Hope in Hell: Letters from Inside Auschwitz
by Alyssa Sudermann
“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.” — Auschwitz survivor and author Elie Wiesel
Do you ever come across a historic story that just enthralls your mind? A story that sends you into a tailspin of research, and you end up reading countless articles about some of the most silently, powerful human beings that have ever lived. It’s one of the best perks about my every day and the work that I am privileged to do here, at The Havok Journal.
When reading of those that came before me, in a different time period, under way different circumstance, I try to relate, to empathize, and to feel everything that the author is trying to convey. I was in such a state of research about Freddie Oversteegen (someone else you should know about) when I came across Marcel Nadjary’s letters from hell. Letters that he wrote while inside Auschwitz. Hell on Earth in the 1940s. I wanted to know him more. I wanted to read the manuscript of these letters.
Nadjary was part of the Sonderkommando, a unit made up of Nazi death camp prisoners that was forced to aid in the horrific task of disposing of the bodies from the gas chambers. At the outset of World War II, Nadjary was serving in the Greek Army, fighting Fascist Italy in Albania. A turbulent journey of constant relocation and partisan warfare followed, finally ending with his capture by the SS and his deportation to Auschwitz in early 1944. He was 27 years old.
In reading his letters over and over again (read his letters below), I found an uplifting message. To preface, I should have been thoroughly depressed by this young man’s story, a man who lived decades before me and was subjected to the cruelest treatment imaginable. Why did reading about his life help mine in that moment of my research? How does a man like him, younger than me, find determination every single day to stay alive, fully knowing that his own impending death was looming? He was likely the last face outside of the gas chambers that the tens of thousands of Jews would see. Where does that stubborn will and grit to seek to live another day reside? A look at Nadjary’s letters and a study of the context of those letters, identifies a specific life-saving, character trait that he had.
Most astonishingly, Nadjary’s letters reveals that he retained hope.
Hope for a better tomorrow drastically increases one’s ability to survive. Vengeance was also a good source of fuel for Nadjary, as he wrote that he could die happy knowing that “our Greece is free.”
In his letters, Nadjary had considered suicide often, and in his situation no one would have blamed him. It would have been as easy as attempting escape or thumping a guard. But, as his letters encapsulated the sheer defeat of his situation, he wrote that he had kept his will to live mainly as an act of retaliation in the face of so much death.
“I wanted and I want to live, to revenge the deaths of Dad and Mum, and that of my beloved little sister Nelli.”
When you feel down on your luck, hopeless in whatever situation you are facing, I want you to remember Marcel Nadjary’s name.
Hope is literally all you need. Hope for one more hour. Hope for just one more day.
From my perspective, if Nadjary can survive hell on Earth, you can survive your hardships too.
Please take a few minutes to read his letters:
NOTE: The letters open with requests in German, Polish and French for the reader to immediately deliver the package to the nearest Greek consulate.
Please send this letter to the nearest Greek Consulate.
I request that the enclosed letter be delivered to the next
[…] ces quelques mots
par[s?] un condamne [?] a mort […]
[…] le remettre en plus prochain
Consulat de la Grece
Dimitrios A. Stefanides
Rue Kroussovo No 4
To my dear Dimitris Athan.[asius] Stefanidis, Ilias Koen,- Georgios Gounaris.
To my beloved companion, Smaro Efraimidou and so many more, of whom I will always think, and finally, to my beloved fatherland: “ELLAS,” to whom I was always a good citizen. –
On April, 1944 we were transported from our Athens, after I suffered through a month in the camp Chaidari where I always [word crossed out] received good Smaro’s packages, and his efforts on my behalf remain unforgettable in these terrible days I am going through. …always, that you … search … for her.
Dear Misko and at sometime … get her address for me … our Ilias and that you always look after him … and that Manolis (an alias Nadjary used for himself) has not forgotten them.
But also that it looks like we will unfortunately not see one another again. –
After a journey of ten days we arrived at Auschwitz on April 11 where they brought us to the camp Birkenau, we stayed approximately one month in quarantine and from there they relocated us, both the healthy and the sick. Where? Where, dear Misko? To a crematorium, I will explain for you below our lovely work that the Almighty wanted to have us perform. –
It is a large building with a wide chimney with 15 ovens. Underneath a garden there are two huge endless cellars. The one serves as a place to undress and the other as a death chamber, where the people enter naked and after the room is filled with approximately 3000 people, it is locked and they are gassed, where they breathe their last after 6 to 7 minutes of martyrdom. Our work consisted of first receiving them; most did not know the reason … breaking down or sobbing they were told that … this was for a bath … and they went to their deaths suspecting nothing. –
Until today… I said that each … (fragments of words that cannot be deciphered) … I said to them, that I didn’t understand the language in which they spoke to me, and to those people, men and women, where I could see that their fate was sealed, I told the truth. –
After … all naked, they went further into the death chamber in which the Germans had affixed pipes on the ceiling … so they would believe, that the bath was being prepared, with whips in their hands the Germans drove them closer and closer together, so that the largest number possible would fit, a real sardine tin of people, after which they hermetically sealed the door. The boxes of gas always came in cars from the German Red Cross with two SS people … It was the gas people that then poured the gas through the openings. –
After a half hour we opened the doors and our work began. We carried the corpses of these innocent women and children to the elevator, which transported them to the room with the ovens, and there they put them in the ovens, where they burnt without the aid of fuel because of the fat that they had. –
A person produced only about half an okka (640 grams) of ashes, bones that the Germans forced us to crush, to then press through a coarse sieve, and then a car picked it up and poured it into the Vistula River (actually the River Sola), which flows by in the area and thus they eliminate all traces. –
The dramas my eyes have seen are indescribable. About 600 000 Jews from Hungary have passed by my eyes, – French – Poles from Litzmannstadt, roughly 80 000, and now most recently about 10 000 Jews from Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia arrived. –
Today a transport came from Theresienstadt, but thank God they were not brought to us, they kept them in camps, which means that the order was given not to kill any more Jews, and that appears to be the case, they changed their minds at the last moment – now that there isn’t a single Jew left in Europe, but for us things are different, we must disappear from the face of the earth, because we know so much about the unimaginable methods of their abuses and reprisals. –
Our unit is called the special unit, it included at the beginning about 1000 people, of these 200 Greeks and the rest Poles and Hungarians, and after heroic resistance, because they wanted to only remove 800, because all one hundred outside of the camp and the others inside. My good friends Viko Brudo and Minis Aaron from Thess/niki were killed in action. They will eliminate us too, now that this command has been given, we are 26 Greeks overall and the remaining ones are Polish. At least we Greeks are determined to die like true Greeks, just like every Greek knows how to leave life, by showing until the very last moment, despite the dominance of the criminals, that Greek blood is flowing through our veins, like we have also shown in the war against Italy
My dearests, when you are reading what work I have done, you will say: how could I, Manolis, or anybody else, do this work and burn fellow believers. At the beginning I told myself the same thing, many times, I thought about joining them, in order to end everything. However, the thing that kept me from doing so was revenge; I wanted and I want to live, to revenge the deaths of Dad and Mum, and that of my beloved little sister Nelli.
I am not afraid of dying, after all, how could I fear it, after everything that my eyes have seen? Because of this, dear Ilias, my beloved little cousin, you, and all my friends, should know your duty, once I am no longer. From my little cousin Sarrika Chouli you remember her, the small one that was at my house back then? Who still lives, I learned, that Nellika was together with your little sister Errika, until their very last moment. My only wish is that what I am writing reaches your hands. My family’s property, I leave for you, Misko, with the request that you will take in Ilias, my cousin. Ilias is a Koen and you should view him as if he were myself, you should always look out for him, and in case my cousin Sarika Chouli comes back, you should treat her, dear Misko, like your beloved niece Smaragda, since here we are all experiencing things that the human mind isn’t able to imagine. –
Remember me from time to time, like I am remembering you. –
Fate doesn’t want me to see our Greece as a free man, as I experienced it on 12.10.43. Whenever someone asks after me, simply say that I no longer exist, and that I have gone as a true Greek. –
Help all those, dear Miskos, who come back from the Birkenau camp. –
I am not sad, dear Misko, that I will die, but that I won’t be able to avenge myself the way I would like to. If you receive a letter from my relatives abroad, please give the fitting answer that the family A. Nadjari is annihilated, killed off by the cultivated Germans, do you remember, dear Giorgos? Please pick up, Misko, the piano of my Nelli from the Sionidou family and give it to Ilias, so that he always has it with him in commemoration, he loved her so much and she loved him, too. –
Almost always, when they kill, I ask myself, if God exists, and nevertheless, I have always believed in Him and I still believe, that God wants His will to be done. I’m dying happy, because I know that at this moment our Greece is free. My last words will be: Long live Greece.
For about four years now they have been killing the Jews … they killed Poles, Czechs, French, Hungarians, Slovaks, Dutch, Belgians, Russians und all Thess/nikis, except the 300 who are still alive today, (in) Athens, Arta, Kerkyra (Corfu), Kos and Rhodes. –
A total of around 1,400,000
The honored Greek Embassy which will receive this note is asked by a good Greek citizen called Emmanouil or Marcel Nadjari from Thess/niki, previously resident in Odos Italias No. 9 in Thess/niki, to send this note to the following address.
Dimitrios Athanassiou StefanidisOdos Krousovou No. 4
This is my last wish. Condemned to death by the Germans because I am Jewish.
The text is an English translation of the German translation of the original Greek. The German text was sourced from Das Ungelesene lesen by Pavel Polian, published in Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte (Contemporary History Quarterly).
According to HAU.gr, Marcel Nadjary was one of the few survivors of the Sonderkommando team at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. He later died in New York City on July 31, 1971
This first appeared in The Havok Journal April 1, 2019.
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