Attack on the twentieth convoy to Auschwitz.

Train

War often brings out the worst in people. they commit crimes they would usually never even contemplate, but equally war also brings out the best in people performing heroic acts they know can cost their lives.

Early 1943 Jews throughout Belgium were rounded up and arrested.People like three members of the Gronowski family(Mother,son and daughter), who were arrested for committing the awful ‘crime’ of being Jewish.

Gronowski.JPG

After the round up they were transported to the Kazerne Dossin,army barracks in Brussels.For most this would be last ‘residence’ in Belgium they would ever be in, for this was the gathering place for the final transport to the death camps.

Kazerne

On 18 April,  1,631 were informed they were going to be  deported by train the following day.The end station would be Auschwitz. The train was designated as Transport 20.

Shortly after the train had set off on route to Auschwitz it was stopped.

Three young students and members of the Belgian resistance including a Jewish doctor, Youra Livchitz  and his two non-Jewish friends Robert Maistriau  and Jean Franklemon armed with  only one pistol, and a makeshift  red warning  lantern ,  stopped the train on the track Mechelen-Leuven, between the towns of Boortmeerbeek and Haacht. This was the first and only time during World War II that any Nazi transport carrying Jewish deportees was stopped.

The train  was guarded by one officer and fifteen men from the Sicherheitspolizei. After a quick  battle between the Germans train  the three Resistance members, the train started again.In the mean time the resistance fighters had opened one rail car and were able to set 17 people free.

The train driver Albert Dumon most I have felt inspired by this  he deliberately drove  slow enough . and stopped frequently to allow people to jump without being injured or killed, 236 in all escaped. 115 of those were never recaptured.

Youra Livchitz unfortunately  was arrested by the Gestapo one month later, but managed to overpower his guard and escape; he was rearrested in June and executed by firing squad the following year.

yoyra

His two brothers in arms survived the war. As did Simon Gronowski the son of the Gronowski family.

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Sources

BBC

 

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I am human being just like you!

Sandro

When the rain falls, my face gets wet.

When the sun shines, it blinds my eyes.

When the snow falls, I want to go out and feel the crunch of the fresh new snow beneath my feet.

When it is muddy, I get dirty.

When I am hungry, I eat.

When I am thirsty, I drink.

When I see a baby cry, I am sad for I know only a few years ago I was a baby.

You see, once you were a baby too.

Once the sun would would blind your eyes, and the rain would make your face wet.

Your mother would also be annoyed when you came in with a muddy face.

Once you were a 5 year old mischievous little angel.

Like you, I am a human being too.

At least I maintained my humanity, where you no longer are that mischievous angel.

The day you killed me in Auschwitz you became a devil.

I am Sandro Sonnino, aged 5. Once a human being, now an angel.

Arbeit Macht Frei-A false promise.

Frei

It is seldom that 3 random words can send shivers down your spine but the words Arbeit Macht Frei do.

Just three ordinary words used many times in daily life and yet they also mean total horror. The literal translation is Work makes free, I know they are often translated as works set you free, even by me, but I think that is wrong, the literal translation is what should be used.

‘Work sets you free’ has more of a condition attached to it, it is not a definite, for there is this silent’but’. Whereas ‘Work makes free’ it states exactly that it makes free for definite.

The Nazi regime turned so many things into weapons, including words.  The phrase or slogan ‘Arbeit mach frei ‘was one of the most powerful psychological weapons. It gave the victims a sense of hope. If they would work they would be free. Even after arriving at the Concentration and death camps ,where the slogan was used at the gates, there were selections.

Selections

Again creating that illusion and false hope that people were selected for different kinds of works. Soon enough though it became clear that this was not the case.

Not only did the Nazis massacre millions of Jews and other groups of people they deemed to be subhuman,they also caused so much psychological damage to those few who survived. Psychological damage not only caused by the daily horrors they witnessed but also by these blatant lies, the promise that work makes free, creating the hope if I just work my family and I will be free at some stage.  This was another psychological crime committed by the Nazis, ensuring that where possible families would be transported together, They even allowed them to bring some possessions ,again making the victims believe that. yes, the situation was bad but it could be worse. At least they were still together.

Only to be torn apart after they arrived at the Concentration camps.

Family

Despite everything there were some brave people who were defiant. The slogan over the entrance to Auschwitz I , was erected by order of commandant Rudolf Höss, and was made by prisoners. As an act of defiance they turned the letter ‘B’ upside down.

arbeit

 

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The last single Journey: Westerbork-Auschwitz

Sign

One of the cruel jokes the Nazis played on their victims was giving them hope. Like a railway sign indicating a return journey that was never to be. Only empty trains returned ready to pick up more victims like lambs led to the slaughter.

Trein

On September 3,1944 the last transport by train from Westerbork Transit Camp to Auschwitz took place.

Westerbork

Between July 15 ,1942 and September 13,1944 a total of 99 trains had left Westerbork for either Auschwitz,Sobibor,Theresienstadt and Bergen Belsen.

On the September 3rd transport 1019 victims were transported to Auschwitz. A journey which would take 3 days. Even before they reached Auschwitz they endured hell, because they were cramped in cattle cars, quite literally like cattle. There were no toilets, barely any food or water, nowhere to sleep. Some would die even before they reached their final destination.

What makes this transport special is because of one family, A Father,mother and 2 daugthers, only the father would eventually survive. This family was the Frank Family.

scheule

Anne and Margot Frank had one more journey to make on 28 October they were selected to be transported to Bergen-Belsen, where both girls died. Otto and Edith Frank remained in Auschwitz but Edith eventually died of starvation in January 1945.

Frank Family

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You stole my childhood

Child

You stole my childhood and took my life for one reason and one reason only. hate!

Because of your hate you denied me to grow up to become a Doctor, who could have save your mother,your father or your child.

Your hate stopped me from being an artist, whose paintings could have brought some much colour and joy to the world.

Your hate stopped me from becoming a writer, whose words would have educated the masses.

Your hate stopped me from being a musician,whose compositions would evoke strong emotions.

Your hate denied me the opportunity to become an architect, whose services were so much needed after the war, even to rebuild your house.

Because of your hate I will not be  a mother, I will not be the mother of the son or daughter who could have nursed you in a nursing home.

You stole my childhood and with that you denied yourself so much.

I am Suzanne Mol  I was murdered aged 5, in Auschwitz by your hate.

My smile offends you!

smile

My smile offends you, and when I see your eyes I see hate.

I see hate although I do not know what hate is. It is a word people around me use.

I have no notion of the concept of hate, I am only 22 months old.

All I know is love.

My smile offends you!

But I smile because I see another human being in front of me, for I smile to everyone.

I don’t see the monster you really are,because monsters only live in nightmares, don’t they?

You are like me, the same skin, the same organs,the same teeth.

You bleed like I do.You sneeze like I do.

When you don’t eat, you die.

When you don’t drink, you die.

When you don’t breathe, you die.

When I smile, I die.

Because my smile offends you.

I am Ishtvan Blankennberg/I was killed in Auschwitz on May 21 1944. I was not yet 2.

Remember my smile for I don’t want it to offend you.

Age 10

Lyse

I am age 10, I should be at school learning and having fun with my fellow students.

I am age 10, my only worry should be “will I have enough to time to go out and play after my homework”

I am age 10, my greatest ambition in life at this stage is to become 11.

I am age 10, a child.

I am age 10, a  French girl.

I am age 10, from Strassboug

I am age 10,Jewish.

I am age 10, a victim

I am age 10,sent to Auschwitz

I am age 10, murdered.

I am age 10, my name Lyse Charen.

 

Wilhelm Boger,the tiger of Auschwitz-Auschwitz Political Department

Boger

The Political Department was the representative of the RSHA( Reich Main Security Office)in the camp, and its main objectives  were

  • Identification documentation
  • Keeping files on individual prisoners
  • Investigations
  • Interrogations
  • Intelligence service
  • Surveillance
  • Camp registrar (sometimes in conjunction with supervision of the crematorium)

RECORDS

Wilhelm Friedrich Boger who had the nickname ‘the tiger of Auschwitz’, was an officer of Political Department ,which were a part of the Gestapo. He was notorious for the crimes he committed.

He also invented a torture device called the ‘Boger Swing’

Boger swing

After the war, Boger’s secretary,Frau Braun, gave a vivid description how the Boger Swing was used.

“It was a meter-long iron bar suspended by chains hung from the ceiling(the drawing above is from a different version of the Boger Swing)… A prisoner would be brought in for “questioning,” stripped naked and bent over the bar, wrists manacled to ankles. A guard at one side would shove him—or her—off across the chamber in a long, slow arc, while Boger would ask “questions,” at first quietly, then barking them out, and at the last bellowing. At each return, another guard armed with a crowbar would smash the victim across the buttocks. As the swinging went on and on, and the wailing victim fainted, was revived only to faint howling again, the blows continued—until only a mass of bleeding pulp hung before their eyes. Most perished from the ordeal–some sooner, some later. In the end a sack of bones and flayed flesh and fat was swept along the shambles of that concrete floor to be dragged away”

His evil crimes in the Political Department continued until the evacuation of Auschwitz in January 1945.

After the camp was liberated he went on the run for five months until June 1946.He was eventually caught in Ludwigsburg where his parents lived He was supposed to  have been extradited to Poland for trial but managed to escape later that same year. From 1948 until mid 1949, he managed to get a job as a farm hand in Crailsheim. He then lived with his family under his real name in Hemmingen . He found a job as supervisor of supplies at the Heinkelwerke, an airplane factory in his birthplace Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, where he was arrested in October 1958 at the age of 51. Untill that time he had lived a ‘normal’ live. His neighbours knew he had worked in Auschwitz and when they asked him about his time he replied”er habe sich nichts vorzuwerfen” he had done nothing to feel guilty about.

arrest

He was released shortly afterwards for he passed denazification. The following assessment of Boger was made:

“.He does not leave the impression of a raw, brutal man, but more one of a rational, well-schooled police commissioner and civil servant.” a the investigation was stopped because it did not warrant any further costs to be borne by the German state.

