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Jewish-Hungarian Auschwitz survivor Angela Orosz-Richt (born December 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Jewish-Hungarian Auschwitz survivor Angela Orosz-Richt (born December 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK 

75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

Born in Auschwitz: Central Remembrance Ceremony in Berlin

Angela Orosz-Richt was born around 21 December 1944 into the world of Auschwitz. The fate of the children born in the camp was the central issue of the remembrance ceremony staged by the International Auschwitz Committee for the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. The well attended ceremony was held on 23 January 2020 at the Maritim Hotel in Berlin. This event was dedicated to the voices of the survivors and the current confrontation with anti-Semitism and right-wing extremist hatred. Main speaker was Angela Orosz-Richt. We document her extraodinary speech below.


The Speech given by Angela Orosz-Richt

"I was born there in December 1944, weighing just one kilogram."

Thank you for inviting me to meet you tonight, thank you the opportunity to speak about my mother’s heroism.

My mother always said that I have two birthdays: one is in December, but January 27 is in fact the real one. Because if Auschwitz had not been liberated, she and I would not have survived. I am here to tell my mother’s story, not my own.

I want to make sure she won’t be forgotten, that her fight to save my life is not forgotten, and all her determination, her love, her persistence, her positiveness. In spite of giving birth to me in the worst nightmare imaginable, she never gave up. Her strength, despite of starvation, fear of death, was unspeakable. She remained in her mental health.

My name is Angela Orosz Richt, but I am going to tell you Vera’s story. Vera was my mother. She gave birth to me in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am one of the youngest survivors of that death camp. I was born there in December 1944, weighing just one kilogram.

My mother was born in 1919, in Budapest. She came from a very educated family. Her father was an architect in Budapest, her mother spoke many languages, was an art lover, a classical music enthusiast. Their children were raised by French speaking nannies, and attended the best schools. Besides my mother she had two siblings. When my mother finished her high school in Budapest, the law did not permit Jews to attend university. Vera applied for a job as a nanny, and moved to a little town, Sarospatak in eastern Hungary. Sarospatak was a little town with many famous historical figures, like Comenius who taught there. He is considered the father of the modern education. In 1943 it was a cultural centre. My mother met my father there, Dr Tibor Bein, who was a lawyer. They married in 1943.

Just like any young couple, they spent their life in happiness, they had friends, they played cards, and they didn’t see the clouds coming. Everything changed on March 19, 1944. Germany invaded Hungary.

The morning after Passover in April of that year, there was a banging at the door. It was the Gendarmes, the local Hungarian militia who were worse than the police, said my mother. My parents were forced from their home in Sarospatak and herded on to a cattle car train. They were taken to the ghetto in neighbouring Satoraljaujhely.

Because it was the day after Passover, they did not even have bread to take with them on the journey. From the middle of April until May 22nd, they spent their last days together in that crowded ghetto. Then, they were forced again onto a cattle car, on a trip that lasted three days. On May 25th, they arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

It was in my mother’s belly then. She and my father were beaten and herded by SS men with whips and machine-guns, amid shouting of “Alle raus!” “Schnell!” “Leave your baggage on the train.”

There were SS men, standing in watchtowers with machine guns and spotlights, watching the terrible chaos. From up there, the madness may have seemed orderly, but down on the platform it was not. To her dying day, my mother was afraid of barking German Shepherd dogs.

Everyone who came to Auschwitz stood in this line until it split at the infamous Dr. Mengele. To the left were sent women who showed signs of pregnancy, children under 15, the elderly and frail, these were the ones to be murdered that day. They were told “hang up your clothes; you’re going to take a shower.” And they believed it. These Jews were not showered. They were gassed.

My mother was sent to the right, which meant temporary reprieve from death. When it was her turn in front of Mengele, my mother told him that she was pregnant, hoping he would be compassionate and would let her stay with her friend. She had already been separated from my father and would never see him again.

Mengele snapped "Du dumme Gans", ordering her to the right. She was ‘good stock,’ healthy and strong enough for forced labour. The same had happened to my father, but he did not survive the inhumane conditions, and he died of exhaustion. No, that isn’t right. Let me say it differently: He was murdered by exhaustion.

In an interview with her granddaughter for a school project, my mother once described what happened next. I’ll read her words to you: “After arrival in the labour camp, I was tattooed. From that moment on, I wasn’t Vera; I was A 6075, totally shaven, given a uniform and wooden clogs. The shaved heads, the tattoos, these were symbols of our dehumanization, all our dignity was taken from us, we no longer counted as human beings.”

