How many people have heard about the Jewish prisoners forced by the Germans to help them in their diabolical work of disposing of the bodies of their murdered brethren and prying from them whatever could be of value to their German warlords — their hair, their teeth, etc., itself? Here, eight former Sondercommando testify (and their photos are included). Originally, this book was in Hebrew. Over the years, Greif interviewed all Sondercommando survivors living in Israel. They described not only the specific technical details of the German-Nazi killing program, but also the moral and human challenges they faced while carrying on this horrible work. In time they grew inured and dispassionate, if they didn’t go mad. They even kept some of the ill-gotten gain themselves to barter for self preservation. To stay alive, that was the goal. Sondercommando were inevitably killed after a certain period. One account describes how after an influential Kapo was killed by the Nazis, the Sondercommando blew up the crematorium in revolt. When one formerly religious Jew questioned a dayan about how he, a Cohen, could work as a Sondercommando, this rabbi told him not to worry, that they were there to do God’s mission! That God wanted it this way…and when the dayan was asked what about the little children, they didn’t do anything, the dayan replied that, “even newborns are tainted from their mother’s milk.” That was the end of the man’s religiosity, but it enabled him to continue. Their experiences continue to haunt them. One man with seemingly bright normal children and grandchildren describes himself as a “dead man.” The book is a unique document on the boundless cruelty and deceit practiced by the Germans on their victims. Adeeply disturbing book, it belongs in all Holocaust and Jewish libraries as an important, essential part of the history of the Shoah. Extensive notes.
Marcia W. Posner, Ph.D., of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, is the library and program director. An author and playwright herself, she loves reviewing for JBW and reading all the other reviews and articles in this marvelous periodical.