The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/m/mueller.filip/muller.010

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - Eyewitness Auschwitz: Birkenau shootings
Summary: Nazi "selection" and killing process at Birkenau described
         by survivor Filip Mu"ller - SS uses small-bore weapons
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Old Frog's Almanac, Vancouver Island, CANADA
Keywords: Auschwitz,Birkenau

Archive/File: holocaust/poland/auschwitz muller.010
Last-modified: 1993/09/20
XRef: index auschwitz

   "The relative calm at Birkenau in the early days did not last.
   Soon after my arrival tens of thousands of Jewish citizens from
   France, Greece, Holland, the ghetto of Bialystok, and the camps of
   Pomeran, Kola[*], Zawiercie and Poznan were swallowed up by the
   insatiable ovens of the crematoria.  The liquidation of the ghettos
   of Sosnovits[*] and Bedzin which began in August 1943 was one of a
   number of particularly brutal measures carried out in Birkenau at
   that time.  Umpteen thousands were gassed within a period of ten
   days.  This is an account of how it began.

   One evening as we marched out on night-shift hundreds of armed SS men
   were lined up along the street.  Because of the comparative closeness
   of the two towns in Upper Silesia the SS were afraid that the local
   population as well as the Jews in the ghettos might have come to know
   about the atrocities perpetrated in Birkenau.  For this reason
   several hundred SS men were ordered to action stations before the
   start of the campaign.

   For some weeks now I had been a stoker in crematorium 5.  During this
   particular night we cremated corpses from a transport from France.
   The remaining bodies were stacked like logs in the changing room.  At
   dawn next morning all was quiet in the area The new death factories
   surrounding the crematorium.  The silence was broken by the barking
   of dogs and the brisk commands of their guards.  Preparations were
   under way for a fresh series of mass murders.  Before long we could
   hear SS men shouting orders.  Then came the sound of desperate
   wailing and lamenting.  When I looked out of the window I saw in the
   grey dawn thousands of people running along the dusty road to the
   crematorium.  On either side SS men struck at them with whips and
   sticks, kicking them and shouting incessantly: ' Come on, come on,
   faster, faster !  ' The column running the gauntlet was several
   hundred metres long.  They ran as fast as they could, but many could
   not keep up the pace.  It was above all the elderly who were left
   behind.  Their sweaty bodies were clad in rags on which the yellow
   Star of David was sewn.  The excited dogs tore not only the people's
   clothes but snapped at their limbs.  Fathers and mothers carrying
   small children were worst off: they were running for their very
   lives.  Anything encumbering them was dropped on the way, even their
   last precious piece of bread.  Mothers with small children in their
   arms tried to keep up with their husbands, for they could see what
   happened to the ones who became winded.  Anyone who fell and lay face
   down in the dust never got up alive.

   Presently about 2,000 people were assembled in the crematorium
   yard.  Once they had their breath back, their main concern was for
   their children.  However, before very long they began to realize that
   what they had gone through was nothing to what awaited them.  Facing
   them was the red-brick building with its two forbidding chimneys
   belching forth the smoke and the fumes of the fires of hell.  They
   were surrounded by an armed gang of SS men, determined to suppress
   the least resistance with brutal force.  The people were seized by
   fear and helplessness.  Even the children fell silent and no longer
   asked questions.

   Accompanied by his underlings Gorges and Kurschuss, Oberscharfu"hrer
   Voss stepped before the crowd and shouted on top of his voice: 'Now
   listen carefully, you Jews, to what I have to say.  In your own
   interest, I repeat, in your own best interest, I ask you to get
   undressed as quickly as possible and to put your clothes on the
   ground by your side .' This unusually terse speech demonstrated one
   thing: the SS were in no doubt that the people facing them knew
   exactly what was to befall them.  That was why they saved themselves
   the trouble of talking about the necessity for showers and
   disinfection and the whole play-acting performance.  A few succinct
   commands, which said what was required, sufficed.

