Hedvige Schenfein: 

My father’s name was Fritz Schupbach, my mother’s Luisa Kostli, both came from Bern, Switzerland and both were Protestants. My husband’s name was Nehemia Schenfien, a doctor, from Ostrog and was Jewish. I married him in Bern, Swizterland in 1920 at a Protestant church. 

We came to Yugoslavia in 1922. My husband worked for the Swiss Red Cross mission to help areas that were devastated by the war. The mission in Yugoslavia lasted for one year. When the mission ended, my husband remained in Yugoslavia working as a doctor in Pristina and later in Kosovska Mitrovica where he remained up until his capture by the Gestapo in the middle of February 1942. The Chief of the SD police, Hausding, I do not remember his rank. In the police there were also two men, Willi and Jakob there, I do not know more about them, but I can find out. 

Five or six days after the arrest of my husband, I was arrested along with my daughter Ljiljiana, who was 13 years old at the time.  My other daughter, Suzana, was in Belgrade at the time so she was not arrested with us. We were arrested because we were unable to provide original documentation of our status as non-Jews, the copies of the documents that I provided were declared false. 
During our capture the Gestapo verbally abused us. When I told Hausding that I was not Jewish, he replied,” Even if that is true, you are contaminated by Jews (judisch verseucht).” When I said,” I give you my word of honor about this,” he answered, smiling cynically,”Jews don’t have a word of honor.” 

During questioning, Hausding noticed a diamond ring I was wearing. He asked to remove it and show it to him. When I did so, he examined the ring and without a word put it in his pocket. When the questioning was over, they searched the house and found 500 000 dinars. Both Hausding and Willi started to puts the money in their pockets. They continued to search the house and everything that they liked they took, arguing amongst themselves who would get what. They assured me that everything would be returned, but I did not receive any receipt neither then nor later. I knew very well that the German command knew that I was not Jewish but they arrested purely to loot my apartment. 

First I was taken with my daughter to military barracks where there were many Jews--about 200 men, women and children. Those were Jews from Kosovska Mitrovica, Pristina ad Novi Pazar and among them, many refugees from Belgrade. After a week’s time, we were trasported to Belgrade under armed guard. We were transported in closed rail cars, that were never opened during the travel. They did not give us any food or water; neither did they allow us out of the cars to go to the bathroom.  

The train brought us to the railway station in Zemun and from there we went on foot to Sajmiste. Hausding had not told me I would be taken out of the country, only that I was to report to the Kreiskomandantura, to sign a statement, so I had not brought anything with me from home, therefore I arrived at Sajmiste with only the clothing I was wearing. I did not even have with me my winter coat, because Hausding had told me it would not be necessary because the komandantura wasjust a short distance from our home. 

Sajmiste was fenced in with barbed wire more than two meters high, there were four or five rows of fencing. The forbade us to approach the fence telling us that the fencing was electric that would kill anyone who touched it. The buildings were surrounded by this fence, even the German headquarters which were somewhere in the center of the camp, in a building with a high tower which still stands today in Sajmiste. 

Women and children were separated from the men and stayed in pavilions numbers 1, 3 and 5.  The men were in another paviliion the number of which I do not remember. In one of the pavilions was a warehouse, in the Spasic pavilion was the hospital, and the morgue and bathrooms, I think, were in the Hungarian pavilion. In between the bathrooms and the morgue was a large hall which we were strictly forbidden to enter. That hall was cleaned frequently. I do not know what that hall was used for, but all of us feared that creepy hall, although we never knew what the Germans did there. 
On entry to the camp they immediately separated the men. Women, girls and boys--I believe up to the age of 14--they sent to get straw from outside, they ordered us to take and the straw to the pavilion where were to stay. 

At first, I stayed with my daughter in pavilion 1, but after one month, they moved us to pavilion 5. All of the pavilions were divided into blocks. The beds were in bunks of three, the lowest was half a meter off the ground, the second about a meter above the first, and the third a meter above that. Now that I think about it, there was a fourth level, that very high from the ground, so that it was dangerous if one fell from it. There were narrow steps leading up to the second, third and fourth bunks, and it was dangerous to climb them. 

There were people who brought sheets and blankets from home. Those who did not have any, as I did not, slept on the straw, since the Germans did not provide them.  

I do not remember how many of us there were in our pavilion. At Sajmiste, together with the Gypsies, there were 8 000 of us in all. In the beginning, when the Germans had not yet begun killing, the pavilions were extremely crowded, so much so that people could not turn around in the bunks. Later, when the pavilions began to empty, there was more space. 

