viernes, 21 de noviembre de 2014

Auschwitz commander's grandson: Why my family call me a traitor

Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höss was one of the men tried in Nuremberg, in a series of hearings which began 69 years ago today. His grandson tells The Telegraph of his shame over his relative's actions - and why he thinks Europe has not learnt its lessons from the past.

There is no grave marking where Rainer Höss' grandfather lies. But if there were, Mr Hoess knows what he would do. 
"I would spit on it," he said. "I can't forgive the burden he brought into our lives. We had to carry a very heavy cross."
Mr Hoess's grandfather was Rudolf Höss – the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, and the man who oversaw the murder of an estimated 1.5 million people. 
And November 20 marks the day, 69 years ago, that the trial of his grandfather began in Nuremburg – perhaps the biggest series of trials of the past century. 
Mr Hoess, 49, is the only member of his family to publicly denounce his grandfather, who was hanged at the end of the trial, in 1945.
And he told The Telegraph, speaking by phone from his home in Germany how, as a child, he had no idea of the history of the man who died 20 years before he was born. 
"There was a dictatorship in the house, and we weren't allowed to disagree," he said. "I had to admire my grandfather like a hero."
Hoess joined the Nazi party in 1922 and 12 years later became part of the SS. His extensive experience at Dachau and Sachsenhausen as well as his long-time friendship with SS commander Heinrich Himmler led to his appointment as commandant at Auschwitz in 1940. 
He was the designer and administrator of the gas chambers and the one that introduced the Zyklon B gas that was used to execute children, the elderly and everyone else that was unfit to work. 
It was not until Mr Höss was 12, while at boarding school, that he learnt the true story of his dark family secret. 
Security guards caught him and his friends stealing from the kitchen, and so the head master of the school punished them by forcing them work in the garden. However, the gardener was an Auschwitz survivor, and the young boy's name immediately caught his attention. So he kept him working for three months – with the pretext that he wasn't working hard enough – and enjoyed slapping and kicking around the unruly pupil. The boy couldn't understand why. 
It was only when a teacher told him that his grandfather was responsible for all the agony the gardener had witnessed at the extermination camp, that he understood. 
But still his father, Hans-Jurgen – Rudolf's son – dismissed those claims. 
"My father would punish my mum and me. My mother tried to kill herself ten times and she once tried to hang herself from the balcony. I tried to kill myself twice and suffered from three heart attacks and a stroke in the 1990s."
Three years later the young Mr Hoess spent the holidays with his grandfather's driver, who told him of the luxurious life enjoyed by Rudolf Hoess in the villa he lived in near the camp. 
"Life at the villa was beautiful – but prisoners would be punished there," he said. 
"One of them got lost in the garden and was taken back to Auschwitz to be hanged. He was only spared at the last minute because my grandmother needed him to work."
In the villa many Jehovah's Witnesses were forced to work indoors. Communists, political opponents and gipsies were made to work outdoors. No Jews were allowed in the premises. 
Hoess's driver added that the Auschwitz commander always ordered a prisoner to sing for him before he went to bed. 
"He was a cold-hearted soldier who got 20,000 people killed by dinnertime – with the excuse that he just did his job," said Mr Hoess. "Yet he would later turn to a loving father who would tuck his kids in bed."
Eventually, Mr Hoess left home at the age of 16, trained as a chef, and broke all contact with the rest of his family by 1985. He said that they now call him a traitor. 
He had the chance to visit Auschwitz for the first time one cold morning in 2009 with his mother, an Israeli journalist and writer Thomas Harding. 
"I couldn't sleep the night before I went, and was walking around my room instead," he said. "At first I was looking for reasons not to go – but I had to check with my own eyes and needed to feel Auschwitz. 
"It was hard. 
"There was silence inside the car when we arrived. It was scary. I couldn't believe how big it was. I couldn't touch the bricks or anything else."
Mr Hoess's grandfather tried to escape with his family to South America after the war, but was captured by the British, confessed to his crimes in Nuremberg, and was hanged next to the camp's crematoria. 
The site of his execution is still there – and Mr Hoess considers it the best part of the tour. 
"He couldn't harm or punish people again. I wondered how he felt before being executed. How did he feel while looking at the villa, crematoria and camp?"
Mr Hoess was given a Star of David as a present by a Jewish lady, which he promised to wear at all times. "It offers me joy and help," he said. He was also recently informally adopted as the "grandson" of Eva Mozes Kor - an Auschwitz survivor, who was used in Mengele’s infamous experiments. 
He currently lives in south west Germany and speaks at around 70 schools a year where he tells children about his grandfather as well as extremist parties. 
"I never miss a chance to take on the far Right, " he said. "I have no fear in facing them."
Mr Hoess said that the "ideology virus" is alive and well in Europe today, and warned that "all far Right parties are exactly the same as the Nazis."
He believes that if his grandfather was alive today, he would definitely join those political bodies. 
"Their ideology is the same and they never switched rules. They use horrible phrases to influence young people and say that minorities steal jobs and space. Just like the Nazis did with Jews." 
He added that the only difference now is that the far Right parties have learned from the Nazis' mistakes. 
"They find effective and silent ways to spread their hate to others. But now they are not just talking about Jews, now the target is much bigger," he said. 
"The movements are much better organised than Hitler's Germany. I think the rest of the countries have learned nothing from the past."

viernes, 14 de noviembre de 2014

Racial Hygiene and the Third Reich

Download my article on Racial Hygiene and the Third Reich. Here's the link.

Summary: Part of the Nazi ideology was to preserve the so-called Aryan blood purely and to save the healthy part of the population from the sick one. Jews and Gipsies were considered being of impure and therefore inferior blood. For these ideological reasons they were exposed to being murdered.

martes, 11 de noviembre de 2014

A veteran's tale — finding humanity after horror

His story is one of unexpected miracles and unimaginable savagery.
But ultimately, it’s a tale of redemption — of hope for a new generation wedded to peace and tolerance.
Veteran Ed Carter-Edwards is a riveting speaker about life in wartime and the words are tough to listen to.
The Canadian airman was downed over France in the Second World War, and brutally beaten by the Germans.
Embraced by the French Resistance, he was betrayed by a Gestapo collaborator and sent to the brutal Buchenwald concentration camp.
The Hamilton native, and 168 other Allied airmen that were with him, shouldn’t have survived.
But in an act of mercy, they were able to live another day, when so many didn’t.
Of the Buchenwald slave-labour camp in Germany, the 91-year-old Smithville resident recalls his arrival in a packed train car in the summer of 1944.
“Dogs were biting, whips slashing, it was the most horrible scene,” said Carter-Edwards. “We had never experienced such cruelty in our lives.”
Around them, there were tens of thousands of men and boy slave-workers as skinny as rakes. Death rained down everywhere, in random shootings, disease, starvation. People literally dropped dead onto diarrhea-caked mud.
“They played with human beings there, like a cat with a mouse,” the vet said, with choking emotion. “Life was not worth the snap of a finger.”
Carter-Edwards’s wartime odyssey began in 1942, when he was 19. “I personally felt it was up to me to do something to try to help England to ward off the threat of this massive monster machine Germany had put together.”
He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a wireless operator. By late 1943 he sailed off to England via the Queen Mary liner.
After joining a crew there, he quickly became aware of the perils he faced. The airman in the cot beside him who never returned after a mission. The darkened planes crashing into each other at night.
His time of terror began after his Halifax bomber was shot down in German-occupied Paris, France. Carter-Edwards parachuted down hard, found another crew-member, but got separated from him.
He came to a village and was fed by a family who feared the Gestapo would shoot them for aiding the enemy. A couple of safe houses later, he was met by someone from the French Resistance.
He was able to prove he was an airman, despite not wearing his uniform, and given false papers and a passport.
While in Paris, he and others were protected by a “young couple prepared to risk their lives,” Carter-Edwards said. Another driver — a Belgian German collaborator who’d infiltrated the Resistance— took them through the city.
“He stopped, the driver got out, spoke to a group of German military and immediately about six of them came, opened up the door and … proceeded to beat us.”
They then were sent to a French prison run by the Gestapo. For five weeks, the men nearly went insane listening to the sounds of torture screams. To pass the time, they killed fleas and counted them.
By mid-August 1944, 167 other downed Allied airmen including 26 Canadians — also betrayed while on French soil by the collaborator — found themselves gathered in a courtyard and set to go to Buchenwald by rail.
Amid the melee, he saw the young French couple who had protected him in Paris. They were also captured by the Germans. He tried to get the word out through a contact how appreciative he was. “Our eyes met,” Carter-Edwards said, his own eyes moistening. “And I never saw them again.
After five degrading days on the train to Buchenwald, the airmen and others arrived to Hell.
Cater-Edwards soon became gravely ill with pneumonia but was protected by an underground group in the infirmary from being euthanized by a death needle.
Buchenwald was an ongoing killing-field for those imprisoned there.
“If you couldn’t work, you died or were killed,” he said flatly. “Outside, you’d step over bodies like stepping over a log.
“It’s very difficult for you to imagine such utter cruelty and brutality.”
Then another miracle happened since surviving being shot down. The German Air Force found out about the identity of the then-166 surviving airmen. Five days earlier, a German order came to have the Allied airmen group executed.
Somewhere behind the scenes there was a change of heart.
“Suddenly, they had us removed and taken to a regular prisoner of war camp run by the German Air Force called Stalag Luft III,” he said. “They … saved our lives and we were all also dying by then, we were starving.”
At Stalag, they got half-decent food and medical treatment and slowly recovered.
As Allied troops advanced in by spring 1945, he was shuttled from one camp, then another, then liberated near Lubeck in May 1945.
When he returned to Canada, Carter-Edwards had trouble at first getting people to believe his concentration-camp experience as he isn’t Jewish and has no camp tattoos.
Carter-Edwards said even the Canadian department of veteran’s affairs refused at the time to recognize his camp experience
