Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Richard Glazar on Jean-Francois Steiner

Below you'll find Treblinka survivor Richard Glazar's critique of Jean-Francois Steiner's book about Treblinka.

Thanks go to Peter Laponder for the text. I have corrected some typos and spelling irregularities.

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Yad Vashem catalogue numbers: E/72-1-4
Ing. Richard Glazar
Zbrojnická 4
Prague 6 – Střešovice

Yad Washem [sic.]
Har Hazikaron POB 84

29th June 1968
Dear Friends,

Being one of the few Treblinka survivors and the sole living at present in Czechoslovakia I should like to contact you with the regard to my own memoirs as well as to the book written by a young French journalist François Steiner.

Last year a Czech monthly called “Mezinárodní politika” [International Politics] published successively as serial in all the twelve numbers of 1967 my Treblinka story which I wrote and prepared for this purpose in an abbreviated form. As specimen I enclose the cutting from number 6/1967 containing the chapter called “Hangmen and Grave-diggers”. This year I am writing the full version for a book of 300 pages approx. which according to preliminary contract should be published by a Czech Publishing House sponsored by Union of Antifascist Fighters here. I hope to have the manuscript finished by the end of September. One of our outstanding writers, Arnošt Lustig, whose novels and stories have been translated into your language, read what I have already written and recommended me to finish and publish the Treblinka story as soon as possible. A synopsis of the book has also been sent to Victor Gollanz Publishing House in London and they have shown interest in it.

Several months ago a French version of Mr. Steiner’s book on Treblinka got into my hands. Reading it was a horrible shock to me as it must have been to all eyewitnesses of Treblinka. I decided to write my criticism on Steiner and his book, especially when I heard that it became a bestseller in France. I enclose a copy of my “discussion with Mr. Steiner” translated into English and leave to your opinion and decision what publicity you will give it.

Of course, I should be happy if both my criticism of Steiner and my own story would be published in Israel. Everything I am writing now on Treblinka is based on notes of more than 300 pages which I made as early as in 1944 and 1945 and which I had not had the time and possibility to publish earlier.

Last year in May on the request of the BBC Television London I joined their special filming crew in Warsaw, went with them to Treblinka and made with them on the spot a 15 minute TV film. The film then has run in two evenings for about 17 millions of British viewers in the so called “24 hour’s programme.”

During the last seven years I went three times to the court in Düsseldorf, Federal Germany, to witness against the former SS from Treblinka. Last November I gave evidence in a preliminary investigation against F. P. Stangl, the former commander in chief of the Treblinka camp. Stangl, as you may know, has been caught as late as this March in Brazil, Saõ Paolo. The trial, as I was informed, is expected to be held in Düsseldorf probably at the end of this year.

May I add at the close of my letter that my mother, Mrs. Olga Bergman, visited your Institute during her stay in Israel in 1964 and that you subsequently wrote both to her and to me asking for my recollections on Treblinka.

The two papers I am sending you today under the same cover are the first of what I feel you should have from me and I shall not fail to let you have my book as soon as it appears. But this will not be earlier than 1969. Would you be in the meantime interested in the abbreviated form, i.e. in the twelve “To be continued Chapters” published in the above mentioned monthly? I wonder also what are the possibilities in your country of translating Czech texts.

Yours sincerely
Richard Glazar


A quarter of a century is slowly piling up on Treblinka. Of the authentic statements made by the few unfortunates who were able to and did give testimony immediately after the liberation, none received such publicity that “the world got to know about it”. On the other hand, twenty-eight year-old French journalist, Jean Francois Steiner, succeeded. He described his almost four-hundred page book, which was published in 1966 - of course, entitled “Treblinka” - as a “stage-produced or staged narration”. It became a bestseller at once. But it also aroused indignation. The first time I read it, I did so, in a single day and night, and a very bad night it was for me –

The problems of cowardice, human weakness, powerlessness and, in the last resort, of heroism, with which you deal today in writing in this book, at that time - to real eyes and real bodies looked quite different; also, of course, because your description of Treblinka differs so startlingly from the real facts, events and story –

JEAN FRANÇOIS . . . . . . . . .

