He published two collections of poems on the theme of the Shoah, "Hamvasztókönyv" (literally "Book of Incineration", 1995) and "Fogság" ("Captivity", 1997).
Lives in Riverdale, NY with his wife and four children.
The actor had come to the Los Angeles Film Festival together with the film's director. After the screening, a member of the audience came up to Röhrig and asked him whether he would like to meet a real former member of the Sonderkommando. "There's one who lives several blocks from here," the man said. "Of course I want to meet him," Röhrig replied. Soon he was sitting with Dario Gabbai, who was deported with his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Of the appr. 2200 prisoners who were forced to work in the Auschwitz Sonderkommando, only about 90 to 110 survived the war. The Nazis usually killed most of them after a few months because they were eyewitnesses to the genocide, and would then replace them with new arrivals. Gabbai is believed to be the last remaining today. [Haaretz 2016].
In February 2016, the New Yorker reported that before, during, and after filming Son of Saul, Géza Röhrig was employed as a shomer in a funeral home in Manhattan. In Jewish funereal ritual, a shomer is a person who sits with a body so that it is not left alone before a funeral; Röhrig's job also included participating in the ritual washing of the bodies before burial. The article said that when Röhrig started this job (in 2001), his salary was $10.00 an hour.
Personal Quotes (33)
But it wasn't God who rounded up the Jews and the Gypsies and the Soviet PoWs and the gays and the perfectly German mental patients and the perfectly German midgets and slaughtered them. We did it. The human family did it. I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage. But I would not be able to get up from my bed in the morning, let alone pray, if I didn't fully believe that God somehow was there holding the hands of each and every Jew in the gas chamber - each and every Tutsi, Armenian, Kurd, Israeli, Palestinian who suffers unjustly. 
I just needed someone to talk to. I think there is a side of us that we can't share even with the ones we love, and that side has to be aired. It has to be communicated. So I talk to somebody. And I call that somebody God. 
I gave up thinking that society is anything other than an abstraction long ago. You have different societies in every country. But whichever group you belong to, you're never exempt from taking a side when it comes to crimes against humanity. That's true in Syria and America and Israel and everywhere. Every day, we all have to make a case-by-case evaluation: is this an important enough demonstration to go on? Is this where I should send my money? Is this a petition I should sign? I do not believe in living in an apolitical ivory tower. One of the lessons of 1944 lies with the bystanders - we can't just let things happen. 
Consumer society targets your senses and threatens thinking entirely. 'Why aren't you laughing? There is so much fun! Why don't you try this cake or that Coke?' 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] I am not [the character] Saul. But I know that as a member of the Sonderkommando, he's as much a victim as anyone else, if not more so. He's been dehumanized by his circumstances, as has everyone else there. He doesn't know all of what is going on; he's just struggling to survive. 
I went to Auschwitz as a student in 1988, before the fall of the Soviet Union. It was a quiet place, not much changed from how it had been. You could really think about what happened there. I went back recently, and it has really changed. There are tour buses parked out front, and Coke being sold in automats (vending machines). Inside there are people running around, taking selfies and listening to music on headphones. I think it's wrong. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] Laszlo [director László Nemes] and I didn't want to make just another film about the Holocaust, the kind that is often told about survivors. For the vast majority, it wasn't about surviving. 
