The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/m/mueller.filip/muller.004

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - Eyewitness Auschwitz: The Killing Method
Summary: The SS decides to improve the killing process by having its
         victims remove their clothing before entering the gas chambers.
         Collection of clothing and valuables described... prisoners
         split up the food left behind...gassing method described..
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Old Frog's Almanac, Vancouver Island, CANADA
Keywords: Aumeier,Auschwitz,Grabner,Ho"ssler,Quackernack,gas masks

Archive/File: holocaust/poland/auschwitz muller.004
Last-modified: 1993/09/16 
XRef: index auschwitz

   "We had spent several days idle in our cell when after evening
   roll-call - at which, of course, we had not been present - the door
   was suddenly opened.  Outside in the corridor stood Stark, beside him
   a prisoner whom we did not know.  Obviously he was to take the place
   of the two who had been shot in the pit.  After we had left the
   block, Stark made us run towards the main gate and from there
   straight to the crematorium yard.  There we were made to stand by the
   wall beside the barred window of the cremation room.  Stark swore us
   to secrecy, threatening us with dire punishment in case we spoke to
   anybody who came here.  With a wink he indicated to Fischl that he
   held him responsible for the strict compliance with this command.
   Obediently Fischl replied: 'Yes, Herr Unterscharfuhrer!'

   Stark - the name means 'strong' in English - did credit to his
   name.  He was tall and well built and had sandy hair.  His body was
   broad and strong and his legs sturdy and muscular: he was a healthy
   young man in his prime.  His worst fault was his violent temper.
   When he blew his top - often for quite trivial reasons - it was best
   to make oneself scarce; otherwise things might turn very nasty

   We prisoners and Stark were worlds apart.  For us he seemed to have
   no human feelings whatever.  We only knew him as one who gave his
   commands brusquely, insulted, abused and threatened us continually,
   goaded us to work, and beat us mercilessly.  To his superiors he was
   assiduous and subservient.  I often wondered how it was possible for
   this young man, scarcely older than myself, to be so cruel, so
   brutal, harbouring so unfathomable a hatred of the Jews.  I doubted
   whether he had actually ever come into close contact with Jews before
   he came to Auschwitz.  He was no doubt a victim of that Nazi
   propaganda which put the blame for any misfortune, including the war,
   on the Jews.  How was it possible, I often asked myself, for a young
   man of average intelligence and normal personality to carry out the
   unspeakable atrocities demanded of him in the belief that thereby he
   was doing his patriotic duty, without ever realizing that he was
   being used as a tool by perverted political dictators ?

   All traces of the horror of the last few days had been removed.  The
   very cobblestones in the yard had been hosed clean of blood and were
   sparkling.  Behind the higher outer concrete wall, near the SS motor
   transport pool, a giant tree with wide-spread branches had begun to
   break into leaf.  This day it, and we, were to witness an event to
   which Himmler, or perhaps even the Fuhrer in person, had given the
   name of Geheime Reichssache, Secret Matter of the Reich.

   There was a great hustle and bustle in the yard.  First to appear
   were Ouackernack, Stark, Kirschner, Dylewski and Palitzsch, all
   carrying truncheons.  After them came the camp elite, Aumeier,
   Grabner and Untersturmfuhrer Hossler, as well as another SS leader
   whom I did not know and who wore on his arm the emblem of the medical

   We had not been waiting long when a large number of people began to
   stream through the open gate, the majority of them dressed in dark
   clothes.  On the right side at chest height they all wore the yellow
   Star of David.  By and by the entire yard became crowded with these
   people who were talking to each other in Polish or Yiddish.  Most
   were middle-aged, but there was a sprinkling of old men and women and
   also of children among them.  They were rather out of breath as if
   they had been made to run all the way.  Last to arrive was a group of
   aged women who had been unable to keep up with the younger people and
   who came staggering in on the point of complete exhaustion.  Once the
   stragglers were inside the gate was shut.

   The uniformed executioners now stepped in front of the waiting
   apprehensive crowd of several hundred.  As though at a signal they
   began to harangue them, waving their truncheons about and ordering
   them to take their clothes off at once.  The people were dazed with
   fear.  Clearly they suspected that something dreadful was to befall
   them, but they could see no reason why they ought to undress out here
   in the yard, women in front of men and vice versa.  However, the SS
   men, anxious to give them no time to think, kept shouting: 'Come on,
   come on!  Get undressed !  Get a move on !  Come on !  Come on !  Get
   undresssed !' At last I tumbled to what was going on.  One of the SS
   men must have had the bright idea that it was more expedient to send
   these people to their doom naked.  For then the irksome task of
   undressing them after their death would be avoided.  Besides, if they
   undressed while still alive, their clothes would not be torn because
   they would think that they would need them again.  Today this new
   procedure was to be tried out for the first time.

   However, it did not quite work out according to plan.  In the
   frightened and embarrassed faces of the men and women assembled in
   the yard there was fear and mistrust.  Although unaware of what
   awaited them, they sensed the seriousness and danger of their
   situation.  Most of the men reacted to the threats and shouts by
   slowly beginning to undo the collars of their shirts, while the women
   bent down and, greatly embarrassed, undid their shoe-laces All this
   took a very long time: it was not at all the efficient operation the
   SS men had envisaged.

   In a corner next to the gate I noticed a young woman and her child.
   Her lips tightly pressed together looked like a scar.  She gazed at
   her small daughter then, stroking her, she slowly undressed her.
   Older children, as alarmed as their parents, began slowly to take off
   their clothes.

   Meanwhile the representatives of the SS hierarchy stood on the
   earthworks which had been thrown up on the roof of the crematorium.
   From there they had a bird's eye view of what was going on.  At first
   they did not intervene, leaving everything to their minions.  But the
   alarm and disquiet of the people grew apace as did their fear of the
   danger they could sense: they were taking off their clothes with
   great deliberation in order to gain time.

   These people came from the ghetto of Sosnovits only a few kilometres
   away.  No doubt rumours about the camp at Auschwitz had reached them;
   no doubt they had wondered whether these were merely rumours or
   whether there might not be some truth in the tales that were going
   round.  The brutal conduct of the SS surpassed their worst fears.
   They felt instinctively that they were in great danger and began to
   talk among themselves.  In the yard there was a humming as in a
   beehive.  Once it dawned on the SS men that their brilliant plan of
   deception was in jeopardy they flung themselves wildly into the
   crowd, wielding their truncheons indiscriminately and yelling: ' Come
   on, come on !  Get undressed !  Faster, faster!' The effect was
   startling.  The people seemed to wake up from an oppressive sleep.
   The men who, up till then, had only undone a few buttons of collar
   and shirt, hastily took off their jackets, trousers and shoes.  Many
   women were dashing about Into the crematorium helplessly, seeking
   refuge with their husbands; frightened children were clinging more
   tightly to their mothers.  The brutal action of the SS men had
   completely unnerved the people.  They were confused, frightened,
   unable to communicate with each other and incapable of thinking.  As
   the SS men persisted in their rampaging, the crowd was seized by
   panic.  Even their passive resistance was now broken and they did
   what was being beaten into them again and again: 'Come on !  Get
   undressed !  Come on !  Faster!  Get a move on!' Men, women and
   children were now tearing their clothes off, helping each other to
   dodge the blows, and in no time at all they were all standing there
   naked, each with a small heap of clothes piled in front of them.

   We, too, were horrified and shaking all over.  Never before had I
   experienced anything so dreadful.  Even Fischl, our god-fearing
   giant, was trembling, but he still had enough strength and faith for
   a prayer and he muttered the Shema, the Jewish equivalent of the
   Lord's Prayer.  When he realized that his devout murmuring might
   attract the attention of the SS men, he fell silent.  Though almost
   indispensable as a strong and dutiful robot, they might not have
   shown much appreciation for his religious fervour.

   Once again I watched the young mother in the corner by the gate.
   Carrying her child on her arm she, too, was now undressed.  She was
   not ashamed of her nakedness, but the premonition that perhaps she
   had undressed her child and herself for the last time put her into a
   state of helpless submission to God's will.

   Two of the SS men took up positions on either side of the entrance
   door.  Shouting and wielding their truncheons, like beaters at a
   hunt, the remaining SS men chased the naked men, women and children
   into the large room inside the crematorium.  All that was left in the
   yard were the pathetic heaps of clothing which we had to gather
   together to clear the yard for the second half of the transport.  We
   removed suit-cases, rucksacks, clothes and shoes and piled them
   higgledy-piggledy in a great heap in a corner.  Then we covered
   everything with a large tarpaulin.

