Reuters International

Holocaust survivor and former prisoner at Auschwitz death camp Leon Schwarzbaum poses for pictures before an interview in Berlin, Germany, March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

(reuters_tickers)

By Tina Bellon

JERUSALEM/YAD HANA, Israel (Reuters) - The death of a former Auschwitz guard days before his trial in Germany has dashed the hopes of two elderly Jewish survivors of Nazi rule who wanted to see justice for their parents, who perished while the guard was on duty at the death camp.

Israel Loewenstein, himself a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, and Henry Foner, a 83-year-old chemist, talked to Reuters at their homes in Israel a day before news of the death of Ernst Tremmel, the former guard, emerged.

They had hoped Tremmel would face justice late in his life.

"But then again we don't know if he would have even told the truth about Auschwitz - many of the accused don't, after all," Loewenstein told Reuters on Friday after learning of Tremmel's death.

German courts are hearing two other Auschwitz cases. The trials of 95-year-old Hubert Zafke, a former Auschwitz paramedic, and of 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning, a former guard at the death camp, have already started. Both have remained silent on the accusations so far.

"It's a good thing (Germany) is doing it, but it doesn't touch my heart somehow," Foner, who was evacuated from Germany to Britain with other Jewish children in 1939 as part of a Jewish initiative, said at his home in Jerusalem.

He had hoped to see justice done in the case of Tremmel, but said: "There can never be closure. Closure to me is meaningless - you can't get back what has been taken."

Tremmel was a member of the Nazi SS guard team at the death camp in occupied Poland from November 1942 to June 1943. His trial had been scheduled to start on April 13, but a court spokesman said on Thursday he had died at the age of 93.

Although Tremmel was not directly involved in the mass killings at Auschwitz, German prosecutors said he had helped in the murder of at least 1,075 people during his stint of some eight months at the death camp. They said he volunteered to join the SS and started working as an Auschwitz guard at the age of 19.

Tremmel's platoon was regularly charged with overseeing the camp's 'selection process', forming a human chain around the arriving deportation trains to prevent new arrivals from escaping before they were either selected for forced labour or sent off to be killed in the camp's gas chambers.

Loewenstein, who survived the Holocaust in various forced labour camps, remembered the selection process when he arrived at the death camp in March 1943, at the age of 18.

"We came to Auschwitz in the middle of the night after four days on a train without food," he recalled, speaking German at his home in Yad Hana, a former kibbutz in northern Israel.

"Suddenly, the doors were torn open, headlights were blazing, German shepherds were barking and we only heard the guards yell 'Get out! Get out!'"

From the group of 100 people Loewenstein arrived with in Auschwitz, only 17 survived.

Loewenstein's parents, Paula and Walter, as well as Max Lichtwitz, the father of Foner, arrived on the same deportation train from Berlin on Dec. 9, 1942. All three were selected to be killed and died in the death camp's gas chambers the next day.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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