The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/m/mueller.filip/muller.003


Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - Eyewitness Auschwitz: The Crematorium (2/2)
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,Grabner,crematorium,Stark

Archive/File: holocaust/poland/auschwitz muller.003 
Last-modified: 1993/09/16
XRef: index auschwitz 

   "While the bodies were being cremated we prepared a further load for
   the ovens.  Still there were only four of us.  We were rushing around
   in double-quick time, each one of us having to do the work of two
   men.  There was not a moment to pause to draw breath.  Exhausted and
   stupefied by the constant rush we had forgotten to switch off one set
   of fans, simply because we no longer noticed their humming.  They had
   fanned the flames to such an extent that because of the intense heat
   the fire-bricks in the chimney had become loose and fallen into the
   duct connecting the oven to the chimney.  This meant that the flames
   no longer had a way out; fiery red tongues were licking out of the
   oven and in no time the cremation room was enveloped in a dense fog
   of sickly choking smoke.  Stark was rushing around like a madman and
   finally dashed outside towards a wooden hut which housed the
   headquarters of the political department in whose offices sat his
   superiors.  Presently he returned accompanied by several SS men who
   showed us how to extinguish the fire.  After attaching a hose to a
   tap we opened one of the ovens and attempted to douse the flames with
   a jet of water.  As this hit the fire there was a sound of hissing
   and crackling as if a lump of ice had been thrown into a pan of
   boiling fat.  The flames died down, but underneath the surface the
   fire continued to smoulder with greyish-black smoke belching out of
   the oven.  From gaps in the doors of the remaining five ovens puffs
   of fumes and flames kept bursting forth every few seconds.  Stark was
   dashing about in great agitation, shouting at us to fetch water in
   buckets.  Then we tore open the doors of the remaining five ovens.
   Amid blows, threats and a great deal of shouting on the part of the
   SS men we raced to the ovens with buckets of water from the tap and
   emptied them onto the grates.  Blood-stained from blows we struggled
   with the flames for another half hour until at long last the
   fire-brigade, manned by prisoners, arrived.  They directed their hose
   first at the chimney and the flat roof of the crematorium.  

   Stark was still scurrying around nervously.  Of all the SS men he was
   the one most agitated.  Perhaps he feared that he would be held
   responsible for the blaze.  Suddenly I heard some shots in the next
   room where the three prisoners who had refused to go on working were
   Iying on the floor.  Some time later I looked through the half-open
   door and saw that they had been shot in the head.  Obviously it was
   thought that these three were responsible for the fire, because the
   four of us on our own had been unable to cope with the work.  

   There was now a distinctly strange atmosphere.  Nobody shouted any
   longer, nobody aimed blows at us.  Like condemned criminals waiting
   for their execution we sat in a corner of the cremation chamber
   without anybody taking any notice of us.  Night was falling.
   Electric bulbs gleamed feebly through the misty grey of the evening,
   like candles in the churchyard on All Soul's Day.  The black
   wrought-iron lantern over the entrance to the crematorium spread its
   dim light, tracing the contours of the vine leaves, the grey wall and
   the heavy door.  An unsuspecting passerby might have assumed the
   comfort of a cosy home behind this pleasant facade.  Nobody would
   have believed that this door was the entrance gate to hell.  Neither,
   I daresay, did the three fellow prisoners who had come to join us
   guess where this romantic gate was to lead them.  They had been
   brought here by the SS guard, as had we that afternoon, to replace
   the three prisoners whom Stark had shot.  I allowed myself to be a
   little more hopeful.  

   Late that night a tarpaulin-covered lorry backed into the crematorium
   yard.  Some time later a group of SS leaders appeared in the yard.
   Unterscharfu"hrer [Sergeant] Stark and his henchmen stood to
   attention, smartly raised their right arm and shouted a brisk 'Heil
   Hitler !' .  After a brief report we were ordered to load on the
   truck the remaining corpses which had by now been stripped of their
   clothes.  

   Maurice and I dragged the dead bodies outside across the slippery
   concrete floor of the crematorium.  Then we grabbed them by their
   hands and feet and flung them on the truck where two prisoners
   stacked them like logs, one on top of the other.  All this took place
   at breakneck speed with the SS men shouting at us to work faster, and
   faster still.  The new men were utterly dazed and shrank from
   touching the slippery corpses.  Often they lost hold of the damp
   hands, arms, legs and trunks and let the dead bodies fall to the
   ground.  The SS men reacted with renewed beatings.  When two of the
   newcomers fell down under the blows abuse was heaped on them: 'If you
   stupid swine bust the ovens, we'll have to find other ways of doing
   things.  Up there with those stiffs, and get the hell on with it or
   I'll have your balls off!' The most loud-mouthed and evil-tongued of
   them all, his voice hoarse and thick like an alcoholic's, was the
   short SS leader whom I had encountered that afternoon by the tea
   vats.  There he was, with legs apart, arms akimbo, his body slightly
   bent forward, watching us at work.  Now and then he turned to the SS
   leaders and deputy leaders by his side and explained something to
   them, obviously very full of himself.  Later we learned that this was
   SS-Haupsturmfu"her [Captain] Hans Aumeier who was in charge of the
   maincamp.  Beside him was the chief of the Gestapo's political
   department, SS-Untersturmfu"hrer [Second Lieutenant] Max Grabner.  

