“Exceptional….Shlomo Venezia dare[s] to mention the most macabre aspects of his ‘work’ in the Sonderkommando, adding details of unbearable horror that bring out the full extent of this abominable Nazi crime….Venezia does not try to hide the episodes that might give rise to criticism, should anyone dare to formulate it. It redounds entirely to his honor that he is brave enough to speak of his feeling of complicity with the Nazis, of the selfishness he sometimes needed to survive, but also of his desire for vengeance at the liberation of the camps.”
— from the foreword by Simone Veil
This is a unique, participant’s account of everyday death and life inside the engine of the Nazi extermination machine.
Shlomo Venezia was born into a poor Jewish-Italian community living in Thessaloniki, Greece. Early in World War II, occupying Italian authorities provided a measure of protection for his family, but when the Germans took control, the Venezias were deported to Auschwitz. His mother and sisters disappeared on arrival, and he learned, at first with disbelief, that they almost certainly had been gassed. Given the chance to earn a little extra bread, he agreed to become a member of the Sonderkommando , without realizing what that entailed. He soon found himself one of the group of ‘special unit’ inmates compelled by the Germans to serve as auxiliaries to the mass murder: they directed the victims into the gas chambers, removed the bodies, ‘mined’ the cadavers for valuables, transported the remains to the crematoria and burned the corpses, and disposed of the ashes. They bought each day of their own lives with these compromises and more; the actual murders remained a German role.
Dispassionately, he details the grim round of daily tasks, evokes the terror inspired by the sadistic SS-man in charge of the crematoria, and recounts some of the prisoners’ attempts to escape and to resist, including the revolt of October 1944. It is usual to imagine that none of those who went into the gas chambers at Auschwitz ever emerged to tell their tale. Most Sonderkommando members, too, were systematically killed by the SS. But fate allowed Shlomo Venezia to survive, and the horrific privilege to bear witness. This is his unsparing story.
“[This is] a frightening book about his experience…the most important since the testimony of Filip Müller, who spent three years in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”
— Le Monde
“Venezia reports, soberly and seemingly without emotion – and yet the book becomes breathtaking in its forcefulness….[I]n many respects a valuable historical document….the book will serve as a crucial source for still-unwritten social histories of prisoner society in Auschwitz….Th[e] sense of …Venezia’s inner existence will leave deep traces on all who read his book.”
— Sybille Steinbacher, Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Shlomo Venezia is originally from the Jewish-Italian community of Thessaloniki, Greece. He was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau when he was twenty years old and enrolled in the Sonderkommando, of which he was one of the few to survive. He lives today in Israel.