazi-occupied eastern Poland.

One of the survivors said the acts were so terrible that even Schwammberger's wife urged him to stop.

"His wife tried to talk him out of it," Sam Nussbaum, 67, who now works in the plumbing business in Kansas City, said in a telephone interview. "She couldn't stand it."

Killings in Poland

Arnold Susskind and Joseph Wellner, both New York City residents, said in interviews here that they also observed Schwammberger kill and torture Jews in Poland in 1943 during World War II.

The three men came forward Monday to tell their stories to representatives of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization dedicated to the study of the Holocaust.

Nussbaum said he escaped death because he served as Schwammberger's plumber and built a still for the commandant to make vodka from potatoes. He said the still was inside a shack on the edge of the Przemysl ghetto from where he watched Schwammberger order scores of Jews to undress before they were shot alongside mass graves.

"It happened several times," Nussbaum charged. "There were 15 or 20 in one group, maybe 30 in another group . . . There were a lot of different groups. There were big groups of people.

"Everybody had to undress. He had the German shepherd dog with him and he shot everyone in the head."

Nussbaum asserted that on one occasion, the Gestapo declared a false amnesty on a Jewish holiday and encouraged people in the Przemysl ghetto to come forward.

"They shot 1,200 people," he said. "They undressed 50 at a time and every one of them got a bullet. He (Schwammberger) would shoot with a revolver. . . . He did wear white gloves. . . . He was just a plain murderer."

Nussbaum pledged that he would be willing to testify anywhere against the 75-year-old former commandant. "I will travel any place in the world to get him," he said. "He is such a murderer. I cannot describe to you how I feel."

Schwammberger is being held in Argentina awaiting possible extradition to West Germany, where he faces charges of killing and torturing hundreds of Jews and seizing their valuable possessions.

According to a biography compiled by the Wiesenthal Center, Schwammberger, as a 32-year-old SS officer in the ghettoes in Przemysl and Mielec, personally murdered 50 Jews on Sept. 3, 1943, and took part in the deportations of at least 2,000 others to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The Wiesenthal Center charged that as commander of the Przemysl forced labor camp, Schwammberger "executed Jewish inmates almost every week."

At the Wiesenthal Center's Manhattan offices, Wellner, 70, a watchmaker, and Susskind, 73, a retired store owner, said they, too, saw Schwammberger order and commit killings.

"That murderer Schwammberger, he was in charge of the liquidation of our town's ghetto," Susskind said. "In the middle of the night, they came and took out people from their beds. I lost my son, 2 years old."

Susskind said that one day before Passover, a group of ghetto residents were discovered making matzohs.

"All of a sudden, Schwammberger came in with a few of his assistants. We were 11 people. Four escaped through the windows. Seven were lined up against a wall. I was the seventh. When he started killing, he put on white gloves. Soldiers ordered one man to put his head above a pail and shot him in the head," he said.

"I managed to run away. After me, another person tried to do the same and he was shot. The rest all got shot."

On another occasion, Susskind said, a boy in the ghetto attacked a Gestapo agent with a bayonet.

"A day or two days later, the boy was hanged as an example," he charged. "They then shot 60 or 70 with machine guns. When they liquidated the ghetto, Schwammberger came around every day, threatening."

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