Scrapbookpages Blog

June 3, 2013

89-year-old Holocaust survivor has died — he was a “commando” at Auschwitz

I have just finished reading the online obituary of Benny Hochman, who was sent to Auschwitz in 1939 and later marched to Buchenwald where he was liberated by American soldiers.

According to Benny Hochman’s obituary, “One night in the winter of 1939, Nazi soldiers arrived at the family’s home to take Benny’s older brother Boleak, a Polish officer, to Auschwitz. They took 16-year-old Benny, too. He became B-3156.”

Gate into the Auschwitz main camp which was opened in 1940

Gate into the Auschwitz main camp which was opened in 1940

Several years ago, I wrote this on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/AuschwitzScrapbook/Tour/Auschwitz1/Auschwitz02.html:

The decision to open a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners in the town of Auschwitz was made by Heinrich Himmler on April 27, 1940. The first prisoners, a group of 728 Poles, arrived at the Auschwitz I camp on June 14, 1940. They were political prisoners from the Gestapo prison at Tarnow, a Polish town about 40 miles east of Krakow. Tarnow was also the site of a Ghetto set up by the Nazis in 1940 where 3,000 Jews worked in a clothing factory making uniforms for the German army; over 40,000 Jews lived in the Tarnow Ghetto until it was liquidated.

I suppose that I will have to go back and correct the information on my website, since Auschwitz was opened in 1939, according to Benny Hochman.

The first prisoners, that were sent to Auschwitz, were Polish “political prisoners,” so Benny is admitting that he was sent to Auschwitz because he was fighting with the Polish Resistance.  Nowhere in his obituary does it say that Benny was Jewish, yet he had a mis-spelled German name, not a Polish name.

Benny Hochman was given the number B-3156 at Auschwitz when he arrived in 1939, at least a year before the Auschwitz camp was opened.

On their website, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has this quote, regarding the Auschwitz tattoo numbers:

In order to avoid the assignment of excessively high numbers from the general series to the large number of Hungarian Jews arriving in 1944, the SS authorities introduced new sequences of numbers in mid-May 1944. This series, prefaced by the letter A, began with “1” and ended at “20,000.” Once the number 20,000 was reached, a new series beginning with “B” series was introduced. Some 15,000 men received “B” series tattoos. For an unknown reason, the “A” series for women did not stop at 20,000 and continued to 30,000.

The obituary in the online Journal Star starts out with this quote:

An American soldier found Benny Hochman lying near the perimeter of the Buchenwald concentration camp in central Germany.

The 21-year-old Polish man stood 6 feet tall and weighed 78 pounds.

For three years at Auschwitz, Hochman fought for scraps of food and wheeled bodies out of gas chambers. Days before the Allies arrived [at Auschwitz], the Nazis marched the prisoners to Buchenwald. He worked on Autobahn and avoided the wrath of Ilse Koch.

I thought that the Autobahn was completed before World War II started, but maybe he was working to repair sections of  the Autobahn that had been bombed.  In any case, Hochman was able to avoid Ilse Koch, the wife of the Buchenwald Commandant, who ordered lampshades to be made from the skin of Buchenwald prisoners.

Hochman survived Auschwitz because he “wheeled bodies out of gas chambers,” meaning that he was a Sonderkommando, who worked in a crematorium at Auschwitz.  The Sonderkommando workers were killed every three months, but the last group was marched out of Auschwitz because the Nazis wanted to make sure that there would be witnesses to the gas chambers.

I previously blogged about the gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp at http://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/if-this-is-a-gas-chamber-im-groucho-marx/

The most interesting part of Hochman’s obituary comes at the end:

Hochman worked as a “commando.” He removed the thousands of bodies from the gas chambers, loaded them onto wagons and wheeled them to the crematoriums. When the furnaces couldn’t keep up with the number of corpses, Hochman unloaded them into open dirt pits, into open flames.  [This contradicts Elie Wiesel’s story about prisoners being thrown ALIVE into open flames.]

Hochman was given a small hammer to knock out any gold teeth in the mouths of the dead. The scraps of food he found in the pockets of the dead helped him stay alive.

Wait a minute!  Benny ate food found in the POCKETS of the dead?  No, no, no!  The Jews were marched into an UNDRESSING ROOM and told to take off all their clothes before proceeding into the gas chamber. Benny’s story indicates that he was working in the gas chamber in the main Auschwitz camp which did not have an undressing room.  Filip Mueller, one of the Commandos who worked in the main camp gas chamber, wrote that he ate some cheese that he found in the gas chamber in the main camp.

Besides that, the food in the pockets of the dead, in the gas chamber, would have been saturated with Zyklon-B gas and anyone who ate the food would have died a horrible death.

Benny Hochman’s obituary continues with this quote:

Nazis moved those left at Auschwitz to Buchenwald in 1944. About 80 percent died on the monthlong trip. Hochman worked to avoid death, but eventually the five years he’d spent fighting for his life started to take their toll.

He was lying on the ground, near death when the 926th Signal Battalion of the American Army arrived.

Benny can be excused for not knowing that the 926th Signal Battalion is not credited with being liberators of Buchenwald, since he was near death at the time.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a list of Army units which liberated the camps.  I checked on the 926th Signal Battalion to make sure and found this:  http://www.ushmm.org/shared/search/main.php?q__typ=&q=926th+Signal+Battalion&Submit=

Truck loads of American soldiers were brought to see Buchenwald after the camp was liberated

Truck loads of American soldiers were brought to see Buchenwald after the camp was liberated

After the Buchenwald camp was liberated by the prisoners themselves on April 11, 1945, the US Army brought as many soldiers as they could to see the exhibits that had been put up by the survivors.  Benny may have been lying on the ground, near death, days after the Buchenwald camp was liberated, when a soldier from the 926th Signal Battalion found him.

I also found another obituary for Benny Hochman.  It was written by Klark Byrd in the Dickinson Press; you can read it at http://www.thedickinsonpress.com/event/article/id/68954/

This quote is from the article written by Klark Byrd:

After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Benny’s life was on a course for something terrible. Though he and his family weren’t Jewish, his brother was educated and a member of the Polish army. For those reasons, he was targeted by the Gestapo in 1940. When they came for his brother, they took Benny too.

Why would the Gestapo be after a member of the “Polish army”?  Could it be that his brother was in an army of partisans who were fighting illegally, not as soldiers on a battlefield?  Was his brother in the “Polish Home Army,” which fought as Resistance fighters, not as soldiers?

The quote from Klark Byrd’s article continues:

His autobiography, “From Hell to Here,” states that “On April 14, 1945, a starving emaciated Polish lad lay in the gutter near the electrically charged perimeter fence of Buchenwald Concentration Camp with guns of war sounding in the distance.”

An American soldier found him. He offered Benny a piece of hard candy. Benny was too weak to take it. The soldier scooped him up and took him to an Army hospital to recuperate.

Benny was found, lying in a gutter, on April 14, 1945 after the Buchenwald camp had been liberated on April 11, 1945.  Had he been lying there in the gutter for 3 days before he was found?

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