Posts Tagged ‘Survivor’

Oskar Groening trial: Auschwitz survivor subjected to Nazi medical experiments demands answers

April 23rd, 2015

Ms Kor gave a chilling account of her ordeal at the hands of Josef Mengele, the doctor dubbed the Angel of Death who experimented on humans in the notorious death camp.

She said she and her sister Miriam only survived because Mengele was particularly interested in twins, and that within minutes of arriving at Auschwitz the rest of her family were gassed.

She said Mengele and four other doctors came to see her one day after she had undergone a series of injections and was suffering from high fever.

“Mengele looked at my fever chart and laughed sarcastically and said: ‘Too bad. She is so young and she has only two weeks to live’,” Ms Kor told the court in the German town of Lueneburg.

“If I died they would have killed Miriam with an injection to the heart. Mengele would then have carried out a comparative autopsy,” said Ms Kor, who now lives in the US.

She somehow survived, as did her sister. But Miriam, who died in 1993, suffered from decades of kidney problems and later cancer which may have been linked to the Auschwitz experiments.

“I want to know what injections we were given,” Ms Kor told Groening, who impassively listened to her 40-minute address to the court.

It appeared to be a rhetorical question as Groening is not known to have participated in the medical experiments but was instead responsible for inspecting the luggage of arriving prisoners and sending any money found to Berlin to fund the Nazi war effort.

That job led the German media to dub him the “Bookkeeper of Auschwitz.”

On Wednesday he described in detail how cattle cars full of Jews were brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the people stripped of their belongings and then most led directly into gas chambers.

So many trains were arriving that often two would have to wait with closed doors as the first was “processed,” Groening said.

Thomas Walther, the lawyer representing several co-plaintiffs, told the Telegraph that three more Britons were now being represented by him, bringing the total of British co-plaintiffs to six.

The trial was moved to a larger venue after the local courtroom was deemed to small. It was adjourned at noon on Wednesday to clear the Ritterakademie venue for a play entitled Guter Sex ist Teuer (Good Sex is Expensive).


World War Two

Watch: Holocaust survivor recalls life after Auschwitz

January 26th, 2015

70 years later, as the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Radil is among the dwindling population of survivors who was actually at Auschwitz, the most vivid symbol of Nazi cruelty, when the terror finally ended.

He said that he got through the nightmare thanks to a tremendous will to survive and an intense focus on returning home.

“Everyone wanted to survive and those who did asked themselves, ‘what do we do now?’ Your main and only goal was survival, so you had to look for another one,” he said.

“For me, it was to go home. But I didn’t know what or who I would find there. I knew that most of the people were murdered.

“So what really is home? It’s not a city, it is a family, but I knew the family would not be complete.”

In fact, only his father was still alive.

Radil, who has written a book about his life called “All Alone in Auschwitz at 14,” has also warned of a repetition of the kind of horror the Holocaust brought.

“It might be somewhere else, it may not concern Jews,” he said.

“It might be some different type of holocaust but when you have people that are unsatisfied, frustrated, who lack a lot and have no goal, and someone comes and provides them with a goal, some sort of goal, they can unite in hatred.”


World War Two

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Holocaust survivor: ‘I did my best acting during the war – it deserved an Oscar’

October 29th, 2014

Ruth, 84, is acting out the story of how she escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto.

She lived there with her parents, and tells me: “The unfortunate story is that my father wanted to save me.”

Her father helped Ruth and her aunt – whose two children had already been killed by the Nazis – get a job working at a leather factor outside the ghetto. He also managed to acquire false passports for the women, giving them Catholic names and identities.

The plan was for the pair to escape during one of their regular trips to the bathhouse, where workers were taken weekly.

“We were marched with guards on each side and marched back again,” explains Ruth. “On one of those events my aunt had the false passports. She explained to me, ‘this is my chance’.”

The two of them managed to run out of the bathhouse and on to the Aryan side of the road. “It was sheer luck. It was always, you might be lucky and you might not be. But it was worth taking that chance.

“Like a cat, I have many lives, I think.”

‘My life in Poland was finished’

Ruth aged nine

For the next year or so, Ruth and her aunt pretended to be Catholic. It wasn’t as challenging as it might have been for others. Ruth did not ‘look Jewish’ and her not particularly religious family had already assimilated to Polish life.

Ruth’s parents were tragically taken to Treblinka, the concentration camp, where they died. She believes that they always had plans to follow her, but were deported before they had a chance to put them into action.

The rest of her story is not told in the play.

When she was 13, Warsaw was evacuated and Ruth was moved to Germany.

“We were taken as prisoners of war to Germany, but not as Jews. As Christians,” she tells me.

“It was very very cold in the winter and we had to clean the snow away from a railway. This was kind of my school. It wasn’t as bad as being in a concentration camp like Auschwitz or Treblinka, where my parents died. But you know, it wasn’t a piece of cake. We weren’t tortured, we were not beaten. But the circumstances were not easy.”

When the war ended, she went to England and has lived here ever since. Her aunt eventually returned to Poland but Ruth decided not to follow.

“My life in Poland was finished,” she says. “There was no one left for me.

“I was asked what I wanted and I said that I wanted to be schooled. My schooling had been totally disrupted. Of course I didn’t speak a word of English. But I was still young so I learnt quite quickly.”

That was also when Ruth started to deal with everything that she had gone through.

“When I came to this country at the tender age of 16, one goes through different emotions. There’s a bit of, ‘I survived and I feel a bit guilty because everyone is gone’. But at that age you actually want to put the past away from you and move forward.

“I didn’t want to be a victim and I didn’t want to be different from anyone else.”

‘Your best acting? That was in the war’

Ruth dancing on a beach in Tel Aviv

“I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to learn the language as fast as I could and be a teenager like everyone else. The only thing that distinguished me from others was that I was a bit more serious.

“I wasn’t looking for boys and flirtations – but I made up for it later in life.”

Ruth went on to become one of the first members of the London Contemporary Dance Company, where she worked for 17 years. She met her husband Mike at a tea dance there and went on to have a son – who sadly died at the age of 37.

Then, during her forties, she made the switch from dance to drama.

She told her aunt about this decision. her reaction? “’I thought you already did your most wonderful performance, you’ll never match that.”

Ruth laughs: “She referred to the fact that I had to keep changing my character [during the war], and that was my best performance, my best acting, for which I should have got an Oscar.”

She went on to have a successful acting career, but this is the first time that Ruth is acting out her own story on stage. She has played Holocaust survivors before, but never herself.

So how does it feel to relive those memories in such a public way?

‘I didn’t want it to be a public confession’

“The idea was very strange and I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to do it,” she says.

“Initially I just thought ‘I’m not really interesting enough’. Give me a character I can hide inside of – it’s much more comfortable than revealing my own experiences. But actually it’s proving to be incredibly satisfying. It’s kind of getting rid of the onion skin and getting to the core of something.

“I didn’t want it to be a public confession and make people feel sorry for me because I was the victim of the second world war. I didn’t want that. You can’t recollect all the memories and indulge in them. It has become something that is your text and you’re dealing with it now as an actor. You know what you’re revealing but you sort of have to distance yourself from it, or it will be confessional self-indulgence.“

This refusal to be the victim seems to sum up much of Ruth’s survival instinct. She refuses to do so in her art, she hated doing it as a teenager coming to London, and she clearly differentiates between being a victim of a personal tragedy, and one of history.

“I often think about this. I was not a victim of personal family problem.

“I’m a product of the tragedy of history – I think it’s much more difficult when you’re the victim of a personal tragedy.

“I was part of six million others. It wasn’t happening only to me. The basis of my life that I remember was a happy childhood. That’s why I’m not bananas.”

‘Who Do We Think We Are?’ is on at the Southwark Playhouse from 29 October to 15 November


World War Two

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Second World War camp survivor and wife both die on 76th wedding anniversary

August 13th, 2014

The couple, who fell in love at first sight, met in Cardiff and married on August 5, 1938, three years before Mr Hartland was posted as a gunner to Singapore following the outbreak of war.

His regiment of 700 men surrendered to the Japanese the following year and Mr Hartland, like thousands of others, was tortured, starved and worked to the brink of death by his captors.

An estimated 13,000 people died building the railway, most of them buried near to where they fell along the unforgiving 250-mile route stretching to the Thailand border.

Mr Hartland, who was 11-stone when he left for Singapore, survived to the end of the war, by which time he weighed five stone and bore a scar on his leg – the mark of a poisoned bamboo shoot pushed through his leg by a camp guard who had caught him smoking banana leaves.

Having survived 15 different camps and been forced to dig his own grave, Mr Hartland was welcomed home to Cardiff in 1945 with a street party and a letter of thanks from King George.

Mrs Pearson said: “I don’t know how dad survived, mainly luck and determination, I think. There were 700 men in his regiment when they went out, but only four ever came back. Dad was the last to die from his regiment.

“In 1942, Mum got a letter from the colonel of the Coast Regiment saying Dad was missing, presumed dead. She had the papers to claim a widow’s pension.

“She absolutely refused to believe it. At the time, she was conscripted to work in a parachute factory in Cardiff Bay. She hated it: it was dirty and rat infested.

“But every day, on her way to work, mum would go into the church she passed and pray that dad would come home. She lived without him for four years, but she never believed he was dead.”

