How we recovered text from manuscript found in the 80’s near the crematorium 3 in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Alexandr B
15 min readJul 24, 2018


This story started for me in 2015, when I watched a broadcast on Youtube with historian Pavel Polyan. The broadcast was dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Pavel told about his book “Scrolls from the ashes”, his new translations of the original documents ( known as Auschwitz scrolls ) of the direct witnesses of the Holocaust — members of Sonderkommando. He found some places in the texts which were censored by the first translators, and also told about the quality of the manuscripts and about the technical problems of reading.

I was interested in the process of translation of military documents, how well they were digitized, whether everything was done for eyes of translators. When I received a copy of the digitized documents for analysis, I was surprised with undisclosed potential of one of them — Marcel Nadjary’s. Its part in the “scrolls from the ashes” occupied a very small Chapter, a few years later this story had publications in the world media (DW, BBC, FOX NEWS) . It is interesting as well as terrible.


On April 2, 1944, in Athens, Marcel Nadjary with a group of other Greek Jews were pushed into a train going in an unknown direction. Stolen earlier his parents and sister could be in the end of the route, so Marcel in spite of he was a partisan, did not want to escape from the train.

Marcel Nadjary

A few days later, the train arrived. He passed the selection on the ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the monthly quarantine. After Marcel was enrolled in Sonderkommando. This is a special team, in which CC were chosen physically hardy and stress-resistant. This work required special efforts: support in the gas chambers of people from trains, hair cutting, extraction of gold crowns, burning corpses, ash disposal. Even when people were told the truth about the “shower”, they were unable to believe it. But some people knew they were going to die and were only asking to tell the truth about what was happening. (According to the testimony of another member of the Sonderkommando Zalman Gradovsky sometimes people chorus sang the Internationale (the hymn of the enemy) inside the gas chamber until the moment of filling of the granules with the gas Zyklon B, causing wild terror the CC guards. Zalman Gradovsky died in the uprising of October 7, 1944, when the 4th crematorium was destroyed)

Crematorium №3

The choice was very simple, either you follow orders, or you go with the victims to the gas chamber. But Marcel was driven by the hope of revenge, as he had long guessed that his mother, father and sister had not been selected.

To survive in the Sonderkommando was a miracle. When it became clear to the camp command that they must escape, orders were given to destroy crematoriums and direct witnesses. Nazi’s was a perfect liers, because you can deceive those who know how you cheat tens of thousands of people. During the work camp of 2,000 members of the Sonderkommando survived about 100 accidentally. Marcel, apparently, chose a good time and, without responding to his number at roll calls, ran into a column of ordinary prisoners heading to another concentration camp.

April 15, 1947 — this date was set at the beginning of personal memories written after liberation. His daughter Nelly was born in 1957. According to her, the father has often a nightmares, the reason for which he promised to tell when she turns 18 years old. But he died before he was 54, when Nellie was only 14.

The manuscript

After 9 years, on October 24, 1980, when cleaning the area near the ruins of the third crematorium at a depth of about 30 cm student of the local College found a glass flask from a thermos, closed with a plastic stopper.

12 pages was inside for 35 years, their condition has deteriorated. Some of them were read, and the find was immediately accepted to the state Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Somewhere in the mid or late 90’s the manuscript was scanned by the Museum, and in 2015 I asked Pavel to send me all the scans from which he made translations for his book “Scrolls from the Ashes” (this book contains translations of all known manuscripts of Sonderkommando, not only of Marcel).

Since I worked a lot with digital images, I decided to see if I could extract something from them. A fast review of the RGB channels showed that the manuscript of Marcel was the most readable. In addition, it has a huge role as the last undisclosed and undisputed document of the Holocaust. It’s really good luck. Even if at the moment something is found, it will probably not be readable.

Did you hear about excavation in Auschwitz? I didn’t hear. We know around existed 30 texts was hidded in the ground. But was found less 8. Do you know the reason why not nobody checking every square meters? I dont know.

the manuscript

Since we did not have direct access to the originals, I was interested in the technology itself, thanks to which manuscripts can be read on special equipment. And I needed some theoretical basis to understand why the scanned files contain information that is not visible in the color image.

I will not talk about all technologies but basis is multispectral analyze.

Flatbed scanner gives only 3 layers — red, green and blue. This is quite enough for our vision when forming a color image on the monitors. The eyes reacting not only to the wavelength, but also to the intensity of the three basic colors. That’s how we see shades of colors. In other words, the scanner also does multi-spectral analysis, but only 3 wavelengths instead of 12 (7 visible range and 5 in IR) on professional equipment. If you look at the CCD sensor data sheet (Color Linear Image Sensor), you will see three color strips (this is an RGB filter) in front of the sensor itself.

Talks about the re-shooting of the manuscript on professional equipment in the Museum are still lingering even after the daughter of Marcel’s direct appeal to use her equipment.

How I studied theory of multi spectral imaging

I got into correspondence with Antonino ( ), the author of the open project on multispectral imaging. I got some advice from him on the equipment, gave me a couple of his publications.

I moved deeper and deeper. I decided to collect one such multi spectral installation with 50W LEDs for experiments. Chinese sent me LEDs on the list with different wavelengths and power supply.

As a camera, I decided to play around with a smartphone cameras. I ordered 5 items and try to scrape off his bayer pattern and removing the IR filter.

Near-camera — sensor with erased bayer pattern and with removed IR filter.

Every time I opened the camera, I broke it. I wanted to buy astro camera ASI1600MM but I stopped.

Having worked out some theory, I returned to the color scans of the manuscript.

Image processing

So, take the first page of the manuscript. If we consider its RGB image, it is three halftone images, which have a different contrast between ink and paper.

I will not show you the enlarged fragments, the text is seen badly in this scale, but on the left in the red channel the text is the most readble. The green one in the center is worse. And in the latter-blue, text visually absent.

The theory of multispectral analysis states that the more images are made in different wavelengths, the more likely to detect the required contrast. RGB model is based on the reproduction of color from the entire visible range.

But RGB is not unique. We can recalculate RGB to other most know color spaces and check their color channels. If you are a little more advanced in graphics you can use imageJ utility. Or you can use web service

In case of Nadjary, color channels analyses shown best result in HSL colorspace. But not for all pages. The most bad examples was need a unique approach.

For this task, I used a photoshop filter Black&White. Unfortunately, I have not found any analogues in other programs. This filter allow to reproduce effects from colorspaces switching but more flexible. I used channel mixer before but filter is not provide feeling that I will find ideal combination. (for notes, in another manuscript channel mixer worked with less artefacts)

The filter parameters are shown in the figure above. I intentionally skip a point in the constant use of the Curve filter as it is too obvious. As a result, at this stage, although the readability of the text has increased significantly: some words have become better visible, but we are prevented by too dark and too light areas. To eliminate these artifacts, we will use a high pass filter because it was designed to compress the signal brightness component.

highpass filter

It’s funny to be surprised at the simplicity of the process. In the beginning I tried a lot of approaches with a channel mixer, the transformation of color spaces. This set of filters remained the most effective.

But something jarred me. You look at these images and you suffer. Something else can be done, but here’s what?

And in a couple of weeks I finally get it: Marcel kept a diary on two pages of one sheet and dark spots are artifacts of leaked ink. Of course! How could you not see that before? They are, look for yourself.

On the left is the first page, and on the right is the second in the mirror. It is seen that this is the same sheet

Compensation of leaked ink

If we have a sample with noise and noise separately, we can create a mask that compensates it.

To do this, we need to very accurately combine the two images. It should be understood that the scanner is a mechanical device, and each time you scan the same sheet, it can stretch or compress it. Therefore, the overlay of two images should be carried out with the fit not only the angle but also the scale in a very small value. It was necessary to be guided on through artifacts at a sheet. This task turned out to be quite difficult, required pixel accuracy, which I did not immediately succeed.

