Let Courts Give Closure To Holocaust Victims
At the end of “Schindler’s List,” film director Steven Spielberg included footage of some of the surviving “Schindler Jews” he had portrayed in his movie. With their children and grandchildren, they placed stones on a grave in Israel.
Spielberg wanted to show that even though the Nazis killed 6 million Jews, they could never destroy the Jewish people. Jews have been fruitful, and our offspring are our hope and our future — the Jewish answer to those who tried to destroy us.
But children could never be my answer, because the Nazis took away my chance to have them. The Nazi doctors sterilized me with chemicals.
Those complicit in this crime against my humanity should be held accountable. For nearly a year, I have been fighting in court against the German pharmaceutical companies Bayer and Schering. Now that officials in the American government are trying to undermine my legal rights I am taking my case to the court of public opinion. I ask that my story be heard.
In Auschwitz my arm was tattooed with the number 143511. While waiting to be assigned to a work detail, I was approached by a Dr. Eduard Wirths, the chief doctor at Auschwitz. Because of my red hair and fair skin, he asked if I was a German Jew. He examined me and then told me to see the other doctors. I spent a few days at Auschwitz in Block 10, where I was given shots in my arm. I later learned that the pharmaceutical companies were experimenting with drugs to cure typhus. The shots made me very sick and I could do nothing but lay in the barracks.
I recovered and was sent to work at Monowitz, the I.G. Farben slave labor camp better known as Auschwitz III. I worked at Monowitz for a few months, carrying pipes that were used to build a big chemical plant. The conditions there were terrible. We were given one small meal of soup each day and were constantly beaten if we worked too slow or stopped to rest. I saw the Germans shoot workers too tired to go on, and I saw workers commit suicide by jumping on the electric fence that surrounded the work area.
I also saw civilians from I.G. Farben walking around inspecting the construction site and supervising work crews. They watched the soldiers beat us, they watched us slowly starve to death — and they did nothing to stop it.
One day I and about 20 younger inmates were told to take a truck from Monowitz back to the camp at Birkenau. Once there I was stopped by Dr. Horst Schumann, a Luftwaffe doctor, who examined me closely. He ordered the guards to take me to Dr. Josef Mengele — “Mengele will want to know why this Jew has reddish blond hair and blue eyes!”, he said.
Birkenau was an unbelievable world, a place that normal human beings cannot begin to imagine. The stench of burning flesh hung in the air, living corpses straggled to make the morning line up, and beatings, shootings and hangings were daily occurrences.
I was taken to Mengele, who asked me how old I was. When I told him I was two years older than my age, he called me a liar and sent me to the family camp, also known as the “Gypsy camp.” This is where families lived together. All the kids who were not immediately sent to the gas chambers lived in the family camp. I begged all of the doctors and nurses at the Gypsy camp to let me live to see my sister. They told me they would take care of me and I would see her again.
I lived in the Gypsy camp during the fall of 1943. One day I saw 50 Gypsy children taken from the camp in a truck by the S.S.; they never came back. The next day I saw 50 more Gypsy children taken away in a truck; again, they never returned. I knew that if the S.S. came back, I would be next.
And I was. The very next day Mengele sent me to the so-called “zoo camp,” where I witnessed the most bizarre forms of torture ever devised by medical science.
The zoo camp was Mengele’s personal laboratory at Birkenau. He was experimenting with twins and other inmates with congenital abnormalities. I spent time with many twins and watched as Mengele gave them injections. I saw them start to convulse, and then Mengele’s cronies would kill them with a syringe to the heart. The twins were then taken to another room where they were dissected like laboratory rats. I saw a hunchback struggling to survive the day after his hump had been surgically removed; he didn’t make it. I saw tables with multiple sets of eyeballs, and I saw one of my friends stripped naked and thrown into a pit filled with ice and water. The doctors measured his vital signs as he slowly froze to death.
