Sunday, May 22, 2016

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

The Case of Friedrich Jansson and His Ball of Confusion 

Part A. Jacob Rabinowicz

Friedrich Jansson has recently made some assertions about the Warsaw ghetto and Treblinka death camp that warrant comment. His assertions rely heavily on his misinterpretation of the reports given by two early escapees from Treblinka death camp – Jacob Rabinowicz and Abraham Krzepicki. The context for Jansson’s assertions was the publication of Belzec, Sobibor,Treblinka: Holocaust Denial and Operation Reinhard: A Critique of the Falsehoods of Mattogno, Graf and Kues (Holocaust Controversies 2011). Jansson’s particular target is the argument made in the Holocaust Controversies critique against the revisionist “Treblinka steam chamber” claim. The Holocaust Controversies argument is that revisionists misunderstand the relative evidentiary value of different sources and use this misunderstanding to create a false problem. As we shall see, the argument made by the Holocaust Controversies writers is sound.

The focus of this comment, which will appear in three parts, is on two pillars of Jansson’s full discussion, which can be found here. I will argue that Jansson’s claim – that early reports about Treblinka promoted the strong view that Jews were murdered in the camp in chambers using steam to kill them – ignores a great deal of evidence about early Treblinka reports made by camp escapees and others. To set this comment in context, I refer to Jon Harrison’s chronology[1] of the Bund's Treblinka investigation mission (late July 1942) and the Bund's report on Treblinka appearing in Oyf der Wach[2] (20 September 1942).[3] In this context, I will also address reports from two Treblinka escapees – Jacob Rabinowicz and Abraham Krzepicki – whose testimonies are so crucial to Jansson’s claims but whose contributions, I will show, Jansson badly garbles.

I will explain how an understanding of early information about Treblinka is thwarted by revisionist fixation on a small number of “steam testimonies” and that a broader exploration, setting this small number of testimonies in context, is the proper starting point for examining the early reports about Treblinka and for determining what was happening in the Treblinka camp. This comment does not aim to be an exhaustive treatment of wartime knowledge about Treblinka but rather to orient any such discussion toward the main issues and the range of readily available sources that need to be taken into account.

With this long comment, I hope to elicit further comments on "early news" and "early reports" about Treblinka and the other camps of Einsatz Reinhard, Sobibór and Bełzec. Let's begin with Jansson's discussion of Treblinka escapee Jacob Rabinowicz.

Part A: Jacob Rabinowicz

Jacob Rabinowcz was a young man deported to Treblinka from Warsaw ghetto during late summer 1942. Rabinowicz escaped from the camp and made his way back to Warsaw ghetto, where he gave testimony about Treblinka to activists in the Warsaw ghetto, most notably recorded in Abraham Lewin’s diary and in Emanuel Ringelblum’s notebook. Rabinowicz was apparently from a prestigious religious family; belonged to Haboneh, a Zionist organization; and had connections with important figures in the Warsaw Jewish community.

In his article on Treblinka and steam, Jansson speculates about when Jacob Rabinowicz was in Treblinka and when the young man returned from the camp by suggesting that both the famous Bund report of 20 September and a report attributed to Rabinowicz (which I will call II/298, after its Ringelblum archive name)[4] derived from a single, common source. According to Jansson, the implication is this: “If we infer from these similarities that the ‘Rabinowicz’ document and the Oyf der Wach article derive from a common source, then given that Rabinowicz returned to the Warsaw ghetto between September 21 and 25, he cannot be the author of the ‘Rabinowicz’ document.”

Jansson bases this dubious conclusion on a misunderstanding of the chronology and the supposed similarities between the two reports. Let’s look more closely at Jansson's speculation and at what the sources tell us.

1. Chronology issues regarding Rabinowicz's deportation to Treblinka and return to Warsaw
“Rabinowicz returned to the Warsaw ghetto between September 21 and 25” (Jansson)
When was Rabinowicz in Treblinka and when did he return to Warsaw from Treblinka? What can help us know this?

Establishing when Rabinowicz was in Treblinka is necessary to understanding what reports he might have authored or contributed to – and to evaluating in particular Jansson’s speculation that Rabinowicz was not the author of II/298 but was the source for the Oyf der Wach article on Treblinka.

According to Jansson, the date on which Rabinowicz returned from Warsaw is known (within a range): it was between 21 and 25 September. Jansson argues for this range based on the purported connection of Rabinowicz to the Bund’s Oyf der Wach Treblinka report.

In fact, Jansson is misreading Abraham Lewin’s diary in making this assertion.[5] Lewin’s diary contains two entries mentioning Rabinowicz, both times by name (these references are dated 25 September and 27 September).[6] Jansson implies that another Lewin diary entry, on a different escapee, made 21 September also referred to Rabinowicz.

The escapee whom Lewin discussed on 21 September, unnamed in this entry, was said to be a “gravedigger” at Treblinka: “A Jew has returned to our workshop who was taken away from here three weeks ago and worked as a gravedigger in Treblinka for nine or eleven days before escaping in a train-wagon in which the martyrs’ belongings were being taken away.” As we will see, Rabinowicz was not “taken away” three weeks prior to this entry; in fact, that is about when Rabinowicz returned to Warsaw from Treblinka. Nor was Rabinowicz a gravedigger at Treblinka. Finally, Rabinowicz was not held in Treblinka for 9-11 days. Thus, Jansson’s speculation about an earliest return date of 21 September is needless and based on a faulty assumption.

As we will see, we can date using a more direct method Rabinowicz’s return to Warsaw much earlier than Jansson speculates.

Some background first: Following the start of the roundups of Warsaw’s Jews in July, Rabinowicz and Lewin worked at the same workshop – the famous Landau brothers shop, renamed OBW by the Germans (at 30 Gesia St). Lewin may have taken refuge there on 3 August.[7] That shop was first raided on 7 August 1942, according to Lewin’s diary,[8] when mostly women and children were taken and also rabbis. Smolar’s wife was among those seized, and it was Smolar who, according to Lewin, was to call Sokolow on 11 August[9] and confirmed that “Tr.” meant death. On 12 August, after actions against work-card holders had begun 2 days earlier,[10] there was another action against the Landau shop in which Lewin’s wife Luba was taken.[11] The same day and the next day Lewin would note stepped-up actions in various workshops.[12] On 17 August Lewin was to name some other Jews, but not Rabinowicz, recently “taken away” in yet another raid on the workshop.[13] Finally, a massive round-up in the shop occurred in late August, on the 27th as we will see below.

With this in mind, the question arises why Jansson relied solely on Lewin’s diary, and his speculations, to understand Rabinowicz’s whereabouts?

Jansson might more profitably have used Lewin’s account along with that in another Warsaw diary that discusses Rabinowicz and his arrival back in Warsaw from Treblinka – a diary kept by the archivist for the Warsaw Kehillah - and Agudath Israel leader - Hillel Seidman.[14] Seidman wrote at some length on Rabinowicz’s return and his Treblinka testimony (calling into question Jansson’s cavalier assertion that at best Rabinowicz left testimony “only one page long”[15] and said “nothing about killing techniques” – as we shall see.) Seidman’s diary entry for his conversation with Rabinowicz was made 2 September and begins, “I had a visitor today.” The visitor was, of course, Treblinka escapee Yaakov (Jacob) Rabinowicz. According to Seidman, who had Rabinowicz come to his apartment for their interview, Rabinowicz told him that he had been deported from “the Landau workshop at 30 Gesia” “during the ‘blockade’” when he was “grabbed.” No further information about the date of “blockade” and timing of Rabinowicz’s deportation is given (although on 28 August Seidman described a blockade of Gesia and Zamenhof streets, extending all the way along Gesia to the cemetery and thus involving 30 Gesia Street, that he himself had been caught up in on the 27th).[16]   In any event, Rabinowicz, according to a note made by Seidman on 2 September was already back in Warsaw from Treblinka by that day, nearly 3 weeks before Jansson says was the earliest possible return date for Rabinowicz.

But Seidman recorded some additional information that can help indirectly to clarify the time line. Rabinowicz’s narrative (below) suggests that he was in Treblinka not even a full day.[17] Rabinowicz’s narrative gives approximately two days for his transport to Treblinka, time in the camp, time hiding in a boxcar, and journey to the outskirts of Warsaw. Rabinowicz then told Seidman how he’d made his way from a grassy place outside Warsaw to the city, but he gave no time frames for this part of his itinerary.

As Seidman kept his diary in real time, and was specific about the day of Rabinowicz’s visit – 2 September, it is likely that Rabinowicz was seized and deported in the latter part of August (perhaps during the 17 August roundup at Landau’s shop or, more likely, in the large 27 August roundup that affected Gesia Street, depending on how long it took Rabinowicz to make his way back to Warsaw from the outskirts and approach Seidman, which, from Seidman’s diary text, it appears was soon after he reached the ghetto) and, in any case, returned to Warsaw no later than around the beginning of September.

What this also implies is that Rabinowicz was in Treblinka during part of one day, as we shall see, during the daylight hours, sometime in late August.

2. Parallels to the Bund article in Oyf der Wach
“an article published on September 20, 1942 in the publication Oyf der Wach contains a story which parallels the ‘Rabinowicz’ document very closely” (Jansson)
What are the supposed close parallels between AR II/298 and the Bund Oyf der Wach article?

Jansson believes that there is a single, common source for II/298, attributed to Rabinowicz, and the Oyf der Wach article of 20 September, writing that the “article published on September 20, 1942 in the publication Oyf der Wach contains a story which parallels the ‘Rabinowicz’ document very closely, with many corresponding details: an air raid, a blackout in the camp, that the Jews were gathered together and told that Hitler and Roosevelt had agreed to send the Jews to Madagascar starting with that very group (which would be sent onwards to Madagascar the next morning), and that once the air raid was over this deception was dropped and extermination proceeded as planned.”

At the risk of simplifying the discussion, the conclusion Jansson draws from this observation is unwarranted – because it ignores the much greater areas of dissimilarity between the two documents.

