Marty Sinthavanarong
UCSB Hist 133Q, Prof. Marcuse
November 18, 2001
Eyewitness Auschwitz

This essay was written as an assignment for Prof. Marcuse's Hist 133Q seminar ("Readings in Holocaust History"), Fall quarter 2001 (course homepage). It is posted here as an example of what such an essay might look like.

Filip Muller: Eyewitness Auschwitz

Auschwitz was the camp where no one expected to leave. The majority of the inmates that entered never lived to find the exit. However, a small number of people did survive, and Filip Muller is one such person. Muller’s experience is unique compared to the other Auschwitz survivors because he was able to escape death many times, by chance, and was allowed to continue at his task until liberation.

Muller was put in an extraordinary situation because he had the task of cremating corpses, but first he and his teammates had to watch the people herded to their deaths. This was not a task that he enjoyed or wanted to do. He was forced to do it, like many others, and there was no way to get out of the task, since the Nazis would never let anyone live that knew the secrets of the mass gassings and cremations. Nazi communication pressed for the assurances that every trace of doings was to be covered.

The traces that Muller had to cover up included stripping bodies of their clothes, and looting the clothes of anything that was deemed valuable. The clothes were to be disinfected and reused, while the valuables recovered during the organizing were traded for other goods, or ‘services’ from SS officials. However hard he tried, Muller could not escape the sights of death waiting upon the innocent people. He was the dummy who had to pretend that the new arrivals were indeed receiving a shower. He was the bearer of bad news, as he delivered news of Yana’s death to her boyfriend Sasha. Muller may have not realized it until Yana spoke to him that he really had to stay alive because he and the other strong prisoners were the ones that had to live to tell the world of what happened.

Since we know that Muller was a crematory worker in Auschwitz, the first thought is probably why he did not do anything to help his fellow people, of whom he knew were about to die. They did not just die a normal death of the camps in Auschwitz, such as getting a bullet to the head or being worked to death. They people that were led to the ‘showers’ received painful tortures as death by gassing. Muller emphasized many times the sounds of the doors being knocked, the wailings, cries, and the desperate attempts of the damned to change the decisions of their killers. However, all were hopeless. The arrivals died miserably as Muller explained how the gasses seeped from the bottom, and the path of the gas as it entered the body.

What Muller did at Auschwitz was not different that that of a cart pusher, or a doctor. Everyone in there was equal, they had the same chances of survival, or dying because the people were not people, but numbers. The work that the prisoners did was just that, work. Everyone had to do something, or they would die. If a prisoner could no longer work, they would die. It did not matter what they did, since the work they did was not chosen by them, but by their inhumane masters. They were chosen to do things that would benefit the Reich, or simply busy work to torture or keep SS men amused. Muller can not be blamed if people try to put blame on him. He did his work. He did not want to do it, but the other choice was death, like his other comrades who chose to stand there and no nothing. Resistance was irrelevant.

author: Marty Sinthavanarong, Nov. 18, 2001, prepared for web by H. Marcuse, 2/12/04
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