   When we had finished, a new batch of several hundred people poured
   into the empty yard.  The prelude to death was repeated with equal
   brutality and with the same ending.  Finally there were about 600
   desperate people crammed into the crematorium.  A few SS men were
   leaving the building and the last one locked the entrance door from
   the outside.  Before long the increasing sound of coughing, screaming
   and shouting for help could be heard from behind the door.  I was
   unable to make out individual words, for the shouts were drowned by
   knocking and banging against the door, intermingled with sobbing and
   crying.  After some time the noise grew weaker, the screams stopped.
   Only now and then there was a moan, a rattle, or the sound of muffled
   knocking against the door.  But soon even that ceased and in the
   sudden silence each one of us felt the horror of this terrible mass

   Once everything was quiet inside the crematorium, Unterscharfu"hrer
   Teuer, followed by Stark, appeared on the flat roof.  Both had
   gas-masks dangling round their necks.  They put down oblong boxes
   which looked like food tins, each tin was labelled with a death's
   head and marked Poison!  What had been just a terrible notion, a
   suspicion, was now a certainty: the people inside the crematorium had
   been killed with poison gas.

   When the SS men had gone, Stark ordered us to sort the clothes and to
   search them for money and valuables.  He was particularly keen on the
   latter.  The yard was dimly lit by the one lantern over the entrance.
   So we did only a very rough and ready kind of sorting.  The objects
   which people had concealed in their pockets and shoes were proof of
   the fact that not one of them had expected death to await them at his
   journey's end.

   We were ordered to place the valuables into separate boxes, foreign
   currency into one, watches into another, gold and jewellery into a
   third.  Clothing, shoes and underwear were sorted into different
   heaps.  There were separate heaps of knives, spectacles, bottles,
   medicines, and dolls which their little owners had left behind for
   ever.  There was one large mound of prayer- books and velvet bags
   containing the Tephillim or phylacteries.  Fischl seemed particularly
   interested in this collection; and during a moment when he was
   unobserved he managed to slip a Tephillim bag under his jacket.  We
   piled the sorted objects on a trolley and took them to the camp's
   clothing stores.  As I turned round, I saw Stark climbing across the
   sloping earth bank onto the roof.  Soon afterwards the sound of the
   fan starting up could be heard.

   It was late at night when we were locked into cell 13.  Once again
   the light was left on for a while so that we could eat.  Today we did
   not ravenously attack our rations, but instead pulled out from under
   shirts and jackets and from out of pockets stuff we had organized.
   One after the other we laid bread, sugar, saccharine, tobacco and
   other goodies in front of our foreman.  Fischl examined everything
   carefully.  Then he divided the booty into seven scrupulously equal
   parts.  In spite of what had happened today, Fischl appeared to be
   the most satisfied among us.  The Lord Adonai had hearkened to him:
   now he owned a prayer-book in Hebrew -and a set of Tephillim.  Early
   next morning he went through the ritual of putting on the
   phylacteries - this time there was no need for him to mime the action
   - before saying his morning prayers.  He prayed so fervently and
   humbly that God - if He existed - must surely have heard his voice;
   for it rose from a place where men and women, who like himself
   believed in the Eternal One and who adored the Almighty Lord, were
   daily slaughtered like cattle.  And this foreman who was forced to
   help the SS murderers take his fellow Jews to their doom, this strong
   man who, at first glance, seemed ready for anything, never once in
   his innermost soul renounced the faith of his fathers.  At this
   moment he must have been alone among Jews all over the world to
   praise God's name in a place where that name was desecrated in the
   vilest possible manner.  To me Fischl seemed a creature from another
   world, a world solely ruled and embodied by a God whom I sought in
   vain to comprehend in Auschwitz.

   To begin with our fears that presently we might have to return to the
   crematorium in order to dispose of the corpses of Jews who had been
   gassed the day before proved unfounded.  We stayed in our cell for
   three days.  On the fourth day we were awakened at the crack of dawn
   by Stark's terrifying voice yelling from the yard: ' Fischl team, get
   ready !  ' Our working party had been given a title.

   It was dawn, a few hours before roll-call, when we entered the
   crematorium yard.  The prisoners in the camp were still asleep.  But
   the SS men with their machine-guns in their watch-towers were
   particularly vigilant at that hour, for it was at break of day that
   prisoners would decide upon the only way of escape: across the
   prohibited area into the high-tension barbed-wire fence.

