Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Revisionist Fabrication of the Myth of an Original Treblinka "Steam Narrative" (Part B)

The Case of Friedrich Jansson and His Ball of Confusion 

In Part A of this comment on Jansson's "Treblinka steam narrative," we saw that, by straightening out chronology and multiple testimonies given by Jacob Rabinowicz, Rabinowicz's important early testimonies on Treblinka were not conclusive on how the young escapee believed Jews were being murdered at Treblinka. Examining the more extensive early testimonies of another escapee, Abraham Krzepicki, in Part B, we will see another case in which Jansson has read into inconclusive reports his "steam narrative."

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Abraham Krzepicki was another young man deported from Warsaw ghetto in summer 1942. Kzrepicki belonged to Ha-Hoar- Ha-Tsiyoni, a Zionist youth group, before his deportation. He escaped from Treblinka in September 1942, returned to Warsaw ghetto, and gave testimonies to activists of Oyneg Shabes (the longer of his testimonies was translated into English and published in Alexander Donat's book, The Death Camp Treblinka: A Documentary). Krzepicki was to join ZOB, the Jewish Fighting Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) formed in the ghetto to resist the Germans with arms. Krzepicki died in the ghetto uprising in 1943.

Jansson tries claiming that two Treblinka testimonies – those of Jacob Rabinowicz and Abraham Krzepicki – were instrumental in creating a “steam” narrative about the killings and that it was this “steam” narrative that prevailed during the war. However, in part 1 of this comment we saw that Jansson overlooked a testimony about the murders at Treblinka given by Jacob Rabinowicz, on 2 September in Warsaw, that challenges his claims about the origins of a “steam” narrative and a supposed rallying behind it. Let’s turn our attention to Jansson’s second key witness, Krzepicki.

1. When was Krzepicki's report on Treblinka written?
“The report to which Terry refers was not written in October, but in the end of December or later, and thus after the steam chamber report.” (Jansson)
True. But Abraham Krzepicki was back in Warsaw ghetto in mid-September[40]; it would stretch likelihood to the breaking point to imagine that he delayed all discussion with Oyneg Shabes activists about his time in the camp until the end of the year. After all, Krzepicki himself was a member of the Zionist youth movement in the ghetto (Ha-Hoar Ha-Tsiyoni) and well informed about war-time events, politics, and Nazi practices with regard to the Jew[41]; Krzepicki’s long testimony has him expressing a fear of being gassed, albeit by a gas shell, already when the train taking him to Treblinka made a stop.[42]  And ghetto activists were anxious to learn from people with first-hand knowledge of the deportations what the Germans were doing with the Jews whom they removed from Warsaw ghetto.

What is more, according to Rachel Auerbach, she and Krzepicki “both worked at a factory where “synthetic honey” was pro­duced, and we both lived in the same apartment building.”[43] Thus, it is likely that what Krzepicki experienced was known prior to Auerbach’s formally taking his statement and putting it into written form. In fact, as will be seen below, elements of what Krzepicki had to say appear in the report compiled by Oyneg Shabes leaders Hersh Wasser, Eliyahu Gutkowski, and Emanuel Ringelblum during October-November 1942, the report which Jansson refers to as “the steam chamber report,” despite its much broader contents. (I’ll refer to this report, completed in mid-November 1942 in Warsaw ghetto, as the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report in deference to its far-reaching scope – population statistics, the Great Deportation, German tactics and methods as well as to its authors).[44]

As to the formal interview and recording of Krzepicki’s testimony, Kassow says that in late October Ringelblum and Oyneg Shabes collaborator Shmuel Winter “assigned Rachel Auerbach . . . They provided her with paper and carbide lamps for light. Winter was able to grant Auerbach an indefinite sick leave from her nominal job so that she could finish the project as quickly as possible.”[45] Kassow says that the interview process began in “the fall of 1942” when Winter brought Auerbach into the “Palm” artificial honey workshop for the purpose of interviewing Krzepicki and other escapees from Treblinka.[46] The interview and writing process took some time, according to Auerbach.[47] Still, the likelihood of some of what Krzepicki witnessed reaching Oyneg Shabes leaders during fall 1942 cannot be dismissed simply on the basis of the date Auerbach gives for her taking of the written testimony.

2. Gas and steam in Krzepicki
“While the English translation [of Krzepicki’s long-form testimony] does discuss ‘gas chambers’, it also contains some information on how those gas chambers worked, for it relates that Krzepicki says that the killing took place with “hot steam.” ( Jansson)
Here Jansson combines a bit of overreaching with a dash of witness-leading. To this effect he adds, “This is an accurate translation of the Yiddish original.[48] Thus the gas chambers which Krzepicki mentioned were in fact steam chambers.”

Of course, the English version of Krzepicki’s testimony never uses the phrase italicized by Jansson – "steam chambers." Nor does Krzepicki make an unequivocal, or even a clear, statement that the murder installation at Treblinka “worked” by means of steam or that “the killing took place with ‘hot steam.’” Amidst numerous mentions of gas chambers (see below), Krzepicki made two allusions to steam – one mentioning steam among the means of death in the camp along with fire, heat, and brimstone, the second speculating on the alternatives of his being shot to death or asphyxiated by hot steam. While it is true, as Jansson says, that steam is a gas, in general parlance, steam is used for the vapor formed by heated water, not to refer to a poisonous agent, whilst to describe a poisonous gaseous agent, one uses the word gas. It is no wonder that Jansson felt the need to “improve” Krzepicki’s reference by planting the idea that Krzepicki had “mentioned” – italicized no less – “steam chambers.” On the other hand, based on the approach Jansson takes here, one half expects him to begin a discussion of “brimstone chambers”!

Let’s look at what the Donat translation actually says about the gas chambers and “how those gas chambers worked”[49]:
“The women all went into the barrack on the left and, as we later learned, they were told at once to strip naked and were driven out of the barrack through another door.  From there, they entered a narrow path lined on either side with barbed wire.  This path led through a small grove to the building that housed the gas chamber.  Only a few minutes later we could hear their terrible screams, but we could not see anything, because the trees of the grove blocked our view.” (p. 83)

“There were various kinds of ditches in that place.  At a distance, running parallel with the outermost camp fence, there were three giant mass graves, in which the dead were arranged in layers.  Closer to the barracks, a somewhat smaller ditch had been dug. . . .  A group of workers walked around the area, dusting the corpses with chlorine powder, which they dipped from big barrels with their buckets. [. . .]

"I should point out here that none of the gassing victims were buried in this area; only those who had died in the transports or who had been shot on arrival at the camp, before entering the ‘showers.’” (p. 86)

“When we were through with the bodies in the well, we were taken to clear away the things in the left-hand barracks, where the people undressed before enter­ing the gas chamber.” (p. 91)

“A rare mira­cle occurred.  To this day, I don’t know why.  Some said that there had been a breakdown in the gas chamber.  By morning, no one had come for us, and then we had roll call just as usual.” (p. 97)

“After I had been working a few days at sorting personal effects – no new transports had yet arrived – I was assigned along with 14 other men to clean up the road to the gas chamber, or, as they called it, the ‘bathhouse.’” (p. 101)

“The next morning, 15 men, including myself, were taken out of our group and escorted once again to the gas chamber area.  This time we were given a different job; we were ordered to help put up the walls of a new building.  Some said that this would be a crematorium for the bodies of those who had been asphyxiated in the gas chamber because burying them took up too much space. I came to a new area with a separate barrack for the workers– a kingdom unto itself.  In this way, I got an opportunity to acquaint myself with the most secret and impor­tant part of the camp – the part where the mechanical murder factory itself was located. . . .” (p. 102)

“. . . I had not yet become acquainted with the most terrible of all the parts of the camp-the gas chambers.” (p. 103)

“Most of the buildings in the camp were made of wood.  The gas chamber and the new building – which was in the process of being built at the time and to which we were assigned as construction helpers – were made of brick.” (p. 104)

“But the longish, not too large brick building standing in the middle of the ‘Death Camp’ had a strange fascination for me: this was the gas chamber.

“I think I have already noted that this building was surrounded by a wooded area. Now I noticed that, spread over the flat roof of the building, there was a green wire net whose edges extended slightly beyond the building’s walls. This may have been for protection against air attacks.  Beneath the net, on top of the roof, I could see a tangle of pipes.

 “The walls of the building were covered with concrete. The gas chamber had not been operating for a week.  ” (p. 105)

“’Verdammtes Volk!’ squeaked the commandant and sent his club down on the heads nearest him.  Damned people, indeed, pushed down in the caverns of hell, and this was one of the devils, a minion of hell with red cheeks and a black mustache.  This SS man had no horns, he merely used fire and brimstone, heat and steam . . .” (p. 119)

“Terror shackled our hands and legs.  We stood like statues and, though we had nothing left to lose, meekly obeyed, still trembling before the anger of the hangman, as if a man had more than one life to lose and the hangman could do more than take away that one life.  Would it really have made such a big difference whether we would die from a bullet in the back of the head or whether we would be asphyxiated in hot steam a few minutes later? (p. 130)

“I decided to part from my Hasid (he had fled naked through the barbed wire on the path to the gas chamber; there were wounds all over his skin and he didn’t have a penny to his name).” (p. 141)
What we see with Krzepicki’s longer testimony is a bias toward gas chambers as the murder method but, in tandem with his short-form testimony, a degree of uncertainty and thus in fact an absence the specific “information on how those gas chambers worked” claimed by Jansson.  The bias toward “gas chambers” is clear in that Krzepicki, among his many references to “gas” in the camp, said of corpses in the upper camp that they were “gassing victims.” But he also made reference to hot steam. The uncertainty on Krzepicki’s part is not mysterious: Krzepicki is a rare escapee who was able to view the gas chambers but, problematically for what he was able to observe, when Krzepicki saw the chambers the original chambers were out of operation and the new ones under construction. Far from supporting a “steam narrative,” so dear to deniers, Krzepicki’s testimony fits in with the uncertainty that the recipients of testimonies during July-October 1942 must have felt about how killings were carried out in Treblinka and with the word-of-mouth circulation of flawed explanations (section C below).

3. So-called short Krzepicki
“Terry might attempt to take refuge in the existence of another document (‘short Krzepicki’) attributed to Krzepicki, which denies knowledge of the Treblinka killing method, aside from the hint provided by the smell of chlorine.” (Jansson)
Krzepicki did not “deny knowledge” he possessed, as Jansson implies. In fact, what Krzepicki is recorded to have said is that he himself did not participate in the removal of corpses from the chambers in which people were killed – and that, concerning those who worked in the extermination camp, “None of the workers knew exactly how death was caused.”[50] Describing this statement as denying knowledge is more than a bit odd. Krzepicki apparently didn’t know “how death was caused” and so he testified, with clarity, that he didn’t know; even workers closer to the killing, he said, didn’t know “exactly” how the Germans were killing their victims. The parlous state of knowledge, lacking in specifics, during these months was recalled in the testimony of an anonymous woman from Warsaw ghetto, who wrote that, “By early September we knew that some of the transports went to Treblinka. But we didn’t know what happened there.”[51] There is even a record of one escapee hearing from local peasants about gassings in the camp – something he’d not known while in Treblinka working loading victims’ clothes into railway cars in the lower camp.[52] For Krzepicki, by the time of his escape in the middle of September, what was certain was that Jews were being murdered somehow in the bath-house, 100s of people at a time, and that the corpses of the victims “were carried to nearby pits where they were burned.”[53] Early reporters didn’t know the specifics: some declared as much, others made guesses – and guesses, despite Jansson’s unfounded charge, are not propaganda. Krzepicki’s account, as will be summarized below, dovetails on the visible part of the process arriving Jews underwent at Treblinka – up to their entry into the bath-house and after the removal of corpses from the murder installations.

With his obsessive focus on “steam,” Jansson overlooks the significance of Krzepicki’s testimony and the confirming testimonies of other escapees: these testimonies pointed, early in Treblinka’s history, to the extermination of those deported. While details of the extermination in the early reports didn’t always align, the early reports remain valuable for those who want to understand how knowledge about Treblinka developed and spread – rather than to use the reports to advance an agenda.

4. Who wrote the short Krzepicki report?
“First, regarding the authorship, the short Krzepicki document was not composed by a single author and was therefore not written by Krzepicki himself. It is therefore no more directly connected with Krzepicki than is the long Krzepicki statement, and its origin is more obscure.” (Jansson)
The claim that the short Krzepicki testimony[54] had multiple authors is a groundless restatement, of what Shapiro and Epsztein state about the document.[55] In an effort to make Krzepicki fit his narrative, Jansson invents uncertainty about Krzepicki’s being the source of the short-form testimony, and he dishonestly attributes that uncertainty to Shapiro and Epsztein in their study of the Ringelblum Archive documents. To accomplish this, Jansson confuses authorship with recording – thereby obscuring the testimonial process and enabling him to slide into conspiratorial musing. Shapiro and Epsztein, in contrast to what Jansson claims about them, are clear in their study about the distinction between the source of a testimony and who wrote it down or recorded it.

Additionally, despite any disagreements about who took down Krzepicki’s short testimony,[56] it is important to note the fact that Shapiro and Epsztein, on the one hand, and Sakowska, on the other, do not disagree about the source of the testimony – Krzepicki. No basis exists, therefore, for Jansson to argue, citing Shapiro and Epsztein and Sakowksa, that the testimony cannot be “directly connected with Krzepicki.”

Here’s why: Jansson footnotes his statement that the short-form document “was not composed by a single” author as follows: “Robert Moses Shapiro and Tadeusz Epsztein (eds), The Warsaw Ghetto Oyneg Shabes–Ringelblum Archive: Catalog and Guide, p. 394.” On page 394 of Shapiro and Epsztein, however, we can read this about Krzepicki’s long-form report: “Initial part of the account (pp. 1-4) was recorded (or copied) by two persons, who alternated in work. From the middle of page 4 text was written by only one female copyist (one male copyist [?]).” For good reason Shapiro and Epsztein use the terms “recorded (or copied)” and “written,” terminology which makes a clear differentiation between the “recorders” of the testimony and its source and which depends on the source for the written report in this case being Krzepicki. Shapiro and Epsztein use the word author to describe Krzepicki, not, as Jansson seems to, for the recorders of his testimony. Thus, in the view of the work Jansson cites, there was in fact a single author of the short testimony. Despite what Jansson writes, Shapiro and Epsztein do not speak of multiple authors at all – but of multiple people taking down what Krzepicki related and a single author. Shapiro and Epsztein provide no alternative source to Krzepicki as the report’s author: “According to Ruta Sakowska, the account’s author was Jakob Krzepicki; see Archiwum Ringelbluma, p. 152 (summary).”

So it was not that authorship was multiple, as Jansson tries having it, but rather that the recording of the testimony, handwritten in ink in Polish, was done by more than one person. How multiple “recorders” lead to multiple possible sources for the testimony is something only Jansson can answer. And of course, Shapiro and Epsztein, following Sakowska, attribute the source of the testimony to Krzepicki. This comes from the very source Jansson cites! It needn’t be as difficult as Jansson tries making it to deal with rather straightforward text on the page of Shapiro and Epsztein.

5. Chronology issues with Krzepicki's reports
“Second, while Sakowska claims that the short Krzepicki account was written before the long one, dating both documents to December 1942, the Ringelblum Archive: Catalog and Guide confines itself to providing limits on the earliest dates the documents could have been written, without placing any bounds on the other end. This indicates that any attempt to place the two documents in chronological order is speculative at best.” (Jansson)
The dates for the short and long testimonies are indeed not given definitively by Shapiro and Epsztein, who on this issue do not fully support Sakowska’s dating. This fact cuts different ways and not only as Jansson would have readers conclude. The uncertainty of the dates and sequences can indeed support multiple interpretations – but internal evidence among the documents themselves, and information from other sources, can help us gain more clarity, as we shall see below in the discussion of point 6.

Also, Shapiro and Epsztein write of the short-form Krzepicki testimony that it was taken down "After 09.1942” – suggesting, counter to Jansson’s speculation, that it indeed was given earlier than the long-form testimony (for which Shapiro and Epsztein give a date of “After 26.12.1942”[57]; on the other hand, as we’ve seen, Auerbach placed the creation of the long-form document in early winter – however, she included both the recording and editing of the testimony. Jansson is correct that these dates are not known with precision. If, however, Shapiro and Epsztein’s suggestion are correct, it is plausible that Krzepicki’s longer testimony reflects the decision by Ringelblum and Winter to assign the trusted Oyneg Shabes collaborator Rachel Auerbach to debrief Krzepicki. It is further possible that Krzepicki’s first interview had left questions open and that Ringelblum and Winter opted for a second debriefing to probe more deeply and draw more details than a first attempt had achieved from the escapee – and to confirm the information provided by Krzepicki. Here, then, is a possible explanation, aligned to the time line suggested by Shapiro and Epsztein, for why Krzepicki was more expansive about a gassing installation in the camp in the later testimony than in an earlier on. Thinking about these two testimonies without “denier sunglasses,” Krzepicki’s references in his second testimony to mass murder in “gas works,” without giving details, is of a piece with his saying in the first interview that the exact manner of death was not known. In neither testimony did Krzepicki give direct, detailed information about the killing method, and in both we can detect uncertainty.

6. Mere speculation regarding the relationship of Krzepicki's testimonies
“Given that there was an intention to publish and publicize Auerbach’s version of Krzepicki’s account one could speculate that the short Krzepicki statement is an attempt to create a version to circulate outside the ghetto: the shorter length and composition in Polish would allow for a wider readership, while the uncertainty in killing method could be the result of the authors having come to the realization that given the inconsistency of the available stories, it was best not to be too specific on this count. While this is merely speculation, it shows that there are realistic alternatives to the interpretation that holds the short Krzepicki statement to be some kind of a draft for the long one.” (Jansson)
As we’ve seen, it is likely that the short-form testimony given by Krzepicki came before the long-form – and our discussion of the relationship between the two documents fits the suggested sequencing proposed by Shapiro and Epsztein. It is also probable that what Krzepicki reported during fall 1942 was used by the authors of the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report. On the other hand, even if we accept for the sake of argument Jansson’s timing argument, there is still every reason to reject Jansson’s further speculation that the short statement was for use outside the ghetto – Oyneg Shabes leaders’ doubts over the inconsistency of “available stories” about killing method supposedly having caused suppression of details about the killing method. As we have seen, in fact, the Oyneg Shabes created the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report –with its specific reference to the ““slow suffocating of live people with overheated steam entering through orifices in pipes”[58] in the death chamber – specifically for use outside the ghetto and for international distribution and action (the report optimistically called for “immediate dispatch to Treblinka of an International Central Commission for the purpose of examining and verifying the facts published in this report.”)[59] There was, of course, no decision by the creators and distributors of the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report to avoid stating particulars on the issue of “killing method.” Jansson’s speculation on this point is inane for the simple reason that the Oyneg Shabes never held back on disseminating their understanding of the killing process – they went with and, as is well known, publicized steam.[60] Rather, the question which Jansson should be asking, given the uncertainty about the method during late summer and fall 1942, is why the creators of the report decided to be specific on this detail and to promote steam as the killing method. Jansson’s view that the advocacy efforts of the ghetto activists were based on “propaganda” contrivance obscures this important question from him.

Introducing his speculation about the strategy of Warsaw ghetto activists on communication about what they were learning in summer-fall 1942, Jansson cites Kassow’s book on the Oyneg Shabes. Here Jansson has made an apparent decision to sidestep what we know, from the author, Samuel Kassow, of that very book, about the Oyneg Shabes’s fall 1942 “publicity” drive. According to Kassow, basing his discussion on Auerbach’s statements, the Oyneg Shabes indeed intended to make wide use of what their interviewers had learned from various accounts provided by escapees from Treblinka.[61] We didn’t need Jansson to remind us of this. However, it is important to note that while Jansson engages in his unfounded speculation about the short-form testimony, he adds a footnote citing Kassow’s discussion – of the longer testimony. Kassow even cites a statement made by Krzepicki in the long-form testimony being picked up in the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report: “The Oyneg Shabes used this exact phrase in its November report to the Polish Government-in-Exile.”[62] Presumably the phrase to which Kassow refers is “. . . the Jews were more afraid of the Germans than they were of death” in the long testimony which is paraphrased in the Wasser- Gutkowski-Ringelblum report as follows: “. . . the Jews, paradoxically, fear the Germans more than they fear death itself.”[63] In Kassow’s view, testimony given by Krzepicki was crucial in the creation of the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report.

Of course, this could work either way – the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report echoing Krzepicki, as Kassow has it, or Auerbach/Krzepicki picking up a phrase from the Oyneg Shabes report. There are reasons to reject the second alternative. First, the evidence we have about the interview of Krzepicki doesn’t suggest that alternative. Second, logically, an interrogation should not aim at reproducing an earlier formal report – unless a reason for this can be shown. But Jansson’s argument is that the kind of detail Krzepicki gave in his long interview was suppressed at the time. Indeed, the long document sat in the archive and was not recovered and published until after the war.[64] Finally, it would be worse than convoluted to argue that Auerbach reverse-engineered the Krzepicki testimonies for propaganda uses in some unspecified future. Far more reasonable is the interpretation that Krepicki’s recollections were shared during the months of September through December, and finally recorded formally at the end of this time period. In this manner, Krzepicki’s observations informed the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report although they were not finalized until well after its release. Before leaving this issue, it should be noted that, without comment on the contradiction, Jansson footnoted his speculation that “the short Krzepicki statement is an attempt to create a version to circulate outside the ghetto” with a citation to Kassow who argues the exact opposite – that the long version of Krzepicki’s testimony informed the detailed report circulated outside the ghetto under the title “The Annihilation of Jewish Warsaw: A Report.”

Indeed, Kassow describes the process that the Oyneg Shabes settled on in fall 1942 for alerting the world to what was being learned in Warsaw. Starting in late October, and working in the same OBW workshop (“Landau”) where Lewin and Treblinka escapee Jacob Rabinowicz worked, on Ringelblum’s instructions Wasser prepared a report on the deportations from Warsaw; at the same time Gutkowski used the eyewitness accounts from Treblinka to describe the nature of that camp. Ringelblum edited the two drafts which his two secretaries prepared, refined them, and assembled the parts and pieces, including statistics on the deportation and sketches of Treblinka, into a final report ready for release.[65] The final report, as we know, did not suppress but described a killing process in the camp supposedly utilizing steam.[66]

The futility of Jansson’s speculation about the Polish language of the testimonies correlating to a purported circulation and broad readership outside the ghetto should also be noted. There is simply no apparent relationship between the use of Polish in the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report and the broad, external distribution plans for the report. The finished document was sent, along with other documentation from the underground, to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, intended for dissemination by the Allied governments,[67] in expectation that it would be used in informing the world about events in German-occupied Poland and the fate of the Jews there. Clearly, Polish was the language of choice for such a purpose. But at the same time, in late 1942, as Kassow explains in a passage overlooked by Jansson, the Oyneg Shabes launched a Polish-language underground bulletin called Wiadomości; this bulletin “appeared between mid-November 1942 and mid-January 1943” and warned Polish Jews not to believe rumors that Trebinka’s extermination operations had been suspended. Auerbach explained the purpose of Wiadomości to be the encouragement of Jewish resistance.[68] Thus, Wiadomości, a Polish language bulletin, was prepared by Oyneg Shabes for a targeted not broad audience. There is simply no reason to connect plans for broad dissemination of information with Krzepicki’s short testimony having been recorded in Polish. The Oyneg Shabes published both broad and targeted appeals in Polish.

There is no disagreement that the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report was to have wide and sustained impact in shaping awareness and understanding of the events taking place in the General-Gouvernement. This report disseminated, along with a significant amount of rich and useful information on the deportations of Jews from Warsaw and what they experienced in Treblinka, an account of the method of killing at Treblinka stating erroneously that it was steam (it is important to note that even the editor of this report, Ringelblum, was uncertain about the killing technology, writing about Treblinka in his notebook, most likely during fall 1942, “The method of killing: gas, steam, electricity.”)[69] Given Ringelblum’s decisive role in the creation of the report and that he himself could not commit to an exclusive steam position in his notebook, it cannot be concluded honestly that steam was the sole Oyneg Shabes position.

Regardless of such doubts and uncertainties, versions of the report wound up most famously in The Black Book of Polish Jewry[70] as well as in a number of other publications; the report was eventually used as a basis for the Polish government submission to the International Military Tribunal – which described the killings at Treblinka as carried out by steam.[71] Jansson’s speculation involving the report flies in the face of logic and the evidence: contrary to what Jansson implies, the Oyneg Shabes didn’t opt to keep the information it was disseminating general and non-specific in order to make it usable with a broad audience outside the ghetto. Rather, as we’ve seen, the official Oyneg Shabes official report on the Great Deportation and Treblinka opted to communicate to a wide, international audience specifics about the method of killing Jews at Treblinka, explaining the method as by steam. Jansson well knows this, as he bases part IIb of his “memo” to this very issue – the specific content (“steam”) of the report; the premise of IIb contradicts, in fact, the thrust of Jansson’s argument here.

The official report, the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report, was a synthesis of information reaching ghetto activists in the period of the Great Deportation and just following. To create the report, Wasser, Gutkowski, and Ringelblum collected and assessed what the Oyneg Shabes leaders were learning, as best they could under the uncertain and limiting conditions; they made an effort to detail as much as they could for the world. Oyneg Shabes leaders themselves were working in the shops; found access cut off from one another due to street blockades, raids, and reductions of the ghetto; and, along with difficulties for meeting and investigating, had limited access to information. Still, they persevered – and, as is clear from diaries and memoirs, they found means to keep meeting, exchanging information, and evaluating what they were hearing. The process was imperfect but focused on understanding, the activists trying to formulate responses and strategies. It was in this context that the hours-long interview of late September that Jakob Rabinowicz had with the Wassers and Abraham Lewin, described by Lewin in his diary,[72] took place; this interview was probably an important factor in the report’s authors and editor reaching the (flawed) conclusion about the method of mass murder at Trebinka. It seems clear that interviews with other escapees also made important contributions to the final report; these certainly included interviews with Dowid Nowodworski, unnamed grave-diggers, an unnamed Jew from the “Landau” shop, and unnamed clothing sorters (see below). We simply don’t have enough documentation to account for how the Oyneg Shabes leaders reached their decisions and on which interviews they relied and how they prioritized witnesses and what was being related. But speculating – without regard for what evidence we do have – about a correlation between distribution plans and testimonies - is the opposite of “realistic.”


[40] Samuel D. Kassow, Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007), p 310

[41] Kassow, pp 309, 460

[42] Donat, p 80 (“I thought he had a poison gas shell in his gun and that we were going to be gassed right there in the car.”) This testimony is discussed in Shapiro and Epsztein, pp 394-395, AR II/299.

[43] Donat, p 25

[44] Kassow, p 311, discusses the genesis of this report; see also Shapiro and Epsztein, p 381, AR II/192; excerpted as “The Annihilation of Jewish Warsaw: A Report” in Kermish, pp 34-54

[45] Kassow, p 309 (citing Auerbach memoir, YVA, Rachel Auerbach Collection, P-16-82)

[46] Kassow, p 201 (citing Auerbach’s Varshever tsvoes, pp 116- 130)

[47] Donat, p 25 (Krzepicki “was the one whose memoirs of eighteen days spent in Treblinka took me weeks to record and to edit back in the winter of 1942-43.”)

[48] Jansson has made an update to correct this statement: “UPDATE: The impression alluded to in note 23 regarding the text rendered as ‘gas chambers’ is inaccurate. The word in question in fact derives from the Polish ‘gazownia’, meaning literally ‘gas plant’ or ‘gas works’. Thanks to Andrew Mathis for this information.” For present purposes, it is Jansson’s sentence immediately following this one in which we will be most interested. On account of numerous quotations from the English translation of Krzepicki’s long-form testimony discussed in what follows, I will keep with the familiar “gas chambers” instead of using the more accurate “gas plant” or “gas works.”

[49] Donat, pp 83, 86, 91, 97, 101-105, 119, 130, 141

[50] Kermish, p 713, in English, as “Reminiscences of a Treblinka Escapee”

[51] Anonymous woman, “Recollections from My Time in the Warsaw Ghetto,” in Michal Grynberg, ed., Words to Outlive Us, p 148; this woman’s testimony begins with the establishment of Warsaw ghetto and ends with a final entry dated 21 July 1943 (p 454). Calel Perechodnik, a Jewish policeman from Otwock, near Warsaw, who eventually came to Warsaw ghetto, similarly remained in the dark as to precisely how Jews were murdered at Treblinka. See p 50, Perochodnik, Am I a Murderer? (Boulder, CO: Westview Press / HarperCollins, 1996). An example of how people hearing about the murder operations gradually learned more can be seen in German officer Wilm Hosenfeld’s writing from the period. On 25 July 1942, writing about the Warsaw ghetto action, he believed he was getting solid information about how the victims were being put to death – but got location and method very wrong: “Somewhere, not far away from Lublin, they have erected buildings with rooms that can be electrically heated and are heated by strong current similarly to a crematorium. In these heating chambers the unfortunate people are then burned alive.” By 6 September 1942 Hosenfeld was hearing something different – he now had the location right but had the killing method occurring in mobile gas barracks (along with other mistaken details): “The place is called Treblinka, in the east of the General Government. There the wagons are unloaded, many are already dead, the whole area is sealed by walls, the cars enter there and are unloaded. The women and children, in their thousands, must undress, are herded into a mobile barracks and gassed there. This has now been going on for long. From all parts of Poland they are gathering the unfortunate people, a part of them are killed right on site because there is not enough loading capacity available. When there are too many of them, they are transported away. A terrible stench of corpses lies over the whole area.” Some early reports of the Aktion Reinhard camps (Hosenfeld was stationed in the General-Gouvernement.)

[52] Samuel Puterman, “The Warsaw Ghetto,” in Grynberg, Words to Outlive Us, pp 209-211
[53] Kermish, “Reminiscences ,” p 713. Krzepicki’s noting of “a very faint smell of chlorine about the bath-house,” which Jansson finds noteworthy, is consistent with the use of chlorine in corpse disposal in the camp, not very far from the gas chambers, a process which Krzepicki described in his longer testimony. Here is the English translation of Krzepicki’s reference to chlorine in his short-form testimony, where he describes “the path to the slaughter-house”: “a path led to a bath-house. This was a small building hidden in scrub, camouflaged by a green net placed on the roof. While rushed to the bath-house, people had to undress naked . . . 800-1000 people at a time were let into the bath. None of the workers knew exactly how death was caused. But we could smell a very faint smell of chlorine about the bath-house. I never worked at emptying the chambers of bodies, but I knew that they were carried to the nearby pits where they were burned together with all the offal of the camp. Before that, they extracted the golden teeth from the corpses in a little hut placed near the bath-house.” Kermish, “Reminiscences ,” p 713. In his long-form testimony Krzepicki also mentioned chlorine being used in the camp – in the disposal of corpses, not as a murder method: “There were various kinds of ditches in that place. At a distance, running parallel with the outermost camp fence, there were three giant mass graves, in which the dead were arranged in layers. Closer to the barracks, a somewhat smaller ditch had been dug. This was where our 60 men were put to work. A group of workers walked around the area, dusting the corpses with chlorine powder, which they dipped from big barrels with their buckets.” Donat, p 86; Krzepicki’s references are likely, first, to mass graves far to the east of the camp, 50-75m “behind” gas chambers, and then to the smaller burial area nearer the reception area, 75-100m to west of gas chambers; <a href=" pic="" target="_blank" treblinka="" www.deathcamps.org="">Krzepicki’s hand-drawn map
, not to scale, shows both these corpse-disposal areas. Also, in describing the work-crews in the upper (extermination) camp, Arad wrote about how corpses were handled following gassing, “After the victims’ bodies were thrown into a pit by the body-transport workers, the corpses were arranged in rows by the burial detail.  To save space, the bodies were arranged head-to-foot; each head lay between the feet of two other corpses, and each pair of feet between two heads.  Sand or chlorine was scattered between the layers of bodies.” Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, p 112; see also p 85 for use of chlorine in the reception area of the camp. Krzepicki’s detection of a “very faint smell” of the gas near the bathhouse is consistent with the use of chlorine in the camp’s operations.

[54] The full short testimony, AR II/295, is translated into English in Kermish, pp 710-716, “Reminiscences of a Treblinka Escapee.” No author listed.

[55] Shapiro and Epsztein discuss AR II/295 on p 394.

[56] Jansson discusses dating differences between Ruta Sakowska’s account (she dates both testimonies to December 1942; she argues that the short document was written prior to the long one) and Shapiro and Epsztein (which gives for the short document a creation date of “After 09.42” and for the long testimony, “After 26.12.1942.” On the other hand, Sakowska and Shapiro and Epsztein imply that the short testimony the longer testimony. Shapiro and Epsztein attribute both the short and long testimonies to Jakub Krzepicki. In Donat, the editor himself and Auerbach, in “In the Fields of Treblinka,” refer to the escapee as Abraham Krzepicki.

[57] Shapiro and Epsztein, p 394

[58] Kermish, “Annihilation,” p 47

[59] Kermish, “Annihilation,” p 54

[60] It may well be that the incorporation of information from Krzepicki into the Wasser-Gutkowski-Ringelblum report and the report’s successful dissemination, which we will discuss below and which Jansson delves into, obviated any need to publish the continuing work Auerbach was doing with Krzepicki in early winter 1942-1943.

[61] Kassow, p 309

[62] Kassow, p 460 (citing Donat, p 112)

[63] Kermish, “Annihilation,” p 42

[64] Auerbach’s essay in Donat, p 74: “Two parts of this archive were uncovered in September, 1946 and December, 1950.  There was a part which has never been recovered.  Among the material recovered are the memoirs of Abraham Krzepicki’s ‘Eighteen Days in Treblinka.’” The Krzepicki manuscript was among the archive materials recovered in 1950 (Donat, p 77).

[65] Kassow, p 311

[66] Kermish, “Annihilation,” pp 44, 45, 47

[67] Shapiro and Epsztein, p 394

[68] Kassow, p 311

[69] Emanuel Ringelblum / Jacob Sloan (ed), Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: ibooks, 2006), pp 320-321

 Jacob Apenszlak, ed., The Black Book of Polish Jewry. An Account of the Martyrdom of Polish Jewry Under the Nazi Occupation (American Federation for Polish Jews, 1943)

[71] 3311-PS, in Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal: Nuremberg 14 November 1945 – 1 October 1946 (“Blue Series”) volume 32, (Nuremberg: IMT, 1948), pp 153-158. The Nuremberg tribunal’s final judgment concluded differently to the Polish Government’s submission in 3311-PS, deeming that gas was used to kill Jews at Treblinka, writing, “All [Jews] who were fit to work were used as slave labourers in the concentration camps; all who were not fit to work were destroyed in gas chambers and their bodies burnt. Certain concentration camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz were set aside for this main purpose.” Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal: Nuremberg 14 November 1945 – 1 October 1946 (“Blue Series”) volume 1, (Nuremberg: IMT, 1948), p 251

[72] Lewin, pp 185-186

1 comment:

  1. looks even better as finished product I must say.

    Is Jansson still hiding in the abandoned missile silo with Kues?


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