A Montreal woman, one of only two surviving babies to have been born in Auschwitz, spoke Tuesday at the war crimes trial of 93 year old Oskar Groening, who is being charged with complicity in the murder of 300,000 Jews in the notorious death camp
70 year old Angela Orosz-Richt, who was born just weeks before the liberation of Auschwitz, originally had no interest in taking part in the trial, being held in Lunenberg, Germany, according to her son, Lakewood resident Yubie Richt.
Orosz-Richt was persuaded to return to the death camp during the recent 70th anniversary celebration of the liberation of Auschwitz, where she saw the places her mother, Vera Bein, had spoken about and the place where her father, Tibor Bein, died.
“She met a lawyer on that trip who told her that he is trying Nazis in court and he really wanted her to testify but she kept on brushing it off,” Richt told VIN News. “Her step brother had gone and testified and found it to be a vindicating experience.”
Orosz-Richt began considering testifying in the Groening trial but it was the testimony of another survivor that convinced her that she needed to share her mother’s story.
“Her main motivation was Eva Kor, who appeared in court and said she forgives the Nazis,” said Richt. “My mother got physically sick from it and that is what she is fighting against. She is not fighting against the deniers. She is not fighting anti-Semitism. She is fighting that appearance and speaking out on behalf of others who refuse to forgive.”
In her appearance Tuesday, Orosz-Richt faced Groening and told him that she could never forgive the Nazis for decimating her family. Orosz-Richt, who was born two months prematurely weighing a single kilo, spoke about her mother, who became a subject of medical experimentation in Auschwitz and her miraculous birth and survival under horrific conditions.
“I survived for a reason,” said Orosz-Richt. “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 Groening.”
Alternately addressing both the court and Groening, Orosz-Richt described how her parents, who married in 1943, were deported to Auschwitz just one year later from the Hungarian town of Sarospatak.
“I heard that you, Herr Groening, described arrival at Auschwitz as orderly,” said Orosz-Richt in her testimony. “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 Groening, 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.”
Orosz-Richt said that her parents watched as new arrivals were sorted. The elderly, the frail, the children and the noticeably pregnant women, were sent to the left, where they were told they would be showering.
“These Jews were not showered-instead they were gassed,” said Orosz-Richt. “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 Groening, 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.”
Despite telling Joseph Mengele, who was sorting the newly arrived prisoners, that she was pregnant, Vera Bein was stripped of her dignity and humanity as she was shaved, tattooed, given prison garb and sentenced to forced labor. While she survived the backbreaking work, her husband did not.
Originally assigned to search for valuables in the possessions taken from newly arrived Jewish prisoners, Vera Bein was transferred to a heavy labor detail when she was five months pregnant. Orosz-Richt said that her mother spent her days 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.’”
As her pregnancy progressed Vera Bein told her Blackaeltest that she was expecting. While an admission of that nature would have normally been a death sentence, she was sent to a special barrack where she was charged with taking care of children, particularly the twins that became victims of Mengele’s science experiments. In time, Vera Bein herself became a human guinea pig for Mengele and his team of “doctors,” selected for sterilization experiments in her seventh month of pregnancy.
“They injected a burning substance into her cervix,” testified Orosz-Richt. “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.”
Their demented scientific projects concluded, Vera Bein was sent back to her barracks.
“Because she was fed so little, I was so tiny that the pregnancy didn’t show,” said Orosz-Richt. “If not for this we would have both been killed before I had taken my first breath.”
Orosz Richt was born on a cold December day on a top bunk in the barrack.
“That is how I came into this world,” said Orosz Richt. “In a barrack filled with children, none of whom knew I was born. I was so malnourished that I weight one kilo and was unable to cry. This was the only reason I survived.”
Just three hours after giving birth to her daughter, Vera Bein was forced to go out into the cold for roll call.
“The whole time she was praying that I would still be alive when she returned to the barrack,” said Orosz-Richt. “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 month later Auschwitz was liberated and a second child was born in Auschwitz. Because the newborn’s mother did not have enough milk to nurse her son, Orosz-Richt somehow managed to nurse both babies, despite her own nutritional deficiencies.
It was eleven months later that Vera Bein was finally able to return to Hungary. With her baby weighing just over six pounds, she went from doctor to doctor looking for someone who could help her sickly child.
“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,” testified Orosz-Richt. “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.”
Addressing Groening, Orosz-Richt noted that today would have been her father’s birthday.
“Herr Groening, I am sure you visit your wife’s and your parents’ graves to pour out your heart, if you have one,” said Orosz- Richt. “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.”
Even 70 years later, forgiving the murderers is impossible, according to Orosz-Richt.
“Herr Groening, 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 28th because January 27th was the day Auschwitz was liberated and she said she just did not want to die on that day. ”
Orosz-Richt, who is expected to be the last to testify against Groening, concluded her testimony by reiterating her refusal to forgive the atrocities of the Holocaust.
“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 Groening ... 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.”