Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945; a couple of months before that, a Jewish prisoner secretly wrote a letter outlining the horrors he had witnessed, placed it in a thermos then a leather pouch, and buried it.
Now, for the first time, Marcel Nadjari’s words have been published in full. Historian Pavel Polian tells Deutsche Welle that nine buried documents were found at the concentration camp and he describes them as “the most central documents of the Holocaust.” They were written by Nadjari and four fellow members of the “Sonderkommando” unit, which was tasked with moving bodies from the gas chamber to the crematorium.
Nadjari’s letter, found in 1980, was written in his native Greek and mostly illegible. A year-long project using multispectral image analysis helped reveal all but about 10% of the document.
Gizmodo reports on the Sonderkommando’s unthinkable task: remove the teeth from the dead, shave their heads, and ultimately dispose of their ashes into rivers. “We carried the corpses of these innocent women and children to the elevator, which brought them into the room with the ovens, and they put them in there the furnaces, where they were burnt without the use of fuel, because of the fat they have,” he wrote.
“When you read what work I did, you will say, how could I … burn his fellow believers,” he wrote. “Many times I thought of coming in with them [into the gas chambers] to finish, but I have always kept my revenge: I wanted to live to avenge the death of Papa and Mama, and that of my beloved little sister, Nelli.” Nadjari didn’t get his revenge, but he did survive; he died in New York in 1971.
(In Nazi death camp, a mysterious link to Anne Frank.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: He Buried a Letter at Auschwitz. Now We Know What It Says