[on Son of Saul (2015) and films about the Holocaust] I would assume there are at least a thousand or more documentary and films done about this subject, and yet the cinematographer [Mátyás Erdély], László [director László Nemes] and I, when we sat down first together, we just shared this sense of frustration and even disappointment with the genre, which by and large I would simply label as unsuccessful if we're talking about witnessing and, importantly, testifying for the Holocaust. (...) These movies mostly are focusing on the survivor and/or the rescuer, while the historical truth is that two out of three Jews were murdered in the Holocaust in Europe. Why are all these movies concentrating only on the lucky third? There should be movies that are done about the overwhelming majority. Every single survival was due to a systematic error. No one was allowed to survive, so we're not being fair and serving justice for the dead if we keep telling these narratives about how x, y or z made it through. (...) ...we meticulously paid attention to detail so that we wouldn't deviate from the historical accuracy of what these camps looked like and how they operated. We had to in order to properly testify. As we talked about at the start of this conversation, we saw so many movies like Life Is Beautiful (1997), for instance, and others, which we thought were outrageously fictionalized. When Roberto Benigni comes to the microphone and sends some sort of love message to the woman's side of the camp, it's just - I don't even need to comment on how ridiculous that is. It could be fair if there was no real Auschwitz, but with so many people being murdered there, I think it's really borderline, not even ridiculous, it's just inappropriate and insulting. We had experts to help us with everything, even the language. There is another movie called The Grey Zone (2001) by Tim Blake Nelson, and that's the only feature movie I know that was trying to talk about the Sonderkommando, but it lost me in the first second of the movie when they started to talk in English. In Auschwitz, there were 18 languages, but English was not one of them. (...) If you really wanted to do as much as possible in every way - the uniforms, the clothing, the set design - you have to be accurate. It's the only way to properly testify and remember. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] We want to let the world know that this extremely cold-minded, suffocating system basically was interested in one thing: How can we kill the most Jews with the involvement of the least Germans? How can we disassociate from our actions so that the actual murderers are both physically and psychologically removed from the outcome of their deeds? The Red Cross ambulance car was driven by a Jew, the Nazi came out in a well-ironed uniform, put a gas mask on, got the poison and threw it out into the hall and then left. He didn't have to face the screaming, he didn't have to deal with the stench of opening the door of the gas chamber, he didn't have to take the golden teeth out, burn the hair, cut the bodies, pulverize the pelvis bone. The whole thing, the dirty work so to speak, was left to the Jews. I think it's a tremendously important thing to show to the world now for two reasons: One is because the survivors are dying, so we're losing the living link to what happened, and I think the awareness of the Holocaust might fade in the coming decade. That would be tragic, not because it's a parochial Jewish issue, but because we're talking about a genocide, it's a human event. The target could be someone else next time, and it has been throughout history if you look at Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and the rest. The other is because of the technology that develops right now. We are in the state where there is no Sonderkommando left. The Sonderkommando that militaries are using now are softwares. The distance between the murderer and the murdered is even greater now. It's people operating at an underground base with a mouse in their hands, and they click and then some building far away somewhere is being bombed down. It's even further now, which means people do not feel the responsibility for their actions one bit. This is, unfortunately, the prospect of the 21st century, it's not too promising because there would no need to keep stirring this wound unless we wouldn't be so scared to see that history did not turn the page yet. We are still witnessing the cruelty around us that was so manifested during the Holocaust. The driving force behind the movie was to somehow appeal to vigilance, to constant reflection. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] Nobody is smart enough to understand where was God and all these huge questions; all we can do is to take you there, to the here and the now of 1944 October, and to take you to the most troubled zone of the camps. The camp was was divided into two regions. Where the Sonderkommandos were located, they were separated, they were quarantined and not allowed to sleep with the other inmates, so we wanted to get right into the heart of the matter and this center of the hell and to see and to show the full extent of the demonism that the Nazis set into motion by forcing Jews to burn Jews. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] I do believe if there is a lesson to be learned from the Holocaust it's this: Authority, in general, and political power, in particular, if it goes unchecked, then anything can happen. It is our obligation as civilians to protest and to resist. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] I've met Sonderkommando members, and I know how embarrassed they were and how much afraid they were for their own friends, just to tell them honestly and share to them and confess to them exactly what capacity they were in while at these camps. They hid that because of the [hate] they might have faced and the consequences. I think now enough time has passed to tell this very sensitive part as well. 
Art in general is iconoclastic, it smashes idols, and while I understand the purpose of political correctness, it can not keep up with life. Once it consists of a set of rules, it's humorless, it goes against spirit and inspiration. It's dumb and basically I think, whoever aspires to do art, willingly or not, will run into some walls and then you know you're doing the right thing. If you go the sterile, political correct way there's no way you would be able to be authentic. 
It's a strange thing to stand in a cocktail party and talk about the Holocaust. This is part of how this industry works, you show up to talk about your film, or you're going to be snubbed. 
They always add flavors to the Holocaust because in its raw reality they find it indigestible, so they make it nice and put some sugar on it. They water down stories in a way that aren't fair to the memory of all the people who were murdered. The system was indifferent to the point that there were no Germans around, in the very same way in Japan people are now proud of making cars without humans, in the camps, Germans were proud because they killed without touching the people. These people who were involved in an indirect way, people who were manufacturing the poison they were using to gas the Jews, it's troubling how they were in the heart of the European civilization, right there in front of everyone. There's no doubt the Germans were fully aware of what they were doing it, Dachau was in the outskirts of Munich, not in rural Poland, the camps were near centers of civilization...It's important to talk about the film's achievements, but also about the topic, and younger generations especially, who think they're watching propaganda, once they sit in the movie, they get it. This is the reality we're living in now, this used to be Europe, but look at our world now, genocide is still happening. 
