Resistance at Auschwitz Birkenau
The Holocaust was an extremely
brutal event that occurred during World War II. The victims were
the Jews, Gypsies, and handicapped and the brutes were the Nazis.
The purpose was to exterminate the "inferior" and create
a superior race. Several modes of extermination were used and they
were implemented in concentration camps used for labor and termination,
Auschwitz being the main one. The conditions were horrendous which
explained why people would want to revolt or resist from anything
they were ordered to do.
Auschwitz was the largest Nazi concentration
and extermination camp. It was utilized as a labor and extermination
camp, and implemented the Final Solution. Auschwitz was divided
into three main areas; Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau), and
Auschwitz III (Monowitz Ibuna). Its conditions were unbearable and
the people there barely ate, bathed, or slept. They were separated
by gender (children went with the women) and were then evaluated
to determine which would go to the labor camps and which would go
directly to be exterminated. There wasn't anything that the victims
could do because they were forced to work by the SS and were tricked
into the gas chambers. Hundreds of people were told that they would
be showered, were forced to strip, and were then herded into the
gas chambers that they thought to be showers (p. 50, 51 Friedmann).
In early September of 1941, the killing of prisoners with Zyklon
B began. Rudolf Hoss, a commandant of the camp, preferred it to
the carbon monoxide used at other camps because he like the idea
that it killed more quickly and reliably. Several gas chambers were
built to conduct these murders. Himmler was the one that ordered
them (p. 51 Friedmann).
Since, for the most part, it was unknown that
death was coming, resistance was not always an option, or a thought.
As time passed though, awareness of what was happening became more
evident. Those who did resist by running, escaping from trains,
or attacking guards, faced death. Some took advantage of this and
were executed on the spot. They simply gave themselves in because
they could not handle being tortured anymore. Others committed suicide.
It was argued that suicide itself was a form of resistance (internet).
If one person acted out, not only he was executed, but also his
family and many others. This forced people to think twice about
resisting and how they would go about doing it.
Different types of Resistance:
-Passive Resistance: staying clean, diaries, writing poetry, and
-Spiritual Resistance: not showing any emotions, sanctification
of life, rebirth of Jewish culture, fasting (Jewish worships).
-Cultural Resistance: education in the ghetto, poor work, and damage
of Nazi property.
-Active Resistance, armed and physical: sabotage, partisan activity,
intelligent gatherings, escapes (230 attempts, 80 succeeded), revolt
Memoirs and Recollections:
Revolt at Birkenau: Jews of the Sonderkommando at Birkenau were
preparing a revolt. There were many people involved and if any got
caught they would be executed on the spot. Revolt was an act of
courage and was extremely dangerous.
Some girls from a nearby union explosives factory
smuggled amounts of explosives they had collected into Birkenau.
They passed it on until it reached the people planning this revolt.
They would then hide them at the false bottoms of food tray. Israel
Gutman recalls this occasion:
"When I was standing near my friend he told
me that he had not had time to put the explosives in the saucers
and that the explosives were on his body in a cigarette package.
I knew quite well that not only he would be killed as a retaliation,
but all the underground of Auschwitz was jeopardized.
When they carried out the search they felt I
was trembling and they then searched me very thoroughly. When they
didn't find anything then they didn't really look at my friend.
Somehow or other they skipped him. Since I was a little excited,
they thought that I was the one who had explosives and not him."
Abe survived two years at Auschwitz. Most only survived eight weeks.
He learned how to keep himself alive, steal from Nazis, and trade
their goods. His remembers the Polish dancer named Horowitz, who
bravely attacked the SS guard named Schillinger while he was trying
to force him to undress in the gas chamber. She kills him with his
own gun and wounds another guard before she is machine gunned to
Armed Resistance at Auschwitz:
On October 7, 1944, one of the four crematoria
at Auschwitz was blown up by members of the Sonderkommando. These
were workers, mostly Jews whose job was to clear away the bodies
of gas chamber victims. All these soldiers were caught and killed.
Outside attempts of Resistance:
In 1944, the Refugee War Board planned to bomb
the railroads used to deport the Jews. The Czech underground gave
them the railroad schedules and stops. Starting in June they proposed
their plan to the war department, but it was repeatedly rejected
on the basis of impracticality and lack of military capacity.
Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee,
Laska, Vera. Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The
Voices of Eyewitnesses. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983. 152-189.
Swiebocka, Teresa. Auschwitz: A History in Photographs. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1993. 13-27.