Life in the pavilions was very hard. Even though it was February when we arrived at Sajmiste, the winter was very deep and we all suffered greatly from the cold. But, people who had been incacerated at Sajmiste since December said the end of December and all of January had been much worse and that many had frozen and died in the cold. There were stoves in the pavilion but they heated poorly, but even if they had worked well, it would not have been enough to heat the pavilion. 

There was no specific place for washing. We used wash basins and pitchers--those who had these things shared them with the rest. Some women, who did not know me, gave me some warm underwear since I had not brought any. It was especially difficult to wash and dry clothing. We had to do this in our pavilion because we were not allowed by the Germans to hang them outside, as they were offended by “the sight of Jewish underwear”, so they said. This was also extremely difficult for those who had only one set of underwear since they would have to be without them until they were dry. The wake up call was delivered by trumpet at 5:00 a.m. Until 6 a.m., we prepared ourselves for inspection. Inspections were severe. They were overseen by the Komandant--Andorfer-- personally, accompanied by a another German officer. Not one piece of straw could be left on the floor and the bunks had to be correctly arranged. During the day it was not allowed that anyone lie in the bunks, without special permission from the Komandant.  
Breakfast was distributed at 6:00 a.m.-- some coffee substitute, without sugar. Lunch was at noon. For meals we had to come personally, each for their own bowl. Lunch consisted of about a half liter of warm water with a few beans or some cabbage floating in it. We were never given meat. Bread we likewise never received, rather approximately 100-150 grams of cornbread. For dinner we were given the same as for lunch. It was not possible to get any other food from outside nor were we permitted to receive any packages.  

There were not enough latrines, they were out in the open--without walls or doors. Usually, we had to wait in line for a very long time. You can imagine how this looked when there were only 12 latrines for almost 8000 people. We cleaned the latrines ourselves, like everything else in the camp.  

During the winter, before I arrived, one large group of women and girls, went to work at the Zemun Airport. They told me this work had been very difficult. I did not see that since when I came women did not go to work outside of the camp. 

After dinner at 8:00 p.m., we went to bed. In the pavilion the electric lights were very weak so that one could not read nor work. For the most part, the light was only strong enough for those on the top level bunks, the rest were always in the dark. 

Bathing was only allowed for those who could prove they had lice. To do this, we went to an ambulance to be checked and if lice were confirmed we were allowed to bathe. There were 10 showers in all, so there was only a short time available to bathe since many waited in line. 

We suffered greatly from lice; because of hygenic conditions no sooner than we had gotten rid of them than they returned. 
At Sajmiste, there was a hospital with about 50 beds. The doctors were Jews, but they were supervised by Germans, who made larger decisions, for example whether someone would be sent to the Jewish hospital in Belgrade. Medicines available included quinine, aspirin, castor oil and various teas.  For all difficult cases, the doctors requested that the Germans send them to the Jewish hospital in Belgrade and this was frequently granted by the Germans. During my time at Sajmiste, they sent at least 200 patients to the hospital in Belgrade, but not one of them returned to Sajmiste nor did we ever here more of them. Not even the doctors were allowed to go to the Jewish hospital in Belgrade, nor were the Belgrade doctors allowed to come to Sajmiste. 

We were able to contact people from another pavilion and in this way I was able to see my husband and talk with him. 
Besides working in the camp, people also did some other work for the Germans, put I do not know exactly what they did. I saw them carrying some beams.  

Command of the camp was controlled by the S.S. and they were the commanders of the camp. The guards were made up of police known as Feldzandarm. The internal discipline of the Jews was held by Jews. Before I came, the Jewish “Commander” was called Deutsch, but when I arrived the Germans had already sent him somewhere--I don’t know where--and Mrs. Djarfas from Beckerek took his place. Also, I knew that the lawyer Demajo served some function at the camp. The Jews served as doctors, warehouse managers and book keepers etc.  

I was aware that the majority of women had their heads shaved as a punishment. I knew the case of one girl who they shaved because she was not polite towards the Germans, who had tried to speak to her while she was looking at herself in the mirror. 
Men were required to salute German soldiers when they met them in the area of the camp. To salute, they had to remove their hats and bow deeply.  Of course everyone tried to avoid the Germans in order to escape this humiliation. 

Shortly before my arrival,  I heard that 6 women were shot at Sajmiste, because they had contacted people outside of the prison. In order to correspond with the outside world they left letters in the latrines and the people who cleaned those latrines(Serbs from Belgrade) took those letters and delivered them. The day before I came, they shot one Jewish woman who was engaged to a Serb. She was shot because the Germans found her letter that she planned to send to her fiance.  Her girlfriends planted a pine tree on her grave, not even I know where they got it. 

