The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/m/mueller.filip/muller.002


Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - Eyewitness Auschwitz: The Crematorium (1/2)
Summary: Auschwitz crematorium described by survivor 
Reply-To: kmcvay@oneb.almanac.bc.ca
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Old Frog's Almanac, Vancouver Island, CANADA
Keywords: Auschwitz, crematorium

Archive/File: holocaust/poland/auschwitz muller.002
Last-modified: 1993/09/16 
XRef: index auschwitz


   "In my terror I heard neither the ringing of the bell nor the door
   being unlocked.  It was only when Schlage shouted: 'Get out of here,
   you fucking thieves !' that Maurice and I raced out into the yard
   where an SS guard was waiting for us.  He hustled us to the main gate
   where he handed us over to two SS men who took us to the right behind
   the Blockfu"hrer's room, their pistols at the ready.  At any moment I
   expected a bullet through the base of my skull.  Instead, from not
   very far off, I heard music.  It was one of Schubert's songs, and it
   was, without doubt, being performed by a real live orchestra.  I
   briefly put aside my sombre thoughts of dying for, I argued, that in
   a place where Schubert's Serenade was sung to the accompaniment of an
   orchestra, there must surely be room for a little humanity.

   We had been running for about 100 metres, when a strange flat-roofed
   building loomed up before us.  Behind it a round red- brick chimney
   rose up into the sky.  Through a wooden gate the two guards led us
   into a yard which was separated from the outside world by a wall.  To
   our right was the building we had seen, with an entrance in the
   middle.  Above the door hung a wrought-iron lamp.  Under it stood an
   SS man who, according to his insignia, was an Unterscharfu"hrer
   [Sergeant].  He was still young, with sandy hair and a commanding
   presence, and I learned later that his name was Stark.  In his hand
   he held a horsewhip.  He greeted us with the words: 'Get inside, you
   scum!' Then, belabouring us with his whip, he drove us through the
   entrance into a passage with several doors which were painted pale
   blue.  We were confused and did not know which way we were meant to
   go.  'Straight ahead, you shits!' Stark shouted, opening one of the
   doors.  The damp stench of dead bodies and a cloud of stifling,
   biting smoke surged out towards us.  Through the fumes I saw the
   vague outlines of huge ovens.  We were in the cremation room of the
   Auschwitz crematorium.  A few prisoners, the Star of David on their
   prison uniforms, were running about.  As the glow of the flames broke
   through the smoke and fumes, I noticed two large openings: they were
   cast-iron incinerators.  Prisoners were busy pushing a truck heaped
   with corpses up to them.  Stark pulled open another door.  Flogging
   Maurice and me, he hustled us into a larger room next door to the
   cremation plant.  

   We were met by the appalling sight of the dead bodies of men and
   women lying higgledy-piggledy among suit-cases and rucksacks.  I was
   petrified with horror.  For I did not know then where I was and what
   was going on.  A violent blow accompanied by Stark yelling: 'Get a
   move on!  Strip the stiffs!' galvanized me into action.  Before me
   lay the corpse of a woman.  With trembling hands and shaking all over
   I began to remove her stockings.  It was the first time in my life
   that I had touched a dead body.  She was not yet quite cold.  As I
   pulled the stocking down her leg, it tore.  Stark who had been
   watching, struck me again, bellowing: 'What the hell d'you think
   you're doing ?  Mind out, and get a move on !  These things are to be
   used again !' To show us the correct way he began to remove the
   stockings from another female corpse.  But he, too, did not manage to
   take them off without at least a small tear.  

   I was like one hypnotized and obeyed each order implicitly.  Fear of
   more blows, the ghastly sight of piled-up corpses, the biting smoke,
   the humming of fans and the flickering of flames, the whole infernal
   chaos had paralysed my sense of orientation as well as my ability to
   think.  It took some time before I began to realize that there were
   people lying there at my feet who had been killed only a short while
   before.  But what I could not imagine was how so many people could
   have been killed at one time.  

