Holocaust survivor tells Bookkeeper of Auschwitz his actions should haunt him for ever

Holocaust survivor tells Bookkeeper of Auschwitz his actions should haunt him for ever
Fecha de publicación: 
13 May 2015
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Kathleen Zahavi, 86, lost her mother, father, sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins at the extermination centre in occupied Poland where an estimated 1.2 million people were put to death.

Groening, 93, is on trial in Germany for his role in the murders of 300,000 of those victims arising from his duties as an SS guard at the camp in 1944.

He has become known as the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz" because it was his job to send back the possessions and valuables of the doomed to Berlin to aid the Nazi war effort.

Groening looked pained and shameful when Mrs Zahavi, born near Budapest, Hungary, tore into him.

She is one of 49 co-plaintiffs in the case, either survivors of Auschwitz or relatives of people murdered there, allowed under German law to represent the dead and speak about conditions in the camp and the ones they lost.

She told a chilling tale of Nazi vengeance against Jews that stunned the court in the city of Luneburg into silence.

Groening could not look her in the eye as she detailed a life destroyed by the regime he served.

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Kathleen Zahavi
Kathleen Zahavi lost 100 members of her close family in the Holocaust (ALAMY)
On day one of his trial Groening had declared that he felt “morally guilty” over his service in the camp, but not legally responsible as he had physically not harmed a single person.

But Mrs. Zahavi, who now lives in Canada, told him: “You said you feel morally guilty but that is not enough. You volunteered freely for this duty. You knew what went on in Auschwitz.

“I hope the images of what went on there will stay with you for the rest of your days. You were allowed in your freedom to grow old. My parents weren’t allowed that.

"They were not at my wedding, my children never got to know their grandparents. Even though I lived Herr Groening, I can say this: I was never as free as you.

“I am 86 and came here from Canada because it is the last thing I can do for my dead family and for everyone who died in the camp.”

She described a “completely happy childhood” that was torn apart by the hatred the Nazis held for Jews.

“One day, the gendarmes came to our house and told us to pack only what we absolutely needed and that we were going to a ghetto. I had a toothbrush and the clothes I stood up in.”

Mr Groening looked pained as he listened to Mrs. Zahavi's account (ALAMY)

We felt like animals. Actually, we were treated worse than animals. Kathleen Zahavi

After three weeks in a ghetto living under appalling conditions the family was loaded on a train to Auschwitz.

“The conditions on the train were so horrible that many old people and children could not survive,” she said.

“I remember being in that car for about 7-10 days. It was horrifying. People were dying all around me and the train stopped a few times and the dead bodies were thrown out and then we just kept moving.

"We felt like animals. Actually, we were treated worse than animals.

“We arrived at Auschwitz and they opened the sliding door. Again, whoever survived, got off and they threw out the dead bodies.

"As I got off the train, carrying my few remaining personal items, I saw four or five German soldiers standing at the gate.

"One thing I distinctly remember was the 10 or 15 German shepherds who were barking.

"I can still hear the barking even now. If anyone tried to run away, the German soldiers would either shoot them or let the dogs run after them as they were trained specially by the German army to be vicious.

“I was still together with my mother, and two sisters when we got off the train. There was a German man there who essentially was deciding who would live and who would die.

"We had to line up and then he would send people either right or left. They wanted to keep the younger and stronger people for work but they had no use for the weaker and older people.

"My mother and aunt were in their 50s or 60s so they were sent to the left and I never saw them again.”

In her barracks she asked the block leader where her parents were. She said: “She pointed to smoke swirling from a chimmney. ‘Do you see that?’ She pointed to the smoke. ‘That is where your parents are.’”

Ivor Perl, 83, another Auschwitz survivor who lost everyone he loved in the camp, also addressed Groening.

He told him: “Oskar, I do not want to call you Mr. Groening. When I was asked to come here to testify I was afraid. I was afraid to come here and look at you.

“Now I’m sitting here and I see someone who is sorry. I’m also sorry that I was afraid that I was worried, I wasted energy.

"I had sleepless nights because of you. I am also, and especially, here due to the denial of the Holocaust. How can all countries do something like that? I hope that this process here makes it all somewhat tolerable.”

Groening did not look at him either.

The trial continues.

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