The following are notes from Dr. Efraim Zuroff's captivating discussion on his life's work capturing Nazis.
Thanks to the extension of life expectancy, there are still some Nazi Hunters. He prays for the good health of Nazis, he’s the only Jew in the world that wants them healthy. They are almost all in their 90s. They try and still look as weak and frail as possible. The motivation for what Nazi Hunters do:
Nazi Hunters ⅓ detective, ⅓ political lobbyist, ⅓ historian.
He has to be a nudnik - someone who bothers people.
The passage of time in no way diminishes the crime.
He wonders how after the Holocaust, does Genocide still happen. He believes its because the small number of people who were punished for Holocaust crimes. The chances of you joining a group like ISIS, the odds of you getting caught if you are not a big leader in it are very small.
This is very important on Holocaust denial and Holocaust distortion. In the western world they have won the fight against Holocaust denial in the mainstream. The Holocaust is the most documented crime in human history. Why would people try and deny the Holocaust took place. It’s because of Anti-Semitism. They criticize Israel unfairly, and only Israel. There is a new wave of Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world. The denial is from the leaders of countries like the former president of Iran. How to deal with Holocaust denials. There are first hand video accounts to disprove this, also documentaries and movies. Some people won’t be convinced no matter what. The goal is to win over the non-crazy ones. Once the majority is convinced, the deniers will go away.
Once the war was over, many countries were liberated into Soviet control. The communist did their own manipulation of the Holocaust. They never acknowledged the Holocaust until the 1980s. They called WWII the Great Patriotic War. They could write their own truth. There was in reality mass collaboration with the Nazis for the Holocaust. When they became independent from the USSR, there first goal was to get into the European Union and NATO. They thought it was going to be important to become friends with Jews, because they believed they had the power to make that happen. The people of these new countries were the people who fought against the Soviet authorities. But what if these “heroes” murdered Jews during the Holocaust? The argument is that superiors told them to do so. There is no case of a Nazi getting killed for not killing someone. This is why this defense was rejected. This argument is allowed anywhere (Canada used to allow it).
Ivan Pemjanjuk - the US can’t try any Nazis in court, because it didn’t happen here and no US victims were hurt. In order to get them in trouble, they had to extradite people or they brought these people on charges of immigration and naturalization. When he was in court he made himself look like he was dying. After each day of court, he would get up and talk with people. You don’t have to be Himmler or Hitler to have responsibility. German prosecution policy… you had to prove that the person who had committed a crime and had done so by racial hate, which is nearly impossible to do. A policy changed and since the death camps were intended to kill people, any person who worked at one is an accessory to murder who could get 15 years. This lasted 30 years for trial. He was sentenced to death in Israel, during the mandatory appeal process, they reversed it and he got 7 years and expelled back to America.
People who committed the crimes must feel guilty is a statement often made. People would think we were brainwashed. He has never experienced a case where a Nazi expressed any remorse or regret.
Accountant of Auschwitz
The procedure of catching them:
He was able to get a list of who was at a Holocaust death camp or the mobile death squads. He found a list of 80 people who were possibly still alive and Germany has tough laws that prevent people from finding out information. He went out to a news station and they helped since the government didn’t. They found 2 people who were at Babi Yar and later a 3rd person. He later found another Einzengruppen member, who spent 65 years in a shooting club, continuing what he did in the war.
His most important case was Dinko Sakić at camp Jasenovac, where 100,000 people died. Most of his victims were Serbs. Most Nazis fled through the rat line to Argentina or to Syria or Egypt. They find Sakic in Argentina. He admits it is him. He says the problem is that the people at the camp deserved to be there, but the problem was that they didn’t finish the job. He said I would do it again the same way and was proud of what he did. The question is where should this person be put on trial. They wanted to try him in Croatia for a lesson, but the leader of the country was a Holocaust denier. He was tried for mass murder (not genocide).
One day a guy stops him and says “thank you”. One of the important incidents was when there was a role call. Sakic called people out of the line to be hung. One guy says it’s against his faith to be hung and Sakic shot him on the spot. This was the guy’s brother.
How to catch them:
One day he gets an email from someone in Scotland who was at a party with someone bragging about him being involved in Auschwitz. The email said he wants to shut him up. The guy they find out is involved with Auschwitz. He tells the paper to make a post about Hungarians in Scotland, since they knew the guy was Hungarian. The guy has the interviewer meet at his house and there a statue he made and it says his real name, Istvan Bujdosoin, and German rank. This leads to another person he knew, Sandor Kepiro who was his boss.
