The buried manuscript of a Greek Jewish inmate of Auschwitz.
In a Q&A with the editors of Sephardi Lives, each was asked to share some of what they regarded as being the most memorable stories recorded in the compendium of Sephardi experience on which they collaborated, collecting and translating—with the help of other scholars in the field—over 150 documents written by or about Sephardi Jews. Co-editor Julia Phillips Cohen mentioned (among others) a diary, partially erased by time, written by a Greek Jew named Marcel Nadjary who was interned at Auschwitz. Of this record she says:
Amazingly, the manuscript—which bears witness to Nadjary’s dogged refusal to be cowed by the dehumanizing experience of the camp, his enduring faith in God, and his deep attachment to Greece—was discovered between Birkenau’s Crematoria I and II in 1980. Much of the original was by then lost to the ravages of time, leaving only a fragmented text full of spaces that can no longer be filled in. Somehow, to my mind, these absences do not detract from the text but instead make it even more powerful. They bear testimony not only to the story of the man who had the courage to write and bury his manuscript while imprisoned in Auschwitz but also to the incredible material history of the text itself and to its reappearance in the world after so many decades.
The following is the fragmented account of Marcel Nadjary’s experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. His recollections were translated from Greek by Isaac Nehama and are excerpted below from Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History 1700-1950.
A native of Salonica (Thessaloniki, Greece), Marcel Nadjary (1917–1971) fled his native city once it fell to the Germans, fighting with the Greek resistance until he was wounded. While seeking medical aid, he was arrested, deported, and in 1944 sent to Auschwitz. Nadjary wrote an account of his experiences in that camp, including a description of his work as a Sonderkommando—or squad of prisoners assigned to burn the corpses of the camp’s murdered victims. According to one testimonial, Nadjary was an incorrigible jokester who brought temporary respite to the camp’s prisoners through his antics, provoking laughs even from an occasional German guard. Nadjary’s fragmentary account of his wartime experience was found in 1980, buried between Birkenau’s crematoriums I and II, and was subsequently published in Greek. Although much of his diary was lost to the ravages of time, the portions that survived bear testimony to Nadjary’s dogged refusal to be cowed by the dehumanizing experience of the camp, his enduring faith in God, and his deep sense of Greek patriotism.
[Illegible. . . . In lower right]: Stephanides Street, Number 4, Thessaloniki—Greece
To my loved ones, Demetrios Athan. Stephanides, Elias Cohen—Georgios Gounaris. My beloved companions. Smaro Ephremidou (of Athens) and many others whom I always remember, and to conclude, my Beloved Fatherland “Hellas,” [Greece] where I always was a good citizen.
We started from our [city of] Athens on April 2, 1944, after I suffered a month in the camp of Haidari, where I always received the packages of the good Smaro and her efforts on my behalf, which have remained unforgettable to me during the awful days I am experiencing. . . .
later . . . Birk[enau] . . . where we stayed about one month and from there they sent us . . . where? . . . where? . . . he, who is ready, enters naked and, when they have finished [processing] 300 individuals, they close the doors and kill them with gas. After six to seven minutes . . . of agony they die . . .
Page 4 [illegible]
. . . dramas they poured gasoline over them . . . shipment . . . we transported the corpses of those innocent . . . we transported in the ovens . . . one hundred . . . they put in the ovens those who still . . . combustible material . . . who have from one . . . but . . . who . . . they forced us to sift it and we passed it through a coarse sieve and then . . . in an automobile and they threw them in the river which flows near there . . . Vistula and thus . . . they obliterated every trace . . . the miseries that my eyes have seen are beyond description . . . my eyes. About 600,000 Jews from Hungary, Frenchmen, Poles . . . in this interval . . . about . . .
Page 10 [missing]
In Birkenau . . . I don’t regret that I will die, but because I will not be able to avenge myself, as I would want and as I know . . . and, if by chance you receive some letter from my relatives in foreign countries, I beg you to write them immediately that the family Nadjari was extinguished, murdered by the civilized Germans (New Europe) they call them strangely as:. . . . My Nelly’s piano, Mitso, get it from the family Sionidou and give it to Ilia. This will now be with him to remember her, one whom he loved so much and she also him. Each day we wonder whether God exists, and in spite of all these things I believe that He exists and what God wills, let his will be done. I die content because I know that at this moment . . . our Greece is liberated. I will not live, but let survive . . . my last words will be:
Long Live Greece.