The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/m/mueller.filip/muller.013


Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - Eyewitness Auschwitz: Bialystok victims
Summary: Woman from Bialystok transport warned by friend, warnings
         ignored and others gassed, but she is tortured to learn who
         told her of the pending executions, then shot. The man who
         warned her is cremated alive.
Reply-To: kmcvay@oneb.almanac.bc.ca
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Old Frog's Almanac, Vancouver Island, CANADA
Keywords: Auschwitz,Birkenau,Bialystok,Ho"ssler,Schillinger,Schwarzhuber,
          Voss,Gorges,Kurschuss,Buntrok
Lines: 230

Archive/File: holocaust/poland/auschwitz muller.013
Last-modified: 1993/09/20 
XRef: index auschwitz

   "When in the summer of 1943 a transport arrived from Bialystok a
   member of the Sonderkommando recognized the wife of one of his
   friends among the arrivals.  In the changing room of crematorium 5 he
   told her quite plainly that they would all be gassed and subsequently
   cremated.  The young woman believed him.  After a while, when the
   full meaning of his ill tidings had sunk in, she began to tremble all
   over, then she tore her hair, beat her breast and scratched her face
   with her finger-nails.  In a few minutes she had succeeded in
   disfiguring herself utterly.  With her blood-stained face,
   half-naked, and foaming at the mouth, she ran from one woman to the
   next, repeating breathlessly what she had learned.  What she said
   sounded so terrible that the women quickly turned away.  Since nobody
   would pay any attention to her she ran across to where the men were
   undressing.  She forced her way through the crowd and cried, her
   voice shaking: 'Believe me, people, they want to gas and cremate us,
   do believe me, they are going to gas and cremate us all !' But the
   men, busy undressing, did not take much notice of her hysterical
   outbursts.  Before they had time to listen properly she was already
   gone.  Besides, the way she looked and behaved, her frantic speech,
   her hasty movements, did nothing to help make her words more
   credible.  She behaved rather like a madwoman so that what she said
   was not taken seriously.  The men went on undressing as if nothing
   had happened.

   However, before very long what the woman had told them began to creep
   back into people's minds.  Reflected in their eyes were fear,
   uncertainty, disquiet and mistrust.  They remembered that in the
   ghetto they had heard speak of what the woman had told them, even
   though they could never quite bring themselves to believe it.  And
   the mothers, too, with their small children, now felt instinctively
   that something was amiss and began, as if by command, to dress first
   their children and then themselves.  When the other women saw this,
   they did the same.  Clearly they felt that in the situation in which
   they found themselves physical nakedness made them weak and
   vulnerable.

   Meanwhile, SS leaders Schwarzhuber and Ho"ssler were standing by the
   door of the changing room together with Dr Rhode, the SS doctor on
   duty.  Schwarzhuber was in charge; Ho"ssler's job would be to calm
   the people - if necessary - with his lies; while Dr Rhode, some time
   after the poison gas was introduced into the gas chamber, would, by
   looking through a peep-hole, check that all life inside was
   extinguished.  Only then could the door be opened.  

   The three SS men were talking together rather animatedly so that they
   did not immediately notice the tense atmosphere and the alarm among
   the crowd, Similarly, the other SS men present, Voss, Gorges,
   Kurschuss, Schillinger and Buntrock, deceived by the people's initial
   calm behaviour, failed to pay special attention to what went on
   around them.  

   The crowd had managed to press forward towards the door.  They
   were all fully dressed and determined to get out of this dangerous
   building at any price.  But where were they to go ?  To the yard or
   to the sauna?  Or ought they to attempt to escape by forcing their
   way through the barbed wire ?  But surely there was no chance of
   escape here ?  The building was surrounded by armed SS, determined to
   shoot anyone trying to escape.  Their home was far, so far away.  It
   was not the number of kilometres which separated them from their
   homes, but simply this world, so alien and so far from their own
   familiar world that now it existed only in their memory.

   The crowd of more than 1,000 kept pressing towards the exit.
   Suddenly Oberscharfu"hrer Schillinger who was first to realize what
   was happening grew deathly pale.  He just stood there unable to move:
   this unexpected situation had caught him completely unawares.  The
   crowd was now only a few metres away from him, but he received no
   help from his colleagues who had also been taken by surprise.  Now
   the crowd had come face to face with them, while they were still
   standing there without taking action.  They were used to regarding
   the many who arrived in their daily transports as mere sacrificial
   lambs.  All at once they were faced with a contingency with which
   they had not reckoned, and it caught them on the hop.  They did not
   look terribly efficient, those hard men.  Perhaps they had grown
   accustomed to regard themselves as more powerful than they actually
   were.

   Lagerfuh"rer Schwarzhuber who was standing only a few paces from the
   exit was the first to react to the threatening attitude of the crowd.
   With one leap he was outside.  His determined action had an
   electrifying effect on the other SS men.  They roused themselves as
   though from a trance and quickly raced to the door where they formed
   a chain.  They knew that Schwarzhuber would rouse reinforcements
   which would arrive within a few minutes.  Now Ho"ssler, his
   self-confidence fully restored, stepped forward to face the front row
   of the pressing throng.  He tried to stop the people pressing forward
   by waving them back.  But all his gesticulating and shouting had no
   effect at all.  In desperation he reached into his pocket, drew out a
   whistle and blew it vigorously several times.  The people stopped
   somewhat puzzled.  Slowly the noise died down.  The shrill blasts on
   the whistle had obviously scared them and, at least for the time
   being, diverted them from their determination to get to the door,
   come what may.  

   Fully aware of his initial success, Ho"ssler endeavoured to gain
   contact with the crowd.  'Now look here, you people,' he said, 'keep
   calm, in your own interest!  Do keep calm!' When he noticed that his
   words were ignored, he tried once more to attract attention by
   blowing his whistle.  Again he began to speak, this time a little
   more politely: 'Ladies and gentlemen!' 

   But before he could go on, the still half-naked woman suddenly popped
   up before him screaming: ' You want to kill us with gas! I know !'

   Immediately Ho"ssler tried to soften the impact of her words.  He
   tapped his forehead and said in a tone clearly intended to ridicule
   the woman: 'You must be out of your mind, my good woman.  Whoever
   told you that cock-and-bull story ?' 

   'And I do know that you want to kill us with gas, kill us, that's
   what you want to do, Herr Kommandant !' the woman replied.  

   Ho"ssler's attempt to undermine the woman's credibility had little
   effect.  The sudden quiet which ensued was a clear indication of the
   seriousness of the position.  The crowd's mistrust grew apace: what
   the woman had shouted did not seem unbelievable any more; it had had
   its effect even on the doubters, although they were reluctant to
   admit it.  After all, was it not true that these people came from
   areas where everybody knew that in Nazi parlance 'resettlement' meant
   death ?  And now they realized that they were close to death.  How to
   escape must have been the one thought in all their minds, but escape
   was there none.  They stood there, helpless and confused.

   Ho"ssler, sizing up the situation correctly, did some fast talking:
   'Ladies and gentlemen!' he said.  'What in heaven's name has got into
   you ?  I've read the Ortskommandant's report, and according to that
   the authorities appear to have been quite happy with the behaviour of
   you Jews in the ghetto.  You did your work well and proved that you
   are good workers.  Living conditions here are much better.  But in
   return we do expect discipline.  Now just go and get yourselves
   undressed and ready for your shower.  There's no need to be
   frightened, I give you my word of honour.  You are sensible people,
   aren't you?  Surely you're not going to listen to a lunatic?  On the
   other hand, if you don't obey our orders, we'll have to take that as
   a refusal to work, with serious consequences for you, I'm afraid.
   Refusing to obey orders really doesn't pay.  There's a war on, and
   everybody must do his or her duty.' While he was speaking Ho"ssler
   eyed the crowd dispassionately.  

   During the last few sentences he had to raise his voice because the
   barking of dogs in the passage almost drowned his words.  Then the
   door was opened.  There, flanked by a pack of intimidating dogs,
   stood SS guards, their pistols in their hands ready to fire.  The
   dogs were straining at their leads; they were only a few metres away
   from the crowd and waiting to pounce on them as soon as they were
   unleashed.  They bared their fangs viciously and barked loudly.  Some
   of the children started to cry.  Their fathers and mothers lifted
   them up to comfort them.  And now the people understood only too well
   that all resistance was useless.  The show of force on the part of
   the SS had succeeded: the frightened crowd was willing to do whatever
   was demanded of them; indeed they would even take that shower if they
   must, as long as they were given a pledge that they would stay alive.

   Once more Ho"ssler addressed them.  It would, that was clear from his
   now unsmiling face, be for the last time.  His words were terse and
   succinct.  ' For the last time, do you want to stay alive and work,
   or are you going on refusing to get undressed ?' Slowly the people
   fell silent.  Here and there a dog could be heard barking, children
   were still sobbing, and a few desperate men and women, on the point
   of nervous collapse, were weeping noisily.  ' Be quiet !  ' cried
   Ho"ssler harshly.  'Do be sensible, it is for your own good.' The
   mood of the people vacillated between disappointment and hope.  How
   gladly they would have abandoned their feelings of fear and mistrust.
   How happy they would have been if only they could have continued
   living and working.  

   And what ought we prisoners to do in this situation ?  Ought we not
   to have asked the people to resist and then, together, ended this
   detestable life honourably ?  Obsessed by this thought I turned to a
   fellow prisoner who happened to be standing next to me.  He had been
   an officer in the Greek army and a member of the Resistance.  Perhaps
   he would know what to do.  But he was a pragmatist and rejected my
   suggestion as utterly absurd, arguing that dying heroically and
   honourably together with our fellows would help no one: we must be
   patient and bide our time.  His words checked my desire for action.
   I did feel very strongly for the people here, but on reflection I
   realized the futility of resistance.  In my subconscious the feeling
   that as a passive observer I was guilty had evidently become firmly
   entrenched.  I looked at the SS men and their excited dogs and came
   back to reality.  Of all the places in the whole wide world this must
   surely be the very one where any attempt at saving human lives was a
   senseless undertaking.  

   For a brief minute or two the people stood hesitating and not knowing
   what to do.  But there was the SS, there were the dogs growling and
   barking, and the crowd knew they must submit.  One by one they turned
   away; slowly they began to undress again.  Who can tell whether they
   may not still, even now, have clung to a last, a very last hope that
   a miracle might happen.  For death is always inconceivable.  

   They died in the gas chamber not long afterwards, cheated of their
   hope for a miracle.  The only one who stayed alive a few hours longer
   was the woman who had wanted to warn the others.  She was taken to a
   room next to the gas chamber where she was interrogated under
   torture.  Making her talk was not difficult for the SS who had plenty
   of experience in such matters.  Every prisoner working in the
   crematorium was lined up for an identity parade.  And sure enough it
   was not long before the woman identified the man who had told her
   that they were all to be gassed and cremated.  

   While the woman was being shot, SS men bound the prisoner.  Then Voss
   and Kurschuss led him to one of the ovens.  He was pushed inside and
   burnt alive.  The rest of us were made to watch his hideous end.
   Obviously the SS meant to set an example.  Nevertheless there was
   another incident a few months later when a friend of mine met a
   similar gruesome death for telling people from the camp of Westerbork
   that they were to be gassed." (Mu"ller, 75-80)


                              Work Cited

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

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