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The Latest Sonderkommando Testimony

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By Wilfried Heink

In 2010 a National Geographic Documentary was shown titled Sonderkommando: The living dead of Auschwitz (produced in 2009). This featured the self-styled Sonderkommando member Henryk Mandelbaum, who was interviewed by Stanislav Motl, a Czech author and journalist. We are told in this documentary by the narrator, Chris Plumley, that Motl “…spent years courting this last survivor” and that now the role played by the Sonderkommando in the extermination process can be revealed. Their role, he continues, posed a moral dilemma for them. Most of them were eventually executed by the Nazis “…as inconvenient witnesses, and those who survived the death camps were hunted down by the Russians who believed they were Nazi collaborators”. Still others were murdered by “…Zionist terror groups who roamed Europe, killing anyone seen as being a collaborator, seeking revenge…This is why Sonderkommando have rarely given interviews…”. Therefore, he concludes, the Mandelbaum testimony is an important document about events 65 years ago.

This, however, is not quite true, as several Sonderkommando members, such as Henryk Tauber and Filip Müller, gave testimonies right after the war which helped shape the holocaust story as we know it. Also later many Sonderkommando members were interviewed. For example, 8 of them were interviewed by Gideon Greif in his book We Wept Without Tears1, and another, Shlomo Venezia, gave statements to Italian journalists before publishing his memoirs.2 Yet another Sonderkommando survivor, Daniel Bennahmias, “spoke out” in the early 90s.3 The Mandelbaum interview is thus far from as unique as it is made out to be.

At the end of the documentary an impressive list of sources is presented, naming among others Museum of Gliwice, Poland; Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland; Museum Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel; Archive of Museum Beit Terezin Givat Chaim, Israel; Holocaust Museum, Washington, USA; Archive of Jewish Museum, Prague, Czech Republic; Institute of Terezin Initiative, Prague, Czech Republic; Memorial Terezin; etc. The sketches shown throughout the documentary, interspersed with a few, well known photos are by David Olère, while maps are courtesy of Martin Gilbert. Considering the sources and the recent vintage of the documentary we must surmise that this documentary is an up-to-date effort, that the most recent research has been taken into account. Let us see then what Mandelbaum, as well as the narrator, have to say. I copied what was said by the narrator word for word, as well as the English subtitles. Mandelbaum speaks in Polish.

The narrator states that Auschwitz was “…the primary headquarter the genocide of Jews”, and that on a cold morning in February 1942 at Wannsee, death sentences were imposed on 11 million Jews. Auschwitz was chosen because of the good rail connections, “…a good locality for the Final Solution”. Mandelbaum states in the interview that he arrived on April 22,1944, and was given the inmate number 181970.4In an earlier deposition, however, he gave the same date as February 23.5 As seen Mandelbaum has told his story before, contrary to what is asserted in the documentary.

The scene presented to the viewer is a snow covered ground with rubble, possibly the site of Krema II. One has to wonder why this was shot in winter, with the snow cover making it almost impossible to determine what is what. The interview is conducted in Polish with English subtitles. Mandelbaum tells Motl:

Right now, we are standing in the worlds largest cemetery, this is crematorium II…Nobody would think that people6were gassed and murdered here, the young, the elderly, disabled people, simply everybody, living people”.

Mandelbaum tells us that the crematoria looked like small “chateaus”.

The narrator continues:

In his confession having been written after his arrest in 1946, [Auschwitz commandant Rudolf] Höß stated: ‘When the powder was thrown in, there were cries of “gas”, then a great bellowing and the trapped prisoners hurled themselves against the door, but the door held and was opened several hours later so the place might be aired. It was then that I saw for the first time gassed bodies en masse, it made me feel uncomfortable and I shuddered, although I had imagined death by gas would be worse [a picture of corpses is shown here]. However I must admit that it set my mind at rest for the mass extermination of Jews was to start soon. At that time neither Eichmann nor I were certain how these mass killings were to be carried out”’.