   Meanwhile the truck had been piled to overflowing with corpses.  The
   tail-board was raised and fastened and the tarpaulin firmly secured
   all round to make quite sure that nothing betrayed its ghastly load.
   Thus camouflaged the truck left the crematorium and was parked by the
   roadside not far from the SS hospital.  

   Shortly before midnight we had finished loading the fourth and last
   truck.  We squeezed ourselves into a small space at the back, in
   between the corpses, leaning against them as against a wall, without
   giving them the least thought.  Before we left, an SS man distributed
   bread rations.  Our hands were filthy with blood and excrement, but
   we did not care: hunger and starvation had taught us to appreciate a
   hunk of bread.  The mere sight of it was enough to make us forget all
   else.  I broke off small pieces, holding them in my mouth until they
   were soaked with saliva.  Then I chewed them slowly and deliberately
   as though savouring a great delicacy.  I did not notice that the
   truck had begun to move, and it was only when intermittent shafts of
   light started to penetrate our darkness that I realized we were on
   our way.  Curiously I lifted a corner of the tarpaulin.  The light
   came from the headlamps of a car which was following us.  Doubtless
   it was to keep an eye on us in case we tried to escape under cover of
   darkness.  They had overestimated our store of energy; we were so
   weak and dejected that at that moment no one was even thinking of
   flight.

   Through a chink between the tail-board and the tarpaulin I noticed
   that we were passing through a small town.  Now and then a solitary
   pedestrian walked the nocturnal roads.  Presumably we were driving
   through Auschwitz.  The sound of our engines echoed in the empty
   streets.  When the ghostly convoy had passed the last houses the road
   began to climb slightly as we crossed a railway line.  Judging from
   the jolts and bumps we were now going down a country lane.  I turned
   round and noticed to my horror that the corpses behind us had started
   to move.  Rocked and jolted by the journey over uneven terrain, our
   gruesome cargo had begun to sway.  It seemed as though the dead had
   come to life again.  When the driver suddenly slammed on the brakes
   as he went round a bend the top layer of bodies slid into the rear
   part of the cargo space and came down on top of us.  Dozens of
   corpses stiff as boards, pinned us down.  I lay on my stomach on the
   floor of the truck; any attempt to free myself was quite futile.
   Every jolt increased the pressure and I could scarcely breathe.  I
   shouted for help, but my voice was drowned by the noise of the engine
   and the creaking of the truck body.  My six companions fared no
   better.  It was as though all these slippery, rigid bodies were
   determined to bury us beneath them and take us with them to their
   final doom.  

   At long last the truck stopped.  An SS man was shouting: 'Come on,
   come on !  Didn't you hear ?  Get down !  Come along !  Out !  Get a
   move on !' As far as the corpses were concerned these threats left
   them, literally, cold; and we could not make ourselves heard.  Only
   when the headlamps of the car behind us cast their light on the back
   of our truck, did the SS men have an inkling of what had happened.
   After they had let down the tail-board and removed several corpses we
   were able to free ourselves.  I was aching all over: I felt as though
   I had fractured every single bone in my body.  My companions, too,
   were groaning.  We sat on the ground gasping for air.  A few steps
   away stood the four trucks loaded to bursting point, as well as an
   ambulance marked on all sides with red crosses.  Headlights
   illuminated a large area with a deep oval- shaped pit in the middle.
   At its bottom a pool of water had formed in which the moon was
   mirrored.  Round the edge of the pit loose  and obviously freshly
   dug clay had been heaped.  From the conversation among the SS men
   near by I gathered that, unexpectedly, ground-water had seeped
   through into the pit, and now they did not seem quite sure whether
   this pit was suitable for the purpose for which it had been dug.
   They made a detailed inspection of the clay round the edge and one of
   them was let down into the pit on the end of a rope.  When he came
   up, he reported on the height of the ground-water and they went into
   another huddle trying to decide what to do.  

