Posts Tagged ‘murdered’

Why I forgive the Nazis who murdered my family

January 20th, 2016

The courtroom embrace was beamed across the world and has prompted a new documentary being broadcast on Channel 4 on Saturday night. Today Eva chuckles at the memory. She did not expect to be hugged, but insists not one part of her body recoiled at Groening’s touch.

“I was a little bit stunned,” she says. “But it was a lot nicer than meeting him in Auschwitz. He would have grabbed me then for another purpose.”

She has written to Groening in prison where the 94-year-old is serving a four-year sentence to seek another meeting.

“I genuinely believed he liked me. I saw in his eyes a lot of caring, love and sadness that he was part of it.”

Her decision to forgive has been criticised by many survivors of the Holocaust and even prompted a petition signed by 49 among them. Her husband, Michael, 90, with whom she has two grown-up children and is himself a former inmate of Buchenwald concentration camp, insists he will never follow suit.

Yet speaking from her home in Terre Haute, Indiana, Eva Kor remains resolute.

“Why survive at all if you want to be is sad, angry and hurting?” she says. “That is so foreign to who I am. I don’t understand why the world is so much more willing to accept lashing out in anger rather than embracing friendship and humanity.”

Eva Kor grew up in the village of Portc, nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and so small it doesn’t even warrant mention on a map. Her family owned hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness and farmland. “But what good did it do us?” she asks.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left’?”

She and Miriam were six when war broke out. Hungary, initially an ally of Hitler before he invaded the country in March 1944, quickly embraced the rampant anti-Semitism of the Nazis. Eva’s father, Alexander, was told he must register every fortnight with the police and new teachers were installed at the village school.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left?’” she says. “The children were taught to hate and rewarded for it. My little playmates from the village became my tormentors.”

In early 1944, Eva, her parents, Miriam and their other sisters Edith, 14, and Aliz, 10, were forced from their home and sent with whatever food, clothes and blankets they could carry to a nearby Jewish ghetto. After two months they were told they were moving again to a “labour camp” and this time would not need any possessions.

Instead they were loaded on cattle trains bound for Auschwitz, part of the Hungarian transport of more than 437,000 Jews shipped to their deaths in just eight weeks.

“The heat was unbearable and we didn’t get any food or water for four days. Whenever the train stopped we would ask the guard for water and he would say, ‘four gold watches’. Then he would take a bucket of water throw it through the window. I had my cup ready but only ever got a few drops.”

Any relief at finally disembarking was tempered by the looming brick towers of Auschwitz. The family was soon separated amid the chaos of the “selection platform” where most were hauled off unwittingly to the gas chambers before even being registered. Within minutes Eva had lost her father and two sisters (and was never to see them again). Then a guard scanning the crowds for twins for Mengele’s experiments approached her mother, Jaffa, who was holding tight to Eva and Miriam.

“We were pulled apart crying. It was brutal and unbelievable for humanity. It still is the most difficult memory.”

Early on during her captivity, Eva stumbled across bodies of children piled up in a latrine at the end of their barracks. She did not tell Miriam, but vowed then they would both survive Mengele’s gruesome experiments.

“I remember Mengele looked very proper, dressed in a shiny Nazi uniform,” she says. “He was strict, cool, calm and collected.”

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents”

Eva was injected three times a week with at least five needles each time. She still does not know to this day what the contents were, but when the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, Eva and Miriam were still alive.

She says it has taken her years to learn forgiveness, rebuilding a life first in Romania, then Israel then the US. But it is her murdered parents, not the Nazis, who have proved the hardest memory to reconcile.

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents,” she says. “They didn’t save me from a place like Auschwitz and a destiny of being an orphan. That is what I felt.”

Eva first decided to absolve her former captors after re-visiting Auschwitz during the Eighties and later meeting Dr Hans Munch, another SS physician who worked at the camp but was acquitted of war crimes. In 1995 (two years after Miriam had died from cancer) during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp she stood alongside Munch and announced she granted “amnesty to all Nazis”.

However Eva says only one other survivor (and Mengele twin) has since joined her – a man named Peter Greenfeld. To associate forgiveness with the Nazis is anathema to most.

Susan Pollock, an 85-year-old grandmother of six from Golders Green who in January was appointed MBE for educating young people about the Holocaust, also gave evidence at the Groening trial, but says his appeals for clemency left her cold.

“He was sentenced and found guilty and that is the important thing,” she says. “He lived a long life while more than 50 members of my family – little babies and children – were destroyed. I really can’t understand how she (Eva) could come out and say she forgives.”

Pollock was also shipped to Auschwitz on the Hungarian transport. Both her parents were killed while her brother, Laszlo, was forced to work in the Sonderkommando, moving bodies from the gas chambers to the ovens. He was the only other member of her family to survive, although remained terribly scarred from the experience.

Susan Pollock has weathered similar traumas but insists now she doesn’t carry any hatred in her heart. “I live with it by sharing and speaking,” she says.

What is most important for her is that the world always remembers. Unlike Eva Kor, she may never be able to forgive the Nazis; but insists none of us must ever forget.

The Girl who forgave the Nazis is broadcast on January 23 at 8pm on Channel 4

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My Nazi grandfather would have murdered me

April 13th, 2015

Flicking through its pages, she realised with a start that a photo of a woman in a summer dress perfectly matched the picture she had of her grandmother, Ruth Irene. What’s more, the photo of the author on the cover of the book – entitled I Have To Love My Father, Right? – look familliar, too. It was that of her birth mother, Monika.

“It was this immediate physical shock,” she told me. “I felt this physical need to just lie down. I had to leave the library.

