Scrapbookpages Blog

June 20, 2013

What happened to the watches worn by the Jews who were sent to the gas chamber?

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:51 am

As every student of the Holocaust knows, the Jews entered an “undressing room” at Auschwitz-Birkenau where they took off their clothes before proceeding into the “gas chamber.”  According to stories told by numerous Holocaust survivors, the undressing room had hooks to hang up the clothes, and the victims were instructed to tie their shoe laces together to keep the shoes in pairs. God forbid that the Nazis would be stuck with 1.1 million mismatched pairs of shoes at Auschwitz.

Vintage gold pocket watch

Vintage gold pocket watch

But what about the watches worn by the victims?  Did the Jews remove their watches, and leave them in the undressing room, before going into the gas chamber?  Apparently not!

I have just learned, from this website, that the Jews took their watches with them into the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In a play entitled The Timekeepers, a Jew who was skilled in watch repair “slaves in his grim, solitary cell repairing watches taken off bodies piled into gas chambers for SS officers to wear.”

Rolex watch from the 1940s

Rolex watch from the 1940s

This quote is from a review of The Timekeepers, written by Alexandra Bonfield, which you can read in full here:

In The Timekeepers, middle-aged Jewish prisoner Benjamin (Karl Lewis) shares proudly how he was considered the finest watch repairman in Berlin. Believing his value as a skilled tradesman gave him immunity, he failed to flee Germany with his family before Nazi occupation. Separated from his wife and children, he slaves in his grim, solitary cell repairing watches taken off bodies piled into gas chambers for SS officers to wear. A young prisoner gets thrown into the cell, someone who has claimed he also repairs watches. Hans (Jeremy W. Smith), an unabashed opportunist surviving by his wits and easy sexual “accommodation,” wears a telltale pink star and flaunts his “deviant” sexuality. He knows nothing about watches and wants desperately to learn so he can survive.

It is a well-known fact that the Jews were gassed 2,000 or 3,000 at a time.  There were Jewish helpers, called Sonderkommandos, who had to go inside the gas chamber and untangle the pile of bodies, so that the victims could be carried to the elevator, a few at a time, and taken up to the ovens to be burned.

Did the Sonderkommandos remove the watches from the dead bodies and take them to a Jewish watch repairman, working in a private prison cell?  After being subjected to the fumes of Zyklon-B gas, I am not surprised that the watches needed to be repaired.

But why didn’t the Nazis have someone standing at the door into the undressing room, collecting the watches, before the victims even entered the undressing room?

Yes, yes, I know that the play is fictional, but the basic premise of the play is wrong.  The Jews probably had some expensive watches.  There must have been a lot of gold watches brought by the rich Jews to Auschwitz.  It would have been totally stupid to allow the Jews to take their watches with them into the gas chamber, when it would have been so easy to collect the watches at the door to the undressing room.