   Oberscharfu"hrer Ouackernack turned up with several young SS-
   Unterfu"hrers today, we noticed, they did not carry any truncheons.
   Once more we had to stand by the wall beneath the window of the
   cremation room.  For a few minutes there was tense silence.  Then we
   heard the noise of trucks approaching.  They stopped outside the
   crematorium yard, the engines were switched off and all was silent
   once more until the two halves of the wooden gate were opened.  A
   procession of a few hundred middle-aged men and women entered the
   yard.  Once again there was also a sprinkling of old people and
   children.  Peaceably they came in, showing none of the signs of utter
   exhaustion we had observed in the people of a few days earlier.
   Their SS escorts, too, behaved differently: there was no shouting, no
   goading, guns were carefully tucked away in their pockets, and not a
   word of abuse passed their lips.  The guards at the gate were
   becoming impatient.  They thought the prisoners could smell a rat;
   the column was walking far too slowly, and before they could close
   the gate they had to wait until the very last person, a little
   one-legged man limping on crutches, had reached the yard.

   We, too, thought the surprisingly gentle demeanour of the SS men very
   odd indeed.  They looked amiable, they behaved affably, directing
   people like traffic policemen to get them distributed right across
   the yard.  Some of the arrivals looked around curiously but also
   somehow alarmed before putting down their small suit- cases,
   rucksacks and parcels.  They spoke Polish and Yiddish.  I was able to
   catch a few words and learned that these people had been working in a
   factory.  From there they were deported quite suddenly, supposedly
   for important work using their special skills.  Although the
   behaviour of the SS men gave them no cause for alarm, the locked yard
   made them suspicious and afraid.  The main subject of their
   conversation was work, for they were all skilled workers, and death,
   for they were fully aware of their situation and were anxiously
   looking for some glimmer of hope.  Would they be given an opportunity
   of doing something useful ?  For life in the ghetto - and their
   yellow Stars of David indicated that it was thence they had come -
   had taught them that only the useful had a chance of survival.

   And how were we to act in this situation ?  Was there anything at all
   we could do?  For we knew only too well what was going to happen to
   these people within the next hour.  We stood rooted against the wall,
   paralysed by a feeling of impotence and the certainty of their and
   our inexorable fate.  Alas, there was no power on earth which could
   have saved these poor innocent wretches.  They had been condemned to
   death by a megalomaniac dictator who had set himself up to be judge
   and jury.  Hitler and his henchmen had never made a secret of their
   attitude to theJews nor of their avowed intention to exterminate them
   like vermin.  The whole world knew it, and knowing it remained
   silent; was not their silence equivalent to consent?  It was
   considerations like these which led my companions and me to the
   conviction that the world consented to what was happening here before
   our eyes.

   Would anything have been changed in the course of events if any of us
   had stepped out and, facing the crowd, had shouted: ' Do not be
   deceived, men and women, you are taking your last walk, a terrible
   death in the gas chamber awaits you !' The majority would not have
   believed us because it was too terrible to be believed.  On the other
   hand a warning like this would have led to a panic ending in a bloody
   massacre and our certain death.  Did we have the right to take such a
   risk and, in taking it, to gamble away our chance to go on living for
   the time being ?  What, at that moment, was more important: a few
   hundred men and women, still alive but facing imminent death from
   which there was no saving them, or a handful of eyewitnesses, one or
   two of whom might, at the price of suffering and denial of self,
   survive to bear witness against the murderers some day ?

   All at once the crowd fell silent.  The gaze of several hundred pairs
   of eyes turned upwards to the flat roof of the crematorium.  Up
   there, immediately above the entrance to the crematorium, stood
   Aumeier, flanked by Grabner, and by Hossler who later was put in
   charge of the women's camp.  Aumeier spoke first.  His voice thick
   with booze, he talked persuasively to these frightened, alarmed and
   doubt-racked people.  'You have come here,' he began, 'to work in the
   same way as our soldiers who are fighting at the front.  Anybody who
   is able and willing to work will be all right.' After Aumeier it was
   Grabner's turn.  He asked the people to get undressed because, in
   their own interest, they had to be disinfected.  'First and foremost
   we shall have to see that you are healthy,' he said.  'Therefore
   everyone will have to take a shower.  Now, when you've had your
   showers, there'll be a bowl of soup waiting for you all.' Life
   flooded back into the upturned faces of the men and women listening
   eagerly to every word.  The desired effect had been achieved: initial
   suspicion gave way to hope, perhaps even to the belief that
   everything might still end happily.  Ho"ssler sensing the change of
   mood quickly began to speak.  In order to invest this large-scale
   deception with the semblance of complete honesty, he put on a perfect
   act to delude these unsuspecting people.  'You over there in the
   corner,' he cried, pointing at a little man, 'what's your trade?'
   'I'm a tailor,' came the prompt reply.  'Ladies' or gents'?' inquired
   Ho"ssler.  'Both,' the little man replied confidently.  ' Excellent !
   ' Hossler was delighted 'That's precisely the sort of people we need
   in our workrooms.  When you've had your shower, report to me at once.
   And you over there, what can you do ?' He turned to a good-look- ing
   middle-aged woman who was standing right in front.  'I am a trained
   nurse, sir,' she replied.  'Good for you, we urgently need nurses in
   our hospital, and if there are any more trained nurses among you,
   please report to me immediately after your shower.'

