Chapter XXII

I WAS IN THE HABIT OF READING FOR awhile in bed each night before I went to sleep. One night, while I was doing just that, the lights suddenly went out and the KZ alarm siren began its dismal wail. Whenever there was an alert we were taken, convoyed by well-armed SS guards, to the Sonderkommando shelter, that is, to the gas chamber.

We crossed the threshold of the gas chamber with heavy hearts. The whole kommando was present, 200 strong. It was a terrible feeling to remain in this room, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people had met a frightful end here. Besides, we knew that the life of the Sonderkommando was drawing to a close. This being the case, the SS could very easily have closed the gas chamber doors and dumped four cases of cyclon gas down the chimneys to liquidate us all.

As a matter of fact, such action would not have been without precedent. A part of the eleventh Sonderkommando had been transferred from the D quarter to Barracks 13, a restricted area, and informed that, upon orders from above, the group would no longer live in the crematoriums, but henceforth in this barracks. They would continue to work at the ovens, however, going in two separate groups from the barracks to the crematorium. That same evening they had been taken to the D quarter for a bath and a change of clothing. After the bath they had been pushed into a neighboring room to get disinfected clothes. This room was a real disinfecting chamber, and as such could be hermetically sealed. Normally, that was where the lice-filled clothes collected in the camp were disinfected. Four hundred men from the Sonderkommando were liquidated in this manner. From there, trucks took their bodies to the funeral pyre.

Thus our anxiety while waiting for the alert to be over was not unfounded. This one lasted for three hours. Then we came up out of darkness to see the long kilometers of barbed wire once again lighted by the searchlights, and returned to bed. I tried to fall asleep, but sleep was slow in coming.

The following day, while making my rounds in number two crematorium, the chief of the Sonderkommando there informed me confidentially that during the alert the previous night a group of partisans had slipped into the camp. In an out-of-the-way spot they had cut the barbed wire surrounding the courtyard and slipped three machine guns and twenty hand grenades through the opening. The Sonderkommando men had discovered them early that morning and hidden them in a safe place.

This news gave us some slight hope for the future. We knew that the hands that had smuggled us these weapons could not be far off. From a series of observations I was inclined to believe that the local underground was operating about 25 to 30 kilometers from the camp. We hoped that, under cover of the next alert, they would manage to slip us some more weapons. Recently there had been alerts every day. But for us the only ones that really counted were those that occurred at night and lasted a relatively long time, for only then could our anonymous and devoted friends get close to the camp. After three or four such alerts, we would perhaps have enough arms to try and force our way past the guards.

The organization for this future operation was coordinated by number three crematorium, and had contacts in all the others. The whole affair was being conducted with the utmost care and circumspection. Death stalked our every move, in the form of the lethal machine guns manned by our guards. We wanted to live. We wanted to get out of here. But even if most of us failed to make it, even if only one or two escaped, we would still have won out, for there would then be someone to tell the world about the dark mysteries of these death factories.

As for those destined to pay with their lives, at least they would not have died like worms, crushed by their butchers’ unclean hands. On the contrary, they would be the first in the history of the KZ who, despite overwhelming odds in both numbers and material, would have sowed death and destruction among their torturers before dying proudly like men.

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