In fact, the “Rabinowicz” document and the Oyf der Wach article have a single area of substantial “parallel” coverage and many areas of great difference. Jansson summarizes that single area: the discussion of the Soviet air raids and their “fall out” inside Treblinka. Therefore, we should not follow Jansson to “infer from these similarities [this similarity?] that the ‘Rabinowicz’ document and the Oyf der Wach article derive from a common source.” Rather, given that the bulk of the Oyf der Wach article covers different ground to II/298 and conflicts with it in some ways,[18] a more reasonable interpretation is that Oyf der Wach drew on at least two sources – one, the findings of Frydrych’s Bund investigation in late July, discussed by Jon Harrison, and, a second, the details on the Soviet air raids of late August as described in II/298. (Another note on II/298: the document makes no reference to a killing method other than a general allusion to “bloodshed.” In this way, it stands apart from Rabinowicz’s two known testimonies as well as the Bund article.)

It is important to understand, too, that the brief testimony in II/298 does not parallel either of Lewin’s two entries on Rabinowicz or Rabinowicz’s 7-page testimony as summarized by Seidman, which, for instance, has no mention of aerial bombardments.

On the other hand, Jansson writes that “given that Rabinowicz returned to the Warsaw ghetto between September 21 and 25, he cannot be the author of the ‘Rabinowicz’ document.” As I’ve explained, Jansson’s reasoning is fallacious; since Rabinowicz was being interviewed by Hillel Seidman on 2 September about his experience in Treblinka and his escape from the camp, Rabinowicz certainly could have contributed to the Bund report – in theory. However, that he did so is unlikely. Had Jansson argued that Rabinowicz was still being debriefed by Oyneg Shabes members – the crucial testimony he gave at the Wassers, with Lewin present, was given only on 25 September – he would have made sense.[19]

What seems likely, in contrast to Jansson’s argument (and that of Arad[20] as well) is this: II/298 was a later report which confirmed some of the Bund material from late July and added to it (the air raids); possibly Oyneg Shabes shared II/298 with those who wrote the Oyf der Wach special edition; the authors of the Bund article used the bombardment material from II/298 to update Frydrych’s findings. The placement of the air raids near the end of the Bund report also suggests that this element was tacked on, registering an event that came later than the findings that make up the bulk of the Bund report. And the Bund mission, undertaken by Frydrych, was on the Bund’s own initiative, as Bund activists describe, prompted by their desire to discover what was happening to deportees from Warsaw.

In short, there is no foundation for dating Rabinowicz’s itinerary using the Bund article, as Jansson has tried to do.

3. Rabinowicz's report to Hillel Seidman in Warsaw ghetto

What did Rabinowicz tell Seidman[21] on 2 September 1942 about his deportation, experience in Treblinka, and escape?

Some words of background: Seidman's diary was published in Hebrew in 1946 and in Yiddish in 1947; there is some obscure material in what Seidman recorded being told by Rabinowicz about Treblinka; however, the diary sheds light on Rabinowicz’s experiences as well as underscoring the unlikelihood of Rabinowicz’s being the source of II/298 in the Ringelblum and adds to our knowledge of what Warsaw’s Jews, especially the activists, were concluding about the Great Deportation.

Seidman was an observant, Orthodox Jew, community archivist, and Judenrat employee; his accounts of events (specifically, Rabinowicz’s experiences) differ to the better-known OS accounts, in this instance, the account given to Lewin and the account attributed to Rabinowicz by the OS archivists (II/298: “Author of the account was probably Jakub Rabinowicz, who escaped from Treblinka and returned to the ghetto in the second half of September 1942”[22]).  Seidman prefaced his notes on Rabinowicz’s testimony with this comment: “this is what he told me (I wrote it all down to ensure I did not leave out any particulars from his report).”[23] Rabinowicz’s testimony, based on Seidman’s description of his condition, very likely was given very shortly after his return to Warsaw – before either Rabinowicz or Seidman could have heard other accounts and possibly commingled elements of these with Rabinowicz’s experience.

Rabinowicz is recorded by Seidman to have twice mentioned gas killings at Treblinka; the Yiddish words Seidman used were fargazt (gassed) and fargasn (infinitive, to gas) – which we will discuss further below.[24]
  •  Seidman's summary gives Rabinowicz's account of waiting to depart Warsaw in a boxcar – about 4 hours; the scene on the Umschlagplatz observed through a vent in the boxcar (Ukrainian police, pushing and shoving, shouting, luggage); conditions on the train journey including various stops and the death of “an old man”; arrival at Treblinka (“it is already morning when we reach our final destination”); seeing a Treblinka sign on an outbuilding on arrival at the camp; the arrival process including undressing in a large, windowless building – “for the showers”; presence of both Wehrmacht soldiers[25] and SS men, being moved to another hall and selected with 7 other young people by an SS officer, waiting in an area containing 4 long buildings with slightly pitched roofs and no windows; hearing screams and shrieking while waiting; and after 15 minutes being taken by the SS officer back to the undressing barrack
  • Rabinowicz told Seidman that he then was assigned to collect and sort the belongings left behind in the undressing building by those who had arrived with him; “Helping us collect these belongings was a team of Polish workers”[26]
  • Rabinowicz was able to ask one of the Polish workers “what exactly is going on?”

