martes, 11 de agosto de 2015

Holocaust survivor Eva Kor: Nazi’s hug just ‘kindness’

To Eva Kor, it was a fleeting embrace. But to the world, it became a much more polarizing and defining moment.That’s not to say Eva, a Holocaust survivor subjected to Dr. Josef Mengele’s cruel experiments on twins, doesn’t understand the global reaction of awe and disgust. After all, the man who hugged and kissed her this spring was Oskar Gröning, the “accountant of Auschwitz.”
But for Eva, it was a simple act of kindness offered by a feeble old man. And she accepted.
She’d long ago forgiven the Nazis, Mengele, even Adolf Hitler.
And Groening.
“It was one of those meetings between two worlds that at one time would have not been possible,” she said of her encounter with Gröning in a German courtroom during his April trial. “And 70 years later I definitely sensed in that touch and in that hug and in that kiss that he was very sorry for what happened.”
Whatever anyone else thinks of the embrace, she’s grateful for it.
“Because of his grabbing and hugging me, people became interested in the story,” she said.
Eva has told that story countless times at the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute. To schoolchildren. To retirees. To vacationers who stumble upon the museum in the brick building on South Third Street near the Tromp and Tread Boot Plaza and Station Break, where customers can get a 10-minute oil change.
The story begins more than three-quarters of a century ago in Portz, Romania, a tiny village where Eva and her family were the only Jews. At 81, Eva still remembers when Hungarian Nazis took over the one-room schoolhouse designed to teach peasant children like her and her twin sister, Miriam.
“We had two new teachers who were very dedicated to teaching hatred against Jews,” she said. “Everything was involved in how to catch, kill Jews. A book had a math problem. It said: ‘If you have five Jews and you kill three, how many are left?’ So that is the way I started arithmetic in school.”
Because the twins were Jewish, the other students hit them and spat on them. Their teacher refused to help. Instead, she threw corn on the floor and forced Eva and Miriam to kneel on it for an hour while the other children taunted them. Eva hoped her mother would straighten things out.
“To my great surprise and disappointment,” Eva recalled, “my mother hugged us, kissed us and cried with us but said, ‘Children, there is nothing I can do. You have to learn that we are Jews, and you have to learn to take it.’ ”
At night, their father, a devoutly religious man, told his daughters to pray. “Don’t worry,” Eva said he told them. “Pray to God, and God is going to help us.”
As time went on, though, things got worse. Every six months a new law aimed at Jews was passed. In 1942, she said, Jews could no longer travel without a special permit. And they could hire only other Jews, a troublesome turn for a Jewish family in an all-Christian village. When her mother got sick, Eva’s father asked for a permit to go to the city to hire a Jewish woman to help with the farm.
The permit was denied.
Even at 8 years old, Eva felt the danger coming and told her father.
“I said to daddy, ‘It’s time to escape … and my father said, ‘Eva, you do not understand. You are a little girl. You’re only 8 years old. We have a nice home here. We have plenty of food. You children go to school. … The Germans won’t come to this tiny village to pick up six Jews.’ ”
He was wrong.
In March 1944, two Hungarian gendarmes carrying out German orders came to the Mozes home and took them to a regional ghetto where they stayed for about two and a half months. During the last week of May, soldiers loaded them into packed cattle cars, saying they were going to a labor camp in Hungary.
There was no room to sit. They leaned against each other, sweltering hot, with no supplies. The train stopped only to refuel. At each stop, the adults asked the guard holding a machine gun for water, and the same answer came back each time: “Five gold watches.”
The grown-ups would gather the watches and pass them through the tiny barbed-wire windows atop the cattle car. Then the guard would throw a bucket of water through the window. Eva put a cup over her head but never caught more than a few drops.

On the third day in the cattle car, when the adults asked for water, the answer came back not in Hungarian, but German.
“I was 10 years old,” Eva said. “I instantly understood what happened.”
The Jews were not being taken to a Hungarian labor camp. They had crossed into Germany and would soon be murdered.
Eight hours later, at the next stop, the request for water went unanswered. Germans yelled orders. The prisoners could hear dogs barking. Finally, the cattle car doors opened and thousands of people poured out onto a small strip called the selection platform.
Eva looked around and thought to herself: What on earth is this place?
Eva and Miriam’s mother tightly grabbed their hands, hoping that as long as she held on, she could protect them. Eva quickly realized that her father and older sisters had disappeared into the crowd.
Suddenly, an SS guard yelled in German. Zwillinge, Zwillinge! He was looking for twins and stared keenly at Eva and Miriam. He demanded to know: Are they twins?
“Is that good?” Eva remembered her mother asking. The Nazi nodded. Then an officer whisked Eva and her sister in one direction and their mother the opposite.
“We were crying,” Eva said. “She was crying. And all I really remember is seeing her arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away. I never even got to say goodbye to her. And all that took 30 minutes from the time we stepped down from the cattle car. Miriam and I no longer had a family. We were all alone, and we had no idea what would become of us.”
Becoming a ‘Mengele Twin’