“So for 40 years, I never said a word,” he said.
Then by the 1980s, the Allied airmen ex-Buchenwald survivors began to get in touch and they have collaborated ever since.
He also recalls several moments of humanity that have struck him since those years of atrocity.
Last April, the French Legion of Honour recipient was invited back to Buchenwald for a remembrance anniversary, where he gave a speech in the same square where countless people were murdered during the war.
While there, he ran into a German Air Force colonel — he hadn’t seen a German airman since 1945.
“A big smile came on his face and he held out his hand,” Carter-Edwards said. “I shook it. He put his other hand on my shoulder and he said:
“‘I want to thank you and your comrades for restoring peace and freedom to Europe and to my country. You removed tyranny from my country and every German should embrace you for what you did.’
“Those were very emotional moments,” he said. “Seventy years earlier they were trying to kill us.
“I said to him ‘I want to thank you for those kind words… remember if it hadn’t been for the German Air Force, we’d all have died in Buchenwald.’”
“And then we embraced.”
Carter-Edwards told his story to a gathering of Grade 10 Governor Simcoe Secondary School students in a recent pre-Remembrance Day talk in St. Catharines
He urged the students to reflect on the sacrifices so many made during that horrible time.
“Today and on Remembrance Day as I stand for a minute of silence … I will think of the other 167 Allied airmen who were with me,” he said. “We did all this, because we were trying to restore freedom in the world and remove the horrors of the Nazi regime that had taken over Europe.
“And I hope you take some of my experiences with you. I hope you consider what we have today was earned through the lives of many men and women. And take the time to say ‘thank you veteran, wherever you are.’”
He also urged youth in the audience to remember the scourge of hate and terror and to quell it wherever they encounter it.
“I know you’ll do the best you can to generate peace,” he said. “Everyone deserves to live a decent life.”
Twitter @don_standard
Bringing a vet to two St. Catharines schools
Governor Simcoe teacher Steve Torok said his friend Bruce Williamson- a Laura Secord Secondary School teacher and city councillor- had both mused about enhancing the meaning of Remembrance Day for students.
“Bruce approached me about collaborating on (bringing a veteran like Ed Carter-Edwards to our schools),” Torok said. What started as a small scale idea, grew as Torok thought it made sense to expose more students to the experiences of veterans.
“Now is a perfect time to start our week of remembrance rather than having one single day,” he said.
“And this is a passion of mine as I spent the last 16 years in the army reserve too,” Torok added. “In the summer, I also help run the Links and Winks military museum in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
“After talking to veterans, it’s important to me that their stories are shared and shared now.”
School principal Bill Klassen said it’s his concern that some young people have lost touch with the gravity and legacy of the great wars.
“We do cover it in the curriculum,” Klassen said. “But it’s not as immediate as it was even to someone like myself in the 1960s or 70s.
“And how often do you get this kind of living history in the classroom that we have with this veteran?”
What does Remembrance Day mean to you?
Asked of Governor Simcoe S.S. students last week
Shaun Bredl, 16
“To me, it’s about about remembering my family who has been in the military and fought in World War Two, specifically, who I never got to meet. But I can remember what they did even without talking to them and seeing them.”
Weston Miller, 17
“I think of what Mr. Ed Carter-Edwards said … when talking about his first air mission, he knew how dangerous it was. But he came to do a job and defeated the enemy and he was going to do that job at all cost.”
“I think Remembrance Day is honouring people like him who shared that same goal and had that same will to fight and defend and put their lives on the line for everyone back home.”
Dylan Cober, 17
“It’s about remembering what the veterans did for us, and all the sacrifices they made, so I can live my life with the freedom I have today.”
Desiree Archer, 18
“We take so much for granted these days, it’s a great lesson in humility for all of us. It teaches us how we got here and where it’s all coming from.”
Fitore Aliu, 18
“It’s about honouring everyone who sacrificed so much for us to have the freedom we do have. They went through Hell and back (for us) … Mr. Carter-Edwards touched my heart with everything he said and what happened to him in the camps. And how he said to ‘be nice to everyone and we should never do this again.’

domingo, 26 de octubre de 2014

Nuremberg trials interpreter Siegfried Ramler: ‘The things we saw were shocking’

'I was 22, I just concentrated on the job' … Siegfried Ramler in front of a projection of Hans Frank, the 'Butcher of Warsaw'. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Seven years after fleeing the Nazis on the Kindertransport, Siegfried Ramler made his way to Nuremberg – where he became an interpreter in the trials of Germany’s major war criminals.

