Angela Orosz-Richt: 'I cannot forgive you, Herr Gröning!'

When I first heard about this trial from my lawyer and friend Heinrich Rothmann this past January while visiting Auschwitz, my birthplace, for the first time in 70 years, I was not ready to testify. After watching the media coverage of the trial and some convincing from my lawyer, I changed my mind and stand before you today. I thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell you about the suffering of my family and the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews who were taken to Auschwitz where more than 90 percent of them were murdered.

Angela Orosz-RichtI was born in Auschwitz, weighing one kilogram.

I survived for a reason.

I survive for a reason.

I have a mission: to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. To carry the torch and tell my mother’s story and the story of the Holocaust of European Jewry.

To stand and point an accusing finger at those responsible for the inhumanity into which I was born. Those who helped watched and profited from the terror. Those like you, Herr Gröning.

Europe has become a dangerous place to be a Jew once again. We have to remind people over and over of what happened during the Holocaust. No one was the same person after surviving Auschwitz.

No one who lived through the horror was ever okay again. Never had a comfortable night’s sleep. My mother could never take a shower because of what had happened to her. She spent her life with a limp and a blackened right leg, because of a bone she found in her soup. She was so happy to have that small bone, until an SS man saw it and kicked her below the knee. All her life she carried these and many more scars. Both physical and psychological.

I am very afraid for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When all this happened more than 70 years ago, the world kept quiet. Now, once again we have anti-Semitism, all over and openly. And the world is silent again.

Two of my granddaughters carry my mother’s name. They will tell her story to future generations. I have brought my grandson here to Lüneburg to be in this courtroom, so that when he will have a family of his own, he will tell them of the horrors of the Holocaust. So that our legacy of suffering will not be forgotten.

My story begins with my mother, an educated woman from Budapest. Her father was an architect; to this day you can still find his name on buildings in that city. Her mother was intelligent and sophisticated woman from a cultured family. They had French nannies, and my mother spoke perfect French, Hungarian, Slovak and German. After finishing high school, she could not go on to university, because Jews were no longer allowed a higher education. Instead she got a job as a nanny for a very young motherless boy. In Sarospatak, she met my father and in March of 1943 they were married. As a young couple in love they lived a happy ideal life, until 1944 when the Nazis invaded Hungary.

The morning after Passover in April of that year, there was a banging at the door. It was the Gendarmes, the local Hungarian militia who were worse than the police, said my mother.

My parents were forced from their home in Sarospatak and herded on to a cattle car train, which took them to the ghetto in neighbouring Satoraljaujhely. Because it was the day after Passover they did not even have bread to take with them on the journey. From the middle of April until May 22nd, we spent our last days as a family together in that crowded ghetto. Then we were forced again into cattle car on a trip that lasted three days. On May 25th, we arrived at the living hell of Auschwitz.

I heard that you, Herr Gröning, described arrival at Auschwitz as orderly. To the Jews there, it was not. Instead it was traumatizing.

We, I in my mother’s belly, were beaten and herded by SS men with whips and machine-guns shouting “Everyone out!” “Schnell!” “Leave your baggage on the train.” There were SS men, your colleagues, Herr Gröning, standing in watchtowers with machine guns and spotlights on us, watching the chaos. From up there, the madness may have seemed orderly, but down on the platform it was not. To her dying day, my mother was afraid of barking dogs, because of that day.

Perhaps you remember her, Herr Gröning. She was a light brown-haired beauty with greenish grey eyes. Perhaps you saw her standing in that line to be judged by the angel of death, Dr. Josef Mengele. I know you saw others join that line.

Everyone who came to Auschwitz stood in this line until it split at Mengele. To the left were sent women who showed signs of pregnancy, children under 15, the elderly and frail, these were the ones to be murdered that day. Everyone over 40 was sent to the left, as well. They were told “hang up your clothes; you’re going to take a shower.”

And they believed it. These Jews were not showered-instead they were gassed. Herded into gas chambers. Dead before their belongings had been collected and taken to the warehouse. It is a painful death from Zyklon B gas. A pesticide.

It can take 20 minutes to die with foaming mouth and bleeding from various body parts. Horrible deaths, millions of children and adults, Herr Gröning, and you knew what was happening. Because of this, for the rest of her life, my mother couldn’t take a shower. Just baths. After many years, she still couldn’t believe that it was water coming out of the shower, not gas.

My parents were sent to the right, which meant temporary reprieve from death. When it was her turn in front of Mengele, my mother told him that she was pregnant, hoping he would be compassionate and would let her stay with her friend. She had already been separated from my father and would never see him again. Mengele snapped "du dumme gans" [you stupid goose] ordering her to the right. She was ‘good stock,’ healthy and strong enough for forced labour.

The same had happened to my father, but he did not survive the inhumane conditions and he died of exhaustion. No, that isn’t right. He was murdered by exhaustion. Forced to work until his dying breath.

In an interview with her granddaughter for a school project, my mother described what happened next. “After arrival in the labor camp, I got tattooed. From that moment on, I wasn’t Vera; I was A 6075, totally shaven, given a uniform and wooden clogs. The shaved heads, the tattoos, these were symbols of our dehumanization, all our dignity was taken from us, we no longer counted as human beings.”

My mother was assigned to work the nightshift in the warehouse in Camp A that contained the personal belongings of the victims. Here my mother’s job was to pick out anything of value that the Jewish victims had brought with them from home. Those were the valuables you kept account of, Herr Gröning, the bookkeeper of Auschwitz. All these possessions which they were forced to leave behind as they were forced off the train.

The train was then unloaded and everything was taken to the warehouse. They dubbed this depot Kanada, because it was as rich in stock as Canada is in natural resources. My mother had to sort and separate everything into separate piles: shoes, linens, clothing. Then they would search it all for valuables.

To see if there was any jewelry sewn into a lining or money hidden at the bottom of a suitcase. The SS men who supervised them took anything they found. If the prisoners stopped working, or worked too slowly, they were beaten. The SS took the finest clothing to be disinfected and distributed to the German population. That is where the things you kept track of came from, Herr Gröning.

When she was five months pregnant, my mother was transferred to Barrack 2 where she was assigned to an Aussenkommando that worked outside the camp. There she did heavy labour, building roads and working in the fields. She told me, “If we found plants in the fields, animal food not even meant for human consumption, there was a celebration among us. It was as though we found treasure. Like a Sachertorte. We shared it. We ate it.” They ate animal food and celebrated.

Later my mother was assigned to kitchen duty. There she managed to scrounge some potato peels, the only reason I was able to remain alive in her belly. The rest of her daily diet consisted of Ersatzcoffee in the morning, a sometimes-warm soup made from grass for lunch and a slice of bread for dinner.

My mother was forced to do very hard physical work, so she went to the Blockaelteste, and told her, “I’m pregnant.” Under the rules of Auschwitz, this confession meant she would be sent to the gas chamber immediately. Instead, she was sent to a barrack in Camp C. There she took care of children, especially twins who were used for medical experiments by Mengele and his fellow colleagues who called themselves doctors. Among these children were Eva Kor and her twin sister. Eva gave testimony in this court last month about this.

Oskar GröningLater my mother became a human guinea pig for the Mengele team. In October, when she was 7 months pregnant, Professor Carl Clauberg’s team selected her for sterilization experiments. They injected a burning substance into her cervix. Right behind, in her uterus, was the fetus. Me. These injections were terrible, painful. Injection one, the fetus moved to the left side….next day another injection, the fetus moved in the other direction. And they played that game for a while.
Those experiments are the reason I do not have any brothers or sisters.

Somehow I survived. After they finished observing the effects of injecting caustic chemicals into my mother’s cervix, my mother went back to her barrack and luckily was forgotten about by the Angel of Death. Because she was fed so little, I was so tiny that the pregnancy didn’t show. If not for this we would have both been killed, before I had taken my first breath.

When my mother was 8 months pregnant, a Hungarian woman doctor – possibly Gisella Perl – who worked under Mengele and knew about my mother’s pregnancy- came to the barrack one night and offered my mother an abortion. She told her, “When you give birth, we don’t know how Mengele will react. If he is in a good mood, only your child will die. But if Mengele is in a bad mood, both of you are going to the gas chamber. You are so young, you could save your life.” My mother promised she would think about it, and give her an answer the next day. That night in a dream she saw her mother begging her, “Veruska, the fetus is a child already, almost ready to come out, trust in G-d, and you will be helped. Don’t have the abortion.” The next day she gave the doctor her answer, a definite no.

At that time, there was another woman who had given birth and Mengele bound her breasts, wanting to see how long the baby would live without being fed. Shortly after, both the mother and baby were murdered.

My mother was not sure of the date I was born. All she knew was that it was three days before the SS celebrated Xmas. So if they celebrated on the 24th, my birthday was on the 21st of December and if they celebrated on the 25th, then I was born on the 22nd.

On the day I was born, my mother told her Blockaelteste, who was a prisoner from Czechoslovakia, that she was in labour. Since her father had been a doctor, the Blockaelteste knew a little bit about what to do. Somehow she managed to get a sheet, some hot water and a scissors. She told my mother to go up to the top bunk. In the barrack, the bunks were three on top of each other. She went up after my mother and helped her give birth.

That is how I came into this world. In a barrack filled with children, none of whom knew I was born. I was so malnourished that I weighed one kilo and was unable to cry. This was the only reason I survived.

Three hours after giving birth, my mother had to leave me alone in the bunk and go outside for roll call, Appell. To this day I am amazed that my mother was able to do this. What courage, what incredible strength to be able to do that. It was December, it was freezing cold and she only had rags for clothing. My mother had to stand at Appell for a long time. The whole time she was praying that I would still be alive when she returned to the barrack. It was winter, and the wooden shoes the inmates wore were dangerous because of snow and ice. If she fell, they would shoot her. She was shivering, no clothes, no shoes, but one thing was burning inside her: I have a child, I have to save her!

One day not long after, a few days before liberation, my mother heard people yelling “Schnell! Schnell!” The German guards herded the surviving inmates like my mother into a tunnel beneath the camp and told them they would be blown up inside. This did not happen, but to her last days my mother retained a mortal fear of tunnels.

On 27 January 1945 Auschwitz was liberated. That day another child was born. His name was Gyorgy Faludi. The two of us are the only ones born in Auschwitz, as far as I know, who survived. Gyorgy’s mother did not have enough milk to nurse her son, so my mother fed us both. This was the beginning of a long friendship between these two mothers.

After liberation, my mother met Mr. Polgar, father of Tibor Bolgar who testified before this court last month. Mr. Polgar reminded my mother that the baby needed a birth certificate. My mother was not interested at all in paperwork, but he insisted and went into the town of Auschwitz to get the document that shows my place of birth.

My mother only was able to return to Hungary with me in November 1945. Through Katowice and other Polish cities, with a long stay in the Russian DP camp of Sluzk, my mother came back to Budapest to look for a doctor who could help us. I was a very sick baby. In November, when I was almost a year old, I weighed 3 kg. Any normal baby is born weighing 3 kg. My mother went from doctor to doctor but none of them had any hope that they could help, or that I would grow into a healthy baby.

My mother was the only one convinced that I would live. People used to call her a crazy woman. They thought she had lost her mind in Auschwitz and that I was a doll, because I couldn’t move.

I did not look like a human baby. I looked like a rag doll. One doctor held me upside down like a chicken, and said that if I raised my head there was a chance that I might survive, and he would help. I did!

After that he cared for me for several years until my bones were strong enough to walk on. The legacy of Auschwitz, of my mother’s starvation and abuse, never disappeared completely. I stand less than 5 feet tall today.

Yet, in this madness many miracles happened. My mother was starving and yet had milk to nurse me and after the liberation, even another woman’s child. From the food they gave her she had maybe 300-400 calories. How did she have milk? A miracle. But I am not here to talk about the miracles.

Today would be my father, Dr. Tibor Bein’s, birthday. He was a successful lawyer, murdered in his prime at the age of 32.

Herr Gröning, I am sure you visit your wife’s and your parents’ graves to pour out your heart, if you have one. I cannot do that. I cannot go to my father’s grave to say a prayer, because he does not have a grave. His remains were burned and his ashes scattered around Auschwitz, maybe in the grounds of the camp, maybe shovelled into the forest or used as fertilizer on the surrounding fields. Auschwitz is my father’s grave.

When I returned to Auschwitz this past January, I walked around as if in a trance. I had difficulty breathing. I was afraid that every step I took was on someone’s grave. Seventy years of heat, rain and snow does not erase that. Nothing can wipe away the inhumanity and nightmare of what took place there.

We Jews just celebrated the holiday of Shavous. On this festival we say kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead…including the many murdered martyrs. In my synagogue, seventy years after the war, one still hears loud, bitter crying during this prayer. Many members are Hungarian Holocaust survivors. We all still cry for those you took from us, Herr Gröning. We do not forget nor can we ever forgive.

Herr Gröning, how can I ever forgive? How can I ever forget? Although after the war my mother seemed to have put the horrors of Auschwitz into the back of her mind and lived as a happy and loving person, when she lay dying of cancer at the age of 71, in Toronto, the nightmares came back. She saw Mengele standing at the door of her hospital room. No amount of morphine could make him disappear. She died on January 28 because January 27 was the day Auschwitz was liberated and she said she just did not want to die on that day.

Every 3 April, on my mother’s birthday, I am sad because she was taken so young and after so much suffering. My son knows it’s a hard day for me. Many years ago, 16 years after my mother died, he wrote me about how much she meant to him, her grandson:

“I have no doubt in my mind that this day is a special one. Bubby was an incredible special woman. She defined what a woman is, what a mother is, what grandmother is and most of all what a true human being is. I tremble in love for her. And I remember her loving me. I remember how she used to wake up early in the morning just to tape my favourite cartoons, even though she enjoyed sleeping in. I remember how she used to sit me down by my little table and give me hotdogs while I watched those cartoons at her house. I remember our birthday trips. I remember the warmth and the kindness. Most of all I remember her selflessness because I continue to see those same characteristics in her offspring. So yes, today we will go about our normal daily routine, only today we will be more successful in our daily endeavors, because today is indeed a blessed day. Today is the day that God blessed the world by giving us a special gift 89 years ago. That special gift will remain special for many years to come.”

So, in memory of my father, who I never knew, and in memory of my mother who had given birth to me in those indescribable conditions, beaten by SS men, surviving on less than 400 calories a day, for that and for everyone you helped murder, I cannot forgive you, Herr Gröning!

I would like to finish by saying that I am grateful to this court and to the German government and to my lawyer Herr Heinrich Rothmann for making my testimony and this trial possible. Because of my parents’ and my wider family’s fate, the terror of Auschwitz has been and will be with me all my life.

The past is present.

This makes it impossible for me to forget or forgive those who were responsible for Auschwitz, the many concentration camps around Europe and the murders of six million Jews. Six million innocent people killed only because they were Jews.

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