This is a unique, participant’s account of everyday life inside the engine of the Nazi extermination machine.
Shlomo Venezia was born into the Jewish-Italian community of Thessaloniki, Greece.Early in World War II, occupying Italian authorities provided a measure of protection for his family but, when the Germans took control, the Venezias were deported to Auschwitz. His mother and sister disappeared on arrival, and the twenty-year-old learned, at first to disbelief, that they almost certainly had been gassed. Given the chance to earn a little extra bread, he agreed to become a member of the Sonderkommando, without realizing what that entailed. He soon found himself one of the group of “special unit” inmates compelled by the Germans to serve as auxiliaries to the extermination: they directed the victims into the gas chambers, remains to the crematoria and burned the corpses. They bought each day of their own lives with these compromises and more.
Dispassionately, he details the grim round of daily tasks, evokes the terror inspired by the sadistic SS-man in charge of crematoria, and recounts some of the prisoners’ attempts to escape and to resist. It is usual to imagine that none of those who went into the gas chambers at Auschwitz ever emerged to tell their tale. Most Sonderkommando members, too, were systematically killed by the SS. But fate allowed Shlomo Venezia to survive, and the horrific privilege to bear witness. This is his story.