Siegfried Ramler travelled from Honolulu to London last month, a little short of his 90th birthday, to give a talk about human dignity and the Nuremberg trials, at which he worked as an interpreter. Coincidentally, he arrived as the Conservative party announced an ill-considered and petulant threat to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights, aligning itself with the ideas of Vladimir Putin. The convention was adopted shortly after Ramler completed his Nuremburg assignment, reflecting the “enthronement of human rights” that Winston Churchill had called for in October 1942.

Sig, as he likes to be known, has a wry sense of humour and a gentle German accent. A packed audience at the Army & Navy Club on Pall Mall listened in a state of thrall as he described the experience of sharing a small interrogation room with the likes of Hermann Göring and Hans Frank, men whose acts prompted European states to embrace the revolutionary idea of individual human rights. Organised by the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), the event celebrated the birth of simultaneous interpretation at the Nuremberg trials, a novel development that took years off the proceedings, while imposing on interpreters the pressures of capturing the horror accurately and fairly, before the speaker had completed the sentence.
Sig’s road to Nuremberg was not direct. In March 1938, as a 14-year-old Austrian Jewish schoolboy, he watched Wehrmacht troops enter Vienna, observing through drawn curtains the coming of the swastika and the jubilation of a multitude of joyous Austrians.
The family were soon thrown out of their home and shortly after Kristallnacht Sig travelled to London on the kindertransport, to live with his uncle near Hampstead Heath in north London, a period he recalls with much fondness. Towards the end of the war, in 1945, Sig signed up with the US air force to work as a linguist in Germany. He learned of the trial of Nazi leaders, went Awol, and hitched a ride to Nuremberg’s palace of justice.
Within days he was sitting in a small room with Hans Frank and a military interrogator. Without any training, he interpreted the pre-trial interrogations of the man who ruled large parts of occupied Poland, the “Butcher of Warsaw”.
Frank was governor general of occupied Poland, as well as Adolf Hitler’s personal lawyer, a man charged with – and then convicted for – the murder of three million Jews and Poles. Sig remembers him as an “interesting and impressive” man “overtaken by fanaticism”. He acted “with a clear mind”, he says: “He knew he had done wrong.”
How did he feel to be in the same room as Frank, given that he had lived through Kristallnacht? That wasn’t the issue, says Sig. “I was preoccupied with doing a good job, with unfamiliar vocabulary” – the search for accuracy. “We were there to interpret, not to judge. Did subconscious, negative feelings intervene? The predominant question was not of feelings but a linguistic question, how do I accept this challenge of words.”
During questions from the audience after his talk, someone asks whether the interpreters were traumatised by what they heard. “The things we saw were shocking,” Sig says, “but they could not be translated into feelings, because we were not in a position to feel one way or another. I was 22, I just concentrated on the job”.
After the pre-trial interrogations came the main trial. Sig was there from day one – 20 November 1945 – to the end, when the sentences were handed down. Ten times he heard the presiding judge, Sir Geoffrey Lawrence of the English court of appeal, speak the words “Death by hanging” – Tode durch den strang: a straightforward matter for the interpreters. That last session was not filmed, to preserve the dignity of the defendants. He recalls many of the big moments over that year: Robert Jackson’s “unforgettable” opening speech (four nations who chose to “stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law”); Jackson’s near disastrous cross-examination of Hermann Goering, repaired by a “brilliant” David Maxwell-Fyfe; the Bergen-Belsen film of “gas chambers and unspeakable cruelties”; the acceptance of a little responsibility by Hans Frank and Albert Speer (“they pronounced a collective guilt of Germany as a whole but would not accept individual guilt”).He recalls too the moments of levity: the festivities at the Grand Hotel, the excessive drinking by Russian officers, the buffoonery of Hermann Goering. The questions take him back to his own emotions. Yes, he says, there were moments when some of us got into difficulty. One of his colleagues was Virginia von Schon, a librarian and most talented interpreter, also “beautiful, prim and proper”. “She was on an English microphone”, Sig tells an audience on tenterhooks, “when a word came up that she could not bring herself to pronounce, because it was so vulgar”. Not wanting to pronounce it in open courtroom “she interpreted all the way up to the word, then she stopped, she just wouldn’t do it.” Sig pauses. “I took the microphone and used that word, in fact I made it worse.” He pauses again. “On that note, we might adjourn!”
The legacy and lessons of that momentous year were “extremely important”, personally and globally, Sig says. Over the decades a question recurs. “How it is possible that these things happened in a country that produced musicians, a Goethe, a Schiller, how was it possible that a culture like this could sink into the abyss into which they had fallen under the Nazis?” Sig still asks himself that question. The answer? “I attempt a response, that when you live in a society with no checks on behaviour, no acceptance of any rule of law, no respect for rules of procedure, then those things can happen in any country.” He pauses, looks up, around the room. “It’s not only a German problem, it’s a human problem.”
He feels strongly about global cooperation – he still works at the East-West Centre in Hawaii (an organisation founded in 1960 to strengthen relations between nations) – and human rights and international criminal justice. The Nuremberg judgments engendered the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and then two years later, the European Convention. These, he says, are matters of pride and also concern: “Just because it doesn’t all work perfectly doesn’t mean it was the wrong way.” In his view Nuremberg “created a path to the rule of international law, a means for dealing with guilt and the acceptance of responsibility”, a way of distinguishing right from wrong.
It seems that some Conservatives – the justice secretary among them – wish to be rid of the European court. Chris Grayling would do well to spend an evening with Siegfried Ramler, who could refresh him on the rationale for the European Convention and its court, a system of collective security. Sig knows a thing or two about history, and what happens when checks and balances are cast aside.


