A former Auschwitz guard on trial for 300,000 counts of accessory to murder and a Holocaust survivor whose family was killed in the camp embraced briefly during court proceedings, in a moment that stunned everyone present.
Former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening, 93, then kissed Eva Kor, 81, who had traveled from Indiana to testify against him in the case.
Kor said she was submitted to cruel medical experiments during her time at the camp, along with her twin sister. She told The Times of London that after her testimony, she approached Groening to appeal to him to use his remaining years to fight against Nazism. She offered her hand and somehow the two hugged for a moment.
“I was a little bit astonished,” Kor said after the encounter. “It was not planned. This is what you see when you see two human beings interact,” she said. “He likes me, how about that? I am going back to the US with a kiss on my cheek from a former Nazi.”
‘I am going back to the US with a kiss on my cheek from a former Nazi’
“This shows that former enemies can get along as human beings. What on earth do we want to tell the world? Killing each other has never created anything good.
“I want to teach young people that even former Nazis and survivors can get along.”
Kor received international attention in the 1990s for having publicly forgiven the Nazis for what was done to her and her family.
Another survivor at the trial described in harrowing detail how his family was deported to the camp and then killed, prompting Groening to ask for a break from the shocking testimony.
Max Eisen, 86, who arrived from Toronto for the trial, told the court how he and his family were stuffed with some 100 people into a cattel car after being rounded up in their Nazi-occupied town in Slovakia and deported. He said people had room only to stand during the 3-nights and 2-days journey and when two elderly people died on the way, there was nothing that could be done until they arrived.
Once at the camp, Eisen said his mother, baby sister, two little brothers, grandparents and aunt were promptly sent off to the gas chambers. He never saw them again.
He, his father and uncle were selected to work harvesting mustard and draining swampland but after a few weeks, his father and uncle were selected again and he had only moments to say goodbye before they were taken off and killed.
“My father gave me a blessing and he told me, if I survived, I must tell the world what happened here,” Eisen told the five judges at the trial.
Eisen then worked in the infirmary, breaking gold crowns from teeth pulled from Jewish victims, before being sent off on a death march in January 1945. He was saved when the camp was liberated by US troops.
His testimony left many of those present in tears and had Groening ask for a break from proceedings.
“Mr Gröning said he is shocked by Mr Eisen’s testimony. He said he is at the end of his energy,” his lawyer told the court. Further testimony was heard after an extended lunch break.
Earlier this week, Groening testified that it was clear to him Jews were not expected to leave the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland alive.
“I couldn’t imagine that” happening, he told the Lueneburg state court on Thursday during the third day of his trial, the dpa news agency reported.
His answer came in response to a question from attorneys representing Auschwitz survivors who have joined the trial as co-plaintiffs, as allowed under German law.
On Wednesday Groening described in chilling detail how cattle cars full of Jews were brought to the Auschwitz death camp, the people stripped of their belongings and then most led directly into gas chambers.
The charges against Groening relate to a period between May and July 1944 when around 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought to the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in Nazi-occupied Poland and most immediately gassed to death.
During that period, so many trains were arriving that often two would have to wait with closed doors as the first was “processed,” Groening testified at the Lueneburg state court.
“The capacity of the gas chambers and the capacity of the crematoria were quite limited. Someone said that 5,000 people were processed in 24 hours but I didn’t verify this. I didn’t know,” he said. “For the sake of order we waited until train 1 was entirely processed and finished.”
Auschwitz survivors describe their arrival as chaotic, with Nazi guards yelling orders, dogs barking and families being ripped apart.
But Groening, 93, maintained the opposite, saying “it was very orderly and not as strenuous” on the ramp at Birkenau.
“The process was the same as Auschwitz I. The only difference was that there were no trucks,” he said during the second day of his trial. “They all walked — some in one direction, some in another direction… to where the crematoria and gas chambers were.”
Pleas are not entered in the German system. On the first day of his trial Tuesday, Groening acknowledged sharing in “moral guilt” but said the court will have to determine if he is legally guilty.