   Standing apart was a group of SS leaders who were obviously watching
   whether today's method of making short work of the wretched victims
   would prove feasible.  Even Obersturmfu"hrer Ho"ssler whom, for
   obvious reasons, we used to call 'Moishe Liar' stood apart and was
   not called upon to play his usual role.  The effect of the
   Oberscharfuh"rer's request on the people was the same as if they had
   been told that their lives were finally forfeited.  At first sight it
   seemed that they were resigned to their fate.  They began to undress,
   undressing also their children, and it was as though with every
   garment they were discarding a little of their lives, those lives
   which for most of them had, in any case, consisted of nothing but
   want and privation.  Many were fighting back their tears, afraid that
   their children might be alarmed or start asking questions again.  The
   children, too, were looking around sad-eyed.  Quite soon they were
   all undressed.  Husbands and wives embraced, caressing their children
   and trying to comfort each other.  Disappointed with a world that had
   turned its back on them, they used their last few minutes to search
   their souls and think about their lives which, however wretched they
   might have been, still seemed more desirable than the death which now
   awaited them.

   Suddenly from among the crowd a loud voice could be heard: an
   emaciated little man had begun to recite the Viddui.  First he bent
   forward, then he lifted his head and his arms heavenward and after
   every sentence, spoken loud and clear, he struck his chest with his
   fist.  Hebrew words echoed round the yard: 'bogati' (we have sinned),
   'gazalti' (we have done wrong to our fellow men), 'dibarti' (we have
   slandered), 'heevetJti' (we have been deceitful), 'verhirschati' (we
   have sinned), 'sadti' (we have been proud), 'maradti' (we have been
   disobedient).  'My God, before ever I was created I signified
   nothing, and now that I am created I am as if I had not been created.
   I am dust in life, and how much more so in death.  I will praise you
   everlastingly, Lord, God everlasting, Amen !  Amen!' The crowd of
   2,000 repeated every word, even though perhaps not all of them
   understood the meaning of this Old Testament confession.  Up to that
   moment, most of them had managed to control themselves.  But now
   almost everyone was weeping.  There were heart-rending scenes among
   members of families.  But their tears were not tears of despair.
   These people were in a state of deep religious emotion.  They had put
   themselves in God's hands.  Strangely enough the SS men present did
   not intervene, but let the people be.

   Meanwhile Oberscharfu"hrer Voss stood near by with his cronies,
   impatiently consulting his watch.  The prayers had reached a climax:
   the crowd was reciting the prayer for the dead which traditionally is
   said only by surviving relatives for a member of the family who has
   died.  But since after their death there would be nobody left to say
   the Kaddish for them they, the doomed, recited it while they were
   still alive.  And then they walked into the gas chamber.  Zyclon B
   crystals extinguished their lives while life in the camp and in the
   Sonderkommando went on as usual.

   The Jews from the ghettos of Sosnovits and Bedzin had neither hopes
   nor illusions about their fate in Auschwitz.  They lived not far from
   the camp and knew what to expect.  In the ghettos of Polish towns
   there were always individuals or small groups who tried to escape.
   Most of these attempts, undertaken long before the liquidation of
   these ghettos, came to a tragic end.  Members of the Katowice Gestapo
   used police dogs to unearth the fugitives in their secret
   hiding-places, mostly in shelters hastily dug in wooded areas, and
   dragged them out of their burrows like rabbits.  Afterwards they were
   taken to the crematorium at Birkenau where a bullet finished them
   off.  Particularly heart-rending was the sight of young mothers
   standing naked, their baby in their arms, at the execution wall.
   Many of these mothers implored their executioners to kill them before
   their children.

   One day I was able to have a last conversation with a small group of
   Jewish families who had been caught.  For four months, so they told
   me, they lived in dug-outs near Sosnovits, leaving their
   hiding-places only at night to get a breath of fresh air and also to
   provide themselves with the bare necessities of life.  When their
   money ran out, their supplies dried up too.  Hunger and thirst, cold
   and disease, took them to the brink of despair.  In the end they were
   given away by the constant crying of their hungry and feverish
   children.  SS patrols who were always prowling around with their dogs
   tracked them down.  Without questioning or trial they were brought to
   Birkenau from where there was no return They were exhausted and on
   the point of collapse, and they knew full well what was in store for
   them.  When the SS men told them to undress they did not seem to take
   their command in; however, they began to undress slowly.

   I was watching a young mother.  First she took off her shoes, then
   the shoes of her small daughter.  Then she removed her stockings,
   then the stockings of the little girl.  All the time she endeavoured
   to answer the child's questions steadily.  When she asked: 'Mummy,
   why are we undressing?' her mother replied: 'Because we must.' When
   the little girl went on to ask: 'Is the doctor going to examine me,
   and make me well again?' her sorrowful mother replied: 'He will, my
   darling, soon you will be well, and then we'll all be happy.' It cost
   the unfortunate woman all her self-control to utter these words.  She
   was struggling to go on talking to her beloved child quite normally
   to spare her the terror of her imminent death.  In these last few
   minutes the young mother had aged fifty years.  What were her
   innermost thoughts at this moment ?  Was she remembering her own
   youth, her home town, her parents' house or the brief days of her

   At last an SS man came to take her to the place of execution.  She
   lifted up her little girl and hugged her tenderly.  She even forgot,
   so engrossed with her child was she, to bid farewell to her husband
   who was standing not far from her.  And now she stood in front of the
   wall of execution, holding her child clasped tightly in her arms.
   The room reeked of fresh, warm human blood.  Motionless, her eyes
   closed, the woman waited for the end; she waited and waited for the
   killer bullet to take her away from this tormenting life, from this
   hostile world, into another realm.  Did she consider that, as she
   fell, she might pull her child down and bury it beneath her?  That
   was surely not what she wanted.  But neither did she want to be an
   eyewitness when the life of her darling was extinguished.  Meanwhile
   Voss, the executioner, was circling round mother and child looking
   for a spot on the child's little body at which to aim his gun.  When
   the distracted mother noticed this she began to twist and turn to the
   left and to the right, back and forth, anything to take her child out
   of his field of fire.  Suddenly three shots cracked through the
   silence.  The little girl was hit in the side of the chest.  Her
   mother feeling her child's blood flowing down her body lost all
   self-control and flung her daughter straight at her murderer's head
   while he was already aiming the barrel of his gun at her.
   Oberscharfu"hrer Voss grew very pale and stood there petrified.  When
   he felt the warm blood on his cheek he dropped his gun and wiped his
   face with his hand.  A few seconds went by before SS-Sturmann
   Kurschuss grasped that his chief was no longer master of the
   situation.  Then he hurriedly took hold of Voss' arm.  Gorges picked
   up the murder weapon.  'Carry on, Rottenfu"hrer!' stammered his
   unnerved chief, 'I've had enough for today.'

   When the execution was over, fifty naked bodies were lying on the
   ground behind the wall.  A few were still breathing stertorously,
   their limbs moving feebly while they sought to raise their
   blood-stained heads; their eyes were wide open: the victims were not
   quite dead because the bullets had missed their mark by a fraction.
   Gorges went to examine each one and administered the coup de grace
   into the heart or the eye to all who still gave signs of life.

   At these executions 6mm small-bore guns were used and fired from a
   distance of about 3 to 5 centimetres.  At the point of entry they
   left behind a blue-grey stain the size of a silver coin with a small
   bullet hole in the centre." (Mu"ller, 68-73)

[archival notes]

* Kola: Probably Kolo, in Warthegau, now Central Poland.
  Sosnowits and Bezdin: Sosnowiec and Bedzin, neighboring cities
  annexed to Silesia, now South Poland.

                              Work Cited

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

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