   When Stark returned he ordered Maurice and myself to the cremation
   room.  Handing each of us a long crow-bar and a heavy hammer he
   ordered us to remove the clinker from the grates of those ovens which
   were not then in use.  Neither Maurice nor I had ever done any work
   like this before, so we did not know what we were supposed to do.
   Instead of hammering the crow-bars into the clinker on the grates we
   thrust them into the ash pit and damaged the fire-brick lining.  When
   Stark discovered the damage Into the crematorium we had done, he
   hustled us back into the room where the corpses were and fetched a
   prisoner called Fischl - later to become our foreman - who went on
   with cleaning the grates.  

   Maurice and I continued stripping corpses.  Cautiously I began to
   look round.  I noticed that there were some small greenish-blue
   crystals lying on the concrete floor at the back of the room.  They
   were scattered beneath an opening in the ceiling.  A large fan was
   installed up there, its blades humming as they revolved.  It struck
   me that where the crystals were scattered on the floor there were no
   corpses, whereas in places further away, particularly near the door,
   they were piled high.

   My stay in the camp had undermined my health.  I was weakened by
   starvation, my feet were swollen and the soles raw from wearing rough
   wooden clogs.  It was therefore not surprising that, with the
   constant rush and hurry, I longed for a moment of rest.  I kept a
   watchful eye on Stark and waited for a chance to take a breather
   while he was not looking.  My moment came when he went across to the
   cremation room.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a half-open
   suit-case containing food.  Pretending to be busy undressing a corpse
   with one hand, I ransacked the suit-case with the other.  Keeping one
   eye on the door in case Stark returned suddenly I hastily grabbed a
   few triangles of cheese and a poppyseed cake.  With my filthy,
   blood-stained fingers I broke off pieces of cake and devoured them
   ravenously.  I had only just time to pocket a piece of bread when
   Stark returned.  He clearly thought we were slacking and shouted at
   us to work faster.  An hour later we had undressed about 1oo corpses.
   There they lay, naked and ready to be cremated.

   In another suit-case I found a round box of cheese and several boxes
   of matches with Slovakian labels.  And as I looked a little more
   closely at the faces of the dead, I recoiled with horror when I
   discovered among them a girl who had been at school with me.  Her
   name was Yolana Weis.  In order to make quite sure I looked at her
   hand because Yolana's hand had been deformed since childhood.  I had
   not been mistaken: this was Yolana.  There was another dead body
   which I recognized.  It was that of a woman who had been our
   neighbour in Sered, my home town.  Most of the dead were dressed in
   civilian clothes, but there were a few wearing military uniforms.
   Two wide, red stripes on the back of their jackets and the letters SU
   in black showed them to be Soviet prisoners of war.  

   Meanwhile Fischl had finished cleaning the grates.  Now all six ovens
   were working, and Stark ordered us to drag the naked corpses across
   the concrete floor to the ovens.  There Fischl went from corpse to
   corpse, forcing their mouths open with an iron bar.  When he found a
   gold tooth he pulled it out with a pair of pliers and flung it into a
   tin.  Stripped and robbed of everything the dead were destined to
   become victims of the flames and to be turned into smoke and ashes.
   Final preparations were now in hand.  Stark ordered the fans to be
   switched on.  A button was pressed and they began to rotate.  But as
   soon as Stark had checked that the fire was drawing well they were
   switched off again.  At his order 'Shove'em in !' each one of us set
   to work doing the job he had been given earlier.

   I now began to realize the dangerous position in which I found
   myself.  At that moment I had only one chance to stay alive, even if
   only for a few hours or days.  I had to convince Stark that I could
   do anything he expected from a crematorium worker.  And thus I
   carried out all his orders like a robot.

