On the second of July 1965, I accompanied my father, Pinchas Zyskind, to a pre-trial hearing,
which took place in a court in Hamburg, Germany. I was 18 years old. The accused, Wolfgang Karl Heinrich Mohwinkel, had been the commander of the Jewish Prisoner of War/Concentration Camp located in Lublin on Lipowa Street #7 from 1940 until 1943.
Before the hearing, my father had been required to identify the accused from a line-up of men. He had recognized Mohwinkel immediately. As he passed a shabby-looking man, he had shouted “This is Hantke*!” and then he fainted. Hantke tried to help, but I pushed him away and inserted a nitroglycerine tablet into my father's mouth. A short while later he recovered consciousness. The doctors who checked my father allowed him to testify, but insisted that he lie on a stretcher. This was a surreal scene; two Nazi criminals in a German court with their group of defending attorneys, Mohwinkel dressed in an elegant expensive suit, Hantke in a shabby jacket and the witness lying on a stretcher.
After drawing the layout of the camp on a sheet of paper, my father told the court
that at the beginning of WWII he was a soldier in the Polish Army. He was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War (POW) by the German Army in September 1939. He was then sent to a Stalag in Germany and at the end of 1940 transferred to the Lipowa 7 Camp in Lublin.
When he arrived, they were housed in filthy barracks and only received a little food and water after two days. The conditions there were sub-human. They worked more than 12 hours a day, were humiliated, and beaten with lead-tipped whips on every occasion. If someone stopped working for a moment or was too weak to work, he was shot to death on the spot.
At the beginning the POWs received 250 grams of bread a day, but Mohwinkel reduced the amount to half. Those who tried to escape were hung immediately. This was done in front of all the prisoners who were then also punished severely.
"The accused did not hit anyone" said one of the defenders.
"He hit me" said my father" I am very sorry" said Mohwinkel without looking in my father's direction.
Father told about the terror in the camp; about a 12 year old boy, Chaim, who worked as a messenger. One rainy day the documents he delivered became wet. The Nazi, Inkuffer, abused him so badly that the boy cried. Inkuffer cut the boy’s tongue with his pocketknife. The sight was so unbearable that the other Nazis begged him to end the boy's suffering. Only in the evening did they hang the poor boy in front of all prisoners.
In another case, in July 1943, my father testified, “the Nazis found a gold coin while searching the prisoners. Inkuffer and Hausberg tied the prisoner to a wooden log and cut the man in half with a saw.” All this happened during the lineup under the command of Mohwinkel.
"Do you know the witness?" asked the judge.
"Of course I know Mr. Zyskind", replied Mohwinkel. "Every day I personally signed his pass because he worked outside the camp. I can hardly recognize him now since he looks so bad".
The tension I was under caused me to turn to him and say in German: "If my father looks so bad it is because of you and your comrades!" The entire defense team jumped up in protest and one of them asked the judge to send me out, but the judge refused.
Father also testified about the sadistic and cruel behavior of Hantke, who incited his specially trained dog onto the prisoners to bite them and how he insulted them for no reason.
The trial only began 9 years after this hearing. The sentence was passed on July 26, 1974.
Last August I went to Yad Vashem and read the 244 page verdict in German. Otto Hantke was a witness at the trial.
In September 1942 Hantke was sent by Odillo Globotznik to be the commander of the Budzyn concentration camp. In 1974 the court in Hamburg sentenced him to life in prison for his crimes.
The Jewish witnesses for the prosecution in Mohwinkel's trial were: Aronowicz, Berezin, Ester
Margot-Berger, Cynowiec, Ezrachi (Birger), Roman Fischer, Zipora Fischer, Gruber, Oszerowski,
Nusbaum, Kotlar, Podgorski, Reich, Reznik, Dr. Schindler, Szilubski, Kliszczewski (Zwanger),
Dolinski, Frank, Frydman, Zwiebak, Zyskind.
For his crimes in Lipowa 7 Mohwinkel was punished only for the murders that he had carried out personally. As indicated on page 243 of the verdict, Mowinkel received:
‘8 years of imprisonment – In the case of hanging Yeger and two other POWs
7 years of imprisonment – In the case of hanging two prisoners in 1943
6 years of imprisonment – In the case of a single hanging in 1943
For all the three crimes the court stated according to paragraphs StGB75, 74 an inclusive total sentence of ten years of imprisonment.’
* Hantke – One of Mohwinkel's deputies in Lipowa 7 camp.