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January 14, 2011

“How I escaped from the gas chamber” and other lies told by Irene Zisblatt

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust, movies — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:12 am

Last night, I watched a new documentary entitled The Last Days of the Big Lie which you can see on the Internet here.  The title is a spoof of Steven Spielberg’s Academy award winning documentary entitled The Last Days.

Irene Zisblatt is prominently featured in the new documentary, as she tells the story of how she escaped from a gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Remarkably, Irene tells her story without showing any emotion.  If I had narrowly escaped from a gas chamber, I would not be able to tell the story without crying like John Boehner.   Irene shows no hatred of the people who persecuted her, nor does she even blame them; she exhibits no emotion at all.

For 50 years, Irene kept quiet about her time in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but in 1994, after Steven Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List came out, she decided to tell her story. In 1995, she was interviewed for 3 hours by Jennifer Resnick while her testimony was videotaped for Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. Part of this interview is shown in the new documentary.

As a result of her Shoah interview, Irene was chosen as one of five Hungarian survivors to be featured in Spielberg’s documentary, The Last Days, which was released in 1998. A book, also entitled The Last Days, was published in 1999.  I saw the movie and also bought the book.

Irene Zisblatt points to the spot where her tattoo was removed by Dr. Mengele

The photo above shows Irene Zisblatt in 2009, as she addresses students from Fairland High School, telling them about what happened to her at Birkenau and other Nazi camps. She is pointing to the spot under her arm where her tattoo was removed in an experiment done by Dr. Josef Mengele.

Other survivors of the Holocaust had numbers tattooed on their left forearm, but not Irene.  She was tattooed under her arm, like the SS men who were tattooed with their blood type.   Dr. Mengele himself did not have an SS blood type tattoo, so why was he concerned with ways to remove a tattoo?

Irene Zisblatt wrote a book, published in 2008, entitled The Fifth Diamond. The title refers to a necklace with four diamonds, set into a pendant, that she wears around her neck when she speaks to American school children about the Holocaust. As a survivor, Irene is the Fifth Diamond.

In the documentary The Last Days, Irene tells about how her mother gave her the diamonds before the family was sent to the Auschwitz death camp. She managed to keep them through all the time that she was in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and on a death march out of another camp, by swallowing them before being searched, excreting them, cleaning them and then swallowing them again. She said in her Shoah interview that she sometimes cleaned her diamonds “in the soup we were going to get.”

In the documentary, we hear Irene tell about why her mother gave her the diamonds.  Her mother told Irene that she might need them to bribe someone for bread so that she would not starve to death.  Apparently Irene never went hungry in the camp and she was able to keep all of her diamonds.  How were the rest of the family members planning to survive if Irene had all the diamonds?  Irene does not explain this.

Irene was from the small resort town of Polena in the Carpathian mountains; when Irene was a child, Polena was in Hungary. There were 62 Jewish families in the town; her father owned a business, but they had no electricity in their house, according to Irene. This was not unusual in those days; many towns in Eastern Europe had no running water and no electricity.  Irene now lives in a nice house in Florida, where her interview for the Shoah Foundation was filmed.

After Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, Irene and her family were put into the Miskolc ghetto. Irene was 13 years old when she was put on a train from the Miskolc ghetto to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp during the deportation of the Hungarian Jews in May 1944. She says that she was immediately separated from her family and she was the only one of her 40 family members to survive the gas chambers.

According to her story in the book entitled The Last Days, Irene’s father was born in 1908, so he was 36 years old in 1944, young enough to be selected for work at Birkenau. In the selections upon arrival at Birkenau, everyone older than 45 or younger than 15, was sent immediately to the gas chamber. Irene says that her entire family was gassed in Gas Chamber #2 on the day that they arrived, including her parents who were of working age.

Remarkably, Irene was not gassed, along with the rest of her family members, even though she was only 13 years old at that time.

Jews getting off a train at Birkenau in 1944

The photo above is from the Auschwitz Album, a series of photographs taken by the Germans in May 1944.  In the background, one can see the chimney of Krema II on the left side.  Krema III is shown on the right side, about one inch from the edge of the photo.  Krema III is also shown in the photo below. Note the ten-foot-high fence around the building and the railroad tracks just outside the fence.  In her Shoah interview, Irene Zisblatt claimed that she was thrown over the fence around Krema III and into an open railroad car.

Crematorium III (Krema III) at Birkeanau, 1944

Fence inside Birkenau divides sections of the camp

The photo above was taken by me in 2005; it shows how the fence posts curve over and barbed wire is strung over the top of the posts.

In her story of her escape from the gas chamber, Irene says that, when she was taken to the gas chamber, the room was full and she got stuck in the door.  An SS man had to fling her out of the doorway in order to shut the door.

Irene hid in the rafters until a young boy came to rescue her.  He wrapped her in a blanket and threw her over the fence around Crematorium III, into an open railroad car that was waiting on the tracks.  The train was bound for the Neuengamme camp where prisoners were being sent to work in a factory.

There are no open railroad cars shown in the photos taken in 1944 at Birkenau, but there were open cars on the “Death Train” at Dachau, which are shown in the photo below.

Open railroad cars on the “Death Train” at Dachau

Irene says that she was around 4 feet tall and weighed 60 lbs. at the time that she was thrown over the 10 ft. fence into a railroad car.  This would have been quite a feat, but not necessarily impossible.

Could Irene’s story of her escape from the gas chamber possibly be true?  I don’t think so, and here’s why:  When prisoners were taken to the gas chamber at Birkenau, they entered through the undressing room, where they took off their clothes.  Irene says that she was naked when she got stuck in the gas chamber door, but she does not mention that she entered through the undressing room.  If there were too many prisoners taken to the gas chamber that day, Irene would have been stuck in the door into the undressing room, not in the gas chamber door.  The photo below shows a model of the gas chambers at Birkenau.

Model of Krema II at Birkenau

In the photo above, the undressing room is on the left and the gas chamber is on the right.  The photo at the bottom of the picture shows the cremation ovens that were on the ground floor. The Sonderkommando prisoners, who carried the bodies out of the gas chamber for burning, lived in the attic space above the ovens.

In her video taped Shoah interview, Zisblatt told about being selected for an inspection by Ilse Koch who was looking for “unblemished skin” in order to make leather lampshades. Ilse Koch was the infamous wife of Karl Otto Koch, the Commandant of Buchenwald. Zisblatt and several other girls were allegedly sent on a train to the Maidanek camp in Lublin where Ilse Koch was expected to arrive, but she never made it.

So what’s wrong with this story?  Ilse Koch wanted tattooed skin for her lampshades, not the unblemished skin of a teenaged girl.  There were plenty of criminals at Buchenwald who had tats, and she didn’t need to go all the way to Poland to find subjects for her lampshades.

Irene pronounced the name Koch like a native German speaker; she also referred to the Majdanek camp as Maidanek, the German name.

You can hear more of Zisblatt’s incredible lies here.

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