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Jul
08
2010

The ”Sonderkommandos” of Auschwitz

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By Carlo Mattogno

In my study Special Treatment in Auschwitz. Origin and Meaning of a Term[1] I have written as follows:

«“Special Units” of the Crematoria
Danuta Czech explains the origin and meaning of the term “Sonderkommando” (special unit) as follows:
“The extermination camp created also one other group of people, those who were forced to work in the crematoria and gas chambers – the unfortunate people were assigned to the work of the special unit. The SS used code words if they spoke about the mass extermination of those ‘unworthy of life.’ It called the mass extermination as well as the transports leading
to selection ‘special treatment’ (often abbreviated as SB). Thus, also, the expression ‘special unit.’”

In other words, since criminal activity described by the code word ‘special treatment’ was allegedly being conducted in the crematoria, the staff employed there had of necessity to be a ‘special unit.’ Naturally it was the only work unit at Auschwitz that merited the prefix ‘special’ [sonder] – otherwise the word would have lost the criminal significance that it possessed according to official historiography.
Based on the documents, the reality is entirely different. First of all, the expression ‘special unit’ does not appear in a single document referring to the crematoria. In its ‘magnum opus’ the Auschwitz museum attempted to prove, on the basis of two documents, that this term was used for the crematoria personnel. The first document is a duty roster for July 18, 1944 [”Dienstplan für Dienstag”, dated 17 July], the second order no. 8/43 of April 20, 1943 from the Commandant’s Headquarters. But the first document merely mentions the term ‘special unit’ in connection with a gate control [Torkontrolle

Here a correction is necessary. The mention of the ”Sonderkommando” is not related to the ”Torkontrolle” written on the left (the document is written in two columns) but to four names listed on the right: ”Buch, Kelm, Schultz, Bickel”. Franciszek Piper considers them all to be “members of the SS directly employed in the gas chambers and crematoria”, but this assertion is based solely on the document in question.[2] He also states that Buch, Kelm and Schulz are mentioned as the members of the SS-Sonderkommando of the crematoria by the witnesses Alter Feinsilber (alias Jankowski) and Henryk Tauber,[3] but the first one speaks only of a ”Scharführer Buch” and a ”Kell”,[4] while the other mentions a ”Schultz” and a ”Köln”.[5] One Scharführer Buch, an Unterscharführer Kelm and an Unterscharführer appears (with their proper names) in an undated list of SS-men containing a column of written signatures under the heading ”receipt”, likely related to the payment of salaries. Their tasks are not specified.[6] The Heinz Schulz who according to Piper (whose source refers to a “Schultz”) was a Kommandoführer (commando leader) of the crematoria was identified at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial as SS-Unterscharführer Arthur Heinz Schulz, who was the “ Kommandoführer im Arbeitskommando Zerlegbetriebe” (commando leader of the disassembly work commando).[7] Hermann Buch, who according to Piper also served as a Kommandoführer in the crematoria, served, according to the same book in which the Auschwitz historian makes this claim, as Lagerführer of BIIe (head of camp BIIe, the “Gypsy family camp), at the beginning of April 1944. In the eight lines of his biographical note there is no hint that he occupied the – in the context of the ”Holocaust” claims most important – position of a crematoria Kommandoführer.[8]

There exists a similar docuent, the ”Dienstplan für Donnerstag, den 10.05.1944” (Service schedule for Tuesday, 5 October 1944), dated 4 October, in which the term Sonderkommando appears but with only one name written next to it: ”Buch”. In the second column on the same line is written “Sola, Hütte” (Sola [river], works) and close to this ”Kelm”.[9]

Because, as explained below, the staff of the crematoria at the time was divided into 8 Kommandos, 2 for each crematorium (one day and one night shift), a total of 8 Kommandoführer were required daily. The first document mentions only 4 SS non-commissioned officers, while the second mentions only a single name, which means that the ”Sonderkommando” mentioned in them had nothing to do with the crematoria staff.