More information. Sandor Kepiro
These are notes taken from Rena Quints inspiring story. There is no survivor who is younger than 80 from the Holocaust. We are the ambassadors of the Holocaust survivors. She brought up the story of a principal in Boca Rotan who denied the Holocaust and said, “He must be an idiot”.
A million and a half children were killed. She was the only one who survived in her family. She was between 3 ½ and 9 ½ during the Holocaust. Most children who survived, did so because of living in Christian camps. She was liberated from Bergen-Beltzen. Her story is different because every time she lost a mother, she gained another. She wrote the book, A Daughter of Many Mothers. She had parents, aunts, and uncles, and grandparents. She was adopted and a good education. She was married to her husband for 60 years until he passed away. He would say, “I was spared for him”.
She was born in Poland in the first ghetto in the city of Piotrków. She went back there in 1989. The Nazi’s came in early on and took the able body people including her father to work in a glass factory, at a smaller ghetto.
One night there was banging on her door from German soldiers telling her to leave and get out. She had to pack whatever she could immediately and there was chaos. Everyone got out into the square in the city center. 2,000 people were gathered. They were herded into the synagogue. There are no Jews left today in the city and the synagogue has been turned into a library. If you couldn’t fit into the synagogue, they took the people outside to dig ditches in the forest, which would be their own graves as they were shot. People were being shot in the synagogue and there was mass confusion. She was 6 at the time of this. A Polish man at the back door told her to “run”. She was with her mother, and two brothers. She ran out and let go of her mother’s hand. She can’t remember what her mother looked like. She wonders what was her mother thinking to let her daughter leave her hand. Everyone left at the synagogue was taken to Triblinka and killed at the gas chamber. Rena says she hopes her mother is looking down on her today to see the happy life she has. She is also sure Hitler is “down there somewhere, and he has to look up”. Any genocide was bad. The man who told her to run, scooped her up and took her to her father. She became a “boy” in order to blend in as girls we seen as useless. The factory work was hard and dangerous. There were dogs that they’d send out on the people in the factory for fun. If the dog bit someone’s arm, they couldn’t work, rendering them useless. She still has a fear of those dogs. In 1944 the Allies were getting closer. The Germans were sending people out to cattle cars. There were 80-100 people into each car. There was nothing to eat or drink. There was one pale to go to the bathroom, where you’d have to go in front of everyone. The smell and stench was everywhere. They used the snow after they got out to eat and drink. They had to divide people with women on one side and men on the other side. The issue being is that she was dressed as a boy at the time and people had to disrobe, which would reveal her identity. Her father gave to a teacher, and promised he’d meet back with her later. He never did as she never saw him again, but knows he was sent to Buchenwald. That’s all she knows about him. As they were walking on the snow with no shoes, if you stopped to take a rest, you would be shot. There was a trail of bodies. As they made there way to Bergen-Belsen, she had her pictures in her hands. A soldier took her pictures and tore them up. He had no idea what those pictures meant to her, as she has no idea who they are or what they looked like. Everyday the most important thing was good. They had horrible soup everyday. One day, an announcement came saying “We are the British army, you are free, you can do what you want”.
The British had to build huge graves to bury the dead. She couldn’t do anything because she had Typhus. The British burned down the barracks because they were so infested. 14,000 people died after the war as people weren’t able to recover or recuperate. They brought her to a make-shift hospital. She was sent to neutral Sweden. A young Christian couple gave her sweets and cookies in Sweden and they asked if she would like to live with them. She ends up not living with them because Jewish people told her she should go to Palestine (Israel) in a displaced persons camp. She met a new “mother”. Israel is so important to Jews, because it is a place for Jews to call home. The mother told her she was going to the United States with this “new” family. In the US, her “new mother” had died, but no one explained what was going on. She was confused because one person died and everyone made a fuss, yet she thought in the Holocaust so many people died and no one made it a big deal. At the funeral, she was the only one who didn’t cry. Now that the mother was gone, the family didn’t want her. They knew another Jewish family that took her in.
She believes strongly in God, but doesn’t understand how God could have let this happen.
Later on that day she invited all 35 of us to her wonderful house. The love letters her husband would write to her were still on display.
These are notes taken from the inspiring story of Gita Cycowicz.