My mother was assigned to work the nightshift in the warehouse in Camp A. It contained the personal belongings of the victims. There, my mother’s job was to pick out anything of value that the Jewish victims had brought with them from home. She had to sort and separate everything into piles: shoes, linens, clothing. If the prisoners stopped working, or worked too slowly, they were beaten. The SS took the finest clothing to be disinfected and distributed to the German population.

When she was five months pregnant, my mother was transferred to Barrack 2 where she was assigned to an Aussenkommando that worked outside the camp. There she did heavy physical labour, building roads and working in the fields.

She later told me, “If we found plants in the fields, animal food not even meant for human consumption, there was a celebration among us. It was as though we found treasure. Like a Sachertorte. We shared it. We ate it.” They ate animal food and celebrated.

Later, my mother was assigned to kitchen duty. There, she managed to scrounge some potato peels, the only reason I was able to remain alive in her belly as she said because of the vital vitamins in the potato peels.

The rest of her daily diet consisted of Ersatzcoffee in the morning, made from water and burned wheat, that was given morning and night. We later found out that it was spiked with a chemical called bromodine, so the women wouldn't have their periods, and kept inmates tranquilized, sometimes-warm soup made from grass for lunch, or rotten vegetables, and a very small slice of black bread. Once my mother found a bone in her soup. She was so happy to have that small bone, until an SS man saw it and kicked her in the leg below the knee. She spent her life with a limp and a blackened right leg because  of that bone she found in her soup.

In Birkenau, the prisoners' bunks were pieces of dirty straw on planks three tiers high, six people on one. If one had to turn, all had to turn, because they were like sardines in a can.
The bottom plank was the most comfortable, the middle bunk had no air, and the top one was hit by blowing wind, rain, or snow.

At one point, when my mother could no longer do the very hard physical work because of her pregnancy, she went to the Blockaelteste and told her, “I’m pregnant.” Under the rules of Auschwitz, this confession meant she would be sent to the gas chamber immediately.

Instead, she was sent to a barrack in Camp C. There she took care of children, especially the twins who were used for medical experiments by Mengele and his fellow colleagues who called themselves doctors.

Later my mother became a human guinea pig for the Mengele team. In October, when she was seven months pregnant, Professor Carl Clauberg’s team selected her for sterilization experiments. They injected a burning substance into her cervix. Right behind, in her uterus, was the fetus. Me. These injections were terrible, painful. Injection one, the fetus moved to the left side….The next day, another injection, and the fetus moved in the other direction. And they played that game for a while.

Those experiments are the reason I do not have any brothers or sisters.

Somehow, I survived. After they finished observing the effects of injecting caustic chemicals into my mother’s cervix, my mother went back to her barrack and luckily was forgotten about by the Angel of Death. Because she was fed so little, I was so tiny that the pregnancy didn’t show. If not for this, we would have both been killed, before I even had taken my first breath.

When my mother was 8 months pregnant, a Hungarian woman doctor – possibly Gisella Perl who worked under Mengele and knew about my mother’s pregnancy-- came to the barrack one night and offered my mother an abortion. She told her, “When you give birth, we don’t know how Mengele will react. If he is in a good mood, only your child will die. But if Mengele is in a bad mood, both of you are going to the gas chamber. You are so young, you could save your life.”

My mother promised she would think about it and give her an answer the next day. That night in a dream she saw her mother begging her, “Veruska, the fetus is a child already, almost ready to come out, trust in G-d, and you will be helped. Don’t have the abortion.” The next day she gave the doctor her answer, a definite no.

At that time, there was another woman who had given birth and Mengele bound her breasts, wanting to see how long the baby would live without being fed. Shortly after, both the mother and baby were murdered.

My mother was not sure of the date I was born. All she knew was that it was three days before the SS celebrated Christmas. So if they celebrated on the 24th, my birthday was on the 21st of December, and if they celebrated on the 25th, then I was born on the 22nd, 1944.

On the day I was born, my mother told her Blockaelteste, who was a prisoner from Czechoslovakia, that she was in labour. Since her father had been a doctor, the Blockaelteste knew a little bit about what to do. Somehow she managed to get a sheet, some hot water and a scissors. She told my mother to go up to the top bunk. She went up after my mother and helped her give birth.

That is how I came into this world. In a barrack filled with children, none of whom knew I had just been born. I was so malnourished that I weighed one kilo and was unable to cry. This was the reason I survived.

Three hours after giving birth, my mother had to leave me alone in the bunk and go outside for roll call, Appell. To this day I am amazed that my mother was able to do this. What courage, what incredible strength to be able to do that. It was December, it was freezing cold and she only had rags for clothing. My mother had to stand at Appell for a long time. The wooden shoes the inmates wore were dangerous because of snow and ice. If she fell, they would shoot her. She was shivering, no proper clothes, no proper shoes, but one thing was burning inside her: I have a daughter, I have to save her! 

