Scrapbookpages Blog

December 12, 2010

Sonderkommando Revolt — Holocaust revenge video game

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:44 am

A new video game, called Sonderkommando Revolt, developed by an Israeli game maker, is due out next month.  The developer of the video game described the game as “blast the Nazis fun.”  The game is based on the uprising of Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners on October 7, 1944 when the Krema IV gas chamber was blown up. Players will take the part of Zalmen Gradowski, a real-life Sonderkommando, who was one of the leaders of the uprising.  Gradowski was killed during the actual uprising, but in the video game, he will finally have the chance to get revenge on the Nazis through the kids who play the game.

I have never wasted my time playing video games, but my grandchildren spend hours playing.  In fact, one of them started playing video games at the age of two, and he is thinking of becoming a video game developer himself.  What a great “after Christmas gift” this would be for him! (Just kidding; I would never do that.)

Sonderkommando was the German name for the Jewish prisoners who were given the job of dragging the bodies out of the gas chambers and taking them to the ovens where the bodies were burned.  They were treated better than the other prisoners as a reward for doing such a dirty job.  The official story is that the Sonderkommndo Jews were killed every three months, and new prisoners took their place, so as not to leave any witnesses.  For some strange reason, the men in the last Sonderkommando group were not killed. Around 100 of them were marched out of the Birkenau camp when it was abandoned by the Nazis on January 18, 1945.  Three of the men in this last Sonderkommando group gave eye-witness testimony at the 1947 trial of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess, describing how the prisoners were gassed at Birkenau.  This is typical of the Nazis — always screwing up and making mistakes like leaving witnesses to the gassing of the Jews.

Even though Zalmen Gradowski was killed in the uprising, he had the good sense to write a lengthy note and bury it where it could be found later by survivors of the camp. (He was not the only one who wrote a note and buried it; this was done by several other Auschwitz prisoners.)

You can read the full contents of Gradowski’s buried message here.  The title of his note is “You must give some meaning to my condemned existence.”  Gradowski knew that he was going to be among the 450 Sonderkommando Jews who would be killed in the uprising, or executed later by the SS.  That’s why he took the time to write a description of the gas chambers at Birkenau and bury the note.

Zalmen Gradowski had no way of knowing that some day children would spend hours playing video games, but his desire for vengeance inspired him to write this in the message that he buried:

But I will be content if my account reaches you, a free citizen of the world. Perhaps a spark from the fire that burns inside me will ignite within you and you will accomplish our shared desire. You will take vengeance, vengeance on the murderers! Esteemed discoverer of this account! I am writing to make this request of you: that some meaning is given to my condemned existence. That my infernal days, my futureless tomorrow will be of some use in times to come.

Wow! It’s like he was predicting that some day there would be “vengeance on the murderers.”  His “infernal days” now have some use after all.

His buried message continues with these words:

I am describing only a tiny part, the very minimum, of what has happened in this hell that is Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have written many other things. I think you will at least find their traces, and from all that you will gain some idea of how the children of our race were murdered.

Notice that he refers to the Birkenau camp as “Auschwitz-Birkenau.”  The Auschwitz main camp and the Birkenau camp first became known as Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1947 when the two former camps became an outdoor museum. The Birkenau camp did not become popular with tourists until recently. A million people per year now go to visit the remains of the Birkenau camp, but when I visited it in 1998, I was the only person there.  When I returned for another visit in 2005, it was like Disneyland.

Gradowski goes on to write this in his note:

In the large room, deep underground, 12 pillars support the weight of the building, harshly lit by electric light. Along the walls, benches and hooks await the victims’ clothes. A sign advises the victims in several languages that they are now in the “baths” and they must remove their clothes so they can be cleaned. We find ourselves there with them and look at each other, petrified. They know, they understand. These are not baths. This room is the corridor of death, the antechamber to the grave.

Gradowski was a Sonderkommando working in Krema IV, which was a one story building with no rooms underground. As Gradowski tells it, the Sonderkommando went into the undressing room with the victims.  What was the purpose of that? He says that the Jews knew, while they were in the undressing room, that they were not going to the “baths,” but to their deaths.  How did they figure that out?  Had someone told them about the gas chambers before they went into the undressing room?  Why didn’t the prisoners riot before they got as far as the undressing room?

