BOWLING GREEN - Sixty years ago, German newspapers carried accounts of the Nuremberg war-crime trials written by a correspondent whose byline, Ernest Michel, was followed by the words, Auschwitz Survivor No. 104995.
Mr. Michel, now 82, told an audience at Bowling Green State University yesterday that he had to keep pinching himself to make sure he was really witnessing the prosecution of the Nazi leaders who had killed his family and controlled his destiny for the 5 1/2 years he spent in concentration and labor camps.
"Sometimes I lost myself," he said. "I wanted to jump down and grab them. Why did you do this? Why did you kill my parents?"
During the course of the trial he had the opportunity to meet with one of the 21 on trial, Hermann Goering, considered second in command to Adolf Hitler. Mr. Michel was told that Goering had read his stories and wanted to speak with him. He agreed to go to the Nazi leader's jail cell.
"Goering gets up and reaches out his hand and I asked myself, 'What am I doing here,'" Mr. Michel recalled. " I could not handle it. I went to the gate and asked the MP to let me out. Until this day, I have not regretted not having talked with that man."
Goering committed suicide in prison after being convicted and sentenced to die by hanging. Eleven others were hanged, six were given prison sentences, and three were acquitted and freed.
Mr. Michel, who was forced out of school in seventh grade and had no formal training as a journalist, called the Nuremberg trials "without any doubt the single most important [event] in my life."
Mr. Michel moved to the United States after the trials ended, became a U.S. citizen, and dedicated much of his life to public speaking and working with the United Jewish Appeal Federation, for which he is now vice president emeritus. He was telling his story yesterday as part of a four-day conference on the Holocaust.
He said he believes strongly in punishing those responsible for genocide.
"Genocide is a product of evil, hate, indifference, political inertia, and moral bankruptcy," he said. "I learned about it in Germany."
Asked what people can do, Mr. Michel said everyone has a responsibility to speak out, to write to members of Congress and others in power, and to vote.
Mr. Michel said he is not bitter about his experience as a young man in the Nazi camps, though he concedes he is in a minority of Holocaust survivors.
"I believe you cannot live with hate," he said, adding that he respects Germany today for recognizing and teaching its children about the Holocaust and for making reparations to the victims.
Asked what he thinks of those who deny the Holocaust ever happened, he said he has no time for such people. He has in the past been asked to debate a Holocaust denier and has steadfastly refused.
"I will never demean myself to do that," Mr. Michel said. "It's like saying the day is night. You cannot do that."
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