HEROINE OF AUSCHWITZ
Last Update: Feb. 17, 2000
Rosa Robota has gone down in Jewish Holocaust history as a heroine for her actions
involving the smuggling of black powder (schwartzpulver) into Auschwitz. This product was made into explosives which
were used during the famous Sonderkommando Revolt. Although this prisoner-uprising failed to stop
the wheels of death at Auschwitz, Crematorium IV was successfully destroyed by the demolition.
In addition, the prisoners in Auschwitz for a brief moment, showed the Germans they were
capable of resistance - even in this most extreme of environments. The actions by Rosa were ones for which she gave up her life - for she was caught,
interrogated, tortured and then executed by the SS in Auschwitz.
In November 1942 at age 21, Rosa (Polish
name "Rojza") was "deported" from Ciechanow, Poland by rail and arrived at "Anus Mundi":
Auschwitz. Her entire immediate family had also been deported to the concentration camps and had
died in the gas chambers. After two years of survival in Auscwitz, Rosa was working in a clothing-supply
section of the camp complex when she was approached by Noah Zabladowicz, a member of the Jewish
underground operating in the camp (Zabladowicz had known Rosa in her hometown). With Himmler's
order to step-up the pace of the gassings in the summer of 1944, the rate that people being
annihilated each day was astronomical: 46,000 in a
24 hour period on July 24 (the record for any of the camps). The burning pits were ablaze day and
night because the crematoria in operation at the time could not keep up. These were the true
nightmare days at Auschwitz: the Germans knew the war was lost, but the Fuhurer's desire as he
himself predicted in 1939 to annihilate European Jewry was in full-
Noah explained to Rosa that an uprising was to be staged and there were plans to
blow up the crematoria and gas chambers in collaboration with outside partisans. Since Rosa
had friends working in the Union Munitions Plant (Weichsel-Union-Metalwerke) located
within the Auschwitz complex, she was asked to help obtain the schwartzpulver.
established about 20 contacts with women in the plant who were willing to cooperate. These
women smuggled the schwartzpulver into the camp week after week by hiding it inside
a trap-door in their dresses. The pockets could be "tripped" and the contents "dumped" if
it appeared that the secret would be discovered. There was great risk because prisoners
were sometimes searched when returning into the camps from the factories. The explosives, which looked
like small wheels, were delivered to the underground. They were then assembled
by a Russian POW munitions expert named Timofei Borodin who used sardine tins to make the final product.
The completed devices were then hidden about the camp.
At one point, tragedy occurred - a few of the girls were caught and hanged. Somehow, the
authorities did not extract adequate information from these heroines and the operation continued.
One of the many hiding places of the completed explosive devices was with the
Sonderkommando, the special Jewish slave detail who handled and processed the corpses
from the gas chambers day and night. The explosives were hidden in the carts & lorries used by this "special
commando" to haul the corpses. Unfortunately, before the revolt could occur as a concerted
effort, the Sonderkommando staged their own uprising with the explosives they had - for
they had found out they were about to be gassed in their own turn (members of the this work
group were normally selected out and gassed about every 3 months). Subsequently,
on October 7, 1944, Crematorium IV was suddenly blown up and an unplanned haphazard revolt
Four SS men (some records say 5) were killed and several wounded. In the panic and pandemonium,
around 600 of the Sonderkommando were able to break through the wires and escape.
Unfortunately, all who escaped were caught and shot - with the usual German efficiency and the
ever-present cooperation of the people living in the surrounding area. A special Gestapo team was
called in to investigate the revolt. The explosives were traced back to the Union plant and
several suspects were rounded up. Using typical techniques of torture and "persuasion" under the
auspices of the "Political Dept" (operated by the Gestapo), the names of Rosa and 3 other women were
extracted. The names of the other women were: Regina Safirsztain (Sapirstein), Ella Gartner (Gertner) and
Estucia Wajcblum (Esther Weisblum).
Using connections and at great risk, Noah Zabladowicz was able to visit Rosa in her prison-cell
which was called "The Bunker" by those in the camp. He wanted to say farewell to his comrade -
for he knew her fate was sealed, as did Rosa, herself. Noah also feared that Rosa had possibly
"cracked" under the torture. He had to know if she had or was going to confess anything she
knew. His worries were unfounded - Rosa had withstood horrible tortures and cruelty at the
hands of her interrogators, but she had told them nothing.
As she lay on the dark floor, half-dead already, she could not even speak at first. When she
finally gathered her strength, she told Noah what the torturers had done to her.
Noah could hardly comprehend how Rosa had endured the horrendous torture - but she had not
betrayed her comrades. She asked that the underground continue its work even in the face of such
terrible consequences that she had endured - including the realization that
she would be executed the next day. At 23 years old, Rosa and her 3 comrades were
hanged before the camp population. Her last message was a note scratched on a piece of paper
she managed to smuggle from her cell: "Hazak V' Amatz" : Be Strong & Brave.
After Rosa's death, the remaining crematoria continued to operate at full capacity.
However, realizing defeat, the Germans began to hide the evidence of genocide at
Auschwitz. On October 26, only weeks after Rosa's execution, Himmler himself ordered the
dismantling of the remaining crematoria. The Russian advance into Germany was well underway and
on January 20, 1945, the SS themselves set off demolition charges to finish-off the partially
dismantled Crematoria II & III. Six days later, Crematorium V was likewise blown up. On the following day,
the Russian Army liberated Auschwitz. There, the Russians found 1000's abandoned by the SS: 1200
survivors in the main camp, 5,800 in Birkenau and around 700 in Monowitz. Those remaining were
primarily people who had been unable to walk the hurried death marches of Auschwitz prisoners
west into the concentration camps of Germany's interior: Bergen-Belson,
Buchenwald, Ravensbruck, etc. In these death marches, thousands of potential survivors of
Auschwitz died with liberation only days away.
Of the millions killed Auschwitz, only a few "prisoners" have been immortalized. Rosa Robota
will be remembered as one of the few who did not give up in the face of the utter "extremity" - but chose resistance.
A picture of Rosa at 17 yrs. of age
Special thanks to Rosa's cousin in New York, Allan Mallenbaum, for correcting details and supplying the photo near the bottom of the text. Allen is the founder of the Rosa Robota Foundation, Inc. - a non-profit organization to commemorate Rosa and others. The Foundation has speakers on the subject available for any place in the English-speaking world. They can be contacted thusly:
Rosa Robota Foundation, Inc. (click to send email)
P.O. Box 24
Plainview, NY 11803-0024
Also thanks to Evelyn Rubin of Canada for the image of Rosa that appears at the top of this webpage. Evelyn took the photo while touring Auschwitz. The image is part of an exhibit in Auschwitz concerning the Sonderkommando Revolt.
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