90 years old as a working psychologist. Born in Czechoslovakia in a town of 20,000. 8,000 were Jews. She was born in a poor town. The town was Chust. Family was there for many generations. Many people didn’t even have a citizenship passport, including her dad. All the businesses and stores were owned by Jewish people. Father sold mineral waters at his business. 1939 the town of Chust was taken over. A week after Hitler took Poland, he started creating death camps, ghettos, and destroying temples. When she would walk in the streets as a child with her dad, people would call out, “Stinky Jew”, this was normal. One day at school someone passed into her backpack a note that said, “death to the Jews”. She didn’t think about this being an issue. One day she showed up at school when she was 12, the teacher came to her and said no more school for the Jews. She went when she was 40 to Brookland college. She also passed the GED/ high school equivalency test. The year prior she learned English language. Worked her way up to a doctorate.
One day a non-Jew came in to her dad’s shop and said he wanted to stay at the shop and learn how to run a shop. He was told he had to do this. After a few weeks, after learning enough, he took over the shop. Gradually all the Jewish stores were closed. The father wasn’t allowed to sell the mineral water. Eventually the father said he had no more money, when she was 13. To survive, they had a family friend who owned a hotel and they stayed and worked their.
Side story - Every Jewish 18 year old or older had to work in forced labor for the Hungarian army. They had hard work. Dig ditches in cold, frozen Russia. People lost limbs due to the frozen conditions. One boy who was 17 didn’t want to go. So a doctor said he could make an impairment on him in order to allow him not to go to Siberia. He’s cut off some fingers or break his ear drums and make him deaf. He was not sent to the army, but he was sent to Auschwitz later on.
The dad was caught selling bottles of water and caught. He was beaten for 3 days.
1943 Hitler declared Europe free of Jews. (only small groups and pockets of people hiding).
March 1944 - The Germans encouraged the Hungarians to open the gates so the Germans could come in. She knew it was her death sentence as a Hungarian Jew. The Jewish leaders were the liason. They were always updating the Jews of their current status. Her dad shaved his beard for the first time in his 49 year life. The Germans needed 200 strong men, and killed them all. They didn’t need them for anything besides striking fear in the people. Their community was turned into a ghetto. In each 2 bedroom house, they put in 4 - 5 families. One toilet, stove, etc. She was there for 5 weeks. They were boarded onto a wagon. There were two pales, one with water, one to use the bathroom. They bring what is absolutely necessary, no photos, but pots and pans. They assume it’ll be another place to live. 95 people were in half the wagon. Men debate if it is okay to pray in the wagon, because it’s unbecoming of themselves to pray where there is an open toilet. They end up praying. Through the barbed wire window, someone sees a sign, “Auschwitz Burchenaw”. No one knows what it means. There are no fences, only barbed wire fences. The doors open. There are two people in striped uniforms telling them to jump from the train. After getting out they couldn’t get their bags, they were told they’d get it later. They don’t know what’s happening in the front of the train. There are high ranking SS officers who are “doctors” who decide who will die immediately or who will die later. 90% of all transports were headed directly to the death camps. The men including her father were taken away to a coal mine. She was taken to a shower room to undress. Then they tell them to form two lines, they get a dress from a mountain of dresses. Someone came and clipped their hair off. Everyone is laughing because they looked so strange. No one in her group had their menstrual period their entire time, no one knows why. They put her into a camp where 27 big barracks, each with 1200 people. They didn’t do anything until 4pm and they’d take out people each day to be killed. For 5 months, they’d look at the faces of all the girls. This actually happened 2x a day. She is fearful for 5 months with her mother. She gets barely any soup that essentially is from grass and salt. You had to eat the soup with your hand. Mother’s would give up their food to give to their kids. She thought she’d try and get out on a transport. She prayed everyday, “Make this your day God to give us mercy”. 3 SS point out 8 women one day, including her mother and aunt. She worked at a labor camp in incredibly cruel situations. In snow and ice, just in a dress, only eating bread in the morning and night. No toilet paper for a year, some people went three years without it. One day they were hanging out on a day off, an SS asks why is it so cold and asks why didn’t you build a fire. They say they weren’t allowed to. The SS says they can, and it was like paradise. The next day they are told they won’t have food, but will still have to work. The last time they ate was in the previous morning. The reason was because they made a fire, even though the guard said they could. Work days were 12 hours long at least with no food.
She gets moved around to another camp as the Germans move people because the Russians are coming in. One day she hears whistling, which means line up. The loud speaker says no need to line up, just stand up. The SS says, “It’s May 8th, the war is over, and you are free, you can go wherever you want. We are there to only stay and watch over you. Please treat us right” (Again, this is the guard saying this).