Eva doesn’t remember Gröning, the SS officer in his 20s, the so-called “accountant of Auschwitz” who would in July 2015 be convicted of 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and sentenced to four years in prison. But he was there.
By his own testimony, Gröning kept watch and searched the luggage of thousands of Jews led to the gas chambers. He counted money he found and sent it to the SS office in Berlin. He knew from his first night at the camp what was happening. He heard it from other SS officers. Obedience, he told the German court, prevented him from defying the daily atrocities.
“In September 1944 we were told that the next day we would participate in the eviction and extermination of the residents of a Ghetto,” he told the court in German. “It dawned on me that for the first time I would have to participate in the killings. It was something I could not do.
“I stayed away from the barracks that night so I wouldn’t get the order to clear the Ghetto, but that would have consequences. The command staff had already moved out – without me. From that point it was clear that I couldn’t deny direct participation in the killings. That triggered my third and final application for transfer to the front – which finally came in October, 1944.”
From Eva and Miriam, much more would be taken.
After sitting naked most of the day after their arrival, the twins were processed at Auschwitz. They were given short haircuts and tattoos. Eva became A-7063, her sister A-7064.
They marched through camp to a wooden, modular horse barn, filthy and crude with rows of bunk beds. Eva was afraid of the rats, so she and her sister went to the latrine. There they found the scattered corpses of three children.
“So right then and there I made a silent pledge that I would do anything and everything within my power to make sure that Miriam and I shall not end up on that filthy latrine floor,” Eva said.
She never told anyone, not even Miriam. Her thoughts turned inward.
How to sleep?
How to get more food?
Because their food was just enough to starve to death. No more than 300 calories a day. Breakfast was lukewarm, brownish liquid. Lunch, if they were in the barracks, looked like cream of wheat but was impossible to swallow. At night, they got a piece of very dark bread about two inches long. Hunger was constant, relentless. They could not escape it.
“It was never over,” Eva said. “It was never, ever over.”
Eva didn’t once contemplate the fate of her parents or siblings, or give it a thought if she walked over a dead body. Older people told her: If you cry, you die. And she believed them.
“The mind cannot concentrate on death and living at the same time,” she said.
The instinct to survive eclipsed everything, even the experiments run by Mengele, known as Todesengel, the angel of death.
Eva and Miriam were part of a group of twin girls ages 2 to 16. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they were placed in a room naked for up to eight hours. Nazi doctors measured every part of Eva’s body and compared the results to Miriam’s and to charts. Mengele hoped to find a way to engineer a perfect race.
“These experiments weren’t dangerous, but for eight hours a day?” Eva recalled. “I felt like I was nothing more than a living piece of meat.”
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays came the “blood lab experiments.”

“They would take us to a lab, tie both of my arms to restrict the blood flow, take a lot of blood from my left arm and give me a minimum of five injections into my right arm,” she said. “... The rumor was that they were germs, diseases and drugs.”
One made her extremely ill. She had a fever of 106 degrees. Both arms and legs were painfully swollen, and huge red spots covered her body. Nazi doctors measured her fever and took her to the hospital, where Eva thought people looked more dead than alive.
The next morning, the Todesengel came in with four other doctors. Mengele looked at her fever chart and laughed. “Too bad,” Eva remembers him saying. “She’s so young. She has only two weeks to live.”
Eva knew he was right, but she refused to die. She made a second silent pledge to prove him wrong.
Eva has one memory of the following two weeks as her fever held on. She was crawling on the barracks floor to reach a water faucet, repeating as she faded in and out of consciousness: I must survive. I must survive.
Eva’s fever finally broke, and she began to feel a bit stronger. Eventually she was reunited with Miriam. If Eva had died, Miriam would have been killed by an injection to the heart, and Mengele would have performed comparative autopsies.
To this day, Eva has scant information about the experiments the Nazis performed on her and Miriam. She has only three documents, one that shows throat smears for scarlet fever, another of blood samples “for the examination of syphilis” and a third of blood samples for “the examination of urea nitrogen, sodium chloride, Takata-Ara and Vitamin C.”
On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz, and the Mozes twins walked out of the camp together. Eva had kept her silent pledge.
Seeking answers, finding forgiveness
After liberation, the sisters lived in Romania for five years before emigrating to Israel in 1950. They went to an agricultural school and were then drafted into the Israeli Army. Miriam became a nurse, and Eva went into the engineering corps.
Eva met Michael Kor, a Holocaust survivor and American tourist. In 1960, they married in Tel Aviv, and Eva joined him in the United States. In 1965, Eva became a U.S. citizen. They raised two children.

