Henryk Mandelbaum (born December 15, 1922, in Olkusz, Poland, died June 17, 2008 in Bytom) was a survivor of the Holocaust. He was one of the prisoners in the Sonderkommando KL Auschwitz-Birkenau in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp who had to work in the crematory. Only 110 out of 2,000 prisoners survived the Sonderkommandos in Auschwitz-Birkenau, of whom only a few are still alive. Mandelbaum committed himself to remembering the Holocaust.
Henryk Mandelbaum was imprisoned as a Polish Jew at the age of 21 years. He fled from the Sosnowiec Ghetto and was reimprisoned on April 22, 1944, in Birkenau.
Unlike most of the other prisoners, Mandelbaum was not murdered immediately after arrival because he was designated to forced labour in the crematory. He had to carry the corpses of the people who were gassed with Zyklon B, check body orifices for valuables and break out dental gold. In 1944 the capacity of the crematoriums was too small to burn all the corpses of prisoners killed. Mandelbaum and others had to dig two huge pits, then burn the dead bodies in them. To improve the process they had to pour back the body fat, which was collected in small holes in the pit, over the top of the pile.
Mandelbaum participated in the rebellion of inmates on October 7, 1944, which was put down quickly by the SS. Afterwards, 451 of the inmates were shot or hanged. This was the third rebellion in a camp after Treblinka (August 2, 1943) and Sobibor (October 14, 1943).
On a death march in January 1945 he was able to flee. He escaped wearing civilian clothes and hid on a farm for three weeks. After the liberation of Auschwitz he identified himself to the Wahrheitsfindungskommission (fact-finding commission) as an eyewitness.
Mandelbaum continued to live in Poland until his death and still carried the number 181 970 on his left forearm. He often travelled to the former Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz and to Germany to speak about his experiences. Mandelbaum said that young people especially should learn what happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945: “Man muss das doch alles wissen, man muss doch wissen, wie lange sind die Leute gewesen in die Gaskammer. Man muss wissen, wie lange sie haben gebrennt in die Ofen” (“One has to know it all, has to know, how long the people have been in the gas chamber. One has to know how long they have burned in the ovens”). He sat as chair of the Auschwitz Museum directors and was keenly involved in publicising Auschwitz.
He died on June 17, 2008 in the Polish city of Bytom following heart surgery.