   At this point my tiredness got the better of my curiosity and I fell
   asleep Iying on the ground.  I was awoken by the sound of cars
   approaching.  A group of SS leaders, with Lagerfuhrer* Aumeier and
   Gestapo chief Grabner at the head, climbed out.  They walked up to
   the pit, examining and looking at it from every angle, after which
   they conferred for a while.  Then we were ordered to start throwing
   the corpses into the pit.  First two prisoners threw them down from
   the truck; then our three companions from France dragged them to the
   edge of the pit where Maurice and I were standing ready.  Grabbing
   the corpses by their hands and feet we pitched them as far as we
   could towards the middle of the pit.  There was a splash of water as
   they fell, then they sank to the shallow bottom.  Gradually our
   strength began to fail and we barely managed to dispose of the last
   few corpses from the first truck.  When the SS men noticed that we
   were fairly whacked they ordered the French prisoners to relieve us.

   It was almost dawn when we returned to camp.  Everybody was still
   asleep.  Hundreds of light-bulbs fastened to the concrete poles of
   the barbed-wire fence bordered the camp road, which was quite empty.
   Only the clip-clop of our wooden clogs echoed through the ghostly
   silence.  Surrounding us were endless parallel rows of barbed wire
   with their warning notices ' Caution - Danger' underneath a skull and
   cross-bones; pointing at us were the mouths of machine-guns mounted
   on the watch-towers; the place we were bound for was one of the
   desolate red-brick buildings which housed the camp prisoners.  It was
   enough to plunge anyone into a state of utter hopelessness and
   boundless despair.  That was why many people, once they realized
   their situation, chose to put an end to their misery.  This morning
   as we were returning to camp we saw several dead bodies Iying in the
   'forbidden zone', or 'death strip', as the area along the high-
   tension wire fences was called in concentration camp slang.  'He has
   gone to the wire', was camp slang for a prisoner who had been
   released from his sufferings either by an electric shock or by a
   burst from a machine-gun before he could reach the fence.  

   The entrance door to Block 11 was locked.  One of the guards rang the
   bell: Oberscharfu"hrer [Platoon Sergeant] Plagge unlocked the door
   and let us in.  The nocturnal stillness was disturbed only by the
   rattling of his keys as he led us down to the labyrinth of prison
   cells in the cellar.  The lock creaked as Plagge unlocked the
   iron-barred door through which we went into the centre corridor.  At
   once we were met by a choking stench.  In the dim light the
   whitewashed walls stood out against the black floor.  There was
   neither window nor ventilation in the cell, three paces long, three
   paces wide, into which Plagge hustled us.  The cell door was locked
   and at once the light went out.  We were dead tired and fell asleep
   as soon as we were stretched out on the floor.  At last the end of
   this long and eventful day had come.  

   When I awoke I guessed that it must be morning outside.  I could only
   deduce this from the voices I could hear, for no light, not the
   smallest shaft, could have found its way into our cell, and we could
   not tell what time it was.  In this state of isolation, of being
   totally Into the crematonum cut off from the outside world, camp life
   seemed a positive oasis of freedom to me.  

   We urinated on the cell floor like animals in a shed, for in the
   complete darkness nobody noticed that by the door stood a
   wooden-lidded bucket.  My body still ached all over and the slightest
   movement was agony.  In addition I was tormented by an intolerable
   thirst.  

   The rattling of keys, the opening of iron-barred gates, the unlocking
   of cell doors, the steps of prison guards, all these sounds aroused
   in the prisoners locked in their cells a feeling of almost unbearable
   tension.  For no one knew what the unlocking of his cell might
   signify for him.  Perhaps he had been granted the longed-for return
   to the 'freedom of the camp'.  On the other hand it could well be
   that they would lead him out into the yard, stand him against the
   black wall and finish him offwith a bullet in the nape of his neck.
   Or worse still, it could mean an interrogation in the political
   department of the Gestapo which almost invariably included prolonged
   and cruel torture.  

   As for us, we registered any sign of life in the corridor outside our
   cell as a good omen.  And yet we waited in vain for somebody to let
   us out.  They simply left us in uncertainty, in absolute darkness,
   worse than cattle.  At last, after an interminable wait, the light
   was switched on.  The door was unlocked, Schlage appeared and hustled
   us into the corridor where an SS man was waiting for us.  He took us
   to the main gate.  Clearly it was already midday, for the barrack
   orderlies were coming out of the kitchen building carrying cauldrons
   of turnip soup on long poles.  The sun shone on the camp street which
   was teeming with prisoners.  Even though they lived behind barbed
   wire they seemed to me to be free, and I envied them.  A few turned
   round as though they meant to talk to us, but turned away as soon as
   they noticed our hands and faces encrusted with blood and the mud on
   our clogs.  Most of them went past without noticing us.  Their
   stomachs were rumbling and they were interested only in the impending
   ritual of the ladling out of soup."  (Mu"ller, 17-23)

                              Work Cited

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

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