Miriam also married and had children but developed kidney infections that didn’t respond to antibiotics. Her kidneys had never grown larger than a 10-year-old’s. Eva gave Miriam one of her kidneys in 1987, but Miriam died of cancer in 1993.
That same year Eva was invited to lecture in Boston and was asked if she could bring a Nazi doctor with her. She contacted Hans Münch, a physician at Auschwitz who’d known Mengele. She’d seen him in a documentary. He agreed to meet her in Germany. Though he didn’t know anything about the twin experiments, he shared details about the gas chambers. Eva asked him to join her at Auschwitz and sign a document attesting to what he’d seen — the selections and gassing of thousands of people. He agreed.
Eva wanted to find a meaningful thank-you gift for him and settled on the idea of a forgiveness letter. A friend challenged her to forgive Mengele, too. When she and Münch stood at the ruins of the gas chambers on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and read their statements, Eva felt unburdened. Forgiveness wasn’t about the perpetrators. It was about healing herself.
That’s why she assigned little meaning to the moment with Gröning in the courtroom. He had expressed remorse for his actions.
"I have consciously not asked forgiveness for my guilt,” Gröning said in German. “In the face of the crimes committed in Auschwitz and elsewhere, I am not entitled to make such a request. For absolution, I can only turn to God.”
Eva wanted to thank him for accepting responsibility for his part in the Auschwitz killing machine and plead with him to talk to neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and revisionists because he’d been there.
And then came the embrace.
Now Eva would like to meet Gröning again, this time privately. She has many questions. What was it like to be a Nazi at Auschwitz? How did he cope knowing so many people were being murdered? Did he drink at night? Does he know anything about the experiments? The gas chambers?
At her age, Eva realizes she may go to her grave without all the answers. But she’ll keep looking.
In the meantime, she’ll repeat her story again and again. To a German film crew. To a British documentarian. To the line of visitors waiting at her museum in Terre Haute.
I was born in a very small village in Transylvania, Romania ... I made a silent pledge ...
I survived.

lunes, 3 de agosto de 2015

Auschwitz Survivors Recall Horror Of Nazi Experiments

One witness described how Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele ripped an infant from its mother's womb, then hurled it into an oven because it wasn't a twin as he had hoped. Another told of killing her newborn infant rather than let it starve in a Mengele experiment. A third witness recounted how Mengele kept hundreds of human eyes pinned to his lab wall "like a collection of butterflies."

One by one about 30 survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp related their accounts of Nazi horror to a packed auditorium at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Mengele is accused of sending 400,000 Jews to their death at Auschwitz from 1943 to 1945. But these survivors were kept alive because they were twins, and he wanted them for medical experiments aimed at creation of an Aryan superrace.
Their three days of testimony, which ended Wednesday, climaxed a mock tribunal and symposium on Mengele`s war crimes, the first proceedings to deal specifically with the Nazi experimentation on Holocaust twins since the liberation of Auschwitz 40 years ago.
"The Nazis regarded Auschwitz as the ideal place for experimentation, for the creation of supermen, and Josef Mengele was the symbol of Nazi cruelty and mysticism," said Israeli jurist Gideon Hausner, chief prosecutor at the 1961 Jerusalem trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and the head of the Mengele tribunal.
The witnesses, who came from as far as Australia and North America, agreed to testify in the hope that the publicity would create international pressure for Mengele`s capture and trial, organizers said. He is wanted in Israel and West Germany for crimes against humanity.
According to Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who also took part in the tribunal, Mengele lives in a closed military zone in Paraguay along the Brazilian border. Wiesenthal said Mengele, who would be 73, is practicing medicine.
White-haired Ella Lingens, a Christian physician from Vienna who was sent to Auschwitz for helping Jews escape from the Nazis, recounted a conversation she had with Mengele in the spring of 1943:
"He told me there were only two gifted peoples in this world: the Germans and the Jews. Then he said the only question was who would dominate the other. He said he was going to make sure it was the Germans who dominated."
Lingens described how Mengele sent an entire block of 700 inmates to the gas chambers to fight an epidemic of spotted fever. She said he then had the block disinfected and populated by deloused inmates from other barracks. Repeating the process over and over, Mengele eventually brought spotted fever under control, she said.
Vera Alexander, 62, who lives in Israel, described how she worked as a warden in a block housing about 100 Gypsy twins.
She told how Mengele impregnated one girl with the sperm of another twin, pampered her during her pregnancy and attended the birth himself.
"But when he saw that there was only one baby and not twins, he tore the baby right out of the mother's uterus, threw it into an oven and walked away,  she said. We saw this."
Ruth Elias, 60, of Tel Aviv, said that she gave birth to a daughter at Auschwitz and that Mengele "gave the order to bandage my breasts" to prevent nursing.
"He wanted to do research--I don`t know what to call it--on how long a new one can live without food," she said.
Elias said she tried to feed the baby with half-chewed bread wrapped in a piece of linen dipped in coffee, but the baby lost weight and finally  "it couldn't cry, only whimper."
About a week after the birth, Mengele told her to get ready to move from the barracks. She said she assumed she was going to the gas chamber.
A Jewish doctor told her that the child could not live and suggested that Mengele might lose interest in her and not order her killed if the baby was dead.
"She talked to me in an angel's voice," Elias said. She said the doctor told her,  "You are young and can live; your child cannot live."
"She talked and talked and talked until I did it," Elias said.  "I murdered my own child." She said she used an injection of morphine that the Jewish doctor had given her.
Mengele arrived the next morning.  "He didn`t want me," she said.  "He wanted the child. But he couldn't find the corpse among the pile of corpses outside the barracks."
Perhaps the most harrowing testimony came from Vera Kriegel, 60, who recounted how she watched Auschwitz guards crush the skulls of babies with rifle butts. For 10 days, Kriegel said, she was cramped in a small cage with her twin sister. Mengele came every day and injected them with a solution that caused violent nyory for tests, and I saw a collection of hundreds of human eyes pinned to the wall. It was like a collection of butterflies, Kriegel said. Later I told my sister that I had just seen a whole wall of eyes looking at me.
She said the only things that kept her alive in her two years at Auschwitz were her hatred of Mengele and his need of her for his experiments. "I had my own private war with Mengele," Kriegel said.  "I fought him by being unruly. He would say do one thing, and I would do another. Once he became very nervous, but he didn't beat me because he needed me."
"He threw me across the room once, but I didn't cry. I just looked at him with hatred, and he had to look down. Then he looked at me and said, 'We will see who will be the lucky one from all of this,' and I said, 'Yes, Dr. Mengele, we shall see.'" 

