May 9, 2015
The Trial of Oskar Groening – Statement of Kathleen Zahavi
- I was born Kathleen Politzer on April 27, 1929 in Nyiregyhaza, a small city in Hungary, about 30 km from Budapest. It was a close-knit community.
- Our immediate family consisted of my father, Miksa Politzer, who owned a houseware store and worked on roofs, my mother, Rosa Politzer, (Neé Weinberger) and two older sisters, Ilona Klein (married) (14 years older than me) and my other sister (14 months older) named Magda. Between my mother and father there were 14 siblings. I had many cousins. We had wonderful times together and enjoyed many holidays with our extended family. In the summertime, I sometimes went to work with my father. I remember my uncle coming often to pick me up in a horse drawn carriage to take me to a farm to play with my cousins. There were five female cousins who I often played with. None of them survived the holocaust.
- There were about 10,000 Jews with an orthodox synagogue and a conservative synagogue in our city. My family belonged to the conservative synagogue. I also had many friends growing up, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
- My elementary school was in the same building as our synagogue. It was an all Jewish school. My high school was mixed, Jews and non-Jews. I continued to have a Jewish education in high school as once a week a rabbi would come into our school and teach us Hebrew and Jewish history. High school was where I first began to experience anti-Semitism. I had a math teacher who hated Jews and a physics teacher who always picked on us because we were Jewish. At that age, I simply could not understand what we would have done to make them hate us so much.
- Anti-Semitism was already rampant in Europe. Many people stopped shopping at Jewish stores, but they continued to shop at my father’s houseware store because he was a very respected man and he did not look very Jewish.
II. GERMANS OCCUPY HUNGARY
- On March 19, 1944 the Germans occupied Hungary. At first we were not affected.
- Later the Jewish children could no longer attend school. I would always see the Gestapo around wearing their long coats.
- On April 5, 1944 every Jew had to wear a yellow star on their clothes. When I was just finishing high school and we were taking the graduation photo, I remember my teacher telling me to try and hide my yellow star for the picture. I told her I would not because if I was forced to wear it everywhere else, why should I hide it for a picture?
- Along with the Gestapo, there were also Hungarian Gendarmes, who were local police. They were horrible to everyone.
- My brother-in-law was taken away by the Hungarian government to be part of a Jewish army. My father was taken away also and I never saw him again.
- On April 28, 1944 the Gendarmes were told to round up the Jews. They came to our house and told us to pack only what we absolutely needed and that we were going to a ghetto where Jews already lived. We didn’t have time to collect much of our belongings. I only remember bringing my toothbrush and whatever clothes I was wearing. We walked to the ghetto. We never returned to our house.
- In the ghetto, my immediate family lived with my two uncles, one with 3 children, and one with 5 and my aunt who had 2 children. The ghetto was completely closed off and no one could come in or out.
- Around May 6, 1944 the Gendarmes came for us in horse carriages and took us out of the ghetto. The Gendarmes took orders from the SS. I stayed together with my mother, my two sisters, and my aunt. Our family was taken to places called Harangod, which was situated on the outskirts of my city. Many Jews were brought there. It was even worse there than in the ghetto. The Gendarmes told us nothing. They only gave us orders. We were in stables.
- We had no washrooms, no showers, and we slept on a concrete floor. One day on or about May 16 or May 17 the Gendarmes told us we had to take even fewer belongings with us and march to the train station. Everyone marched together, women, children, old people, and pregnant women with babies.
- When we arrived at the train station, we saw many cattle cars. We were shoved in, as many people as they could fit into each car. When one was full, they closed the doors and filled the next. We really had no idea where we were going and what was going on.
- I was 15 at the time so maybe my mother and aunt knew a little more than I did. The conditions on the train were so horrible that many old people and children could not survive. There was one pail in the middle of the cattle car and we were told to use it as our washroom. There was another pail with some water in it.
- We had very little water and no food. I remember being in that car for several days.
- It was horrifying. People were dying all around me and the train stopped a few times to empty the pail and the dead bodies were thrown out. The train kept moving. We felt like animals. Actually, we were treated worse than animals.
III. ARRIVAL IN AUSCHWITZ
- We arrived at the concentration camp before nightfall in “Auschwitz”, (“Lager”, in German). They opened the sliding door. Again, whoever survived, got off and they threw out the dead bodies with no respect for them. It was horrible. We were all very scared.
- As I got off the train, carrying my few remaining personal items, I saw 4 or 5 German SS soldiers in dark uniforms and boots standing at the gate. They were very aggressive. They were yelling at us to get in line. We were confused and had no idea where we were. One thing I distinctly remember was the 10 or 15 German shepherd dogs who were barking at us, held back on their leashes. I can still hear the barking even now. I can also recall seeing people in striped outfits.
- 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, aunt and two sisters when we got off the train. There was an SS man there who essentially was deciding who would live and who would die. We had to line up and then the SS man would send people either right or left. He kept yelling “MACHT SHNELL”, in German which meant “move fast”.
- 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. We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. Anyone pregnant or with a young infant went straight to the “left”. This line went straight to the gas chamber as we found out later.
- I was small and skinny but my sister was holding me very tight so we were able to stay together and we were sent to the right.