After I’ve combined the sheet and its opposite direction, it is required to do the following trick:

  1. Invert the colors of the overlay layer (the back page that lies on the top layer)
  2. Simulate the natural moisture blurring of the ink with Gaussan Blur filter with HighPass to”taste”.
    ( Gaussian Blur is sometimes necessary to replace the Surface Blur, because he’s not “ringing” on the edges of the document. But since it is much more voracious, it is inconvenient for experiments.)
  3. Set the transparency of this layer to 50%

After that, the image looks flat as we put our noise into the antiphase. But if you now apply the filter Black&White, the result will be as follows:

That’s a different thing!

As a result, each page of the manuscript was subjected to such processing. If from 12 source sheets 11 scans were unreadable by 100%, then after processing readable fragments were marked on all sheets.

All these pages were sent to Pavel, who sent them to his colleague at the University of Freiburg, a native speaker of the modern Greek language and a historian. He has long they were waiting and preparing for the start of the English translation. He also contacted the Jewish community in Thessaloniki through his channels. They reached out to Marcel’s daughter. We’ve got more translators.

According to the first translations in Thessaloniki, a stir began, as new names surfaced and everyone began to look for new family ties.

And now the result of the translation:

NOTE: The letter opens with requests in German, Polish and French for the reader to immediately deliver the package to the nearest Greek consulate.

Please send this
letter to the
nearest Greek

I request that the enclosed
letter be delivered to the next
Greek Consul.

[…] ces quelques mots
par[s?] un condamne [?] a mort […]
[…] le remettre en plus prochain
Consulat de la Grece

Dimitrios A. Stefanides
Rue Kroussovo No 4

To my dear Dimitris Athan.[asius] Stefanidis, Ilias Koen,- Georgios Gounaris.
To my beloved companion, Smaro Efraimidou and so many more, of whom I will always think, and finally, to my beloved fatherland: “ELLAS,” to whom I was always a good citizen. –

On April, 1944 we were transported from our Athens, after I suffered through a month in the camp Chaidari where I always [word crossed out] received good Smaro’s packages, and his efforts on my behalf remain unforgettable in these terrible days I am going through. …always, that you … search … for her.
Dear Misko and at sometime … get her address for me … our Ilias and that you always look after him … and that Manolis (an alias Nadjary used for himself) has not forgotten them.

But also that it looks like we will unfortunately not see one another again. –

After a journey of ten days we arrived at Auschwitz on April 11 where they brought us to the camp Birkenau, we stayed approximately one month in quarantine and from there they relocated us, both the healthy and the sick. Where? Where, dear Misko? To a crematorium, I will explain for you below our lovely work that the Almighty wanted to have us perform. –

It is a large building with a wide chimney with 15 ovens. Underneath a garden there are two huge endless cellars. The one serves as a place to undress and the other as a death chamber, where the people enter naked and after the room is filled with approximately 3000 people, it is locked and they are gassed, where they breathe their last after 6 to 7 minutes of martyrdom. Our work consisted of first receiving them; most did not know the reason … breaking down or sobbing they were told that … this was for a bath … and they went to their deaths suspecting nothing. –

Until today… I said that each … (fragments of words that cannot be deciphered) … I said to them, that I didn’t understand the language in which they spoke to me, and to those people, men and women, where I could see that their fate was sealed, I told the truth. –

After … all naked, they went further into the death chamber in which the Germans had affixed pipes on the ceiling … so they would believe, that the bath was being prepared, with whips in their hands the Germans drove them closer and closer together, so that the largest number possible would fit, a real sardine tin of people, after which they hermetically sealed the door. The boxes of gas always came in cars from the German Red Cross with two SS people … It was the gas people that then poured the gas through the openings. –

After a half hour we opened the doors and our work began. We carried the corpses of these innocent women and children to the elevator, which transported them to the room with the ovens, and there they put them in the ovens, where they burnt without the aid of fuel because of the fat that they had. –

A person produced only about half an okka (640 grams) of ashes, bones that the Germans forced us to crush, to then press through a coarse sieve, and then a car picked it up and poured it into the Vistula River (actually the River Sola), which flows by in the area and thus they eliminate all traces. –

The dramas my eyes have seen are indescribable. About 600 000 Jews from Hungary have passed by my eyes, — French — Poles from Litzmannstadt, roughly 80 000, and now most recently about 10 000 Jews from Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia arrived. –

Today a transport came from Theresienstadt, but thank God they were not brought to us, they kept them in camps, which means that the order was given not to kill any more Jews, and that appears to be the case, they changed their minds at the last moment — now that there isn’t a single Jew left in Europe, but for us things are different, we must disappear from the face of the earth, because we know so much about the unimaginable methods of their abuses and reprisals. –

Our unit is called the special unit, it included at the beginning about 1000 people, of these 200 Greeks and the rest Poles and Hungarians, and after heroic resistance, because they wanted to only remove 800, because all one hundred outside of the camp and the others inside. My good friends Viko Brudo and Minis Aaron from Thess/niki were killed in action. They will eliminate us too, now that this command has been given, we are 26 Greeks overall and the remaining ones are Polish. At least we Greeks are determined to die like true Greeks, just like every Greek knows how to leave life, by showing until the very last moment, despite the dominance of the criminals, that Greek blood is flowing through our veins, like we have also shown in the war against Italy

My dearests, when you are reading what work I have done, you will say: how could I, Manolis, or anybody else, do this work and burn fellow believers. At the beginning I told myself the same thing, many times, I thought about joining them, in order to end everything. However, the thing that kept me from doing so was revenge; I wanted and I want to live, to revenge the deaths of Dad and Mum, and that of my beloved little sister Nelli.

I am not afraid of dying, after all, how could I fear it, after everything that my eyes have seen? Because of this, dear Ilias, my beloved little cousin, you, and all my friends, should know your duty, once I am no longer. From my little cousin Sarrika Chouli you remember her, the small one that was at my house back then? Who still lives, I learned, that Nellika was together with your little sister Errika, until their very last moment. My only wish is that what I am writing reaches your hands. My family’s property, I leave for you, Misko, with the request that you will take in Ilias, my cousin. Ilias is a Koen and you should view him as if he were myself, you should always look out for him, and in case my cousin Sarika Chouli comes back, you should treat her, dear Misko, like your beloved niece Smaragda, since here we are all experiencing things that the human mind isn’t able to imagine. –

Remember me from time to time, like I am remembering you. –

Fate doesn’t want me to see our Greece as a free man, as I experienced it on 12.10.43. Whenever someone asks after me, simply say that I no longer exist, and that I have gone as a true Greek. –

Help all those, dear Miskos, who come back from the Birkenau camp. –

I am not sad, dear Misko, that I will die, but that I won’t be able to avenge myself the way I would like to. If you receive a letter from my relatives abroad, please give the fitting answer that the family A. Nadjari is annihilated, killed off by the cultivated Germans, do you remember, dear Giorgos? Please pick up, Misko, the piano of my Nelli from the Sionidou family and give it to Ilias, so that he always has it with him in commemoration, he loved her so much and she loved him, too. –

Almost always, when they kill, I ask myself, if God exists, and nevertheless, I have always believed in Him and I still believe, that God wants His will to be done. I’m dying happy, because I know that at this moment our Greece is free. My last words will be: Long live Greece.
Marcel Nadjari
For about four years now they have been killing the Jews … they killed Poles, Czechs, French, Hungarians, Slovaks, Dutch, Belgians, Russians und all Thess/nikis, except the 300 who are still alive today, (in) Athens, Arta, Kerkyra (Corfu), Kos and Rhodes. –

A total of around 1,400,000
The honored Greek Embassy which will receive this note is asked by a good Greek citizen called Emmanouil or Marcel Nadjari from Thess/niki, previously resident in Odos Italias №9 in Thess/niki, to send this note to the following address.
Dimitrios Athanassiou Stefanidis
Odos Krousovou №4

This is my last wish. Condemned to death by the Germans because I am Jewish.

Thank you.

The story with the translation of the manuscript is not completed. This 11 page (№12 in the corner — a mistake by a Museum archivist), which is difficult to read. If you are familiar with the modern Greek, any detail will benefit. Yet here after the first paragraph failed to parse date 3/11/44

Thats All.