Statement to the written arguments of the district court Lüneburg in the verdict against Oskar Gröning – September 21th, 2015

Legal Counsels Representing the Co-Plaintiffs

Attorney at Law Thomas Walther

Professor Cornelius Nestler

Attorney at Law Donat Ebert

Attorney at Law Günther Feld

Attorney at Law Manuel Mayer

We have represented more than 50 jewish co-plaintiffs in the trial at the district court of Lüneburg from April 21 until July 15, 2015. 14 of our clients were heard as witnesses.

The written arguments of the verdict demonstrate the importance of the participation of the co-plaintiffs as witnesses in this trial. Their statements were an essential foundation for the findings of the court that the victims, who arrived on the ramp in Auschwitz, were completely clueless of their fate. Most of them were designed to immediate death in the gas chambers, for all the others waited the life and ultimately the death as working slaves. And the statements of the co-plaintiffs also demonstrated the immeasurable suffering, which the acts of the defendant inflicted upon them until today.

Finally, after half a century, the verdict against Oskar Gröning finds the correct legal assessment of the acts of all those members of the SS, who facilitated the mass murder, organized in the factory style division of labor. They are guilty of, at least, accessory to murder. The very fact, that the defendant and all the other SS-men were present on the ramp at the arrival of the victims, results to an individual responsibility for accessory to murder, because the presence of every SS-man on the ramp was part of the threatening scenery, which purpose was to suppress any thought of resistance among the people who arrived. Also, according to the arguments of the court, to watch over the luggage, which was the duty of the defendant, was necessary for the unobstructed process of moving the victims to their path to the gas chambers. The deception of the arriving victims, that the luggage would be handed back to them, was part of the overall plan of the commitment of mass murder.

In clear and simple words, the verdict of the court has set the correct legal standard, which should guide the prosecutors and the courts in those last very few criminal proceedings against members of the SS in Auschwitz and in other concentration and extermination camps.

Kempten – Königstein – Budapest – Cologne – Frankfurt, September 21th, 2015

Judith Kalman – July 8, 2015

Judith Kalman: Final statement for the Trial of Oskar Groening, July 8, 2015

I would like to thank this court for giving me the opportunity to address it once again.

It has been a truly valuable experience for me to tell the story of my six year-old half-sister Eva Edit Weinberger, who died in Auschwitz during the Hungarian Operation, and to say how her death and the deaths of my parents’ relatives in Auschwitz affected their lives and also mine. A court proceeding such as this is neither too late, nor too small an effort, if it can make a difference to survivors of the Holocaust and their children. I do not wish to suggest, however, that the wrongs perpetrated by the agents of the Final Solution can ever be put right, or that justice can ever be found, for the innocent people who lost their lives to that evil policy.

I think this trial is important in two ways. It puts faces to the numbers tattooed on arms, faces to the survivors who had the super human task of rebuilding their lives after losing everything and in many cases everybody. Part of this trial’s great value is to witness further the suffering of innocent people at the hands of the Nazi state. But perhaps more importantly, this trial puts a face to one of the perpetrators of the Final Solution. A policy is meaningless until it is enacted, and those who carry it out are individuals with names and faces as well. Too many perpetrators of the Final Solution have been allowed the privilege of anonymity. Putting a face such as Mr. Groening’s to even one of them demonstrates that a policy of murder can only be carried out by individuals.

Mr. Groening, by his admitted actions, helped to make a policy of genocide devastatingly effective. He facilitated the flow of confiscated monies and valuables, which helped to finance the German war effort and the enforcement of the Final Solution. He knew that the monies came from people who to quote his words, “would not need them anymore” because they would be put to death. He had witnessed the brutal murder of a baby and he understood that the purpose of Auschwitz-Birkenau was to implement the policy of exterminating Jews as well as many others, particularly during the Hungarian Operation when he had numerous occasions to stand guard on the ramp.

I am not trained in the law, but it is my understanding that the purpose of this court is not to determine relative guilt. The question is not whether Mr. Groening was more or less guilty than others of assisting murder during his years at Aushwitz-Birkenau. Nor is the question, has Mr. Groening changed his mind about whether or not his actions in those years were criminal, or whether or not he feels sorry about them. My understanding is that the purpose of this trial is to determine whether or not he was an accomplice to the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews. Did he knowingly participate in that process, and by his actions did he enable it? A verdict of guilty, in my opinion, is called for by Mr. Groening’s own admissions. He claims that although his actions are to be condemned by the values of today, at the time his actions conformed to the values of that period. The Nazi government took steps to keep their citizens in the dark about the Final Solution for the precise reason that even given the racist values of the time, they might have risen up against such a barbarous policy. Instead the Nazis entrusted the execution of this policy to a special organization, the SS, to which Mr. Groening belonged. He carried out his orders not only because of the racist values of the time, but also because he personally believed in the necessity of the Final Solution and willingly joined the organization that most exemplified the spirit of Naziism. He then participated in the administration of activities that helped further this cause.

The point of this trial I believe, is to show that having a hand in genocide at any level is a criminal act. Genocide, sanctioned by the state or not is always murder, and to take part in it, to enable its execution in any way, as Mr. Groening did, is to act as an accomplice to murder.

I hope the verdict of this court puts the face and name of a perpetrator of the Final Solution—Oskar Groening—into the national record.

Hedy Bohm

Hedy Bohm was born in 1928 in Oradea (Romania). She was deported with her parents from the local ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau. An only child, she saw her parents, many relatives and friends murdered by the Nazis.

Hedy Bohm: Final statement for the Trial of Oskar Gröning, July 8st, 2015:

I came here the first time because I thought it was an extraordinary opportunity. Something I never thought to experience in my life to be a witness in a German Court and testify at the trial of a nazi officer.

I came back the second time hoping to hear him say three little words: I am sorry. And to be here as the guilty verdict was pronounced. The sentence itself is not important for me personally, it is of no consequence. To late for that.

When his statement was read by his attorney, I heard the magic sentence. But, as he went on, He qualified it, explained why and when, until there was no meaning to the words anymore. Disappointed, I started to question myself, why was it important to hear “I am sorry”. Could my parents care if they could hear Him? Is it just for me? Or is it for the murdered multitudes……? I don’t know anymore.

Perhaps it is Gröning who would benefit the most. Simply stated, just those three little words. Nothing more!

We all carry scars mostly invisible, hurting nevertheless. An ever-present shadow over our lives.

When I leave Luneburg, I will make peace with whatever the outcome will be. And go on with my life as best as I can, as long as I can, as always.

I would like to extend my thanks to the judges and members of the court, to Thomas Walther and his team who worked tirelessly on the case for so long, my deepest respect. I feel fortunate to have known you.

God Bless

Closing argument of Attorney at Law Thomas Walther – July 7th, 2015

Your Honor!

The prosecution has given an appropriate account of what was established as the facts of the trial.

I will merely add a few remarks to the prosecution’s elaboration.

The main focus of my final statement today will be something different. I will speak about the significance of this proceeding for the co-plaintiffs we are representing – the significance of a proceeding that is taking place 71 years after their next of kin were murdered.

71 years ago, in the early morning of 1 July 1944, 18-year-old Eva Pusztai – who is 89 years of age today and a co-plaintiff in this proceeding –, then a naïve girl of sheltered upbringing in Debrecen, was thrust into hell at the ramp of Gröning’s place of employment, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

On 16 May the “Hungarian Action” had begun in Birkenau.

The court and all participants to the proceeding have a first-hand impression of what we can accomplish here in this proceeding between 16 May 2015 and today – and in the coming days until 11 July 2015. Within exactly the same time span 71 years ago, 427,000 Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz, of whom 300,000 were murdered immediately upon their arrival.

Among these murder victims were the families of our clients.

Being horrified does not help here. Neither does commiseration.

Together with my colleague Cornelius Nestler I represent 51 co-plaintiffs. With many of them I had long conversations and interviews in the year preceding this trial. Many were unable to travel to Lüneburg due to their age. It is for this reason that I am entitled to say the following in the first-person voice of my clients, and in their words:

We who are survivors of Auschwitz have the right to lament, and for our murdered families, we bear the duty to lament.

We lament suffering and loss, we lament our lonesomeness, we lament the most cruel of killing, we lament the million-fold absence of a kaddish at the deathbeds of our murdered families whose voices were silenced in Auschwitz. We lament time, which does not heal any wounds but instead burns them into our souls ever more deeply. We lament the cries within ourselves that we are suppressing even today to be able to pass for “normal people”.

And, day by day, we feel and suffer the recollection of our tears cried and uncried.

Now that decades have passed, we have become experienced in witnessing death, as we are seeing our own generations of survivors cross the threshold into death more and more often. It was only very late in our lives that we had to learn to sit shiwa as a rite of bidding our dead farewell – as the generations preceding us were scattered into all winds, rivers and swamps with the ashes of Auschwitz, entirely lacking the presence of our mourning. Our parents were not able to teach us a Jewish funeral rite.

And once WE are no more, WHO will remember?

Will the world preserve the ability to remember, or will collective forgetting prevail one day?

All our laments live in us. This Auschwitz death is part of our lives.

Only through our lawyers did we learn that in our ever-present lament we can also speak to this German court in the criminal proceeding against Oskar Gröning and that we will be heard with our pain and our laments.

We were thus granted the opportunity to bear witness as co-plaintiffs.

In the many conversations with our lawyers we found out and understood that you, Mr. Gröning, on the one hand were no different from the masses of all the SS men in Auschwitz who perfectly organized and undertook death for us Jews; but that on the other hand you let glimpse a sort of transformation in the decades following the war. We heard about your interviews with BBC and the SPIEGEL, and we registered that you have tried engage critically with your participation in the Holocaust. We know that your family was involved.

We, the survivors and children of victims, we thought that you could be much “better” than all the accused in the earlier Nazi trials. We hoped that you, Mr. Gröning, would comprehend our laments in a way that only one of the perpetrators can. It is you alone who encounters us this closely in our families’ hour of death. Speaking with our lawyers, we had raised hopes that in the best case a type of dialogue might unfold between us and you.