  • The Pole identified himself as a political prisoner and told Rabinowicz, "pointing at the third building, 'From there nobody escapes alive. Ten thousand a day, that's the daily total of people murdered with gases [fargazt] there for many weeks'"; "the Poles explain to us that after we have finished transferring all these clothes, we too would be forced into the third block from which there is no escape"[27]

  • Rabinowicz turned at this point to loading a boxcar with clothing; he jumped into the heap of clothes, “almost suffocating down there” and hid; he was aware of the Germans searching for him; Rabinowicz hid in the boxcar “for a whole day” at which time the train departed for Warsaw

  • After “half an hour” of the journey, Rabinowicz climbed out of the heap of clothing and observed that it was daytime

  • On the outskirts of Warsaw, Rabinowicz told Seidman, he jumped from the boxcar into grass and lay there until nightfall

  •  “It is not important how I managed to hide with non-Jews or how I managed to return to the ghetto”

  • Even back in Warsaw, Rabinowicz explained, he doesn't feel safe: "The brutal deportation of thousands onto the death trains; then to be murdered by poison gases [fargasn]. . . . I come from Treblinka and just as surely I will return there"[28]
Seidman’s interview of Rabinowicz in early September records significantly richer and some different details to the notes made by Lewin on conversations with Rabinowicz later that month.

In his two relevant diary entries[29], Lewin records that Rabinowicz spoke about a sign at Treblinka “greeting” arriving Jews, the “Graves for the Führer” at Treblinka, how the “women go naked into the bath-house,” learning that “Everyone without exception is exterminated,” and the method of murder being “simple vapour (steam).”[30] We can conclude from Lewin that he heard the following, with Hersh and Bluma Wasser, directly from Rabinowicz, on 27 September: “‘Graves for the Führer.’ The women go naked into the bath-house. The condition of the dead bodies. What are they killing them with? With simple vapour (steam)[31]. Death comes after seven or eight minutes. On their arrival they take away the shoes of the unfortunates.” Again, Lewin recorded the existence of a proclamation greeting the arriving Jews.

In contrast, while Seidman’s report covered the general extermination of deportees and the disrobing of victims before being taken to a shower-building to be murdered, it differed to Lewin’s report in crucial ways. For one thing, it focused on transport to the camp as much as what happened in Treblinka. Differing to what Lewin recorded, what Rabinowicz told Seidman included the duration of his time in Treblinka (a part of a day) and his conscription (as a clothes sorter). Seidman’s account, on the other hand, had no reference at all to graves in which victims were buried; did not mention the condition of the corpses; and lacked any estimate of the time it took victims to die in the death chambers. Finally, Rabinowicz told Seidman that he was informed by workers at Treblinka that the killing was by means of gas (saying this twice; although his knowledge was hearsay, Rabinowicz understood that the victims at Treblinka were murdered by gas); Lewin heard from Rabinowicz that “simple vapour (steam)” was used to kill.

Unfortunately, Lewin’s notes are very brief and provide much less detail on the topics mentioned. For example, Rabinowicz told Seidman how he learned about the killing method (from a Polish worker who, we can infer, in turn heard from someone else); there is no such explanation in Lewin’s account. Nor does Lewin’s account say how Rabinowicz escaped. It is possible that by late September, when Rabinowicz met with Lewin and the Wassers, Rabinowicz's guesses about the murder method had begun to reflect discussions about this question taking place in Warsaw –  thus the two reports diverged on this score.

This and other differences in the two reports are not so great as to suggest two different “authors.” On some points, there is good congruence; the Seidman report has, as we’ve seen, more detail and significantly more material on the deportations and Rabinowicz’s escape; Lewin’s entry focuses more on conditions in the camp, which may well be due to the questions asked (the Wassers and Lewin’s were skilled questioners of escapees by this point, Lewin alone interviewing at least 4 escapees from Treblinka during August and September). This shift in focus may also be due to the fact that when Seidman interviewed Rabinowicz, the deportations were ongoing and the destination of them just being learned, whereas by late September, when Lewin met with Rabinowicz, the Great Deportation had wrapped up and Treblinka was understood as the destination of the transports – thus putting more focus on what was going on inside Treblinka.

That Lewin and Seidman were referring to the same “Rabinowicz” seems assured. Lewin described the escapee as “Rabinowicz . . . , a relative of Rabinowicz’s”[32]; similarly, Seidman identified his interlocutor as “Yaakov Rabinowicz, the Parczewer Rebbe’s son and the brother of the young Munkatcher Rebbe." He is a “yeshiva-man, about 25 years old, and a member of the religious organization Haboneh in Warsaw.”[33] It appears that Seidman had known Rabinowicz better than did Lewin, for example, Seidman giving his street address, religious affiliation, and richer detail on his family connections.

