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“From the Heart of Hell”. Publication with manuscripts of Załmen Gradowski, a member of Sonderkommando at Auschwitz.


From the Heart of Hell. Manuscripts of a Sonderkommando Prisoner, Found in Auschwitz” is a shattering testimony of the extermination of Jews at the German Nazi Auschwitz camp. The text of manuscripts made by Załmen Gradowski was published also in French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish. and is based on a new translation from Yiddish.


‘In December 1942 Załmen Gradowski, a young man with literary talent, was deported by the Germans from the Grodno ghetto to Auschwitz, along with his whole family. His closest relatives, including his parents and wife, perished in the gas chambers immediately after arrival at the camp. He himself was sent to the very heart of hell – to the Sonderkommando, a special group of prisoners forced to burn the bodies of those murdered in Auschwitz,’ said Jadwiga Pinderska-Lech, the head of Publishing House of the Museum.

Prisoners of the Sonderkommando, mainly Jews, were forced to sort the property of murdered people and prepare it to be taken to the warehouses as well as to work at the gas chamber and crematoria buildings: taking our corpses, extracting gold teeth, cutting hair, washing away blood and excrements as well as burning corpses in crematoria ovens and burning pits.

‘Wanting to preserve the memory of his nearest relatives, and to inform the world about the extermination, the young man made notes in Auschwitz. Those texts turned out to be an extraordinarily shocking literary record of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people during Second World War. They are written in highly emotional, at times thoroughly poetical, language. Paradoxically, in the hell of Auschwitz a writer was born – Załmen Gradowski,’ added Jadwiga Pinderska-Lech.

“Who was prepared to believe that millions of people were being seized for no reason whatever and led to slaughter by multiple means?
Who was prepared to believe that a whole people was being led to destruction at the diabolical will of a gang of contemptible criminals?
Who was prepared to believe that a whole people was to be exterminated to compensate for failure in a struggle for power and supremacy.
Who was prepared to believe that a people would blindly obey a law leading to death and destruction?” noted Załmen Gradowski in the Auschwitz camp.

“It may be that this, these very lines I am writing, will be the only witnesses to what was my life. But I will be happy if my writings reach you, free citizen of the world. Perhaps a spark of my inner fire will ignite in you, and you will fulfill at least a part of our life’s desire: you shall avenge, avenge our deaths!” he wrote.

“The two manuscripts written by him which were found in Birkenau after the war consist of four accounts on different subjects and a short letter. The first, a separate notebook, may have been written as early as 1943. In it, Gradowski describes the course of the transport to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The second, which is in three parts, begins with a beautiful metaphorical address to the moon and goes on to recount the events which took place in the barely two weeks from 24 February to 8 March 1944. Gradowski first described, in exceptionally moving language, the selection of Sonderkommando prisoners by the SS on 24 February, as a result of which more than half of the members of the Sonderkommando were deported from the camp and perished. He then recounted the extermination of almost four thousand Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto who were murdered in the night of 8 to 9 March 1944 after spending six months in Birkenau”, wrote Dr. Igor Bartosik, a historian from the Research Center of the Museum, in the introduction.

Załmen Gradowski perished at Auschwitz probably on 7 October 1944, during the revolt of the Sonderkommando. His manuscripts survived hidden in the ground near the crematoria. They were discovered soon after the war at the site of the Auschwitz II- Birkenau.

“The first of Gradowski’s manuscripts was found shortly after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, when the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission began its work gathering evidence of the crimes committed by the SS. From the very outset, the members of the State Commission were helped by former camp prisoners. One of them was the Sonderkommando member Shlomo Dragon, who had escaped from the evacuation march to Wodzisław Śląski. Knowing exactly where Gradowski’s manuscript was buried on the terrain of Crematorium III, he personally recovered it from the ground on 5 March 1945.” says the introduction.

The present publication, which contains all of Zalmen Gradowski’s writings, is above all the priceless testimony of an eye witness to extermination. But it is also a successful attempt to portray the unimaginable and inexplicable – the Shoah, one of the blackest chapters in the history of the 20th century.

The book is available in bookstores at the Memorial as well as in our online bookstore.