martes, 20 de enero de 2015

The Auschwitz survivor who adopted the camp chief’s grandson

Hitler's Children Discussion Eva Mozes Kor and Rainer Höß 

Since meeting in 2013, Mengele survivor Eva Mozes Kor and Rainer Höss have formed a close bond. Together they preach understanding and tolerance.

For a Holocaust survivor, meeting the offspring of one’s tormenters would be difficult enough. The prospect of developing a close friendship with them, even familial warmth, would seem utterly impossible.

Yet this is just the sort of unlikely relationship struck between a woman who was subjected to horrific Nazi medical experiments at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, and the very grandson of that camp’s notorious commander, according to the Vice news website.

In 1944, at the age of ten, Romanian-born Eva Mozes Kor was captured by the Nazis and — along with her twin sister — was subjected to savage medical experiments at Auschwitz carried out by Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. Mengele, who had a particular interest in twins in his work, is believed to have victimized approximately 1,500 pairs throughout the war. Only around 200 of those pairs survived.

“Throughout the week, the doctors would be giving me a minimum of five injections into my arm. I became very ill,” Kor recently recounted to high school students at a lecture in Casper, Wyoming, according to Oil City.
At one point Mengele told her, laughing, that she had only two weeks to live. Her sister, too, was very sick, but both knew that if one died, the other would likely be killed as well.
“I remember going back to the camp where I remember crawling and fading in and out of consciousness, crawling to get to a water fountain, telling myself, ‘I must survive, I must survive,'” she said.
And, miraculously, they did.
In 1995, Kor founded the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, a small city in western Indiana where she has lived since the 1950s, with the aim of sharing her story with her neighbors. But instead of speaking in anger of her captors, Kor has preached forgiveness.
“I had the power to forgive. No one could give me the power, or take it away from me,” Kor, now 80, told Vice last week. “I refused to be a victim, and now I am free.”
In 2013, Kor first met Rainer Höss, whose grandfather Rudolf Höss commanded Auschwitz for much of the war and is identified with the decision to use pesticide Zyklon B to kill prisoners in the camp’s gas chambers.
Many families of former Nazi war criminals have avoided their past. Some have attempted to bury it, while others deny that any evil was perpetrated at all. But not Rainer Höss. Since finding out the truth of his grandfather’s actions, he has become a fierce and vocal critic of his forebear and has sought to learn all that he could of his dark roots.
When his family criticized his choices, Höss cut his ties with them. He has devoted recent years to educating schoolchildren about the dangers of right-wing extremism. What began when his children’s teachers asked him to share his story with pupils at their school has now become a full-time job that saw him visit more than 70 schools in Germany in 2013 alone.
After hearing of Kor’s story, Höss, 49, contacted her and asked to meet her. He also asked her if she would agree to become his adoptive grandmother. After meeting him, Kor consented.
“I’m proud to be his grandmother,” she told Vice. “I admire and love him. He had the need of love from a family he never had.”
One million Jews were killed at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945 along with more than 100,000 non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals and anti-Nazi partisans before the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945.
Rudolf Höss went into hiding after World War II but was captured by the Allies in 1946 and hanged the year after near the infamous Auschwitz crematorium.
Rainer has said in the past that if he knew where his grandfather was buried, he would go to his grave in order to urinate or spit on it. Kor says she has urged him to forgive his grandfather as well as the rest of his family. Only by forgiving your worst enemies can you be truly free, she contends.
“I do argue with him, as I don’t always agree with everything he does. But I definitely love him,” she said. “There is a real camaraderie and emotional understanding. People from different places who call each other grandma and grandson can give a sign of hope.”

domingo, 11 de enero de 2015

Inside the Nazi death camp for WOMEN: Injected with petrol, infected with syphilis and raped by their liberators, the shocking fate of prisoners at Ravensbrück

