VE-Day - Victory in Europe Day

One of the Sonderkommando photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau: in front of the crematorium

One of the Sonderkommando photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau: in front of the crematorium | Author: Alex, Aleko or Alekos, a member of the Sonderkommando from Greece, often named as Alberto, Albert or Alex Errera, a Greek army or naval officer who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. | Source: First published in Stanislaw Wrzos-Glinka, Tadeusz Mazur and Jerzy Tomaszewski, 1939–1945. | Public domain, Wikipedia commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Auschwitz_Resistance_282_cropped.JPG?uselang=en#Licensing, © Public domain, Wikipedia commons; Alberto Errera

08.04.2024 - Article

Victory in Europe Day on May 8th and 9th is celebrating the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Germany's unconditional surrender of its armed forces on Tuesday, May 8, 1945; it marked the official end of World War II in Europe on the Eastern Front, with the last known shots fired on May 11, 1945.

The image above shows the Sonderkommando at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp, composed of Jewish prisoners who were forced to participate in the murder of the deportees, help prepare the gassing of the deportees and later cremate the victims. This gruesome strategy was designed partly to spare the SS personnel from psychological strain and to eliminate witnesses by periodically executing these prisoners and replacing them with others.

Despite these efforts at secrecy, incredibly courageous prisoners managed to smuggle out four clandestine photos of the cremations conducted by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Sonderkommando. These images, captured probably by Alberto Errera, a Greek naval officer of Jewish descent and a member of the Sonderkommando, represent the only authentic visual record of the Holocaust at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Documented in written form are diaries and reports in Yiddish by

  • Zalman Gradowski, murdered during the revolt of October 7, 1944
  • Lejb Langfus, believed to be executed on November 27, 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • and Salmen Lewenthal, murdered in Auschwitz
  • among others in French by Chaim Herman and in Greek by Marcel Nadjari, who buried them on the camp grounds. Only Nadjari survived.

Post-war testimonies from former Sonderkommando inmates emerged, including those from

Exhibition Of Auschwitz Former Prisoner David Olere In Oswiecim
Opening of the monographic exhibition “The One Who Survived Crematorium III” by David Olère at the Auschwitz Memorial in Oświęcim, Poland. The exhibition features 18 unique paintings by David Olère, a French Jew of Polish descent, Auschwitz prisoner and member of the Sonnderkomando, who depicted the tragedy of the people murdered in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in his post-war works.© picture alliance / NurPhoto | Beata Zawrzel

David Olère, a Jewish painter of Polish origin, Auschwitz prisoner and member of the Sonderkommando, dedicated his work to the Holocaust.

David Olère Drawings & Paintings

David Olère

Throughout World War II, an estimated total of over 70 million people lost their lives, approximately 6 million of them being Jews. Between 1940 and 1945, around 1.1 million individuals were murdered at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex, with the majority of these victims being of Jewish faith, accounting for over a million of the deceased.

A few survivors later said “No one is really in a position to understand what happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau other than those who experienced it”. The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno described Auschwitz as “the infernal machine that is history“ and said that ”After Auschwitz, it is no longer possible to write a poem. If we want to go on living, this sentence must be refuted. Few are able to do so.”

This Holocaust survivor's testimony, like all others, will be read with fear and trembling.

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate

Recommended books and audio testimonies:

List of Holocaust diarists

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