"How did I come out of it alive" - A study of the mental state of the Sonderkommando prisoners

Anne Mette Lærke Hatting, Nicoline Bardrum, Thorkil Ørbæk, Signe Bøtzau Paulsen, Otto Holm Østergaard & Kjartan Freyr Stolberg-Christensen

Student thesis: Basic Project


This paper examines how the Sonderkommando prisoners remember their experiences and how that reflects their psychological state of mind during and after their imprisonment in Auschwitz- Birkenau. This is done by dividing the analysis into key themes which are present throughout the testimonies of the Sonderkommando prisoners, displayed in We Wept Without Tears and The Scrolls of Auschwitz. Through analysis and interpretation of these testimonies, made possible by utilizing psychological terms such as ‘defense mechanisms’, ‘dehumanization’, and ‘logotherapy’, as well as including supplementary literature, it is concluded that the Sonderkommando was a very complex and diverse group of people who can not necessarily be treated homogeneously. Several Sonderkommando prisoners have been existentially frustrated, since their needs were not able to connect with their experiences in the concentration camps. Some were able to find the will to meaning whereas others were unable and committed suicide. Furthermore, it is concluded that some Sonderkommando prisoners were able to overcome their tasks by adapting to the systemic dehumanization and protected their sanity by utilizing defense mechanisms. Others succeeded in holding on to their humanity which is proven by the organization of an insurrectionist movement. After the war the surviving Sonderkommando prisoners have had difficulties in dealing with their experiences and some even felt shame and suffered from compunction, whereas others viewed themselves as victims and refused to acknowledge any responsibility. Through our analysis and interpretation of the testimonies it has become clear, that the Sonderkommando prisoners' memories and psyche have been affected by numerous factors and therefore our problem formulation cannot be answered unambiguously.

EducationsBasic - Bachelor Study Programme in Humanities, (Bachelor Programme) Basic
Publication date18 Dec 2018
Number of pages79
SupervisorsMichael Kjeldsen