This morning I read a news article in the online Haaretz newspaper which has the headline: The sexual violence which spurred women’s resistance in the Holocaust.
The news article is about a new show which features the four women who supplied the explosives to blow up Krema IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau shortly before the camp was abandoned by the Nazis on January 18, 1945.
This quote is from the article:
NEW YORK – On October 7, 1944, Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz blew up a crematorium [Krema IV] in an attempted revolt that, while ultimately futile, has become a powerful rebuttal to the claim that Jews succumbed to the Nazis without a fight. Many know this story but few know the names Roza Robota, Estera Wajcblum, Regina Szafirsztajn and Ala Gertner, four women who smuggled gunpowder under their fingernails and stitched it into the seams of their clothes to make the uprising possible.
Their role has been diminished in historical accounts of the event, if mentioned at all, but a new exhibition by the American Jewish Historical Society in Manhattan, called “October 7, 1944,” seeks to reinsert them into the narrative. The exhibition, which opened last month on the 70th anniversary of the revolt and runs through December 30, makes its case in a most unorthodox way: It merges contemporary dance and archival material.
Excuse me, but I don’t think that this is an appropriate way to honor these four brave women, who literally gave their lives to blow up a building that was believed, by the Jews, to contain a gas chamber.
A few years ago, there was a video game, about the Krema IV explosion, that was set to be released, but it was withdrawn because it was too controversial. I blogged about the video game at https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/sonderkommando-revolt-holocaust-revenge-video-game/
Krema IV was located just north of the clothing warehouses, which were in a section that the prisoners called Kanada. Across the road from Kanada was the Central Sauna which had a shower room and disinfection chambers where the prisoners’ clothing was deloused. Krema IV had a shower room which was allegedly a gas chamber, according to survivors of the Holocaust.
According to Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum, in their book entitled The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It?, the Krema IV and Krema V buildings, which were identical, were 220 feet long by 42 feet wide.
The Krema IV building was completely demolished, blown up with explosives which four women prisoners stole from the factory where they were working. All the bricks in the ruins of the building were removed by Polish civilians after the war; the ruins that visitors see today are a reconstruction, according to the Auschwitz Museum.
When I visited Auschwitz in 1998, I was told by my tour guide that the four women, who supplied the explosives to blow up Krema IV, were executed in the location shown in the photo above. This spot is just outside the entrance into the main camp.
The prisoners who worked in the crematory buildings at Auschwitz, removing the bodies of the victims who had allegedly been gassed, were members of a special group called the Sonderkommando.
According to Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a prisoner who did autopsies at Birkenau, each Sonderkommando group was killed after a few months and replaced by a new crew. According to Dr. Nyiszli, these prisoners knew that they were soon going to be killed, and that is why the members of the next-to-last Sonderkommando revolted and blew up the Krema IV building.
A sign at the reconstructed ruins of Krema IV says that there were 450 prisoners who were killed by the SS during the revolt or afterwards in retaliation.
Strangely, the men in the last Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau were not exterminated. Around 100 of them were marched out of the camp when it was abandoned by the Nazis on January 18, 1945. Several members of the Sonderkommando survived and three of them gave eye-witness testimony at the 1947 trial of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess, about how the prisoners were gassed at Birkenau.
As far as I know, there was very little sexual violence against women in the concentration camps. There was a heavy penalty for any SS men who were sexually violent. That’s why there was a brothel at Auschwitz. I wrote about the brothel in this previous blog post: https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/block-24-at-auschwitz-the-brothel/