lunes, 13 de julio de 2015

The Bookkeeper of Auschwitz is told 'you were no little poor sergeant as you like to portray yourself' by victims' lawyers as his murder trial comes to an end

  • Prosecutors savaged 94-year-old Oskar Gröning in closing stages of trial
  • Former SS guard has argued he is only morally responsible for his crimes
  • But lawyers said: 'You carry no moral guilt, you were part of mass murder'
  • Also compared Groening to those who funded the 9/11 terror attackers

Lawyers for victims of the Auschwitz death camp delivered a devastating verbal assault on former S.S. guard Oskar Groening at his trial on Wednesday.
Launching her verbal attack, prosecutor Suzan Baymak-Winterseel told Groening: 'You were no poor little sergeant, as you like to portray yourself.
'You carry no moral guilt. You were a part of the mass murder of millions in an inconceivable crime.'

Throughout his trial in Lunenberg, 94-year-old Gröning has admitted feeling moral guilt for his crimes, but has denied criminal responsibility, arguing that he didn't personally kill anyone.

On Tuesday prosecutors called for a sentence of three and-a-half years for his part in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews shipped to Auschwitz in a 48-day period in 1944 when he was on duty.
On Wednesday Mrs. Baymak-Winterseel, representing some of those who survived the camp where 1.2 million people were put to death, said: 'It is not right that such a sentence is chosen for the crimes of which he stands.'

Her remarks came in the closing stages of Gröning's trial, who was known as the 'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' for his role in cataloguing the valuables of victims before sending them to the Nazis.
Previously the trial has heard evidence from numerous co-plaintiffs - either people who survived their ordeal in the Third Reich's largest extermination camp, or those who lost loved ones in it.
Dr. Cornelius Nestler, another of the victims' lawyers, said: 'Mr. Gröning took part in events and he will be sentenced for aiding and abetting mass murder. Much too late - but not too late.'
He observed that at previous charges for those who had worked at Auschwitz it was necessary under German law to prove direct involvement in mass murder.
However, that changed three years ago with the trial of former death camp guard John Demjanjuk.
He was found guilty of particpating in the murders of over 28,000 Dutch Jews at the death camp of Sobibor in Nazi occupied Poland because his service records placed him there.
There were no living witnesses as to what he did, no-one to say whether he was a cook or a man who pushed Jews into the gas chambers to die.
However, he was found culpable because it was argued that the camp would have been unable to function without him and others like him, enough to secure a conviction for accessory to murder.  
Dr. Nestler evoked the memory of the 9/11 attacks against America - planned by terrorists in Germany - to elaborate upon the guilt of Gröning.