Last year, Mr Hartland said: “The worst thing was when we had to dig our own graves. We were due to be shot on the day the war ended.

“Then the ‘all-clear’ sounded. You can guess how I felt.”

Mrs Pearson, the couple’s daughter, was born in 1946 and the family moved to Wyken, Coventry in 1947, and Mr Hartland worked for Morris Engines as a factory foreman until he retired.

She said: “Dad was in hospital for a while after he came back from Burma, but neither of them cared. They were just so happy to be together again.

“They had an incredible marriage. They never, ever argued. Dad idolised Mum, and she adored him.

Mr Hartland died at Saint Martin’s Rest Home in Woodway Lane, Coventry, last week, hours after his wife was discharged from hospital with a broken leg.

Mrs Pearson, a mother of two, said: “We think he was waiting for her to come back to the room they shared before he died.

“Afterwards, Mum just kept saying, ‘I can’t live without him’. That night, Mum rang me.

“She was upset and I told her to think about all the happy times they’d shared in their marriage while she drifted off to sleep.

“She died at 1am, and I like to think that’s exactly what she was doing.

“It’s a perfect love story. I’m devastated they’re gone but so happy for them – they’ve never really had to live without one another.

“The undertaker said he had never seen anything like it, when he came to collect Mum. Paramedics said she died of a heart attack, literally of a broken heart.”

A joint funeral has been arranged for the pair, which will take place in Coventry on Tuesday.


World War Two

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Survivor of WW2 crew who fought in Antarctica reveals life in ‘alien’ waters

April 13th, 2014

For 70 years, little has been known about this most peculiar episode of the Second World War. Even the men involved never quite knew what they were doing there, improbably told that their secret mission, codenamed Operation Tabarin, was designed to deter German U-boats from lurking in Antarctic waters.

Now, for the first time, Mr James, the last surviving member of the Scoresby’s crew, has spoken to the Telegraph about the expedition. Mr James, the youngest on board the ship, discloses the harsh conditions endured by the crew as they spent two years in the Southern Ocean.

He has broken his silence as a new book, Operation Tabarin: Britain’s Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica, argues that the operation’s true objective was to assert Britain’s claim to the continent and defend whaling revenues against incursions by Argentina.

A copy of George James’ book, Operation Tabarin (Dimitris Legakis/ Athena)

Foreshadowing the Falklands conflict four decades later, the book charts how a rumbling territorial dispute between the two nations erupted at the height of the war as Argentina claimed the South Shetland and South Orkney islands, 800 miles south of the Falklands.

The heroic age of exploration, of course, had seen British missions to the Antarctic long before Tabarin. In the early 20th century, explorers including Scott and Shackleton regularly explored the islands. But Britain saw no value in the territory and did little to formalise or entrench its claim, letting Argentina take over one of its meteorological stations in 1904.

All this changed when overfishing depleted Arctic waters and the lucrative whaling industry largely transferred to the Antarctic. It soon took off, and the Treasury began charging for whaling licenses, swelling Britain’s coffers.

Argentina was appalled, but did little besides sending a few furious diplomatic notes asserting their territorial claim. Then, when war broke out in 1939, the neutral country seized the chance to reinforce its claim while the Colonial Office had rather more pressing occupations.

“By 1941, Argentina quite rightly thought the war was going the way of the Axis powers,” said Stephen Haddelsey, the book’s author. “Would Britain have either the will or the resources to challenge them if they staked a physical claim to the territories? They thought not.”

So, in early 1942, the Argentines sent a ship to Deception Island, a tiny volcanic whaling station in the South Shetlands, where they flew the Argentine flag and buried a cylinder with a formal note proclaiming their territorial rights.

When the Colonial Office heard of this, however, our mandarins’ response was not at all what Argentina had predicted. The War Cabinet was determined to respond, to protect vital revenues in the region and prevent a precedent being set that might encourage incursions elsewhere in the Empire.

The war was still at too delicate a point to provoke outright conflict with Argentina, however, especially as Britain was dependent on substantial cargoes of beef from South America. So the U-boat myth was put about to provide cover for the operation.

“They used the war as a front for aims that had nothing to do with the conflict,” said Haddelsey. “They were trying to avoid an escalation on the ground, but at the same time achieve an unambiguous statement of British intentions.”

To the crew of the Scoresby, however, those intentions could hardly have been more ambiguous. As the trawler set sail from the Falklands on 29 January 1944, few of the men on board knew why the Antarctic had suddenly become so crucial. When Captain Andrew Taylor assumed command of the operation from its original leader, James Marr, a year later, Marr left him with no instructions.

George James (R) with other crew members on HMS William Scoresby circa 1944 (Dimitris Legakis/ Athena)

“A few reasons were put out. We were told it was to do with the Germans but when it came to it, the first party to go down were mainly scientists,” said Mr James. “Now that’s not going down to fight off Germans, is it?”