«The second [document] speaks simply of the pursuit of two Jews “who were on the run from the special unit.” [von 2 Juden, die vom Sonderkommando flüchtig waren] Therefore, the assumption, based on the above two occurrences of the term, is that there was in Auschwitz a single ‘special unit,’ which consisted of the crematoria staff!
However, in the documents, which explicitly mention the crematorium staff, its designation is simply “staff of crematorium” [Krematoriumspersonal][10] or it is identified by numbers – “206-B boiler, Crematorium I and II, 207-B boiler, Crematorium II and IV”[”206-B Heizer Krematorium I. u.II. 207-B Heizer Krematorium III. U. IV”].[11]
In the second place, there were numerous ‘special units’ in Auschwitz, of which not a single one had anything whatsoever to do with the crematoria. I list those below, for which I have found documentary evidence:

  • Installation by special unit Birkenau BW 20 POW camp [“Installation des Sonderkommando-Birkenau BW 20 KGL”]: unit of electricians serving in the power plant of Birkenau (BW 20).
  • pest control special unit [“Sonderkommando-Schädlingsbekämpfung”] (made up of women).
  • special unit Reinhardt [“Sonderkommando-Reinhardt”]: women’s unit assigned to the sorting of clothing.
  • special unit Zeppelin [“Sonderkommando Zeppelin”]: outside unit based in Breslau.
  • special unit I [“Sonderkommando 1”]: unit for the warehousing of the personal effects of the Jews deported to Auschwitz.
  • special unit II [“Sonderkommando II”]: no information with regard to its function.
  • construction depot special unit (S.K.) [“Bauhof-Sonderkommando (S.K.) ”]: unit employed in the store of the construction depot.
  • Dwory special unit (S.K.) [“Dwory-Sonderkommando (S.K.)”]: unit working in Dwory – a village about 10 km east of the town of Auschwitz.
  • Buna special unit (S.K.) [“Buna-Sonderkommando (S.K.)”]: unit working in Monowitz.
  • clothing workshops special unit [“Bekleidungs-Werkstätte-Sonderkommando (Bekl.Werkst.S.K.)”]: unit in the workshops producing clothing.
  • DAW special unit [“D.A.W.Sonderkommando (S.K.)”]: unit employed in the German Equipment Works [Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke].
  • Sonderkommando, occupied at the “Sola-Hütte.”

One may comb the orthodox historical publications, beginning with those of the Auschwitz Museum, for even a scant reference to the above ‘special units’ – but, alas, in vain!»

Recently the Auschwitz Museum website (www.auschwitz.org.pl) published two documents which mentions the term ”Sonderkommando”, one of them with explicit reference to a ”Krematorium” (crematorium). Below I present the documents with transcriptions and translations.

DOCUMENT:

TRANSCRIPTION:

«[Column 1]
a) Geheime Staatspolizei Auschwitz
b) Stadtrevier Auschwitz
Pezola, Wachtm[eister] d[er] S[chutzpolizei] d.A. [?]
c) 7.9.44. 1915 Uhr Wilczek
[Column 2]
Fluchtmeldung.
Gegen 1400 Uhr ist heute aus dem K.L. Auschwitz II vom Sonderkommando (Krematorium) eine größere Anzahl Häftlinge ausgebrochen meist Juden. Die Flüchtigen wurden bereits zum Teil bei der sofort aufgenommenen Verfolgung erschossen. Die Suchaktion wird fortgesetzt.
Kennzeichen: geschoren, auf dem l[inken]. Unterarm eintätowierte No. Kleidung teils Civil mit roten Streifen. Weitere Fahndungsmaßnahmen u[nd]. Verständigung der untergeordneten Stellen bitte ich sofort durchzuführen.
Es sind nur noch 4 Häftlinge flüchtig.
[Column 3]
Verstärkte Streife zum [vom?] Bahnhofsgelände entsandt».

TRANSLATION:

«[Column 1]
a) Secret State Police [i.e. Gestapo] Auschwitz
b) Auschwitz city hospital
Pezola, marshal of the security police d.A.[?]
c) 7.9.44. 19.15 hours Wilczek
[Column 2]
Escape report.
Towards 14.00 hours today a larger number of detainees belonging to the Sonderkommando (crematory), mostly Jews, escaped from K.L. Auschwitz. Part of the escapees were shot during the pursuit, which was commenced immediately. The search operation continues.
Dinstinguishing marks: cropped hair, number tattooed on the l[eft]. lower arm. Clothes partly civilian with red stripes. I request that you urgently notify subordinate agencies and carry out further search measures.
4 prisoners are still on free foot.
[Column 3]
Send a reinforced patrol to the station area».

