On the Problem of Empathy: Attending to Gaps in the Scrolls of Auschwitz

  • Nicholas Chare
Part of the The Holocaust and Its Contexts book series (HOLC)


In the last months of the operation of the ‘death factory’ at AuschwitzBirkenau a number of manuscripts were buried in the grounds of the crematoria at Birkenau by members of the Sonderkommando, or Special Squads. Some of these remarkable documents were recovered after the liberation of the camp and are now collectively known as the Scrolls of Auschwitz. In addition to the manuscripts, the men also interred quantities of teeth. These had been extracted from the mouths of those murdered in the gas chambers and were, like the writings, intended to form a kind of testimony. Teeth, which comprise of four kinds of tissue of differing densities, are more durable than bone. They are more likely to persist, to survive the passage of time. The teeth provided physical evidence of the murders referenced by the documents. The Sonderkommando, therefore, engaged in a combination of activities in an effort to convey something of the crimes that surrounded them. They bore witness through words and bodily matter. The words can be understood to put the teeth in context and the teeth to lend substance to the words. The burying of writings and bodily remains had a singular aim: to leave a trace.


Special Squad Mass Murder Empathic Response Empathic Understanding Death Factory 
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© Nicholas Chare 2013

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  • Nicholas Chare

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