I use your Christian name because between us there is a bond - Treblinka; between you, as a writer who, after the passage of several years, tried to penetrate into it, and I, as a witness who was actually there. In reality, of course, we do not know one another, we have never met, never spoken to each another. You know nothing about me - no, that’s not quite true, you do know something: according to the epilogue of your book “one of those forty lives in Czechoslovakia’. I know a bit more about you from print. You were born in 1938 near Paris. Your Jewish father perished in a concentration camp when you were years old. After that, your Christian mother married again, this time a Jewish doctor. When you were seventeen you spent a year and a half in Israel, which was probably a very important moment in shaping the attitude you adopted later. Following your return to France you went to University and then came military service - in 1959 with a parachute regiment in Algeria. That meant that you had to toughen up your body nicely and your mind. You learnt to jump into the blue at a word of command and to shoot out a fine cadenza, like a virtuoso piano player, from a great rattling gun. No, none of us was capable of that sort of thing at your age. Moreover, you even wrote an essay on it yourself entitled “Fabrication d’un parachutiste” – “The making of a Parachutist”. By then you had already started on your career as a Journalist and as such you posed what is to you and to many other, particularly young, minds, a pressing, imponderable question: “How is it that six million Jews allowed themselves to be killed without resisting?” Indeed, in an interview you are said to have proclaimed openly; “I feel very ashamed when I realize that I am a son of a nation of which six million allowed themselves to be led to the, slaughter like a flock of sheep”. You chose the story of Treblinka and its uprising, which fascinated you - as well as it might - so as to try and produce an answer, to understand, to demonstrate that after all it was not always and everywhere quite like that, like sheep and all, that it didn’t have to be . . .

And then, how did you set about it? You interviewed about fifteen witnesses now living in Israel, read through some documentary material from Poland dating from 1945 and from Israel, as you mention yourself. Then you sat down and wrote your book.

One could argue you with over almost every page of your book. Here however, I can but select the most fundamental events and questions for confrontation with the reality. I’ll try:

Look here, according to you Max Biala or Bielas, who was the leading SS-man at an earlier stage in Treblinka’s history, and the man who was stabbed by one of the inmates, is supposed to have “nursed” a group of Jewish children, behaved gently with them, visited them to amuse them. I, myself, cannot conceivably imagine how any of the higher-ups would have dealt with this Untersturmführer - after all, this was still a non-commissioned officer rank - if he had ever come across such a thing. From the predilection which some of the SS-man had say, for fourteen-year-old Edek, or rather for his harmonica playing, when they took him to the SS-barracks, you have evolved Max Biala’s children’s playground. He was purported to be a pederast, according to your Franz-Lalka? When giving his report to the command-center in Lublin, on trying to get his former superiors and colleagues dismissed so that he could himself take complete command in Treblinka. And there we’ve come to that peach of a chap, Lalka. Very suggestively you describe his career up to the moment when he fulfills his ambition as untrammeled ruler of Treblinka and “ingenious technician in the art of killing”. It would no doubt make a strong impression on the reader that you write about a real person, calling him by his right name - who actually existed and still exists (behind bars and now sentenced to life imprisonment), if prior to that you had carried out a thorough investigation and got hold of the requisite documentary facts.

Well - Franz was indeed, in the latest period, deputy-commander of the camp, but the real commander was SS-Haupsturmführer Franz Paul Stangl, who was arrested in March 1967 in Brazil and handed over for legal proceedings to the GFR. Franz Lalka tried, no doubt he tried hard, but that he could have “ousted and taken the place” of this man, who, at the time of his arrest, was placed next on the ladder of war criminals behind Borman and Mengele?

My dear fellow, to Franz, whose original profession was that of cook somewhere in the Rhineland and who by nature was a self-satisfied never-do-well, you attribute far too great intellectual thinking and means of expression, when you put such high-fallutin speech into his mouth when speaking to those who, in contrast to you, really did get into the hands of the SS and were considered the worst kind of weed. After reading that passage in bitter mood and wry amusement, it occurred to me: How can this fellow conceivably imagine it all - that an SS-officer would actually have spoken to the Jews in Treblinka, and into the bargain, have given them his SS word of honour?

Let’s stick to the SS-men for the moment. According to you, that obsessive overseer Küttner-Kiwe, with eyes like the bayonets, of which the camp was full, and Miete, the so-called Angel of Death with the fish’s eyes, the pussyfoot - the one who swept them all up into one pile in the “Lazaret” or “hospital”, are one and the same person. Yet it was these very two, together with Franz and undoubtedly Matthes also, the commander of the Totenlagr (Death-camp: i.e. the section where the weak and feeble were taken straight away to be shot and burned, so as not to hold up the other proceedings), it was these who, maintained and kept alight the flames of Treblinka, imprinted their personality on it, together with Stangl who stood behind them and silently lashed out his orders with his riding whip in his yellow kidgloved hands.

You maintain that your legendary Franz-Lalka was the author of the idea of the maximum use of the capacity of Treblinka, that everything was arranged so that from seven in the morning transports would be shunted there uninterruptedly at half-hourly intervals until a quarter past one in the afternoon, so that the daily quota would be ticked off and twenty-four thousand people killed, and the rest of the working day, i.e. the afternoon be used for sorting out the deceased’s belongings in one part of the camp, and the removal and liquidation of the corpses in the other.

Jean François, even if our discussion is and will continue to be carried on bi-laterally in dimensions that far outstrip human imagination, it is not possible to ignore so naively the logic of reality in this way - however terrible it was. For us, the outcasts, Treblinka was truly the depths of Hell, into which we had irretrieveably fallen from the world and from life itself, but for the “technicians of death”, Treblinka was part of the world, of their world, and was bound to it in all sorts of ways. Treblinka had indeed an immense capacity. The greatest quantity we ever reckoned up was during the period of “Hochbetrieb” (when it was in top gear), in the autumn of 1942 - eighteen thousand people a day, when trainloads were being shunted to the ramp from morning to night. Yes, Treblinka was capable of this. But this dreadful shattering efficiency was limited by the shunting abilities of the railway lines of marring Germany of those years. The failure to make full use of Treblinka’s capacity lay, fortunately - if one dare even use this word at all in this connection - beyond the camp itself, beyond this scarcely one fifth of a square kilometre of land cut away from the body and history of the human universe. Otherwise, perhaps Treblinka might not have remained reserved merely for Jews, and these only from certain regions at that.