As the co-plaintiffs’ legal counsel, I, Thomas Walther, am telling you, Mr. Gröning:

The hopes of the co-plaintiffs were nourished by the knowledge that you made public the fact of your presence in Auschwitz as a result of your own decision, without at the time being accused in a criminal proceeding. You spoke publicly about your tasks on the ramp of Birkenau, where you came so close to the co-plaintiffs and their families 71 years ago. You openly addressed how you came to be a compliant and obedient Nazi and SS man. Without any pressure on the part of the justice system – which, until 2 years ago, remained inactive –, you publicly voiced your present-day disapproval and condemnation of what happened in Auschwitz. And at 94 years of age you are facing up to this proceeding in the role of the accused – and are thereby facing up to your responsibility as it will finally be established by this court.

For this, you deserve respect.

And yet, I as well as the co-plaintiffs remain greatly disappointed.

The disappointment begins with an inability on the part of the accused Oskar Gröning – an inability he shares with all of Auschwitz’s perpetrators and helpers: He is unable to use the word MURDER for the crimes of Auschwitz – the word MURDER in all of its unambiguousness that rules out any doubt. Instead, he hides behind the SS’ structures of command. It was the catastrophic consequence of this unconditional devotion to “the command” that has led to a relinquishment of all and any personal responsibility.

This is more than evident in the additional statement that Gröning had presented by his lawyers. He speaks explicitly of the “convenience of obedience, which did not allow for contradictions”, and he says that he did not have anything to do with the murders immediately.

Is the man Gröning not responsible for his own, personal obedience, in any case?

And he has his lawyers present further: He merely contributed to “the camp of Auschwitz operating effectively”. What a phrase!

He does not make a connection between himself and the murdering.

But it is exactly these instances of operating effectively in the mutual participation of all the cogs in the wheel, in the machinery of murder, that turns these “participants” into those who make mass murder possible – as prototypes, by way of their “functional aiding and abetting murder”.

From the beginning, Gröning transferred his individual GUILT to the area of MORALITY. And along with my co-plaintiffs, I recognize that for Gröning the responsibility for murdering their families is tied to the question of morality, thereby limiting his individual guilt. The result of this is humiliation – the humiliation borne from presenting life as relative. A Jewish human life is not subject to a determination of the right to live by way of moral reasoning.

Such an act of limiting individual guilt regarding the deaths of Jews harbors immense dangers in the present, in our world. Modern justifications for practiced anti-Semitism are mostly of moral nature. The moral values or norms of particular groups are interlaced with indignation, resentment or envy, and they meet in modern anti-Judaism.

In this sense, I wish to emphasize the deep concern on the part of the Jewish co-plaintiffs. For generations, they have all reacted with alarm when guilt regarding the deaths of Jews is to be weighed using the scales of morality.

Behind the complex societal and political deformation that was a trailblazer for the barbaric slaughter of innocent human beings, the individual SELF of Oskar Gröning was able to hide undetected from the start. Now that these deformations are removed, it is unbearable for the co-plaintiffs to denominate participation in murder in Auschwitz as an “immoral act”, in the worst case.

On the two days of this trial on which Mr. Gröning chose to speak and in all his interviews of a decade ago, one event is described again and again using similar words. Anyone who has, generally and comprehensively, devoted attention to the murder of the Jews in Eastern Europe after 1941 will agree: It was common practice to grab the small bodies of babies or infants by the feet and smash them to death against a wall, a tree, or a truck’s bumper bar.

Mr. Gröning, then, repeatedly describes the murder of this one baby whose little head was smashed in this manner when he was doing service on the ramp for the first time.

In a peculiar way, Gröning describes his own indignation about what he saw, but turns it into his own, morally motivated desire to leave Auschwitz. At the same time, he declares against the backdrop of his attitudes of the time that he generally agreed with the extermination of the Jews – including the children – as “enemies of the people”.

The repeated flexibility of “morality” in the life of the accused is apparent. A baby’s mere shooting would not have given cause for a desire for relocation. Only the battering did.

Around the end of last year, at an international school in Toronto, I spoke about Auschwitz with students who were but 11 or 12. Their parents are from all over the world. I was surprised. These children had already read Anne Frank’s diary in class, and they had had a number of lessons on the Holocaust. When all of the children’s questions had been answered, a girl raised her hand once more and hesitatingly asked me a question:

“Do you know” – she asked – “what they did to the children?”

The child was evidently thinking of herself.

Almost all our clients have spoken about their siblings’ murder. About the murder of children like Gilike, Eva Pusztai’s sister, or Evike, half sister to Judith and Elaine Kalman, or of Gershon and Reuven, the brothers of Irene Weiss.

What does the murder of our clients’ defenseless siblings, of these children, signify for those who were sentenced to live?

In one word: Tears. Tears that never run dry. Tears, again and again, even after 71 years. The dead siblings dig themselves into the consciousness of the living. Years and decades freeze. Never again will a leaf fall off a tree in front of these children’s eyes. No sunray will be a harbinger of a new morning.

After the end of the war, the surviving siblings who are themselves still children recognize with horror a German society that had legalized the mass murder of children according to an official morality. – Only 11% of Jewish children survived the Holocaust. These few were “old people” already when they were “children”, and their most serious of post-traumatic disorders were to accompany them for their whole lives, until today. To put it concretely: To accompany them all the way into this courtroom!

All the children in the world know the fear of being deserted. All the fathers and mothers in the world know the tears and raised arms because the parents are not to part from the children’s side. All of the world’s cultures in the history of humanity have respected this primal yearning. – And in Auschwitz the reverse side of this yearning, of a child’s fear of desertion, was instrumentalized in a diabolic way. Babies, infants, and children remained with their mothers. This was able to prevent panics, and joint transport could be feigned – all the way to waiting together in front of the gas chamber, as we have seen in the photograph of Reuven and Gershon with their mother. From the start, the continued care for the children was certain death for all mothers.

Only a place like Auschwitz, under the attentive eyes of the SS men, could bring to death also the children and babies in an unending stream of those condemned to die – leaving the surviving siblings with absolute emptiness, with an infernal nothing. There were no more children – from one’s own world. Those had been lost forever, within minutes on the ramp.

And our clients? – For decades they remain alone with their questions regarding the responsibility of all those without whom Hitler, Himmler, Göring and Heydrich never could have managed the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe.

Now, anyone who wants to believe that terror recedes with old age, that the souls of those who were children in Auschwitz in 1944 can find peace – anyone who wants to believe this is profoundly mistaken. And it is not only survivors who, in the spectrum of the Holocaust, are tormented by their nightmares even more once they reach old age – because the infirmities of age also play a role, and because the past often returns into the souls in an even more tormenting manner. The perpetrators and participants to the crimes fare quite similarly. Oskar Gröning knows this. – States of acute anxiety, during which Auschwitz enters into the present, are by no means rare. They are described by all the guardians, nurses and other persons who care for these people at old age.

And anyone who believes to have recognized stable personalities in these 14 testifying witnesses – persons so psychologically stable that they do not require any external support –, anyone who believes this is again mistaken. They may be perceived as such in the courtroom, because they have carefully tuned themselves to this day and even this hour, and because their legal counsels previously prepared them very cautiously and yet comprehensively for the entire proceeding. – All of them, over and over again, suffer through their incredibly dark hours in the whole gamut whose backdrop can be described in a phrase by Eichmann. The latter described his life’s work in the well-known Sassen interview: “I transported them to the slaughter.”

Within the year preceding the liberation in May 1945, Jewish children of happy families were transformed into the few survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust. They did not know anything about how to live a normal life. All on their own, without a soul to comfort them, they had to learn to survive survival.

The co-plaintiffs who had the opportunity to testify as witnesses before this court have described all the suffering and the loss. And in a mode of humility that is urgently required I remind myself again and again: Words alone are entirely unfit for filling with life the true experience of the hell of Auschwitz.

The true dimensions of the hell of Auschwitz live but in the hearts and souls of the survivors – of whom, according to the SS’ absolute will to dominate, not a single one was to survive Auschwitz.

Gröning has painted an image of duly “taking care” of the arriving transports with the cattle cars spilling over with Hungarian Jews – this image bears no resemblance to what actually happened to the people in these cars.

What concerns me, here, is not so much that the old man relapsed into the jargon of the time of the crime. While he corrects his first statement in this regard, he remains unable to find an appropriate personal word for that which for years he did not only experience first-hand, but which he fostered.

Only by way of example do I want to come back to the oft-invoked image of the baby battered to death, the image with which Gröning seeks to indicate that he himself is affected, a personal involvement cloaked as a humane emotion. Because – as Gröning has stated – this baby could also have been killed another way, for example by gunshot.

How does this isolated image from the initial days of Gröning’s service in Auschwitz – an image that he himself has painted –, how does it go with his emotionless account of the transports during the ‘Hungarian Action’, when 5 to 6 trains arrived every day, each carrying approximately 3,000 Jews? How does it go with his phrase of “duly taking care of” these transports?

I am convinced that with the testimonies of the 14 witnesses we have heard, with the elaborations of expert witness Dr. Hördler on the allegedly so unobstructed “taking care of” the 437,000 Hungarian Jews, it has become very clear what really happened.

Death had long found its way into the cattle cars when their doors were yanked open by the labor squads under the command and supervision of, among others, Unterscharführer Gröning.

This raises one of the many questions that Gröning has thus far avoided answering. What did the dead and the dying from the Hungary transports elicit in the accused himself when they were thrown on the ramp right in front of his feet? Or does he say: “They did not exist”?

Was he already so used to death and annihilation at this time that the only encounter to remain memorable and worth mentioning was this one early encounter with a single infant?

Or – this explanation suggests itself – is the baby nothing more than a metaphor? – A metaphor not so much due to memory, but part of the construct of later justification within his own family and social environment, when he had to present himself to his own sons and others in a way that was to allow for at least a certain amount of respect on their behalf?

These paths towards the self-conceptions of this generation of parents are familiar to anyone who – like me – is old enough to remember these times. In the earliest years, fists were banged on tables – among them Gröning’s – and any family member was banned from using the word MURDER for personal actions in Auschwitz. This time was followed by the great silence of the years of the economic miracle.

Had he refrained from banging his own fist on the table, Gröning would have been able to internalize the presumed immunity from punishment only much later. This was possible only once the interrogation by Frankfurt Chief Prosecutor Klein had remained without consequences in 1978.

Long before, in the 1960s, he and his generation were confronted with the past in their own families, when the Auschwitz Trial and the atmosphere of the era forced questions to the father onto the minds of the university-student sons.

Mr. Gröning, you, too, were faced with this problem.

It was of no advantage to you, then, not to have shown an interest in Frankfurt’s Auschwitz Trial yourself.

In this situation, the battered infant from your initial days of service was a suitable bridge for a return to a residue of moral principles and for consequently describing a number of alleged requests for relocation to the front line. The facts of the trial as established here will show that there were no such requests for relocation.

This circumstance cannot be altered either by the alleged personnel file that, according to Gröning, disappeared in an unresolved manner when in the custody of the Frankfurt prosecution. And yet, these requests for relocation were of eminent importance for his personal exculpation. Only like this was it possible to somewhat save face in the personal social environment of the 1960s.

Not to mention his promotion to Unterscharführer – i.e. Sergeant – that Gröning himself stylized as an SS criterion for exclusion from service on the ramp. We remember the photographs from the Auschwitz album in which historian Dr. Hördler showed us numerous SS men on the ramp sporting the SS Unterführer badge.

Gröning, with his additional statement, responds to this proof by way of expert witness: What he initially presented as an order – “No Unterführer on the ramp” – he now downgrades to a mere personal conclusion. This correction of course is fatally reminiscent of the idea of the “disappeared personnel file”. The latter, too, only surfaced “verbally” when serious doubts of the existence of any requests of relocation were expressed.

The accused felt the breath of death in the stench of thousands of humans burned each day and night during the ‘Hungarian Action’ in Auschwitz, and he knew: While the war lasts – the war that had cost his brother’s life in November 1942 –, this place in the shadow of the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews is the safest place for him, personally.

And yet, from the 1960s until today he has claimed: “I wanted to leave Auschwitz for the front line”, where he would have encountered death not as the stench of burned Jews but as the many-thousand-fold death of German soldiers, and where death would have lain in ambush for him, personally.

I want to explain to you, Mr. Gröning, why this “lie about the requests for relocation” is understood by my clients as an especially evident instance of flight from your personal responsibility.

The smashed little head of a Jewish baby serves as a gateway to your “mock indignation” – in order to demonstrate your compassion-slash-grace and your subjective sensation of cruelty.

A mere year and a half after the isolated indignation concerning the one battered baby, you, Mr. Gröning, then regard the 437,000 Jews from Hungary as nothing more than a “large number” within a short period of time with a “heavier workload”. You regard them as those Jews who, upon arrival, had to be duly “taken care of” and went from the ramp to death, absolutely clueless and without any complication whatsoever.

In this time of the ‘Hungarian Action’ you do not notice a single baby to be thrown onto the ramp, already dead from the cattle car ride, or desiccated to a corpse in the arm of a mother, or meeting the last hours of life whimpering and feeble from hunger and thirst. “Duly” is your decisive term for the ‘Hungarian Action’.

Your additional statement does not contain anything concrete on the ‘Hungarian Action’, either, even though you explicitly name the witnesses’ testimonies on the ‘Hungarian Action’ as the reason for your renewed declaration.

In this courtroom, the victims and the perpetrator have come together.

Evidently, our clients who testified as witnesses have not come alone – and in saying this, I do not mean their children that were by their sides. Our clients were here also in the company of their murdered parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and nieces. In many cases, there were 50 or 60 or more that came here, to Lüneburg, with a single witness in the torturous sensation of the forcible loss of entire families.

But neither were you, Mr. Gröning, here on your own.

You were joined here by all those members of your family who have already perished. According to your own words, you encounter them in your dreams. You have told medical examiner Dr. Friedrich about these dreams. But you are also in the spiritual company of the subsequent generations, of the sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Infants and babies like the one on the ramp will also be among them. At times, in a dream, the ramp scenes of which you cannot rid yourself may interlink with the faces of your own family. Reinterpretation as well as erratic changes of identity are part of the “nature of dreaming”.

The co-plaintiffs know by now that in late 1943 the accused married his older brother Gerhard’s fiancée Irmgard, following Gerhard’s death near Stalingrad on 20 November 1942. It is apparent and comprehensible that the accused now wanted to spare his own life – to be able to encounter his first-born son, delivered in August 1944, as more than a “hero killed in action for Führer and fatherland”. When my clients met the accused on the ramp, his wife Irmgard in Verden was six months pregnant and was not to be widowed, after her previous fiancé had already been killed in action two years earlier. – The question cannot be ignored: Had Oskar Gröning not also had to promise to his older brother Gerhard “to take care of Irmgard – in case he would not return from the battlefield”?

When you willingly remained in Auschwitz, Mr. Gröning, what was at issue for you was your life, were the lives of your wife and your first-born child – was your family! And yet by way of the baby metaphor you are describing your participation in the murder of all the families of the assembled co-plaintiffs as something that was equally “forced onto you”, because the SS allegedly did not let you go to the battlefield. You are embellishing a comprehensible selfish desire to survive with a moral cloak of an alleged state of being personally touched.

The abuse of certain modalities of killing Jews as a protective shield for your alleged state of being touched is one of the cruelties that you, Mr. Gröning, should have renounced in your encounter with the witnesses in this proceeding. It is not enough when you say that “you did not think the suffering of the others through to the end”.

You had a chance to do this in this proceeding, but to date you have not used it!

As far as Mr. Gröning, in his additional statement, calls the post of Auschwitz unsuited to realizing his family planning of “having a child fast”, identifying front line service as the better alternative to this end – as far as this goes, the facts point to the contrary, looking at the eldest son’s date of birth in 1944.

The co-plaintiffs are aware of the real relationship between entirely unconditional devotion to “the command” and its most catastrophic of consequences. It is the relinquishment of all and any personal responsibility.

Mr. Gröning says that this “cannot be comprehended by today’s standards”. If he means mass murder when he says “monstrosities” and only avoids using this word with reference to his own person, then this was equally incomprehensible already by the standards of “then”. It is “incomprehensible” to participate for years in the effectively operating death factory of Auschwitz. By all human standards, it has always been incomprehensible.

“To the outside”, Mr. Gröning thus preserves for himself the image of the SS man who on his inside was “decent”, who never wanted to stay in Auschwitz, who instead and courageously wanted to be part of the real war, on the front line.

Before I conclude, I need to speak about “fear” and its transformations.

The co-plaintiffs’ fears regarding a journey to a trial in Germany were great. Even the most elaborate of information in the preceding conversations was not sufficient to completely eliminate these fears. For many co-plaintiffs who did not make the trip it was therefore not only old age, health issues or frailness that mandated the decision not to travel to Lüneburg. Irene Weiss described her fears by saying that the accused could stir a fear of death in her even today, were he in the uniform of the SS. Comparable fears were so overwhelming in far more than just a few of the co-plaintiffs – so overwhelming that they were able to keep the acute and new nightmares at bay only by their definitive decision not to travel here.

A latent fear accompanied the co-plaintiffs on their way to Lüneburg. Some had initially not wanted to come here at all. But those who were able to build sufficient trust and who embarked on the journey, have undergone a very strong and intense transformation – all of the co-plaintiffs that came, without an exception. In them, an entirely new image of Germany has evolved. Under the impression of this image, the latent fear has disappeared or at least diminished greatly.

The co-plaintiffs noticed the respect with which they were treated. In court, they witnessed the search for justice – contrasting their fear of old German self-righteousness. Officers in German uniforms – those of the police and the judiciary – were recognized by the co-plaintiffs without any hesitation as those who in this proceeding will protect them from any threat. The German public – with its repeated spontaneous and positive attention in public spaces – and representatives of the media, the mayor of Lüneburg: they have all contributed to this strong transformation of latent fear into trust.

To an extent that was never expected, the court has validated and augmented all the positive impressions that the present witnesses had the chance to experience in the context of the proceeding. What I termed a “redeeming and healing effect” in what was initially not more than an optimistic prognosis has become the reality of this proceeding for the co-plaintiffs.

“I am surprised and I am happy … to be alive”,

a co-plaintiff wrote to us in a concluding description of her experience in Lüneburg.

The dialogue

Those co-plaintiffs who came for the trial session on 1 July – all of them co-plaintiffs who were here for the second time, with the exception of Andrew Sternberg – took the trip also in the hope that the accused would find the right words for his apology: his second statement had been announced beforehand.

They were disappointed. Mr. Gröning does open by declaring that it is his great concern to express himself once again after the testimonies of the survivors and the victims’ next of kin. But then he says very abstractly that the testimonies had made him clearly aware once again that most people had been annihilated. – He knew this beforehand. That is not new. But in this moment he does not say anything that regards the murdered families of the witnesses. And it is only these fates that were new to him.

Instead he says that he “had no idea about the horrendous conditions in the transports” and says verbatim: “That was a great shock to me.”

If you will pardon my saying so: Did Mr. Gröning not see very directly and very immediately all that which we have seen in the photographs of the Auschwitz album! “No idea”? – 3,000 Jews in three days and nights from Hungary to Auschwitz; always 80 to 100 to a cattle car. “No idea”? What kinds of travelers were they, those people who were thrown onto the ramp? – “No idea” about the horrendous conditions of the journey?

Mr. Gröning had the chance to comment on this with greater credibility.

But he has preferred to present his first statement mainly as what I want to call – “old wine in new skins”. By and large, this was a repetition of the old story of requests for relocation and of only three instances of ramp service during the ‘Hungarian Action’. All of this does not become any more convincing by being repeated or annotated.

The additional statement also contains a request to be “excused”. When one of our clients heard this word and could not yet clearly understand the context, a feeling of “positive surprise” arose in her. But then she had to learn: This was but an apology for having relapsed into the Auschwitz SS jargon in his first statement – it was not a personal request for forgiveness of his actions. The disappointment was great.

Other co-plaintiffs, in contrast, would not have accepted an “I apologize for my actions”, either – as long as this apology did not involve an open and transparent description of the actual participation in the crime. Avowals of humility and regret are little more than hollow words when the speaker does not say clearly what he is avowing.

At least, however, Mr. Gröning has made an attempt to react to the witnesses’ testimonies. He has recognized, in any case, that the co-plaintiffs have to suffer from the experiences of Auschwitz to this day.