I think a man, Pera--I think he was a driver, helped the Jews a great deal in delivering letters, but we called Pera “Klozetar”(person who cleans latrines) since he was always cleaning them. 

Upon my arrival, the Germans declared that the prison camp was to be gradually evacuated because Sajmiste was to become a camp for communist prisoners. For the first transport, the Germans asked for volunteers, and the first group from Kosovo, with whom I had come were asked to register for transport.  Many of them left with the first transport voluntarily. Later, when there were no longer volunteers, the German decided themselves who would be selected for transport. They selected people from prepared lists which included all the members of each family--men, women and children. Under relatives were also distant relative- cousins, their children, grandparents etc.  

Transports left in huge gray truck that was completely enclosed. The truck could fit 100 people, 10 rows of 10. There were no seats. The truck was always parked by the Zemun exit of the camp--it never entered the camp. We could not confirm its destination. 
Those who were selected for transport, either ordered or advised, to take their valuables with them, and all else to pack up and mark with their home address.  Those packages were brought to a truck behind the transport vehicle, and the S.S. loaded them into the truck.  Right after that, they ordered the inmates to enter the other truck and both vehicles would leave together to unknown destinations. 
In this manner, transports left almost every day. Usually on Sundays and holidays there were no transports, but there were days when the transports ran twice from the camp.  
The driver of the transport truck often entered the camp, gathered children around him, hugged them and gave them candies. Children loved him and whenever he came they ran to meet him and get candies. 

No one in the camp imagined that people left the camp for their deaths. They firmly believed that those people were being moved to some work camp. Once, I tried to climb the tower of the Command headquarters so I could see what direction the truck was headed in, but the guards caught me, and threatened that I or anyone else who tried to do it again would be shot. We agreed with the people who were to leave in the truck that they should leave some indication of the place they were taken inside the truck, but we never found anything although a few times we were able to check to see if our friends had kept their promise.
The second to last transport of the 8th or 9th of May 1942 took my husband to an unknown location. He did not allow me to follow him, he wanted me to take advantage of the possibility that, through Swiss Consulate as a non-Jew to be released and to find our other daughter, Suzana, whose whereabouts and condition were unknown as we had not had news of her for two months. 
The last transport left Sajmiste on or about the 10th of May 1942. 
The Gypsies who were left at Sajmiste were transported at the beginning of March. I forgot to say that with every transport left with one Jewish doctor or nurse. That gave us more of a sense of faith that the Germans were taking account of the life and health of the inmates. Nothing would have made us think that the Germans would kill so many thousands of innocent people. 

Around the 10th of May, out of 8000 people, only 6 women remained. They were: 
Gertrude Neumann from Berlin. In 1944, she traveled first to Bari, but later--she herslef wrote to me from Bari that she had gotten the address of her husband who was in Palestine and that she was going to join him. 
Anna Hecht from Vienna, whose husband was shot in the Sabac camp. She wrote to me from Vienna, but I lost the letter with her address. 

Zimmerman, wife of a Russian refugee, the famous sculptor Zimmerman from Prague, I don’t know what happened to her. 
Klauber, she was in Belgrade until 1946 and left for Prague with one Czech transport. 

Eskenazi, from Roumania, who just by chance was taken to the camp. She went from camp to camp looking for her husband. When she came to Sajmiste, instead of giving her information, the German commander arrested her and kept her in the camp, where she remained until the end and was released with me. 
All of these women were not Jewish, rather married to Jews. 
I was released on the intervention of the Swiss Consulate, that succeeded in proving that I was not Jewish. 
Us 6 women, remained in the camp one more week, and no one took notice of us nor gave us any food. After the 15th of May, we were released. 

I succeeded in finding my other daughter who had been hidden by one of our friends, but I was free for only two days. Again, I was arrested with both daughters and brought to the camp at Banjica. To this day, i do not know the reason for our arrest. I suppose that the Germans were trying to get rid of one of the rare witnesses who knew of the horrible evil done against 8000 innocent people. 
During my release, the Gestapo ordered me to sign a statement that I would never speak to anyone about what I had seen and heard at Sajmiste. They convinced me that they would find out if I broke this agreement. 

I have read the above and accept it as my statement.   

Hedvige Schenfein war crimes statement



Click image to enlarge

Nehemia Schenfein, Hedvige’s husband.
Killed at Sajmiste

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