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Roza Robota was a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp and a Holocaust resister during World War II. She was one of four women who organized the Auschwitz prisoner revolt in October 1944 known as the Sonderkommando Prisoner Revolt. The Nazis tortured the women, who refused to name any other revolt organizers, before being hanged. They were the last victims to be executed at Auschwitz.

Early Life

Roza Robota, also spelled Róża or Rosa, was born in Ciechanow, Poland, in either 1921 or 1923.[1] The Robota family was an old Jewish family, well-known in the city and her father, Isaiah, ran a large Jewish cultural society out of their home. Roza and her brother and sister witnessed many intellectuals come through their home to discuss literature, dances, lectures, and theater performances written by Jews and others from Poland and around the world. Robota excelled at her academic studies in grammar school. Interested in activism, she joined the Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir Youth Movement.[2]

The German Invasion of Poland

Roza Robota did not have the chance to experience adult life before being taken by the Nazis.

The Germans invaded Poland in 1939, just as Roza Robota reached adulthood. The Nazis arrived in Ciechanow and took both Robota and her sister to work as cleaners in the house of the Polish government’s former leader. The people managing the Robota sisters tortured them mercilessly during their employment. Growing conflict in the area resulted in the house being destroyed.

The two sisters returned to their family and the whole Robota family was forced into the Ciechanow Ghetto. They joined up with Jewish relatives also forced to move to the Ghetto. The family remained there for about three years. In November 1942, the Ciechanow Ghetto was destroyed and all the families relocated to Auschwitz.[3]

Resistance at Auschwitz

Roza Robota survived the selection process, but her entire family did not. They were taken to the gas chambers while Robota joined the other women chose to work in the concentration camp. The Nazis initially imprisoned her in Auschwitz I, the first women’s camp, but they moved her to Birkenau in August 1942.

Robota worked in the clothing labor, or kommando, unit in the building next to crematorium #4 in the sonderkommando region of Auschwitz-Birkenau. She sorted the personal items of deceased prisoners and managed to achieve a high status in her post. Robota managed to contact the Jewish Underground resistance organization within the camp to help oppose their captors.[4]

The Sonderkommando Prisoner Revolt

In the middle of 1943, Jewish Underground leaders decided to stage a revolt in November the following year. They hoped to convince the workers within the sonderkommando area to participate.[5] The Underground requested Roza Robota to help organize the smuggling of explosives out of the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke factory and into the hands of the resistance.

Roza Robota fearlessly assisted the Jewish Underground and any other resistance groups from the moment she arrived in Auschwitz.

Robota contacted three women, Ester Wajsblum, Ala Gertner, and Regina Safirsztajn, who worked in the factory. The three women produced gunpowder along with the other Jewish women in the line. The women snuck explosives and gun power out in match boxes, despite the threat of death if they were caught. About 20 other young, Jewish women helped with this process and all were between the ages of 18 and 22.

The women gave the explosives to Robota who transferred the material to the sonderkommando with the help of three other male prisoners, Noah Zabludowicz, Israel Gutman, and Yehuda Laufer. The explosives were then hidden among the corpses being removed from the camp and then securely placed in crematorium #4. This clandestine operation lasted for a year and a half.

On October 7, 1944, the Sonderkommado Prisoner Revolt began.[6] The 600 workers in the area turned on their captors, lighting one of the crematorium’s fires to burn alive one of the particularly cruel kapos, Jewish prisoners given power over the other prisoners. The inmates fought hard, blowing the roof off one of the crematoriums and destroying the barrier around the area, which allowed some of the rebels to escape. About 70 Gestapo members and kapos were killed before the Nazis gained control over the revolt. The rebels did not receive the expected, further assistance from the Polish Underground, so the Gestapo managed to shut down the revolt.[7]

The Investigation

The Nazi Gestapo officials meticulously investigated the revolt. About three days after the explosion, the Gestapo arrested Regina Sarfirsztajn, Ester Wajsblum, and Ala Gertner and viciously tortured them. The three refused to give up the names of their fellow conspirators. The Gestapo allowed them to return to their factory work after several weeks of torture.

Determined to find those responsible for the sonderkommando, the Gestapo recruited an half-Jewish, Czechoslovakia named Eugen Koch. He went undercover as a work squad manager and discovered the correct names of the wanted inmates. The Gestapo arrested Gertner, Safirsztajn, and Wajsblum again, along with Roza Robota. The Jewish Underground feared their arrest, especially Robota, since the four knew the majority of the Underground’s members in Auschwitz and several of their operation methods.[8]

Torture and Final Days

The Gestapo severely tortured Robota, Wajsblum, Safirsztajn, and Gertner for weeks. [9] The other inmates knew how badly the women were suffering and their friends tried to see them. One night, the Jewish Underground, managed to get the SS soldier guarding Rosa Robota’s block 11 prison cell very drunk with the help of a Jewish kapo named Yaacov. Her friend, Noah Zabludovitch, snuck into the block to see Robota for the last time.

Zabludovitch recalled in his memoir that the kapo led him to where Robota resided, opened her cell door, and left the two alone. He saw what looked like a bundle of torn clothing on the floor and realized it was a broken Robota. The Gestapo’s torture made her almost unrecognizable and her face bore the signs of great suffering. She told Zabludovitch the sick methods used by the Gestapo, but refused to name any of the people who tortured her.

Robota refused to listen to his comforting words saying, “I know what I did and I know what is coming.” She pleaded for the Jewish Underground and other resistance fighters to continue their opposition to the Nazis. He quotes Rosa Robota as saying, “It's easier to die when you know that there is a continuation to your actions.” Yaakov returned to escort Zabludovitch away from the cell and it was the last time he saw Robota.[10]

Execution and Consequences

Just a few days later, on January 6, 1945, the Gestapo collected all the women who worked with Robota, Wajsblum, Safirsztajn, and Gertner. They made them stand and watch as they hung the four women. The Gestapo did it in two parts, first Gertner and Robota that evening and Wajsblum and Safirsztajn the following morning. The women cried out in their last moments, calling for vengeance and singing the Polish national anthem.

The Allied Forces overtook Auschwitz and freed the remaining prisoners only two weeks later. The four women were the last to be executed in the concentration camp. Back in Ciechanow, no more Jews lived in the town founded by Jewish immigrants more than 100 years earlier.[11]

References

===Bibliography===


Epstein, R., & Epstein, E. Rosa Robota, Holy Heroine of Ciechanow. JewishGen: The Museum of Jewish Heritage.[1]

Shik, N. (2017). Roza Robota. Jewish Women’s Archive.[2]

Footnotes

  1. Shik, 2017
  2. Epstein & Epstein, n.d.
  3. Epstein & Epstein, n.d.
  4. Shik, 2017
  5. Epstein & Epstein, n.d.
  6. Shik, 2017
  7. Epstein & Epstein, n.d.
  8. Shik, 2017
  9. Shik, 2017
  10. Epstein & Epstein, n.d.
  11. Epstein & Epstein, n.d.

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