He detailed how one of the 9/11 supporters was jailed because he transferred money to the account of terror pilot Mohammed Atta.
Dr Nestler then compared that to Gröning's admission that he sometimes worked on 'the ramp' - the platfortm where vitimcs arrived at Auschwitz by train.
It was here that prisoners were divided by guards, either sent to die immediately in the gas chambers, or told to go and work as slave labourers instead.
Turning to the court, he asked: 'If this [transferring money to the 9/11 pilot] was aid, then is not the ramp service of the S.S. in Auschwitz also not aid?'
Dr. Nestler added: 'Mass murder did not only take placed in the gas chambers. It was present in the whole Auschwitz programme.' 


domingo, 28 de junio de 2015

Auschwitz, memory and truth: how trauma passes down the generations

Alison Pick: 'My family had repressed the horror of the gas chambers.
The unfelt grief had been passed from my grandmother
to my father to me, like an heirloom.

I was a Christian child. I went to Sunday school. In the cool church basement, I drew pictures of Jesus and his disciples. Then one day, in the playground, another child approached me. “Your dad is Jewish,” he said. “No he’s not,” I replied instinctively. But deep down, in some profoundly buried part of myself, I knew this was true.

I knew it was true while at the same time not understanding what it meant. Jewish was something that belonged to my friend Jordan – the one who had accused me – but what did it mean to be Jewish? Jordan brought matzah (unleavened bread) to school on Passover, and went to Hebrew school. He was studying for something called a barmitzvah. That was all I knew.
The year passed. Despite the fact I was almost 13, the Easter bunny still came. My younger sister and I hunted for eggs in the rooms of our suburban home.
Easter, I knew, meant rebirth. It meant dying and coming back to life. I felt, deep down, that rebirth could happen to me too.
I came to know the truth about my family’s history slowly. I first learned the facts – my great-grandparents died in Auschwitz; my grandparents came to Canada and hid their true identities. They had been assimilated, non-practising Jews and Canada in the 1940s was hugely antisemitic. They wanted no part of it.
Later, as a teenager, I understood this more profoundly – what it meant to hide who you are. The effort that had gone into their charade, and the sacrifice.
Even later, I came to understand it on a bodily level, deep in my cells below my rational mind. I suffer from depression. My family had repressed the horror of the gas chambers. The unfelt grief had been passed from my grandmother to my father to me, like an heirloom.
Intergenerational trauma can be difficult to make sense of. It is like saying that, 80 years ago, my grandmother tripped on an apple core and now my ankle is sprained as a result. This transmission of trauma has been corroborated with research. The legacy of the Holocaust was influencing – three generations later – my daily experience of being alive.
I set about to reclaim what had been lost. Judaism resonated for me at a profound level, and I studied to convert. As Judaism is matrilineal and my mother isn’t Jewish, I had to take a year-long intensive class and meet monthly with my sponsoring rabbi.
For me, this was frustrating and challenging. My relatives died in Auschwitz. Shouldn’t I already be accepted as Jewish?
But I was pleased to do this. I wanted to belong.
Both were true.
Every family story has a thousand other stories contained within it, like an unending series of nesting dolls. I set about learning more about my ancestors, and who they had been. I have a cousin, a historian, who I respect deeply. She is a decade older than me; 10 years of extra conversations with our grandparents. I told her how drawn I was feeling to our family’s lost Judaism. She empathised, and told me she had gone through something similar. We talked about my grandfather; she remembered, she told me, that he used to hate Christmas. “He looked so sad and despondent among all the presents,” she said.
This made sense to me. Our grandfather was Jewish. There must have been part of him that resented pretending otherwise, even if he believed it was for the safety of his family. Later, though, my cousin changed her mind. She had been thinking and had revised her opinion. “He loved Christmas,” she said. And, when she said it, I realised this was true too. We have pictures of our grandfather not despondent, but laughing beside the Christmas tree. And though I was just a child when he died – not yet batmitzvah age – I remember this too.
I had a deep desire to settle on one version of the story. As a writer, I had a semi-conscious hope that by organising it into a consistent narrative, I could finally heal my pain. But the problem with words is that they are fixed in time, in a way that history and memory are not.
A family story varies wildly between members. I knew this. What it took me time to understand was the multiplicity of stories that existed within me.
The depression I suffer from has always felt pre-formed, ancient, like it was given to me in its entirety at birth. My father experiences something similar. He calls it “the bad blood” as though there is a faucet deep within him; when the faucet is turned on it floods his body with weight. His mother, my granny, was melancholic too. When I was a child we spent our summers with her. I remember her crying at the end of August when we loaded up our family car and said goodbye. She told me she hated being alone.
Later in life, she took Prozac, which helped. But Granny had been exceptionally close to her own mother, Marianne. We have pictures of the two of them skiing in Europe before the war, their arms thrown around each other like sisters. Marianne was murdered in Auschwitz. How could Granny not be depressed? My cousin objected to this depiction of Granny too – and, again, she was right. I went back, remembering again. Granny was the life of any party. Dripping in jewels, she was feminine and strong. A flirt, a worthy opponent on the tennis court, an excellent conversationalist for anyone on any topic.
She loved being alive.
This was true too.
To wrestle with a family story is to be humbled as a writer and as a person. You cannot include everyone’s versions. Sometimes you cannot even nail down the truth as it exists within yourself.
More years have passed. I have converted to the Judaism of my father’s family. I have a five-year-old daughter who I take to synagogue on Saturdays. In the basement of the shul – so much like the basement of the church where I grew up – there is a miniature ark stuffed with toy Torahs. The leader asks, “Who can help me open the ark?”
My daughter rushes forward. She prises the door open and chooses the biggest stuffed Torah she can find. With the other small “Israelites” she parades it around the basement proudly. She has done this for years, and every time I cry. I see myself in her; I see my cousin, who I love dearly, and my granny, who was changeable and full of human contradiction. I see my great-grandmother Marianne, who I never knew, who died in the gas chamber.
A long line of women bent low with history’s weight; a line of joyous women celebrating their stories. Both are true. And nothing can change that.

