Chapter XX

NEXT DOOR TO THE SS LIVING QUARTERS, on the second story of number two crematorium, was a carpenter’s shop, where three carpenters plied their trade, fulfilling any and all requests that were sent to them. For the moment they were busy filling a “private order.” Oberchaarführer Mussfeld, taking advantage of the opportunity, had ordered the carpenters to make him a “recamier,” a sort of double bed that could also serve as a large sofa. It was to be completed as quickly as possible.

It was no easy job, but in the crematoriums there was no such word as “impossible” when an order was given. The carpenters had salvaged the necessary wood from among the construction materials scattered about the crematorium grounds. The springs had come from the easy chairs that certain deportees had brought with them to make the journey more comfortable for their ailing parents. There were hundreds of these abandoned chairs in the crematorium courtyard and we used to sit in them after work to rest awhile and catch a few breaths of fresh air.

So the recamier was built according to instructions. For me it had become an object of curiosity. I had followed all phases of its construction and seen it completed. I had watched them install the springs and cover them with elegant tapestries. Two French electricians had installed a bed lamp and arranged a niche for a radio. After it had been varnished it was quite handsome. In a small bourgeois home in Mannheim it would look even better than it did up in the uninviting crematorium loft. For the recamier was to be sent, at the end of the week, to Mussfeld’s home at Mannheim. There it would wait till the victorious Ober, back from the trying wars, could use it to rest his weary bones.

One day, the week prior to its shipment, I was in my room and saw a half dozen silk pajamas—a natural supplement for the recamier—waiting to join the package. They were of fine imported silk and would certainly have been unobtainable on the outside, where ration tickets were needed for even the most essential items. The KZ also had its ration system, a much better one than that in force throughout Germany, for it furnished those who used it with any item they desired. In the undressing room the goods were there waiting to be taken. It only took one point per item, a point of flame from the Ober’s gun, sending a bullet into the back of the owner’s neck.

In exchange for these “points” the SS officials received jewelry, leather goods, fur coats, silks and fine shoes. Not a week went by without their sending some packages home.

In the packages that had been sent one found, besides the luxury items already mentioned, tea, coffee, chocolate, and canned goods by the hundreds, all of which were also obtainable in the undressing room. Thus the Ober had conceived the idea of having a recamier constructed and sent home.

As I watched, day by day, the final phases of its construction, an idea began to take shape in my mind. Little by little the idea transformed itself into a project. In a few weeks the Sonderkommando would be a thing of the past. We would all perish here, and we were well aware of it. We had even grown used to the idea, for we knew there was no way out. One thing upset me however. Eleven Sonderkommando squads had already perished and taken with them the terrible secret of the crematoriums and their butchers. Even though we did not survive, it was our bounden duty to make certain that the world learned of the unimaginable cruelty and sordidness of a people who pretended to be superior. It was imperative that a message addressed to the world leave this place. Whether it was discovered soon afterwards, or years later, it would still be a terrible manifesto of accusation. This message would be signed by all the members of number one crematorium’s Sonderkommando, fully conscious of their impending death. Carried beyond the barbed wires of KZ in the recamier, it would remain for the time being at Oberschaarführer Mussfeld’s home at Mannheim.

The message was drafted in time. It described in sufficient detail the horrors perpetrated at Auschwitz from the time of its founding until the present. The names of the camp’s torturers were included, as well as our estimate of the number of people exterminated, with a description of the methods and instruments utilized for extermination.

The message was drawn up on three large sheets of parchment. The Sonderkommando’s editor, a painter from Paris, copied it in beautifully written letters, as was the custom with ancient manuscripts, using India ink so that the writing would not fade. The fourth sheet contained the signatures of the Sonderkommando’s 200 men. The sheets were fastened together with a silk thread, then rolled up, enclosed in a specially constructed cylindrical tube made of zinc by one of our tinsmiths, and finally sealed and soldered so as to protect the manuscript from air and humidity. Our joiners placed the tube in the recamier’s springs, among the wool floss of the upholstering.

Another message, exactly the same, was buried in the courtyard of number two crematorium.

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