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Auschwitz survivor who testified against Adolf Eichmann dies at 91

An elderly man wearing a skullcap speaks with a woman seated across from him as another woman stands next to him.
Holocaust survivor Joseph Zalman Kleinman prepares for his second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in January 2021.
(Associated Press)

Joseph Zalman Kleinman, who survived the Auschwitz death camp during the Holocaust and testified against Adolf Eichmann in the Nazi commander’s trial in Jerusalem, died Tuesday, Israeli media reported. He was 91.

The cause of death was not immediately released. Kleinman was one of fewer than 180,000 remaining Holocaust survivors in Israel.

Kleinman was born in Slovakia in January 1930 and was deported by Nazi Germany to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau when he was 14. His parents and sister were killed at Auschwitz, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps in occupied Poland.

“In the summer of 1944, 3,000 young men aged 14 to 16 were gathered at Auschwitz ... in tough conditions, acute starvation. We were there the whole summer, and then at the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah [Jewish High Holidays], nearly everyone was exterminated,” he later explained.

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Eichmann, one of Nazi Germany’s main organizers of the Holocaust, was captured by Israeli Mossad agents outside Buenos Aires in 1960. He was put on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 and found guilty of crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and war crimes. He was executed the following year.

During the trial, Kleinman testified about the conditions at Auschwitz and told of how he avoided being executed despite orders by Josef Mengele, the Nazi officer and physician known as the “Angel of Death.”

After American forces liberated him from a concentration camp near Dachau, Germany, Kleinman rode “an enormous train, with two large locomotives pulling it, that started moving southwards” through Europe, he later told archivists at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

“At every train station, Italians would alight from the train, returning to homes they hadn’t seen in years. All the townspeople waited for this train with refreshments, here and there even a welcoming orchestra. Every station, people would get off, but for us Jews — no one was waiting for us.”

Kleinman immigrated to Israel after the war.

This year, he spoke to the Associated Press after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine doses. He recounted that he came into repeated contact with disease during his time at Auschwitz and at camps for the internally displaced as the war was coming to an end.

Kleinman encouraged others to get the vaccine: “Don’t neglect this thing. It must be done, and the fact is it saves people,” he said.


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