  • 50,000 women murdered at German camp; 2,500 gassed in one weekend

  • 'Undesirables'at the camp included gipsies, political prisoners, Resistance fighters and petty criminals
  • Women 'rabbits' were injected with STI in heinous medical experiments 
  • Red Army soldiers raped many survivors who saw the camp's liberation 
  • Sarah Helm's new book features testimonies from prisoners

  • Katharina Waitz stared at the 15ft wall topped by barbed wire, took a deep breath and, undaunted, began to climb the last leg to freedom. 
    She was one of the handful of inmates of Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp exclusively for women, ever to break out, and it took the ultimate in daring high-wire acts for her to get away.
    A trapeze artist by profession, the crime that consigned her to this grimmest of places was simply that she was a gipsy and therefore classified by Hitler’s Third Reich as a degenerate whose very existence polluted the pure Aryan gene pool.
    Twice this brave young woman tried to escape and was caught, spending months of torture in the camp’s punishment block. 
    Undeterred, she tried again. Under cover of darkness, she somehow slipped past the SS guards and their vicious Alsatian dogs and up on to the roof of the staff canteen.
    From there, she used all her circus skills to climb the electric fence, wrapping a blanket round the live wires. Then she clambered over five rows of barbed wire and a 15ft wall before fleeing into the forest.

  • She was free for three days and nights, during which time all the other women in the punishment block were forced to stand at attention, without moving a muscle and without food. On the fourth morning she dragged back, covered in blood and dog bites.
    She was thrown back inside the punishment block, where her fellow prisoners were told: ‘Do what you want with her.’ 
    Crazed with starvation and fatigue, they picked up chair legs and clubbed her to death for what she had put them through — doing the guards’ dirty work for them.
    Many thousands of women suffered similarly gruesome fates in the six years that Ravensbruck existed. They were worked to death, starved, beaten, hanged, shot, gassed, poisoned, even burnt alive in the crematorium.
    Such barbaric treatment, systematic and on an industrial scale, is hard to comprehend. It plumbs the absolute depths of savagery, even for Nazi Germany.

  • And yet after the war ended, what took place passed so quickly into history that it was virtually forgotten. Seventy-five years on, the horrific crimes enacted there are largely unknown.
    In all, 130,000 passed through its gates, of whom 50,000 were slaughtered, though so few SS documents on the camp survive no one will ever know precise numbers. In its final days, every prisoner’s file was burned, along with the bodies, and the ashes thrown in a lake.
    But what really drew a veil over what went on in the camp is that those who survived its horrors found them literally unspeakable. 
    One told me how it was impossible to explain what it had been like: ‘So I said nothing.’ 
    Another started to tell her family and friends about all she’d endured, ‘but my sister took me aside and told me not to talk like that again as people would think I’d gone mad’.

  • One survivor I spoke to tried to put me off writing about it altogether. ‘It is just too horrible,’ she said.
    Certainly, as I researched the camp’s history, met survivors and read personal accounts in distant archives, the brutality and degradation I unearthed were so extreme I was often reduced to tears.
    But I ploughed on. These were voices that had to be heard.
    Oddly, when the first prisoners arrived at Ravensbruck, 55 miles north of Berlin, in May 1939, they broke into unexpected smiles.
    Political opponents, prostitutes, down-and-outs and ‘undesirables’, they were brought there from dungeons, dark cells and grim workhouses all over Germany, where they had been locked up for not conforming to the ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ (Children, kitchen, church) Nazi ideal of womanhood.
    As they climbed down from blacked-out buses, they looked out on the shimmering blue water of a lake. The scent of a pine forest filled their lungs. ‘Our hearts leapt for joy,’ recalled Lisa Ullrich, a Communist.
    There were no watchtowers. Inside the barbed wire they caught a glimpse of beds of bright flowers and an aviary with peacocks and a parrot.
    The illusion of tranquility was instantly shattered as ‘hordes of women guards with yelping dogs came rushing at us issuing non-stop orders and calling us hags, bitches and whores’.
    Several prisoners collapsed under the onslaught. Friends who stooped to help them up were themselves knocked flat and whipped. 
    It was a camp rule that helping another inmate was an offence. Commands echoed through the trees as stragglers were kicked by jackboots.
    Stiff with terror, all eyes fixed on the sandy ground, the women did their utmost not to be noticed. Some were whimpering. 
    Another crack of a whip and there was silence before they were marched inside to be stripped, deloused and their hair shorn.