   Now it was Grabner's turn again.  'We need craftsmen of all kinds,
   fitters, electricians, motor mechanics, welders, bricklayers and
   cement mixers; you must all report.  But we'll also need unskilled
   helpers.  Everybody is going to get well-paid work here.' And he
   finished with the words: 'Now get undressed quickly, otherwise your
   soup will get cold.'

   All the people's fears and anxieties had vanished as if by magic.
   Quiet as lambs they undressed without having to be shouted at or
   beaten.  Each tried his or her best to hurry up with their undressing
   so that they might be among the first to get under the shower.  After
   a very short time the yard was empty but for shoes, clothing,
   underwear, suit-cases and boxes which were strewn all over the
   ground.  Cozened and deceived, hundreds of men, women and children
   had walked, innocently and without a struggle, into the large
   windowless chamber of the crematorium.  When the last one had crossed
   the threshold, two SS men slammed shut the heavy iron-studded door
   which was fitted with a rubber seal, and bolted it.

   Meanwhile, the Unterfu"hrers on duty had gone onto the crematorium
   roof, from where the three SS leaders had addressed the crowd.  They
   removed the covers from the six camouflaged openings.  Then,
   protected by gas-masks, they poured the green- blue crystals of the
   deadly gas into the gas chamber.

   At Grabner's command the engines of the trucks still standing near by
   were turned on.  Their noise was to prevent anyone in the camp from
   hearing the shouting and the banging on the doors of the dying in the
   gas chamber.  We, however, were spared nothing, but had to witness
   everything in close proximity.  It was as though Judgment Day had
   come.  We could clearly hear heart-rending weeping, cries for help,
   fervent prayers, violent banging and knocking and, drowning
   everything, the noise of truck engines running at top speed.
   Aumeier, Grabner and Hossler were checking by their watches the time
   it took for the noise inside the gas chamber to cease, cracking
   macabre jokes while they were waiting, like 'The water in the showers
   must be very hot to make them scream so loudly.' Their triumphant
   faces showed clearly that they were delighted with the easy victory
   they had today scored over the declared arch-enemy of the Third
   Reich.  When the groans and death-rattles had stopped the engines
   were switched off.  One more mission in the campaign called
   Sonderbehandlung (Special Treatment) had been successfully completed.

   Shortly afterwards camp life awoke to a new day.  Ration carriers
   were lugging vats of tea into the barracks, senior prisoners were
   busy getting ready for counting roll-call, Kapos were assigning
   prisoners to working parties, and from the camp we could hear the
   rousing music of the camp orchestra sending the prisoners off to

   Aumeier and his underlings had climbed down from the roof.  With some
   considerable pride he turned to Stark and Ouackernack who were
   walking by his side and remarked like a master addressing his
   apprentices: ' Well, you two, have you got it now?  That's the way to
   do it!'

   Afterwards this technique was used as a reliable method for the mass
   extermination of human beings without bloodshed, and it began to
   assume monstrous proportions.  From the end of May 1942 one transport
   after another vanished in this way into the crematorium of Auschwitz.

   At the same time, the siting of the crematorium in the immediate
   vicinity of the camp was fraught with danger: there was the distinct
   possibility that The Secret Matter of the Reich could not remain
   hushed up forever, notwithstanding its top- secret classification.
   It was for this reason that the columns of deported Jews were
   conducted to the 'showers' either at daybreak when the camp inmates
   were still asleep, or late at night after roll- call.  On these
   occasions a camp curfew was declared.  To break it meant to risk
   being shot.  For that same reason those of us prisoners who had been
   forced to participate in preparations for the extermination of Jews
   as well as in covering up all traces of the crimes were divided into
   two groups.  This was to prevent us from pooling our information and
   obtaining detailed knowledge of the extermination methods.  Prisoners
   of the second working party the crematorium stokers, turned up only
   after we had swept and thoroughly cleaned the yard.  By the time they
   arrived the gas chamber had already been aired and the gassed were
   lying there as if they had just fallen naked from the sky."  (Mu"ller,

                              Work Cited

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

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