Fourteen-year-old Jona Laks was on her way to her death and the crematorium at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 when a Nazi doctor found out she was a twin.
Instead of being murdered minutes later, according to testimony she gave to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, Ms. Laks endured inhumane medical experiments with her twin sister, Miriam, at the hands of Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor known as the “Angel of Death.” Dr. Mengele specifically focused his experiments, including surgeries and injections, on Jewish twin children, gypsies and others, treating them “like lab animals,” she told the assembly.
Ms. Laks, now 89, will tell her story on Sunday, August 4, at 3 p.m. at the East Hampton Library, in a talk called “Jona Laks: A Surviving, Living, and Thriving Force of Mengele’s Experiments.” The talk is sponsored by the Chabad of the Hamptons in East Hampton.
“I have to remind our people to speak up and not let the world forget,” Ms. Laks said, speaking from Israel, in a phone interview on Monday. “It is important for each survivor to tell his or her story … and pass it over to the next generations so that no one forgets what was done, especially to the Jewish population, by the Nazis who actually meant to wipe out the existence of the Jewish people.”
Indeed, during World War II, 6 million Jews were brutally murdered by Nazis across Europe. By 1945, as part of the “Final Solution,” the Nazis had killed almost two out of every three European Jews, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Ms. Laks, who lives in Tel Aviv, was just 9 years old when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis invaded Poland, where she and her family lived in the Jewish community of Lodz. In her testimony to the U.N., she recalled that she and her twin sister — who just recently died — as well as her older sister, Chana, were deported to Auschwitz from the Lodz Ghetto, which by 1944, had the most Jews in Eastern Europe.
Asked how she held on to hope during her time in Auschwitz, Ms. Laks indicated that at the time, she couldn’t think about any moment but the present one. “The will to live is so much stronger than the will to die,” she said. “We weren’t occupied about the future, since we lived in constant fear, and every moment was its own struggle for survival.” In her testimony to the U.N., Ms. Laks recounted that their limbs were constantly measured, sight and hearing tested, wounds purposefully infected, “big quantities of blood” taken, and more.
During the interview, Ms. Laks’s voice sounded strong and purposeful. She explained authoritatively that the Torah is unique in that it is a biblical text that encourages remembrance. It calls the Jewish people to remember: remember their past experiences, their history and specifically, that they were once slaves in Egypt. “Every Jew actually has to see himself as if he or she was in Auschwitz and came out of or did not come out,” Ms. Laks said. “That memory is so important … it certainly must be talked about, learned from it, and see what can be done to change things for the sake of the entire world.”
That means more than just remembering these atrocities on their yearly anniversaries and formal recognition days, but speaking and teaching about them often.
“We talk about it then, but in truth, it’s really something that’s not affixed to a date,” said Goldie Baumgarten, co-director of the Chabad of the Hamptons, of the Holocaust. “We all have to make sure that people are very much aware of what’s going on and what went on and how to prevent those things.
“It’s amazing how these people come through so strong,” she added.
For more information on Ms. Laks’s talk, which will be held at the East Hampton Library at 159 Main Street, visit chabadofthehamptons.com. There will not be a formal question-and-answer session after the talk; contact the Chabad of the Hamptons ahead of time with specific questions