Sonderkommandos were work units of Nazi death camp prisoners forced to aid the killing process during The Holocaust. These groups should not be confused with the "SS-Sonderkommandos" which were "ad hoc" units formed from various SS offices between 1938 through 1945.

The term itself in German means "special unit" and was part of the vague and euphemistic language which the Nazis used to refer to aspects of the Final Solution (cf. Einsatzgruppen).

Work and death

Sonderkommando members did not participate directly in the killing, which was reserved for the guards. Their primary responsibility was disposing of the corpses. They were forced into the position, and accepted it because it meant a few more days or weeks of life, as well as vastly-better living conditions. They would sleep in their own barracks, which more than any other in the camp resembled normal human dwellings; various goods such as food, medicines and cigarettes, plundered from those who were already sent to the gas chambers, were at their disposal. Dr. Miklos Nyiszlinoted with irony the fact that the medicines arriving were all in different languages because of Jewish transports coming from every part of Europe.

Because the Sonderkommandos were privy to information about Nazi methods that the Nazis did not wish to reach the outside world, the groups were murdered at regular intervals; new Sonderkommandos were selected from the subsequent transports. The first task of the new Sonderkommandos would be to dispose of their predecessors' corpses [Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, Arcade Publishing, 1993, ISBN 1-55970-202-8] .

with axes, knives and home made grenades. Three SS men were killed, including one who was pushed alive into a crematorium oven, and some prisoners escaped from the camp for a period. They were recaptured later the same day. Of those who did not die in the uprising itself, 200 were forced to strip, lie face down, and then were shot in the back of the head. A total of 451 Sonderkommandos were killed on this dayFact|date=October 2007.

There was also an uprising in Treblinka on 2 August 1943, in which around 100 prisoners succeded in breaking out of the camp [ Chrostowski, Witold, Extermination Camp Treblinka, Vallentine Mitchell, Portland, OR, 2003,p.94, ISBN 0-85303-457-5 ] , and a similar uprising in Sobibór on 14 October 1943 [ Schelvis, Jules, Sobibor. A History of a Nazi Death Camp, Berg, Oxford & New York, 2007, ISBN 978-1-84520-419-8 ] . About 50-64 of the prisoners from each camp survived the warFact|date=October 2007. The uprising in Sobibor was made into a factual film, "Escape from Sobibor", starring Rutger Hauer, amongst others. The Sonderkommandos in Sobibór camp III did not take part in the uprising in camp I, and were murdered the following day. Both Sobibor and Treblinka were closed shortly afterwards.

Very few survived until liberation and were able to testify to the eventsFact|date=October 2007, and buried or hidden accounts by members of the Sonderkommando were later found at some camps. Fewer than twenty out of several thousand are documented to have survived, out of several thousand members of the special squads. Those who have given testimony: Henryk Tauber, Filip Mueller, Daniel Behnnamias, Dario Gabbai, Morris Venezia, Alter Fajnzylberg, Abram Dragon, David Olere, Henryk Mandelbaum. There have at most been another six or seven confirmed to have survived, but who have not given witness (or at least, such testimony is not documented).


In the collection at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Israel, there are notes from members of the Sonderkommando. The following note was found buried in the Auschwitz crematoria written by Zalman Gradowski, a member of the Sonderkommando and killed in the Sonderkommando Revolt in October 1944:

"Dear finder of these notes,I have one request of you, which is, in fact, the practical objective for my writing... that my days of Hell, that my hopeless tomorrow will find a purpose in the future. I am transmitting only a part of what happened in the Birkenau-Auschwitz Hell. You will realize what reality looked like... From all this you will have a picture of how our people perished." [Rutta, Matt " [ Yad Vashem] " Rabbinic Rambling, March 23, 2006; accessed April 30, 2007.]
There are several eyewitness accounts from members of the Sonderkommando. Publications include:
* [ "Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers"] , deposition by Henryk Tauber in the Polish Courts, May 24, 1945, p. 481-502, Jean-Claude Pressac, Pressac-Klarsfeld, 1989, The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation, New York, Library of Congress 89-81305
* "Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers" by Filip Müller, Ivan R. Dee, 1979, ISBN 1-56663-271-4
* "We Wept Without Tears: Testimonies of the Jewish Sonderkommando from Auschwitz" by Gideon Greif, Yale University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-300-10651-3.
* "The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennahmias, Sonderkommando" by Rebecca Fromer, University Alabama Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8173-5041-1.
* "Auschwitz : A Doctor's Eyewitness Account" by Miklos Nyiszli (translated from the original Hungarian), [ Arcade Publishing] , 1993, ISBN 1-55970-202-8. A play and subsequent film about the Sonderkommandos, "The Grey Zone" (2001) directed by Tim Blake Nelson, was based on this book.
* "Dario Gabbai (Interview Code 142, conducted in English)" video testimony, interview conducted in November 1996, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, [ USC Shoah Foundation Institute] , University of Southern California.

See also

* Kommando
* Ala Gertner
* David Olère
* Filip Mueller
* Roza Robota
* Rose Meth
* "The Grey Zone"
* Ypatingasis būrys


External links

* short history of the [ jüdische Sonderkommando] - (further content: Zum Begriff Sonderkommando und verwandten Bezeichnungen • „Handlungsräume“ im Sonderkommando Auschwitz. • Der „Sonderkommando-Aufstand“ in Auschwitz-Birkenau - Photos )
* [ Informations about Auschwitz Sonderkommandos members] on the French site ""

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