From Reading Room/8:

Reflections on Germany’s Lost Jewish Culture
Jorge Semprún
Translated by Mara Faye Lethem

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A few days earlier, a German communist who worked as part of the administration inside the Buchenwald camp had come to request my presence, to invite me, in an urgent tone, to a meeting to be held the next Sunday in a place that we used for these meetings, a ward of the hospital at Buchenwald, the infectious ward, a perfect place for clandestine meetings, far from the SS’s gaze, since the SS were like the old Christians of Inquisition-era Spain: they were horrified by foreign blood, they were in favor of the cleansing of the blood, of blood itself, so they were terrified by the sick and the contagious, making the ward an ideal place for our meetings. That Sunday afternoon, during the few free hours we enjoyed every Sunday afternoon, I crossed the camp under a snowy blizzard to get to that ward, where I met with five or six other communists like me, all members of the camp’s clandestine communist organization, from various Central European countries. One of them was Joseph Frank, a Czech, a former secretary general of the Czechoslovakian party, who was later sentenced to death during the Slansky trial. He was hanged and his ashes were scattered in the snow in a place in Bohemia after those proceedings. We were called, and the German comrade told us: you are here to listen to a man who is a survivor of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz. We didn’t know what the Sonderkommando was; at least I didn’t. I knew what Sonder meant in German, I knew that in Buchenwald there was a Sonderbau, a special, separate building, it was a brothel, but I didn’t know what the Sonderkommando was, I didn’t ask because I thought that I would soon figure out what the Sonderkommando was. And that survivor of Auschwitz’s Sonderkommando, which is to say, the survivor of the Kommando assigned to transport corpses to the crematorium after the gas chamber, told us about the extermination by gas. I don’t know the witness’ name, I don’t even know if the German comrade, who was named Kaminski, told us his name. I know that he was a Polish Jew, a survivor of the Sonderkommando, I know that he spoke for an hour and then he abruptly stopped speaking. Night had fallen, the lamp was not lit, and we remained in the darkness for a few minutes, and the German comrade said to him: “My country, Germany, is the guilty party, don’t any of you forget it.”


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