Survivor returns 70 years after internment

Holocaust survivor Sol Lurie and Laurie Gang in the lobby of the Elephant Hotel in Weimar, known as Hitler’s favorite hotel, where visiting Jewish survivors and their guests stayed while attending the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald.     
Photos courtesy Laurie Gang

On his 15th birthday in 1945, left Buchenwald, the sixth Nazi concentration camp in which he was imprisoned.
To mark his 85th birthday, he went back to Buchenwald, joining other former prisoners and their families, German leaders, and schoolchildren to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the German camp’s liberation by American troops.
“I was also at the 65th anniversary, and I’ll be back for the 75th,” Lurie vowed in a phone conversation from his home in Monroe after his return. “Germany has really changed so much. I find there’s less anti-Semitism there than any place in Europe.”
The Lithuanian native was accompanied to the ceremony by Laurie Gang of Monroe, a member of the Henry Riklis Holocaust Memorial Committee.
“I’ve been sort of looking out for him since his wife, Raja, died in January, so when his children couldn’t come he asked me,” said Gang. “He was much stronger than I thought he was. In fact, all the survivors I met were so full of life and had such stories to tell. We even met one survivor from Austria who was 102 years old, and he looked great.”
Lurie, who frequently speaks at schools about his experiences, said he tries to teach students respect for others.
“I teach the kids to love, not hate,” said Lurie. “That’s the most important thing. My payment is getting a letter from a child. That’s enough for me.”
Lurie said he could trace his family roots in Lithuania to 1492, when his ancestors fled the Spanish Inquisition. At the start of the war, he was living with his parents and three older brothers in the town of Kovno. 
Gang said each of the 70 returning survivors was assigned a student volunteer by the German organizing committee to escort them during their April 9-13 stay. Lurie’s student arranged for him and Gang to have a private tour of Buchenwald and for members of the press to meet them there.
Gang said his interview was seen on the TV news in Germany. “It was like he was coming back as royalty.”
Also impressive were the accommodations at the Elephant Hotel in Weimar, which Gang described as “the most beautiful five-star hotel” — and where Hitler kept a suite.
“Can you imagine it was Hitler’s favorite hotel, and it was so thrilling to see all these Jews taking it over while Hitler turned in his grave,” she recalled.
“It was just such an amazing experience,” said Gang. “Sol ran into people he knew from the camp who he remembered because many of them went together to live at an orphanage in France after the war.”
Among the 522 boys taken to the orphanage was author Elie Wiesel, who was in Lurie’s bloc at Buchenwald. The Nobel Prize winner did not attend the commemoration.
“Oh sure, I knew him,” said Lurie, who carries with him a photo showing him in the group with Wiesel at the time of liberation.
Gang said commemoration events included a program involving some of the survivors, including Lurie, who was paired with a former American soldier who refused to call himself a liberator because he “stumbled” on the camp after its gates were open. Although the program was in German, guests were provided with a listening device translating it into a variety of languages.
“What I found fascinating was that it was primarily a young crowd, many of whom had traveled from other parts of Germany,” said Gang. 
Lurie’s father and three brothers survived Dachau; his mother was killed two days before liberation. However, the surviving family members returned to Lithuania and got trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
When asked at the orphanage if he had any relatives in America, Lurie recalled he had an uncle living there, and a cousin later saw his name on a list.
“They asked me if I wanted to come to America, so I came in 1947 to the greatest country in the world,” said Lurie. 
He didn’t see his father again until 1969, when Lurie was able to get a six-month visa for him to visit, although he had to leave the rest of the family behind to ensure his return. One of Lurie’s brothers was murdered in 1952. Another brother immigrated to Israel in 1973, the other in 1976.
“In my mother’s family of eight brothers and sisters not one survived,” said Lurie. “My father’s siblings were shot at the beginning of the war.”
Lurie settled in Brooklyn and had a career doing home repairs, plumbing, and electrical work before retiring to Monroe. He has three children and several grand- and step-grandchildren. 

miércoles, 10 de junio de 2015

Germany's oldest student, 102, gets PhD denied by Nazis

A 102-year-old German woman has become the world's oldest person to be awarded a doctorate on Tuesday, almost 80 years after the Nazis prevented her from sitting her final exam.

