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[Page 193]

Sons of Będzin
in resistance activities in Auschwitz

by Dawid Liwer

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Auschwitz was the largest of the death camps in which millions of Jews from all over Europe together with Russians, Poles and Czechs were incinerated. Due to the fact that Auschwitz is located not far from Zaglembie, the Jews of this region were the first victims of the Nazi beast and a hundred thousand residents from here, were suffocated in the gas chambers.

Despite the stringent supervision, the oppressive administration and the hard labor, the Auschwitz inmates managed to organize an underground movement. Initially, it took the form of an underground activity for those who were brave enough to run away from the camp – and there were quite a few of these.

However, most of them were caught and brought back, though nonetheless, several managed to survive. Later on, the Underground purchased weapons and prepared itself for a mass rebellion. Not all of the insurgent activity is known, since most of them were discovered, beforehand, by the Germans and the participants murdered. The following is a description of individual activities in which the people of Będzin, interned in Auschwitz, were involved.

In Block no. 7 in Birkenau the Jews incarcerated there were destined to be gassed. On the 30th of December 1943, as the doors were opened, in order to lead them out to their death, fifteen Jewish inmates attacked the SS men with their bare hands, they injured the Germans and bit them. The murderers called for assistance, and the rebels – were executed.

At the end of October, Jews were brought to Auschwitz from Warsaw, and these had furnished themselves with false American citizenship papers. In the beginning the Germans placed them in the Palski Hotel and the Jews were certain that they would be exchanged for Germans who were citizens of enemy countries. However, their hope was unavailing, since they were expelled to death camps, in particular, Auschwitz.

These “American” groups, that numbered 1750 people, were brought to Auschwitz in October 1943. They were immediately ordered to undress and were taken to the crematorium. One woman refused to undress in front of the SS soldiers and when the parade commander, Schillinger, forcibly tried to take her clothes off, she slapped his face. She managed to wrestle his gun from his hand, shot and killed him. Other women seeing her heroic act also rebelled, and wounded several SS men. After a short struggle these brave women fell from bullets fired from Nazi machine guns.

In 1943 secret cells were established who were in contact with people from outside, who managed to smuggle guns into the camp. In the beginning, these were small groups of Jews, Frenchmen and Czechs, but in September 1944 the Underground numbered 160 activists and 280 organized inmates, most of them Jews.

An open rebellion, however, as was planned by the camp Underground did not transpire, since events moved at lightning speed, the Underground didn't have the capability of carrying out their plans. The “Sonderkommando” carried out the individual cases of revolt that occurred in Auschwitz, those wretched inmates who were compelled to deal with the victims of the gas chambers. The inmates who were taken to carry out this terrible forced labor, participated in this work for three months only, since after that time they were killed in order to conceal all traces of evidence, and in their place came others, and so it continued. They were isolated and locked up to prevent them from coming in contact with people from outside. In every unit of the “Sonderkommando”, there was a desire kindled to rebel and take revenge, however, the Germans always pre-empted them and they were “wiped out” before they could accomplish anything.

When time after time the date of the rebellion was deferred, the Jewish inmates began, seeing that their end was near, to pressure the leaders into beginning the planned rebellion. Even though the Underground leaders knew that the time was not ripe for the uprising, they gave their informal agreement, to the men of the “Sonderkommando” to allow them to act on their own initiative and own risk.

The first plan was to blow up all four incinerators in Birkenau, but their plan was discovered hours only before its undertaking, and as punishment the Germans decided to expedite the execution of the rebels.

On Saturday, the 3rd of October 1944, the SS soldiers took the 300 “Sonderkommando” workers, in order to execute them, however this did not come smoothly, since in the meantime the rebellion erupted. The Number 4 Gas Chamber stokers killed the SS leader and set fire to the crematorium. The attempt to blow up the equipment and the other death machinery only partially succeeded. The workers of Number 1 Furnace threw the German supervisor, Köhl, into the oven, and killed four officers, injured many of them, cut the wires and escaped from the camp.

The Germans immediately sent reinforcements of soldiers, who completely quelled the rebellion. Later an extended investigation was begun: How did explosives and weapons get into the camp? The Germans managed to follow up the movements of four Będzin women, who worked in the “Onian” explosives factory, and who, every day as they left their work had smuggled out the “stolen” material in the folds of their dresses into the Auschwitz camp. The smuggled “goods” were supplied to the Underground, who passed it on to a Russian expert, whose name was Borodine, and who prepared the bombs for future use.

These brave women were: Ella Gärtner, Regina (her family name is not known), Ruzia and Dorka Sapirsztajn from Będzin. These courageous women together with the go-between from the Underground, Raza Rovota, were cruelly tortured, since they refused to give the names of the people from outside, with whom that they been in contact. In November 1944 their sentence was determined: these five wretched and tortured women were executed and hung in front of the masses, to be seen, that they would know and fear…

From the many participants in the rebellion we know that these Będzin people were amongst them: Iszajahu Erlich, a committee member of the Auschwitz Underground, survived and went to live in Erez Israel and fell in Gush Etzion during the War of Independence: Mosze Wiganski, the first to stab the crematorium commander with a knife, a deed which gave the signal for the Number 3 incinerator to be blown up, Beniek Fersztenfeld, Wygodzki, the Cymberknopf brothers, David Gutman, and Golberg from Sosnowiec, who was amongst the leaders of the Poale Zion movement in Zaglembie. There are many other names, which we were unable, unfortunately to determine, and who are worthy of mention and eternal praise for their sacrifice. Even though they knew they were doomed to extinction, that they were engaging into a futile struggle, they still embarked into this battle out of a blessed Jewish obligation.

We bow our heads before them.

[Page 199]


translated by Nitsa Bar-Sela

Homeless, coverless,
The whole night we marched thus
We did not know to where
The hangman would take us.

We reached the square of blood,
A herd of human dust
From all directions
The police surrounded us.

Day and night they oppressed and tortured
Bread and water did not give,
A baby from his mother snatched
A boy to the workshop dragged.

Hell's pains,
Day and night to the gallows
The enemy sucks, sucks
Our blood endlessly.

How long will we suffer
Hell's tortures without an end
Fearful death arrives
No rescuer and no deliverer…

This is an anonymous poem sung during the deportation

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