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The only organized revolt at Auschwitz

Six decades after Auschwitz was liberated, the biggest and most brutal Nazi death camp remains a potent symbol of terror and genocide. More than a million Jews were murdered there, as well as tens of thousands of Poles, Gypsies and Soviet prisoners of war. When Allied soldiers liberated the complex in Poland in January 1945, they found skeletal prisoners, mounds of corpses, gas chambers and cooling crematoria. Survivors scattered, many to Canada, to rebuild their lives. But the Nazi atrocities they witnessed have echoed through the years along with the cry "Never again."

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On Oct. 7, 1944, a group of prisoners blew up Crematorium No. 4 at Auschwitz. As described in this radio clip, all 450 prisoners associated with the uprising were killed, including four young Jewish women who had smuggled gunpowder from the Nazi munitions factory. It was the only organized uprising at Auschwitz. And thanks to Sigmund Sobolewski, the sole surviving person who watched the revolt, the heroic acts of these brave men and women have not been forgotten.

Canadian filmmaker David Paperny is making a documentary about Sobolewski, a Roman Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and one of its longest-surviving prisoners. Paperny describes the sombre 50th anniversary ceremony he attended with Sobolewski at Auschwitz. 
• Sonderkommandos, referred to in this clip, was the name given to a group of male Jewish prisoners who carried out the Nazis' dirty work such as aiding exterminations, disposing of corpses and destroying traces of Nazi atrocities.

• Seventeen-year-old Sigmund Sobolewski was the 88th prisoner to walk through the gates of Auschwitz. He spent four-and-a-half years at the Nazi death camp witnessing all kinds of horrors including the shooting death of all 450 prisoners involved in the uprising.

• Dressed in a replica of his prisoner stripes, Sobolewski has worked tirelessly to tell the world about the terror he witnessed at Auschwitz.

• Rudolf Höss, the famously brutal commandant of Auschwitz at the time of the revolt, was captured hiding in Germany after the war. He was convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg trials and returned to Auschwitz, where he was hanged on April 16, 1947.

• Sobolewski started wearing his prisoner stripes in a successful 1967 lobbying effort to get a West German neo-Nazi excluded from an episode of CBC Television's This Hour Has Seven Days. He later donned the outfit while protesting outside a white supremacist "Aryan Fest" in Provost, Alta., in 1990. To see a clip of him outside Aryan Fest, click here.

• Sobolewski chose to immigrate to Canada after seeing a Canadian bill written in both English and French. He thought a country with two languages would have to be tolerant.

• Trains full of Jewish prisoners usually arrived at the Birkenau camp in the Auschwitz complex. They were forced to surrender their possessions. Valuables were put in a large storehouse that the Nazis nicknamed "Kanada" because they considered Canada to be a land of limitless bounty and wealth. Prisoners forced to sort through the valuables were nicknamed Kommando Kanada.

• A common form of resistance at Auschwitz was escape. Over 650 prisoners fled the camp but many of them were caught and executed.

• In April 1944, Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba (born Walter Rosenberg) successfully escaped Auschwitz. They wrote a detailed report on Auschwitz, the first eyewitness accounts of the death camp to reach the Western world.

Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: Oct. 7, 1994
Guest(s): David Paperny
Host: Nancy Wilson
Duration: 10:09

Last updated: August 29, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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