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  • The facts in this presentation are not entirely accurate.

    Slide 2 - 'They were guaranteed to survive for 6-8 months...' There were no guarantees about living, regardless of the time frame. Sonderkommando units were routinely liquidated, but that does not mean that their survival for any amount of time was assured. They were subjected to selections and random killings, only on a more limited scale than the rest of the camp.
    '[they] lived in heated barracks...' This is partially untrue - their barracks were, in general, over the crematoria themselves, and therefore kept warm (and unbearably hot in the summer at times) by the ambient heat coming from below.
    '[they] decide who would live and die from incoming trains.' This is purely and absolutely false. Under no circumstances nor at any time did Sonderkommando prisoners ever decide who lived and who died. That was entirely up to the SS and SS doctors like Josef Mengele, who either selected people for death at the ramp or from the general camp population.

    Slide 4 - 'They also could communicate with their relatives in the mainstream population or in other camps.' This was not the case; there were Sonderkommando units that were instructed to write to their families in post-dated letters before they were liquidated. This was done with several different groups of prisoners (i.e. the Czechs of the Familienlager at Auschwitz before their mass liquidation) to aid the Nazis in denying that Jewish people were being murdered by the thousands and make the rest of the world think they were truly being detained for slave labor only.

    Slide 5 - 'Not unlike the Kapos, Sonderkommandos could be put in charge of work details and other groups.' Sonderkommando prisoners were isolated from the rest of the camp because of the secrets they held about the Nazi machinery of death - no one else could accurately describe the way the Jews were being destroyed. They worked only in the 'factory of death' - the undressing room, the gas chamber, the crematoria, the open burning pits, the mass graves, wherever the ashes were disposed, etc. They had no involvement with work details outside of this 'bubble' so to speak, and their contact with 'regular' prisoners was either severely limited or prohibited altogether. They had their own Kapos, who were sometimes Jewish as well, who were assigned solely to Sonderkommando duties.

    It seems that you are confusing the Jewish Sonderkommando prisoners with the Sonderkommando units of the Einsatzgruppen, especially when you identify a group of German soldiers in Slide 4 as 'A Sonderkommando unit by the side of a road with a work detail.'
    The Jewish Sonderkommando were prisoners in several of the largest Nazi death camps (most notably Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, and Sobibor) who were forced to work in the crematoria and all things associated with it that I mentioned above. Though their living conditions were somewhat better with regard to food, shelter, and some luxuries like alcohol and cigarettes, their days were numbered and their work was hideous to say the least.
    The Sonderkommando units of the Einsatzgruppen were mobile killing squads of soldiers, largely German, who slaughtered Jews and other 'undesirables' en masse before the gas chambers and other similar methods were in place. They were not prisoners, and their situation was entirely different than that of the Jewish men in the crematoria who were given the same name (Sonderkommando = special squad).

    It is important that the facts about the (mostly) Jewish men who labored and died in the concentration camp Sonderkommandos are given the proper respect and that their horrific tortures are documented accurately. Please read further and clear up this confusion between them and Einsatzgruppen soldiers before you post information again for public consumption. I suggest you read Filip Mueller's memior 'Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers,' Gideon Greif's 'We Wept Without Tears: Testimonies of the Jewish Sonderkommando of Auschwitz,' Schlomo Venezia's 'Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz,' and Jadwiga Bezinska's 'Amidst a Nightmare of Crime: Manuscripts of Prisoners in Crematorium Squads Found at Auschwitz.'
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  1. 1. The Sonderkommando<br />A Historical Profile<br />
  2. 2. A Sonderkommando (center) assists in prisoner selection at Auschwitz-Birkenau.<br />Sonderkommando’s themselves were given to option to risk death with the rest of the prisoner population. They were guaranteed to survive for 6-8 months, lived in heated barracks, given clean uniforms, warm meals and decide who would live and die from incoming trains. After their tenure was completed, the entire unit was liquidated.<br />
  3. 3. Several Sonderkommandos standing next to a bone crushing machine.<br />Units like this were also used to help destroy the remains of prisoners from the incoming trains. They used machines like this to grind up any remaining bones from the ovens such as the ones used at Auschwitz-Birkenau.<br />
  4. 4. A Sonderkommando unit by the side of a road with a work detail.<br />There were many perks compared to the lives led by other prisoners. They also had the choice of taking particular items they wanted from prisoners when they arrived. They also could communicate with their relatives in the mainstream population or in other camps.<br />
  5. 5. A Kapo (left) leads a work detail before an SS cameraman.<br />Not unlike the Kapos, Sonderkommandos could be put in charge of work details and other groups of prioners. They were also treated with disgust by the regular population.<br />
  6. 6. The Memorial Wall of Sobibor death camp.<br />Sonderkommando were also the ones who had the best means of starting an uprising. The one at Sobibor was started by a unit who was able to steal enough German weapons to start the only successful death camp uprising.<br />
  7. 7. The aftermath of the Auschwitz Uprising.<br />A Sonderkommando unit in Auschwitz-Birkenau was able to store enough explosives destroy two of the four smokestacks in Auschwitz. The resistance was ultimately unsuccessful leading to the liquidation of the unit and any prisoners suspected to be involved.<br />
  8. 8. SS Officer, Martin Sanderberg poses for a picture for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.<br />Sonderkommando units were lead by SS officers who were responsible for their unit’s behavior and recruitment. Officers like Sanderberg were put on trial for war crimes because of the inhumanity that Sonderkommandos faced during their tenure and for their execution.<br />
  9. 9. Surviving Polish Sonderkommando, TadeuzRozewicz sitting for an interview.<br />Survivors like TadeuzRozewicz detailed their experiences through writing or telling journalists of their stories. Rozewicz went on to write many books and poems based on his experiences in his brief time as a Sonderkommando.<br />
  10. 10. HenrykMandelbaum poses with his translator.<br />Surviving Sonderkommandos like Rozewicz and Mandelbaum are incredibly rare. They only had a lifespan of a few months during the war and those who survived had the highest suicide rate of all survivor populations due to extreme survivor guilt coupled with guilt from participating in the persecution.<br />