Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, key witness in trials of Nazis, dies at 101

The sole survivor of his family, he testified against several alleged war criminals in recent years; death described as ‘a great loss to the collective memory’

Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, at his home in Berlin on December 4, 2019. (Odd Andersen/AFP)
Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, at his home in Berlin on December 4, 2019. (Odd Andersen/AFP)

BERLIN, Germany — German Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, a key witness in recent trials of alleged Nazi war criminals, died at the age of 101, the International Auschwitz Committee (IAC) told AFP on Monday.

Schwarzbaum died on Sunday night, according to Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the IAC.

“His death represents a great loss to the collective memory. We will all miss his anger and humanity,” Heubner said.

Schwarzbaum testified in 2016, against former Auschwitz camp guard Reinhold Hanning, who was sentenced to five years in prison, but died a few months after the verdict before he could go to jail.

In late 2021, Schwarzbaum also appeared as a witness in the trial of Josef Schuetz, a 101-year-old former guard at the Sachsenhausen camp.

He had been due to participate in a further hearing of that trial this week, Thomas Walther, a lawyer specializing in Nazi war crimes, told AFP.

Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum shows a family picture, as he arrives to observe a trial against defendant Josef S in Brandenburg an der Havel, northeastern Germany, on October 7, 2021. (Tobias Schwarz / AFP)

In a written statement due to be read by Walther, Schwarzbaum had planned to ask the accused to “tell us the historical truth.”

“Speak here in this place about what you experienced — as I have done for my part,” he wrote.

Schwarzbaum had often expressed anger and regret that so few Nazi war criminals had been brought to justice, especially in Germany.

He “did not want hatred, he wanted justice,” the IAC said in a statement.

94-year-old former SS guard at the Auschwitz death camp Reinhold Hanning, right, stands next to his lawyer Andreas Scharmer, center, during his trial in Detmold, Germany. At left is Auschwitz survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, February 12, 2016. (Bernd Thissen/Pool Photo via AP)

Schwarzbaum was born in 1921 into a Polish Jewish family in Hamburg, and grew up in Bedzin, Upper Silesia, in present-day Poland, before his family was deported to Auschwitz in 1943.

He was the only member of his family to survive the camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and a sub-camp of the Sachsenhausen complex north of Berlin.

He later worked in Berlin as an art and antiques dealer, while also campaigning tirelessly to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive through lectures and talks around the world.

“It is with great sadness, respect and gratitude that Holocaust survivors all over the world bid farewell to their friend, fellow sufferer, and companion Leon Schwarzbaum, who in the last decades of his life became one of the most important contemporary witnesses of the Shoah,” Heubner said in a statement.

Most Popular
read more: