Friday, May 1, 2009

Survivor of Nazi Experiments tells Story at Miami Dade College

" ... my life had less value than a fly ... ''

Apr. 19, 2009

Sixty-five years ago, Isaac Klein was singled out by the Nazis because he was a twin.

Klein became a guinea pig for Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi physician at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The 13-year-old and his brother, Tzvi, were poked, prodded and put under the knife in a series of experiments intended to teach the Nazis how to increase their own population -- with twins.

''I don't exactly know what he did,'' said Klein, now 78 and a Miami Beach retiree who volunteers with the Holocaust Memorial by talking about his experiences in the concentration camps. ``I remember the pain but I don't know what happened.''

Klein visited the Homestead campus of Miami Dade College on Monday to share his story with the college's nursing students and 140 eighth-graders from Keys Gate Charter School.

He was one of four speakers who discussed biomedical ethics issues arising from now-discredited scientific experiments that harmed blacks in Tuskegee, Ala., Jews in Nazi concentration camps and Chinese prisoners of war held by the Japanese during World War II.

Klein's speech comes days before Tuesday's Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day that commemorates the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Klein said he is driven to teach others the story of his suffering so that young people will understand and prevent future atrocities like the ones he witnessed as a teenager.

''Mengele was in charge of medical experiments and the transport,'' Klein said. ``He decided who died right away and who lived for a while. I want people to know what he did.''

Jeff Demsky, an assistant professor of history at Miami Dade College, told the audience of more than 200 people, that Mengele wanted to uncover the secret of identical twins so he could double the Nazi population.

Among his methods: Surgery without anesthesia, organ removal and castration.

Klein said Mengele would also try to change the color of people's eyes by injecting dye into their eyes.

Another experiment: Make one twin sick and see how long it would take to make the other one ill, too.

''It's still very hard for me to accept that I suffered, that my life had less value than a fly,''

Klein said.

According to Demsky, Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, died in Brazil in 1979 at age 67 after decades of hiding in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

Klein is not convinced.

''I have clippings that say Mengele was seen in South America after his death,'' he said.

As for Klein, he keeps busy by going to classrooms throughout Miami-Dade to talk about the Holocaust.

He was born in 1931 to a family of farmers in Sotomor, Czechoslovakia.

In 1944, he and his family were rounded up and placed into a ghetto by the Hungarian militia and the Nazis. He was forced to perform hard labor, such as building roads.

Later, he and his brother were separated from their parents when the Nazis shoved them into a cattle car without food, water or sanitation.

Their destination: Auschwitz, a concentration camp the Germans built in Poland.

Klein and his brother later went to Mengele's clinic in Birkenau, a camp three miles from Auschwitz, where he saw the physician at least once a week -- for 10 months.

''During my stay in the camp, mentally I was dead,'' he said.

When asked why he survived, Klein said he had no easy answer to the question.

He surrendered to the experience and did everything he could do to survive, said Klein's son, Neal, who is working on a memoir about his father.

Afterwards, the Nazis marched Klein to three separate camps in Austria until the U.S. Army liberated him and other Jews in 1945. He returned to Sotomor, only to be told by his father's employees that it wasn't safe to stay there.

When he made his way to Palestine -- now Israel -- in 1946, the British rammed the boat he was on and later detained him in a camp in Haifa.

He eventually settled in Israel for 16 years, working in various branches of the military.

In 1962, Klein came to the United States. By 1969, he settled in Miami Beach, where he worked as a handyman.

''For 10 years after the Liberation, I did not talk about the Holocaust,'' said Klein, who will attend a Yom HaShoah ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial on Tuesday.

''The more I talk, the better I feel. That was God's purpose -- to save me and for me to talk,'' he said.

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