The Special Squad uprising

Prisoners in the Birkenau Special Squad (Sonderkommando) had long planned an uprising. They feared that the SS would execute them before Soviet troops could liberate them. An uprising seemed the only hope. It was repeatedly postponed, partly because other prisoners did not join what they saw as a suicide mission. On 7 October 1944, prisoners at Crematorium II and IV finally rose up. Many fled and Crematorium IV went up in flames (though this did not affect the SS killings, as the building was already out of commission). But the SS quickly crushed the revolt. No one escaped for long and within hours, most of the estimated 660 Special Squad prisoners were dead. Among them was the Polish Jew Salmen Gradowski, who left behind a letter written just one day before the doomed uprising.

091 – Letter by the Jewish Special Squad prisoner Salmen Gradowski, 6 September 1944

We ourselves have lost hope of being able to live to see the moment of liberation. In spite of good news that reaches us, we see that the world gives the barbarians the opportunity of destruction on an immense scale and of tearing out with roots the last remainder of the Jewish nation.[…]

I am writing these words in a moment of the greatest danger

We, the “Sonderkommando”, had long since wanted to put a stop to our horrible work which we were forced to do under threat of death. We wanted to do great things. But people from the camp, a section of the Jews, Russians and Poles, have restrained us with all might and have forced us to put of the date of the mutiny. That day is approaching. It may happen today or tomorrow. I am writing these words in a moment of the greatest danger and excitement.

Source: Amidst a Nightmare of Crime (Oświęcim, 1973), pp. 76–7