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December 31, 2015

“the Ungraspable Horrors of Auschwitz”

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, movies — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 1:53 pm

“Son of Saul” and the Ungraspable Horrors of Auschwitz

The words above are in the headline of a news article which you can read at

Is ungraspable even a word?

I wrote about the Sonderkommando revolt in this previous blog post:


Quote from the news article about the film:

In the realm of Holocaust dramas, László Nemes’s first feature, “Son of Saul,” is ambitious and provocative but nearly superfluous. Credit Photograph by Sony Pictures Classics / Courtesy Everett

The title of my blog post comes from the news article which has this quote:

While emptying the gas chamber of bodies, Saul sees a boy who is still breathing; the boy dies moments thereafter, but his body is taken by a camp doctor for autopsy—and Saul, visiting the doctor (who turns out also to be a prisoner), tells him that the boy is his son and that he wants to spend a few minutes with the body. What Saul actually wants is something more drastic and seemingly impossible: he wants to take the body and give it a proper burial. Moreover, for that burial he needs a rabbi, and, making use of his position as a Sonderkommando (which allows him to move not quite freely but at least widely throughout the concentration camp), Saul obsessively searches among Jewish deportees to find one.

But, early in his quest, he happens upon other Sonderkommando members who are organizing an armed uprising to destroy the gas chambers, and they recruit him to that cause. Though Saul never makes his reasoning clear (once, he explains, “I have to eat”), he seems to join the uprising neither from commitment nor to save himself but to win his colleagues’ aid in his efforts to bury his son, and to gain the measure of mobility, as a part of their plot, that will help him to do so.

I wrote about the Sonderkommando revolt on my website at

The revolt was the occasion when the Sonderkommando Jews blew up the Krema IV gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The ruins of Krema IV are a reconstruction

The ruins of Krema IV are a reconstruction

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 were 220 feet long by 42 feet wide.

The Krema IV building was completely demolished, blown up with dynamite which several women prisoners stole from the factory where they were working. All the bricks were removed by Polish civilians after the war, and the ruins that visitors see today are a reconstruction, according to the Auschwitz Museum.

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. Knowing that they were soon going to be killed, the members of the next-to-last Sonderkommando revolted and blew up the Krema IV building.

A sign at the site of Krema IV says that there were 450 prisoners who were killed by the SS during the revolt or afterwards in retaliation.

For some unknown reason, the Jews in the last Sonderkommando group 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 this Sonderkommando group 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.

This is my last blog post of 2015.  Happy New Year, everyone.

The gas chamber that tourists see at Auschwitz

Filed under: California, Holocaust — Tags: — furtherglory @ 9:01 am
 Gate into the main Auschwitz camp

Old photo of the gate into Auschwitz I camp

Today’s tourists, who take a guided tour of Auschwitz, are first taken to the main camp, where they see the famous “Arbeit macht Frei” sign that is shown in the old photo above; then they move on to the gas chamber in the Auschwitz I camp that was reconstructed by the Soviets, who liberated the camp.

You can see photos of the gas chamber, which I took in 1998 and again in 2005, on my website at

Obviously, I did not take these photos on a guided tour. The two photos below show what tourists see in the dark gas chamber room on a guided tour today.

Tourists are shown a darkened room in the Auschwitz main camp

Tourists are shown a darkened room at Auschwitz

Tourists today are not allowed to walk around in the gas chamber

Tourists today are not allowed to walk around in the gas chamber

Prisoners allegedly entered the gas chamber through the oven room on the left in the photo

Prisoners allegedly entered the gas chamber through the oven room shown in my 2005 photo

As shown in the photos above, the view of the gas chamber that tourists see today does not reveal much about the alleged gassing procedure.

My 1998 photo of the alleged entrance into the Auschwitz gas chamber

My 1998 photo of the alleged entrance into the gas chamber

On my first visit to Auschwitz in 1998, I was told the the door in the photo above was the door into the gas chamber.  Now tourists are told that the victims were herded into the gas chamber through the oven room where the bodies of the victims were being burned.

Allegedly, the victims took off their clothing outside the building, as they were told that they would be going into a room to take a shower. When they got in the room, they saw that there were no shower heads on the ceiling, and they knew that they were doomed to endure an ignominious death.