The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennahmias, Sonderkommando

Overview

Daniel Bennahmias was hardly more than a boy when he and his family were herded onto the death train that would transport them from their home in Greece to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, Birkenau. His parents were exterminated immediately upon arrival, but Danny managed to survive. Because of his strength, the youthful prisoner was recruited by the Germans to become a member of a Sonderkommando unit, its horrendous job being to disentangle the bodies of the Jews put to death in the gas chambers in ...
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Overview

Daniel Bennahmias was hardly more than a boy when he and his family were herded onto the death train that would transport them from their home in Greece to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, Birkenau. His parents were exterminated immediately upon arrival, but Danny managed to survive. Because of his strength, the youthful prisoner was recruited by the Germans to become a member of a Sonderkommando unit, its horrendous job being to disentangle the bodies of the Jews put to death in the gas chambers in preparation for their subsequent cremation. Rebecca Fromer traces the plight of her friend through every inconceivable, unspeakable ordeal: the bewildering roundup of Greek Jews; the non-familiar, but no more understandable, atrocities of their German captors; Danny's numbed acceptance of his gruesome assignment as a trade-off for life itself, if only as a temporary measure; an abortive prison rebellion and the resulting punishment; one final freezing march from Auschwitz to Ebensee, as Allied troops approached; and, at last, rescue by the American soldiers and the tentative readmittance to civilization, changed forever. Daniel Bennahmias is one of the few persons in the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau to have survived the war, and the recounting of his experiences reveals details heretofore unknown about the "inner life" of the Nazi factories of death. Bennahmias supplies missing elements in the story of the revolt of the Sonderkommando in Birkenau, the dismantling of the crematoria, the death march and its aftermath, including the miraculous experience of liberation by the Allies. This is the tragic story of Daniel Bennahmias, a Greek Jew of Italian citizenship, a young man of science and intellect, music and art, who had a family, a culture, and a life that was all but obliterated. He is not a number, but he has become a statistic; he is not a thing, even though he became an object beneath scorn, unworthy of civility or compassion. This memoir prov
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Beautifully written...a welcome addition to the study of human degradation in the Nazi concentration camps. What makes this book especially important is that it is the eyewitness story of Daniel Bennahmias, who was a member of the Sonderkommando—people relegated to the most horrible duty of any concentration camp inmates, that of removing freshly gassed bodies from the gas chambers at Auschwitz, where four gas chambers often exterminated 10,000 people per day."

—International Society for Yad Vashem

"The horrors that a young Sephardic Jew named Daniel Bennahmias was forced to endure seem incomprehensible...his story and the saga of the others in the special command have long been shrouded in mystery. The work of the Sonderkommando was a closely guarded secret."

Jewish Bulletin

Booknews
Bennahmias is a Greek Jew of Italian citizenship who served in Birkenau as a Sonderkommando, dealing with the bodies of those killed in the gas chambers; he is one of only 11 Greeks who performed that job to survive. His account of the years from 1942 to 1945 has been recorded by Fromer, a specialist on the Holocaust memoirs of Sephardic Jews. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817305987
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1993
  • Series: Judaic Studies Series Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 184
  • Lexile: 1140L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


The Shock Recognition

You cannot imagine bow terrible
Danny looked when be got home. I fed
him and I fed him. "Here, eat," I
said, and I fed him again. What
stories we told in those days!
—Mary Rouben


                           We are friends, and we have talked about getting this story down for about a year. When we meet for the first time with this specific objective in mind, however, neither of us suspects how long it will take. We are in earnest as we begin, and Danny is the first to speak.

    "One day, as I was on my way home from school—this was in Salonika—I ran into an old friend. After a while, he asked me if I had ever heard of Beethoven. I told him that I had not. `Here, take this,' he said. Before I knew it, he had thrust a recording of Beethoven's Second Symphony into my hands. When I got home, I played it on our Victrola—I'm sure you know the kind I mean—and I went wild. That day, I must have lost my mind and driven my mother crazy. I could not hear this music enough, and I played it over and over again. Beethoven was a discovery for me. Later on, when I was in Auschwitz—walking from crematorium I to crematorium II—I heard the first few bars of Beethoven's Fifth emanating out of a room occupied by a German officer. The door was ajar, and the radio was on. Pom-pom-pom-pom; pom-pom-pom-pom; pom-pom-pom-pom.... I convulsedviolently and doubled over. In the galleys of hell, I had been reminded of a life that was no more and could never be again.

THIS WAR SO HORRIBLE
The Civil War Diary of Hiram Smith Williams


Edited by LEWIS N. WYNNE AND ROBERT A. TAYLOR

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 1993 The University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Greeks in Auschwitz
Author's Note
I The Shock of Recognition 1
II The Absence of Light 3
III The Unfolding Debacle 7
IV The First Incarcerations 17
V The Withdrawal 25
VI The Selection 35
VII The Process of Annihilation 43
VIII The Smile 51
X The Questions 57
X The Revolt 63
XI The Death March 83
XII The Reunion 97
XII The Return 105
Epilogue 113
Glossary 115
Appendix 119
Select Bibliography 145
Index 147
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