Mr. Gröning has the privilege of knowledge on the question what really happened. Unlike the survivors, in whose lives the events on the ramp were singular and brief, Mr. Gröning has perennial knowledge of what has occurred. He is still able to speak to this. He continues to have the opportunity and the liberty to describe the unspeakable crimes in concrete terms – if only he steps out of his own dream world of trivialization and of his taciturnity in remembering mass murder. The co-plaintiffs are not giving up hope that the accused will finally liberate his own soul in his “Last Word” and open up about what happened and what he saw on the ramp and in Birkenau during the ‘Hungarian Action’. The accused shares responsibility for the co-plaintiffs’ lifelong suffering. He cannot absolve them from this suffering, no matter what his words. But he can offer them a bit of help in handling this suffering in the context of this criminal proceeding.

For this, it is not yet too late.

Irene Weiss

Irene Weiss was born Iren Fogel on November 21, 1930, in Bótrágy, Czechoslovakia (now Batrad’, Ukraine) to Meyer and Leah Fogel. Upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, her mother, three younger siblings, and older brother were killed.

Statement for the Trial of Oskar Gröning, July 1st, 2015:

My family lived in a small town in Hungary. My father had a lumber business. We were a family of six children, between the ages of 7 and 17. I was a schoolgirl of 13.

Life had already begun to change for us in 1940, when Hungary joined the alliance with Germany and began to institute the Nuremberg Laws. Jews who had lived there for generations had to prove their citizenship. My father’s business was confiscated by the government and given to a non-Jew. We were required to wear the yellow star. I was expelled from school.

In April 1944, it was announced that all Jews had to assemble at the town hall the next day, bringing with them not more than one suitcase each. My mother began preparing food to take with us without knowing where we were going. She also sewed some family jewelry into pieces of clothes, with the idea that it could later be exchanged for food for the children.

The next morning, the mayor, police chief, and my school principal knocked on the door. They demanded our valuables, and my father gave them some money and jewelry. We left our house, my father closed the gate behind us so our dog wouldn’t follow.

Along with the 100 or so other Jews in our town, we were taken to an abandoned brick factory in the city of Munkacs, some miles away. There we joined hundreds of Jewish families from neighboring towns.

 We stayed there for about a month, sleeping on the crowded floor of the factory. Our food from home was soon gone, and we were dependent on a daily soup ration. One day there was an announcement that all girls under 16 must have their heads shaved or their fathers would be beaten. My mother gave me a kerchief to cover my newly shorn head.

In the middle of May 1944, a freight train arrived on the tracks alongside the factory. Loudspeakers announced that everyone must get into the train. No one told us our destination.

Flanked by guards, my family struggled to stay together, managing to get into the same boxcar along with some 80-100 people. For the sake of modesty, men moved to one side and women to the other. A guard slammed the door shut and bolted it from the outside. Instantly it was dark. The only air and light came from a small slit in the upper corner of the car. Hours later, the train began to move.

There was a bucket for the toilet in the middle of the car. Hours passed, a night and a day. The bucket filled. Peering out the slit, my father confirmed our worst fear: the train was crossing into Poland. We had heard rumors of mass shootings of Jewish families in the forests of Nazi occupied Poland. We had never heard of Auschwitz.

Finally the train stopped. “We are at some kind of camp,” my father said. “There are barracks and prisoners in uniform. This must be a work camp.” We were relieved. The rumors had been wrong: we were not going to be shot in the forests of Poland.

When the doors of the train opened, we heard shouting, “Out! Out! Fast! Leave everything behind!” Hearing that, my mother pulled out extra clothing and told us to put on more layers. My head was already covered with a kerchief, and I put on an over-sized winter coat.

Hundreds of people poured out of the train. Prisoners in striped uniforms jumped into the boxcars, began dumping suitcases and possessions onto the platform, and loading them into trucks.

On the platform, my family clutched at each other, trying to stay together in the crush of people, noise, and confusion. SS Guards with guns moved the huge crowd forward, up the platform.

An SS guard shouted, “Men to one side, women and children to the other!” In an instant, my father and 16-year-old brother disappeared into a column of men off to one side. I never saw them again.

My mother, my older sister, Serena, 17, my younger sister, Edith, 12, my two younger brothers, and I, joined a column of women and young children. Smoke billowed from a chimney in the distance. The column edged forward. When we reached the front of the line, our way was blocked by 10 or more SS guards. One held a small stick.

The SS guard with the stick motioned my older sister, Serena, to one side, and she moved down a road in that direction, disappearing from view. The guard motioned my mother and my two little brothers to the other side, and they also disappeared from view. Only my younger sister Edith and I remained. The stick came down between us.

Edith was sent in the direction that my mother went. The SS guard looked at me and hesitated for an instant. Although I was only 13, my kerchief and coat may have made me look older. He motioned me to go in the direction that Serena and the other young adults went, and turned his attention to the women and children lined up behind me.

Irene (second woman from left with a scarf) upon arrival at the

Irene (second woman from left with a scarf) separated during the selection at the “Rampe” from her sister and trying to see if she had caught up with her mother (higher resolution).

I didn’t move. I leaned over, peering into the crowd and trying to see if Edith had caught up with my mother and my two little brothers. Women and children continued to move in that direction. It was not possible to see what had happened to Edith in the fast-moving crowd. During the separation, we made normal assumptions that this was a work camp and that we would be reunited with the family. I was horrified that she would not find our mother. No names or identity information were taken. She would be lost to our family, alone among strangers.

 Our family had tried so hard to stay together, with the older children looking after the younger. We were now completely torn apart. The trauma of this separation lingers with me to this day.

The SS guards motioned for me to get going and I ran, catching up with Serena. “Why didn’t you go with Mom?” she said.

 Serena and I were directed into a bathhouse, where newly arrived women were shaved, disinfected, and handed prison clothes. We were then moved to a barrack with about 200 other women. We still didn’t know where we were. We asked the other prisoners, “When will we see our families?”

A woman pointed to a chimney and said, “Do you see the smoke? There is your family.”

I thought—“Why would anyone say such a thing?”

Serena and I were assigned to a bunk – basically a wide wooden shelf. Six of us shared one thin blanket. None of us could sleep. My sister tells me I cried for days.

We were awakened before dawn every morning for inspection or “Zähl Appell”. We were made to line up in the morning cold, five in a row, standing for hours to be counted. This was also another opportunity for the SS to pull out children they missed at the selection ramp, and those who looked sick. This was a very dangerous time for me because I was only 13 and small. I tried to stand on a rock, so that I would seem a little taller, and pinched my cheeks, so that I would look healthier.

By sheer luck, we discovered my mother’s two sisters, Roszi and Piri, in a nearby barrack. Their loving devotion helped to protect and shield us in this terrifying place.

In a few weeks, numbers were tattooed on our arms. Soon after that, we were sent to work near crematoria # 4 at a storage and processing area that the prisoners called, “Kanada.” There we sorted through mountains of clothing, shoes, bedding, eyeglasses, toothbrushes, baby carriages, suitcases, books, pots and pans, and every other household item. We were ordered to hand over any valuables that were found among the belongings.

While at work one day, sorting clothing, I found my mother’s white dress, and beige shawl.

We worked outside day and night, to bring the belongings into the barracks, out of the weather. But the trucks kept bringing more and more from the platform and the crematoria, and the piles never became smaller. The piles reached as high as the roof of the barracks. Once the goods were sorted inside the barracks, we tied them into bundles. Male prisoners then came and loaded them into trucks.

Because we worked and lived next to the gas chambers and crematoria, I had first-hand knowledge of what had happened to our families. Day and night, columns of women, children, and elderly would pass by our barrack and disappear into the gate that lead to the gas chambers.

Her two brothers (to the left) and her mother (kneeling behind) in the birch forest in Birkenau waiting near the gas chamber.

Her two brothers, Reuven and Gershon (left) and her mother, Leah (kneeling behind) in the birch forest in Birkenau waiting near the gas chamber (higher resolution).

My brothers Reuven, age 9, and Gershon, age 7, stand in the lower left of this picture. My mother Leah, age 44, is seated just behind them. They are waiting with others in a grove just outside crematorium 4 and 5. Soon after this picture was taken, everyone in the picture would be killed in the gas chambers.

The sounds were magnified when I worked outside at night. First, I would hear the whistle of the train, and the hissing of the steam engine arriving at the platform. The people coming from the train at night saw the fire from the chimneys, and began to scream and pray. I plugged my ears to block out the sound. Then there was silence. In the distance I would hear the whistle of another train arriving. Day and night, the transports kept coming.

In January 1945, we were taken on a death march from Auschwitz into Germany. Those who stopped to rest or fell from exhaustion were shot on the spot. By the time we reached Ravensbrück, and then Neustadt-Glewe, we were sick and emaciated. My aunt Piri came down with Typhus and was taken away by truck. Soon after, Serena was also selected for death. When I realized that we were about to be separated, I said, “I am her sister!” I was told, “You can go, too.”

 We were put in a room with other selected women, awaiting a truck that would take us to be killed. Perhaps because of the approaching Russian front and the resulting chaos, the truck never came. Soon after, the guards fled and the remaining survivors drifted out of the camp.

In the years since I was in Auschwitz, I never talked about my father, other than to say that he didn’t survive. I couldn’t bear to talk about how he died.

He was a loving, gentle, kind person. When we were little, he found a fun way to teach us the Hebrew alphabet, so that we would be able to read the prayers. Our living room ceiling had wood beams, with knots in them. He would attach a coin to the tip of a broom handle, and when we performed well, he would lift the broom handle to the ceiling and hit a knot in the beam, causing the coin to fall, as if from heaven. We were delighted and amazed, and would run to the store across the street to buy candy with the coins. Every night, when he came home from work, we children would surround him, and he would give each of us his attention and love. His whole life was his family and his faith.

This was my father, aged 47, who upon arrival in Auschwitz, was forced to work in the Sonderkommando, pulling bodies from the gas chambers. We learned that he was in the Sonderkommando from a young man from our town, who passed us a note over an electrified fence separating us from crematorium 4. From this note, we learned that he was shot not long after being made to do this work.

We never learned what happened to my 16-year-old brother…… From my immediate family of eight, only Serena and I survived. All thirteen of my young cousins perished along with their mothers. When I saw children after the war, I stopped and stared. I had not seen children in almost a year and a half. Children were condemned to death in the world I had just come from.

In closing, I would like to address some comments the defendant has made regarding his role at Auschwitz. He has said that he does not consider himself a perpetrator, but merely a small cog in the machine. But if he were sitting here today wearing his SS uniform, I would tremble, and all the horror that I experienced as a 13-year old would return to me. To that 13-year-old, any person who wore that uniform in that place, represented terror and the depths to which humanity can sink, regardless of what function they performed. And today, at the age of 84, I still feel the same way.

You can find more about Irene Weiss and a her survival here.

Elaine Kalman-Naves

Testimony of Elaine Kalman-Naves, May 5, 2015

I am overwhelmed to be present in this courtroom at this moment of historical reckoning. I am here to honour the memory of dozens of members of my family, who perished in Auschwitz. I never imagined that I would travel to Germany. From childhood, I have been familiar with the sound of German place names. Gelsenkirchen, Sömmerda, Glachau, Buchenwald, Flossenburg, Bergen Belsen – these names punctuated stories my parents and their friends told about the war. They were stories of almost unimaginable horror.

I want to thank the court and the German people for the opportunity you are giving me to speak to you about the loss of the many members of my family whom I never knew, because I was born into loss. Unlike most of the other co-plaintiffs, I am not a survivor, but the child of two survivors. I was born after the war in Hungary, to parents who met after the war, and who had each been married to other people before the war. My father Guszav or Guszti Weinberger had been married to a woman called Margit , or Mancika, Mandula, and they had a little girl together called Eva Edith, or Évike, Weinberger. I am here to speak primarily about Évike, who would have been my older half sister had she not perished along with her mother in Auschwitz on June 3, 1944.

How, you might ask, can I speak authentically about someone whom I never knew? It’s a good question. Évike somehow is both my sister and not my sister. She is my sister because she was my father’s daughter, but I clearly could not have a relationship with her of the kind that you have with a sibling with whom you grow up. And yet, Évike has been a singular presence in my life from the time that I came into the world in November 1947 to this day, here in Lueneburg charged with telling you about her short life.

I was about six years old when I first really understood who Évike was, and she was six years old when she was murdered. Over the years, I have become older, but she has stayed six years old. So even though today she would be seventy-seven, in my mind now, she is a child like my grandchildren, not like an older sister at all. I feel a great sense of responsibility towards her, a little girl like so many other children who perished – but also a little girl like nobody else in the world, a unique individual, a unique person.

Évike was born in the city of Debrecen on April 19, 1938, a much desired, much loved only child to Guszti, and Mancika. They were prosperous, hard-working, modern Orthodox, educated Jews who were completely integrated into Hungarian life. Guszti and his two brothers were third-generation farmers on an estate in northeastern Hungary, in a village called Vaja . Mancika was an accomplished, well educated young woman who had attended a finishing school in Switzerland. She was an adoring wife to my father and a devoted mother to Évike.

Évike’s childhood encompassed dark and menacing events in the world: anti-Jewish laws in Hungary, Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria, and the outbreak of war. Guszti was frequently away from home, serving in the special labour battalions into which Hungarian Jewish men were inducted, THE MUNKASZOLGALAT. Because of this, Évike and Mancika moved to the family estate in Vaja, where my father himself had grown up, and where there also lived my grandparents, and my uncle Pal, his wife, Mary, and their little girl, Marika. Despite the gravity of the situation, life remained relatively normal for them right up until a month before Évike’s sixth birthday: relatively normal until March 19, 1944.

The two little girls, Évike and Marika, were playmates, and they were doted upon by our grandparents and by the other many members of the large extended family, who visited the estate regularly. There are many pictures of the two little girls playing together, and also many photographs showing them with members of the extended family, everybody wearing big smiles.

I have known about Évike ever since I can remember. There were photographs of her on the walls of the apartment in which I grew up in Budapest, including many in the room in which I slept. There were albums, photo albums, of my father’s dead family, and of my mother’s dead family. I have memories of myself from a very young age leafing through the pages of their albums, and asking for the names of the people depicted in the photographs. I even remember my mother smiling and saying I had the same sticking out ears and same bow legs as Évike did, and that we had inherited both these features from our father.

When, many years later, I began to research Journey to Vaja my book about my father’s family, I learned about the unusual way Guszti and Mancika brought up their little girl. When I interviewed my father’s cousins, they commented on the fact that instead of hiring a nanny and leaving the upbringing of Évike to the nanny and Mancika, my father had wanted to be fully involved in her care. Unlike stereotypical fathers of the 1930s and 40s, Guszti had bathed the baby, and rocked her and played with her, in a way that was unusual for the time. I recognized the portrait of my father that his cousins painted for me, because he had been the same kind of father to me and my sister, very protective and very involved.

My father was a wonderful storyteller, who loved to talk about the family he had come from. Among my first memories is of him telling me stories about his family – and these were invariably happy stories. He evoked festive occasions on the estate and especially liked to talk about the adventures he and his brothers had growing up on a large farm. Still, even though these were positive stories, he would preface them with the words, “I feel sorry for you because you don’t know what it is to have grandparents. I feel sorry for you because your world starts only with me and with your mummy.” I didn’t understand at all what he was talking about. I didn’t want him to feel sorry for me. I didn’t feel I was missing anything. But of course he was right. I didn’t have any grandparents. My father’s parents and my mother’s parents had all perished in Auschwitz. And most of my aunts and uncles had also been murdered.

As I matured, I came to know more about Évike. She had been a sweet natured, rather shy and reserved little girl. She had also been exceptionally intelligent, and though she was too young to have started school, she had actually taught herself to read and write using her storybooks and the daily newspaper. This is important to Évike’s story as I will try to explain later, because since she had learned to read and write, we can actually know a little bit about her from her very own words.

My father was a member of a close and very loving family, who continued to support him and his two brothers while they were in slave labour service during the war MUNKASZOLGALAT. They sent him parcels with food and clothing, and many, many letters. In 1944 alone my father received more than 150 letters and postcards from his family. More than 150 letters. I know this because my father kept them all: he managed to keep them in his knapsack through his entire wartime ordeal. These letters came from his mother and his father and his wife, and yes from his little girl Évike. The little girl who had never gone to school. He kept them , not just during the war, but afterwards too.

And, many years later when he saw that I was very serious about writing a book about the family – this was back in 1982 – my father told me he still had these letters. I began reading them with him. They were all in Hungarian, so I began to translate them all into English. And while I was doing this, I had a kind of breakdown. Working with the letters prostrated me, almost literally. I couldn’t function for months, because of their impact on me. Because these letters were from the people that my father had been telling me about from the time that I was very young. And when I read them, I saw how right he had been, because indeed, it was a very sad thing that I never knew my grandparents. And here they were, in these letters. I could touch the paper that had been in my grandmother’s hand and in my grandfather’s. I could see what good people they were, how courageous, how very hopeful and determined to find each other again after the cataclysm. They kept on sending my father messages of encouragement that I could read for myself. And I knew what they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know. I knew, I knew that history was going to eat them up. I knew that they were all headed for Auschwitz.

Évike was one of my father’s correspondents. Her notes and letters were enclosed with the grown ups’ letters. She wrote on decorative children’s stationery, very similar to the flowered children’s note paper my own daughters wrote on when they were little. Miniature envelopes contained Évike’s first written communications to her favourite person in the world. She knew how a letter should look: she wrote my father’s address at his labour service company on the tiny envelopes in block capitals all running together: FOR WEINBERGER GUSZTAV,MAROS HEVIZ, MAROS TORDA COUNTY, and on the back she printed her name and return address: WEINBERGER ÉVA EDIT VAJA. Inside she wrote in the same large block capital letters messages that speak of her love and confidence in her daddy. She clearly adored him: she had named both her teddy bear and favourite doll for him. In her notes she shares jokes, and describes her latest achievements and activities. In one of them, she writes how she lost her first tooth. In another she says that she’s taking good care of her Mummy and that she has crocheted a hat for her Teddy bear. And in all of them, she signs off: I KISS YOU MANY TIMES YOUR ÉVIKE

There were three generations of the Weinberger family who were forced to leave their home for the ghetto in Kisvarda on April 25 1944. Évike had celebrated her sixth birthday six days earlier, on April 19. On April 19 her mother, Mancika, wrote to Guszti, that they were packing up their bags and that it was hard to know what to take along. She was particularly upset that she would have to give up her wedding ring, but she wrote, “you will buy me another one some day if God willing, we meet again once more. Today is the darling child’s birthday, we congratulated her in tears, and I wish that all her future birthdays, she will attain under happier circumstances, then today’s, until she’s 120 years old.” Until 120 years old, Évike’s mother wrote. That is the traditional Jewish greeting on someone’s birthday. Both Évike and Mancika would die 45 days later on June 3, 1944.

The family wrote again, a long farewell letter on April 23 to my father, in which Évike added her own greetings :MY DARLING APUKA HOW ARE YOU I AM THANK GOD WELL, I THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE BIRTHDAY WISHES. I AM VERY SORRY THAT WE CANNOT BE TOGETHER KISSING YOU VERY MANY TIMES YOUR ÉVIKE

We know what she chose to take with her to the ghetto. In that same letter, her mother wrote that they were all packing their parcels for the big journey. “My poor little Évike has also packed up her Guszti teddy bear and a book, so that I should take it for her.”

There is a final vignette of Évike that I will share with you in a few minutes, but first now I would like to talk about The family I come from:

Évike was a child cherished not just by her parents, but also the whole extended family and especially by our grandparents. I would like to speak about my grandparents. They were very religious people with a great deal of faith in God, but they were also educated people, who could express themselves beautifully in writing. My grandmother Ilona, after whom I’m named, wrote in her farewell letter to my father: “if you could see me, you would say I am a veritable hero and I owe this to the fact that, thank God, I am perfectly healthy and also to my unshakable faith to which I cling… We all have to fortify ourselves so we can bear it all. Don’t worry, I will do everything for the two sweet children [Évike and Marika], after all, they have always been the light of my life, along with all of you.” She promised she would do everything for her two little granddaughters, not realizing that she would be powerless to do anything to help herself or anyone else.

There are many photographs of my grandparents with their two little granddaughters. And in all those photographs, Évike is always sitting on our grandfather’s lap and Marika is always in our grandmother’s lap. They all look very happy and contented together. My grandfather Kalman was the head of the family, a serious, well read man who by this time had retired from farming actively, and given over the management of the estate to his three sons. Kalman wrote long, detailed letters or postcards to them every day that they were away in labour service. He kept on urging them to be strong and he kept on assuring them that the family was well. On this last day in this farewell letter, I think he had no illusions about what was in store, even if he had never heard of Auschwitz. Here are his words: “Let the Almighty in His mercy watch over your precious wife and precious gifted Évike and help you so that you may delight in them for 120 years and that you may find only happiness with them. Thank you, my precious good son for the great joy which you have given us and let the precious Évike and your yet to be born Children also give great pleasure to you.”

My heart breaks every time I read these words, and think of the agony that my family went through at that time. The agony that my grandfather must have felt writing these words. It touches me profoundly that my grandfather even had a blessing for me and for my sister Judith, who testified here last week. Because we were the “yet to be born Children,” the children he would never know and who would never know him. Of course he could not imagine that the mother of these children— would not be Évike’s mother, my father’s first wife, Mancika.

I want to say a few words about Évike’s mother, Mancika Mandula Weinberger. She was a devoted daughter to her parents, an adoring wife to my father, and a completely dedicated mother to Évike. She was patient and thoughtful. She knew many languages because she had attended a finishing school in Switzerland where she had mingled with girls from many different nationalities. She was thirty-five years old in 1944, and she was strong and fit, and had she not been the mother of a six-year-old, she would’ve had a chance to live. I don’t think she would’ve wanted to live without her child, but in stark terms, the child whose hand she was holding condemned her to death in Auschwitz.

The cattle car that brought the Weinberger family from the ghetto town of Kisvarda in northeast Hungary contained thirty-four members of my family, of whom two survived the war. One of these survivors was my father’s cousin Susan Rochlitz Szoke. Cousin Susan was nineteen years old and completely traumatized by the horrors of the journey. But still she remembered clearly Mancika and Évike in the wagon. Évike was irritable and tired and thirsty and unable to understand what was happening. She asked over and over again where they were going. And Mancika repeated over and over again, with bottomless patience, “we’re going to a place where we’ll work until we will be together with Apu. Perhaps daddy is already waiting for us there . We’re going somewhere where you’re going to see Apu.”

We all know what happened next. It was not my father who met them on the ramp in Auschwitz. I cannot bear to put words to what I know happened next.

I have been asked to talk about the impact of the Holocaust on me, to talk about how it has damaged me. To try to answer that question places me on the horns of a dilemma. I have not come to Germany to elicit your pity. I don’t think of myself as a damaged person. I am a happy person and I have a full life. It would be ethically wrong to call myself a victim in a courtroom where you are hearing from survivors. I am not a survivor of the Holocaust; I was born three years after the events we are describing. Any pain that I have suffered cannot be compared to their suffering.

But if I’m going to be honest with myself and with you, I must face the fact that indeed the impact of the Holocaust on me has been foundational. The very circumstances of my birth are predicated on the death of others. If Évike and her mother had lived, I would not have been born as myself. If my mother and her first husband had not been separated, but if I had been born to them, I would also not have been born as myself. And yet I feel enormously fortunate to have been born, and to have been born to my parents. And I know I was a great source of happiness to them simply by token of my birth. When he learned that my mother was pregnant with me, my father said to her that he felt the kind of joy that God must’ve felt on the day of creation. And Despite their grief and the enormity of their losses, my parents went on to build a solid new life for themselves and their children in a new country. In the course of building this new life, they never forgot the family members from their former lives , nor what had happened to them. It was important to my parents to communicate to us a rich legacy of family memory.

For the formative years of my life, the Jewish holidays meant sitting at a table for four, my father, my mother, my sister Judy and myself. The table would be festively set and there would be a nice meal, during which my father and my mother reminisced about what the holiday had been like in the days before the war. They talked of All the many people who had congregated around the large dining room table back home, and the copious amounts of delicious traditional food. It was as if the Holocaust were a visitor sharing our meal with us.

Before my father died at the age of eighty-four, I had hardly ever attended a funeral. A friend of my parents came to pay a condolence visit during the week of mourning that we call Shiva. She had been a child survivor and had lost everybody in her family. When she came into the room where the mourners were sitting on low chairs as is the custom, with all the mirrors in the house covered as is the custom, this friend of my parents made a gesture with her hands to encompass the signs of mourning, and she said, “we don’t know how to do this. We’ve never done this before.” She didn’t have to explain what she meant, because We understood perfectly. Having lost virtually everybody, all at once, my parents’ generation – and by extension, us, their children – had never had a chance to express grief in a normal way, as one does when generations pass away in their natural order. We had never had experience with the normal rituals of mourning, because everybody was already dead.

Nowadays, when my family gathers together to celebrate the Jewish holidays and in particularly Passover, a holiday celebrating freedom from slavery, there are once more three generations grouped around a very long table. There is a passage in the Passover Haggadah in which it says that in every generation a Jew must feel as if he had personally been liberated from slavery. In the era when my father led the family seders, he always paused at this passage to remark that this was not some remote thing that happened thousands of years ago. He said that in our times he and my mother had suffered from a slavery that was incomparably crueler than anything in the time of the pharaohs, and he told us to never forget to guard our freedom and the freedom of others with our last breath.

I think this is what I have come to say to the court: that justice and freedom are our highest societal values. They must be regarded as precious as life itself.

Having the opportunity to tell my family’s story here – having the opportunity to speak to you of Évike, Mancika, and my grandparents – is an affirmation that that their lives, so cruelly cut short, mattered. They were not statistics, they were flesh and blood, individuals with personalities, temperaments, frailties and strengths. There is no way to go back to undo the catastrophe that befell them. There is no way to fix what happened to them. But acknowledging the enormity of what happened to them in this courtroom and before the world is a source of a certain consolation.

Judith Kalman – April 29, 2015

Judith Kalman: Victim Impact Statement Prepared for the Trial of Oskar Groening, April 29, 2015

judywithfamilyphoto-byperhinrichssepia-smallI’m a Canadian child of Holocaust survivors, and I’ll be speaking to you about the effect on my life of the death of my half-sister, Eva Edit Weinberger, age six, in Auschwitz in June of 1944.

The loss of my parents’ loved ones, in particular the six-year-old Eva Edit I never knew, left me with a burden of inherited survivor guilt that has been a defining feature of my life. It informed my choice of life partner and the trajectory of my professional endeavors. Still, to address this court in the form of a victim impact statement, feels uncomfortably disproportionate. If I am at all a victim, it is largely in a titular sense. The effects of the Holocaust on my life can’t be put on a par with how it changed my parents and all those who suffered its ravages. The loss to me of Eva Edit Weinberger is as nothing set against the devastation her death wrought on our father.

This father, hers and mine, was Gusztav Weinberger Kalman. His family came from the village of Vaja in northeastern Hungary. They ran a large agricultural operation based primarily on the production of tobacco and the distilling of grain alcohol for export. My father and his two younger brothers, Ferenc and Pal, grew up to take over this family business. The Weinbergers were looked to as natural leaders of their community by their wealth, piety, and, in my father’s generation, education. When my father was called up for forced labour service in December 1940, he was almost thirty-five years-old, in charge of the finances and many of the administrative duties, and living in the nearby town of Nyiregyhaza where he had moved his young family. He had married Mancika Mandula in 1937. Their daughter Eva Edit was born in April 1938.

My father escaped the sweep of Eichmann’s net when the Jews of northeastern Hungary were among the first to be deported to Auschwitz after the Germans occupied Hungary. He was away in forced labour, as was his brother Ferenc. Pal, home on leave,was deported with the rest of the family. Ferenc, having survived the death march out of ghastly conditions in the copper mines in Bor, Serbia, died in the Flossenburg concentration camp on November 9, 1944, one day before my father was to arrive home to the family estate near Vaja.

His war had ended early and dramatically. The company of forced labour servicemen was attached to what little was left of the Hungarian army which in turn was attached to the retreating German forces, blowing up bridges over rivers as they crossed westward in flight from the approaching Russians. My father had a dread of crossing the Tisza River. To his mind, once the river was crossed, they would be marched to the nearest train hub town and deported into Germany. After they were forced over a bridge earlier than expected, he sought out the Hungarian sergeant in charge of his division. He told him they had to cross back over the bridge, or they’d all end up in Germany. Perhaps the sergeant thought that allegiance to the Reich was no longer strategic. What should he say if they were stopped, he asked? Why, answered my father, that the filthy Jews were clogging up the works. Let them go the long way around on the other side. Two hundred Jewish labour servicemen followed my father back over the explosives-lined bridge. No one stopped them or blew them up. My father had liberated himself. Within days, he arrived at the family estate where he found locals had taken up residence. The explanation they gave him was that it made sense to move in since, quote, “it had pleased the Weinberger family to take off.”

My mother Anna Swarcz survived Auschwitz, slave labour in munitions factories in Germany, and the long forced march which led them through Buchenwald, which they again miraculously survived, and eventually towards Dresden. Finally lliberated by the Americans, she and her only surviving sister made a harrowing journey, mostly on foot, all the way back to Hungary. Since no other family member had returned to her town of Beregszasz, my mother left. She took with her nothing but the portrait of her favourite sister Magda, killed by Allied bombs at the munitions plant where the Jewish slaves had been turned out of the barracks so their guards could shelter within. Having nowhere else to go, she set out for Nyiregyhaza, home to her husband Marton. She too had been married before the war, but only a brief few weeks. Marton had been called to labour service and sent to the Russian front. He was not to reappear until after my sister Elaine was born, when our parents Anna and Gusztav already considered themselves husband and wife.

The annihilation of my parents’ families, in particular the deaths of the children, shaped me from even the point of conception. Today, we’re learning about environmental factors that may affect our genes, possibly within a single generation. The murders to which I allude were such an outrage to our sense of ourselves as creatures of compassion and social interdependency, I imagine their impact fast-tracking to the very genes that came to me from both father and mother. The imprint was in my name, forming my first vague notions of identity. I had been called after two dead children—Eva for my father’s daughter of a previous marriage, and Judit after my mother’s niece.