jueves, 23 de octubre de 2014

A lesson from the Holocaust: Tomi Reichenau, "I was a boy in Belsen"

BY the end of the Second World War, the Nazis had murdered six million Jews in Europe. One and a half million of these were children. Tomi Reichental was only 9 years old when he was sent to Belsen concentration camp. Last week, the Irish-based Holocaust survivor retold his grim story to Limerick teenagers. 

Tomi Reichental 5INSPIRATIONAL Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental, who was imprisoned at the Bergen-Belsen death camp by the Nazis when he was just nine-years-old, gave a harrowing account of its daily horrors to Limerick teenagers last week.
The 79-year-old, who has been based in Dublin since 1959, lost 35 family members during the Holocaust and described his experiences in the notorious concentration camp as “hell on earth” during his talk to 160 senior cycle students at Ardscoil Mhuire in Corbally.
Author of the memoir ‘I Was A Boy in Belsen’, Tomi was born in Slovakia in 1935 and starts his riveting lecture by recalling the “happy times” of his early childhood growing up on his father’s farm in the small village of Piestany, 80 miles from Bratislava.
“I grew up in a farming community of 700 inhabitants, and although we were Jewish, we were integrated into the village. I have fond memories,” he said.
However, by the time he was six, the world had distorted into a grotesque shape as Hitler’s Nazi Germany set about creating a ‘master Aryan race’ and obliterating the Jews from existence.
Tomi’s parents did their best to protect him and his older brother from the horrors taking place in Europe. But, with all Jews obliged to wear a yellow star, classmates took to verbal and physical abuse and soon, school was no longer an option for the Reichental children. The nightmare beginning for Tomi and its true evil would soon be inescapable for him and his family.
“People began to hate the Jews. Our lives were restricted with lots of silly regulations and life became very difficult. Jews could not go to school, ride a bicycle or drive a car, or go to public places like cinemas and swimming pools and they could not work. We found ourselves strangers in our own land,” he told the Ardscoil Mhuire students.
“I didn’t feel different as a young child but I started to ask why do they hate me so much?” he added.
The gentle, affable old man went on to recount childhoods days spent hiding out in fields to avoid capture from the SS and the constant fear of being taken away as “whispers” of the extermination camps and gas chambers spread like wildfire throughout an already fearful Jewish community.
In 1944, supplied with false papers and new non-Jewish aliases through the aid of a Catholic priest, Tomi and his brother left for Bratislava with his mother. Word soon got back to them, that his father, who decided to stay and keep the farm running was arrested by the SS and taken to Auschwitz.
“Thankfully, he survived and I found out when I was reunited with him after the war that he managed to escape when he jumped from a moving train with a Hungarian safecracker and a third man. He then joined the resistance and fought against the Nazis”.
In Bratislava, Tomi, his brother, mother and grandmother, were not so lucky after being betrayed as Jews and arrested and beaten by the Gestapo. Thirteen family members were captured that day, and only five survived.
The other seven died at Auschwitz.Tomi Reichental 4
After seven days in a dark and cramped cattle truck with 60 other people, Tomi and his family arrived in Bergen-Belsen in the dead of night on November 9, 1944.
Greeted with shouts of “schnell schnell” (quickly quickly), dogs barking, the glare of searchlights and a solid week of being treated worse than an animal, Tomi says they were disorientated and starving, but relieved to finally stretch out, soaked and exhausted, in the barracks’ wooden bunks after a further two and a half hour march through soggy forests.