She went back to her house. Nobody smiled. She had no one to take care of her, didn’t know where her sister was, her mother, and her father was. For 2 weeks her sister and herself, walked with thousands of other prisoners, full of anxiety, no shoes. People are constantly asking if they knew their mothers or their fathers. Stalin says that her home city is part of Ukraine, which was under Soviet control. He meets a man on a train after walking for 2 weeks. Someone asks who she is. She tells him. She says your mother is at home. She’s reunited at her home. Her once beautiful home has a hole in the roof possibly from a bomb. Every plank of wood is lifted up as the SS was probably looking for treasures. There’s no furniture. The only thing left was her father’s religious books, opened, with feces on them. Her other sister was alive too. Her father was killed at a camp.
She was later asked to share her story in Germany. She could have asked for money to appear. She didn’t, she asked one thing, “how come they didn’t see the human in me? I have two eyes, two ears, I am a human being”. She didn’t get an answer.
Feeling sick on a trip is never good, let alone when you are halfway around the world on an experience of a lifetime. Sad to say, here I was feeling the flu along with two of the other seven people in our group. Uncharacteristically of me, I chose to take it easy on this day. After having a hard time sleeping at the camp due to the flu-like symptoms, (the camp actually was very nice) we got in our SUVs and headed for Wadi Rum. This reminded me of my recent trip to Utah or the Grand Canyon, with the red sand blanketing the land. Peering out through the sand were rough and jagged peaks. Trying to keep my head up and my camera ready was a losing battle. I caught glimpses of the tour guide's excited speech as he told us about how one of my favorite movies was filmed here, Lawrence of Arabia, as well as Star Wars and the new Aladdin. What particularly caught my eye were the numerous camels cruising through the land. Having a true Bedouin style barbecue wasn't enough to pry my weary head from the ground as I was prone to sleeping any moment I could. Finishing through the desert, we went on a drive to cross the border into Israel. Once here, there was a sense of relief as we felt complete safety for whatever reason being here. Not to say Jordan wasn't safe, but the feeling that we were now in the country where we were going to be hosted by Echoes and Reflections was reassuring. When we got on the bus from Elat to Jerusalem, what I thought I muttered in my head, I later realized I said aloud to my peers, "I don't think I'm going to make it". It was a rough ride, but perseverance paid off once we saw the outer walls of Old Jerusalem.
Starting with Egypt, the excitement was palpable as I had hyped this venture so much on my own. I can remember in 2014 thinking back at the Mayan pyramid’s size and thinking they must be a lot smaller than the Egyptian pyramids, but I would never be able to see them. Now I’m flying into Cairo to see this amazing human creation. Being that this was the first stop on the trip, it was one special way to start this journey. I couldn’t believe how enormous the pyramids were. I knew they were big, I heard the stories, read the research, see them on tv and in movies, but I couldn’t fathom them living up to the hype. Boy howdy did they. Marveling at their immense and imposing structure as the towered over Cairo, my mouth was aghast as we walked towards them. In front of the pyramids, humorously our tour guide offered the seven of us an opportunity I had no idea was possible, to go inside the pyramids. He said reluctantly, it will cost $15. The cost was laughable to experience this amazing opportunity. The sun was ever-present, but not overwhelming despite the time of the year. We went in the great pyramid and went through the extremely tight corridors through the one way passage. At the top of the narrow stairs, there was a small room where you could catch your breath amidst the sweltering heat. In it was a security guard and an empty tomb. Once leaving the tomb, we went further down to Panorama Point and saw all three pyramids in their glory together. Next we drove by the Great Sphinx and went by the building where the bodies were mummified. Seeing the Sphinx too, guarding the pyramids was awe-inspiring. I tend to be a kid in a candy store when I see things like this. Leaving the pyramids, we went to a perfume shop where we were offered several scents. Leaving here couldn’t have happened sooner, as we were now headed to Tahir Square where the 2011 revolution was the epicenter to the riots. Here the Egyptian Artifact Museum stood where we walked through the air-conditionedless 100 year old museum that was struggling to house all the mummies and artifacts that continued to be added. Thankfully next year a massive contemporary nearby building will house everything in a more modern and spacious building. The most striking artifacts we saw was the loot that was discovered in King Tutankhamen’s tomb. Disappointingly it was picture free, but the memories I’m sure will be intact for a long, long time. The fine detail on the sarcophagus’s to the glittering gold were phenomenal. The artifacts told a story that couldn’t be believed if it weren’t for Howard Carter’s discovery of these items. One can only imagine what items would have been found in Ramses the Great’s tomb. Cleansing our palette of excitement for our long day, we took a relaxing faluca sailboat ride on the Nile river. This let us catch our breath from all of the excitement we were having. Finishing the night, we traveled back towards the pyramids and ate at a wonderful restaurant that overlooked the pyramids, which were illuminated at night.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.