Special to the JTA Witnesses to a Nightmare

The twins who survived Josef Mengele’s notorious “experiments” still bear the physical and mental scars. Some have never talked about their experiences. Now, 40 years later, they plan to take the witness stand in a public hearing and tell the world about Birkenau-Auschwitz.

“J’Accuse,” the first international conference of Auschwitz twin-survivors, will be held between February 3 and 6, at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The public hearing will be the central event.

Dozens of twins will recall their horrific experiences at the camp before a panel of judges. Doctors and others who worked with Mengele, the chief doctor at Auschwitz, will tell of his “experiments.” Medical experts will testify to their possible effects on the survivors and their offspring.

The conference’s goals are manifold. Survivors want to influence world opinion to apprehend Mengele, the “angel of death.” The victims want to document his atrocities for generations to come. This need has assumed an urgency now, since the twins, children during the Holocaust, have reached middle-age.

THE NEED TO TALK TO OTHERS

The twins feels a growing need to talk to others who endured similar horrors, and to learn the ramifications of what was done to them. Miriam Zeiger, one of the conference’s organizers, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview: “I don’t know what they injected into me. I wonder what effects it has had, what I may be passing on to my children. Our research has shown that Mengele’s test tubes often contained kerosene or viruses, regardless of what was written on the labels.”

“Candles,” an organization of Auschwitz twin survivors, was founded a year ago, when Miriam’s sister Eva Kor met another twin at a Holocaust conference in the United States. They found they had common experiences. Eva, who lives in Indiana, asked her sister Miriam to track down twin-survivors living in Israel.

Their advertisement in Maariv brought a flood of responses from other twins. Eva quickly arranged a visit to Israel. A hastily-planned gathering attracted more than 60 survivors — and marked the birth of “Candles.”

“I met people I had not seen for 40 years. It was very emotional. We talked about the future, about what we were going to do, not about the past,” said Miriam.

RECALLING THE REIGN OF TERROR

Eva and Miriam were five-and-a-half years old when Hungary invaded Rumanian Transylvania in 1940. For four years they lived under a reign of terror. Then, in 1944, Germany invaded Hungary, and soldiers came to take them away.

“We were herded into the death trains. The journey lasted three days and we were hungry, but worst of all we had nothing to drink. My mother gave us a lemon to suck,” Miriam recalled.

“When the doors finally opened the pressure of the bodies was terrible. We fell out, and that was the last I saw of my father and two elder sisters. We heard a shout, twins – and my mother asked an officer standing nearby if it was good to be twins. He said it was. So she brought us forward. That was the last time I saw my mother.”

Miriam remembers Mengele’s face vividly. He came every morning to the Birkenau experimentation block. “He was a good-looking man, elegant, dark. He looked tall to us, but then, we were little girls.

“Eva was injected with something and she got a high temperature. She was taken to the sick ward, and they said she would die. But somebody brought her food every day, and in six or eight weeks time she was better.

“While she was sick they left me alone. Without Eva I wasn’t of interest to them. They took large amounts of blood as infusions for German soldiers on the front. I was very weak and in a state of severe malnutrition. When I later fell sick, Eva risked her life to steal potatoes from the kitchen.”

TWO SISTERS REUNITED AFTER THE WAR

Miriam and Eva consider themselves lucky. They arrived at Birkenau late in the war and therefore were saved from the terrible operations — biopsies, castration and sterilization — performed on more veteran inmates.

After the liberation of the camps, the two sisters were reunited with an aunt and made their way to Rumania. In 1956 they came to Israel.

Miriam now lives in Ashkelon with her husband and has three daughters. In addition to her job as a nurse, she spends much of her time preparing for the February conference.

On January 27, representatives of the survivors will retrace the route of the notorious three-kilometer death-march from Birkenau to Auschwitz, wearing striped prisoners uniforms.

One week after the symbolic march, the first twins Conference will open at Yad Vashem with the dedication of a camp liberation memorial made by survivor Else Polack, Simone Weil, former President of the European-Parliament and herself a concentration camp survivor, will dedicate the statue.

Survivors will come from Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Hungary and Rumania to take part in the conference.

PLANNED ACTIVITIES AT THE CONFERENCE

A symposium will be held on the effects of the Holocaust on the second and third generations, with experts in the fields of history, psychology and psychiatry. Workshops on topics such as the psychiatric treatment of Holocaust survivors and the legal aspects of experiments on humans will take place in the afternoons. The mornings will be devoted to the public hearing.

Meanwhile, Mengele still roams free. Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal contends that he is living in north Paraguay, shielded by Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, despite statements by Paraguay’s Administration that Mengele left the country years ago.

The conference’s organizers are still trying to locate some of the 183 twins who are believed to have survived the camps. Information on the whereabouts of twin-survivors (and contributions to the conference’s proceedings) can be sent to: “J’Accuse,” 16 Astrauss Street, Jerusalem, Israel.

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