Though Mengele was the most infamous of the Nazi doctors, he did not conduct his experiments alone. The operation included teams of doctors, nurses and medical technicians. Some of them were German, some were inmates and some came from I.G. Farben and other German companies. Several times each week cars would arrive with civilian doctors and medical technicians. We called them “cowboys” because of the fedoras they wore. They brought attache cases and would observe or participate in the experiments and take notes to use in their laboratories or write reports.
These “cowboys” were the men from the pharmaceutical companies working with Mengele. I will never forget them. They studied me for a month after Schumman, the Luftwaffe doctor, injected my genitals day after day with some poison. I was fed buckwheat to keep me strong so that the test results would be accurate. At the time I was told I was being injected with vitamins to make me stronger. I cannot describe the pain and bleeding and suffering. I had no idea what they were doing, but the “cowboys” would come almost every day, watch the next round of injections and then examine me and make notes in their notebooks. I was their guinea pig.
After they finished injecting me, I was bedridden for a month. When I had partially healed, a Czech doctor in the camp named Magda noticed a truck being loaded with laborers for a coalmine. She pointed to me in my bed and said to Mengele, “You are finished with him?” Mengele glanced at me and said “Do what you want with him.” Magda came to me and said “Simon, come quickly and get to that truck.”
I could barely walk, but I knew that this was my only chance to escape more torture. I walked lamely to the truck, but couldn’t pull myself up into the back. Finally, some of the inmates grabbed me and pulled me in. We were sent to Javozno to mine coal for the Germans with our bare hands. Later, I was assigned to work on a construction project in Javozno for the Bayer division of I.G. Farben — the same company whose “cowboys” observed me being experimented upon.
Bombing forced us to leave. I joined what became known as the Buchenwald death march. By the time I reached Buchenwald, I was exhausted and very weak from dysentery. I was taken to a clinic and treated by German doctors who were expecting the Americans to be arriving any day. Within a few weeks the American 7th Army liberated Buchenwald. I will never forget that day.
In 1953 I got married and tried to start a family. I felt deeply the need to fulfill a promise I had made to my brother Aaron when I met him after the war, that we would both do our best to replenish the family tree. But my wife and I struggled to have children and nothing seemed to work.
Finally, remembering my ordeal in Birkenau, I contacted the German consulate in New York, asking whether anything that happened in the camp caused me to be sterile. After reviewing my file the German government advised me to have a biopsy in 1956 by its own doctors to determine if I had been sterilized at Birkenau. I scheduled an appointment with Dr. Kurt Cronheim in New York’s Harlem Hospital. He told me while he was examining me that he had been a captain in the Waffen S.S. I almost ran out of the room. My wife slept in the room all night to make sure I was safe. The Germans never disclosed the results of that biopsy until my lawyers obtained secret files from the German Finance Ministry nearly 50 years later. The report confirmed that I had been sterilized by the Nazis.
After the war the American judges at the Nuremberg trials convicted 12 of I.G. Farben’s highest officials as war criminals. General Dwight Eisenhower personally ordered that I.G. Farben be dismantled “as one means of assuring world peace.” So it was broken up into its constituent parts, Bayer, BASF and Hoechst. The allies placed a moratorium on individual lawsuits against Nazi companies that only expired in 1991. Less than a decade later, the parties to the restitution negotiations agreed to “legal peace” for the German companies — but that “legal peace” did not preclude my law case against Bayer and Schering.
After my years of service to this country in Korea, I always expected the president of the United States to stand by me against my persecutors. I never realized that Prescott Bush, President Bush’s grandfather, made a fortune on Wall Street during the 1930s selling war bonds for Nazi Germany and “cloaking” American assets owned by German companies. Now I understand why the Bush administration is urging the presiding judge to dismiss my case and placing legal closure for corporate perpetrators ahead of moral and financial closure for victims of the Holocaust. The apple never falls far from the tree.
Simon Rozenkier, a veteran of the Korean War, is suing Bayer and Schering for complicity in medical experiments performed on him by the Nazis.