Special Tributes

ROSA ROBOTA: Heroine of Auschwitz

Rosa (Polish name "Rojza") Robota goes down in Holocaust history as a heroine for her actions which culminated in the demolition by contraband explosives of Crematorium IV at the Auschwitz-Birkeneau concentration camp - an action for which she gave up her life - because she was apprehended and executed.

In November 1942 at age 21, she arrived at "Anus Mundi" from Ciechanow, Poland. Her entire immediate family was also shipped to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers. After two years of survival, while working in a clothing-supply section of the camp complex, Rosa was approached by Noah Zabladowicz, a member of the Jewish underground in the camp who had known Rosa in her hometown. With Himmler's order to step up the pace of the gassing in the summer of 1944, the rate that people were being murdered each day was astronomical: 46,000 in a 24 hour period on July 24! (the record for Auschwitz). The burning pits were ablaze day and night because the crematoria in operation at the time could not keep up with the disposal. 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 could still be acted on.

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 explosives.

Rosa established about 20 contacts in the plant who were women who smuggled in the explosive powder, called schwartzpulver week after week. The powder was hidden inside a trap-door in their dresses which could be "tripped" and "dumped" if it appeared that the secret would be discovered during the routine searches of prisoners returning into the camps from the factories. The explosives were made into bombs using sardine tins and assembled by a Russian POW munitions expert named Timofei Borodin and then hidden about the camp. At one point, tragedy occurred - a few of the girls were caught and these heroines were hanged. Somehow, the authorities did not extract adequate information from these women and the operation continued. One of the hiding places was with the Sonderkommando, the special detail who handled and processed the corpses from the gas chambers day and night. The explosives were hidden in the carts & lorries used 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 were afraid that they were about to be gassed (members of the this work group were normally selected out and gassed about every 3 months). Subsequently, on October 7, 1944, Crematorium IV was blown up. Four SS men were killed and several wounded. In the panic and pandemonium, around 600 of the Sonderkommando were able to break through the fences and escape. It is unfortunate that all who escaped were caught and shot - with the usual German efficiency and the ever-present cooperation of the Polish people in the surrounding area. A special team was called in to investigate and the explosives were traced back to the Union plant. Using all manners of torture and "persuasion" under the auspices of the "Political Dept" (operated by the Gestapo), the names of Rosa and 3 others were obtained : Regina Safirsztain (Sapirstein), Ella Gartner (Gertner) and Estucia Wajcblum (Esther Weisblum).

Noah, using connections, was able to visit Rosa in her cell in the prison called "The Bunker" to say farewell to his fallen comrade - for he knew her fate was sealed, as did Rosa, herself. Additionally, he feared that since she knew too much and would possibly "crack" under the torture, he had to know if she had or was going to confess what she knew. His worries were unfounded, Rosa had withstood the most horrible tortures and mutilations to her body. As she lay on the dark floor, half-dead already, she could not even speak at first. When she finally gathered the strength to speak, she told Noah what the torturers had done to her. Noah could not comprehend how Rosa had endured the horrendous torture. But she had not betrayed the underground. She asked that the underground continue it's work even in the face of such terrible consequences such as that what she was enduring - including the realization that her final days on earth were at hand. 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.

The remaining crematoria continued to operated beyond full capacity. However, with the end of the war in site, it was time to begin to hide the evidence of genocide. On October 26, Himmler himself ordered the dismantling of the crematoria to begin. The Russian advance had already begun. On January 20, 1945, the SS set off demolition charges to finish off the already mostly dismantled Crematoria II & III. Six days later, Crematorium V was likewise blown up. The next day, the Russians reached Auschwitz and found abandoned by the SS: 1200 survivors in the main camp, 5,800 in Birkenau and around 700 in Monowitz. These were mainly those unable to walk the hurried death marches of prisoners west into the concentration camps of Germany's interior: to Bergen-Belson, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck, etc. where thousands more Auschwitz would-be survivors died either on the marches or at the destination camps and even, ironically: after liberation due to being in a physical condition beyond hope of recovery even with the health-care given by Allied medical units.

Of the millions killed at Auschwitz, only a few "prisoners" have been immortalized, Rosa Robota will be remembered as one of the few who did not follow the lines into the chambers - but chose resistance.

Special thanks to Rosa's cousin in New York, Allen Mallenbaum, for correcting details. Allen has founded the Rosa Robota Foundation, Inc. located in Plainview, NY - a non-profit organization to commemorate Rosa and others.
And also my personal thanks to David Graham who allowed me to use this article.
Please visit his website.


© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.