Both these children—Eva Edit Weinberger, aged six, and Judit Borenstein, aged twelve—met their ends in Auschwitz, not on the same day, but over the period of fifty- seven days during which 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to the camp. The two girls were among the 300,000 gassed, as were Eva’s mother Mancika Mandula Weinberger; and my paternal grandparents, Kalman Weinberger and Ilona Weinberger; their son Pal and his wife Meri, and their daughter Marika, aged six; as well as twenty- two other family members in that single transport. All told, my father lost close to eighty- four members of his one hundred and twenty relatives. My mother lost her parents, Samuel and Ilona Swarcz, her sisters Rozsa Swarcz Borenstein and Magda Swarcz, her niece Judit Borenstein, and her nephew Tibor Weisz, among numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws. My sister Elaine and I, both born after the war, did not inherit heirlooms, but rather a legacy of two murdered families, ever present in the narratives of our parents and the photographs and letters written in the hands of the dead. My father retrieved these letters and photos from the mud in the street in front of his home inNyiregyhaza. The house had been taken over, his personal belongings thrown out into the street. Mud-splattered letters and photographs were all that was left of mother, father, brothers, wife, child. He picked up as many as he could stuff into his pockets, and these artifacts became the family my sister Elaine and I grew up to love in absentia.

The child, Eva Edit Weinberger, is the one person among our legacy of dead about whom I’ve been asked to testify today. My life took its shape from her death, but it needs to be emphasized that she was just one of the crowd of family members who hung in the wings of my family life in Canada, a gallery of characters against whom my every experience was referenced and compared, who watched us with interest, tenderness, and sometimes dismay. They were alive to us beyond the realm of the imagination, in a way that was almost palpable.

How to know—or at least imagine—as you and I are asked to do today, Eva Edit Weinberger dead by gas at age six, without at least a glimpse of the family she was born into? And how to explain the affect of her passing on my life lived on a continent six thousand kilometers from her home, without telling you about our shared father, her Apuka, who led two hundred men to safety; and my Daddy, a man divided by the great cataclysm that cut his life and his very being in two?

My parents settled in Budapest after the war. My father changed his surname, which was too Jewish and German to fit in with the Soviet-aligned interests of post-war Hungary, and went by his late father’s given name Kalman which was typically Magyar. He held a position with the Ministry of Agriculture, supervising state-run farms in the countryside outside Budapest. In 1956, at the time of the Hungarian Uprising my father was fifty years-old, with a wife thirteen years his junior, and two young children, my sister Elaine, age eight, and me, Eva Judit, age two. He was already the patriarch of the remnants of his ruined family, supporting two mentally unstable elderly aunts, and representing for his other living relatives the role the Weinbergers had held in Szabolcs County. The 1956 Revolution persuaded my mother that we had to leave Hungary. She procured exit papers from her siblings in England and Canada. At fifty-one years of age, my father started life anew without language, occupation, friends, or familiar points of reference. We moved to Montreal where he lived and eventually died in 1990, leaving a wife, two daughters, and four grandchildren. My mother Anna, still with us at ninety-five years, continues to follow with interest the development of four great grandkids. All of us, my sister Elaine and I, our four children, and her four grandchildren, were born out of the ashes of the sacrificed Eva Edit.

She looked different from us. Her cousin Marika was considered the prettier of the two with her wide round face similar to her father Pal’s and our grandmother’s, in keeping with the soft curves of the Hungarian ideal. I look more like the little cousin. Evike, as she was known by the family, would have more likely grown into the Western proportions of beauty. Her face was a small oval. In one photo she strikes me as a total stranger, looking like no one but herself, delicate in build, and with large eyes alight with quickness. Her hair is in two braids looped loosely and tied up in white ribbons on either side of a central part. A downy growth of new hair spills from beneath the upswept braids onto her generous forehead. In one photo with her mother, they both smile flirtatiously at the photographer. Our father perhaps? In another favourite of mine, I see in her image someone dear and totally unrelated, a psychotherapist who helped me through one of the darkest periods of my life. I realize I’ve had a lifetime habit of seeing Evike in women I admire. She would have been the same age as a teacher-mentor I met in college, a woman of Central European and half-Jewish extraction. Like my mentor, Evike had taught herself to read and write by the age of four. Her letters to my father during his labour service are charmingly printed, the words running together without spaces in between but almost all correctly spelled. She would have been so much brighter and more gifted than I, I concluded. I saw in the accomplished women I met, a potential that might have been hers had my half-sister been afforded her right to grow into adulthood. Although I soon overtook Evike in age, I saw her as sixteen years my senior, ever projected into the future to which she was entitled. The third picture on my desk is sobering. In it Evike looks deeply anxious. Her brows are puckered, and she clings to the teddy bear she holds in every photograph. Perhaps the sun is too harsh on her eyes, but it is hard not to imagine that she is gazing at the future.

As a child I formed a strange myth to explain the baffling circumstances of my existence. There must have been something wrong about the old, beautiful way of life that my father extolled in his stories of the past. The clan had been sophisticated and good. Yet, if so, asked the child-skeptic born to him for life in a different world, why were they all wiped out? A child raised to believe in a beneficent God, but above all, because of her father’s narratives, in a causality that gave shape and meaning to life. Surely, surely something must not have been right with that world for it to have been so brutally eclipsed. I came up with an answer that makes sense only to a child. For some reason, my sister Elaine and I had to be born. If we were meant to be, then it followed that Evike and her world were not. It was that simple.

Early on, through my father’s stories and my mother’s startling revelations of horror, I absorbed the knowledge that innocent children could be murdered and whole families and communities eradicated by forces beyond their control. As a young emigrant of three-and-a-half, I too was swept up in the migration of peoples.What could I carry with me as an emblem of the safety and faith I needed so as to flourish and grow? I suspect it was around this time that my personal creation myth emerged. I decided that the old, beautiful world had been a false start, and we had to start over from scratch. Everything bad that could happen to a family had already struck my father and mother. The horrors had come before and thus wouldn’t come again. Elaine and I by extension were inoculated against disaster.

My sister Elaine was born in 1947. Before she was six, my father had filled her head and heart with frequent narratives about his dead loved ones. She could identify his photographs, reciting like a catechism the names of the dead. I cannot imagine how he was able to start a second family so soon upon losing everyone. I think that the guilt of survival my father carried in him, threatening always to drag him under, could be measured by the flow of narration and remembrance that poured out of him almost uninterruptedly over the years.

The father of my childhood did not work as an agriculturalist. After two years in Canada, my mother took a college course to re-certify herself as a school teacher so that she might work for the public school system. My father could not bring himself to do the same in his field. He was too old, he said, by which he meant his real life was behind him. The father of my childhood always claimed to be old, and it’s true by comparison with the young, short-sleeved, cigarette-smelling fathers of my Canadian friends, he did look old. My father dressed for a different time and place. He was often mistaken for my grandfather. He was not the same father little Evike had flirted with in her photograph. He mistrusted his new environment, always alert to danger. He worried about snow storms and daughters walking home from the bus stop after dark. He didn’t really believe it was safe to be Jewish anywhere. We lived in a new suburb in the east end of Montreal, far from the neighbourhoods where Jews had settled, but close to my mother’s sister and her family. I was the only Jew in my elementary school, and the only Jew in high school. When we rode the buses together on Saturday mornings, he to put in his half day at work, and I to go to a Jewish school in the west end where my parents hoped I’d a acquire a taste for Jewish company, I felt an urge to protect him from the judgment of the French and English Canadians riding with us who might look down on him for speaking a foreign language. They could have no idea who he was, or how his unimaginable losses and suffering raised him far above the stature he had held even in his best of all possible worlds. It seemed poignantly ironic that he missed the homeland where he could be his natural self, that place that had cast his family as other in the extreme, an other that was hardly human, so other they didn’t deserve to live; yet here in a freer society where he could own property, educate his children, qualify to work in any field he chose, he felt so utterly unknown he sank deeper into the past.

Now, finally, I will speak about second generation survivor guilt. Evike’s death shaped my life so fundamentally, I wasn’t to understand it until I was well into middle age and had experienced tragedy first-hand. Her death was part of me as were the genes I’d inherited, and I was as unaware of its influence as we are of what resides in most of our genomes. What I was conscious of was that I had had a sister whom I’d supplanted, and who might have turned out to be more professionally successful than I; on the other hand a sister who had to be replaced because fate somehow had pre-ordained me. I felt I must amount to great things in order to justify the forfeiture of her life, even as I understood myself to be cramped by limitations.

All my life I planned to be a writer. My modest gift was recognized by various teachers through the years, notably my mentor in college. In that class, I met my future husband, a young man with a prodigious work ethic and a flare for writing. We were very young when we moved in together, had two children, lived together for twenty-five years.

As far back as I can remember realizing that I think most clearly with a pen in my hand, I intended to write the story of my father’s family. This at last would solve the riddle of my existence, why I was meant to be. Through my words, his dead loved ones would once again come to life. In fact, I’ve been able to write only the story of myself.

In May 2000, two months ahead of his forty-fourth birthday, my husband took his life. He had battled depression as long as I had known him, but in the last five years, the illness became unmanageable. At this time I sought the services of a psychotherapist for guidance about how to manage with a very sick partner and two children. Following my husband’s suicide, I tried to understand my marriage. These explorations led me to my half-sister Evike, drawing connections to her role in my make-up that I had never before considered. I came to understand that this key life choice had been predicated on guilt. A child had died so that I might supplant her. How better to expiate such a debt than by saving someone who might otherwise not survive without me? My husband was hardly more than a seventeen year-old boy when we met; shortly after he ran away from his family. He was raw, alone in the world, hyper-sensitive, vulnerable. He stood by his convictions and his friends, worked harder than anyone else I knew, and wrote like a dream. This was one worthy soul, I saw at a glance, who deserved only the best life could offer, but instead he had been dealt a bad hand, as he used to say, in the form of an illness that made him doubt himself at every turn. I recognized him right away, one of the exceptional people, like the members of my father’s family, who had been dealt a hand that was terminal. Of course I couldn’t know that my husband’s hand would prove terminal as well. What I understood was that it was my fate to save him. This was a role I never questioned, however it hemmed me in, consumed my mental and physical energies, and drew on my creative strengths. I was indebted, after all. I owed my life literally to the deaths of all the fine souls who had been unjustifiably murdered. The least I could do was save this one who also deserved his chance at life.

