THE REVOLT OF THE SONDERKOMMANDOS IN AUSCHWITZ
Sonderkommandos was the name given to concentration camp prisoners whose job was to service the assembly lines of death. They were in the hell of the hell. And because they were forced to do this monstrous work, and murdered at regular intervals, they have to be considered as much victimized as the others.
I. Presentation of the Sonderkommandos
Sonderkommandos were work units of prisoners who aided with the killing process in the Nazi Death Camps. These groups should not be confused with the SS-Sonderkommandos which were units formed from various SS offices between 1938 through 1945. The members of the Sonderkommandos were selected by SS. They were choosen because they had better physical conditions than other Auschwitz inmates. They had decent food, slept on straw mattresses and could wear normal clothing. Sonderkommando members did not participate directly in the killing, which was reserved for the guards. Their primary responsibility was disposing of the corpses. The sonderkommando
duties included guiding the new arrivals into the gas chambers, removing the bodies afterwards, shaving hair, removing teeth, sorting through possessions, cremating the bodies, and disposing of the ashes. The Sonderkommando were dependent on continued shipments of Jews for their lives. “Any slowing down of operations due to lack of victims meant they were in danger of being eliminated.” Their knowledge of the internal workings of the camp marked them for certain death. Someone selected for the sonderkommando had a choice: die then or die in four months time. Every few months, the current sonderkommando was liquidated and the first task of their successors was to dispose of the bodies of the previous group. Since a sonderkommando usually comprised men from incoming transports, their second task often consisted of disposing of the bodies of their own families. Contrary to what is often asserted, it was not a renewal in regular date. For example, all the members of the Sonderkommando having participated in the emptying of common graves in autumn 1942 (operation which SS called “Aktion 1005 “) was exterminated at the conclusion of the operation of cremation of bodies.
... Alien Property the power to liquidate, sell or otherwise dispose of such property, Japanese property (not even the ... dead in single graves, it depended on the camps, some would put them in mass graves, and ... the war.The Japanese were given homes in the camps, homes meaning the size of a garage. ... families. Those who did were sent to a concentration camp in Angler, Ontario. One hundred percent civilians, ...
II. The revolt, on 7 october 1944
In October 1944, the 12th team learned that the Germans intended gassing them. The underground had been planning a general uprising for some time, but it never happened. Across the railway line, the Union explosives factory, a group of Jewish girls had collected small amounts of explosives and smuggled them to the plotters. Three other girls in the Union factory (Ella Garnter, Toszka and Regina Safirsztain), also managed to smuggle explosives to Roza Robota, who was working inside Birkenau. She passed them to a member of the Sonderkommando. Besides the gunpowder being smuggled by the women, which the men fashioned into crude grenades using sardine tins, there were some small arms that had been slipped through the fence by local partisans. In addition, knives and small axes had been made and hidden throughout the crematoria. Much of the gunpowder was used in creating demolition charges.
There was talk of a general uprising that would coincide with the arrival of the approaching Soviet armies, but some sonderkommando were certain that they would not live until that day. One Sunday of the beginning of October, the 7th, the revolt must be started. The prisoners indicated to bring the food were chosen this day so that only them went initiated to the plan.
All came from the crematorium 2. The plan was to begin the revolt with a fire lit in the crematorium 2. But in reality the revolt started prematurely in the crematorium 3 and 4. This premature release made it fail. SS gave immediately the alarm and all the prisoners of the crematorium 2 had to go to the call, before to be locked all into the room of dissection. The guards counterattack and penetrate the buildings, indiscriminately shooting at all prisoners they encounter. The sonderkommando in Crematorium 4 drag their demolition charges into the oven rooms and detonate them in a defiant suicide. The revolt is quickly suppressed and the escaped men recaptured with the help of local citizens. Approximately 200 sonderkommando are forced to lie face down outside the crematoria where they are executed with single shots to the back of the head. Some of the men are spared for interrogation, but the bodies of the 12th Sonderkommando are soon disposed of by the 13th Sonderkommando. A total of 451 Sonderkommandos were killed on this day. Crematoria I, III and IV were closed. Crematoria III and IV were destroyed by the revolt and unusable, the crematorium I remained intact. The survivors of the main camp of Birkenau say nevertheless that this revolt was for them a source of hope. There was also an uprising in Treblinka on 2 August 1943, and a similar uprising in Sobibór on 14 October 1943.
... prisoners who survived the selection could be subject to death at any time. The Sonderkommandos, Jewish workers at the gas chambers and crematoriums ... burn, so the Germans built ten more crematoriums between August and October of that year (1485). This mass genocide ... camps inside Bergen-Belsen. The "prisoner's camp" was where the 500 prisoners who built the camp lived. "Conditions in the camp ...
III.The necessity to testify
After the war surviving Sonderkommandos attempted to return to normal lives, but it was even more difficult for them than for other survivors. In this maw of death the Sonderkommandos continued living. There were relatively few suicides. Yaakov Gabai said : “Our ability to adapt is almost infinite. We functioned like soulless robots, it was the only way to remain sane under such conditions.” It seems than a lot of Sonderkommandos saw a sense to survive, just in actions of testimonies and to share what they lived and they saw, for the present as for the future. They managed to mix to the whole population of prisoners in the confusion of the evacuation of the camp on January 18th, 1945. Their testimonies are always known just a little. They were many to write and to bury texts intended to testify. Six manuscripts were accidentally found by chance, near crematoria Witnesses of Sonderkommandos also gave evidence with the Soviet Committee in 1945 after the liberation of the camp, and in the various lawsuits concerning Auschwitz (to Lüneburg, Cracow and Frankfurt).
Filip Müller also wrote a very precious book to show of all that he saw, Three Years in the Gas Chambers.
... highlights cause and effect relationships, and validates historical meaning. Holocaust video testimony is dependent on the voice of the individual and the ... were necessarily determined by the ways the Nazi's orchestrated camp and ghetto realities. ." (Young 33) The Germans understood that ... Poland to the final liberation of the Aushwitz and Buchwald camps. Books such as Ellie Wiesel's Night, Primo Levi ...
Many Sonderkommandos have never revealed their secrets, so much shame as the feeling that we not never ever would believe them. To this day many persons believe that no Sonderkommandos survived. Their testimonies today are all the more precious as nobody else can say what they know. But they have been blamed to had been what we imposed them to be. And It is therefore not surprising that Sonderkommandos have a need to explain that they were as much victimized as the others.
Martin Gilbert, “Death Camp Revolts”, in Martin Gilbert, Never Again. A History of the Holocaust, HarperCollins, London 2000, chapter 6, pp.126-127 www.hagalil.com/shoah/holocaust/greif-0.htm , Sonderkommando Auschwitz, Ronit Roccas www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/aurevolt.html , The Revolt at AuschwitzBirkenau //pagesperso-orange.fr/d-d.natanson/sonderkommando.htm Testimony of a survivor of Auschwitz’s Sonderkommando : Dow PAISIKOVIC