Another contemporaneous reference to Rabinowicz comes from Ringelblum’s notebooks.[34] Ringelblum’s notes on Rabinowicz are even briefer than Lewin’s. He wrote, “Treblinki – The news about the grave-diggers (Rabinowicz, Jacob), the Jews from Stok who escaped from the wagons . . . loaded with gold and foreign currency – the unanimous description of the ‘bath,’ the Jewish gravediggers with yellow patches on their knees. – The method of killing: gas, steam, electricity.” To this Ringelblum added, probably referring to Frydrych’s mission on behalf of the Bund, “The news about Treblinki brought back by the investigations sent out by the families of those deported there.” He then discussed what had been heard about tractors being used to bury corpses or to “plow under the ashes of the burned Jews.” The brief comment on Rabinowicz could indicate that he’d brought news about gravediggers at the camp – echoing what Lewin recorded about graves and corpses.

With no more than these brief, suggestive traces of Rabinowicz’s deportation and time in Treblinka,[35] we do not have rich detail, from a wide number of sources, on his experiences. What seems certain, however, is that in mid- to late August Rabinowicz was deported from the OBW workshop to Treblinka where he spent a short time, perhaps less than a day, was put to work, and observed portions of the arrival and extermination process and was told about the murder of arriving Jews. He did not observe the gassing process or the upper camp first-hand. While at the camp, however, Rabinowicz heard about the mass murder of the Jews taken to the camp, and probably other details about the camp. Rabinowicz said he was told that the killings took place in a large building said to be a shower (or bathhouse) and were accomplished by gas (Seidman’s account) or some sort of steam vapor (Lewin’s diary).

Thus, by early September, at least one member of Oyneg Shabes had recorded testimony from Rabinowicz that gas was used to kill all Jews taken from Warsaw to Treblinka[36] and by the end of the month another member of Oyneg Shabes had recorded an account that differed to the earlier account in some particulars but reiterated that the people taken to Treblinka were being murdered in a bathhouse.

We also know about other information, in addition to the Bund report and Rabinowicz’s account, coming back to Warsaw activists in August and September. About this time, Samuel Puterman recorded an escapee’s telling him about the murders at Treblinka, “The doors are open; everyone goes calmly inside; when the building is full they close the doors and instead of water turn on the gas. It lasts thirteen to twenty minutes.“[37] Another Oyneg Shabes activist Menachem Mendel Kon, had written already on 6 August that transport from Warsaw was “for extermination in a place called Treblinka.” On 7 September, five days after Rabinowicz spoke to Seidman, Kon noted that "Thousands of our brethren at the brush factory have been shipped away to camp, where they entered the gas chambers the same day.”[38] Rabinowicz’s report is part of this flow of “communication” by which Warsaw’s Jews were fitting pieces of a difficult, and life-or-death, puzzle together. As Kon wrote on 1 October, summarizing, “between six and eight thousand were being killed there daily, the bodies thrown into pits dug by machines to the depth of 30 meters . . . some grave-workers escaped . . . and reported to us, the survivors, details of the "action" [in which victims were told that they] are to go to a bath after they take off their clothes. With cynical speeches they drive in some six to eight thousand people into the gas chambers, where they are dead in 5 or 6 minutes and, swollen, are being thrown into the pits.”

And, last, we can assume, reasonably, as well, that more details related by Rabinowicz than appeared in Lewin's diary in late September were used in the Oyneg Shabes’s November report on the deportations from Warsaw and death camp Treblinka. This report will be a key topic in part B of this comment, which focuses on Krzepicki.

What we see here, then, is not a "steam" narrative being developed but initial reports which activists tried desperately to understand with a main focus on extermination of deportees and what fate Jews left in Warsaw were to expect. As far as the method of murder, Frydrych heard by gassing (or electrical current); Rabinowicz is recorded, based on hearsay, having said by gas and by steam; Kon wrote, in gas chambers as did Puterman’s unnamed escapee; Ringelblum, who headed up the Oyneg Shabes, concluded simply, “The method of killing: gas, steam, electricity.”[39]


I want to thank Holocaust Controversies for providing this forum for making my comment on "Treblinka steam" available. Any errors that remain after my best effort to edit what I've written are my responsibility alone, not that of HC. - SM 

[2] German language version of the Bund article can be found in the document collection edited by Klaus-Peter Friedrich, Die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden durch das nationalsozialistische Deutschland 1933 – 1945. Band 9: Polen: Generalgouvernement August 1941-1945 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2013), pp 443-446; the article is quoted at length in English in Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camp (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), pp 244-246. The 20 September 1942 edition of Oyf der Wach was a special edition (Barbara Engelking & Jacek Leociak, The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p 691; two other issues of this paper from 1942 are preserved in the Ringelblum archive (p 692), whilst a single issue of Szturm has been preserved, that edition also from 1942; in a different, unpreserved number of this newspaper, an earlier Bund report on Treblinka is said to have been published). The illegal press was mostly printed on a Gestetner (Engelking & Leociak, p 685); although the first two Bund papers were mimeographed (Engelking & Leociak, p 687).