The whole time she was praying that I would still be alive when she returned to the barrack. Imagine the stress!
One day not long after, a few days before liberation, my mother heard people yelling “Schnell! Schnell!” The German guards herded the surviving inmates like my mother into a tunnel beneath the camp and told them they would be blown up inside. This did not happen, but to her last days my mother retained a mortal fear of tunnels. In Toronto, many decades later, she had a panic attack because a subway train she was riding got stuck in a tunnel for ten minutes.

On January 27, 1945 Auschwitz was liberated. That day another child was born. His name was György Faludi. György’s mother did not have enough milk to nurse her son, so my mother fed us both. This was the beginning of a long friendship between these two mothers.

In this madness, many miracles happened. My mother was starving and yet had milk to nurse me and after the liberation, even another woman’s child. From the food they gave her she had maybe 300-400 calories. How did she have milk? A miracle. But I am not here to talk about the miracles.

My mother only was able to return to Hungary with me in November 1945. Through Katowice and other Polish cities, with a long stay in the Russian DP camp of Slutsk, my mother finally returned to Budapest to look for a doctor who could help us. I was a very sick baby.

In November 1945, when I was almost a year old, I weighed only 3 kg. Any normal baby is born weighing 3 kg. My mother went from doctor to doctor, but none of them had any hope that they could help, or that I would grow into a healthy child. My mother was the only one convinced that I would live. People used to call her a crazy woman.

They thought she had lost her mind in Auschwitz and that I was a doll because I couldn’t move. I did not look like a human baby. I looked like a rag doll. Even my grandmother (who had survived hidden in Budapest) --her own mother--pleaded with her to listen to the doctors and let the baby die. She will never be a normal child, they all said. But my mother was determined to save me.

One doctor held me upside down like a chicken, and said that if I raised my head there was a chance  that I might survive and he would help. I did! After that he cared for me for several years until my bones were strong enough to walk on. For a while after returning to Budapest we stayed in my grandmother's house, my mother frantically looked for my father, but no answer. She decided when we were stronger she would go back to Sarospatak, and wait there for my father to return.

Later, when she realized he had been killed, she married my stepfather, who had lost his daughter and his wife in Auschwitz. My stepfather adopted me. I was  a very young baby at that time.

Today, they would say I had a learning disability. In 1972, Dr. Jean Jofen presented to the Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies a paper titled 'Long-Range Effects of Medical Experiments in Concentration Camps: The Effect of Administration of Estrogen to the Mother on the Intelligence of the Offspring.' Jofen reported that, after testing hundreds of children of Holocaust survivors, the Auschwitz contingent had the lowest IQ range. Dr. Jofen postulated that the synthetic hormone experiments were responsible.

I grew up seeing a beautiful marriage. They loved each other, they appreciated being alive, focused all their efforts on rebuilding their shattered lives, trying to push to the back of their minds the horrors they experienced. My mother loved me with an intensity more than normal, and my stepfather too, probably because he saw in me his beloved murdered daughter.

I was the lucky recipient of all this love and protection. The rooms in our house were decorated with pictures of relatives who had perished in Auschwitz, and when I asked, who are they? The answer was: died, died, died. They purposely didn’t use the word 'murdered' so as not to frighten a little child. We did not have any relatives except my maternal grandmother, until I was 6.

Today I am a grandmother myself, a great-grandmother to a few children even. I feel responsible of their future, as Roman Kent once said: "We don't want our past to be our children's future." The Holocaust has to be thought, the Holocaust has to be remembered, and learned from. I tell my mother’s story to make sure it won’t be forgotten.

My mother never spoke about those horrors to anyone. An inner voice told her that nobody could understand these experiences except those who had been through them. There’s no use talking about them, even I wouldn’t believe them to be true...
As a survivor, Esther Bauer said: The first 20 years we couldn’t talk about it, for the next 20 years, no one wanted to hear about it, only in the next 20 years people started asking questions.

Elie Wiesel once wrote: “There is much to be done, there is much that can be done. One person, … one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death.”

I would like to make a difference in my small way. My own children have always rolled their eyes when I told them that the Holocaust could happen again. But today, more than before, I am convinced that it can happen again. Why is that?

Because the world has not learned the lessons of the Shoah. Some people have, but by no means all. Since 1945 we have seen more genocides. People were murdered in their thousands, hundreds of thousands! In Rwanda. In Srebrenica. In Syria. In so many other places.

And anti-Semitism, the oldest form of racial hatred, thousands of years old in fact, it is still alive. There are still people who believe that all Jews are rich. That the Jews are too influential. That Jews run Hollywood, or the media, or Wall Street. The internet is full of this garbage. It spreads like bushfires, it remains largely unchecked.

As Jews, we don’t hate Germany, we don’t hate at all, despite of what was done to us.
But we worry when we see this old hatred against us resurface on the streets of Berlin, on the streets of Dresden. We shake our heads in disbelief, we get scared, really scared. I must confess I was a bit nervous in the past weeks. I read so many things in the newspapers about anti-Semitism rising again in Germany and in Europe.
And it’s not just here, it’s happening in the United States, in Montreal, where I live, everywhere in the world.

It’s not just the old anti-Semitism which we know, it’s also a new kind of anti-Semitism. Today, when you want to say something against the Jews and want to get away with it, you say something outrageous against Israel. Hatred of Jews is nowadays expressed by bashing Israel.

As somebody who was born in Auschwitz, who lost her father and many other family members there, forgive me if I don’t remain silent when such awful things against Israel are being said. Of course, you can criticize certain things about Israel. Or about Canada, where I live. Or any other country there is. Even Jews are criticizing Israel. It happens all the time, believe me. But so many statements about Israel do really cross a line that must never be crossed.

Israel doesn’t commit mass murder, Assad in neighbouring Syria does.
Israel doesn’t incite children to throw rockets at kindergartens, Hamas in Gaza does.
Israel is not a danger to world peace, but Iran is.

People are silent when thousands are killed in Africa or in Asia. But as long as they can blame Israel – and the Jews – for everything that’s bad in the world, they feel righteous. Or self-righteous, I should say.

Israel was also built by survivors of the Holocaust, by people who went through the worst that can happen to any human being, and who were incredibly lucky to survive.
We survivors are so proud of what Israel is today. Most Jews around the world are proud of Israel.

We can try to be fair. We can try to be open-minded, and not full of prejudice.
And that’s why I want to ask you a favor: Always try to be fair. Remain open-minded. Remain curious. Make up your own mind. Don’t put people into boxes based on their religion, or their appearance.

And finally: Please prove to people such as myself, to all those who think the Holocaust can happen again, that we are wrong. Prove us wrong!

I am heartened when I see people taking to the streets to defend Jews, to show solidarity. It has happened here, it has happened in Paris and in New York in recent weeks. It’s important that these marches happen.

It is also important that Germany takes responsibility, and let me thank Angela Merkel for the generous donation of the German government to the Auschwitz Museum. It’s not just a compensation, it’s an investment in the future. We need to preserve this awful place. It’s not just the biggest Jewish graveyard, the place where my father perished. It must also be an eternal reminder for future generations.
We survivors are old people now, I’m one of the youngest. So, it’s your job now to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I trust that you will do the right thing.

Thank you for your patience in listening to my mother’s and my story. Please don’t forget her and the millions who suffered the same fate as she did, the millions who couldn’t tell their stories because they did not survive. And the millions who survived but who couldn’t talk about the horrors they went through.

Angela Orosz-Richt afer her speech/ Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Angela Orosz-Richt afer her speech/ Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Alwin Meyer, Angela Orosz-Richt / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Alwin Meyer, Angela Orosz-Richt / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Angela Orosz-Richt, Wladyslaw Osik (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Juli 1943 in Auschwitz-Birkenau), Nora Sbornik (born April 1945 in Auschwitz) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Angela Orosz-Richt, Wladyslaw Osik (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Juli 1943 in Auschwitz-Birkenau), Nora Sbornik (born April 1945 in Auschwitz) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Singer Anne Sofie von Otter / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Singer Anne Sofie von Otter / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK 
from the left: Alwin Meyer, Wladyslaw Osik, Angela Orosz-Richt, Nora Sbornik, Christoph Heubner / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
from the left: Alwin Meyer, Wladyslaw Osik, Angela Orosz-Richt, Nora Sbornik, Christoph Heubner / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK 

In the exhibition "Geboren in Auschwitz / Born in Auschwitz"

Wladyslaw Osik (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Juli 1943 in Auschwitz-Birkenau) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Wladyslaw Osik (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Juli 1943 in Auschwitz-Birkenau) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Wladyslaw Osik (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Juli 1943 in Auschwitz-Birkenau), Angela Orosz-Richt (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Dezember 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Wladyslaw Osik (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Juli 1943 in Auschwitz-Birkenau), Angela Orosz-Richt (Auschwitz-Survivor, born Dezember 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Nora Sbornik (born April 1945 in Auschwitz) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK
Nora Sbornik (born April 1945 in Auschwitz) / Foto: Eva Oertwig/IAK