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Life for an Auschwitz crematoria worker

October 18, 2013

“Inside the gas chambers : eight months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz” by Shlomo Venezia

I don’t usually read non-fiction, let alone topics this grim.  But the cover of this riveting true story caught my eye, and after I started reading, I just couldn’t stop. Published in 2007, it’s written by a Greek Jew who worked in the crematorium at Birkenau (part of the Auschwitz complex).  Shlomo Venezia was one of the few eye witnesses who survived. All “Sonderkommando” (crematoria workers) were regularly executed because the Nazis didn’t want any witnesses of their mass murders apparently.

Sonderkommando at work

Sonderkommando at work

Schlomo was 20 when he was sent to Auschwitz, and he was ‘fortunately’ liberated after only 8 months. Luck was on his side as he escaped several death ‘selections’, a revolt, and the final Death March when Auschwitz was evacuated. As a Sonderkommando, he was forced to deceive his fellow Jews into passively entering the gas chambers, then remove the corpses  to the ovens, and  prepare the chamber for the next batch. His main job was to cut long hair from the female bodies, but he occasionally helped in other areas and in other crematoria, so he got a good look at the many sadistic crimes occurring.  Needless to say, it was a very difficult job – at one point, he had to chivvy his own cousin into the gas chamber.This book was written in collaboration with Beatrice Prasquier, who interviewed and recorded his recollections.  The tone of the book reveals someone who has experienced so much horror and trauma, that he can speak of these things somewhat dispassionately – no doubt he had to harden to it to survive both during and after the war. And yet the stories he tells are so evocative and gripping, that the matter-of-fact presentation at least makes it bearable to read.

If you want to know what life was really like at the heart of the Nazi’s Final Solution – when the murder machine was in full swing – then this book will certainly satisfy your curiosity. It’s also an important historical record of an unforgettable event that, at the time, many couldn’t believe had even taken place, and would be a useful teaching volume for older students.

– Natalie

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From → Non-Fiction, Review

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