Sonderkommando is a German term meaning “special unit” or “special squad.” It is used to this day in German military and police forces to denote units that have been assigned special tasks outside of routine duties. This was also the case during the Second World War.

Many of the subunits of the Einsatzgruppen operating in the rear of the German army in the temporarily occupied Soviet Union were called Sonderkommandos. The units which, according to orthodox historians, tried erasing the traces of mass graves presumably created by the Einsatzgruppen within the context of the alleged Aktion 1005, were also called Sonderkommandos. (See the entry on Aktion 1005.)

The most-common usage of the term Sonderkommando in the orthodox Holocaust narrative relates to the Auschwitz Camp. Many former Auschwitz detainees used this term to refer to inmates, usually of Jewish denomination, who were tasked to do the claimed gruesome extermination work:

  • assist deportees slated for gassing to get undressed;
  • make them enter the gas chambers;
  • after the gassing, drag the corpses out of the gas chamber;
  • break out any precious-metal tooth fillings, and search body orifices for hidden valuables;
  • bring the corpses to mass graves, furnaces or burning pits;
  • bury the corpses in mass graves, and later exhume them again;
  • push bodies into furnaces, and fuel the furnace hearths;
  • build pyres and maintain the fires;
  • sift through ashes for valuables, and also for unburned remains, to either crush them or throw them back into the fire;
  • dispatch of the ashes.

Many witnesses – among them many former Auschwitz inmates who claimed to have been a member of this Sonderkommando – claimed that these inmates were treated preferably by the SS as an incentive and reward for the work they were doing. On the other hand, as “carriers of a terrible secret,” these inmates are said to have been housed separately from all other inmates, and kept in isolation, so they could not bear witness to other inmates. (See the 1944 VrbaWetzler Report, part of the War Refugee Board Report, as an early example.)

Many self-proclaimed former Sonderkommando members also claimed that these units were killed by the SS on a regular basis in order to eliminate dangerous witnesses, although they disagree on the particulars. The most prominent witness in this regard is Miklós Nyiszli. He asserted that each Sonderkommando was killed after four months, and that the first Sonderkommando was already formed in 1940. However, even orthodox historians confirm that this is not true, because the first such unit was supposedly formed only sometime in 1942, and there was no predetermined schedule for liquidating Sonderkommandos. They claim this because the various witness statements in this regard vary wildly, making it impossible to discern any pattern.

Other former self-proclaimed members of the Sonderkommando who made concrete claims about periodical eliminations of this unit were:

Filip Müller stated that Sonderkommando members were killed on occasion, but he insisted that no definite pattern existed. Other witnesses spoke of irregular eliminations of some or all members of the Sonderkommando (Henryk Mandelbaum; Ludwik Nagraba; Dov Paisikovic; Joshuah Rosenblum).

Original wartime documents prove that the term Sonderkommando was used by the Auschwitz camp administration for numerous inmate labor squads, among them:

  • Sonderkommando Birkenau BW 20: inmate electrician squad at the camp’s power plant;
  • Sonderkommando pest control;
  • Sonderkommando Reinhardt: women’s unit assigned to sorting clothes;
  • Sonderkommando Zeppelin: outside unit based in Breslau;
  • Sonderkommando I & II: units warehousing inmates’ personal effects;
  • Sonderkommando construction depot: unit at the construction-depot warehouse;
  • Sonderkommando Dwory: unit working in the village of Dwory (10 km east of Auschwitz);
  • Sonderkommando Buna: unit working at the Monowitz I.G. Farben plant;
  • Sonderkommando clothing workshops: unit producing clothing;
  • Sonderkommando DAW: unit employed by the SS enterprise Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke (German Equipment Works);
  • Sonderkommando “Sola-Hütte”: inmate squad running this SS vacation resort;

Other documents refer to Sonderkommandos formed for temporary tasks, such as certain construction projects.

Interestingly, none of these documents refer to a Sonderkommando employed at any of the crematoria. There are no extant documents on mass graves, pyres or homicidal gas chambers. Camp documents dealing with the crematoria staff give those units numbers, and if they are named, they are simply called crematorium stokers (Heizer Krematorium). Hence, in the camp’s bureaucracy, these units were not considered special.

Here is a long list of former Auschwitz inmates who survived the war and either proclaimed (here linked), or were otherwise identified, to have been a member of the so-called Sonderkommando. This list proves that the members of the alleged Sonderkommandos were never killed, because they were not considered by the SS to have been “carriers of a terrible secret”:

This list is certainly not complete. Many of these persons claimed to have worked in the Sonderkommando for many months, if not years. To judge the trustworthiness of those who claimed to have been a member, one should read the assessment of their testimonies in their respective entries in this encyclopedia. The result is devastating.

Consider that, at its peak in the summer of 1944, 900 inmates were working at the Auschwitz crematoria in day and night shifts. Since inmates died and escaped, were transferred and released, and rotated to other assignments, several thousand inmates will have worked at one time or another in those facilities. Many of them will have survived. All of them could have testified after the war, but most of them probably did not.

We need to keep in mind that a catastrophic tragedy was unfolding at Auschwitz in 1942/43. A devastating typhus epidemic caused thousands of inmates to die every month. The old crematorium at the Main Camp was overwhelmed by this, and it even had to be taken out of operation for some two months in late spring and summer of 1942. Thousands of typhus victims could not be cremated, so they were buried in mass graves. With the local groundwater standing near the surface, these graves threatened to poison the region’s drinking water. Therefore, the graves had to be emptied again, and the bodies burned on pyres, until the crematoria could handle the number of victims, which the typhus epidemic kept causing well into 1943. (See the section “Documented History” of the entry on the Birkenau Camp for details.)

Someone had to do all this gruesome work, and it wasn’t the SS. Many former inmates involved in this horrific work may not have understood what was going on, and may have misinterpreted it in light of rumors and (post)war propaganda. Others did understand, but were unlikely to go on record with what they experienced. Many simply wanted to forget, while others realized that their memories did not match what society expected them to remember, so they decided to stay out of trouble by keeping it to themselves.

It required a mean-spirited, vindictive, attention-seeking or profit-oriented mindset, indifferent to truth and accuracy, to twist this tragedy into a horror scenario by adding homicidal gas chambers and mass gassings. How many of such individuals were among the thousands of inmates who did the described horrible work? The answer lies in the assessment of the testimonies of the persons listed above.

The term Sonderkommando was later also used for inmate units who are said to have performed, at other camps, similar tasks as those listed at the beginning of this entry.

(For more details on the usage of the term Sonderkommando, see Mattogno 2016b, pages 141-149; 2016d, pages 111-114; 2020, pages 127-132; 2020a, pages 252-264; 2022c, pages 37-39; for details on the testimonies of some self-proclaimed former Sonderkommando members, see their respective entry, as well as Mattogno 2020a, 2021, 2021d, 2022d, 2022e; see also

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