Considering the impressive list of sources cited above, we must assume that the narrator read this from a document given to him, and that this is not his invention. Let us therefore take a look at this version of the Höß confession, leaving aside the controversies surrounding his alleged various declarations of guilt. First regarding: “…when the powder was thrown in”, referring to Cyklon B. In NO-1210, his first statement, we read, referring to the “bunkers” (there is no mention of Krema I in this): “The doors were locked and one or two tins of Cyklon B were thrown into the room through holes in the wall”. No specifics as to what was used in the new crematoria are given. Now to PS-3868, the Höß affidavit used at the IMT: I used Cyklon B which was a crystallized prussic acid which was dropped into the death chamber from a small opening”. And last from his Memoirs which he (allegedly) wrote while in a Polish prison: “The doors were made airtight, and we knocked some holes in the ceiling through which we throw in the gas crystals” (he is referring to Krema I here), and, as for the Bunkers: “The airtight doors were screwed tight, and the contents of the gas crystal canisters emptied into the rooms through special hatches”. And for the new crematoria: “The door would be screwed shut and the waiting disinfection squads would immediately pour the gas [crystals] into the vents in the ceiling of the gas chamber down an air shaft which went to the floor. This ensured the rapid distribution of the gas”.7 Later in the film we are shown a well known picture of an opened can of Cyklon B with the pellets spilling out of the can. Why would those who wrote the script make Höß say “powder”?

Now to the next item, the opening of the door(s). The narrator states: “…but the door held and was opened several hours later so the place might be aired”. In NO-1210 we read about the Bunkers: “After half an hour the doors were opened and the bodies were taken out by a commando of prisoners (…). Concerning the new crematoria we find only this: “After half an hour the electric air conditioner was started up and the bodies were taken up to the cremating stove by a lift”. In PS-3868 we read: “We usually waited about one-half hour before we opened the doors and removed the bodies”. Now from the Höß memoirs, p.30: “After half an hour the doors were opened and the bodies were pulled out”, p.42: “So far as Auschwitz is concerned, I have never known or heard of a single person being found alive when the gas chambers were opened half an hour after the gas had been poured in”, and finally from p. 43: “The door was opened a half an hour after the gas was thrown in and the ventilation system was turned on. Work was immediately started to remove the corpses”.

Nowhere does Höß mention anything about „several hours“, in fact he consistently states “half an hour” or “about half an hour” before the doors were opened. Thus again we have to ask the question: Why have the narrator quote Höß as stating “several hours”? Is this because revisionists have shown that the half an hour claim is nonsense, necessitating a rewrite of the story? Are we looking here at an “upgraded” version of the gas chamber claims?

Next we learn about the transport conditions: no water or food for 4 days (according to Mandelbaum) and at the arrival in Auschwitz the deportees were beaten by SS officers who were accompanied by barking dogs (the well-known preserved photos shows people being discharged from train wagons with some soldiers standing by, rifles slung over their shoulders, no sign of dogs). The narrator tells us:

The whole process started with the arrival of the transports, perhaps 2,000 people at a time. All throughout the day and night, the numbers were truly staggering. For several years perhaps 9,000 people a day were gassed at Auschwitz, and it was only one of 39 death camps set up by the Nazis”.

Höß writes on p. 36 of his memoirs that „The highest total figure of people gassed and cremated in twenty-four hours was slightly more than 9,000”. While this is portrayed as a one time achievement, we now hear in the documentary that 9,000 was the normal rate, and that this went on for several years and “in 39 camps”! If this is true, the numbers would truly be staggering, in the tens of millions.

Mandelbaum continues with his narrative:

And there it was, over there I think [he points with his cane], this small platform…they arrived at the platform and we’d escort them to an area of the camp near the crematoria, here they got undressed”.

The narrator also tells us that:

The Sonderkommando would accompany them to the chateaux where they were to be cleaned up before going into the main camp. Many people wondered why the Sonderkommando did not warn the new arrivals”.

This is curious. As far as I am aware no-one has ever claimed that the Sonderkommando were present at the ramp. Here is what Höß stated when he took the stand at the Nuremberg Trial on 15 April 1946:

DR. KAUFFMANN: During an interrogation I had with you the other day you told me that about 60 men were designated to receive these transports, and that these 60 persons, too, had been bound to the same secrecy described before. Do you still maintain that today?

HOESS: Yes, these 60 men were always on hand to take the internees not capable of work to these provisional installations and later on to the other ones. This group, consisting of about ten leaders and subleaders, as well as doctors and medical personnel, had repeatedly been told, both in writing and verbally, that they were bound to the strictest secrecy as to all that went on in the camps.8

According to this description the 60 persons were Germans, not Jewish Sonderkommando members. In fact, when a “special Kommando” (IMT), “permanent Kommando of prisoners” (NO-1210) or “a special contingent of Jews” (Memoirs) is mentioned, it is always connected with the removal of bodies from the gas chamber, cutting of hair, pulling of gold teeth, etc., never with the escort of the victims from the railway ramp to the crematoria.

Mandelbaum continues:

They’d just walk down, the whole thing [was] located underground [pictures are displayed of what appears to be ruins of the “undressing room” of Krema II]. In the changing room you had hangers and benches, so they didn’t see through it, they didn’t know. The first one who entered had to undress to go to the showers and they hung their clothes on the hangers and entered the shower room with their toothbrush, toothpaste [this appears to be the first and only mention of such items being brought along by the victims], towel, soap and their valuables. And there were two of those showers as you can see here underground [points at the ruins], so there were two gas chambers in fact, divided in two parts, each chamber had those two holes [draws a square into the snow]”.

This is all rather confusing, and I will point out again here that I copied Mandelbaum’s statements verbatim from the subtitles. Mandelbaum next pulls a piece of paper out of his briefcase, stating: “The gas chamber looked like this”. With this the camera focuses on a photograph of a shower room with a wooden joist ceiling, a wooden beam running down the center, a door in the back wall, a number of shower heads as well as a light in the ceiling (reproduced below). The shower heads have water pipes connected to them and look genuine. Yet we are told that the gas chamber had concrete walls and a concrete ceiling, why then show a room not even vaguely resembling one of the morgues, i.e. the alleged gas chambers? Needless to say the room displayed in the picture shows nothing resembling the alleged “Kula columns”. In reality, the picture shows the real bath of the “Bad und Desinfektion I” barrack in Majdanek.9

Above: The photo shown by Mandelbaum

Mandelbaum goes on:

They’d see these showers so at first they didn’t know and thought they were real [as the ones in the picture!], but when maybe a quarter of them were inside, and others kept coming in, they’d start feeling that something wasn’t right, so they try and get out but the SS men would beat them over the head with these sticks and push them back in”.

Mandelbaum allegedly arrived in Auschwitz on April 22,1944, less than a month after that the so called Hungarian action began, yet there is not one word from him about Hungarian Jews. Also, this film was made in 2009, more than six decades after the end of the war – surely enough time for Mandelbaum to be well saturated with Holocaust stories. Still, what is startling is that he has some of the basics wrong, and not only that, the narrator’s story is also not even close to the official version.

The narrator then talks about the gassing process, a Olère drawing is shown (naked woman and children in a room, a SS guard at the door), and we are told that the condemned sometimes had to wait up to 13 minutes for the gas to be dropped in, another first. Mandelbaum describes:

They gave a signal from above and put in 6 cans of gas through the hole [singular], people struggling for air, they’d breathe fitfully [how could he know this?] and then, still standing, they’d die in 20 or 30 minutes”.

While the motif of the still-standing corpses frequently appear in Treblinka testimonies, this is the first time I have heard it applied to the alleged gas chamber victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau. As for the time required for the victims to die, we are here told “20 or 30 minutes”, whereas Höß states 3-10 minutes, depending on the weather (NO-1210), 3-15 minutes (IMT) and “After 20 minutes at the most no movement could be detected” (Memoirs). It is hard to tell which hat Mandelbaum pulled the “20 or 30 minutes” out of. Mandelbaum continues:

The gas worked like this: When there were a lot of people inside, humidity increased in the showers because of the breathing and the Zyklon dissolved with this humidity”.

Still no mention of the crucial Kula columns.

