My twin sister and I were used in medical experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.
We were the only Jewish family in the village of Portz in Transylvania, which was passed back and forth between Romania and Hungary. When I was six years old, Hungarian gendarmes took over our village. From that point on, we faced increasing persecution. In the spring of 1944, we were taken from our home to a regional ghetto. It was a miserable experience. Finally, we were forced into a packed cattle car, bound for Auschwitz.
Miriam and I had no control over the Auschwitz experiments: what they put into us, what they removed, or how they treated us. The camp was the laboratory for any experiments the Nazi scientists wanted to do. It was open season on twins and other human guinea pigs like us.
I was treated like a nobody and a nothing — just a mass of cells to be studied
On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we were taken to the observation lab, where we sat for hours, naked. They measured my body parts, comparing them with my twin sister's, and then comparing them with charts. They were trying to design a new Aryan race. These particular experiments were not dangerous, but they were unbelievably demeaning. I had difficulty coping with the fact that I was treated like a nobody and a nothing — just a mass of cells to be studied.
On the other days we would be taken to another lab, where they would take blood from my left arm and give me several injections in my right arm. Those days were the deadly ones.
Of an estimated 3,000 twin "guinea pigs," only about 200 survived
Mengele had 1,500 sets of twins in Auschwitz, according to the Auschwitz Museum. There were only about 200 individual survivors. The consensus among historians is that most died in the experiments, and I agree. Dying in Mengele's lab was very easy. There's a reason he was called the Angel of Death.
Years after we had survived, Miriam and I found 122 "Mengele twins" living in 10 countries across four continents. We had a meeting in Jerusalem in February of 1985.
What I found out was that there were many, many other experiments. Most of them were attempts to make blue-eyed blondes in multiple numbers, germ warfare experiments, and so on. Many twins who did not have blue eyes had something injected into their eyes. (Luckily, Miriam and I had blue eyes.)
Mengele was especially interested in kidneys. He suffered from renal problems when he was a teenager, which kept him out of school three or four months, according to his SS file. He was deeply interested in the way the kidneys worked. I know of three cases in which twins developed severe kidney infections that did not respond to antibiotics.
If one twin died, Mengele would have the other killed and then do comparative autopsies.
I nearly died from what they did to me
After one of the injections, I became very ill with a very high fever. My arms and legs were swollen, and I had red spots all over my body. Maybe it was spotted fever; I don't know. Nobody ever diagnosed it.
Mengele looked at my fever chart, laughed sarcastically, and declared, "Too bad, she's so young — she has only two weeks to live." At that time, I knew he was right: I was very ill. But I refused to die. I made a silent pledge: "I will prove Mengele wrong. I will survive, and I will be reunited with Miriam."
For the next two weeks I was between life and death. I have only one memory: crawling on the barrack floor, because I no longer could walk. There was a faucet on the other end of the barrack. As I crawled, I would fade in and out of consciousness. I just kept thinking, I must survive. I must survive. After two weeks my fever broke, and I immediately felt a lot stronger. It took another three weeks before my fever chart showed normal and I was released from the barrack of the living dead and reunited with Miriam. That event — surviving whatever I was injected with — serves as a very big source of strength to me.
Escaping Auschwitz was impossible
People often ask me, "Why didn't you run away?" Those people know very little about Auschwitz. The whole camp was surrounded by barbed wire, which would electrocute you if you touched it. Before you got to the high-voltage fence, there was a ditch filled with water. So as you approached the fence your hands were damp, and you would be immediately electrocuted.
And at age 10, even if I managed to get out, where would I go? Maybe I could have succeeded in running away when we were marched from Birkenau to Auschwitz for some of the experiments. But as far as I could see when we were marching, that was all a military zone.
I made a silent pledge: "I will prove Mengele wrong. I will survive, and I will be reunited with Miriam."
And of course when someone escaped and they turned on the sirens, we would have to stand for roll call for two to four hours until the person was found dead or alive. If the person was found alive, he would be hanged in front of us. If found dead, the escapee's body would be brought in front of the group. The lesson was very clear: nobody escapes from Auschwitz.
So escaping was very far from my mind. What I thought about every day was how to live one more day, how to survive one more experiment.
How my time in Auschwitz gives me strength
When my son had cancer, I couldn't get him to accept the fact that he had to make the choice to fight for his life. No one else could do it for him. I repeated to him the story of my survival in Auschwitz. I said, "Alex, when I was in Auschwitz, the doctors who were around me wanted me dead. I made the decision that I would live. Can you make that decision?" He got mad at me and hung up the phone. He wasn't ready to deal with it.
But he called me back two days later. Alex said, "Mom, I think I understand it. This is my Auschwitz. This is my struggle that I need to survive." If the person who is suffering from cancer doesn't even want to make the decision to live, no one can help him. My son is alive today.
The fact that I have overcome so much adversity in my life helps me have hope during tough times. If I could survive Auschwitz, if I could survive crawling on the barrack floor between life and death, I could probably survive anything. I also like the fact that people who hear me speak can feel inspired. They see that I could do it, and they realize they can overcome whatever they are trying to overcome, too. That is helpful to realize, that maybe each of us can help others overcome by sharing our stories.