  • From then on, every minute of the days that stretched ahead of them was regimented by blaring sirens and rules. Inside the barrack blocks, they were tightly packed together in conditions so inhumane that one inmate described it as like ‘stepping naked into a cage of wild animals’.
    Discipline was maintained not only by guards , but also by collaborators among the prisoners, kapos and blockovas (block leaders) recruited for their vicious natures and willingness to obey orders.
     Encouraged to ‘vent their evil’ on their fellow prisoners, they were often worse than the guards as they doled out beatings and kept order.
    From these over-crowded, disease-ridden blocks the women were roused each morning as early as 3am for roll call on the parade ground and made to stand for hours in their thin striped dresses even in the iciest winter. 

    A fat SS man on a bicycle circled round them, lashing out with a whip. He was the slave labour chief and this was his cattle market where he selected prisoners for work details.
    Then they were herded off and set to work — heaving rocks and road-building, sewing military uniforms and making electrical equipment for the Siemens company, which had a factory there.
    Ravensbruck’s first inhabitants were mainly German and had been arrested for petty crimes or voicing opposition to the Nazis.
    As well as prostitutes, they included doctors, opera singers and politicians. Later the camp took in women captured in countries occupied by the Nazis, many of them members of the Resistance and enemy agents, including a handful from Britain.
    On entering the gates, these new arrivals would stare in horror and disbelief at the corpse carts, the emaciated forms squatting around the kitchen block and the crematorium furnaces billowing smoke.
    The conditions took a terrifying toll. Broken by slave labour, weakened by disease and starvation, beaten to a pulp for no reason, the women succumbed in droves — as was intended. 
    Ravensbruck had been built as nothing short of an enormous death machine where everything was designed to kill.Those who became too ill or exhausted to work were ‘selected’ for extermination. 
    Volleys of gunshots from the woods behind the camp signified a new round of killings. Trucks regularly arrived — known as Himmelfahrt (‘heaven-bound’) or black transports — to take away batches of women for unknown destinations from which they would never return.
    Later these turned out to be the gas chambers of secret Nazi killing centres in Germany or Austria or — more often — the death camps of Auschwitz or Belsen.
    The inspiration behind this facsimile of hell was Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, who supervised the network of concentration camps. He was a frequent visitor.

  • His mistress — he called her ‘Bunny’ — lived in a love-nest nearby and he took to dropping in when on his way from Berlin.
    It was he who sanctioned the use of the Pruegelstrafe, in which a prisoner was strapped over a wooden horse and given 25 lashes on the buttocks with an ox-whip. It had long been used on men. 
    Now women were similarly thrashed within an inch of their lives. But worse perhaps even than these were the spine-chilling medical experiments carried out on the inmates. These began with the camp’s doctor, Walter Sonntag.
    Encouraged by Himmler he began by testing ways of killing off prisoners. Injecting petrol or phenol into their veins was his favoured method.
    Sonntag was a sadistic brute. Each morning, dressed in his immaculate, black SS uniform, he passed along the line of women waiting outside the camp hospital who were suffering from dog bites, gashes from beatings or frostbite and kicked them with his jackboots or lashed out with his bamboo stick, smiling as he did so.
    He particularly enjoyed extracting healthy teeth without anaesthetic.
    One of Himmler’s obsessions was his belief that regular sex made for better soldiers, and he instructed Sonntag to find a way for them to have intercourse in brothels without contracting venereal disease. 
    The doctor experimented on prostitutes in Ravensbruck in search of a cure for syphilis and gonorrhoea.