“The first thing we saw were the tall chimneys. Imagine the horror of what must have been going through the adults’ minds after whispers of gas chambers?
“This place was hell on earth,” he said.
“People were so emaciated and starved that they looked like skeletons. They did not have the attributes to tell if they were men or women, they just looked like skeletons.
“The guards were very cruel and we were constantly hungry. People would do anything to try and escape the suffering, but there was no escape. So they would walk towards the barbed wire fence and the soldiers would see them and shoot them. Suicide was their end to it all.
The chimneys in the crematorium were going 24 hours a day and we got used to the stench of burning flesh. People would fall down around the camp and most of the time they would never get back up.
Typhoid and starvation were epidemic and, as children, we used to play hide and seek among the piles of dead bodies, which were piled four feet high.”
Liberated from the Nazis in April 1945, Tomi also recalls the sound of the Allied tanks and jeeps approaching and the relief as they entered the gates of the camp after their captors fled four days earlier.
The Dublin-based pensioner did not talk about his experiences for 55 years, but for the past nine years has traveled to schools and universities up and down Ireland and abroad to tell of his dark experiences under Nazi rule.
“My story is a story of survival and Holocaust survivors are a dying breed. It is important that this story is told to young people so they can teach their families and their children in the future,” he explained to the Limerick Post in Corbally last week.
Ardscoil Mhuire principal Collette McGrath described Tomi as a “great storyteller” and said it was a “privilege” to have him tell his story to senior students at the school after taking up art teacher Mike Connor’s invitation.
Close to evil
Tomi Reichental 7DURING a two-hour talk at Ardscoil Mhuire in Corbally last week, Tomi Reichental brought one of history’s ugliest chapters to life as he gave a chilling account of life in a Nazi concentration camp.
Teachers and students fought back the tears as Tomi, now 79, told of the hellish reality of Bergen-Belsen, which claimed over 70,000 lives under brutish Nazi depravity. His grim tales of playing among piles of rotting corpses as a 9-year-old boy, who lived with death always a hair’s-breadth away, were, at times, hard to take.
An extraordinary man, he told the Limerick Post after his riveting lecture that he believes it vitally important for his message of tolerance and reconciliation to be gifted to today’s youth.
“It is important that we remember. There is racism in Ireland and we need young people to use their voices and not stand by silently. They must use their voices to stop injustice,” said Tomi.
RTE recently made a documentary about the Holocaust survivor called ‘Close To Evil’, in which he travels to Hamburg in the hope of meeting one of his former jailers — the SS guard, Hilde Lisiewicz.
A convicted war criminal who was found guilty of crimes against humanity, Hilde Michnia, as she is known today, still denies that she beat prisoners to death.
Tomi discovers during the making of the film that the unrepentant and defiant Lisiewicz was a participant in a forced death march of female prisoners from Gross Rosen concentration camp in Poland, but is still prepared to reach out to her.
“I was not looking for an apology, but I was hoping she would have courage and show remorse for her actions. Unfortunately, she is still living back in 1945. She too is a victim of those times,” Tomi told the Limerick Post.
Tomi Reichental lost 35 family members in the Holocaust.
At the end of ‘Close To Evil’ the big-hearted pensioner embraces a German woman who honestly faces up to the terrible legacy of her grandfather Hanns Ludin, the Nazi Envoy to Bratislava, who was responsible for sending Tomi to Belsen.

