Most of us are familiar with the peculiar fate of Moshe Peer, the young boy who survived six gassings in a gas chamber in Belsen (as related in the Montreal newspaper The Gazette, August 5, 1993), or with Arnold Friedman, the man who survived a gas chamber in Flossenburg (likewise unknown to historians) by means of breathing through the keyhole (cf. Death Was Our Destiny, Vantage Books 1972). There exists however another rare subspecies of gas chamber survivors: those few lucky ones who have escaped from a Hitlerite extermination chamber prior to or during a gassing. This article recounts briefly their amazing stories.
The first of the gas-chamber escape artists to bear witness to her experience was Sophia Litwinska. At the Belsen trial against Josef Kramer, who had also been commandant at Auschwitz, Ms. Litwinska testified:
“About half-past five in the evening trucks arrived and we were loaded into them, quite naked like animals, and were driven to the crematorium. […] The whole truck was tipped over in the way they do it sometimes with potatoes or coal loads, and we were led into a room which gave me the impression of a shower-bath. There were towels hanging round, and sprays, and even mirrors. I cannot say how many were in the room altogether, because I was so terrified, nor do I know if the doors were closed. People were in tears; people were shouting at each other; people were hitting each other. There were healthy people, strong people, weak people and sick people, and suddenly I saw fumes coming in through a very small window at the top. I had to cough very violently, tears were streaming from my eyes, and I had a sort of feeling in my throat as if I would be asphyxiated. […] At that moment I heard my name called. I had not the strength to answer it, but I raised my arm. Then I felt someone take me and throw me out from that room. Hoessler put a blanket round me and took me on a motorcycle to the hospital, where I stayed six weeks.”
Regarding the curious fashion in which the victims were brought into the gas chamber, Litwinska stated in a previous affidavit that she and the others “slid down the chute through some doors into a large room.”
Witness Regina Bialek recounted a very similar incident in an affidavit prepared for the same trial:
“There were seven gas chambers at Auschwitz. This particular one was underground and the lorry was able to run down the slope and straight into the chamber. Here we were tipped unceremoniously on the floor. The room was about 12 yards square and small lights on the wall dimly illuminated it. When the room was full a hissing sound was heard coming from the centre point on the floor and gas came into the room. After what seemed about ten minutes some of the victims began to bite their hands and foam at the mouth, and blood issued from their ears, eyes and mouth, and their faces went blue. I suffered from all these symptoms, together with a tight feeling at the throat. I was half conscious when my number was called out by Dr. Mengele and I was led from the chamber.”
The witness then attributes her astonishing survival to the fact that, as a political prisoner, she was of "more value alive than dead.” Certainly, this is why the guards were willing to risk of entering the death chamber while a mass gassing was actually in progress.
The astonishing similarity between Litwinska’s and Bialek’s testimonies must be what Pressac and others call “a convergence of evidence”!
Gas-chamber escapes did not only occur at Auschwitz. There are also two known reported cases from Majdanek. The first involves Mietek Grocher, a Polish Jew who after the war settled in Sweden, where he now spends most of his days in retirement witnessing to school children about watery soup with a rotten turnip thrown in and SS guards ripping Jewish babies apart. According to an interview in the Swedish local newspaper Östgöta-Correspondenten on December 8, 2004, Grocher managed to sneak out of a gas chamber at Majdanek:
“When I was in there I understood what was awaiting me and the others inside that space. Instinctively I started to move a little backwards, without really thinking that I would manage to escape. By chance I managed to do it. An officer started talking to another officer and moved away a few steps. During that moment I managed to sneak away and reunite with my parents in the camp.”
According to another article on Grocher which appeared in the local Katrineholms-Kuriren on May 15, 1998, the guard discovered young Mietek sneaking out of the chamber and fired all six shots of his revolver at him, missing the escapee but hitting six other Majdanek martyrs. So much for German marksmanship!
Mr. Grocher tells the Östgöta-Correspondenten reporter regarding his feat: “I would say I'm the only one who managed to do that.” But as we know, there are others who have experienced the same good luck!
The second case from Majdanek concerns a Ms. Mary Seidenwurm Wrzos. At the end of the war, this Polish Jew was saved and found herself in Sweden. There she left the following witness account for a book entitled De dödsdömda vittnar [“The doomed bear witness”, ed. by Gunhild and Einar Tegen, Stockholm 1945]:
“We walked three kilometers from the labor camp in Lublin to the actual concentration camp —[Majdanek] under guard by heavily armed SS men. We were taken to subterranean rooms that were very conveniently furbished. Each of us received a clothes hanger to put our things on. The shoes had to be properly tied together.
“We went into the "shower room" completely naked, carrying only a towel and a piece of soap. I immediately noticed that the doors were made of unusually thick iron. Since I did not push myself forward, it happened that I was the last to step inside the gas chamber. I looked at the ceiling. Besides the usual shower heads I could see three large black holes. Now I knew where I was! The heavy iron door began to close, but slowly, very slowly. And about at the same time gas began to pour out of the three large black holes!
“With supernatural power I began to bang on the door, which had still not closed completely. "I am a German, I am a German camp police, I am a German transport guard". I yelled these words over and over and at the same time I beat on the door like crazy. It began to open, but very slowly. Blood was dripping from my forehead, from my arms, from my knees. I lay there, all my weight put against the door, panting for air, while it slowly opened before me (it seemed to take an eternity). My whole body was covered in cold sweat. I am going to suffocate. Then the door is opened. Men wearing gas masks pull me out through the narrow opening. I hear a couple shots fired at the women who try to get past me. Air. Air. At last air. Everything is spinning. Then I lose consciousness.
“When I woke up the female German-Jewish Kapo stood before me. She helped me up and put me in order. (Everything had taken less than half a minute.) When I looked at myself in the mirror the next day, I saw that I had a gray stripe of hair on the left side.”
Unfortunately, besides failing to point out exactly where this underground gas chamber, unknown to Majdanek historians, was located, the witness fails to tell us what the reaction of the SS was when they discovered that she wasn’t a German guard. Apparently they neither shot her, nor put her in the queue to the next gassing!
Stories as those recounted above have little bearing on the gas chamber narrative in large, and they are rarely if ever quoted by "serious historians.” It is however a significant and disturbing fact that people such as Mietek Grocher, David Faber or Misha Defonseca (”the wolf girl”) continue to pander their bizarre yarns to school kids and the media, completely undisturbed and unquestioned by historians and journalists. Here we are not talking of the generic ambulating Auschwitz survivor, speaking to children of persecution and camp misery, no doubt having some basis in reality, and throwing in a few references to flaming chimneys or Mengele for good measure. Such persons might be given the benefit of doubt and be presumed to genuinely believe in the existence of the gas chambers based on hearsay and camp rumors. Grocher and his ilk however seem to be accomplished liars, even if the possibility remains that they have come to believe their own lies.
The silence of the historians, their unwillingness to expose obvious frauds, is of course easy to understand. If they denounced those patent liars openly, they would be at risk of waking up the critical faculties of the public, whose interest would eventually turn to the veracity of the testimony left by the key witnesses to the alleged homicidal gas chambers. At that point, our historians would have to face a large number of inconvenient questions.
This article originally appeared in Smith's Report No. 149, April 2008.
Additional information about this document
|Title:||Experto Crede, or How to Escape from a Homicidal Gas Chamber|
|Sources:||Smith's Report No. 149, April 2008|
|First posted on CODOH:||Feb. 14, 2008, 6 p.m.|