The crew’s first months in the Antarctic, where the average temperature is minus 10 degrees centigrade, were tough. They moved from island to island constructing rudimentary bases from timber and depositing a handful of scientists at each. But they spent most of their time adjusting to the conditions.

“It was completely alien to all of us,” said Mr James. “Life was in the raw. It was hard going at times but it was a bit of a thrill to think you were there. It was a magical place – we’d be breaking through the ice with ice cliffs on either side.”

As the Scoresby charted new territory, Mr James took photographs on a Box Brownie he had smuggled aboard. Last week, he dug them out again. In one, a colony of penguins climbs up the ice from the ocean, huddling together for warmth. In another, a young Mr James shivers, despite wearing several pairs of gloves and a windcheater.

Mr James – known to the crew as “Sparks” – would rewire lights and send messages as the ship sailed. The war was at its height but there was no conflict here. There were no Argentines to be seen, and Mr James had to face another enemy entirely. “I was once chased along a beach by a sea leopard, with its mouth wide open,” he said. “The penguins would get a bit shirty, too, and have a nip at your legs.” On one occasion, a colony of 10,000 penguins took over one of their bases, entirely surrounding it. Rather than face them down, the crew built another hut.

At last, a year into the mission, the Scorseby spotted its first – and only – Argentines, defending their meteorological station on Laurie Island, part of the South Orkneys. Yet the crew could not have had a more hospitable reception. Six of the original Argentine party of 10 men had died, and were buried by their fellow men with wooden stakes behind the hut. After being cut off with no supplies for 18 months, they were delighted to meet the advancing Brits.

“They were lovely to us,” explained Mr James. “They came down to the beach to meet us, crying. We gave them cigarettes and edam cheese. The wireless operator got so excited that he put his arms round me. He took all the badges off his uniform and gave them to me.”

In fact, boredom was a much more persistent danger. “It upset some people a lot. One man got quite scary about it and tried to influence the skipper to turn back. But that didn’t happen, of course.”

To buoy morale, the men amused themselves. Sparks had his knitting; others took up drawing or draughts. In the evenings, they would play records on an old gramophone.

Food was tinned – but there was one exception, which was strictly forbidden and which Mr James is still reluctant to disclose seven decades later. “We weren’t supposed to take them but we used to get penguin eggs. We made omelettes out of them, which were bloody awful. The yoke was blood red and the ‘white’ was grey.”

They kept track of the war back home over the wireless, and soon learnt of the Allied breakthrough. On VE day, the engineer was disciplined for blowing the ship’s whistle in celebration without permission.

In 1946, Mr James returned to Cardiff, where he still lives. He was finally able to tell his mother, Annie, who thought her son had served in the Falklands, about the expedition. But he quickly resumed his old job at the builders’ merchants, and has only now thought to tell anyone else his story.

This was not, however, the end of Operation Tabarin. With Germany defeated, Whitehall could no longer rely on the excuse of U-boats to justify its Antarctic presence. At the end of 1945, Tabarin was rebranded the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, using the same bases and many of the same personnel. In 1962, it became known as the British Antarctic Survey.

Over the years, the survey has been responsible for some of the most important breakthroughs in modern science, including the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer – which plays a crucial role in explaining climate change – in the Eighties.

Today, the survey employs 400 staff, studying rises in sea level and biodiversity. “This is the legacy from Operation Tabarin,” said Linda Capper, the survey’s head of communications. “They opened up the continent for science. It is a unique laboratory that tells us so much about how our world works.”

The Argentines are still there, too. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1961, named the continent as an international region of science, but it suspended rather than annulled territorial claims over the islands, which both Britain and Argentina still assert.

“I don’t think that failure to scotch the Argentinean claims can be said to make Operation Tabarin a failure,” said Haddelsey.

“The important thing was it re-established Britain in competition with Argentina. Seventy years later, I think the men would be amazed at the legacy they have left. It is one continuous thread.”

As for George James, he still gets a Christmas card from the scientists at the base every year. “All is well and the ship visits have been numerous even in November,” read the latest one. “It is going to be a long season.”

He regrets never having returned to the islands. But, a few years ago, his grandson, Rhys, served as second officer on the first cruise liner to tour Deception Island. Mr James has spent many happy hours with Rhys swapping notes.

All these years later, Mr James is fiercely proud of our continuing commitment to the continent. “If Tabarin was really to do with ambition, it seems the ambition has come to fruition,” he said. “It was the start of something big.”

Operation Tabarin: Britain’s Secret Wartime Expedition to Antarctica 1944-46 (The History Press, RRP £18.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £16.99 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 8711514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk


World War Two

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Archives

Categories