Survivor of Nazi Sterilization Experiments Says $8,000 Isn’t Enough
Wed, 19 Nov 2003
Simon Rozenkier, now 75, a survivor of Nazi medical experiments has filed a lawsuit two German pharmaceutical giants, against Bayer and Schering, who supplied the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele with “experts” and the experimental drugs used to sterilize him.
Dr. Jay Lifton, author of “The Nazi Doctors” notes, “Certainly there was widespread sterilization and castration, and all this was part of a distorted racial vision that sought to destroy the capacity to reproduce in ostensibly inferior races and especially Jews.”
Simon Rozenkier bears living testimony to the ultimate goal of eugenics, a pseudoscience that has proven itself to be a front for deliberate ethnic and racial extinction. He said his life was spared because the Nazi doctors thought he had unusual genes inasmuch as he had reddish blond hair–supposedly an Aryan feature. His family, including his 3 sisters and brother were not spared, and the experiments rendered him incapable of producing children of his own.
Mr. Rozenkier, is suing Bayer and Schering because “records show that doctors from Schering participated in the sterilization work at Birkenau and other camps, while drugs Bayer developed were used in sterilizations.”
He is challenging the flat $8,000 compensation fee provided by a foundation administering a fund for Holocaust survivors: “How can we give someone who had been subjected to the worst kinds of atrocities imaginable” the same amount as somebody who suffered less permanent damage? There is something dehumanizing about disregarding individual loss.
Additionally, Mr. Rozenkier hopes, through the lawsuit, to compel Bayer and Schering to disclose which chemicals were injected into him.
Lawyers for the German pharmaceuticals and the US State Department are seeking to have the case dismissed.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Survivor of Nazi Experiments Says $8,000 Isn’t Enough
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: November 19, 2003
The medical experiments that Simon Rozenkier says he saw and experienced in Nazi concentration camps strain the imagination.
He saw a hunchback whose hump had been cut off by Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor. He said Dr. Mengele had thrown a Jewish man into a bath of ice and let him freeze to death, in a study intended to help Nazi pilots survive when they were shot down over icy seas.
Mr. Rozenkier, a native of Poland who emigrated to New York in 1947, said he saw Nazi doctors administer intense X-rays to the genitalia of Jews and Gypsies to sterilize them. And he vividly recalled how a Nazi doctor, Horst Schumann, had repeatedly injected him with chemicals — he was told they were vitamin supplements — to sterilize him, all part of a Nazi effort to perfect ways to keep Jews from reproducing.
“They told me, `These shots will give you muscles to work,’ ” he said. ” `Do you understand that, you redheaded dog?’ ”
When Mr. Rozenkier and his wife encountered problems having children in the early 1950’s, he contacted the German consulate in New York. Officials there sent him to a doctor who determined that he was sterile, confirming his own doctor’s findings.
This year, Mr. Rozenkier filed a lawsuit accusing two German pharmaceutical giants, Bayer and Schering, of providing experts and drugs to Dr. Mengele and other Nazi doctors for sterilizations.
“What they did to me is beyond right and wrong,” said Mr. Rozenkier, who lost his parents and four siblings in the Holocaust. “They should be punished.”
His lawsuit, in Federal District Court in Newark, has created a legal and diplomatic tempest because the German government and German companies insist that there is no place for such litigation now. They point to a 2000 agreement between the United States and Germany that created a $5 billion fund to compensate Nazi slave laborers and victims of medical experiments.
German officials and companies say the fund was created partly to prevent lawsuits like Mr. Rozenkier’s, which are difficult to litigate and which embarrass the Germans with details about past Nazi horrors.
Mr. Rozenkier, who lives on Staten Island, said that his lawsuit was warranted despite the agreement because, in his view, the $8,000 that the fund awarded him was woefully inadequate. The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount. He further argued that the German foundation that administers the fund had violated the agreement by capping awards to the victims of medical experiments and not individually judging how much each victim should receive.
But Roger Witten, an American lawyer representing Bayer and Schering, said Mr. Rozenkier’s lawsuit should be dismissed. “Everybody feels sympathy for the plaintiff here,” Mr. Witten said. “These are all people who went through horrible things.” But he said creation of the fund should have ended these cases in American courts.
In the agreement, the American government promised that in suits brought in federal court, it would urge the judge to dismiss the cases if there were valid legal reasons for doing so. The government would do so without taking a position on the merits of the complaints.
“The U.S. side embraced the idea of legal peace for German companies,” Mr. Witten said. “This was not just in the interests of German companies and Germany, but also in the foreign policy interests of the United States for German companies to be able to put this behind them.”
A State Department official said last week that the department would file a statement recommending that the judge in New Jersey dismiss the case if there were any valid legal grounds to do so.
Mr. Rozenkier’s lawyer, Carey D’Avino, said, “The State Department apparently plans to file a statement with the court for diplomatic reasons, but the U.S. shouldn’t file such a statement because the Germans have failed to live up to the letter and spirit of the agreement and failed to live up to their side of the bargain.”
Experts on Holocaust claims disagree about how the federal courts should treat Mr. Rozenkier’s case.
Stuart E. Eizenstat, a former deputy treasury secretary who had helped negotiate the agreement with Germany, said the suit should be dismissed. “If the plaintiff were correct in this case,” he said, “it would undercut the entire thrust of the German settlement, which is to put an overall cap on claims, to create a quick claims mechanism and to avoid individualized hearings.”
But Lawrence Kill, a New York lawyer who had signed the agreement after representing former slave laborers who sued Germany, said Mr. Rozenkier’s case should be allowed to go forward because the Germans had apparently violated the agreement. “A side letter to the agreement called for individual consideration as to the amount medical victims are entitled to,” Mr. Kill said. “How can we give someone who was subject to some of the worst kinds of atrocities imaginable the same as somebody else who might have had a toenail removed in a Nazi experiment?”
Mr. Rozenkier said the sterilization shots he had received caused his genitalia to swell and bleed and caused wrenching pain for days. The shots also caused a more lasting anguish. “After the war,” he said, “when I finally got in touch with my brother, Aaron, who had escaped to Russia, he said: `I hope you’re going to have a big family. Look what we lost.’ I said, `O.K., we’ll have a family.’ But it never happened.”
He pulled out an old picture of his brother as a lieutenant in the Soviet Army. Then, choking up, he showed a prewar picture of three primly dressed sisters and a brother, all under 12 at the time. All four died in the war.
After immigrating to New York, Mr. Rozenkier served in the Korean War, earning two Bronze Stars, and then spent 20 years working in Manhattan’s garment district. After the war, he and his wife, Joan, were often invited to reunions of death camp survivors.
“I felt like a jackass,” he said. “I’d go there, and they all had three or four kids and I didn’t have any. I was walking around like an outcast.”
Monographs by Nazi doctors and numerous books and treatises have described the sterilization work at labs run by Dr. Mengele and others. Chemicals were injected into the uterus of hundreds of Jewish and Gypsy women, causing blockages in their fallopian tubes that rendered them sterile. The Nazi doctors also X-rayed male inmates to sterilize them, but the X-rays often killed the men or caused such severe burns that they became unfit for work. Mr. Rozenkier said that this must have led the Nazis to begin experimenting with chemical sterilization on men.
Mr. Rozenkier was one of several thousand victims who survived the experiments. “Certainly there was widespread sterilization and castration, and all this was part of a distorted racial vision that sought to destroy the capacity to reproduce in ostensibly inferior races and especially Jews,” said Robert Jay Lifton, author of “The Nazi Doctors.” Mr. Rozenkier was born in Wroclawek, Poland, 75 years ago. In September 1939, soon after Hitler invaded Poland, German soldiers pounded on his family’s apartment door to arrest Mr. Rozenkier’s father. When his oldest sister, Helena, stepped outside to protest, a soldier shot her to death.
Wroclawek’s Jews were sent to a ghetto on the outskirts of town. Mr. Rozenkier escaped, and for several months slept in a cemetery next to an aunt’s grave.
He was arrested when he was 14 and sent to a work camp. There, he loaded sand, nearly died of typhus and was eventually assigned the job of carting away hundreds of Jews who had died of typhus.
One day while transporting the dead he visited a Polish family to beg for potatoes. German soldiers seized him and planned to hang him, but he was spared because the commander of a nearby women’s work camp put in a good word for him. Breaking into tears, he said: “My sister, Leah, worked for that commander. She was his cook. But she sold her body to him to save my life.”
After more than a year in work camps, he was shipped to Auschwitz in a crammed cattle car. He was tattooed with the number 143511 and assigned to a nearby work camp that made synthetic rubber. One day, an associate of Dr. Mengele saw him and had him sent to the nearby Birkenau camp for experiments.
With reddish-blond hair that made him look less Jewish, Mr. Rozenkier said, he was spared from the gas chamber because the Nazi doctors thought he had unusual genes. He said, “They were trying to figure out why this Jew got red hair.”
At Birkenau, while many were starving around him, Mr. Rozenkier was fed an ample diet of buckwheat to help him survive the experiments.
“Sometimes they even gave us chocolate — can you believe it? Chocolate,” he said.
“Mengele didn’t give a damn if I live or die,” he continued. “Sometimes he gave people a piece of chocolate, and the next minute he shoots them in the head.”
After Mr. Rozenkier survived the sterilization shots, a doctor who took a liking to him arranged for him to work in a coal mine. From there, he joined the infamous death march to Buchenwald in which the Nazis shot hundreds of stragglers. He was in Buchenwald when American troops liberated it.
Had he known that he was sterile, he said: “I never would have married my wife. It’s not fair to her. She’s entitled to have children.” They adopted a daughter, Allison, who is now 35.
Mr. Rozenkier is seeking money from Schering and Bayer, which was then a division of I. G. Farben, because records show that doctors from Schering participated in the sterilization work at Birkenau and other camps, while drugs Bayer developed were used in sterilizations. His lawsuit also wants the companies to disclose which chemicals were injected into him.
In his eyes, the lawsuit is a way to achieve justice. He says he will donate any money he wins to Israel.
Like many Holocaust survivors, Mr. Rozenkier feels uneasy that he lived while so many family members and other Jews perished. “I’m the only one who suffers right now because I should have been with them,” he said. “I feel guilty.”