Eyewitness Auschwitz

Eyewitness Auschwitz

Three Years in the Gas Chambers

Book - 1999
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Filip M ller came to Auschwitz with one of the earliest transports from Slovakia in April 1942 and began working in the gassing installations and crematoria in May. He was still alive when the gassings ceased in November 1944. He saw millions come and disappear; by sheer luck he survived. M ller is neither a historian nor a psychologist; he is a source--one of the few prisoners who saw the Jewish people die and lived to tell about it. Eyewitness Auschwitz is one of the key documents of the Holocaust.
Publisher: Chicago :, Ivan R. Dee,, 1999.
ISBN: 9781566632713
Branch Call Number: 940.547243 M9584M
Characteristics: x, 180 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Additional Contributors: Freitag, Helmut
Flatauer, Susanne


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Apr 13, 2020

Filip Müller’s account of life as a “sonderkommando” is an almost unique testimony among first-hand primary sources to emerge from the Holocaust. He and hundreds of others were forced to deal with the gruesome aftermath of the gas chambers at Auschwitz; they had to remove the bodies, clean the chambers, place the corpses in the crematorium ovens (or cremation pits) and, finally, remove the victims’ ashes and dump them into the Vistula.

Most members of the “sonderkommando” did not survive, eventually meeting the same fate as their victims; either they became unable to do the work because of exhaustion or starvation, or were deliberately “selected” for elimination by the SS, whose members were intent upon erasing any evidence of their crimes. Like Bernard Goldstein in the Warsaw ghetto (see “The Stars Bear Witness”), Müller survived due to a combination of wits and sheer good fortune. He was thus uniquely qualified to tell the story of all the unbelievable, almost unimaginable, horror, pathos and tragedy experienced by the victims of the Final Solution; and the depths of corruption, inhumanity and barbarity to which their persecutors descended. His story stands out because of the extremely graphic descriptions of just what went on in the gas chambers, and the aftermath; and because of the many people he was able to interact with just before they died and whose hopes, fears, acts of nobility, sacrifice and sometimes defiance in the face of death were indelibly impressed upon his memory.

One incident in particular stands out to this reviewer: at one point Müller had given up hope and slipped into the gas chamber along with one group of Czech Jews, determined to die with them. Three teenage girls who knew they were about to die pushed him back out, insisting he had to live and reveal to the world what was happening to the Jews, gypsies and others targeted for elimination by the Nazis. One of them removed her gold necklace and asked him to give it to her lover, a young man working in the camp bakery. The young man wept when he received it and related how he and the girl had planned to marry in Odessa after the war.

Müller survived the final forced march away from the camp in January 1945 as the Red Army approached, eventually ending up at the Mauthausen camp in Austria. Like the American prisoners not too far away at the Berga camp (see “Soldiers and Slaves”), he was sent to a sub-camp and made to dig tunnels into mountainsides, supposedly for the production of Messerschmitt fighter planes but at a time when such work had long become utterly pointless; and then force-marched to the south away from advancing American troops in late April. His realization upon hearing the approach of Sherman tanks that the war was at last over and that he had survived is definitely the emotional highlight of his account.

He published his story in 1979 and it continues to be read to this day; hopefully it will be kept alive by new generations of readers as a warning to the world of what can happen when the veneer of civilization is stripped away.


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