Resistance within Auschwitz-Birkenau

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Some people still managed to resist the Nazis and their collaborators despite the harsh conditions. These examples take the form of indirect and direct action.

Indirect / Spiritual resistance

One form of resistance was continuing to observe their Jewish faith, undiscovered by the SS guards or capos. Some would quietly say a prayer while carrying out their daily duties. Others would hollow out potatoes to make candle holders for Chanukah; wicks were simply thread from clothing, and oil was stolen from within the camp.

Some prisoners kept diaries, recording life inside the camp, so that the world would one day know the story of what happened to them. Others collected evidence of the killings and events within the camp, burying it in the hope that one day someone would find the evidence of the atrocities.

Direct / Physical resistance

In October 1943 a transport of Jews arrived from Bergen-Belsen, a camp in Germany. All were selected for death.

In the undressing room of crematorium II one of the women seized the pistol from an SS officer. She shot two SS guards, one of whom later died from his wounds. Other women joined the attack. The SS overcame the mutiny and killed all of the women.

There are examples of Jews escaping from the crematoria and gas chambers. One such incident involved men, women and children who had been transported from Hungary. On the night of 25/26 May 1944, they escaped and hid in the woods and in ditches. The SS tracked them down and killed them.

On 10 June 1942 a group of Polish prisoners in a work detail attempted to escape whilst constructing a drainage ditch at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Very few got away. The SS shot twenty prisoners. To prevent future acts of resistance and in revenge, more than 300 Poles were murdered in the gas chambers.

The most ambitious uprising at Auschwitz-Birkenau involved the actions of 250 Jewish Sonderkommando on 7 October 1944. They set fire to one of the crematoria. They managed to cut through the fence and reach the outside of the camp. The SS surrounded them. In the fight that followed, they managed to kill three SS guards and wound 10 of them. All 250 Jews were killed.

One of the work camps made arms for the German army. The SS discovered that four Jewish women had stolen explosive material from this factory and given it to the Sonderkommando. The women were captured and hanged in front of other prisoners – again as an act of revenge, but also to stop others resisting.