I’ve been looking at some documents and film footage today about this rather disturbing group who played a significant role in the Holocaust. At first they were mistaken as Nazi collaborators. They did indeed work with the Nazis. They would show other Jews into the gas chambers, pull them out afterwards, help with the burning of the corpses, cut off women’s hair, and sort clothing and jewellery. However, they did not volunteer for these duties. They were forced to do them. If they refused, they would be killed in a particular nasty way.
Many Jews realised what was happening. Able-bodied young men were picked for this job and though many of them would rather die than do this work, if they refused, they would not die comfortably.
The SS actually did the killing and it was the Sonderkommando’s duty to help cover up the Nazi crimes and recoup as much material wealth form the Jews as possible.
One group did rebel and there was an uprising at Auschwitz where one of the crematoria was destroyed. They had been helped in this by a young woman who had managed to smuggle small quantities of gunpowder form a munitions plant.