Witness Says Izieu Children Sent Straight To Gas Chambers
LYON, France (AP) _ Some children rounded up at a Jewish foster home east of Lyon were sent straight to the gas chambers upon arrival at the Auschwitz death camp, a witness said today at the trial of former Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie.
The 73-year-old Barbie is on trial on charges of crimes against humanity. He is accused of deporting hundreds of Jews and French Resistance members to Nazi death camps, including 44 Jewish children seized in a raid April 6, 1944, at a foster home in Izieu.
Edith Klebinder, an Austrian-born Jew who had immigrated to France, told the court she was deported from France on the same rail convoy as many of the Izieu children, arriving at Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland on April 15, 1944.
Mrs. Klebinder, 73, said she was used by the German guards as an interpreter while children and adults from her train were being separated into groups - most adults told to walk to the camp, while children and pregnant women were put on trucks.
″ ‘Get on the trucks, you’ll arrive faster.’ It was a phrase they used frequently,″ Mrs. Klebinder recalled, in a voice shaken by sobs.
She said she thought giving the children and pregnant women rides on the trucks was an act of humanity - until she noticed a few days later there were no children in the camp and questioned a German guard.
″You didn’t see the chimney smoking? Now you’ll understand,″ was the guard’s reply, Mrs. Klebinder said, gripping the bars of the witness stand.
″Indeed we understood.″
Even then, she said, the evidence that thousands of people were being killed in gas chambers ″took a while to sink into people’s minds.″
Of the 44 children rounded up at the stone farmhouse at Izieu, a tiny village hidden in the foothills of the Alps 40 miles east of Lyon, 34 were on the convoy with Mrs. Klebinder. The other 10 children were deported within the next few weeks. None survived.
There were also seven adults, of whom only one survived deportation - Lea Feldblum, who testified last week.
Two children and one adult who lived at the Izieu home, but left before the raid, testified today that it had been a joyful and hopeful place.
″It seemed to me an island of peace for these children,″ said Paulette Roche, 60, who worked there during the summer of 1943 and took photographs showing the children gathered on the terrace overlooking a mountain view and playing in a meadow.
″There were happy. They laughed and played,″ she said.
″We had plans for the future,″ said Paul Nedermann, who left the home and escaped to Switzerland. ″We would say - what will we do afterwards.″
Barbie refused to attend the proceedings today, as he has since May 13, the third day of his trial. Since then, he has appeared only once, when he was brought in against his will last week to be identified by five witnesses.
Barbie contends his expulsion from Bolivia was illegal. After working for U.S. Army intelligence in post-war Germany, he was aided by the Americans to escape under a false name to South America. He was unmasked in 1972, but Bolivia refused to extradite him. A new government stripped him of Bolivian citizenship and expelled him in 1983. He was then brought to France for trial.