    No records remain of how he carried out his trials, though everyone was aware they were happening. A camp survivor heard of ‘syphilis being injected into the spinal cord’.
    But firm evidence does exist of a series of macabre medical trials that began in the summer of 1942, when 75 of the youngest and fittest women — all Poles — were summoned to the parade ground, where SS surgeon Karl Gebhardt lifted their skirts and inspected their legs.
    Six of them were selected and sent to the hospital block.
    There they were bathed and put in beds with crisp, clean sheets. Then a nurse shaved their legs before wheeling them into the operating theatre. ‘Be brave,’ she told them.
    As she sank under the anaesthetic, one of them repeated over and over: ‘We are not guinea pigs ... we are not guinea pigs.’ But that’s precisely what they were, though the camp name for them would be Kaninchen — ‘rabbits’. 
    When that first ‘rabbit’ woke, her legs were in plaster. Within hours she and the others were screaming in agony as their legs began to swell.
    They were being used in vivisection experiments to discover the best drugs for treating the war wounds of Germany’s soldiers. The women’s legs had been cut open and dosed with bacteria, with added dirt, glass and splinters to ensure that infection spread further.
    Days later, the plaster was removed and their wounds agonisingly scraped out before being treated with different experimental drugs. ‘Rabbits’ who fought against what was being done to them, or screamed too loudly because of the pain or were no longer of any use, were put out of their misery with lethal injections or simply taken out into the forest and shot.
    The medical experiments were supposed to be top secret. But the whole camp was aware of them, and was horrified. ‘We were terrified the same might happen to us,’ recalled Maria Bielicka, ‘and everyone went out of their way to help the “rabbits”.’
    Inmates brought them titbits of food. The Poles in the camp set up an aid committee and assigned a Polish ‘mother’ to each ‘rabbit’ to try and look after her welfare.
    But the tests worsened as ever more fanciful medical theories were explored and right to the very end, the ‘rabbits’ lived in fear of extermination, knowing that, alive, they were proof of the atrocity.
    To aid the wholesale slaughter, Himmler now decreed that Ravensbruck should have its own gas chamber, which was built in January 1945. The camp had become overcrowded to breaking point and he needed to make space for even more prisoners, especially with the camps in the East forced to close.

    Shooting and poisoning took too long. Gassing was quicker. It would double the numbers killed. A temporary gas chamber was fashioned out of an old tool shed close to the crematorium, just outside the camp wall. 
    Measuring 12ft by 18ft, it resembled a car garage. Gaps and holes in the walls were covered with mastic and a special airtight cover fixed over the roof with a small hatch.
    The women were pushed inside, 150 at a time, and the door shut. Then a canister of gas was thrown in from the roof. According to a witness, there was moaning and crying for two to three minutes, then silence.
    Prisoners in the closest blocks would hear the lorries pull up and wondered why the engines were left running for so long. Then someone said it was to cover the screams from the gas chamber.
    The air was thick with smoke from the crematorium. Its three furnaces could barely keep pace.
    The gassing at Ravensbruck went on almost right to the end, even during air raids and when Russian guns could be heard in the distance. Over one weekend alone, 2,500 women were gassed.
    The aim was to destroy evidence of what had happened there before the Allies arrived.
    But there were still thousands left on site on April 30, 1945, when the surviving women awoke to the roar of Russian artillery, the gunfire so close that the sky above the perimeter wall lit up.
    The SS guards had fled, and the women prepared a red banner to hang across the camp gates.
    But their Red Army ‘liberators’ brought a fresh horror — rape.
    Ever since it had crossed the German border, the advancing Red Army had engaged in sexual rampage and now it even raped these starved concentration camp women — many of them fellow Russians.
    Nadia Vasilyeva, a nurse, remembered how the troops ‘at first greeted us as sisters but then they turned into animals’.
    ‘I was little more than a corpse,’ recalled Ilse Heinrich, ‘and then I had to undergo that!’ Pregnant women and those with newborn babies were also raped.
    Another woman complained that the soldiers were demanding payment for liberation. ‘The Germans never raped us because we were Russian swine, but our own soldiers did. Stalin had said that no soldiers should be taken prisoner, so they felt they could treat us like dirt.’
    Given all that the brave women of Ravensbruck had been through and managed to survive against the odds, this violation by their own side was the final humiliation.


