Ramat Gan (dpa) - Towards the end of his many years of suffering, the Auschwitz survivor Nachum Rotenberg weighed only 28 kilos. But paradoxically this was what saved his life, says the 91-year-old in his apartment near Tel Aviv.
"I was a bit lucky," says the white-haired man with a keen eye. A cook was sought in the Hanover-Ahlem concentration camp, his last stop before the liberation in 1945. "All the prisoners shouted" I, I "." So it was arbitrarily decided to take the one who weighed the least. "That was me. The second one they took weighed 29 kilos, but he was still a head taller than me. ”In the kitchen they had to clean huge pots and, after hunger, could eat the remains.
Like no other place, Auschwitz is a symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust. More than a million people were murdered in the German camp in occupied Poland, most of them Jews. On January 27, 1945, Red Army soldiers liberated the camp. With heads of state from all over the world, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem celebrates the 75th anniversary of the liberation on Thursday. Guests from more than 40 countries are invited, including Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Today there are very few survivors who can report the horrific crimes in the concentration camp. "I am one of the last," says Rotenberg, who was born in Lodz in central Poland in 1928 to a Jewish baker family. After hard years in the ghetto, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 as a 15-year-old with his family.
Rotenberg remembers with shuddering the arrival at the extermination camp. "When we came to Birkenau, there were barking dogs, SS men - there was terrible shouting." When he was selected, his parents were immediately sent to their deaths. Rotenberg and his six year older brother became inmates of the notorious camp for about a month. "We weren't there that long, but every minute felt like ten years - because of the fear, the despair, the cold."
He wrote down his memories. “I have the pictures in my eyes every night,” is the title of the contemporary testimony. Rotenberg has a hard time talking about what happened in the concentration camp at the time. "People were burned every day in Auschwitz," he recalls. "The SS men kept shooting at inmates indiscriminately." Rotenberg and other inmates crammed together in barracks under inhumane conditions. "Five inmates had to eat from a plate."
Rotenberg, his brother and a cousin were shipped from Auschwitz to Germany for forced labor. First they came to the Continental plants in Hanover-Stöcken. «We were cheap workers - no clothes, no food, nothing. I worked there as a sweeper. ”“ Conti ”had often been abused. "A German in civilian clothes hit us with a hose and a wire was pulled into it." However, a German employee of the tire manufacturer sometimes stuck bread in secret. "There were also such - but unfortunately only a few."
He experienced the end of the war in Hanover-Ahlem, one of the satellite camps of the Neuengamme concentration camp. The inmates had worked in the quarry under the toughest conditions. His brother and cousin died of exhaustion - Rotenberg himself probably only survived thanks to his work in the kitchen.
He remembers exactly the moments of liberation in April 1945. «Italian and Polish prisoners opened the gate of the camp. The Gestapo and SS had already fled. A Jewish inmate grabbed me and said, "Come on, let's escape." I went with him. "The two wandered around, not knowing exactly where they were. A German farmer let her sleep in a pigsty. «At night we heard the American artillery fire. The Polish forced laborers were already beginning to celebrate. They slaughtered a pig. “But the fat caused him terrible stomach problems after years of hunger.
The morning after, they found and put on Wehrmacht uniforms left at a railway station. In this outfit they met American GIs for the first time. "They came in a jeep and took us with them." He can only laugh tiredly when asked if they weren't considered German soldiers. «Nobody could have thought that the way we looked. Completely emaciated, dirty and lousy. »
Rotenberg says: «The Americans brought us to the Heidehaus, a hospital. They washed, shaved, and disinfected us. ”The relief was a relief. «But I didn't feel any real joy. My whole family was already dead. »
In 1946 he came to what was then Palestine - two years before Israel was founded, after he had initially lived in Braunschweig after the end of the war. Today he is proud of his own family: Rotenberg has a son and a daughter, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
He traveled to Germany for the first time again in 1975 to testify in the trial against Heinrich Johann (called Hans) Wexler - about crimes committed by the camp elder in Hanover-Ahlem. «It was a shock to look this person in the face again. He lived and so many were dead - because of him. »Wexler was sentenced to life imprisonment, but left prison in 1982 for health reasons.
The new worldwide wave of anti-Semitic incidents is making him "very bad," says Rotenberg. During visits to Poland, he saw many anti-Semitic smearings. "It hurts me that Jews are moving back to these countries. Especially to Germany. »
The 91-year-old personally still resented Germany. However, today's youth is different. "She is interested in history." It is important to Rotenberg to tell his story again and again, even in German schools. That's why he goes to commemorative events in Hamburg and Hanover every year - his next trip is planned for May. Then he wants to visit the grave of his brother and cousin in Hanover again.