It is rather curious that such an important document was discovered (?) only after 65 years and then published without any supplementary information. I will return to this issue at the end of the article.

The second document is an officer’s service report (Führer v. Dienst) from 9-10 December 1942.[14]

I will translate here only its most important parts:

«At 12.25 hours it was reported that 6 detainees had escaped from Sonderkommando I. […]. At 20.30 hours there was a call from Harmensee that 2 detainees had been captured there. […]. It was the two Jewish detainees no. 36816 and 38313 who had escaped from Sonderkommando II early on 7.12.42.»
12.25 wurde gemeldet das [sic] beim Sonderkommande [sic] I 6 Häftlinge geflüchtet sind. […]. 20.30 wurde v. Harmenze [sic] angerufen, das [sic] dort 2 Häfltinge aufgegriffen worden sind. […]. Es waren die beiden Juden häflinge [sic] N 36816 + 38313 welche am 7.12.42 früh v. Sonderkom. II geflüchtet sind»].

Danuta Czech, in her Auschwitz ”Kalendarium” summarizes the document in question as follows under the entry for 9 December 1942:

«At 12.25 the officer on duty received a notification that six detainees had escaped from the Sonderkommando».[15]

She then informs us that «the two prisoners, with the numbers 36816 and 38313», had escaped «from Sonderkommando II». In the entry for 10 December she adds:

«The two Jewish prisoners Ladislaus Knopp (No. 36816) and Samuel Culea (No. 38313) who had escaped from Sonderkommando II on 7 December are confined in the Bunker of Block 11 and released the same day into the camp.
Two Jewish inmates, who fled the day before from the Sonderkommando, are captured and imprisoned in the Bunker of Block 11. These are Bar Borenstein (No 74858), born 10 February 1920, and Nojech Borenstein (No 74859), born 25 March 1925 in Szreńsk. […]. Both are probably executed in the presence of the Sonderkommando in order to terrorize the other prisoners».

In a footnote Czech explains with regards to Bar Borenstein and Nojech Borenstein:

«Next to the names of the both detainees, near the annotation “released” is written the letter “Ü”».[16]

It is not clear from what the author of the ”Kalendarium” draws her conclusion that these two prisoners were executed, as “Ü” is doubtlessly an abbreviation of “überstellt”, transferred. In fact, the numbers of these two inmates are not listed as dead among the entries of the Leichenhallenbuch (the registry of deaths from the morgue in Block 28 of the main camp) from 9 December 1942 or the following days.[17] But the most important aspect of the above summaries by Czech is the fact that she has omitted the number of the Sonderkommando from which the six prisoners had escaped: ”I”. The reason for this is easy to understand. Under the date of 3 December 1942 Czech writes:

«The approximately 300 prisoners of the Sonderkommando used for the exhumation and cremation of 107,000 corpses buried in mass graves are driven by the SS from Birkenau to the Auschwitz main camp. There they are taken to the crematorium and killed with gas. Thus the witnesses to the cremation of the corpses are eliminated».[18]

In the entry for 6 December 1942 she notes:

«A new Sonderkommando is formed, which includes several dozen detainees selected from camp BIb. It probably bears the name Sonderkommando II. Among its members are Meilech (Milton) Buki (Nr. 80312) and Szlama Dragon (Nr. 80359) […]. At the trial of Rudolf Hoess he [Szlama Dragon] deposed as a witness for the prosecution, stating that the group of Jewish prisoners were assigned to the Sonderkommando on 9 December and the following day were employed in the cremation of corpses. From the camp documents it appears that the Sonderkommando [II] aready existed, because on 7 and 9 December prisoners employed in it attempted escape».[19]

The mention of «camp documents» clearly refer to the officer’s service report from 9 December 1942.

