Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz
April 2011, Polity
Slomo Venezia was born into a poor Jewish-Italian community living in Thessaloniki, Greece. At first, the occupying Italians protected his family; but when the Germans invaded, the Venezias were deported to Auschwitz. His mother and sisters disappeared on arrival, and he learned, at first with disbelief, that they had almost certainly been gassed. Given the chance to earn a little extra bread, he agreed to become a ‘Sonderkommando', without realising what this entailed. He soon found himself a member of the ‘special unit' responsible for removing the corpses from the gas chambers and burning their bodies.
Dispassionately, he details the grim round of daily tasks, evokes the terror inspired by the man in charge of the crematoria, ‘Angel of Death' Otto Moll, and recounts the attempts made by some of the prisoners to escape, including the revolt of October 1944.
It is usual to imagine that none of those who went into the gas chambers at Auschwitz ever emerged to tell their tale - but, as a member of a ‘Sonderkommando', Shlomo Venezia was given this horrific privilege. He knew that, having witnessed the unspeakable, he in turn would probably be eliminated by the SS in case he ever told his tale. He survived: this is his story.
Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Note (Béatrice Prasquier).
I. Life in Greece before the Deportation.
II. The First Month in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
III. Sonderkommando: Initiation.
IV. Sonderkommando: The Work Continues.
V. The Revolt of the Sonderkommando and the Dismantling of the Crematoria.
VI. Mauthausen, Melk, and Ebensee.
The Shoah, Auschwitz and the Sonderkommando (Marcello Pezzetti).
Italy in Greece: A Short History of a Major Failure (Umberto Gentiloni).
About David Olère.
"Venezia reports soberly and seemingly without emotion - and yet the book becomes breathtaking in its forcefulness."
Holocaust and Genocide Studies
"Venezia's experiences during the war is at once both fascinating and disturbing. His description of prewar Salonika and his complicated ethnic/national background certainly help illuminate our picture of the multicultural societies of Europe that the Second World War nearly completely eliminated. He also captures the violence and brutality of Auschwitz in a very readable fashion. His descriptions of the inhumanity of the camp will remain with me for quite some time."
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online
"A deeply sincere, unadorned description of Venezia's journey through hell ... There are few, if any, better descriptions of the impact of massive psychic trauma on the human soul."
Jewish Book World
"Venezia comes across as a very reliable witness. His language is clear, and he certainly does not idealize the members of the 'Sonderkommando' or his own role in the extermination process. It is a detailed and heartbreaking story, told in very restrained language."
Journal of Contemporary History
"A harrowingly matter-of-fact account."
"Most Sonderkommando members were systematically killed by the SS. But fate allowed Shlomo Venezia to survive, and the horrific privilege to bear witness."
"Shlomo Venezia's unnervingly dispassionate personal record demands to be heard. Interviewer Beatrice Prasquier's brusque questions, answered with painful truthfulness, bring home the lifelong scars this Greek Italian Jew must carry from the ever-present memories of the numberless innocents he helped lead to their grotesque slaughter."
"What is remarkable is on the one hand the lack of anger, the simple language dealing with events that are unforgettable and beyond reality, and on the other hand the fact of Venezia's daily life ever since ... He has never, in his mind, lived outside the camp."
"I read many accounts of former deportees, and each time they take me back to life in the camp. But the story told by Shlomo Venezia is especially overwhelming because it is the only complete eye-witness account that we have from a survivor of the Sonderkommandos."
"This holocaust survivor's testimony, like all others, will be read with fear and trembling."
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate