Sonderkommando

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Because of their intimate knowledge of the process of Nazi mass murder, the Sonderkommando were considered Geheimnisträger—bearers of secrets—and as such, they were kept in isolation from other camp inmates, except, of course, for those about to enter the gas chambers. Because the Nazis did not wish the Sonderkommandos' knowledge to reach the outside world, they initially followed a policy of regularly gassing almost all the Sonderkommando and replacing them with new arrivals; the first task of the new Sonderkommandos would be to dispose of their predecessors' corpses[1]. At least at Auschwitz-Birkenau, this system fell into abeyance as the volume of killing increased, and some members of the Sonderkommando there managed to survive several years.[citation needed]

There was a revolt by Sonderkommandos at Auschwitz in which one of the crematoria was partly destroyed. For months, young Jewish women, like Ester Wajcblum, Ella Gärtner, and Regina Safirsztain, had been smuggling small amounts of gunpowder from the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke, a munitions factory within the Auschwitz complex, to men and women in the camp’s resistance movement, like Róza Robota, a young Jewish woman who worked in the clothing detail at Birkenau. Under constant guard, the women in the factory took small amounts of the gunpowder, wrapped it in bits of cloth or paper, hid it on their bodies, and then passed it along the smuggling chain. Once she received the gunpowder, Róza Robota then passed it to her co-conspirators in the Sonderkommando. Using this gunpowder, the leaders of the Sonderkommando planned to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria, and launch the uprising. [2] When the camp resistance warned the Sonderkommando that they were due to be murdered on the morning of October 7, 1944, they attacked the SS and Kapos 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 day.[3][4][5]

There was also an uprising in Treblinka on August 2, 1943, in which around 100 prisoners succeeded in breaking out of the camp [6], and a similar uprising in Sobibór on October 14, 1943[7]. About 50–64 of the prisoners from each camp survived the war[citation needed]. 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.

Fewer than twenty out of several thousand members of the special squads are documented to have survived until liberation and were able to testify to the events[citation needed] (though some sources claim more[8]), among them: Henryk Tauber, Filip Mueller, Daniel Behnnamias, Dario Gabbai, Morris Venezia, Shlomo Venezia, Alter Fajnzylberg, Abram Dragon, David Olere, Henryk Mandelbaum, Martin Gray . There have been at most another six or seven confirmed to have survived, but who have not given witness (or at least, such testimony is not documented). Buried and hidden accounts by members of the Sonderkommando were also later found at some camps.

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