Auschwitz Survivor Recalls Horror

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Auschwitz Survivor Recalls Horror


Byline: Deborah Donovan ddonovan@dailyherald.com

Josef Mengele died in 1979 but he lives on in Fritzie Fritzshalls nightmares: Hes the unsmiling Angel of Death, peering at lines of naked Auschwitz prisoners and callously choosing who would live and who die.

"We had to walk undressed, sometimes every single day, sometimes every two days, sometimes twice a day," said Fritzshall, a Buffalo Grove resident and board president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie.

She arrived at Auschwitz in 1944.

Fritzshall said Mengele carried a riding crop, which he used to silently carry out his sentences.

"He would wave it this way or that way," she said. "It was strictly a motion; he didnt say anything. One person would go into this line, directly to the gas chamber, the other would go back to the barracks.

"And yes, we knew that one line was going to go into the gas chamber."

Mengeles selections seemed very random, said Fritzshall, and happened so frequently because new trainloads of prisoners were always coming into Auschwitz, where 1 million Jews died.

An exhibit on Mengeles "experiments" inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is at the Holocaust Museum through Jan. 2.

"Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race" shows the progression of the eugenics movement in the 1930s and 40s, through forced sterilization, then euthanasia and finally concentration camps, genocide and the mass killing of Jews.

The exhibit on deadly medicine, produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, concentrates on the doctors and other scientists who carried out the Nazi programs. Few of these were indicted or punished after the war, and many continued their professional careers. Mengele, nicknamed the "Angel of Death," primarily for the brutal experiments he performed on live prisoners, escaped to South America where he died in 1979.

Visitors get a glimpse into his world, with institutional beds, charts and gadgets showing gradations of eye or skin color, like those used to rate people, and instruments used by Nazi doctors. And there are posters, pictures and videos.

The horrible experiments on live prisoners known to have occurred in the camps are not highlighted.

"Science is rooted in culture," said Rachel Hellenga, director of program services at the museum. "We think its objective. These men and women may not have realized how much their views were colored. Its a branch of science called eugenics now dismissed as pseudoscience."

The U.S. and other countries were not immune from some of the theories that blossomed into Nazi horrors.

A 1934 photo shows visitors to a Pasadena exhibit called "Eugenics in the New Germany." Sterilization gained support in the U.S. as a means of reducing costs for the care of poor and institutionalized people, and rates of sterilization climbed in some states during the Depression. Fritzshall said it amazes her that it was doctors who took an oath to do no harm who performed these outrages, and the exhibit is very emotional for her.

"I cant even explain the feeling it gives me," she said. …

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