“I became weak because I knew that this book would give me so many answers. When you grow up with so many open questions in your head, this is something that turns your life upside down.”

Jennifer Teege and her adoptive brother Matthias

Teege was so startled to find any information about her family that the subject matter of the book almost passed her by completely.

It only hit her as her husband drove her home.

Her grandfather, Amon Goeth, had been a Nazi: the commandant of Plaszow concentration camp.

Teege recalls staying up all night researching his story online and feeling like she had “entered a chamber of horrors”. She discovered that Goeth, called ‘the Butcher of Plaszow’ was “a man who killed people by the dozen and, what is more, enjoyed it”.

He quickly rose through the Nazi ranks, slaughtering 2,000 Jews during the clearing of the Krakow Ghetto and up to 12,000 as the chief of Plaszow (a 200-acre camp built by the Nazis on top of a Jewish cemetery near Krakow, Poland).

What’s more, he was a natural sadist. He trained his two dogs, a Great Dane and an Alsatian called Rolf and Ralf, to tear humans apart and would often ride around the camp on his white horse wearing white gloves and a white scarf. His costume was a sign to the prisoners that he was in a particularly vicious mood.

The Polish prosecutor at his trial in 1946, described him as: “a man who has become a legend in his lifetime for being the modern incarnation of the biblical Satan”.

Goeth’s special brand of horror was given lasting infamy by Steven Spielberg in the film Schindler’s List, with Ralph Fiennes playing the role.

His name has stuck in the public consciousness thanks to one scene in particular – where he takes potshots at prisoners from his bedroom balcony, described as “his personal form of morning exercise” in Teege’s own book, My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me (an English translation of which has just been published in the UK to coincide with Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Holocaust remembrance day).

Teege in Israel in 1992, aged 16

During that night of feverish internet searches, Teege, now 44, remembered having watched Schindler’s List in Israel. She spent four years there as a student and learnt to speak fluent Hebrew.

And by another astonishing coincidence, or twist of fate – Teege is still undecided – in the course of her research, she discovered that her biological mother was appearing in a TV documentary about Goeth’s death camp the following evening.

Teege desperately wanted to find an explanation for her grandfather’s behaviour. She assumed – hoped, even – that she would find “some traumatic incident in his childhood that would explain his cruelty”.

But Goeth’s upbringing was perfectly normal.

Nor could she find any signs of remorse in either grandparent. Goeth’s final act was a Nazi salute and shout of “Heil Hitler!” before he was hanged in 1946.

Teege’s grandmother, Ruth, lived happily in Goeth’s camp villa as his loyal mistress, after the couple were introduced by Oskar Schindler. They never married but Ruth went to great efforts to take her fiance’s surname after his death, a name Teege herself had until her adoption at the age of seven.

Right up until the end, when she committed suicide in 1983, Ruth had a picture of Goeth hanging above her bed. She used to gush about her lover as “a real gentleman”. He had impeccable table manners, she remembered fondly.

According to one of Goeth’s Jewish former maids: “Most of the time, [Ruth] was busy lying around with a cucumber mask on her face. She would turn the music way up so that she couldn’t hear the shots.”

Spielberg portrayed her burying her head in the pillow while Goeth was shooting from his balcony.

Teege is keen to point out that, after the war, Ruth lived with an African and a gay man. “So she was open-minded. I have tried to analyse her. There’s so much complexity that you can’t define her.”

Unsurprisingly, Teege was unable to leave the house for two weeks following her toxic discovery. She eventually sought help from a psychoanalyst who burst into tears during their first meeting.

But it wasn’t her grandfather’s atrocities that shook Teege most. Rather it was her grandmother’s complicity.

The Nazi mistress was the person who “mattered most” to Teege when she was a fearful and neglected child – who held her hand and “radiated kindness” until she was adopted.

“Her character is so interesting,” Teege says. “She represents the majority of people during the war who followed the system.

“To differentiate yourself from my grandfather is very easy. Within my grandmother, it’s easier to see oneself. It begs the question: How would I have behaved?”

Teege’s grandmother and Goeth’s mistress, Ruth

Teege, a married mother of two who has established a successful career in advertising, has wrestled with the notion that she has Goeth’s blood flowing through her veins.

She was disturbed by an article she read in 2010, detailing how Bettina Goering – the great-niece of Hitler’s second-in-command – had been sterilised so she would “not pass on the blood of a monster”.

“I feel a bit sorry for her,” says Teege haltingly. “This in my eyes is so fundamentally wrong. Because you can decide who you want to be, and to set a different example is better than to cut the blood line. Actually it was one of the quotes that inspired me to share my story with the public.”

One also gets the sense that, with her book, she is trying to reach out to her mother. Monika agreed to meet her following the library discovery, but she has since shunned her daughter’s approaches.

Teege says with a smile: “I hope she has read it.”

She also insists that the story will always have relevance:

“I hope that society has developed, but look what is happening now with Islamic State. I mean, there are people here from London – they grew up normally and they are following an ideology. There is still a danger out there that people follow blindly.”

Writing the book, along with copious therapy, has helped Teege come to terms with her poisonous inheritance.

But it is also helping others.

“I met one survivor at my last event in Israel,” she says. “He was in the front row and during the Q&A, his daughter told me that he was a survivor from Plaszow and his father was the personal shoemaker of my grandfather. He said my grandfather was his worst nightmare as a child and he wasn’t sure at first whether he wanted to come to this event.

“In his words, he said, ‘You are my birthday present’.

He was turning 80 the following week and he said he was really happy that he met me, because he could see that history does not have to repeat itself.”

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me, by Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair, is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£20)

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