[3] Edelman's recollections (Warsaw Uprising) form the basis for Harrison's chronology; this chronology is supported by Bernard Goldstein, The Stars Bear Witness (London: Victor Gollancz, 1950), p 118; Gunnar Paulsson, Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940–1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), p 74 - citing a manuscript of Jacob Celemenski apparently also published as Elegy For My People: Memoirs of an Underground Courier of the Jewish Labor Bund in Nazi-Occupied Poland 1939–45 (Melbourne: The Jacob Celemenski Memorial Trust, 2000), p 124; Daniel Blatman, En direct du ghetto: La presse clandestine juive dans le ghetto de Varsovie (1940–1943) (Paris: Cerf; Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2005), p 476; Michael Berenbaum, “Some clarifications on the Warsaw ghetto uprising: based on interviews with Marek Edelman and Simcha Rotem” in Eric Sterling, ed., Life in Ghettos during the Holocaust (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2005), p 19; Faris Glubb, Zionist Relations with Nazi Germany, Volume 47, (Beirut : Palestine Research Center, 1978), p 39

[4] Joseph Kermish, To Live with Honor and Die with Honor (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1986), pp 709-710

[5] Abraham Lewin, A Cup of Tears: A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto, (New York and Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), pp 183-186

[6] Lewin, pp 183-184, 185, and 186

[7] Lewin, p 146 per Engelking & Leociak, p 715, by 2 August it was generally assumed in the ghetto that workshops like Landau’s were safe havens.

[8] Lewin, pp 148- 149

[9] Lewin, p 153

[10] Engelking & Leociak, p 719

[11] Lewin, p 153

[12] Lewin, p 154

[13] Lewin, p 159

[14] Hillel Seidman, The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries, (Southfield, MI: Targum Press, 1997)

[15] Seidman’s summary of Rabinowicz’s testimony, of which Seidman noted that he wrote detailed notes, runs nearly 7 book pages long (Seidman, pp 101-107), far surpassing in length II/298.

[16] Seidman, p 87; on this date Lewin’s diary describes generally large roundups in the workshops, not naming any individual shops; the same entry describes Lewin’s “long talk” with Dowid Nowodworski, an escapee from Treblinka who was interviewed by Lewin and Gutkowski and whose “words . . . leave no doubt that all the deportees . . . are taken to be killed and that no one is saved” (Lewin, p 170). See also Engelking & Leociak, pp 742-725 for a description of this series of roundups extending over 26-27 August and affecting Gesia Street, among many others, where Landau’s shop was located and where Lewin and Rabinowicz worked.

[17] As shall be seen, Rabinowicz did not claim in his interview with Seidman to be a gravedigger, which conforms to Lewin’s entries on Rabinowicz.

[18] There are no parallels in II/298 for the following areas covered in the Bund’s Oyf der Wach article: deaths on the incoming trains, German deception about the transports, letters and greetings sent by escapees to Warsaw Jews, other reports made by escapees, the size and layout the Treblinka camp, physical features of the Treblinka camp such as a barbed wire fence interwoven with branches, the excavator. The two reports differ in descriptions of the conduct of Ukrainian and other guards – e.g. shots fired, the greetings and orders given arriving Jews, the barracks, the selection and gassing process. The source for II/298 arrived in the camp at nighttime; Rabinowicz did not. The Bund report is far more detailed, except for the bombardment narrative, than is II/298.

[19] Jansson is also correct that the diesel reference in II/298 has to do with Treblinka's electricity generation, not with killing installations at the camp.

[20] Arad, p 261, maintains that Rabinowicz’s report prompted the Bund investigation of Treblinka (“As a result of Rabinowicz’s report on the extermination in Treblinka, the Jewish Labor party Bund, which was active in the Underground in the Warsaw ghetto, sent a few emissaries . . . ). Since, however, we can establish that the Bund investigation was carried out in late July, and that Rabinowicz returned from Treblinka around the beginning of September, we have to conclude that what Arad argues isn’t possible.

[21] Seidman, pp 100-107

[22] Robert Moses Shapiro and Tadeusz Epsztein (editors), The Warsaw Ghetto: Oyneg Shabes–Ringelblum Archive: Catalog and Guide (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009), p. 394.

[23] Seidman, p 101

[24] I do not read Yiddish; a colleague provided this translation from the Hillel Seidman, Tog-bukh fun Varshever geto.

[25] This observation is problematic; however, the men might well have been Orpo members or Trawnikis but misidentified by Rabinowicz. On the other hand, "Thomas Kues," “Three Books on Treblinka,” Inconvenient History, 2012 - reviewing a book by Danish historian Torben Jørgensen - Stiftelsen. Bødlerne fra Aktion Reinhardt (The Foundation. The Executioners of Aktion Reinhardt, Lindhardt og Ringhof, Copenhagen 2003) - quotes this relevant passage in which Jørgensen describes the laxity at Treblinka during the Eberl era (July and August 1942): “The personnel, Ukrainians as well as Germans, were in a permanent state of inebriation. In addition to this, a number of unauthorized people visited the camp. Those were, among others, German soldiers who were stationed in Warsaw, among them personnel from a Panzerkorps, that is, the Wehrmacht. Members of these units made excursions to Treblinka, which was not sealed off; here they went about taking photographs and observing the fate of the transports.” 

[26] Here is another problematic statement in Seidman’s diary. At first, in spring 1942, Poles from Treblinka labor camp, were used to build TII, but they were soon augmented by Jews who were guarded by SS-men and Ukrainians. Abraham Krzepicki, in his long testimony (see below), wrote that the commandos in Treblinka II were augmented during this period by “Fifty men from Treblinka Penal Camp No. I [who] used to work with us.” Alexander Donat, The Death Camp Treblinka: A Documentary (New York: Holocaust Library, 1979), p 96. Chil Rajchman wrote that among those brought to TII were Gypsies and Poles - Rajchman, Treblinka (New York and London: Maclehose Press, 2009, 2011), (“Who were the people brought here in trainloads? For the main part, Jews. Also some Poles and Gypsies"). See also the testimony of Hershl Sperling which somewhat parallels that of Rabinowicz: “Here we see Poles working in the fields and try to communicate with them. We just want to find out what our fate is going to be. They, however, hardly lift their eyes from their work, and when they do, they just shout one word at us: ‘Death!’ We’re seized by terror. We can’t believe it. Our minds simply won’t take it in. Is there really and truly no escape for us? One of the Polish workers mentions burnings, another, shootings, and a third – gassings.” (Sperling quoted here

[27] Seidman, p 105

[28] Seidman, p 107

[29] Lewin, pp 185-186

[30] It is in part on the basis of what is recorded in Lewin’s diary that Rabinowicz might be a candidate for the source of the report of a “slow suffocating of live people with overheated steam entering through orifices in pipes” in the chamber in the November 1942 Oyneg Shabes report drafted by Hersh Wasser and Eliyahu Gutkowski (Kermish, p 47). For example, in an explanatory note in the English edition of Lewin’s diary, Antony Polonsky writes that “According to Hirsch Wasser, Rabinowicz’s testimony served as the basis for an account of Treblinka prepared by Oneg Shabbes and added as App. 17 to the report presented in Likwidacja zydowskiej Warszawy, pp 30-34” (footnote 355, p 290).

[31] Polonsky, in his notes on Lewin’s diary, p 290, says Lewin used הבל, which means breath, vapor, steam.

[32] Lewin, p 185

[33] Seidman, p 100

[34] Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: ibooks, 2006), pp 320-321; this note appears in a section covering July – December 1942, is undated, and is in a section called “Communication.”

[35] Another trace of Rabinowicz is found in Esther Farbstein, Hidden In Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halachah and Leadership during the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Old City Press, 2007) p 50, where there is discussion of Rabinowicz; in addition to the entry in Seidman’s diary, Farbstein tells us, Rabinowicz’s brother, "Rabbi Baruch Rabinowicz, Rebbe of Mukacs, described the impact of the information that his brother had brought from Treblinka” in Rabinowicz, Binat Nevonimi, p 8. I’ve not been able to check Binat Nevonimi as it is an unpublished manuscript.

[36] In addition, this same activist, Seidman, commented on first meeting Rabinowicz, “I remembered then that I had vaguely heard of someone from there - so this was the man.” Seidman, p 100; this indicates that knowledge among Warsaw’s Jews of Rabinowicz’s experience and his testimony extended beyond those individuals discussed here.

[37] Samuel Puterman in Michal Grynberg, editor, Words to Outlive Us: Eyewitness Accounts from the Warsaw Ghetto, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002), pp 210-211

[38] M.M. Kon, in Kermish, pp 82-83; there are at least a dozen such reports that reached activists in Warsaw during August and September 1942.

[39] See footnote 34 above.



  2. "The Holocaust Controversies argument is that revisionists misunderstand the relative evidentiary value of different sources and use this misunderstanding to create a false problem."

    Then please explain, what is the evidentiary value of the steam Chamber testimony? when you say relative value, relative to what? What does that mean?

  3. How about you wait until the whole is posted?

  4. The minority of reports that mention steam relative to the overwhelming majority that do not I would imagine.

  5. Hearsay testimony relative to direct witnessing of an event.

    Testimony where a witness misunderstood what they were seeing (because their vantage point was not perfect or the scene was ambiguous) versus witnesses who clearly comprehended a scene that could only be interpreted one way.

  6. Feeding the troll is not the best idea. He knows very well that the answer will be given in the next installments, so that's his usual JAQing off.

  7. One of the things I found interesting is footnote 25, it says that Wehrmacht personnel visited the site and took photographs.
    I wonder if anyone ever found photographs taken by the Wehrmacht at Treblinka. I realize that finding anything like that is next to impossible, still, I am curious.

  8. @ J Kelly: I wasn't able to track down anything further on this point. I'd be curious too to know if anyone has further information about this.

    1. I did a brief search on-line and found these:

      Some I've seen, there were a couple that were new to me.
      For example, I knew Treblinka had a zoo but I've never seen the pictures of the bears. I've never seen the pictures of the men riding the excavator.
      I've also never seen the picture of the corpse outside the train car.

    2. The site that posted those pictures links back to Yad Vashem.
      When I get a chance I'll take a closer look.

  9. @ Sergey Romanov: Thanks, yes, Part C addresses the question specifically. I decided to post this comment in three sections due to its length. I will publish parts B and C this coming week.

