Sonderkommandos in the Killing Centers
Although the situation differed among camps, the purpose and daily life of the Sonderkommandos were similar. The routine of the Sonderkommando of the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) killing center is a representative example of the larger phenomenon.
The Jews of this work brigade fulfilled many roles in the gas chamber/crematoria complex, beginning with the arrival of victims. Sonderkommando Jews were present in the undressing area, instructing arriving victims to undress and how to arrange their clothing, which would later be confiscated by the SS.
Cremation of corpses at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This photograph was taken clandestinely by prisoners in the Sonderkommando. [LCID: 1821]
Cremation of corpses at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Cremation of corpses at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This photograph was taken clandestinely by prisoners in the Sonderkommando. Poland, summer 1944.
National Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau
After the gassing was carried out by camp personnel, men of the Sonderkommando entered the gas chamber, untangled bodies, and cleaned the by then ventilated room. An elevator then raised the bodies to the crematorium level. There, another group would shave the hair of the victims and search the bodies for hidden valuables, including gold teeth, which were removed and handed over to the SS. Finally, the Sonderkommando Jews would carry out the burning of bodies in the ovens and the disposal of the ashes.