Plonsk Jews in Auschwitz

The final transport left Plonsk on 16 December 1942, arriving in Auschwitz the following day. Following the selection, 523 men received the numbers 83912-84434, and 257 women were given the numbers 27562-27306, and became prisoners of the camp. These people were chosen from the final carriages. Some 1,220 people who had been in the front carriages, including the members of the Judenrat, the Jewish police, the public figures of Plonsk, children from the orphanage and their teacher Ms. Grünberg, were all murdered in the gas chambers.

I went to the transport with my entire family… they separated us at Auschwitz. When I refused to leave my parents, they beat me soundly and then took them by force to the trucks that went to the gas chambers. They also separated the men and women in Auschwitz, so I was taken away not only from my parents, but also from my wife. When my wife stood to climb onto the truck, I took our baby from her arms, because it was hard for her to climb up together with the child. She was one of the first to get in, and I held the child. I did not want to give him to her, so they began to persuade me that his mother would take better care of him. I threw the baby to her in the truck.

Yaakov Stamberg, Sefer Plonsk, p. 467

Albert Salomon, who arrived in the final transport from Plonsk to Auschwitz, was an electrician by trade. He passed the selection, and was put to work in the camp as an electrician. From time to time they sent him to the gas chambers to repair the electrical wire that spanned the walls.

At the entrance to the crematorium was a corridor that led to the undressing area… that room had a door above which was written "bathing room"… the room was full of shower heads so that the initial impression would be that it was indeed a bathing room. They pushed masses of people into there, in order to save space. After the room was completely packed, it was hermetically sealed. They funneled the gas in via three small openings in the ceiling. Each time I was called to fix the wires, which were torn by the people fighting their bitter deaths. These were electrical wires that were stretched across the walls, and the wretched people would tear at them in the throes of death.

Testimony of Albert Salomon from 30 June 1947
Yad Vashem Archives, M1-M1E/1296 (historical questionnaire, the Central Historical Committee, Munich)

In one of the blocks at Auschwitz-Birkenau there was a group of Jews from Plonsk whose job was to bring the clothes, of those put to death, for disinfection at the sauna. This allowed them to obtain money and valuables, which they then used to buy food in the camp as well as to help the other members of the block – 500 people in all. In 1943, the group decided to fight the Germans and take revenge on the kapo who abused the Jews. They were in contact with a group of Soviet prisoners led by "Comrade Duma."

At the end of 1943, a Jew from Lodz (known as Moshele Hassid) ordered me, my brother, Elazar Miller, Mendel Frankenstein and Shimon Pas (the latter being the one whose wife and five children were cremated, and whose valuables he recognized among the objects the victims left behind) to go and kill the murderous “Romanian” Unterscharfuehrer. We were about to carry out the order when a Jewish kapo… told the Germans that a revolt had been planned. As a result, 900 Jews were killed. About six months later, the revolt took place.

Testimony of Moshe Aharon Pszewoznik from 25 January 1948, Yad Vashem Archives, M1-M1E/1744. Historical questionnaire, the Central Historical Committee, Munich.

The Sonderkommando Revolt

On the morning of Saturday, 7 October 1944, members of the Auschwitz underground informed the Sonderkommando (a unit of Jewish laborers forced to burn the bodies of the gas chamber victims in the crematoria) that the camp authorities were intending to reduce the number of Sonderkommando by murdering 300 of them. Those to be murdered were specified by the SS by name and decided to stage a revolt. A German kapo surprised them and threatened to turn them in. They killed him on the spot, and in the afternoon launched a revolt in Crematorium IV without waiting for the planned coordinated revolt across all four crematoria of Birkenau. When the SS arrived to collect the 300 condemned men, the rebels attacked them with axes and hammers, injuring some of the SS. They then blew up Crematorium IV and set it on fire. The Sonderkommando that worked in Crematorium II heard the explosion and managed to overcome the German kapo and throw him live into the furnace.  They then disarmed the SS men one by one and threw them into the fire, and beat another one to death. They cut the barbed wire around the crematorium and fled. The SS chased after them, and killed them. Not one of the rebels from Crematorium IV survived. 451 Sonderkommando prisoners were killed in the revolt; a few survived. A number of Jews from Plonsk, including the Plonsk Ghetto policeman Bornstein, took part in the revolt and were killed.

In an investigation into the causes of the event, the Germans found that the explosives used to blow up Crematorium IV had been smuggled out of the "Union" munitions factory. Three Jewish women that worked in the factory – Ester Wajcblum, Ella Gärtner, and Regina Safirsztain – were imprisoned on the 10th of October. Rosa Robota, another member of the group, was also arrested and accused of organizing the smuggling out of the gunpowder. The women were tortured and hanged in public in front of the other prisoners on the 6th of January 1945.

In the camp [Auschwitz-Birkenau], we knew only one desire – to eat! We struggled against that animal desire that dominated us with all our souls. It is therefore no surprise that when a strange girl came up to me in the munitions factory and said: 'Help me,' I held out my hand to her, and joined the underground. When Róza Robota from Ciechanów and the other three women were hanged for their underground activity, it was not the worst thing for me. At least they died an honorable death.

Haya Krojn (Cohen), Sefer Plonsk, p. 456