The prisoners selected to work in Auschwitz-Birkenau lived under the constant threat of death. Nowhere was this truer than in the Sonderkommando, those prisoners forced to work in and around the gas chambers: as ‘bearers of secrets’, they knew that the Nazis would not let them live. The following letter, written by Chaim Herman in November 1944, was discovered buried by the gas chamber ruins after the war. It was addressed to his wife and daughter in France.

When I write today with great risk and danger, I do it in order to tell you that this is my last letter, our days are numbered and if one day you receive this missive, you will have to include me among the millions of our brothers and sisters who had vanished from this world. I am taking this opportunity of assuring you that I am leaving calmly and perhaps heroically (this will depend on circumstances), with one sorrow only that I cannot see you once more, not even for one moment…

I ask your forgiveness, my dear wife, if there had been, at various times, trifling misunderstandings in our life, now I see how one was unable to value the passing time; I constantly thought here that, should I by some miracle get out of here, I would begin a new life... but alas, this is impossible, nobody gets out of here, all is over…

I am sending you my last farewell for ever, these are my last greetings, I embrace you most heartily for the last time and I beg you once more, do believe me that I am going away calmly, knowing that you are alive and our enemy is broken...

Farewell my dear wife and my dear Simone, accept my wishes and live in Peace, may God keep you in His care.

Thousands of kisses from your father and husband.

Chaim Herman was murdered three weeks after writing this letter.

Photo: Crematorium III, Birkenau; Państwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oświęcimiu

Letter: Jadwiga Bezwińska & Danuta Czech (eds.), Amidst a Nightmare of Crime: Manuscripts of Members of the Sonderkommando (Państwowe Muzeum w Oświęcimiu, 1973)