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Sixty-nine years ago yesterday, it began.

HCN. Hydrogen single-bonded to a carbon triple-bonded to nitrogen.

Just three atoms.

It's used in lots of applications. All around the civilized world, countries have their names and uses for it.

I am Sonderkommando Filip Müller. My supervisors (the Schutz-Staffel) and I call our special kind Zyklon B.

And we have a special use for it.

For the ones he saw. And for the rest.

There is practically always a train arriving. It stops, the people are hurried off and it leaves.

Always lots of people in the train cars. Those things are full of people. How could they all fit in there?

But not for me to worry about -- just have to take care of all those people after they shower.

The train is full of people wearing nice clothing or not-so-nice clothing. Full of people who need a bath. Full of slightly nervous people -- they haven't been here before, and it has all been a bit sudden.

They are quickly told where they are going. The people who are old enough but not too old, and who are healthy enough, they work. They are quickly directed to the work areas and to their living quarters.

The people who are a bit too old or a bit too young or have a bit wrong with them have to take a shower first. Or sometimes they all go to have a shower.

They are led to the shower as quickly as possible -- no matter the age or condition. They get there, breathless, and then Obersturmführer Franz Hössler lays it all out for them crisply:

On behalf of the camp administration I bid you welcome. This is not a holiday resort but a labor camp. Just as our soldiers risk their lives at the front to gain victory for the Third Reich, you will have to work here for the welfare of a new Europe. How you tackle this task is entirely up to you. The chance is there for every one of you. We shall look after your health, and we shall also offer you well-paid work. After the war we shall assess everyone according to his merits and treat him accordingly."

Now, would you please all get undressed. Hang your clothes on the hooks we have provided and please remember your hook number. When you've had your bath there will be a bowl of soup and coffee or tea for all. Oh yes, before I forget, after your bath, please have ready your certificates, diplomas, school reports and any other documents so that we can employ everybody according to his or her training and ability."

Would diabetics who are not allowed sugar report to staff on duty after their baths.

Undress. In public.

And in front of strangers and people of the opposite sex and their children.

They move slowly.

Then the beatings start.

And then they move quickly.

And then the shower door closes and the screams begin.

Fifteen minutes.

Wait until the noise stops. When the noise stops, they're done. Automatic, just like that. Rather convenient, really. Utilitarian. They reduce this whole process to a ... process.

Oh. Noise has stopped. Open door and stand back. They'd been wanting to get out of the shower right quick, they had.

A pile of them falls down like statues in front of me.

 ... dead. And I knew about it and did nothing. I was there and did nothing. Their deaths are on my hands. I ... I have to keep working.

Walk in, see that showering process is complete, sort through clothing for valuables. They won't need them.

Ah, and again some of them kept their clothes on. It's really bothersome to take clothes off a dead person. But I have to keep going until all the clothes are off. Have to make sure everything valuable gets turned in.

Help load the bodies into the elevator, to take them to the crematorium. Remove hair and gold teeth, burn. Then the bones are ground up and used for any of several purposes.

Supervisor signals to me. The next group is here.


The obersturmführer delivers his speech.

The rest goes as calmly or destructively as the group members want it to go.

The shower door is eventually closed.


The noise abates. Open door, stand back.

A pile of them falls down like statues in front of me.

 ... dead. And I knew about it and did nothing. I was there and did nothing. Their deaths are on my hands. I ... I have to keep working.

Walk in, see that showering process is complete, sort through clothing for valuables. They won't need them ...

It started in April 1942. Now they say it's March, two years later. The calendar says March 7. It could be February 23 or April 18 or January 31 or even March 8. Different days, same work.

There's this group of people from Czechoslovakia. I know some of them. I used to visit some of them. They've been here six months -- not as long as some, but much longer than the hours some people spend here.

Alive, that is.

A lot of people came here alive today. In the end, the only question was if I would see anything new. If an old person or a child would fall out of the showers -- but it's always the strong ones. They fight hardest. In the darkness, they fight anyone who gets in the way of the door.

The Czechs I know are being led to the crematorium I'm working tonight.

They've ... this is nonsense! They've been told they'd be saved! And here they are -- the guards are practically -- no, they are, they're beating them as they run down this hall to the gas chamber.

This ... isn't even necessary. We don't need to do it this way. We can keep them ... calm. We keep them from doing anything that will prolong the inevitable.

