Ernest Michel survived the Auschwitz death camp because of a calligraphy course he had taken at his father’s insistence. Having been expelled with other Jewish students from German public schools, he needed to develop a skill, his father had told him.
He did just that: His penmanship became flawless, and the Nazis put it to use at Auschwitz, sparing him from the gas chambers. They conscripted him in a cynical scheme to falsify the death certificates of his fellow inmates, hoping to hide the actual cause of death: extermination. That they enlisted a Jew to do their dissembling was doubly grievous.
Bad Nazis! They refused to put the real cause of death [extermination] on the Jewish death certificates. At the very least, the Nazis should have put “gassed to death with Zyklon-B” on the Jewish death certificates.
There might be some young people reading this, who do not know the meaning of the word penmanship, so I will attempt to explain it.
Back in the olden days, when your great-grandfather was in grammar school, students used to write in cursive handwriting with a fountain pen, or a pencil, on a piece of paper that had 3 lines on it to indicate where the top and the bottom of a cursive letter should go.
Good handwriting was the mark of an educated person, who had completed the eighth grade. For example, my mother completed the 8th grade at the age of 13. Her teacher was her 14 year old cousin, who had completed her 8th grade education the previous year. My father only went to school as far as the 4th grade; as an adult, he could neither read nor write.
Ernest Michael had been educated up to the sixth grade, and this saved his life because he was able to write in beautiful cursive handwriting.
The news article continues with this quote:
Mr. Michel (pronounced mish-ELL) died on May 7 in Manhattan at 92. [He was born in July 1923.] His account of mechanically forging the death certificates was one of many he would tell in his decades of bearing witness — in writing and public speaking — to the horrors he had observed beginning in 1936, when he was 13 and barred from public school by Nazi racial codes. He never received a formal education beyond the sixth grade.
He was barely 20 when he was given the writing task at Auschwitz. He was in the camp infirmary, being treated for a head wound inflicted by a prison guard during a beating, when an aide asked whether any of the inmates had good handwriting. Mr. Michel volunteered.
“It didn’t take me long to figure out what I was doing,” he wrote in his 1993 memoir, “Promises to Keep: One Man’s Journey Against Incredible Odds.”
“The list contained the names of those who were shipped to Birkenau and the gas chamber,” he wrote. “The Nazis, with their usual efficiency and attention to detail, kept records of all inmates sent to be gassed. Only nobody died being gassed to death. They all died by being ‘weak of the body’ – ‘Koerperschwaeche’ – or from ‘Herzschlag’ – ‘heart attack.’ ”
The following quote is also from the news article:
Mr. Michel had been put to work building a synthetic rubber plant [Monowitz?] when the beating occurred that sent him to the infirmary. He later became a medical aide there himself and saw Dr. Josef Mengele performing his horrific experiments on prisoners [at Monowitz?]
He was evacuated from the camp on Jan. 18, 1945, as Russian troops approached. It was on a forced march between camps a few weeks before the war ended that he and two other prisoners escaped.
Remaining in Germany immediately after the war, Mr. Michel covered the Nuremberg war crime trials for a German news agency. He insisted on the byline “Special Correspondent Ernst Michel, Auschwitz No. 104995,” the number that was branded on an arm. He sat not far from the defendants.
“There were times when I wanted nothing more than to jump up and grab them all by the throat,” he said.
Only one more quote from this news article, I am [literally] finished:
One day, a lawyer for Hermann Göring, the Luftwaffe commander and the founder of the Gestapo, said that Göring wanted to meet the correspondent who was a former concentration camp inmate.
“So we went to Göring’s cell and the door opened,” Mr. Michel recalled. “Göring smiled, came up to me and wanted to shake my hand. At that moment I suddenly froze. I couldn’t move. I looked at his hand, his face, and then his hand again — and then just turned round. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t speak to this man. Not one single word.”