The reality was such that the transports arrived irregularly, that there were intervals of varying length. Taking the entire period of the existence of Treblinka, death worked here in gusts - in accordance with its primary elemental nature. Far the greatest harvest was in the summer and autumn of 1942 from the Warsaw ghetto, from Terezin and elsewhere, then in the January 1943 from the Soviet Union, in March from the Balkans, and then came those that remained from the Warsaw ghetto uprising; meanwhile there had been various long intervals, or transports arrived only at irregular times in “small quantities - one day two thousand, another three - or five then two weeks nothing, then a few hundred gypsies . . . Sometimes the trucks arrived in the morning, sometimes they drove us to a transport that was arriving during the noon break, sometimes before the evening roll-call. And the psychology of it all? I didn’t know much about that at the time. I only remember that when they brought in the terribly wretched little people from the eastern regions, from that periphery of the Jewish diaspora - which is how their more western brethren think of them - whips were often used against them immediately as they fell out of the crammed-full cattle-trucks. These were kind of ante-chambers of death into which they had been driven, possibly still only in their night-shirts, in bitter frost. Before a transport was admitted from Terezin, all in passenger coaches, these were left standing on a side-line in the forests outside the camp until everything inside had been completely tidied up and prepared for the “journey to the spa”. Twenty-four thousand stalwart Bulgarian, Greek and Yugoslav Jews, not suspecting a thing - or perhaps assuming they were being sent to some forced labour camp or ghetto - who had been sent off from the collecting camp at Solun almost simultaneously, one train after the other, were sorted out for liquidation in Treblinka in the course of roughly four days. I know that some of the groups of trucks stood on the tracks in the forest outside the camp overnight. In other words, the inmates could not conceivably have known or imagined-what fate they were going to, or something would have happened. No one knew and no one could humanly imagine the enormity of it all.
And what was the truth about the arrivals platform, masked to look like a small station with various signs, with a large clock, and with all the laid-out gardens and improvements throughout the camp? When I got out onto the platform from the train from Terezin on October 10, 1942, I got the impression of a large ranch, where possibly we might be going to have a work. At that time there were only two signs - “to the spa” and “to the trains to Wolkowisk” - and the brown wood-colouring of the huts, the green “fur” of the high fence made of barbed wire plaited with brushwood - nothing else. It was only when the transports stopped arriving daily at the end of the autumn 1942 and there was the period of gaps of alternative weeks and sometimes even several weeks, that they started putting up the various trimmings and improvements. From having too little of their only too ‘real’ work to do, the 33 men got going on this secondary labour, invented and made a show of activity, tending Treblinka for some sort of still unclear future. If, as you maintain, there had been an average of fifteen thousand people brought into Treblinka daily, the “technicians of death” - would not have had the time for all these sophisticated trimmings, and the total number of people liquidated in Treblinka during the fourteen months of its existence would have far exceeded all the postwar estimates, which vary from about seven hundred thousand to one million.

It was not till late in the spring, in the barren period about two months before it ceased to exist, that the large clock-face was hung up, the station was “improved” and Treblinka turned into a trap, lacquered over with a wild mixture of unnatural colours. And it was this “false face” which also combined to work as a catalyst in the decision to revolt.

Let’s turn now to the more, dead-than-alive slaves, to the grave-diggers and these bullied and forced to do the work in Treblinka, to the various important events and episodes in the overall story which came to a climax in the uprising. At this point I would like to emphasize one specific factor of Treblinka as opposed, say, to Auschwitz: - the incredibly small area of the place, namely from between 300 to 400 metres by 500 to 600 metres, also the fact that the number of “slaves” in the arrivals and undressing section of the camp in the earlier days of full pressure was about one thousand, and, at the end, shortly before the uprising, something over five hundred, and at the gas chambers, graves and firing ovens, about another two hundred. That meant that by then we all, in our respective sections of the camp, who had succeeded in surviving for over at least a certain period, mutually knew one another, we saw each other at work a great deal, and whenever anything happened during the day anywhere, at latest by the evening in the huts we were all talking about it.

I was not yet in Treblinka when Galewski, the tall aristocratic technician from Warsaw, was given the job of Lagerältester - senior Kapo. I merely sensed that for such a job the SS men had to have someone whom even they themselves, for choice, would not have liked to run up against. For Galewski was neither a great hulking brawler nor a Jewish mystic. He probably did not even speak Yiddish properly, even though he understood it. He had apparently been a member of the Jewish socialist Bund. But the most important thing about him were the characteristics which in present-day sociological terms would mark him out as a natural leading personality. Altogether, today, I am amazed how often the SS at that time, when choosing their Kapos and leading workers, would give preference to such personalities and be influenced by such characteristics. Yes, if they wanted things to run well, they had to slow down the pace of the massacre and repeated re-selection of slaves from the fresh transports, they had to retreat from their own initial absolute arbitrariness, and accept the limits set by the slaves’ exhaustion and possible even mild misdemeanours, in other words they had to stabilize the slave-labour forces and give them leaders from among their own race with some sort of authority. And it was just in this very action on the part of the “technicians of death” that lay one of the roots of their own destruction, not some sort of mystic acquisition of courage on the part of the slaves - as might be deduced, Jean Francois, from you.

Who was this Adolf Friedman of yours, with his blue-green eyes and tough face, with a past in the Foreign Legion, who was apparently one of the main military organizers and agents of the uprising in Treblinka? By the fact that, together with our Zhelo Bloch, he was a Vorarbeiter or foreman of one of the Kommandos and then, as a punishment, was “sent behind the wall to the Totenlager”, I assume that it was probably Adash. I can see him clearly, lying there opposite on the bunk and up there in the hut with the “ready mades”, the clothes left behind” by victims, where I worked to begin with. Surprisingly enough, still fairly plump, with a shiny bald head. He was quite a chap, but completely non-military, a suave politician and a fatherly Vorarbeiter.

Zhelo Bloch, another outstanding person in Treblinka and in the preparations for the uprising, did not arrive as late as April 1943 when the typhus epidemic was subsiding. He came in October 1942, shortly after our arrival. He came from Slovakia, from Prešov. Indeed, he was one of those that all the others looked up to. I slept in one bunk with him, I was in his gang, where we divided every single crumb, I worked with him, in fact under him. Together with Galewski and the others he helped to plan assault action as early as January 1943. First of all this was delayed by spotted typhus and then, shortly before the action was actually to take place, Küttner-Kiwe sent Zhelo and Adash as a punishment to be ordinary workers in the neighbouring Totenlager. I know exactly how it was, as I was there when it happened. Among the clothes left behind by those destroyed, for which these two, as Vorarbeiter, were responsible, a certain quantity of men’s coats were missing. There were many pointers indicating that these had been taken by the SS as an excuse, for they suspected something or possibly even knew something. But you, my friend, have made up your own legend about this event, namely that the two went over to the Totenlager on purpose, that they framed the thing so that Kiwe would send them there as a punishment. In your opinion, then, they decided to enter very Hell itself, where the naked bodies were burned, so as to carry the idea and preparations for the uprising there as well. In reality the uprising was threatened and postponed by this shifting of these two as a punishment.

I must call attention to still another statement of yours concerning Zhelo. Apparently he could not have been recognized among the real Jews as the main figure in the preparations for the uprising, because he was an “assimilated” Jew, one of those who was only waiting for the decease of the last “anti-Semite” in order to cease to be a Jew altogether. Don’t you get this idea more from J.P. Sartre than from Treblinka? And there’s another place in your book which sounds as though this same thinker is literally speaking the words himself. Doctor Choronzycki, another tragic figure in the uprising, presents a report to the revolutionary committee about how he has negotiated with a certain member of the Ukrainian group of the auxiliary SS in Treblinka, wanting to bribe him, to buy weapons from him - and you describe him as a person “to whom we Jews were part of the Manicheistic balance of the world”. But, above all, I read as absolute nonsense to an inmate of Treblinka that Choronzycki decided to confide in him at all and told him that an uprising was being planned.

When they found a lot of money hidden by Choronzycki and he breathed his last, they then began to interrogate the so-called “gold-Juden”, those put in charge of sorting out the jewellery and valuables left by the victims, because they suspected that the money reached him secretly from them. Your entire fabrication, Jean Francois, about the sacrificing of the “gold-Juden” how Kiwe had them thrown one by one alive into the fire, and old Alexandr, their Kapo, just looked on - and of the sinking to the darkest depths of cowardice in the interests of the uprising and of life, is again completely phoney. I remember it exactly: Lalka took up his place above the “Lazaret” pit, and during the course of the interrogation walked from one prisoner to the other holding his revolver to the napes of their necks. They stood there beside one another, naked, “faithful” Jews from Warsaw, assimilated Jews – Willie Furst and Salo Sauer – from Morovia Ostrava, and betrayed nothing. Finally, Lalka let them go, as they were specially trained slaves, transport were not arriving and where would he find such people at a moment’s notice and work them into a job. That was what one of the victorious actions taken by outcasts in Treblinka really looked like.

Your Vorarbeiter Kleinman, with his camouflage Kommando Tarnung, who was entrusted with special tasks in the event of an uprising, was not a twenty-year-old youngster who had gone through the tough school of a Zionist youth. On the contrary, even here Treblinka revealed its nonsencial antitheses it was a staid father of a bourgeois family, a polite conscientious official, who became our Vorarbeiter, who was put in charge of us, a group of adventurous cheaters, rough and toughened ‘smugglers’, so-called because we at least got outside the camp and incidentally had the chance of smuggling things in. I speak of ‘us’, because at this time I was with Karl Unger in the Tarnung Kommando, we were by then making regular trips from the camp into the forest to cut branches for camouflaging the fences. I can see Heinrich Kleinman puffing along, bespectacled, beside us, when it began that Monday. That’s how one of the real people in Treblinka appeared at that moment, not as in your novel. And he would laughed today at the naïve way you, in your book, let him and his gang, working outside the camp, know that the uprising had been called off: -namely, that the ‘court Jew’ Monek gives the Ukrainian auxiliary SS a false order, the latter believes him and himself leads the Jew out of the camp together with the message to us at the Tarnung Kommando post! That all of a sudden Treblinka should be so feebly isolated from life and from the world? This was unthinkable. None of us outcasts, and not even any of the Ukrainian guards on duty could have gone trough the gates of the Camp without being constantly watched by the real SS.

That so-called ‘court Jews’ lived with their wives and children in rooms separated off from the others? I only know of two exceptions to the general rule of families being separated, two curiosities in Treblinka – old Blau from Vienna with his wife, who knew as little about the uprising as those to whom he told tales, and Salzberg and his son – on the other hand, they knew . . . . but I just don’t understand the concept of a room to live in, however, in association with Treblinka at all.

I also know of no case where a small boy got down from one of the cattle-trucks, recognized his father among the slaves in Treblinka and, on expressing his delight at seeing him again, the father “cowardishly” remarks: “ . . . . but first you must go and have a bath . . . .” and hurries away from the boy carrying his pack on his back.

And, as you bring your story of Treblinka to a climax on the basis of real monstrous happenings, so you compose and play around with monstrosities of your own making and support them with “plausible episodes”. In place of the show organized by Lalka on the roll-call yard one Sunday afternoon some weeks before the uprising, according to you diversions and pastimes were arranged every day of the week after work. The SS men come and have fun with the Jews each evening, and the following day kill them, the Ukrainians take the girls in bright-coloured skirts behind the fence. You dress the outcasts in tails and evening dresses taken from the clothes that remained after the transports had been disposed of, there’s feasting and drinking – all that’s missing are the orgies – and you have even those: apparently the sight of vast quantities of naked dead bodies and destruction all round provoked the senses, women walked naked down to the waist, and in the laundry where they worked, they were completely naked, all that was missing from the huts they slept in was a red lantern . . . . Jean François, I can answer for myself and for Karl Unger, for two bodies with but a single soul: during the whole period in Treblinka and for a long time afterwards, we, at the age of twenty-two - twenty-three, did not know that we were men!
I have left the most heinous falsehood and invention, one that in itself alone must make all the clenched fists of the inmates of Treblinka rise up against you, to the last. According to you, Kapo Kurland literally murdered people himself at the “Lazaret”; he would thrust a deadly injection into people incapable of walking fast enough to the “baths”, just as they arrived direct from the arrival platform. He would pretend that these were fortifying injections, while doing so he would smile and say: “That’s nothing, better already, eh?” At this point I would like to tell you what two other inmates of Treblinka wrote to me from Canada about your book: - Samek Reizman from Montreal: “This terrible book prevented me from sleeping for many a long night” and Karel Unger from Vancouver: “that man must be repudiated . . . . .” And as for myself, I can only add that I know of no case where one of the outcasts . . . . a slave worker in Treblinka, caused the death of one of his brethren. And as for Kapo Kurland, with the springy wire spectacles and the sunken cheeks darkly tanned from the burning of the naked bodies? Among the prisoners he enjoyed the respect of a philosopher dealing with lives that had already been given the finishing touch, lives which were struck down and thrown to him in the Lazaret pit by none but the SS men, who in this matter shared none of this privilege of theirs with any one, not even with the Ukrainian guards. Kurland was also a personality from whom we others used to await the expression of what we vaguely sensed deep down ourselves. It was to him as a senior member of the revolutionary committee, that the prisoners swore an oath on the eave of the uprising. In what sense he the great figure of the uprising? He was one of the main instigators of the profound changes which had to take place in the consciousness of these people, to whom the Lord alone was their shield, their sword, and if He was not watching over the City, then the guard would be on guard in vain; changes, to us twenty souls from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, in former life from such differing fraternities, which long remained a mystery in Treblinka.

The uprising itself has left a less heroic picture in my mind than depicted in your book, - possibly to the disillusionment of your readers and yourself. Naturally, in the first moments, it was as joyful as you make it out, something which nothing and nobody could hold back; grenades and bottles of petrol were exploding, guns taken from Ukrainian guards were being fired, and then the petrol tank blew up. After that there was utter confusion – you should have seen us the way we all got tangled up, how we knew not where and in which direction to go, and they were firing to us. Then Lublink, the orderly ran up and drove one group in front of him to escape, he had only some sort of cane in his hand and he swished it about in front of him as though he were driving a flock of geese. No one got as far as the guard towers standing right out in the outer field; it was senseless anyway. Look here, so few people survived, no one – possibly not even the SS – can really say what actually happened in those moments in the various parts of the camp . . . . It would be easy for me to leave it at that, pass on, hold my peace, and we from Tarnung would emerge from your book as special heroes, who shot their way right through to the woods; yet of those, only four of us are alive today – perhaps one in Belgium, one in Poland, one in the U.S.A. and one in Czechoslovakia. And in reality? Of the twenty-five strong Tarnung Kommando, perhaps six, possibly eight of us got to the end of the outer field and across the barbed wire fence with its anti-tank barricades.

The only real heroes, I guess, were those (almost all of them had lost their wives and children in Treblinka) who remained and, clearly purposely, enabled the others to escape, “so that at least someone might possibly live to bear witness”. Apart from Galewski, the camp elder, Kapo Kurland, Sidowicz and Simche from the carpentering shop, naturally those I remember best were members of the Czech group in the camp: - Zhelo Bloch, Rudla Masárek from Prague, who did tailoring in the workshop and at the same time looked after the dovecote so that the grenades could be hidden there, Standa Lichtbau from Moravia and Sstrava, who was an expert was put in charge of the garage and was responsible for the petrol and the petrol tank. The outstanding person in your uprising, Rudek, from the garage, my friend, was presumably a compound of these two figures . . . . . . . if you so desire to understand -

why didn’t you seek out all or at least the majority of those who survived Treblinka? There are only forty of them in the whole world. You could easily have found many of them at the Court in Düsseldorf. The trial of the former members of the SS-Sonderkommando of Treblinka, was held there from 1964 on. Apart from the witnesses who survived, the accused also naturally gave testimony. The preliminary investigations began sometime as early as 1961. The entire world’s press carried reports of the case; Paris Match also published an extensive article. Your book was published in the Spring of 1966. That means that you were preparing it for printing in its final form in 1965. Jean François, how is it possible that you, a professional journalist, could miss such important information about the theme of your labours and your own personal problem?

I think I have an explanation as to how it happened. At very first acquaintance and with the first stories you gathered, you discovered a sensational pattern and thesis: - They sank to the lowest depths of cowardice, became collaborators with the “technicians of death”, fellow-criminals; each of them, so as to survive one day in Treblinka, paid, figuratively speaking, the daily sum of the lives of fifteen others, of fifteen of his brothers and sisters - all this in the interests of a so-called Jewish philosophy of life and the courage to survive at any price. Finally they rose in the famous uprising, which proved to be a kind of sacred rectification of their initial lamentable actions, and this entire philosophy; some, mainly the leading figures in the uprising, had relinquished their sense of humanity to such a degree, that they could only acquire it again by giving their own lives and sacrificing themselves - they knew that for them there was no road away from Treblinka. This immense literary concoction took hold of you, you no longer wished to hear any more about the reality of Treblinka, you no longer took in any more details. You reconciled all the time factors and, in fact, rearranged invented, added things and “produced” the story, so that it would fit into your own preconceived pattern, which was probably instilled into you not only by Treblinka, but by the climate in which you yourself lived and grew up. I infer this from the mixture of mysticism, nationalism, and the fashionable dry cynicism which you employ in the book in order to pay “your daily pension”. You no doubt have a right to your elaboration, to your own “produced narration”, but in that case it should not have been called the story of Treblinka, but a tale “about an extermination camp”. You should not have written such sensation-mongering, cruel concoctions about real people, using their real names, which really existed not so long ago and are remembered, so that their nearest and dearest would have the right to bring you to bear witness before the public - if any of them had lived or had had sufficient money to do so. With the exception of the three informers who were isolated from the uprising, none of the prisoners of Treblinka sank so low that - as they sing in your hymn – “they completely adapted themselves to Treblinka and could never return from there”.

My friend, you made an attempt to “write yourself out” of your own shame, to find yourself an answer as to how it could possibly have happened. If you did in fact rid yourself in this way of one shame, you certainly burdened yourself with another, of which - in the eyes of those that survived Treblinka - you will never be free. They would know of another experiment for you, a test - which needless to say should never be allowed to happen again - “never again” - nikdy vice - nigdy wiecej - jamais plus” as is inscribed on the ashlar of the mighty monument at Treblinka. You would be standing there with the others, naked, suddenly in the confusion they would tell you to dress again quickly, quickly . . . . Then they would lead you over to us, the “slaves”. “Look sharp now, here’s your foreman, you’ll work here!” You’d look round perplexed dazed. While running past you with our packs on our backs - we’re not allowed to stop for a moment - we would take a peep at you curiously, cast understanding glances at one another. Meanwhile we’ve been telling you three or four times, shouted it at you feverishly - that the others are dead already - and you don’t, you just can’t believe it - you look just the way we did then, like everyone else . . . . you’re just like us, no different - and we’re no different from you - all people are like that. And that’s how you become one of the more dead-than-alive slaves of Treblinka.
Cowardice, shame, bravery? These concepts had different content in Treblinka and “out there in real life”. The older ones of us often spoke about this - that it was this very difference that the world never comprehend. Yes, I also sometimes have the unpleasant feeling that I let those dear to me go to the slaughter ‘just like that’. But that is how I feel today, when I can choose coffee or tea for breakfast, jam or marmalade, rolls or bread. But during those twenty-five years since Treblinka I have also experienced much sorrowful, disturbing ‘satisfaction’ when I have been witness to cowardly behavior under conditions which are completely dwarfed by the dimensions of Treblinka. And as for you, today, Jean, I know of another type of terrible human cowardice and weakness, namely when a person is unable to admit that his ideas fail to stand up to reality.

One day, when more thorough, truthful people than you will immerse themselves in the story of Treblinka, they will not let themselves be carried away by a tale in which the suffering of the time prior to, during and after Treblinka is somehow discounted, when they will separate out the legend from the truth and suppress the eruptions welling up from individual fantasy, it will probably turn out that you – I’m sure unconsciously – have contributed more to the forces of evil that of good. You know what I refer to; - “There you are, how exaggerated it all is, it was really nothing like that . . . . ” Meanwhile, by a strange reversal of values, it is right to attribute one good thing to you, namely that you at least drew the attention of part of the world – a world in a hurry, and wearied by all the great goings-on – to an almost forgotten Treblinka.

1 comment:

yehoshua said...

can anyone tell me how to find a list of the jews who were involved in the uprising at treblinka? my family was there and i'm trying to see if any of them were involved.

the family name is szpigelman, from mordy, poland.