Why are you doing this? What is the purpose? What could ...

They're here now, or what's left of them. Broken noses and bloodied faces and hands are everywhere. The crying is ... over -- well, no, it's changed.

Their tears are for their impending deaths.

They realize where they are. They know what's to become to them. They've heard of this place, and now they're in it.

My friends are in it.

But they'd been told they would be spared!


Their SS officer, Schwarzhuber, he's here. He'll explain what's going on.

There will be a reason for this. These people are special -- nobody gets kept alive for six months for no reason.

... but the SS men are just standing there like they're staring at a wall. Here all these people they have just struck and harmed and ... for the sport of it, or something -- it all makes no sense, and they're just standing there not even looking at these people whose lives have been in their hands, and they're ...

They're going to be made to undress. My friends. They've lied to them now -- different lies, not the ones we tell the people daily. Now the SS guards

you're going after them again! Again! Why?

They won't undress. The shock of it -- maybe they're still surprised they were betrayed.

As long as in the heart, within,
A Jewish soul still yearns,
And onward, towards the ends of the east,
An eye still gazes toward Zion.

The Hatikvah.

They're singing the song we all know. And ... but they're not all singing that. There's --

Where is my home? Where is my home?
Waters murmur across the meads
Pinewoods rustle 'pon the cliff-rocks,
Bloom of spring shines in the orchard,
Paradise on Earth to see!
And that is the beautiful land,
The Czech land, my home!
The Czech land, my home!

The Czech land, my home.

Why am I doing this? Why am I just standing here perpetuating this ruse when so many of them die and then I rifle through their pockets for watches and other valuables and ...

You could have anyone do this. Why do I get to survive it? What is so special about me?

The Czech land, my home!

My home. Czech land, Czech people. My friends.

I will die with you, my friends.

Bloom of spring shines in the orchard,
Paradise on Earth to see!

So you want to die.

My friend. Yes, I want to die. With you.

But that’s senseless.

But --

Your death won’t give us back our lives. That’s no way.

And what, is there a way? In all this insanity?

You must get out of here alive, you must bear witness to our suffering, and to the injustice done to us.

They died that day. All of them. Their songs turned into screams, they screams turned into gasps, and their gasps turned into the death I had wanted.

I ... didn't want to look at the faces

their faces

my friends' faces

when the bodies fell out, as they always did.

But those were my friends. I knew them. And I knew I would never see them again. So I looked at them. At their faces.

That moment lasted, lived in me. Their faces lived in my heart.

In my smile, when I can smile.

In how my arms tense when I first start to remove an old man's clothes after the shower. In how I can sometimes spare a respectful moment with a ... corpse. Think of it as a corpse or don't last another second.

In how I survive.

We prisoners who work the showers and the crematoria have had our ranks thinned five times.

I survive. For my friends, for their future, I live.

With the news later that year that the Allies are headed here, we're on the move. The Nazis don't want any evidence left of what they've done.

What I've done.

We go west, and I'm at Mauthausen.

Just keep surviving. If they were going to kill me, they would have.

Or not. I stopped trying to understand this as soon as it started. Who can understand this? You have to be evil to understand this.

I'm just surviving. It's not evil. It's for good.

And every day, maybe, the Allies will come and

The guards are gone.

 ... gone?


Not possible.

But they're all gone.

And ... the guards are gone or killed. Every last one of them. May 6, 1945: The Allies are here.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm ... sorry I'm sorry I was just I'm sorry I was just living and I'm sorry and I ... just ... have ... to ... keep ... living and I'm sorry and I'm sorry and I can't say anything else but I'm sorry and I'm sorry and

you're not here and

you can't hear me


 ... sorry.

I was just trying to live through it.

And now I can tell the story of their faces.

In 1964, at the age of 42, Sonderkommando Filip Müller testified at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial about what he had seen and done. His testimony was published in a book two years later.

In 1979, his book, "Eyewitness Auschwitz - Three Years in the Gas Chambers," was published.

In 1985, he talked extensively with Claude Lanzmann, who was shooting seminal Holocaust movie "Shoah," about his experiences.

And now you can read about him and other people here and here and here (video is people speaking a language I think is German) and here (142-page PDF in German) and here and here and here and here.

Originally posted to iampunha on Fri Jun 24, 2011 at 06:25 AM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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