  • miércoles, 7 de enero de 2015

    "The Insulted Face."

    Would you like to learn more on the biopolitic system in the Nazi camps? 

    In the concentration camp, the biopolitical system finds its absolute space. The concentration camp becomes a laboratory for "men without any humanity." 

    Don't miss my article on radical violence,  "The Insulted Face" at Anachronia (French language).

    viernes, 2 de enero de 2015

    From the archive, 1 January 1934: Manchester Guardian exposes reality of Dachau

    Dachau concentration camp: report on its organisation, routine, punishment and ill-treatment of prisoners

    The concentration camp at Dachau is often represented as a model of its kind. Thus the “Münchener Illustrierte Presse” of July 16 described it (with illustrations) as a kind of institute where politically misguided men are being trained to become good citizens. They are seen drilling and working in a way that suggests a healthy and a disciplined but not overstrenuous life. The truth is that this camp is in no sense a model, although it is no worse than many of the Hitlerite concentration camps. The following details of the organisation and routine have come into the possession of your correspondent:-
    The number of prisoners (according to the September list) is 2,200-2,400. Of these about fifty are intellectuals, a few are members of the middle class without any political affiliations, fifty or sixty are Nazis, about sixty are Jews, about five hundred are Socialists, two are army officers (Catholics and members of the Bavarian People’s party), there are several beggars and ordinary criminals, fifteen are non-German subjects, and the remainder are Communists. The overwhelming majority belong to the working class.
    The prisoners are housed in ten barracks. Each squad has two tubs, six wash-basins, and two pails (flowing water is available, but the swimming-bath shown in the “Münchener Illustrierte Presse” is for the use of the Nazi guards only).
    All officials of the Communist party who refuse to give the political information the Nazis demand are sent to the cells (“Arrestzellen”). So are the prisoners who have committed offences such as making political remarks in their letters. The cells are of concrete, they have one barred window each (which can be darkened), they are damp, and without heating arrangements. In September twenty-one new cells were built by the prisoners. Chains (with manacles - made by the prisoners in the camp forge - for wrists and ankles) are let into the walls. The sleeping accommodation consists of wooden planks without a blanket. A prisoner sentenced to detention (“Arrest”) in one of these cells gets nothing to eat on the first day, then bread and water for three days, and a hot meal every fourth day. Those sentenced to “Mittelarrest,” a milder form of detention, are allowed a straw sack to sleep on, while their cells are not darkened. Prisoners may be sentenced to detention for as much as three months.
    Besides detention in the cells there is corporal punishment. This consists of flogging with an ox-hide thong that has a strip of steel, three or four millimetres wide, running along its whole length (these are made by the prisoners). The blows - the number varies from twenty-five to seventy-five according to the sentence - are counted out by an S.S. man. Two other S.S. men hold the prisoner down, one by the hands and the other by the head, round which a sack is wrapped so that the prisoner’s cries are stifled. 
    Officials of the Socialist and Communist parties are usually beaten on arrival, without having committed any specific offence. Prisoners are sentenced to corporal punishment for very small offences, such as uttering Communist slogans. On August 18 twenty-five men who had arrived on the previous day received twenty-five to seventy-five blows each on their bared bodies for no apparent reason, while their Nazi guards amused themselves with a radio set.
    In addition to regular punishments there are special forms of arbitrary ill-treatment. Thus prisoners are sometimes beaten with wet towels. Sometimes they are bastinadoed until the soles of their feet are lacerated. Seven S.A. men who arrived in the camp on August 1 were bastinadoed as well as being maltreated in other ways. Two of them died of their injuries. On September 2 one of the Nazi guards broke a prisoner’s jaw with a blow of his fist. Some prisoners have also been beaten with lengths of rubber hosepipe. Some have been burnt with cigarette ends and some have been put to what Americans call the “water torture.”
    Amongst the prisoners who have received severe injuries are L. Buchmann, Georg Freischütz, and a journalist named Ewald Thunig. The Munich Communist Sepp Götz was killed after being so beaten that he could no longer stand. The student Wickelmeier was killed by a bullet. The Communist Fritz Dressel was beaten to death. Leonhard Hausmann, a municipal councillor, Lehrburger, Aron (a member of the Bamberg Reichsbanner), and Stenzel were killed. Willy Franz was killed in September - he was officially reported to have hanged himself, but the post-mortem showed no traces of hanging, while the face was stained with blood and the clothes blood-sodden. At the end of November the Communist official Buerk (from Memmingen) was killed. The total number of prisoners who have been killed or who have died of their injuries at Dachau cannot be far short of fifty.