To recapitulate, the Sonderkommando allegedly massacred on 3 December 1942 was replaced by a “Sonderkommando II” on 6 December, which means that the former unit was the ”Sonderkommando I”. D. Czech claims that the detainees who escaped on 7 and 9 December were all from ” Sonderkommando II”, but the officer’s service report explicitly states that the six detainees in question were employed in Sonderkommando I”. By omitting the number “I” from her entry for 9 December and falsely asserting in the entry for 6 December that all the prisoners who had escaped belonged to “Sonderkommando II , Czech sought to to hide the fact that on December 9, 1942 there existed a “Sonderkommando I” as well as a “Sonderkommando II”, something which upsets her flawed reconstruction of events. It is all too obvious that, if the two Sonderkommandos existed at the same time, the first one could not have been exterminated on 3 December, and the second one could not have taken its place days later.

Elsewhere I have explained that the Sonderkommando I and II had nothing to do with the crematoria, but were working at sorting the booty of ”Aktion Reinhard” in Auschwitz.[20]

The imposture of Czech sought to confirm the thesis that at Auschwitz there existed one single, unique Sonderkommando employed in the crematoria. It had to be the only one because, as explained above, its name was to recall its supposed involvement in the alleged Sonderbehandlung. It is evident that the author of the ”Kalendarium” had to resort to this imposture because at that time there existed no documents which could establish a relationship between the Sonderkommando and the crematoria.

Now, the “escape report” mentioned above tells us of a Sonderkommando belonging to the “crematory”, but this was just one of many Sonderkommandos that existed in Auschwitz. This is confirmed by the document itself, since it specifies within brackets that the Sonderkommando was that of the “crematory”, thus implying precisely that there were other Sonderkommandos. Furthermore, the fact that the escapees from this Sonderkommando were “mostly Jews” contradicts the exterminationist axiom that all, or virtually all, of the members of the crematoria Sonderkommando were Jews.

This document is important also in another aspect, which perhaps explains the fact that it was “forgotten” for so many years. The only mass escape of Auschwitz crematoria staff mentioned by Holocaust historiography is supposed to have taken place in connection with the alleged “revolt of the Sonderkommando” of 7 October 1944. The only date to appear in the document in question is, however, 7 September 1944. The document, moreover, speaks of an escape, not of a revolt, which, among other things, is claimed to have led to deaths among the SS personnel – but in our ”escape report” there is no mention of any such deaths.

The one single document that is cited in confirmation of the alleged revolt, Standortbefehl (garrison order) No. 26/44 of 12 October 1944, states:

True to their oath to the Führer, there fell before the enemy in their line of duty, on Saturday 7.10.44 [«In Ausübung ihres Dienstes fielen vor dem Feind getreu ihrem Eid auf den Führer am Sonnabend, dem [sic] 7.10.44»]

This is followed by the names of three SS-Unterscharführer: Rudolf Erler, Willi Freese and Josef Purke.[21] It does not mention, however, under which circumstances these three non-commissioned officers died.

To this document is added the fact that, according to the series of reports on the Arbeitseinsatz (work deployment) of the men’s camp in Birkenau, the crematoria staff – called ”Heizer Krematorium I-IV” (firemen crematoria I-IV) and divided into one Kommando per crematorium, with each of those in turn broken down into two shifts, day an night: 57B, 58B, 59B, 60B – consisted of 663 prisoners on 8 October 1944, while on the following day it counted only 212.[22] But the decrease of 451 inmates does not necessarily indicate that they were killed during a revolt. On the other hand, if this alleged revolt had actually occurred on October 7, the decrease in the strength of the Sonderkommando would have been recorded on the following day, not on the 9th. Moreover, according to the sources referred to in footnote 22, from 10 October on, the staff of crematorium IV vanishes from the Arbeitseinsatz reports. The staff of crematorium I, II and V continues to be divided into two shifts, day and night, 33 prisoners each, practically until October 31.[23] The decrease could thus also have been caused by a reduction of the crematoria staff for administrative reasons. With regard to crematorium IV, no known document clarifies its fate.

