How to Escape from a Homicidal Gas Chamber - In an Even Easier Way

Published: 2009-06-11

In Smith's Report #149 (April 2008) I published an article called "Experto Crede, or How to Escape from a Homicidal Gas Chamber", devoted to a special category of Shoah survivors: those resourceful Jewish fellows who saw one of the fabled Nazi homicidal gas chambers from the inside, and then escaped from it to tell their story. To achieve this feat is to reach one step above people like Arnold Friedman, who survived a gassing in Flossenburg(!) by the means of breathing through a key hole. Auschwitz eyewitnesses Sophia Litwinska and Regina Bialek were both saved in the nick of time when SS men opened the chamber (in the middle of the gassing process) to take them (and no-one else) out of there; needless to say, they were invaluable to the Germans in some way or an other and therefore spared to tell the world of their remarkable experiences. Majdanek witness Mary Seidenwurm Wrzos survived a death chamber in a similar, albeit more cunning fashion: when the gas began streaming in through "three large black holes" she started banging on the door, screaming that she was a German guard. Finally, men in gas masks opened the door and pulled her out. Curiously, she was not sent back to the gas chamber or otherwise punished once the Germans had discovered that she was not one of them... Another Majdanek inmate, Mietek Grocher, simply sneaked out through the still open gas chamber door while the (single!) guard was looking another way and then dodged a hail of bullets from pursuing Germans. 

However, I have recently found out that there are recorded cases of even more cunning gas chamber escapes. Unfortunately we don't have any names, but we know that there were more than one of them, and that they were female (clearly not ladies prone to panic and hysterics but levelheaded and very resourceful members of the fair sex). In her book Den Livsfarliga Glömskan ("The Fatal Forgetfulness", Brombergs, Stockholm 1986) Inga Gottfarb, a Swedish-Jewish writer and Zionist activist (an active member of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism) quotes from a report sent by her to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in New York "in mid-May 1945" concerning the reception of female former concentration camp inmates in the Swedish city of Malmö on April 29 the same year (pp. 162-163):

«Många hade varit i Auschwitz, hade "gasnummer" intatuerade på sina armar. Några hade lyckats ta sig ut ur gaskammaren genom ett fönster».

Translation:

«Many had been in Auschwitz and had "gas numbers" tattooed on their arms. Some had managed to escape from the gas chamber through a window».

Can it really get more clever than this? Or should I expect to one day find a story of a successful gas chamber lock picker? As H.L. Mencken (or possibly the great hoaxter P.T. Barnum) once said, "no-one ever got poor underestimating human stupidity".

- Thomas Kues


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Author(s): Thomas Kues
Title: How to Escape from a Homicidal Gas Chamber - In an Even Easier Way
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Published: 2009-06-11
First posted on CODOH: June 10, 2009, 10:25 p.m.
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