Ingeborg Rapoport (then Syllm) finished her medical studies in 1937 and wrote her doctoral thesis on diphtheria - a serious problem in Germany at the time. 
But because of Nazi oppression she has had to wait almost eight decades before being awarded her PhD.

Her mother was a Jewish pianist.
So, under Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic race laws, Ingeborg was refused entry to the final oral exam. She had written confirmation from Hamburg University that she would have received her doctorate "if the applicable laws did not prohibit Ms Syllm's admission to the doctoral exam due to her ancestry". 

'For the victims'

Now the university has set right that wrong. 
Three professors from Hamburg University's medical faculty travelled last month to Ingeborg's sitting room in east Berlin to test her on the work she carried out in pre-war Germany.
They were impressed and a special ceremony took place at Hamburg University Medical Centre on Tuesday, in which she finally received the PhD that the Nazis stole from her. 
"It was about the principle," she said. "I didn't want to defend my thesis for my own sake. After all, at the age of 102 all of this wasn't exactly easy for me. I did it for the victims [of the Nazis]."
To prepare for last month's exam, Ingeborg enlisted friends to help her research online what developments there had been in the field of diphtheria over the last 80 years. 
"The university wanted to correct an injustice. They were very patient with me. And for that I'm grateful," she told Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Grey line

A life in medicine

1912 - Born in Cameroon (Germany colony) 
1938 - After studying medicine in Hamburg, prevented by Nazis from defending PhD thesis on diphtheria
1938 - Emigrates to US, meets Mitja Rapoport 
1952 - Moves to East Berlin with family
1958 - Qualifies as paediatrician, becoming professor in 1964
1973 - Retires but continues her work as scientist into her eighties
Grey line
In 1938, as Germany became an increasingly dangerous place for Jews, Ingeborg fled to the US where she went back to university, finally to qualify as a doctor. 
Within a few years she met her husband, the biochemist Samuel Mitja Rapoport, who was himself a Jewish refugee from Vienna.

Infant mortality

But, by the 1950s, Ingeborg suddenly found herself once again on the wrong side of the authorities. 
The McCarthy anti-communist trials meant that Ingeborg and her husband were at risk because of their left-wing views. So they fled again - back to Germany. 
This time Ingeborg Rapoport went to communist East Berlin, where she worked as a paediatrician.
Eventually she became a paediatrics professor, holding Europe's first chair in neonatal medicine, at the renowned Charite hospital in East Berlin.
She was given a national prize for her work in dramatically reducing infant mortality in East Germany.
But for all her achievements, winning back at the age of 102 the doctorate stolen from her by the Nazis must rank among her most impressive.

lunes, 8 de junio de 2015

We were the youngest survivors

Priska with Hana

They were three Jewish women carrying one big secret. Priska Lowenbeinova, Rachel Friedman and Anka Nathanova never met but they all shared one thing in common: they were pregnant when they were captured by the Nazis.