So I personally know a man in Tarrytown, Westchester, and he has two sons. And their father, they always knew that he was in Auschwitz, but only in the intensive care, in his last days, did he reveal to his sons in what capacity he was in Auschwitz. And he said, "Boys, I was a Sonderkommando member." Of course they had no idea what that was, it's a German word, so they went on Google and they realized that, what the heck, and they tried to ask their father, and he said, "Nah, I just wanted you to know that much." And peacefully, the man died, a considerably wealthy Polish Jew, a couple of years ago. And after the funeral service, in the presence of an attorney, after the shiva, they opened the will. And then came the shock, because this old Jew from Poland requested in his will to be cremated and [to have] his ashes brought back to the oven, to the crematorium in Auschwitz and placed there forever. Which if you think about it, is mind-boggling. First, Jews traditionally don't cremate. Number two, by requesting his ashes be brought back to Auschwitz, he took away the solace, the comfort for his sons and wife, to go to his resting place in a Jewish cemetery on his yahrzeit [the anniversary of someone's death], to relate to that place, and remember him. And finally, basically what he's quintessentially saying by his will is that, yes, I love you, you're my family, you can have my wealth, you can have everything of me, but - I really belong to them. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] I think it's a moral duty of cinema and literature, (...) , to attack the topic. It's a significant, very significant historical event. And it would be very awkward not to try to treat it and to deal with it. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] I - in full agreement with Primo Levi ["The Drowned and the Saved", publ. 1986] - I think that the most demonic crime of the Nazis was exactly that - forcing and following, compelling these special squads under the, you know, threat of death to assist in the killing process. 
[why he didn't become a rabbi] I was pretty close on the track to become a rabbi, and that's why I decided not to because I felt...I felt that individual autonomy overrides any sort of group membership. And I didn't feel like I would be able - honestly - to represent any sort of institution. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] My involvement with this subject matter did not start with the movie. I was 46 when I was playing this role, and I felt, even just by reading the script, that my whole life, to be honest, was just one big preparation for this role. And what I mean by that is, you know, I think I have some idea what a father is, losing my own father at 4. And then I went to Warsaw and learned Polish and lived in Poland. And when I was there, you know, I was 19 at the time, so the camp, Auschwitz, near Krakow, was still under the care of the Soviets. And I went there on a December day, and what had meant to be just a one-day visit ended up to be, like, a month. And I actually rented a room in Oswiecim, which is the current name of Auschwitz in Polish. And I went there every single day, from the opening to the evening. I wrote my first poem book singularly about Auschwitz. And - and so, you know - and then I got to be a father, thank God, for four beautiful children. And of course, my grandfather, who was liberated from the Budapest ghetto, so I felt like a lot of aspects of my personal story came into fruition in this role. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] I think that one of the new elements here is that we are not focusing on the exception - 2 out of 3 Jews died and most movies are about the lucky third. We wanted to make a movie about the norm. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] So the reason why there are so few accounts from actual surviving Sonderkommando members is because they were very hesitant to tell even to their own families in what capacity they were in the camps. So I relied heavily on "The Scrolls of Auschwitz" [aka "Voices From Beneath The Ashes", publ. 1985] and also a 400 pages book called "We Wept Without Tears" [first publ.1995] which is a work of Gideon Greif, who is a historian from Israel. And he, in the course of, like, 12 years, conducted this painstakingly detailed interviews with Sonderkommando members - 8 of them, there's about 20 alive now, about their daily routine, these 12-hour shifts day and night. 
I've been living in the U.S. for 15 years. I'm living in Riverdale [NY], so I'm a local, so to speak. By profession, I'm a Judaic studies teacher, but who knows what the future brings? Ask me in a year or two. 
[on his character in Son of Saul (2015)] All the other members of the Sonderkommando are solely interested in the revolt, which is understandable and legitimate. (...) But there is another way of resistance and that is what Saul is doing. ... He does something that is absolutely forbidden by the rules, but is a very ancient and divine right of humans to bury each other - no animals do that. So this act is in itself a rebellion, a more singular and significant way of standing up against the system. 
[why Auschwitz and the Holocaust is so important] Because it is the first modern genocide. In other words, the Sonderkommando, the moral issue here is that for the first time in history, the murderers are both physically removed from the direct outcome of their actions. There is this one Nazi in a well-ironed uniform, sitting in a Red Cross ambulance car and he drives to the gas chambers. He puts on a gas mask, he takes the poison out and he pours it in, and in 20 seconds he has left. He doesn't hear the people cry and scream. He doesn't smell the odour and the stench. He doesn't have to clean up and burn them. The same thing - look at the world in 2015. Look at the drones and the pilotless bombers now. Right now, there's not even the Sonderkommando. The Sonderkommando became a software. In this day and age, when technology and science are so advanced...(...) So what is happening now is that somewhere 100 metres down in a bunker under the Navajo desert someone is sitting down and he has a mouse in his hand and he clicks. And by that click on another continent a bomb is dropped. And you don't know or face the consequences of your actions and because of that you don't feel guilty. Murder was always there, it's part of human condition. But there's a new brand of killer emerged from the Holocaust. A killer who feels innocent. That is to me, I think, the most appalling and the most demonic aspect of Nazism. It's this system which basically wanted to do the following - how can we kill the most amount of Jews with the least amount of Germans being involved. In other words, let the dirty work be done by them. That is the type of thing that is going on in this world nowadays too. I feel that it's fair to say. It pains me but I think no real plausible case can be made to say that we turned the page over Auschwitz. 70 years after, I still believe that we are on the same page. It might be, it will be different targets, different perpetrators, but unfortunately, what it comes down to for me is this road. 
Two out of every three Jews were murdered in Europe during the Holocaust. All the films I saw - and I'm sure they are all well-meant - they were all dealing with the lucky third who made it. We wanted to make a movie about the first two. I think, if we want to heal, if we want to be healed, we have to admit for the Holocaust for what it is. We can't Disney-fy, we can't sugarcoat it. I think, unfortunately this topic has been used and abused for entertainment purposes. Used as historical background, stories were made around and in the Holocaust that had nothing to with it. (...) Schindler's List (1993) opened the floodgates, I think, for a lot of what you call Disney-fied approaches. (...) Then came Life Is Beautiful (1997) (...) And then came, to be honest, the movie I hate the most. Inglourious Basterds (2009) by Tarantino. Basically what it does, is it makes Nazis out of Jews. The same cruelty and violence the Nazis did, now he makes it a group of Jews and thinks that's a solution? To be as cruel as they were and use a baseball bat and hit a Nazi's head off? 
[on visiting Auschwitz in the 80s] I was the first to arrive and the last to leave. I never ate in the camp so I ate only at night. It was there that I found an unwanted survivor - my God. I felt sorry for Him and started nursing Him with my prayers in Hungarian. But then I realized, I don't know Hebrew, I'm not even circumcised, so I decided then and there that I was going to be Jewish in the real sense of the word. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] No one earns the right to say anything about the Sonderkommando unless they were there. (...) It was a demonic system, to force young Jews to usher their sisters and brothers to the gas chambers. The Nazis' goal was to kill the most Jews possible with the least number of Germans involved, and to make sure that the German executioner who administered the Zyklon B was physically and psychologically removed from the victims. (...) ...by separating the murderer and the murdered, the Nazi didn't feel any guilt, because he didn't see the suffering. 
[on his character in Son of Saul (2015)] Saul may not know the kaddish [Jewish prayer for the dead] but in essence, I think he is a religious man, in the same way that some secular Jews believe in tikkun olam. They're always there for the homeless and the oppressed, which seems deeply religious to me, even though they would deny it. 
[on the Sonderkommandos] I know many people find it hard to sympathize with them, but they need to understand that the Nazis forced them into playing the role of decoy ducks whose function is to fool the real ducks into thinking the water is safe. (...) When the Jews were taken off the trains at the camps, they were frightened and disoriented, but when they saw other Jews there speaking Yiddish, they figured it can't be so bad. "Even though the Sonderkommando were fed better than the other prisoners, it was only to assist in the machinery of extermination. They were under a thick and protective armor of numbness, mechanically doing their duty. In such misery, the only way to function is not to think, not to feel. The will to live becomes independent of the person. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] In the growing absence of witnesses, we need to show people how the Nazis carried out the genocide. 
[on Son of Saul (2015)] Weeping is fine for an individual drama, you know? You know, a parent passes. That happens with the individual, then you cry and that's cathartic and that's great. People love actually crying more than laughing I believe. But when it comes to millions of people, innocent people, young and old, industrially being gassed and burned? I don't think crying does justice to that. You have to be shaken in a more lasting way. 
[on a film critic, who criticized Son of Saul (2015) for even attempting to represent the Holocaust] I wonder if this wonderful fellow would ever question Oliver Stone's right to make the film Platoon (1986), which is all about the Vietnam War, or the movie The Killing Fields (1984), which is all about the Cambodian [genocide] ? You know, history creates all of these terrible, terrible places and sufferings and genocides. Once it comes to Jews being murdered it suddenly becomes unrepresentable. But of course, the Cambodians, you can make a film about that, no problem. The Vietnamese you can make a film about, no problem. But don't touch the Holocaust. It [the argument] is just so incoherent intellectually. Hell is not the invention of 1944. There were plenty of other situations. Everybody's blood is equally red.