lunes, 20 de octubre de 2014

The Pink Triangle and the BA connection

The British Cemetery at the Chacarita cemetery in Buenos Aires holds the tombstone of a man named Carl Peter Vaernet. The name alone does not catch the attention of visitors, but truth is Vaernet was a notorious SS doctor of Danish origin who, in 1942, joined the Nazi ranks as a scientists conducting experiments leading to a long-sought Nazi dream: eternal youth.

But Vaernet’s biological experiments soon led to hormone treatment for the “cure” of another “illness” threatening the very existence of a pure German race: the existence of homosexual men who would not hold the heterosexual pattern of reproduction. This is where Vaernet extreme theories, never proved but tried on homosexual prisoners at Nazi concentration camps and who bore the infamous Pink Triangle mark as a sign of their “deviant” sexual orientation, began to take shape in the form of monstruous procedures — biological and surgical — to “cure” homosexuality and reorient the patients toward “normal” heterosexual behaviour.
Although the history of the Nazi holocaust perpetrated against Jews until their annihilation to attain a “pure” Arian race is well documented and rightly brought to the present through memorials and history books, articles and movies, very little is actually known about the fate of homosexual victims of the Nazi holocaust, imprisoned and segregated from the rest of prisoners just on account of their “abnormal” sexual orientation, drive and behaviour.
When commenting on Nazi biological experiments with purification and the supposed eventual triumph and predominance of the superior Arian race, the name of the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele, who, like many other Nazis, fled to secure, protective havens in South America, immediately comes to mind. With the protection of a network of former SS members, Mengele sailed to Argentine in 1949, living in and around Buenos Aires and eventually fleeing to Paraguay in 1959 and Brazil in 1960. Sought by West German, Israeli and Nazi hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal, Mengele eluded justice until his accidental death while swimming off the Brazilian coast in 1979.
Less known but equally prominent in the SS quest for a perfect arian race is Vaernet, a physicist of Danish origin who claimed to be able to bring a “solution” to the Nazi preoccupation with the “high percentage” of male homosexuals in the German population. The solution to the homosexual was not extermination but rather finding a cure for this “illness” so that reproduction and the triumph of the perfect race could be achieved.
In the Nuremberg trials conducted between 1945 and 1949 prosecuting the perpetrators of the Nazi horrors, including high-ranking military officers, doctors, lawyers, and industrialists indicted on charges of crimes against peace and against humanity, no mention was made of crimes against homosexuals. According to Nuremberg records, many of the known SS doctors, who had performed biological and surgical procedures on homosexual prisoners, were never brought to account for their heinous actions. Moreover, homosexuals, clearly victims of human rights violations, continued to be incarcerated for their sexual conduct, which was considered illegal and liable to criminal prosecution, and were not mentioned as “Pink Triangle” inmates at the Buchenwald and Neuengamme camps. Vaernet, one of the most notorious physicians to blame for masterminding and performing such experiments, was never tried for his crimes and escaped to South America thanks to a political safeconduct.
Continuing his “homosexual cure” for homosexual conversion to heterosexuality in the posh BA neighbourhood of Palermo, Vaernet practiced for some 20 years before his death as a free man in 1965.
Already shown in the city of Rosario and other venues, El Triángulo Rosa — Y la cura Nazi para la Homosexualidad was formatted as the story of an investigator who unearths the Health Ministry’s contract to conduct research, the results of which remain unsolved to this day. The film unveils the PI’s search for traces of Vaernet’s life and work in Buenos Aires, making an effort to understand his personality and all the while exploring the public opinion and diverse political moves restricting or handling homosexuality over the last 100 years, based on the expose revealed in the book Carl Vaernet: Der Dänische SS-Artz Im Kz Buchenwald, by H Davidsen-Nielsen; N Hoiby; N Danielsen; J Rubin; et al.
As the PI investigates the real-case stories of Argentine patients taken to Vaernet’s office for cure through his hormone injection method, the documentary unexpectedly wraps up with a direct reference to the historic approval of the same-sex marriage bill in Argentina, which set a precedent for other countries where the LGBT community seeks egalitarian treament of their rights.
“You don’t always go searching around for stories, sometimes they come to you,” says co-director Nacho Steinberg. “In this case, I was always interested in the subject of WWII. I was never able to understand nor accept such a disaster, so much human imbecility at the service of weapons, conquest and hegemonic madness. The dead, the genocide, the lack of sense (of it all) hurt. After dealing with Holocaust in a stage plays, a historian friend, moved by the piece, suggested that I write a story about Carl Vaernet, the Danish doctor who sought refuge in Argentina,” Steinberg continues. “It was a revelatory story, unknown, concealed and that eventually did not come to prominence because, until very recently, the world shared this notion that homosexuality is an illness.

jueves, 16 de octubre de 2014

Excavation of gas chamber at Nazi Sobibor concentration camp completed

With the assistance of supporters, archaeologists Yoram Haimi from Israel and Wojciech Mazurek from Poland have excavated the remains of the gas chamber at the Nazi Sobibor concentration camp near Lublin, near the eastern Polish border, as Spiegel Online reported on September 23.
In a clearing near the old Sobibor train station, one can see the newly discovered finds and remains of the walls. It includes the remains of an estimated four gas chambers, each 5 by 7 metres, which served as death chambers for between 70 and 100 people. Haimi and Mazurek hope that their findings will make the Nazi crimes at Sobibor more comprehensible. The Nazis destroyed the concentration camp 71 years ago, after SS officers and their allies had murdered between 170,000 and 250,000 people, mostly defenceless Jews and Roma.
The Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka concentration camps were designed to carry out the systematic extermination of Jews and Roma living in the “General Government,” which was composed of those parts of Ukraine and Poland occupied by the Wehrmacht. Jews from the Netherlands, Germany and other states were also murdered there.
From the outset, the concentration camps were purely extermination camps. Only a small number of the people sent there were employed in forced labour. Most were driven directly from the goods wagons to the gas chambers.
In the three camps, between July 1942 and October 1943, at least 1.7 million Jews and 50,000 Roma were killed, more than in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which became the synonym for industrial mass murder. The implementation of the mass murder, code-named “Operation Rheinhardt,” was tasked to the SS and the police chief in Lublin, Odilo Globocnik, by SS leader Heinrich Himmler.
According to Spiegel Online, the Nazis ensured that no trace was left of Operation Rheinhardt. In the midst of the war, the war criminals, following the extermination of the Jews, sought to methodically eliminate all remaining traces of them. Between November 1942 and December 1943 they exhumed bodies, killed almost all remaining residents of the three concentration camps in eastern Poland, and burnt all of the remains of bodies.
Plans and documents referring to the camps were also destroyed, as well as the buildings. The grounds were flattened, forests planted and farms established. As few traces as possible of the monstrous crimes planned and carried out within the framework of Operation Rheinhardt were to be left.
Only very few people survived the three concentration camps. On October 14, 1943, 50 prisoners launched an uprising and broke out from Sobibor and survived the remainder of the ongoing war. In Treblinka, where 800,000 people were murdered, only around 60 survived. In Belzec, more than 430,000 were killed and only eight survived.
The excavations were initiated by the Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi, who came as a visitor to Sobibor in April 2007 to pay tribute to his two uncles who died there. “At that time the museum was closed,” he said. “There were monuments to see, but nothing that showed where and how the murders were carried out.”
He decided he would look for the remains of Sobibor himself and in the Polish archaeologist Wojciech Mazurek he founded an equally engaged partner for the project. Together they fought to obtain the necessary financing and authorisations from the authorities.
Already in 2010, next to the square with the monument, the archaeologists discovered remains of security barriers. One year later, they discovered the so-called “route to heaven,” along which the new arrivals were driven to the gas chambers. “It was quite clear to us that the gas chambers would be at the end,” Haimi told Spiegel Online.
But at first they could go no further. The memorial faced closure. Due to a lack of money, the visitors’ centres had to be temporarily closed. Then the foundation for Polish-German reconciliation and the Majdanik State Museum took over responsibility for the grounds.
Haimi and Mazurek continued their excavation and found remains from barriers, barracks, crematoriums, as well as skeletons. The Rabbi of Warsaw gave them authorisation to remove the tarmac from the suspected site of the mass grave.
On September 8 this year, the archaeologists discovered remains of walls of red brick. Everything pointed to the conclusion that they were standing on the remains of the gas chamber. The area was between the “route to heaven,” the crematorium and the remains of a barracks of the “special commando unit,” as well as a water hole. Experts from Auschwitz confirmed the find.
The discovery was of “the greatest importance for Holocaust research,” said David Silberklang, historian at the Yad Washem memorial in Jerusalem. He expected that it would become possible to provide a more accurate estimate of the victims, and know more precisely about how the murders had taken place.
Traces of Jewish life were also found during the excavations at Sobibor, such as an earring with the engraving, “see, you are dear to me,” and a metal plaque with the date of the birth of the then six-year-old Lea Judith de la Penha from Amsterdam. As a result of this find, a television crew from the Netherlands are to film a documentary about the story of the child and her family. At least some of the victims of Sobibor will thereby be recognised.
Eighty-four-year-old Philip Bialowitz, one of the few living survivors from Sobibor, responded with satisfaction to the excavation finds. As a youth, he had belonged to the group of conspirators who planned the Sobibor uprising of October 14, 1943.
He was able to escape and was taken in and concealed along with his brother by a Polish farmer until the Red Army arrived. He had spent his life travelling the world, “because I swore that I would tell my story to young people as long as I am able. What happened back then should never be forgotten.”
Another survivor of the Sobibor camp, and participant in the 1943 uprising, was Thomas Blatt. He turned his recollections of the period into a book titled, “Sobibor, the forgotten uprising.”
Both Philip Bialowitz and Thomas Blatt appeared as witnesses and joint plaintiffs in January 2010 during the trial of SS helper John Demjanjuk in Munich. They described the terrible experiences they had as forced labourers in Sobibor.
The historian of Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History, Dieter Pohl, presented a report to the court. He described the establishment of the National Socialists’ system for exterminating Jews in the areas of Eastern Europe occupied by the Nazis, and the emergence of the extermination camps, including Sobibor. Since May 1942, Jews from throughout Europe had been systematically murdered in this camp in Poland, Pohl told the court. “The sole aim was murder.” The leadership of the camp was composed of 25 to 30 SS soldiers, while the dirty work was carried out by 100-120 so-called Trawnicki guards, Demjanjuk among them.
Although the trial of Demjanjuk shed light on the crimes of National Socialism, it left many decisive questions unanswered. Dumjanjuk died shortly after his conviction in May 2011, before the sentence of five years imprisonment for assisting in the murder of 28,000 Jews in Sobibor went into force.
A major problem in the trial of Demjanjuk was that most of those chiefly responsible for the Nazi crimes and those who assisted them were never brought before the courts in post-war Germany. Many of those responsible in the judiciary, intelligence services and police continued to be active in the federal republic without interruption, and without being held to account for their actions.
In the 1960s and 1970s, only half of the SS men prosecuted in the Sobibor trials were convicted. The camp’s chief at the time received a life-long custodial sentence, and the others imprisonment of between three and eight years.