Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Did 89-year-old Samuel Kunz murder my family?

From an article published 13 August 2010, by Zeev Avrahami:

OBERBACHEM (near Bonn), Germany:

According to German prosecutors [Samuel Kunz] was a monster ...who had participated in the murder of 434,000 people, 10 of whom, the authorities allege, were killed personally by Kunz in the Belzec death camp, where he was a guard from January 1942 until July 1943.

Kunz is probably the one with the mandolin.

[PERSONAL NOTE: My grandmother Chaie Lieblich, and uncle Moniek Lieblich, and possibly my grandfather Hersz (Zvy) Lieblich, were murdered at Belzec- maybe by the same Samuel Kunz. (My grandfather may have been killed in the streets of Rszesow, or in the Głogów Forest, also known as the Rudna Forest, outside the town, en route to the transport to Belzec.) - SL]

Samuel Kunz was born in 1921 in Russia, in a village on the Volga River. In World War II he was a soldier in the Red Army and was captured by the Wehrmacht. The Nazis gave him two options: incarceration in the POW camp at Chelm, or collaboration. After a few days in Chelm, where he saw the bodies of dozens of fellow prisoners being dragged out of the camp, Kunz volunteered to collaborate. He was sent to the SS training camp at Trawniki, along with some 5,000 other POWs (among them John Demjanjuk ). The trainees were subsequently assigned three missions: emptying the ghettos of their Jewish inmates, overseeing forced laborers or serving in death camps. Kunz became a guard in the Belzec death camp in occupied Poland.

He rose rapidly through the ranks and was involved in rousting Jews from the trains, pushing them into the gas chambers and evacuating the bodies to mass graves. His zealousness gained him an appointment as commander of other guards, a position that carried a higher salary and a significant improvement in food rations. But according to the indictment, Kunz, who did not deny that he was in Belzec, was no ordinary collaborator: In May 1943 he allegedly shot dead two Jews who tried to escape from the train. A month later, while seeing a guard shoot and wound eight Jews, he apparently grabbed the guard's pistol and shot and killed the eight as they lay on the ground.

At the end of 1943 - after nearly all the 1.8 million Jews who had lived in the region had been murdered - the camp at Belzec was shut down. Kunz was transferred to Flossenburg, a concentration camp in Bavaria, where he first met the guard John Demjanjuk. He was captured by the Americans and, beginning in the 1960s, testified in the trials of Nazi war criminals.

"We knew that Jews were being killed and we knew they were being burned," he stated at one trial. "We could smell it every day."

Finally, he moved to Bonn, received German citizenship and worked for the government as a carpenter in the Ministry of Construction until his retirement. Like many civil servants in the German government after the war - which was based in Bonn until the move to Berlin in the mid-1990s - Kunz saved his money until he could move to a leafy suburb, invest in real estate and disappear into the banality of assimilation. Time was on his side and work in his garden as a pensioner in Oberbachem was far removed from Belzec.

Belzec 'laboratory'
Toward the end of October 1941, the Germans had launched Operation Reinhard, which effectively began the implementation of the "Final Solution." In contrast to the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which functioned also as labor camps, the new facilities - Sobibor, Treblinka and Belzec - were intended for the mass murder of Jews and Roma. Belzec, the first to be opened, was a "laboratory," the model upon which the other camps were built and operated. The choice of its site embodied a logistical rationale: The Lublin district, in which the camp lay, was close to the Jewish population concentrations in Poland and Galicia, and the infrastructure for transporting them from Lvov, Krakow and Lublin was already in place.

The camp commandant was Christian Wirth, a colonel in the SS who had gained valuable experience in mass murder as one of those in charge of Aktion (Operation ) T-4, in which 70,000 Germans who suffered from mental or physical disabilities were murdered by lethal injection. The first killing method at Belzec was to load Jews onto trucks whose exhaust fumes led into the sealed cabin into which the inmates were crammed.

But Wirth wanted something more efficient: He built gas chambers, placed flower pots in them and had a huge Star of David painted on the roof of the building. He received the thousands of people transported to the camp every day in packed train cars with a fiery speech, on the ramp. Invariably, some of the Jews who thought Belzec would be an improvement on life in the ghetto cheered him. Wirth sent the inmates to be disinfected, and men and women were separated. They disrobed and handed their belongings to the guards; the women's hair was shaved and everyone was sent to the "showers."

Unlike other camps, hardly any witnesses emerged alive from Belzec; even those who survived until the camp's closure were afterward put to death in Sobibor. One of the few testimonies about what went on in the camp came from Kurt Gerstein, a German chemical engineer who joined the Waffen SS as head of the technical department involved in disinfection. Already during the war Gerstein secretly made available information about the camp, hoping to arouse the international community to take action, but no one lifted a finger.

Excerpts from Gerstein's testimony: "The guards pushed the Jews into the showers and reminded them before they entered to breathe deeply to ensure that the disinfection would be effective ... Eight-hundred people were crammed into a room of 93 square meters. Then Sergeant Hackenholt would start his Opel truck and the exhaust fumes were carried in pipes into the gas chambers ... Generally all the inmates were dead within half an hour ... You could know who the families were because they held hands and there was nowhere for them to fall ... Infants still lay on their mother's breast ... Then the guards would enter and kill anyone who had survived, and Jewish inmates evacuated the dead to a mass grave - not before looking for gold in the mouths of the dead."

Wirth even dubbed the structure the "Hackenholt Foundation." In the 15 months of its operation, 434,500 people were murdered there.

Third on the list
Samuel Kunz could have died peacefully at a ripe old age in a fine house, surrounded by a blossoming garden in a village nestled in a valley by the Rhine. Indeed, had he already died, he would have pulled off the biggest success of his life: selecting three years from his twenties and pressing the "delete" button. But in his case things took a different course. Among the thousands of documents transferred by the American authorities to Germany in connection with the extradition of John Demjanjuk were papers about one of the potential witnesses in the trial, a German citizen by the name of Samuel Kunz.

The German prosecutors who read the documents decided that Kunz deserved an indictment of his own. John Demjanjuk, Jr. also fanned the flames when he complained that the Germans were dragging a Ukrainian citizen - his father - across the Atlantic but were not bringing their own citizens to trial, even when clear evidence against them existed. Germany, he declared, was trying to purge itself of cases of mass murder.

Kunz denies the charge of having murdered 10 Jews, but the German prosecution maintains it has clear proof of his actions, backed up by testimonies from postwar trials held in the Soviet Union.

Thus, instead of dying peacefully in old age, Kunz, who is half deaf and has a heart pacer, opened the door to the police officers who scoured his home in search of evidence about his past. He and his wife complained in an interview to a local radio station that someone had sprayed the word "Murderer" on the wall of their home .

Kunz appears in third place on the annual list of the most-wanted Nazis drawn up by the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. No. 1 is Dr. Sandor Kepiro, a Hungarian officer accused of murdering 1,200 civilians in Novi Sad, Serbia, who lives in Budapest opposite a synagogue; No. 2 Milivoj Asner, the chief of the Slovenska Pozega police in Croatia, who played a key role in the persecution, deportation and subsequent deaths of thousands of Jews, Roma and Serbs, but whom the Austrian authorities refuse to extradite to Croatia for an assortment of reasons...

See this history of Belzec
For information about the trial follow this link (web site under construction).
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