The narrator goes on:

After about half an hour, what the SS called ‘the great thunder’ [another new motif], the mayhem of people dying, the chamber became silent…After opening the doors [no time given] to let the gas out…”.

What happened to the ventilators, the “electric air conditioners” mentioned in NO-1210, or as described in the memoirs: “The door was opened a half an hour after the gas was thrown in and the ventilation system was turned on”. The ventilators are an important part of the story, why forget to mention it here and tell us that the gas was let out through the doors? And they wonder why Revisionists exist…

The narration continues:

The average lifespan of a Sonderkommando was about 60 days, sometimes more, sometimes less, after which they were executed [Mandelbaum tells us: “What saved me was the decontamination block. Over there, that was the block, a sauna”. He fails to provide details]…They were kept separate. Theirs was the only hut with barbed wire around it, as the Nazis had to maintain absolute secrecy. Hidden knowledge of the gas chambers never leaked out…”.

What is important here is the secrecy issue. We have to remember that at the IMT it was established that only 200-300 people knew about the mass gassings, because not one of the accused had ever heard of this alleged mass murder. Prof. Hilberg was the first one to dismiss this, writing that: “…the Holocaust had been the result of a huge bureaucratic machine with thousands of participants, not the fulfillment of a preconceived plan or a single order by Hitler.10 His book The Destruction of the European Jews, published in 1961, was shunned at first, as the part about the knowledge of thousands regarding the Holocaust did not fit the story told at that time. This has changed since then, and we now learn that some 400,000 not only knew about the Holocaust but participated in the killings.11 And therein lies the dilemma for the Holocaust Industry, for if that many would have known about it, all of Germany – in fact the whole world – would have known. But nothing was known, a few rumors and that is about it. Is this why this particular documentary is going back to the original story, to try and explain why practically nothing was known?

Mandelbaum states:

Twelve thousand of them I think it was [daily], they’d gas them and burn them. In the beginning they used to burn them in crematoria I in Auschwitz, a primitive one. But then, neither Crematoria I, or IV of V could keep up with the influx of transports. They had scheduled transports from all around Europe, right? So they had to build crematoria II and III with 15 furnaces each…Each furnace had a device that sucked in the air, so the corpses burned faster”.

Here again one has to wonder why Mandelbaum is allowed to talk nonsense. When considering the impressive list of sources provided, one would think that obvious mistakes would be corrected by the narrator.12 Crematoria II was completed first, on March 15,1943, IV on March 22, V on April 4 and III on June 25. All of them were under construction at roughly the same time. Why state that IV and V were in operation, couldn’t handle the load so II and III had to be build? Astoundingly it apparently doesn’t strike Mandelbaum that his statement makes a joke of the enumeration of the building. If he was correct then the crematories IV and V would of course have been designated crematories II and III.

The air sucking device mentioned is also of interest, Prof. van Pelt testified at the Irving trial:

MR IRVING: ‘Well, they would self-combust? When they were raised to a certain temperature, they would self-combust?’

PROF VAN PELT: ‘That is the idea of a normal incineration.That is the idea of a normal incineration. In Auschwitz, actually, the ovens – the difference between the ovens is that one element which is used in normal ovens is with a heat kind of regenerator in Auschwitz was replaced by compressed air which was blown into the oven. Now –

MR IRVING: ‘Would this account for the drop of normal coke usage from 35 kilograms in the crematorium Gusen concentration camp per body to 3.5 in Auschwitz, in your opinion?’

PROF VAN PELT: ‘Yes…’.”13

This description does not make much sense, and neither does Mandelbaum. Blowing air into the muffle would cool it down, blowing it into the fire box would increase coke consumption and produce more heat than the muffles could handle. In the instructions for the ovens it is stated that if the heat in the muffles rises to above 1000° Celsius, then air has to be blown in to cool it down.xiv

Mandelbaum keeps piling it on with Motl listening and nodding, no questions asked. To list all of it would make this too long, so here will suffice with Mandelbaum’s description of the corpses and the utilization of body fat as fuel:

Over there, there were a lot of dead men [he points in a general direction], gassed, they couldn’t burn them. But the chamber had to be emptied because the transports kept arriving. They didn’t want the people to see them, they had to keep the place tidy. So for the time being they put them behind the crema, and there they lay over night and the following day too [yet another new detail]. And I saw them in those ditches, there was smoke too and something was on fire and there they pulled those corpses [here is displayed a well known picture of a pile of bodies with multiple limbs, smoke in the background, I call it the spaghetti picture because the bodies are undistinguishable]. They’d bring poles from young trees, 80 or 70 cm cut into four [if this makes sense to anyone, congratulations], and also conifer branches from spruce trees in the woods. On top of this they would lay the dead men [he keeps mentioning only male bodies], then another layer and so forth. They burned fast, but just the legs, the heads and parts of the hips – the thighs – wouldn’t burn, because there is a lot of flesh inside so you need a high temperature. We had those hooks from the armoury made from course wire mesh, so we’d drive them into the thighs and pull them into another ditch. The other reason why the bodies wouldn’t burn is because they were piled on top of one another and there wasn’t enough air coming from the bottom. Every ditch had in the corners these holes [he draws a square in the snow], 40 by 40 or 30 by 30 and 70 or 80 centimeters deep. A normal person didn’t burn when inside those layers. And the fat of the gassed people that didn’t burn flowed into these holes…So the fat would flow into those holes and when they were about ¾ full, we’d scoop out the fat with these types of mugs and pour it over the dead men [again only male corpses are mentioned] so that the fire would flare up and the corpses would burn faster”.

Where to begin? We learn that the Nazis did not want people to see the corpses, yet we are to believe that burning them would not be noticed? As far as the incineration process is concerned, it is clear that Mandelbaum has no clue. What are we to make of the 80 cm or 70 cm poles cut into four? Then the part about the heads and thighs not burning because of too much flesh! What part of the body is flammable, the bones? In fact, there is no mention of ashes or bone fragments. Mandelbaum admits, however, that burning corpses in a ditch will not work because the lack of draught, so here we go again with the fat collection canard. He has the fat flowing into four holes in the corners, while another witness, Filip Müller, has a trench on the bottom of the burning pit with the fat flowing into a hole outside the pit.15 The concept of the fat reservoirs is nonsense in any case. For one, the fat would ignite as soon as it made contact with the flames.16 Secondly, how would the Sonderkommando workers get close enough to the raging fire to dip their mugs into the holes?

The description of the incineration ditch leads to the following dialogue:

Motl: “The smell had to be appalling”.

Mandelbaum: “Well, it was burning flesh, just imagine, we worked in those ditches. The wind would start blowing against us, so our eyes were streaming. If I drank a litre of water, I’d loose a litre and a half when my eyes were streaming. We worked without masks. We never had breaks when it rained [M looks at Motl to see if he swallows this too, which he does]”.

And here we have it, this awful smell/stink of burning bodies. The narrator told us before that “hidden knowledge of the gas chambers never leaked out”, but are we to believe that nobody ever wondered what they were burning? And according to our witness, the burning continued even on rainy days. I wonder how the water mixed with the fat in the corner holes.

The narrator gives us an extremely propagandistic version of the evacuation of the camp:

When it became obvious that the allies were close [“allies” is strange wording, considering that the Red Army was the only force to liberate Auschwitz], the camp and it’s inmates had to be destroyed. The crematoria, the hospital and it’s inmates were all blown up in a desperate attempt to conceal the dreadful legacy. The SS went on a rampage, murdering everybody. Most witnesses were shot or forced to begin their long march west into Germany, a journey on which most were to die. Before the Nazis left Auschwitz on the death march, they executed 98,000 people, including most of the Sonderkommando. Using a combination of luck and ingenuity, Mandelbaum managed to escape from the mass shootings, blending himself into the camp population”.

We have no firm knowledge as to who blew up the crematoria, but the part about the Nazis blowing up the hospital, including the patients, is simply a lie. The same goes for the of 98,000 inmates being killed before the Germans left. The fact is that the inmates were given a choice to either stay and be liberated by the Soviets or go west with the Germans. The majority chose the latter alternative. Here is what Elie Wiesel, perhaps the most prominent Auschwitz eyewitness, has to say concerning the decision to leave with the Germans instead of waiting to be liberated by the Soviets:

He was lost in thought. The choice was in our hands. For once. We could decide our fate for ourselves. To stay, both of us, in the infirmary, where, thanks to my doctor, he could enter as either a patient or a medic.

I had made up my mind to accompany my father wherever he went.

“Well, Father, what do we do?”

“He was silent.

“Let’s be evacuated with the others,” I said.

He didn’t answer. He was looking at my foot.

“You think you’ll be able to walk?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Let’s hope we won’t regret it, Eliezer.”17

Why then tell those obvious lies?

In the last part of the documentary, Mandelbaum questions the existence of God, telling us that he can not “remain a religious person”, because of the millions killed “Nobody knows exactly…the exact figures aren’t known”. He tells us that he made a vow, that if he survived, no details given about his obvious survival, he would speak about “…what I saw with my own eyes”. He copies Elie Wiesel here, who is also adamant that what he states he saw “with his own eyes”. One also wonders why Mandelbaum waited that long to tell his story. There is also the revealing mistakes he mistakes. For example he mentions the women’s camp, claiming that it was called “Canada”, which is erroneous.

The final minutes of Sonderkommando plays in Mandelbaum’s house, to be exact in his garden, where he cultivates many varities of trees. Motl asks him if it is possible to forget Auschwitz, and Mandelbaum answer:

No, you can not forget a thing like that, it is something I will never forget. As long as I live , I won’t be able to forget, you just can not”.

If his story was in fact believable, one could agree with this. As mentioned at the beginning, Mandelbaum died at the age of 86, a ripe old age I would suggest – many Germans who made it through the war died much younger because of the hardships they suffered.

The importation question, however, is this: Why make a film such as this, with so many inaccuracies and contradictions visavi the official story? Why allow Mandelbaum, as well as the narrator, to make statements contradicting what we are told to believe? Anyone with the slightest bit of subject knowledge has to wonder why this documentary was made. I personally have no clue what the purpose of this is.

Lies have many versions, the Truth but one.

1 Yale University Press, New Haven/London 2005.

2 Cf. Carlo Mattogno, ”’The Truth About the Gas Chambers?’ Historical Considerations relating to Shlomo Venezia’s ‘Unique Testimony’”, Inconvenient History, vol. 2, no. 1, online:

3 Rebecca Fromer, The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennahmias, Sonderkommando, University Alabama Press 1993

4 Mandelbaum’s family deported to Auschwitz earlier, and most of them were allegedly murdered. One wonders what happened to the rest, and if their story matched that of Mandelbaum.

5 C. Mattogno, Auschwitz: Open Air incinerations, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2005, p. 14 (minutes of the interrogation of Henryk Mandelbaum on February 27,1945. GARF, 7021-108-13, p. 95).

6 Throughout the interview Mandelbaum and his interviewer speaks of “people”, not Jews. The only reference to Jews is right at the beginning.

7Rudolph Höss, Death Dealer, The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz, (edited by Steven Palskuly, translated by Andrew Pollinger), Prometheus Books, p. 29, 30, 43.

8 IMT vol. XI, p. 400. Online:

9 Information kindly provided by Carlo Mattogno in a personal communication.

12 C. Mattogno and F. Deana, “The Crematoria Ovens of Auschwitz and Birkenau”, in Germar Rudolf (eds.), Dissecting the Holocaust, 2nd edition, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2003, p. 404.

15 C. Mattogno and F. Deana, “The Crematoria Ovens of Auschwitz and Birkenau”, op.cit., p. 410.; See also C. Mattogno, Auschwitz: Open Air Incinerations, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2005, pp. 15, 42;

16 Cf. C. Mattogno and F. Deana, “The Crematoria Ovens of Auschwitz and Birkenau”, op.cit., p. 410.

17 Elie Wiesel, Night, Hill and Wang, New York, 2006, p.82 (translation by Marion Wiesel)

Written by Thomas Kues in: Auschwitz,Eye-witnesses,Gas Chambers,Holocaust | Tags: