VIENNA (Jan. 13)
For some, the memories never fade away. “I own a document which says that I was liberated on April 15, 1945. But I am still not free, not free of horrible nightmares,” said Vera Alexander, a Slovakian born Jewish woman who was an inmate at the Auschwitz death camp.
“My memories and dreams mix up between past and present. I have two sons, age 45 and 50, and I still dream of them as kids in Auschwitz,” says Alexander, breaking into tears.
She shared the stage with three elderly men who, like her, came here from Israel recently to share their experiences at Auschwitz with an audience of some 1,500 mostly young Austrians.
The three men — Otto Klein, Solomon Malek and Ephraim Reichenberg — belong to a group of some 180 survivors of the “twin experiments” that were carried out by camp doctor Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” at Auschwitz between 1943 and 1944.
Alexander, who now works as a painter and sculptor in the northern Israeli city of Safed, was not one of the twins. Her job at Auschwitz was to care for the needs of the twins after the man she called the “good-looking and proper doctor” had finished carrying out his hideous experiments on them.
The Bavarian-born Mengele, who escaped to Argentina after the war, had experimented at Auschwitz on some 3,000 twins, dwarfs, giants and hunchbacks in hopes of detecting their genetic code.
The goal of his “medical” work was to help gather data for creating the tall, blueeyed, blond-haired Aryan model of perfection.
The first-hand witnesses to those experiments were brought to one of Vienna’s largest theaters under the sponsorship of several private sources as well as the Austrian Foreign and Education ministries.
Ephraim Reichenberg, like the other speakers, gave a glimpse into the heart of darkness that was Auschwitz.
“My twin brother Laszlo had a beautiful voice. So Mengele, a fervent music lover who was always humming some opera arias, wanted to look behind this miracle,” said Reichenberg.
He can be heard only with the help of a throat microphone — a result of the throat cancer that developed as a direct consequence of Mengele’s “treatments.”
“Mengele injected something into our throats. We got high fevers and our throats were terribly swollen for at least three days,” Reichenberg told the audience, adding that this procedure was repeated for nearly four months.
He and his twin brother were born in 1927 as sons of a famous cantor in Papa, Hungary.
They were deported to Auschwitz on July 10, 1944, along with the rest of their family.
At the arrival point for Auschwitz, Mengele, who oversaw many of the infamous selections, “ordered all twins to step out of the line. Laszlo and I did not want to leave our family, so we did not identify ourselves,” recalled Reichenberg, who now lives in Beersheba.
“But another Jewish prisoner pointed at us, and so we were taken out. Probably he saved our lives, because my parents and my sister were taken to the gas chambers.”
After suffering Mengele’s experiments, the Reichenberg twins were liberated and taken to a hospital in Prague.
Laszlo Reichenberg died in 1946 as a result of lung cancer.
His brother was the initiator of a symbolic trial against Mengele that took place in February 1985 at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
“It was morally important for me that the `symbol of Mengele’ should be convicted,” he said.