What’s It Like to Testify at a Nazi War Crimes Trial?

Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor attends the trial of former Nazi death camp officer Oskar Gröning on April 21, 2015, in Lueneburg, Germany.

Photo by Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

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Answer by Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor:

Originally I was supposed to testify in the trial of Oskar Gröning after a whole list of people, but somehow they called on me to be first. That court was pretty disorganized, so I decided that as soon as I got the opportunity to speak, I would do it.

I have never testified in a court before, let alone a German court. This was a challenging experience because the translator was continuously talking while I was speaking. It wasn’t the simplest way to give my testimony, but I did the best I could.

I was surprised when the people in the courtroom applauded. My attorney said he has never seen that happen before. The judge quieted them down and said, “This is not a show. We do not applaud,” and he was right about that. But I was proud to be able to give my testimony in this case. Many people came up to me afterward, crying and saying they had never heard an account of what it was like to be on the selection platform and to be ripped apart from one’s family. You can read my full statement here.

I also found it interesting to compare my testimony with his. One thing Gröning said was that everything was well-organized during the selection process. That was absolutely not true, because all of us on my transport were confused and bewildered. I don’t think parts of his testimony were truthful, or maybe it is because he is a 93-year-old man and he remembers it how he wants to remember it.

He also said he never killed anyone—he was just a little screw in the machine. But I am asking: What happens when you take out the little screw from the big machine? The machine won’t work. So this big killing machine—he helped it to kill.

You mentioned the word justice. That is a word that has very little meaning to me. Even if every Nazi were hanged, it wouldn’t bring back a single member of my family. To me, justice is not possible. But I have also said before, if a person is a danger to society, that person should be removed from society.

Do I think Gröning should go to prison? I think the best value is for him to address young people. He could speak twice a week in schools around Germany if his health allows. Or he could address neo-Nazis and say, “Listen to me. The good, old Nazi—Nazism never helped anyone to have a better life, and it won’t help you.”

He could also talk to the neo-Nazis who have been protesting outside the courtroom. I wanted to go out there and ask them, “What on Earth is your problem?” But when I went out there, the police had escorted them to a different area, and they would not tell me where. There were a lot of police there, so the neo-Nazis couldn’t have harmed me anyway. I would have still liked to confront them nevertheless.

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