About Anna Heilman


Anna Heilman was one of the last living survivors of the plot to blow up Crematorium IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The plot was part of the plans for the October 1944 Sonderkommando Uprising.

Anna was born on December 1, 1928 in Warsaw, Poland into a middle-class assimilated Jewish family .  Her parents, Jacob and Rebecca, were both deaf (all three of their children had normal hearing). Jacob was born in Warsaw in 1887.  He owned a factory (Snycerpol) in Warsaw that employed deaf workers to make wooden handicrafts.  He traveled extensively on business, including to the 1936 Paris World Exposition to exhibit the Snycerpol factory's products.  The handicrafts from his factory were also shown at the New York World's Fair in 1939.  Rebecca was born in 1898 in Pruzany, Poland.  She came from the wealthy Jaglom family.        

Anna had two older sisters.  Sabina, the eldest escaped the Holocaust with her former tutor and future husband, Mietek.  They survived the war by fleeing to the Soviet Union and subsequently settled in Stockholm, Sweden.  Sabina died in 1995.  Anna's best friend was her older sister Esther (nickname: Estusia).

Anna and her two sisters lived with their parents in an apartment building at 38 Mila Street, in an area that became part of the Warsaw Ghetto after the Nazi invasion of Poland.  Their apartment building was down the street from 18 Mila Street, headquarters of the ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bjojowa - Jewish Fighting Organization), led by Mordecai Anielewicz.  The family were among the last deportees from the Warsaw Ghetto when they were crammed in a sealed boxcar and transported to Maidanek in May 1943. There were 170 people in the boxcar.  There was no food or water.  Only 120 of the 170 were alive after the two day trip to the Maidanek concentration camp.  Her parents were murdered upon arrival at Maidanek.  Estusia and Anna were sent from Maidanek to Auschwitz in September 1943.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was both a vast death camp and a huge industrial complex. Beginning in September 1943, Mrs. Heilman and her older sister Estusia were "employed" as slave laborers in the Union Munitions factory at Auschwitz- Birkenau.

The Sonderkommando at Auschwitz were male slaves who assisted the Nazis - primarily in helping to dispose of the bodies of the murdered.  So as to leave no witnesses, the SS periodically executed the entire complement of the Sonderkommando, and replaced them with "fresh" slaves from the transports. 

Though regularly searched, and subject to instant execution if caught, Estusia, Anna, and a small number of other women played key roles in smuggling gunpowder for explosives from the Union Munitions factory to the men of the Sonderkommando.  The Sonderkommando made 'grenades' out of shoe polish cans that they filled with gunpowder that the women smuggled out of the munitions plant.  The conspirators figured that they would die anyway, but that participating in the uprising would give their deaths some meaning.

Anna Heilman is one of those featured in  "Unlikely Heroes", a 2003 film about Jewish resistance during World War Two, and in "The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos", by Judy Batalion, a 2021 book about Jewish women resistance fighters during World War Two.  

Link to New York Times Review of "Unlikely Heroes"

Link to New York Times Review of "The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos"

Anna's diary and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) testimony are also featured in the 2022 documentary "Sabotage" by DocFilms, released on April 27, 2022, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah).  "Sabotage" focuses on the four young women publicly executed at Auschwitz in January 1945 for their role in the October 1944 Sonderkommando Uprising.  

Link to "Sabotage" (DocFilms)

Link to Anna's USHMM video testimony

Anna died on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, May 1, 2011 in the Gregorian calendar. The 27th of Nisan marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  Anna was buried on May 2, 2011, exactly 66 years after her liberation in 1945.

Link to Anna Heilman's obituary in the Globe and Mail

Link to "Heroines of Auschwitz" in the National Post

May 2010 - Anna Heilman Implores Canadian Parliamentarians to Apply the Lessons of the Holocaust to the People of Darfur


Home Page

About Anna Heilman

About Never Far Away: The Auschwitz Chronicles of Anna Heilman

Anna Heilman Speech At National Library of Canada

Never Far Away: Afterword by Joel Prager

External Links

Questions? Please write to: comments@annaheilman.net

This page was last updated October 3, 2023. Sheldon Schwartz 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2021, 2022, 2023 All Rights Reserved.