He describes the undressing room as “deep underground,” yet the undressing rooms, even in Krema II and Krema III, were never more than five feet underground, and the roof was three feet above ground.  You can see photos of the ruins of Krema III here.

Roof of Krema II undressing room is three feet above ground

There are no pillars in the ruins of Krema IV, as you can see in the photo below.  Pillars were not needed to “support the weight of the building” in Krema IV because there was no second story on top of the gas chamber.  There are, however, pillars in the ruins of Krema III, which you can see in the second photo below.

Ruins of Krema IV at Birkenau are a reconstruction

Pillars can be seen in the ruins of Krema III at Birkenau

Pillars can only be seen in the ruins of the gas chamber in Krema III, not in the undressing room, which Gradowski was describing. His description of the undressing room is remarkably similar to the words of Rudolf Hoess in the confession that he gave to the British after he was captured and tortured.

The photo below shows the ruins of the undressing room in Krema II which was a mirror image of Krema III.  As you can see, the undressing room was only five feet underground and it had no pillars to hold up the roof.

Ruins of the undressing room in Krema II has no pillars

Skipping a few paragraphs in the note, we read this:

Now it’s up to the goods lift. Two men pile the bodies like logs on the platform and once seven or eight have been loaded a signal is given and the lift rises… Up there, next to the lift, are four more men. On one side, two of them drag the bodies to the “reserve pile”. The other two haul them straight to the crematoria. They lay them out in pairs in front of the mouth of each furnace.

The “goods lift” was the elevator.  But Krema IV, where Gradowski worked as a Sonderkommando, had no elevator because the gas chamber and the ovens were both on the ground floor.

Notice that he says that “once seven or eight have been loaded…”  The elevator constituted a bottleneck that meant that it would have taken a long time to burn the bodies of millions of  Jews at Birkenau.  The elevator bottleneck was pointed out by Holocaust denier David Irving in his law suit against Deborah Lipstadt.  Gradowski made a grave mistake in pointing out a tiny detail that Holocaust deniers can use.  But he wrote this in 1944 and it probably never occurred to him that someday there would be Holocaust deniers.

Remarkably, Gradowski included in his message the famous story of a woman who shot an SS man named Shillinger at Birkenau.  I blogged about this story here.  Shillinger was shot at Krema II, which was more than a mile from Krema IV where Gradowski worked; the Sonderkommando prisoners lived in separate barracks inside the crematoria buildings, where they had no contact with the other prisoners.  But this story was apparently the talk of the whole camp and Gradowski somehow heard about it.

Here is what Gradowski wrote about the famous incident when Shillinger was shot:

The second incident was… that of the “Warsaw convoy”. They were from Warsaw who had taken American citizenship; some of them had been born in America. They were supposed to be transferred to an internment camp in Germany then eventually to Switzerland where they would be placed in the care of the Red Cross.

But instead of doing so, the great and “civilized” powers-that-be had them brought to the crematoria here. It was at this point that a heroic young woman, a dancer, committed an act of great bravery. Seizing the revolver of Kwakernak, the head of the camp’s political section, she used it to shoot Schillinger, a notoriously nasty character. Her act inspired the other brave women with her, who launched bottles and other missiles at those savage, rabid animals, the uniformed SS.

On the blueprint of Krema II, shown in the photo below, the undressing room is on the right. To the left of the undressing room is the above-ground oven room with the ovens designated by 5 squares. The gas chamber is perpendicular to the undressing room. On the blueprint, the gas chamber is labeled L-keller which is an abbreviation for Leichenkeller, which means corpse cellar in English. The undressing room was also called a Leichenkeller on the blueprint. The Nazis were sneaky that way — they tried to fool future generations by labeling the gas chamber a “corpse cellar,” never dreaming that a Sonderkommano guy would write his testimony and bury it at Birkenau.

Blueprint for Krema II shows two "corpse cellars"

Update 1:14 p.m.

The new video game will be out on January 1st, according to its creator.  You can read more about it here.  “The concentration camp game was meant to be fun,” according to that web site.  Hey, that could be a new song, “Jews just wanna have fun.” 


  1. A member of my family just recently bought a BMW. A friend criticized this choice because BMW used “slave labor” during World War II. During the war, all the German men were in the Army and all the women were doing their part by staying home as housewives and mothers. In America, we had women working in the factories, but not many women in Germany worked outside the home. BMW was making jet airplanes during the war and they used prisoners for the workers. Since then, BMW has paid reparations and they have been forgiven. It would be stupid to reject their cars because of what was done in the past.

    Comment by furtherglory — December 27, 2010 @ 6:57 am

  2. Who were the “Sonderkommandos
    I have heard this word since I was a school kid and could never understand who they really were. Well, my limited German tells me they were “special” commandos, or units or whatever. Some people don’t like Wikipedia, but I am okay with it. Let’s try it.
    “Sonderkommandos were work units of German Nazi death camp prisoners who aided with the killing process during The Holocaust. The death-camp Sonderkommando consisted almost entirely of Jews, and should not be confused with the SS-Sonderkommandos which were ad hoc units formed from various SS offices between 1938 through 1945”.
    This would confuse everyone. It appears that there were two types of “Sonderkommandos: one was made of the Jews and another from the SS units for special operations. It is my understanding that for “sonder” or special operations, one have to select “sonder” or “special” people. If applied to the SS units, that means most skillful. However, if applied to Nazi death camp prisoners (who aided with the killing process during The Holocaust. The death-camp Sonderkommando consisted almost entirely of Jews) means: those were most disgusting people in the world, since they have aided with the killing of his own people. Were there really Sonderkommandos of Jews? Are there any “Nahtzee” documents proving that there were such units? Or, maybe there were some selected jewish “leaders” of the camps to help newcomers to learn about the rules and other stuff regarding how to settle down in the camps?
    This is the first time I have ever heard about Zalmen Gradowski and his “message in the bottle” for generations to read. He was supposedly a former “yeshiva student” and yet was a “sonderkommando” and later, a leader of uprising in Auschwitz. Which “sonderkommando” was he? “The yeshiva students do not have normally “the uprising” skills, unless Gradowski took part in some SS special task operations and got some skills there. Nothing is impossible, and I would rather believe that yeshiva student was engaged in some sort of SS operation in Palestine, than the story that he guided his own tribe to the gas chambers and removed his bodies afterwards.

    Comment by Gasan — December 12, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

    • Wikipedia uses an unfortunate choice of words in this statement: “Sonderkommandos were work units of German Nazi death camp prisoners who aided with the killing process during The Holocaust.” The “killing process” included burning the bodies. The Sonderkommando workers did not help to kill their fellow Jews; they just removed the bodies from the gas chambers and took them to the ovens. The German word sonder is translated as “special” when it comes to the Holocaust, but this doesn’t mean that workers on a special assignment were special people who had some special skills. Sonderbehandlung is translated as “sent to the gas chamber” when the term is used in the Holocaust. The literal translation would be “special handling” or “different than usual handling.” The word sondern could be translated as “but rather.” Used in a sentence, it would be something like “He was not sent to a labor camp to work, sondern to the gas chamber.” The Sonderkommando Jews did not “guide” the Jews to the gas chamber. They came in afterwards and dragged the bodies out. In his “message in a bottle” Gradowski mentioned that the bodies were four feet deep in the gas chamber. This sounds like the prisoners had died somewhere else and were then brought to the gas chamber and stacked up until they could be taken to the ovens a few at a time.

      Comment by furtherglory — December 12, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

      • I have added a photo of the blueprint of Krema II, which was found a couple of years ago, hidden inside a Berlin apartment. On the blueprint, the gas chamber is called a Leichenkeller or “corpse cellar.” This could explain why the dead bodies were stacked four feet deep inside the gas chamber.

        Comment by furtherglory — December 13, 2010 @ 7:20 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: