Translated from Yiddish by Almut Seiffert and Miriam Trinh. Introduction and epilogue by Aurélia Kalisky
Salmen Gradowski: Die Zertrennung
Aufzeichnungen eines Mitglieds des Sonderkommandos
[Records of a Member of the Sonderkommando]
Salmen Gradowski was member of the „Sonderkommando“ of Auschwitz—a group of (not only) Jewish inmates who were charged with accompanying the victims to the gas chambers and, after the gassing, burning their bodies. Some of them wrote down the crimes in minute detail and buried their testaments on the site of the camp. The first, incomplete part of Gradowski’s record, hidden in a bottle, was found on the site of the extermination camp Birkenau in 1945 by Red Army soldiers and was published for the first time in Warsaw in 1969. The second part—hidden in a tin can—was found by a Polish and sold to Chaim Wollnerman, who lived in Auschwitz and emigrated to Palestine in 1947 where he published the testament privately in 1977. Here, Gradowski’s collected texts have for the first time been published in German translation.
Gradowski’s writings are of a nearly unbearable meticulousness and linguistic power. In the midst of the catastrophe that he is living through, conscious that he can only appeal to God and to posterity, he tries reading the collective experience of the Holocaust as a rupture in the history of humankind. In order to give voice to the irreconcilable grief, he draws on the liturgical repertoire of lamentations or apocalyptic writings but also on modern Yiddish poetry. The unification of literary document and historical testament makes Gradowski’s records exceptional.