   Coming from the room where I had been undressing corpses into the
   cremation room, there were two ovens on the left and four on the
   right.  A depression roughly 20 to 25 centimetres deep and 1 metre
   wide ran across the room and in this rails had been laid.  This track
   was about 15 metres long.  Leading off from the main track were six
   branch rails, each 4 metres long, going straight to the ovens.  On
   the main track was a turn-table which enabled a truck to be moved
   onto the branch tracks.  The cast-iron truck had a box-shaped
   superstructure made of sheet metal, with an overall height and width
   of just under 1 metre.  It was about 80 centimetres long.  An iron
   hand-rail went right across its entire width at the back.  A loading
   platform made of strong sheet metal and not quite 2 metres long
   jutted out in the front; its side walls were 12 to 15 centimetres
   high.  Open at the front, the platform was not quite as wide as the
   mouth of the oven so that it fitted easily into the muffle.  On the
   platform there was also a box- shaped pusher made of sheet metal,
   higher than the side walls of the platform and rounded off at the
   top.  It was about 50 centimetres deep, 30 to 40 centimetres high and
   could be moved back and forth quite easily.  Before the truck was
   loaded, the pusher was moved to the back of the platform.  To move
   the truck from one track to another one had to hold onto the
   turn-table to prevent the truck from jumping off the rails as it left
   the turn-table.  To begin with, the corpses were dragged close to the
   ovens.  Then, with the help of the turn-table, the truck was brought
   up to a branch rail, and the front edge of the platform supported by
   a wooden prop to prevent the truck from tipping during loading.  A
   prisoner then poured a bucket of water on the platform to stop it
   from becoming too hot inside the red-hot oven.  Meanwhile two
   prisoners were busy lifting a corpse onto a board Iying on the floor
   beside the platform.  Then they lifted the board, tipping it sideways
   so that the corpse dropped on the platform.  A prisoner standing on
   the other side checked that the body was in correct position.  

   When the truck was fully loaded two corpses were Iying on either side
   facing the oven while a third was wedged between them feet first.
   Now the time had come to open the oven door.  Immediately one was
   overcome by the fierce heat which rushed out.  When the wooden prop
   had been removed, two men took hold of the front end of the platform
   on either side pulling it right up to the oven.  Simultaneously two
   men pushed the truck from behind, thus forcing the platform into the
   oven.  The two who had been doing the carrying in front, having
   meanwhile nipped back a few steps, now braced themselves against the
   hand-rail while giving the pusher a vigorous shove with one leg.  In
   this way they helped complete the job of getting the corpses right
   inside the oven.  As soon as the front part of the pusher was inside
   the oven, the truck with its platform was pulled back.  In order to
   prevent the load of corpses from sliding out of the oven during this
   operation, a prisoner standing to one side thrust an iron fork into
   the oven pressing it against the corpses.  While the platform - which
   had been more than three-quarters inside the oven - was being
   manoeuvred on its truck back onto the turn-table, the oven door was
   closed again.

   During one such operation I was kneeling by the turn-table holding
   onto it with all my strength so that the truck might roll on
   smoothly.  But, my hands being unsteady, I failed to set the turn-
   table exactly in line with the track which resulted in the empty
   truck jumping rails as it rattled back from the oven.  I felt a sharp
   pain in the little finger of my right hand and saw that I was
   bleeding.  This wound nearly frightened me out of my wits.  I vaguely
   remembered being told about ptomaine poisoning as a child.  Quickly I
   tore a piece out of my sweaty shirt and tried to bandage my wound.
   At that moment nothing else seemed to matter; my mind was completely
   preoccupied with the wound.  And then Stark appeared.  He was annoyed
   about the derailed truck and began to hit me.  I screamed with pain.
   Then, making one last and desperate effort, I jumped up and helped to
   put the truck back onto the track.  Of one thing I was quite sure:
   any failure on my part to comply would have meant instant death.