    Click to read on
    Punishment and Ill-Treatmen of Prisioners (Dachau Concentration Camp)


    miércoles, 31 de diciembre de 2014

    Racial Hygiene and the Third Reich

    What did Racial Hygiene really mean in the Third Reich? Did doctors carried it on freely? #RacialHygiene #ThirdReich #NaziDoctors
    Don't miss my article at Anachronia  

    miércoles, 24 de diciembre de 2014

    Ambler resident recalls fleeing Nazi Germany, her father's imprisonment in Buchenwald

    It was November 1938, less than a year before the Nazis invaded Poland, and 11-year-old Ellen Nussbaum was startled awake at 5 a.m. to the sound of two gestapo officers knocking on the front door of her parents’ home in Berlin, Germany.
    When her parents finally opened the door — themselves having just woken up — the officers informed them that Ellen’s father, Leo Nussbaum, was under arrest.

    “They had no reason for the arrest that my mother could find out,” remembers Ellen, now 87. But Leo, a prominent business owner, knew the score. He had committed no crime, true, but the Nussbaums were a Jewish family living in a rapidly changing Germany.

    Reason played no role in this.

    Still groggy with sleep, Leo “asked to be allowed to freshen up,” Ellen recalls. “So, one of the officers stood in the bathroom with him, his back against the window. The other officer stood outside with his back against the door. It seemed like a lot of people had jumped out of windows [to escape arrests] at that point. They wanted to prevent it.”

    As the officers escorted Leo from the building, he called out to his family, “I have a cousin in Louisville, Kentucky. I don’t know his address. See if you can contact him to help me.”

    “No name,” Ellen says, “no address.”

    It would be months before she saw her father again.

    That was 76 years ago, but Ellen remembers it like it was yesterday. In fact, those few short early morning moments would shape the rest of her life. Some months later, she would leave Berlin with her mother, Gertrude — and would never return.

    Sitting on the couch in her quaint apartment in Artman assisted living facility, Ellen shows no sign of the turmoil she experienced during World War II. In fact, she’s all class, poised and postured, smiling tenderly in a spotless, cherry red cardigan, with a string of pearls around her neck.

    Her banter is witty, her insights bright.

    The only hint of the harrowing ordeals she endured can be found in her densely dark, melancholy eyes and the way she nervously offers another cup of coffee when the conversation turns too serious.

    Now a published author who has penned five nonfiction books — including two biographies on Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel — and countless autobiographical short stories, Ellen has spent a lot of time poring over the events of her early life, perhaps looking for some meaning in it all.

