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Unheard Voices: The Story of the Women Involved in the Sonderkommando Revolt

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Caroline Pokrzywinski

on 15 May 2014

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Transcript of Unheard Voices: The Story of the Women Involved in the Sonderkommando Revolt

Unheard Voices: The Story of the Women Involved in the Sonderkommando Revolt
Roza Robota
Born in Ciechanow, Poland in 1921
Member of Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir
Taken to Auschwitz in 1942
One of the first women to be placed in Birkenau
Worked in the clothing detail-- sorted belongings from suitcases
Became involved in the Auschwitz resistance movement
Described as kind, brave, loyal, trustworthy
Regina Safirsztajn
Born in Bedzin in 1915
Sent to Auschwitz in 1943
Was the forewoman of the gunpowder room
Helped smuggle gunpowder out as well
Described as "A short woman with a big heart."
The Sonderkommando Revolt
On Saturday, October 7th, 1944, an underground resistance group comprised mostly of members of the Sonderkommando work group at Auschwitz enacted a violent revolution that they had been planning for months
Killed one kapo, injured/killed several SS officers by throwing them into the crematorium
Blew up Crematorium IV
Cut barbed wire and fled, were caught and executed
451 Sonderkommando prisoners were killed, only a few managed to escape punishment
The Investigation
In the aftermath, SS discovered the gunpowder closely matched that found in the Union Ammunition factory where several prisoners worked
Four women were arrested, tortured, and hung publicly as punishment for allegedly smuggling gunpowder from the Union factory to the members of the Sonderkommando
Roza Robota, Esther Wajcblum, Regina Safirsztajn, and Alla Gaertner
Esther Wajcblum
Born in Warsaw in 1924
Family moved to Majdanek in 1943
Her and her younger sister Hanka (later changed her name to Anna Heilman) moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau later that year
Both put to work at the Union factory
Described as beautiful, optimistic, with dreams of life after Auschwitz
Alla Gaertner
Born in Bedzin in 1912
Came to Auschwitz from either Belgium or Sosnowiec in 1943
Worked in the Union factory
Ended up being part of why the girls were arrested and later hanged
Described as very brave, headstrong, but a bit naive.
The Controversy
While all four women were tortured and executed, only Roza Robota's story remained in the canon of Holocaust history
Rose Meth and Anna Heilman, along with a few other survivors worked to erect a memorial to all four women who were killed
However, many more than those four women were involved in the resistance movement
So who were they?
The "Other" Women
Hanka Wajcblum
Rose Gruenapfel
Mala Weinstein
Chaya Kroin
"Batsheva"
Regina Ledor
Irka Ogrudek
Herta Fuchs
Eugenie Langer
Marta Cigé
Raizel Tabakman
That's 11 women (and counting) not included in the canonical history of the event
But how did they get the gunpowder out of the factory?
The members of the Sonderkommando realize they need help accessing ammo
Ask Roza because they felt she was trustworthy and could contact the women
Roza agrees to help
Recruits her friend Alla Gaertner
Her and Alla begin recruiting several other women who work in the Union factory
Quick process
Methods by which Explosives Were Smuggled Out of the Factory
Factory Workers Not in the Pulverraum
Batsheva collects material (gunpowder, dynamite disks, etc.) from unknown source
Batsheva gives the gunpowder to Regina Ledor who hides it in the factory pile of screws
Chaya Kroin collects the screws like she does every day for her job, but also gets the gunpowder
Chaya gives a signal to Irka Ogrudek
Irka meets Chaya in the bathroom. The gunpowder changes hands.
Roza collects the gunpowder after it leaves the factory. Drops it off at either:
Hanka Wajcblum goes past the Pulverraum a few times a day with an empty box used for trash
Irka hides the gunpowder in the spray machine
Chaya picks up the gunpowder after work and hides it in a cloth pouch sewn into the armpit of her clothes
Hanka knocks and gives Esther an empty trash bin. Esther gives her a full one, with packets of gunpowder mixed in with the garbage
The Pulverraum Girls
A place near the barbed wire fence behind the crematoriums
On a rollcart brought into Birkenau by the Sonderkommando every morning to collect dead bodies from sleeping quarters
Roza's boyfriend, Godel Silver picks up the gunpowder she leaves and delivers it to the Sonderkommando resistors
All the girls in the Pulverraum make small cloth bundles of gunpowder while they work
Hanka goes to the bathroom. Her earlier arrival at the Pulverraum was Alla Gaertner's signal to meet her there.
Alla and Hanka hide the bundles of gunpowder in their bras and in the lining of their clothing
Alla and Hanka, and possibly the other girls working in the Pulverraum, smuggle the gunpowder out
Hanka empties the trash bin and collects the gunpowder packets.
The Aftermath of the Revolt
The SS investigates the explosion in Crematorium IV and they discover the same kind of gunpowder found in the Pulverraum at the Union factory
A jealous girlfriend of a Kapo finds out that Esther was involved and get revenge for an earlier altercation, tells her boyfriend about Esther.
Esther and a few other girls involved are arrested, tortured, and interrogated, but eventually released. SS didn't believe Jews could have orchestrated this
Alla began a relationship with a Gestapo informer posing as a prisoner. He fools her into telling him her secrets, and she gets arrested.
Alla is tortured and gives in-- tells the SS the names of Roza, Esther, and Regina. All the girls are arrested again, tortured brutally for several days, and then sentenced to death
The Execution
From their holding cells, Roza and Esther both send letters; Roza to her sonderkommando comrades, and Esther to her sister Hanka.
On January 6, 1945, not long before the camp was liberated, the women were hung
Regina and Alla were executed first for the night shift of workers
Roza and Esther were hanged a little later for the day shift
Last Words and Aftermath
Sources conflict on what actual last words were
"Revenge!"
"Awake, all of you!"
"You'll pay for this. I shall die now, but your turn will come soon."
"I hope all my comrades will get their freedom."
Esther's letter to her sister asked Marta Cigé to take care of Hanka after her death. Hanka tried to commit suicide several times after Esther's execution. Marta got her hospitalized and stays with her in the liberation
Rose Gruenapfel and Hanka get the memorial made at Yad Vashem
Hanka writes a memoir
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