All marched past the Auschwitz II-Birkenau gates without their husbands. They each concealed their secret under baggy clothes, hiding the small mounds on their five-stone frames. They were all sent to a German slave labour camp to make components for the Luftwaffe, before being taken on a 17-day train journey to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria, from which they were liberated by the US army in May 1945 - 70 years ago this month. 
The consequences of discovery would have been horrific. At Birkenau, they eluded Dr Josef Mengele - the SS "Angel of Death" who took sadistic delight in performing torturous experiments on twins, dwarfs and pregnant women before sending them to the gas chambers. 
When he caught one pregnant woman who had tried to fool him, he allowed her to give birth before strapping her down next to her new-born. For five days, she watched her baby starve, before being allowed to administer morphine to the child.
Anka with Eva
Now, Priska, Rachel and Anka's story has been told in a new book by journalist Wendy Holden. They respectively gave birth to Hana, Mark and Eva - the "miracle babies" and believed to be the youngest survivors of the Holocaust. The three babies, now grandparents, were born within weeks of each other and yet they met only five years ago.
The launch of Born Survivors in Mauthausen this month on the 70th anniversary of the liberation, was "emotional" for Holden. She says that watching the "babies" stand beside international dignitaries at the event "was incredible. I could not help but imagine, 'what would Hitler have thought?'" 
Holden has spent the past 18 months researching the mothers' stories. During that time, she has visited the graves of all three. She says: "It was very important to me that I did that. I collected stones from my beach in Suffolk and I took them there. I cried every time. 
"When I went to the mothers' graves I did say one thing to each of them. I asked the mothers for their blessing to tell their stories. These were three remarkable women - and this is a remarkable story. I have not stopped crying throughout writing this book. What saved it for me, weeping as I wrote, was knowing that there was a happy ending. This was a story of courage and defiance. 
"All the mothers and babies would say it was luck that they were not singled out by the SS guards, luck they were not tripped up on the march, luck that they didn't cut or hurt themselves and get something that could have killed them. They would say it was luck that they were given huge baggy clothing to cover themselves.
"I am very interested in war and history yet nothing has ever been written about the babies who were born in the Holocaust. I consider them to be the voices of the voiceless - they were exceptional women for their era.
"What I did not expect was how close I would become to the babies and how close they would become themselves. They have called themselves siblings of the heart and I am the honorary sibling." 
Mark, who was born in an open wagon en route to Mauthausen, says it was a "huge surprise" to discover others had survived similar circumstances. 
He says: "We never knew that there were other babies that had survived such circumstances. 
"My mother would talk about her experiences in the concentration camp and she would start crying. The hardest part for her was talking about her brothers and sisters who did not survive. She was one of nine, and five survived. The five were old enough to be of an age where they were strong enough to work. 
"For me, this is not a story about survival over adversity - it was just that we managed to survive. But my mother did not give herself enough credit. Even after the war, she never dwelt on how bad her knees were, or having open-heart surgery; she was always saying that others had it worse. 
"If anyone suggested that she survived the war and was able to bring out a baby alive because she was strong, she would say that the difference between the people who survived the war and the people who died, was luck. A big part in her thinking was that my natural father was the strongest person she knew. She just thought if anyone could have survived the Holocaust, it would have been him." 
Sadly, however none of the fathers survived - and the mothers had no other children.
As for going back to Europe, Mark says: "It is still difficult when I get to Mauthausen, or any of the specific sites where bad things happened. I can picture the people who would have been part of my world and family if it were not for what had happened." 
Mark, a doctor, grew up in Munich before moving to Israel, and then America. But ask the German speaker if he considers himself to be German, and he answers: "No. I am as far from being a German as possible. When I was 10, they asked me what I wanted to be. I said I wanted to be a soldier so I could kill as many Germans as possible.
''As soon as my mother got a sense that I was growing up with a visceral hatred of Germans, she spent a lot of time talking me down. Her big message was: if you turn into a person who wants revenge, then they have taken your soul. It took me a long time to accept that.
"The first I learnt of my mother's story, was that I was born on a train. I did not recognise that as being too horrible. But I had no idea how horrendous the situation was. I did not picture it until I had to deliver a baby - it was difficult to think about she went through," he says, regretting that Mengele was never captured like Adolf Eichmann.
"When I think about what Mengele did, I have to consciously drive it away from my mind. " 
Eva has committed to telling her story in schools across the globe in a bid to boost Holocaust education. She says: "None of us had another sibling and the coincidence with our stories are just so remarkable. My mother was always able to talk about what happened to her. I knew all about it from a very young age, I was like a sponge - always asking questions.
"I think being pregnant had a lot to do with my mother's survival. She always felt she would survive despite being surrounded by death. A lot of people committed suicide after the war, but I gave her something to live for. She had no family but she had me, and had to get on with it." 
During her speaking engagements, she has had a couple of hostile experiences. She recalls: "On the whole, people want to hear my mother's story. People can identify with one family's story - they cannot identify with six million. 
"But I once spoke at the history society in Oxford University, and one man said there were no gas chambers outside of Poland. I said: 'Yes there were, I was almost killed in one'. 
"At another school, a sixth-former would not hear me speak. His family were members of a far-right group. 
"I just take it on the chin and carry on. My mother would sometimes get upset while we watched the news. She asked if I was making a difference. I said, 'that is not a reason not to try'."
Hana, the third miracle baby, hopes readers take the book's strong messages: "We all must remember the horrors of hatred against a difference of beliefs, and that it is possible to survive even the worst… The most important message I got was to not squander my opportunities in life, as I must prove myself worthy of survival."
Working on the book with Holden was "emotional… my mother has not portrayed herself as a victim, but as a survivor."
She continues: "My mother spoke occasionally about her experiences: hunger, cold, fear, beating. She spoke about her older sister and parents, and her young husband, my father.
"The two things that kept my mother alive was the wish to be a mother and to see her love, my father again. The latter, alas, did not happen."