    “I am really amazed at the process of the mind,” she says, her hands folded neatly on her lap. “You put things away — you think — and then something sets it off again,” memories come flooding back. “I’m beginning to think everything is somehow connected.”

    She comes back to this often, the idea of connectedness, the thought “that everything that happens in life is meant to, maybe.” Though, she admits, “some things are hard to accept.”

    Following his arrest, Leo Nussbaum was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, where he remained for 11 weeks and served as a hard laborer in a rock quarry. The work was brutal, and later in life, the conditions of the camp would cost Leo his legs — not to mention his finances.

    It wasn’t long before the family discovered “the purpose of arresting [Leo] was to get him to sign over his business to his non-Jewish partner,” Ellen says. Such arrests were commonplace during the time, a symptom of a Nazi movement termed Aryanization, defined as a systematic removal of Jewish citizens from business life in Germany.

    Leo’s business partner, Ellen says, “knew it was all wrong,” but there was nothing he could do about it. During the months that Leo was in Buchenwald, the partner “tried to help my mother and me, sending us a little money because we had no funds after my father was arrested. He was very decent to us.”

    But life was dire without Leo, and matters were getting worse by the day. His final words to her still haunting Gertrude, it was clear the only hope for the Nussbaum family was to get word to the cousin in Louisville — a man no one had ever met; a man no one even knew how to reach.

    As an act of outright desperation, Gertrude “sat down and wrote a letter to the mayor of Louisville,” Ellen recalls. It was a shot in the dark, but Ellen’s mother wrote the letter, mailed it and hoped for a reply.

    “The mayor,” it turns out, “was German born,” Ellen says, “and he happened to play cards with our relative every Thursday night in a well-known deli in Louisville. The next time they [played cards] the mayor pulled out this letter and said, ‘This came for you. I didn’t open it. Take a look.’

    “The mayor was the connection that would help us get out [of Germany].”

    Acting fast, the relative, Karl, immediately sent papers and affidavits claiming responsibility for Ellen’s family — Leo included. Gertrude promptly took the paperwork to the American consulate, but was met with yet more difficulty.

    “The people at the American consulate were very nasty,” Ellen says. “I always thought they looked down on the people who were trying to get out so desperately. They made all kinds of conditions. They told my mother, ‘In order for your husband to receive a passport or a visa, he has to appear in person.’ And my mother said, ‘That’s a little difficult since he’s in Buchenwald.’”

    In the end, it seems, it all came down to money.

    “My mother found an American lawyer,” Ellen says, “gave him a heap of money and bribed someone at the consulate.”

    Leo was out of Buchenwald in a day.

    However, it wasn’t a pleasant exit. His keepers made sure to instill lasting fear in Leo.

    “They released him,” Ellen recalls, “and said, ‘Don’t think you’re getting away from us. We’ll find you no matter where you go.’”

    Within 24 hours of leaving Buchenwald, Leo darted to his home in Berlin, packed everything he could carry and high-tailed it for Antwerp, Belgium, where he caught a ride on a ship called the Europa. The next time Ellen saw her father was when she and Gertrude reunited with him in Louisville.

    Fear of the Gestapo still hanging over him, one of the first things Leo did in Kentucky was to choose a new name for his family. He opened up a phone book, searched through the listings under the letter N and, seemingly at random, chose the surname Norman.

    “He liked the name,” she says, “so he changed his name from Nussbaum to Norman. It was funny — my mother would say only criminals change their name.”

    From there, and thanks to the generosity of Karl, the Norman family began a safer, albeit humbler life in America.

    “[Karl] was tremendous,” Ellen says. His family “arranged for us to have a house that we paid off. They were wonderful to us. When the grandchildren got new clothes, [I] did, too. They gave me music lessons, voice lessons.”

    Leo tried to build his business again — in Germany, Ellen says, he sold construction machinery — but the competition was stiff in Louisville, and health complications made matters worse.