   When all six ovens were loaded, we returned to our job of stripping
   corpses.  I worked with the greatest care, anxiously trying to
   prevent my wounded finger from coming into contact with a dead body.
   Stark was standing in the doorway from where he could observe both
   rooms.  My wound continued to bleed and had already soaked through my
   emergency bandage.  Thus it happened that a little blood spilled on
   an undergarment just as Stark was standing near me.  He noticed it at
   once and, raising his horsewhip, he shouted at me: 'You there, go and
   poke the stiffs, and be quick about it!' Although I quite failed to
   grasp what precisely it was he wanted me to do, I ran instinctively
   into the cremation room where I looked round completely at a loss.
   And then I saw Fischl: he walked up to one of the ovens and, lifting
   a flap in the lower half of the oven door, he proceeded to poke about
   inside the oven with a long fork.  'Come on, grab hold of this,' he
   whispered, 'poke the fork in and rattle it about, it'll make them
   burn better.  Quick, or he'll kill you.' I grabbed this devil's tool
   and used it as Fischl had shown me, poking about among the burning
   disintegrating corpses as though I was poking a coal fire with a
   poker.

   The powers that be had allocated twenty minutes for the cremation of
   three corpses.  It was Stark's duty to see to it that this time was
   strictly adhered to.  All at once, while I busied myself with my
   ghoulish task, three prisoners started to scurry around crazily in
   front of the ovens.  They had refused to go on working and were
   trying to dodge Stark's blows.  In the end they flung themselves on
   the concrete floor and, crawling on their bellies before him,
   implored him for pity's sake to finish them off with a bullet.  Stark
   drove them into the room where the corpses lay and ordered them to
   get on with their work.  But once again they threw themselves on the
   floor: they were beyond caring.  Stark went purple with rage.  His
   hand clutching the horsewhip was raised to come down on them in yet
   another vicious blow when suddenly he stopped short and simply said
   venomously: 'Just you wait, you lazy bastards, you've got it coming
   to you!' Then without another word he returned to the cremation room
   where he could be heard issuing orders.

   When all six ovens were working, Stark hustled us next door to strip
   more corpses while he stayed behind in the cremation room.
   Meanwhile, pretending all the time to be working hard, I was trying
   desperately to gather new strength.  Among the dead bodies I
   discovered our three fellow prisoners.  Although they were still
   breathing, they were Iying quite still, all their physical energy and
   the spiritual will to live drained out of them.  They had given up.

   I, on the other hand, had not yet reached that point of despair.  Of
   course, I had no illusions: I knew with certainty that a dreadful end
   awaited me.  But I was not yet ready to capitulate.  The more
   menacing death grew, the stronger grew my will to survive.  My every
   thought, every fibre of my being, was concentrated on only one thing:
   to stay alive, one minute, one hour, one day, one week.  But not to
   die.  I was still young, after all.  The memory of my parents, my
   family and my early youth in my home town had faded.  I was obsessed
   and dominated by the determination that I must not die.  The heap of
   dead bodies which I had seen and which I was made to help remove only
   served to strengthen my determination to do everything possible not
   to perish in the same way; not to have to lie under a heap of dead
   bodies; not to be pushed into the oven, prodded with an iron fork
   and, ultimately, changed into smoke and ashes.  Anything but that !
   I only wanted one thing: to go on living.  Sometime, somehow, there
   might be a chance to get out of here.  But if I wanted to survive
   there was only one thing: I must submit and carry out every single
   order.  It was only by adopting this attitude that a man was able to
   carry on his ghastly trade in the crematorium of Auschwitz. 

   By late afternoon the fire had reduced many of the dead bodies into
   ashes.  Yet the bulk of them was still Iying about because, with
   three corpses going into each oven at intervals of twenty minutes, it
   was impossible to cremate more than fifty-four in one hour.  I
   calculated that it would take quite a time before all the dead were
   cremated.  And what would happen to us then ?  I tried to push this
   unanswerable question to the back of my mind.  Perhaps no decision
   would be taken until tomorrow.  And today I was still alive. That was
   the main thing."  (Mu"ller, 11-17)

                              Work Cited

Mu"ller, Filip. Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers.
New York: Stein and Day, 1979

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