Voices of Memory 6. The Crematoria and Gas Chambers of Auschwitz—A New Publication


The International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust has published the sixth volume in the series "Voices of Memory. " The gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz are above all a symbol of the Shoah, but they also have a symbolic importance for the Roma, Poles, Russians and those of other nations, whose members had suffered and died in this, as well as at other death camps.

The construction of these vast crematoria, equipped with not only with gas chambers, but also in other mechanical equipment for the incineration of corpses that were meant to improve the process of mass killing of people, required the involvement of specialists—mainly engineers, technicians, and architects, as well as considerable funding.

This publication is dedicated to these issues, associated with planning and construction of the Auschwitz extermination facilities. In addition to documents and plans created in the camp architectural office, fragments of witness’ testimony are presented - inmates who survived the camp and that of the SS staffs’ trial testimony, those who participated in the murder directly. Particularly noteworthy is the testimony of the Sonderkommando prisoners who were forced to work in burning the corpses of those murdered. Very few of them managed to survive. Some of them, realizing that the Germans did not intend on leaving them alive, wrote down their experiences and buried those notes in the ground, with the hope that someday these would be found and published.

This publication is available in the Museum’s online bookshop in Polish language.

A fragment of testimony by Wanda Bedyniak, a Pole, bearing the camp number 28787.

“When I worked in block 17, many transports arrived on the unloading ramp in the camp. There were times when I would climb onto the roof of my barrack, of course hidden and observed the ramp. The SS-men behaved like wild animals: they screamed, dreadfully beat and chased people in the direction of the crematoria. People were brought in freight cars, in groups of several thousand individuals. On the ramp I saw people, adults and children, who arrived with their baggage, baby carriages, children with dolls, these individuals were rushed to the crematoria. The SS-men acted abnormally, as if they were drunk, instead of a human voice, they howled. The transports arrived day and night. There were time periods when there were more transports and those where there were fewer of them. I was never in the area of the crematoria. I saw them from a distance [meaning, around 300 meters – added by P.S.] as well the smoke from the crematoria. When the crematoria started their work, they first let off a red aura, then there was black smoke.” [1982].

Source: Archives of State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Assembled Statements, t. 98, p. 73.

A fragment of handwritten note Zalmen Lewental, a Polish Jew, and a member of the Sonderkommando. The note was found near the ruins of Crematorium III at Birkenau in October 1962 (part of the document is barely legible, because it was heavily damaged by moisture).

“[…] the Sonderkommando hurried […] [there was no way to] to get out of this, when a bullet in head was the threat for only looking around […] rushed the rest of the people […] [from the barrack?] to the bunker, where they are gassed. The same could be heard […] and screams like in the night. Equally tragic and horrifying was the sight – when it happened after […] the same people, who had to pull out the bodies and [burn them] […] this made them think about the fact that in the barracks they had their families; one had a father, another a wife and children. As it later turned out, after starting this work, each recognized their own family members. In the newly created Kommando that day were people who had just arrived in the camp along with the rest of the transport and they were immediately herded into [this work]. In this manner, our whole community was wiped out, the entire Jewish population of our city, our dear parents, wives, children, sisters, and brothers. And this was on December 10, 1942, late at night –and including the next morning.”

Source: “Wśród koszmarnej zbrodni. Notatki więźniów Sonderkommando” [English: In the Midst of a Terrible Crime. Notes of the Sonderkommando Prisoners], Oświęcim 1975, p. 196.