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We Wept Without Tears

We Wept Without Tears: Testimonies of the Jewish Sonderkommando from Auschwitz

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    We Wept Without Tears
    Book Description:

    TheSonderkommando ofAuschwitz-Birkenau consisted primarily of Jewish prisoners forced by the Germans to facilitate the mass extermination. Though never involved in the killing itself, they were compelled to be "members of staff" of the Nazi death-factory. This book, translated for the first time into English from its original Hebrew, consists of interviews with the very few surviving men who witnessed at first hand the unparalleled horror of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Some of these men had never spoken of their experiences before.Over a period of years, Gideon Greif interviewed intensively all Sonderkommando survivors living in Israel. They describe not only the details of the German-Nazi killing program but also the moral and human challenges they faced. The book provides direct testimony about the "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem," but it is also a unique document on the boundless cruelty and deceit practiced by the Germans. It documents the helplessness and powerlessness of the one-and-a-half million people, 90 percent of them Jews, who were brutally murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13198-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Gerald Fleming

    The author of this historically significant, riveting, and utterly honest book ends his historical survey of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau by quoting the few survivors, who say that “No one is really in a position to understand what happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau other than those who experienced” that devilish imposition and challenge themselves. In 1983, Elie Wiesel, too, argued that “Auschwitz defies perceptions and imagination, it submits only to memory. Between the dead and the rest of us there exists an abyss that no talent can comprehend.”

    I submit that the deadly, searing moments in time, accurately retold to the interviewer...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Gideon Greif
  5. Photographs
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. 1 The Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau: Portrait and Self-Image
    (pp. 1-86)

    This poem, written during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, reflects an astonishing awareness of the delicate and complex question of the behavior of Jewish victims whom the Germans forced to fulfill certain tasks in the concentration and extermination camps. In this respect, the poem appears to be some twenty years ahead of its time, since such sensitive and differentiated views about the Jewish victims’ behavior developed only much later. There is no handy answer to Anders’ question, but anyone may answer it for himself or herself, after having heard or read the testimonies of people who witnessed these horrific events....

  7. 2 Josef Sackar: “To Survive, so the Truth Would Come Out”
    (pp. 87-121)

    When I first met Josef Sackar—a short, withered man of fragile physique and sensitive soul—in 1985, I was stunned. How could such a person have endured the suffering? Was I really facing a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau? What was his secret?

    I have not solved the riddle fully to this day. There is no doubt that Josef Sackar—the first Sonderkommando survivor whom I got to know personally—is everlasting proof that not only the strong survived. Every Holocaust survivor has his own (or her own) rescue story.

    Josef Sackar and his wife, Bella, have established a warm home...

  8. 3 Abraham and Shlomo Dragon: “Together—in Despair and in Hope”
    (pp. 122-180)

    In the summer of 1993, as the documentary films on the Sonderkommando were being made, I stood with several survivors of the Sonderkommando next to the “White House” in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Marcello Pezzetti, my colleague at the Center for Jewish Documentation in Milan, approached us and showed me a photocopied page from a book that quoted a 1945 testimony about the “Red House” and the “White House.” The witness in that account was Shlomo Dragon. His testimony was recorded by a Soviet investigative commission that spent several weeks in Auschwitz immediately after the extermination camp was liberated. Shlomo Dragon was one...

  9. 4 Ya’akov Gabai: “I’ll Get Out of Here!”
    (pp. 181-214)

    Regrettably, I must write about Ya’akov Gabai in the past tense. He died while I was conducting the research for this book.

    Ya’akov Gabai lived in Neveh Yamin, a small moshav—a cooperative farming community—near Kefar Sava, half an hour from Tel Aviv. Due to sheer laziness, I did not visit him as often as I should have. Today I regret that I can no longer meet and converse with him. He took some of his memories of the Sonderkommando to his grave. My only consolation is the exceptional fruitfulness of the few hours that I spent interviewing him....

  10. 5 Eliezer Eisenschmidt: “Thanks to One Polish Family . . .”
    (pp. 215-256)

    Eliezer Eisenschmidt was a difficult interlocutor. At first he was unwilling to be interviewed. Afterwards, health problems sidelined him from the interviews for many months; appointments I set up with him were postponed again and again. However, I did not give up—and it was a good thing, too. I was very interested in Eliezer Eisenschmidt’s story because he had spent a very long time in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

    Eventually, we held twelve talks. One of them took place in Birkenau itself, in September 1993. However, he gave me most of his information in his modest apartment in Givatayim. His wife, Yehudit,...

  11. 6 Shaul Chazan: “Life Didn’t Matter Anymore, Death Was Too Close”
    (pp. 257-285)

    Shaul Chazan has a strong presence and projects an impressive personality. His large eyes sparkle with vitality. He is an offspring of the proud Jewish community of Salonika and a loyal, dyed-in-the-wool Zionist. He did not allow any of my interviews with him to pass without reiterating his conviction that the Holocaust could not have happened had the Jews had a state to protect them. “Without a state, we are easy prey for extermination.” He always backed up this statement of principle with a story about two SS men who visited the furnace compound at Birkenau one day. One of...

  12. 7 Leon Cohen: “We Were Dehumanized, We Were Robots”
    (pp. 286-309)

    The portrait of a handsome young man rests atop the television set in Leon Cohen’s room (see photo). The man who sat in the large armchair across from me was a faint shadow of that portrait. By the time I got to know him, Leon Cohen, the dashing fellow from Salonika, was a broken man. He walked with great difficulty; his health was precarious. Life had become a burden. He died a few months later.

    Leon Cohen was not fluent in Hebrew. I conversed with him in English and a bit of French. Cohen was a worldly man. Had the...

  13. 8 Ya’akov Silberberg: “One Day in the Crematorium Felt Like a Year”
    (pp. 310-334)

    If proof were needed that even in the very embodiment of hell on earth, the crematoria of Birkenau, the Germans did not manage to destroy or even scratch the Jewish psyche, one may find it in the face of Ya’akov (Yankl) Silberberg, and especially in his smile—a guileless smile as pure as that of an innocent baby. Today, having fathered two children and become the grandchildren of four, he maintains the innocence of his childhood in Zakroczym, Poland. Nevertheless, Ya’akov’s work in the Sonderkommando did change something inside him: he lost his faith in God. Originally a yeshiva student...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 335-381)