When I was twenty-six, my sister Elaine, trained as a historian, came to me with a proposition. She planned to tape record our father telling the story of his life. She would do the historical research, if I agreed to take my father’s narratives and turn them into a book. In other words, she was giving me the opportunity to write the book I had always intended. For a couple of years we collaborated on translating my father’s recordings into English. My late husband said something then that stopped me in my tracks.“Why do you think anyone would be interested in the story of your family? After all, it’s not as if they accomplished anything special or that anyone’s ever heard of them.” He was saying what I had always felt riding the buses with my father under the suspicious eyes of our Canadian neighbours. We were little people of no count. The world had tried to get rid of us. Who would care about my father’s stories from another continent and era that held little relevance to Canadians? I persuaded Elaine to write the book herself which, wisely, she did. It was easier than attempting my grand design and failing, as I was bound to, to raise the dead. Evike had died for my right to live; in turn my other rights were of small consequence. Most of my dramas, in fact, were measured against the super-human challenges my parents had faced. Their struggles loomed so large, their world, my father’s pre-war world in particular, felt more real. Sometimes I had difficulty fully inhabiting my life, recognizing the richness of my sensations, perceptions, and experiences. Instead these came to me as dim reflections of my father’s Platonic ideal. Yet, I grew up into a strong individual who has never felt anything but gratitude for the stroke of tragic chance that had given me breath. I would never have written the book Elaine imagined and then wrote. Eventually I did write a collection of stories that drew on the narratives Elaine and I had translated. But this book turned out to be about me, Eva Judit, the child of Holocaust survivors.

Mine is not the voice of a victim. We were a family of loud voices, the deep, narrating voice of my father, my mother’s shrill voice trying to draw our attention away from him, and my sister’s and mine, clamoring to be known. Whenever I took up my pen, my insistent voice leapt to the fore, tattooing me onto each page. It came from a place of self-preservation, affirming the here and now. The last thing I would ever have imagined would be to use this voice to address a German court about the phantom child whose shadow preceded me through the years. I cannot fully express how liberating it feels to have her acknowledged so publicly, and to be heard on behalf of my father and mother, little people who bore the enormous weight of history without solace of recognition.

My psychotherapist left me an invaluable gift that helped me go forward after my husband took his life. I could no more have saved him than my father or any of the survivors of the Holocaust could have saved their dear ones. It’s easy to say they should all have left at the first signs of Nazi saber-rattling. Hindsight showed me too, some steps I might have taken that might have forestalled the outcome of my husband’s illness. But such thoughts are akin to blaming the victims. In the moment, the ever-flowing now, we’re too close to our situations to see them clearly or in their entirety. We use our best judgment given the information available within the parameters of the present. My therapist was a believer in a principle of learning how to look at traumatic experience in a new way, one that allows us to co-exist with the trauma, if not more comfortably, then at least without it impeding daily life. After my husband died, I suffered panic attacks that kept me from sleeping. My therapist and I debated the principle of looking at trauma from a different perspective. I insisted this was a type of lie like the re-writing of history for propaganda purposes. What happened happened, and could not be changed. How, for instance I demanded, could I ever contemplate the image of my half-sister Evike and her mother in the gas chamber without succumbing to despair?

My father’s cousin Zsuzsa Rochlitz was the sole survivor among my father’s thirty-four family members stuffed into the cattle car bound for Auschwitz. Like everyone else in it, family, friends, and strangers, she was terrified. Although she was comforted by her mother, Zsuzsa’s attention fixed upon another mother-daughter relationship. She has told us that throughout that journey she never once saw Mancika Mandula Weinberger falter in her reassurance of her six year-old daughter Evike. Over and over she consoled her calmly. Perhaps where they were going they would meet up with Evike’s Apuka. Her father would be waiting for them. They would all three be together again. Zsuzsa, I think, might have been so impressed with Gusztav’s wife’s reassuring composure and resolve, that she took some comfort in it herself. In her Canadian life, she orked in infant care at a government agency for new immigrants. She always told us, “I never met a woman who better epitomized sensitive, intelligent, and respectful mothering than your father’s wife Mancika as she calmed her darling child during that dreadful journey.”

I look again at Herr Walther’s enlargement of the photograph of Evike. She is trying to smile, even as her eyes and brows pull together anxiously. Her lovely high forehead is deeply furrowed. It’s hard for me to look into her face. Each fine new hair in the fringe spilling out of her gathered braids attests to a teeming abundance of the life within her. The silky promise of each strand is as painful to contemplate as the image of this little girl stripped naked, enfolded by the naked flesh that gave birth to her, as together they slide to the floor of the devil’s own bathhouse.

I glowered angrily at my therapist. It was a travesty and betrayal to consider re- formulating this excruciating image into something palatable to live with.

“But,” she said reaching for my two hands. She had taken the hands of my sixteen year-old son in this same way when she had offered him her condolences upon the death of his father. “You are like that woman, don’t you know? In the long year of your husband’s descent into madness, you never once wavered in your support of your boys.”

Since her words, I’ve learned to co-exist with this iconic image, as with the other memories transferred from my father and my mother. I couldn’t save my husband. Nor have I found any resemblance in me to my precocious, delicate, half-sister Eva Edit Weinberger, irrevocably lost. But one intrinsic part of one of the sacrificed innocents, a woman not even related to me by blood, I was able to salvage. This scrap of her life that emerged in me when the need arose—to be one’s best self in impossible circumstances— I hope will pass on to my children.

See also the Judith Kalman’s Blog.

Esther Altmann

Gabor Altmann, a hungarian Auschwitz survivor, saw his sister and his daughter the last time at the “Rampe”. His daughter, Esther Altmann describes her impressions of the Gröning trial in her Blog (Times of Israel):

Esther AltmannAs I listened to Groening’s dispassionate ramblings, the lens of my imagination focused narrowly on the platform, on the families wrenched apart and annihilated, the teenagers selected and tortured in slave labor camps. Where was my 18 year old father standing? I searched for him in the Auschwitz photos flashed on the evening news and in the newspaper articles that sprouted up everywhere. How many days had he been in the cattle car? Where was he on the platform? Did he say goodbye to his father, his sister? How long was he in Auschwitz before being sent on the death march to the slave labor camps at Mauthausen, Melc, and finally, to Ebensee where he was liberated. I had spent a lifetime reading Holocaust literature yet did not know what had happened to my own father whose trauma was sealed and buried.

You can read the whole text here.

Statement to the Press from Counselors of Auschwitz-Survivors – April 20th, 2015

Legal Counsels Representing the Co-Plaintiffs

Attorney at Law Thomas Walther

Professor Cornelius Nestler

Attorney at Law Donat Ebert

Attorney at Law Günther Feld

Attorney at Law Manuel Mayer

Trial against Oskar Gröning before the Lüneburg District Court

We are the legal counsels of more than 50 Jewish co-plaintiffs. Their next of kin were murdered in Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. Almost all of our clients were selected for labor on the ramp and survived Auschwitz, death marches and other camps.

It is the hope for justice that brings the co-plaintiffs to these proceedings.

The accused Gröning will be tried for his participation in the murder of our clients’ parents and siblings as well as the extermination of their families. Seventy years have passed since then. Pain and loss, decades of despairing nightmares surrounding the hell of Auschwitz will be heard before the Lüneburg District Court in the voices of 14 of our clients who will give testimony in the trial.

The co-plaintiffs wish to bear witness, and thereby also make evident to the broader public, what the “Holocaust” has brought upon them individually as well as their families. The co-plaintiffs place great emphasis on having the opportunity to describe to the court the consequences that any participation in these murderous deeds produced for their own individual lives. Justice will be granted to the co-plaintiffs only if the trial does not stop at presenting numbers of murdered victims but also grants a voice to parents and siblings, bringing an image of these persons to life. In the courtroom, robbed human dignity can be restituted by way of respect for the co-plaintiffs.

The co-plaintiffs have decided to participate in these proceedings fully aware of the great strain this will put on them individually. They have taken this burden upon themselves, even in old age, because they believe they owe it to their murdered families to be recognized in a German court case.

The failure of the Criminal Justice System

These proceedings bring an end to a failure of justice that has lasted for almost 50 years. For this failure, two main reasons can be identified: The judiciary placed its focus on the guilt of individuals – of those who had “blood on their hands” – even in the case of the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz. And in the decades after the great Frankfurt Auschwitz trial of 1963 to 1965, there were repeated instances of the responsible prosecution authorities in Frankfurt simply dismissing criminal proceedings against SS members active at Auschwitz, in most cases, not for any supportable reason. This occurred with a plain disdain for the standards for culpable behavior that were and are valid in any “normal” criminal proceeding then as well as now.

For the co-plaintiffs, it is thus also of central concern to illuminate this history in the criminal proceeding against Oskar Gröning. Had the prosecutors not remained passive for decades, the co-plaintiffs would have had the opportunity much earlier, and not after reaching old age, to confront SS members with their responsibility for the murders of their next of kin.

Due to their advanced age and to ill health, many of the co-plaintiffs are no longer in a condition to travel to Lüneburg. The decades-long failure of justice has barred them from actively participating in the trial against their families’ murderers.

The prosecution in the criminal proceeding against Gröning is taking the right path. The extermination of the Jews from Hungary in the summer of 1944 was possible only because, through the industrially organized division of labor, many, including the accused, had a role in carrying out the mass murder. Any objection that the accused does not have “blood on his hands” is not legitimate. The machinery of extermination also relied on those who did not want to “get their hands dirty”, but who contributed their share to the mass murder. Following the court’s admission of the indictment, the co- plaintiffs have the rightful hope that the German judiciary finally finds the right standards for assessing which behavior on the part of SS members in Auschwitz constitutes co-responsibility for the murder of their next of kin.

The trial promises justice, albeit far too late.

Lüneburg, April 20th, 2015