Sonderkommando In The Holocaust

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Sonderkommando Tailors. Shoemakers. Farmers. Before the war, they were ordinary Jews, doing their best to succeed in a society plagued with Anti-Semitism. However, during the war, they were the Sonderkommando. One of the Holocaust’s most horrifying topics is one that few people have heard of. The word Sonderkommando means very little to the everyday American, but it is in fact one of the most gruesome and terrible subjects of the Holocaust. The Sonderkommando, or special command (German), were groups comprised of mostly Jewish prisoners. These men were tasked with aiding their Nazi captors in the extermination of their own people in the six death camps of Poland. The Sonderkommando were given a terrible choice: help or be killed.…show more content…
Inside the gas chamber the bodies of up to 2,000 victims that had been full of life just moments before lay in a tangled mess left for the Sonderkommando to clean (Greif 297). Dying in the gas chamber was no quick or clean process. In a span of fifteen minutes, most of the people had asphyxiated and died from the poisonous gas tablets dropped in by SS guards (Sonderkommando were never responsible for administering the poison) (Greif 299). Blood, urine, and other bodily fluids were splashed among the bodies and walls of the chamber (Fromer 43). Zyklon B, the gas used to murder these people, cause blood vessels to burst and therefore leak through various orifices (Greif 195). During an interview, Leon Cohen, a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau, described what it felt like to be a Sonderkommando and hear the screams of the suffocating people just a few feet away. He says, “I’ve got to tell you something that’s terrible but true; we’d become robots by then. We couldn’t expose ourselves to the intensity of the emotions that we experienced in the course of the work” (Greif 299). In order to grasp the horror these victims endured, another Sonderkommando survivor details the scene upon first entering the gas chamber. “The purple, fissured flesh: the faces distorted with pain, and the eyes, bulging and agape, attest to the…show more content…
Each one had its own corps of Sonderkommando prisoners. Each Sonderkommando had his own unique experience as part of the Nazi death machine. No two experiences were alike, and it is important to remember this when considering the Sonderkommando’s testimony. Also, do not hasten to judge their actions. It is impractical to assume that one would have acted any differently in their situation. Until one is cast in such a desperate and ruthless environment, it is quite impossible to make assumptions of character. This point cannot be stressed enough. Even Primo Levi, an established Holocaust author and survivor himself, presupposes that no one, “not even a former Auschwitz inmate, has the right or the ability to judge the Sonderkommando” (Greif 65). The pain and suffering these men lived through cannot be explained through merely words. While still an inmate, Zalman Gradowski wrote “Even now, here in my hell, I cannot weep at all, because every day I drown in a sea, a sea of blood” (Greif 84). The Sonderkommando traveled as close to hell as a human can get. Even now, decades after their brush with the inferno, these men are still haunted by the memory of life as a tool of death. May the Sonderkommando never be
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