    “He lost both legs as a result of the rock business in Buchenwald,” Ellen explains. A mixture of diabetes, arteriosclerosis and the hardships endured in the labor camp “took a lot out of him. He had to have both legs amputated in Louisville.”

    For a moment a tender silence takes hold of the small apartment in Artman.

    “The worst thing,” Ellen says, finally, “was coming here and seeing the wheelchairs again. It brings back memories. And now my husband is in one, too.”

    She offers some more coffee.

    Time went on. The Norman family adjusted to life in America. Ellen attended the University of Louisville and got a job working as a clerk for NBC, first in Kentucky and then in New York, where she met her husband and took the surname Stern.
    After time, she started writing about her experiences.

    Some of her short stories caught the attention of the Jewish Publication Society, which asked her to write a juvenile biography on Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

    The book met relative success, and the JPS asked Ellen if she’d be interested in writing a biography on Elie Wiesel, author of the moving, iconic Holocaust memoir “Night.” At the time, Ellen was working as a religious school secretary. She wasn’t sure she was qualified to write about Wiesel, wasn’t even sure he would want her to.

    But then, one day, she received a phone call at work: “‘This is Elie Wiesel. I like the way you write. Will you come and see me so we can talk?’

    “I’ve never been the same since,” she says.

    In Wiesel, Ellen found someone who understood the mark left on her by the events of World War II. She admits she felt that her experiences were slight compared to his — Wiesel famously survived imprisonment and unspeakable brutality in Auschwitz and other concentration camps — but the two expatriates found comfort in one another.

    “I went to New York to interview Wiesel,” Ellen recalls, “and for over two hours we talked about our fathers, who had said we’d never leave Europe ... Wiesel of course had much more horrendous experiences [than me]; he was in the camp, he lost everybody. But there was something there like a homecoming. We understood where we came from, had an understanding of each other.”

    Still, for Ellen, humility reigned. She couldn’t fathom writing about such a man, so prolific, so brilliant — and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate to boot. Just knowing Wiesel was monumental. But to chronicle his life?

    “I said this to him: ‘How can I understand you?’ Here I was, a reformed Jew,” who still felt like that same little girl pushing a doll carriage around the streets of Berlin. “‘You come from a totally different milieu. How can I write about you?’

    “He said, ‘You can find me in my books.’”

    So Ellen read his books — all 35 of them. More interviews and correspondences ensued, and when all was said and done, Ellen wrote two biographies on Wiesel, the first simply titled “Elie Wiesel”; the second, “Elie Wiesel: Witness for Life.” During a trip in Washington, D.C., Wiesel lost the manuscript to one of those biographies on a train, Ellen says. Thankfully, she had an extra copy.

    “The nicest thing,” she says of knowing the author, “is he has stayed a friend. Sometimes you write about people and they don’t like it. But he just wrote me a greeting for the Jewish New Year.”

    It is now time, Ellen says, to put history behind her: “I don’t want to write about the past anymore.”

    The Artman resident — whose last published work, “The French Physician’s Boy,” was an account of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia — is ready to focus on the here and now.

    “I felt I’d done enough,” she says. “And the world has since then [World War II] gotten into different shapes, unfortunately. So I would just like to be on a more positive track.”

    Though, she admits with a laugh, “I haven’t reached it quite yet.”

    Leo Norman passed away in 1965, but not, Ellen adds, before meeting his two grandchildren, Lawrence and Michael, who both now live in Montgomery County and visit their mother often. Ellen’s husband, Harold, is never far from her side.

    And as for the past that she’s ready to put behind her?

    “It was awful,” she says. “We didn’t know what was happening to the rest of the family [back home in Berlin]. And when we found out, it was bad. Oh God.”

    Even so, Ellen Stern can find silver linings in almost any memory — “[life’s] been pretty darn good since then; we’re darn lucky and blessed” — and her faith in mankind, though tested, has never wavered.

    “People are not all bad,” she says, simply. “People are not all bad.”