Skip to main content

Timeline of Events

Prisoner Revolt at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Prewar portrait of Ella Gärtner, participant in the Auschwitz-Birkenau revolt of October 1944.

Prewar portrait of Ella Gärtner, participant in the Auschwitz-Birkenau revolt of October 1944. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Anna and Joshua Heilman

October 7, 1944

On October 7, 1944, prisoners assigned to Crematorium IV at the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center rebel after learning that they were going to be killed.

For months, young Jewish women, like Ester Wajcblum, Ella Gärtner, and Regina Safirsztain, had been smuggling small amounts of gunpowder from the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke, a munitions factory within the Auschwitz complex, to men and women in the camp’s resistance movement, like Róza Robota, a young Jewish woman who worked in the clothing detail at Birkenau. Under constant guard, the women in the factory took small amounts of the gunpowder, wrapped it in bits of cloth or paper, hid it on their bodies, and then passed it along the smuggling chain. Once she received the gunpowder, Róza Robota then passed it to her co-conspirators in the Sonderkommando, the special squad of prisoners forced to work in the camp’s crematoria. Using this gunpowder, the leaders of the Sonderkommando planned to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria, and launch the uprising.

On October 7, 1944, having learned that the SS was going to liquidate much of the squad, the members of the Sonderkommando at Crematorium IV rose in revolt. The Germans crushed the revolt. Nearly 250 prisoners died during the fighting and guards shot another 200 after the mutiny was suppressed. Several days later, the SS identified five women, four of them Jewish, who had been involved in supplying explosives to blow up a crematorium used to burn the bodies of Nazi murder victims. All five women were killed.