On 7 September 1944 the crematoria staff consisted of 870 detainees,[24] while on 2 October it was down to 661.[25] If this decrease of 209 prisoners was not the result of the escape of September 7 (with which it is compatible, considering that the Arbeitseinsatz report for this day relates to changes in the work force which had taken place the day before, while the subsequent reports have not been preserved) it could also have been due to administrative reasons.

In conclusion: The fact that such an enormously important event as the alleged ”revolt of the Sonderkommando” is not explicitly mentioned in any German document, starting with those of the Litzmannstadt Gestapo, which in connection with any escape from Auschwitz as a rule always sent out a telegram to all affected offices,[26] is the most disturbing aspect of this story for Holocaust historiography.

Carlo Mattogno
8 March 2010


[1] Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004, p. 101.
[2] F. Piper, «Vernichtung», in: W. Długoborski, F. Piper (eds.), Auschwitz 1940-1945. Studien zur Geschichte des Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslagers Auschwitz, Verlag des Staatliches Museums Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oświęcim 1999, vol. III, p. 261.
[3] Idem, pp. 261-263.
[4] Inmitten des grauenvollen Verbrechens. Handschriften von Mitgliedern des Sonderkommandos, Verlag des Staatlichen Auschwitz-Birkenau Museums, 1996, p. 45.
[5] The Höss Trial, vol. 11, p. 142.
[6] GARF, 7021-108-54, pp. 97 and 98.
[7] Der Auschwitz Prozeß, edited by the Fritz Bauer Institut (Frankfurt am Main) and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Digitale Bibliothek, Verlag der Directmedia Publishing GmbH, Berlin 2005, p. 33519, 46036 and 46043.
[8] Aleksander Lasik, «Die Organisationsstruktur des KL Auschwitz», in: W. Długoborski, F. Piper (eds.), Auschwitz 1940-1945. Studien zur Geschichte des Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslagers Auschwitz, op. cit., vol. I, p. 239.
[9] GARF, 7021-108-59, p. 3.
[10] APMO, Übersicht über Anzahl und Einsatz der Häftlinge des Konzentrationslager, 31 January 1944. APMO, D-f/402, n. inv. 167217, p. 34.
[11] E.g. in Arbeitseinsatz für den 15. Mai 1943, APMO, D-AuII-3a/1a, p. 333a.
[12] In the list compiled by Otto Wolken. AGK, NTN, 149, pp. 139-140.
[13] Idem, p. 149.
[14] This document is dated ”9/10.42”. This should not be read as 9 October, but instead as 9-10 December (the month omitted here is indicated later in the report), the two days being when the officer in question performed his service (in all likelihood, judging from the times mentioned, which range from the 9th of December to the 10th).
[15] D. Czech, Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau 1939-1945, Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1989, p. 355.
[16] Idem.
[17] AGK, Leichenhallenbuch, Collection “OB”, 385, pp. 42-43 and following pages.
[18] D. Czech, Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau 1939-1945, op. cit., p. 349.
[19] Idem, pp. 352-353.
[20] “Azione Reinhard” e “Azione 1005”, Effepi, Genoa 2008, pp. 24-31.
[21] Standort- und Kommandanturbefehle des Konzentrationslager Auschwitz 1940-1945, K.G. Saur, Munich 2000, p. 499.
[22] GARF, 7021-108-99, p. 164 and 168.
[23] Idem, pp. 166-167.
[24] APMO, D AuII/3a/49, p. 88.
[25] Idem, p. 93. The intermediate reports have not been preserved.
[26] E.g. the telegram concerning the escape on 7 April 1944 of Walter Rosenberg (alias Rudolf Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler, who later became known as the authors of the ”Auschwitz Protocols”, APMO, JZ-8 / 6 Łódź / 4, p. 65.

Abbreviations:

AGK: Archiwum Głównej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu – Instytutu Pamieci Narodowej (Archive of the Chief Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish People – National Memorial Institute), Warsaw
APMO: Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum w Oświęcimiu (Archive of the State Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum)
GARF: Gosudarstvenni Archiv Rossiskoi Federatsii (State Archive of the Russian Federation), Moscow
RGVA: Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennii Vojennii Archiv (State Russian War Archive), Moscow.