Dario Gabbai stood before the door, gripping his cane. It was not a cane for walking. Dario was perfectly fit to walk on his own, he had to be. He had to be strong, stronger than the average person.
This was the part he hated the most, opening the door after the deed had been done. His co-workers, his fellow Jews, noticed his hesitancy, but they did not rush him. They hated this part as well.
The door was wooden, made with two layers of short pieces of wood arranged like parquet. Between these layers there was a single sheet of material sealing the edges of the door. The rabbets of the frame were also fitted with sealing strips of felt. It was at head height for an average man. The door had a round glass peephole that had been destroyed many times by the occupants inside. Because of this the opening was blocked.
Why any sane person would want to look upon the horrors on the other side was beyond Dario’s understanding. Besides, the room was often so full that you couldn’t see past the poor souls standing directly behind the door.
Dario is a Sonderkommando. Currently he is in the basement of Crematorium II in Auschwitz-Birkenau. This killing facility disguised as a normal crematorium ran its operations from March 15, 1943 to November 27, 1944. 624 days in existence during which several hundred thousand Jews were murdered in the gas chamber and their bodies burned. To burn the bodies there were 15 muffles, or openings, each designed to burn one body at a time. It took about an hour to burn one body in one muffle. The crematorium ovens were only out of service for 164 days, but that left 460 days of innocent souls turning into ash and pouring out of the flaming chimneys through the thick black smoke.
Dario thought about the whole process that led to this point. It seemed surreal.
Hundreds, thousands, as many as three thousand, fellow Jews would enter Krema 2 via a staircase from the courtyard above. The staircase was at the far end of a long hall. The unwitting victims would file in and they were told to get undressed for a shower. The cutting of hair and delousing shower were safety procedures to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, typhus. The camp was already suffering thousands of deaths from typhus.
The pegs for the shoes and the clothes were numbered and the victims were told to remember their number so as to easily retrieve their things. The Germans were so cruel, Dario thought.
From the long rectangular undressing hall they would go into a small corridor. Thousands of doomed souls would then turn to the right and go into another rectangular room, through that one, average sized, wooden door in which Dario stood in front of now. The shower was a lie.
The ‘shower room’ complete with false shower heads was not that large. Dario guessed that it wasn’t even as big as a tennis court. Perhaps the victims began to have doubts of this alleged shower as there were strange mesh columns and it they were being packed in like sardines.
By the time the 3,000 victims were in the chamber there was only room for standing. Dario didn’t know how he and the other Sonderkommandos could force so many people into such a small space day after day. It was a miracle.
“An die Arbeit, schnell, schnell!” A German SS man shouted at the Sonderkommando.
Dario steeled himself and opened the wooden door. The people he had seen alive 15 minutes earlier fell into the corridor in where Dario stood. Dario took his cane and hooked it around the first neck, dragging it to the lift that would take the bodies upstairs to where the 15 individual cremation ovens waited. The other sonderkommando did the same. They worked with little supervision. While there were around 100 Jewish sonderkommandos at work there were only about four, maybe two, German SS men to oversee them. If only Dario had though to organize his fellow Jews to revolt against the evil Germans and throw a wrench in their murdering process!
The lift was not like the sort of elevator you’d find in a hotel. It was more like a hoist. Its capacity was 661 pounds. Hundreds of trips up and down were required to empty out the chamber after just one gassing. It was tiring work dragging all those bodies with a cane. And when you had to drag them from all the way in the back of the chamber, forget about it.
After the task of clearing out was completed Dario was relieved from duty. He was not not needed to help with the cremation as most of that duty required standing around and waiting.
One his way out Dario nodded to the barber, who was cutting the victims hair, and the dentist, who was removing the teeth, as he exited the building. He did not envy their jobs.
Once outside Dario headed to the soccer field which was near Krema III, the twin building of Krema II. He could see a game in progress and wanted to watch, and forget. At least until the next time.