However in 1959 he was re-arrested and was charged for the war crimes he committed at Auschwitz. On 20 August 1965 he was also tied  at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials by the Landgericht Frankfurt am Main under Chief Judge Hans Hofmeyer for aiding and abetting the murder of Jews.

trials

After several  eyewitness accounts he was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in at least 5 cases, collective murder in at least 109 cases and aiding  in collective murder.

He died on April 3,1977,aged 70 in prison.

 

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Sources

Der Spiegel

German Wikipedia

One red shoe

shoe

One red shoe, I don’t know who this shoe belongs to. I don’t know her name,her age,her weight,her size,nor do I know the colour of her hair.

One red shoe, its significance should not be underestimated for it is only one, just half of the pair it used to be, a sign of a life disrupted.

One red shoe. she who owned it might still be alive but she is probably dead. The minute she arrived in Auschwitz ,someone else decided for her if she would die by gas or if she would be worked to death.

One red shoe. her shoes and her clothes were no longer hers. Even her name was taken from her, Her only identification was a number, tattooed on her arm. Unless she was send to the ‘showers’ after arrival, because then even that number and tattoo wouldn’t matter.

One red shoe, just one of thousands and each of those shoes tell an unknown story.

One red shoe.

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Desperation and Survival

sonder

I have often wondered how the Sonderkommandos coped with their  work.

Sonderkommandos were the were forced labour units made up of  Nazi death camp prisoners. usually Jews.They were forced to help with the disposal of gas chamber victims among other duties. Sometimes even removing family members.

It is not like they had a choice, it was either work and have a chance to survive or get killed themselves. I have heard people call them traitors but I don’t subscribe to that point of view, The basic instinct of any human being is to survive.

How hard it was for these victims, for they to were victims, is illustrated in the testimony of Filip Müller, a Slovak Jewish member of the Sonderkommando.

Muller

Filip had become so desperate that he tried to commit suicide by smuggling himself into the gas chamber.

Below are some excerpts from his testimony taken from his book ‘ Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers’

“In the great confusion near the door I managed to mingle with the pushing and shoving crowd of people who were being driven into the gas chamber. Quickly I ran to the back and stood behind one of the concrete pillars. I thought that here I would remain undiscovered until the gas chamber was full, when it would be locked. Until then I must try to remain unnoticed. I was overcome by a feeling of indifference: everything had become meaningless. Even the thought of a painful death from Zyklon B gas, whose effect I of all people knew only too well, no longer filled me with fear and horror. I faced my fate with composure.Eyewitness

Inside the gas chamber the singing had stopped. Now there was only weeping and sobbing. People, their faces smashed and bleeding, were still streaming through the door, driven by blows and goaded by vicious dogs. Desperate children who had become separated from their parents in the scramble were rushing around calling for them. All at once, a small boy was standing before me. He looked at me curiously; perhaps he had noticed me there at the back standing all by myself. Then, his little face puckered with worry, he asked timidly: “Do you know where my mummy and my daddy are hiding?” I tried to comfort him, explaining that his parents were sure to be among all those people milling round in the front part of the room. “You run along there,” I told him, “and they’ll be waiting for you, you’ll see.”

The only reason he survived is because he was approached by a few girls.

“Suddenly a few girls, naked and in the full bloom of youth, came up to me. They stood in front of me without a word, gazing at me deep in thought and shaking their heads uncomprehendingly. At last one of them plucked up courage and spoke to me: “We understand that you have chosen to die with us of your own free will, and we have come to tell you that we think your decision pointless: for it helps no one.” She went on: “We must die, but you still have a chance to save your life. You have to return to the camp, and tell everybody about our last hours,” she commanded. “You have to explain to them that they must free themselves from any illusions. They ought to fight, that’s better than dying here helplessly. It’ll be easier for them, since they have no children. As for you, perhaps you’ll survive this terrible tragedy and then you must tell everybody what happened to you. One more thing,” she went on, “you can do me one last favour: this gold chain around my neck: when I’m dead, take it off and give it to my boyfriend Sasha. He works in the bakery. Remember me to him. Say ‘love from Yana.’ When it’s all over, you’ll find me here.” She pointed at a place next to the concrete pillar where I was standing. Those were her last words.”

Burning bodies

Müller first testified during his recovery in a post-liberation hospital and subsequently in several trials. His testimonies were included in “The Death Factory” written by two fellow Holocaust survivors, Erich Kulka and Ota Kraus. He was also interviewed for the 1985 French documentary Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, who himself had been a Holocaust survivor and French resistance fighter.

Müller died on November 9, 2013. In my opinion there is only one word to describe him. Hero.

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