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Concentration Camp Survivor Identifies Mrs. Ryan As Woman Who ‘killed’ Prisoner

May 22, 1972
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A concentration camp survivor charged three times on Friday that Mrs. Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan “killed” a woman prisoner while serving as a guard at Majdanek in 1943. But at another point the witness, Mrs. Mary (Husyt) Finkelstein of Brooklyn, said Mrs. Ryan “clobbered” the prisoner with a stick, and by the end of the day’s testimony the point was still unclear. The government is attempting to deport Mrs. Ryan to her native Austria. The hearing resumes June 9 at the local offices of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Mrs. Finkelstein, a doughty gray-haired woman of 51, was repeatedly ordered by the special inquiry officer, Francis J. Lyons, to limit her testimony to direct answers to attorneys’ questions. Near the end of the day she began to adhere to that order, but by and large she sought to use her appearance to relate stories of Nazi brutality. Asked if it was her habit to hound ex-Nazis, she replied: “No, but I would be glad to see them in a concentration camp.”

Mrs. Finkelstein testified that Mrs. Ryan was one of the Majdanek guards who used sticks, whips and dogs to herd and supervise prisoners. “If we heard Hermine (was coming), we knew there wouldn’t be anything good coming,” she said. She testified that Mrs. Ryan’s “clobberings” of prisoners were accompanied by such exclamations as “You swine. You goddamned Jew. Stay up straight.”


The witness described the hanging of a Jewish prisoner that she said took place at Majdanek in Mrs. Ryan’s presence. Mrs. Ryan had earlier testified that she never saw a gallows at the camp. Mrs. Finkelstein, who lost her family in the Nazis’ genocide effort, told how she was taken from her native Warsaw in May 1943 when her bunker was discovered. She and others were undressed, searched and put in a cattle car that took them to Majdanek, she said. During the ride, she said, the car was gassed, and some of the 100 prisoners jammed into it died.

When a baby in the car started crying, the witness went on, its mother choked it as the baby asked “Mommy, do you love me?” It was not clear from the testimony whether the mother actually killed the baby. Mrs. Finkelstein said the mother subsequently “went insane.” The witness’ sister was one of those in the car. Mrs. Finkelstein never saw her after that.

Mrs. Finkelstein, who described an alleged photograph of Mrs. Ryan as “the one who killed the woman,” said she recognized the Queens housewife from her “tight lips.” As far as photographs of other guards were concerned. “They look all the same to me. The same rats.” She admitted that she has always had poor eyesight.

Defense attorney John J. Barry sought to discredit the witness, who often responded “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember.” When he zeroed in on her inability to recall a train station at Majdanek, she reminded him that the cattle car had been gassed. Barry’s attempt to destroy the witness’ credibility extended to his asking her to describe the design and material of the guards’ uniforms. She gave uncertain replies to these questions, and said she did not remember spotlights on the camp towers.

Barry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency afterward that he questioned Mrs. Finkelstein’s “credibility” and had “serious doubts” that she was ever in Majdanek. Vincent A. Schiano, representing the government, told the JTA he was satisfied with her testimony and had 25 more witnesses ready.

President Salvador Allende of Chile has accepted an invitation to visit Israel but has set no date for his visit. Foreign Ministry sources said today. The invitation was extended to President Allende by Ambassador Gideon Rafael who is heading the Israeli delegation to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Santiago.

Mayor Rashid Al Shawa of Gaza said in Hebron yesterday that the future of the Gaza Strip should be linked to that of the West Bank.

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