- Then my two sisters and I were taken to a public washroom with female German soldiers. The barrels of the soldiers’ guns pushed us forward. The female soldiers stayed with us and told us to take our shoes off. The soldiers were all trying our shoes on but luckily mine did not fit any of them so I got them back.
- Afterwards, we were taken to another room where they shaved our heads. I was reunited with my sisters there and they made us strip down and we were given other clothes.
- There was A, B, and C camps with huge barracks numbered 1 – 11. I was put along with my sisters in camp C barrack 11. The barracks were like long warehouses with a concrete step in the middle. There were 30 or 40 women in our barrack.
- Along the sides, there were wooden bunk beds three levels high. Each bunk had a number. We were told to go in so we all found a place on the beds and we went in and lay down on the hard wood bunk.
- We had a “Block Eltezte” who was a Jewish woman in charge of the barrack. Her name was Alice and she was about 19 from Czechoslovakia. She had been in Auschwitz for 3-4 years so she resented us Hungarian Jews because we had only just arrived.
- One day, she was standing in the middle of the barrack and we asked her where our parents were. Her response has haunted me for my whole life. She called me over to a spot where we could see outside. She then pointed to the smoke coming from one of the buildings in the camp and said “there, that’s where your parents are.”
- It was so difficult for me to accept that my parents were murdered.
- We later found out that there were showers and those people who were sent left upon arrival went in but instead of water, gas came out of the showers. Some people died, some burned, and some pretended they were dead. Once in a while someone could survive by hiding among the dead bodies.
- There was a fence around the camp made of steel. Some people tried to go to the fence and they were electrocuted, as the fence was electric which we did not know in the beginning.
- In the mornings it was very cold out but every single morning around 3 or 4 o’clock we had to get up, go outside and stand in lines of 5. The Capos and the soldiers counted us.
- I would say there were around 300-400 people outside every morning. One thing I remember was that if someone was cold and decided to bring a blanket, they were taken and shot on the spot.
- Dr. Mengele was there with a few helpers from time to time. He would pick out all of the people that looked sick and send them away. I was very small so the other people from my barrack would hide me in the rows so I wasn’t chosen.
- One time, as I was walking back into the barrack Mengele put his arm on my shoulder and said, “You, out!” Across the street was Block 8, where I was taken. It was all children and I saw many friends of mine from before the war. When I got there, they began to count us right away. However, it started to rain so they decided to have us all go in and they would count us the following day. They hadn’t taken my number yet. I could not really imagine what I would do without my sisters so I just got up and ran back to Block 11 as fast as I possibly could.
- When I got to my block, Alice told me to go in immediately and hide in the beds. The next morning, Block 8 was empty. The kids had all been taken to the gas chambers 22. We were in Auschwitz for another few months and the conditions were just horrible.
- My sister Ilona always volunteered to help bring the food from the kitchen, which was 1km away, at 5 o’clock in the evening every day. By doing this, she was able to get us a little extra food.
- One day we were told that we were being taken to work. They took us, roughly 400 Hungarians, and put us on a train to Dachau. After that, we were taken to Bergen Belsen, where my sister Ilona died just after liberation.
- In all I lost over one hundred members of my family in the different camps.
- My sister Magda and I went back to Nyiregyhaza to stay with relatives.
- I will never be able to erase from my mind the day my life was shattered and how I was deprived of my youth, family and friends.
- Mr. Groening. In the news, you admitted to being morally responsible and you say you regret what you did, but that is not enough. You volunteered to be a member of the SS in the Nazi party. Yes, you are 93 now, but you have to carry the burden that you created for yourself when you were a young man. You knew what was happening in Auschwitz and you were very much a part of the horrors that took place that my family and so many others were forced to suffer. I hope that you will continue to remember these horrifying images for the rest of your life.
- Why were you permitted to grow old a free man after the atrocities you saw happening and in which you participated? My parents never had a chance to grow old like you; they did not walk me down the aisle at my wedding nor were they even there. They never had a chance to experience the joy of being grandparents. My children also never had the privilege of having grandparents.
- After liberation, I was free but not the same way you were. I had lost my parents, my treasured sister Ilona, virtually all of my cousins, my aunts and uncles and all of my childhood friends. Over 100 of my family members perished.
- My one sister Magda survived and is living in Israel with her husband and her children and grandchildren. She is a sad person and has never recovered from her experiences in the death camps.
- Today, I live in Toronto, Canada. I have two children, my daughter Irrit Ilana who is a retired teacher is named after my sister Ilona. Irrit is married to Gary, a lawyer, and they have two wonderful children, Daniel and Eric. My son Michael is a doctor and he is here with me in the courtroom today, to support me as I face Mr. Groenig, a demon of my past. Michael is married to Cindy, who is also a lawyer. They also have two beautiful children, Shawn and Erin. So the Nazis did not take us all.
- I will never forget or forgive. There can never be justice for me. At 86 years of age, I have come all this way from Canada because it is the least I can do for the memory of my lost family and friends who perished in Auschwitz and the other inhumane death camps.
- In closing, I want to personally thank Judge Thomas Walther for all that he has done, not only for the survivors of the Holocaust and our families, but for all mankind in helping to bring the accused to justice. His years of persistence have paid off.