  10. @ Statmech and J Kelly

    I think he means this one
    from Hubert Pfoch. The source ( is a bit spotty but still....

  11. @ Jeff - the reference was to photographs of the Treblinka camp. My recollection is that Pfoch's photographs were of a deportation and taken in Siedlce, not at Treblinka. I think that Pfoch got as far as Malkinia. I'll check in a bit.

  12. J Kelly, I don't believe that the corpses photo is from Treblinka. In any case the poster has no credibility, the last photo in that post is a DEFA fake (see p.11 at )

    1. That explains why I haven't seen some of the pictures.
      In any case, the possibility that the Wehrmacht took pictures at Treblinka is intriguing but after all this time it is unlikely that those pictures exist.
      I will take some time and look at what Yad Vashem has. I do recognize some of the pictures from "The Good Old Days" and pictures that you have posted here.
      As always, I enjoy the posts. Thanks again, you guys do great work.

  13. @bhigr: your question asked about a line in the opening paragraph of the first post of a blog series. It is patently obvious you had not read the entire post. The meaning of a sentence in a longer piece often becomes clear if you read the whole thing. We are not going to waste time educating you on something that should become obvious if you had bothered to do that.

    Since you had not bothered to do that, two further whiny comments from you were deleted, and any further comments on this post will also be deleted; you will be free to join in the discussion when the complete series of posts (numbering three) is complete, not before then.

    In the meantime, I suggest you get hold of a standard introduction to historical methods written in the past 1-2 decades, e.g. From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, and digest how historians deal with contradictory sources, which is what we are discussing here. A short summary can be found on the Wiki page for 'historical method'.

  14. @Sergey

    "Feeding the troll is not the best idea. He knows very well that the answer will be given in the next installments, so that's his usual JAQing off."

    some of them need to be relieved of their delusions of victorious conquest.

  15. I've never really understood the preoccupation with "steam chambers" or "electrocution chambers."
    Odd rumors are understandable during wartime. The major point is that the Germans sent these Jews into these camps and murdered them. The witnesses were confused by what they saw and a clear picture only emerged after direct witnesses to the extermination process appeared.
    Only deniers latch onto these weird rumors and cling to them long after these rumors were disproved.

  16. The denier argument is circular and dishonest because it assumes a manufactured narrative and then falsely edits the pieces into a sequence that supports manufacture, rather than honestly portraying the full picture in which the evidence emerged and then making logical inferences to produce the best explanation.

    Thus one of the points in this article is to show that 'steam' only becomes important if a denier falsely isolates the steam references from the full picture and ignores the other references which proved to be the ones that were supported by later, more informed and direct testimonies by people who were in a position to know and correctly interpret the things they were seeing and hearing.

  17. Nick: "your question asked about a line in the opening paragraph of the first post of a blog series. It is patently obvious you had not read the entire post"

    Moron: "I don't have to read a whole book in order to understand its first sentence. That's absurd."

    See folks, that's the level of "intelligence" one has to deal with when one tackles Holocaust denial.

  18. @bhlgr: The sentence you asked about stated what the full paper would attempt to show; you should not expect to find the full explanation of this in the brief statement of what is to be explained in what follows. The way you can tell this is contained in the very next sentence, which begins, "As we shall see . . ." This is pretty basic.

  19. bhigr,

    You remain banned from this thread and are banned from part 2 as well. As you were told before, you will be allowed to join the discussion at the end, on part 3 of this series. Consider this a temporary suspension - part 3 will be posted by the end of the week.

    And therefore stop wasting your time trying to post, when we will simply delete anything you post on *this* thread without reading it.

  20. @bhlgr: The first paragraph is called an Introduction, as in the writing lessons one receives at school.

  21. SM [19] Jansson is also correct that the diesel reference in II/298 has to do with Treblinka's electricity generation, not with killing installations at the camp

    A sly way of admitting that Terry was wrong in The Manifesto and has made himself look foolish by cherry-picking from a document he can't read:

    Terry writes that while there was “much confusion about the precise killing method at Treblinka […] Jacob Rabinowicz’s account had in fact described gas chambers, even specifying the use of a ‘diesel’ engine” (p. 62).[7] While Terry (intentionally?) gives no page number in his citation, the document which he attributes to Rabinowicz,[8] which is only one page long, can be easily located nevertheless. Its text, in fact, says nothing about killing techniques, and the context indicates that the diesel which is mentioned in the document was connected with electrical generation. Apparently Terry’s knowledge of Polish sufficed to read the words ‘diesel motor’ (Polish text: ‘motor Diesla’) but nothing else. Had Terry genuinely wished to investigate the report, given his inability to read the single page of Polish text, he could have checked the published English translation.[9] Instead, he jumped to a conclusion convenient to his thesis on the basis of a document which he was unable to read. As we will see, such negligence is typical of Terry’s “research”.

    1. I pulled up the link that wabbit posted,

      It really pisses me off when deniers attempt to disguise their propaganda blogs/websites by making them look like legitimate sources of information.

      "Holocausthistorychannel" disguises the author's intent, to distort real history and downplay one of the great historical tragedies of our time.

      The least the author could do is be honest about the intent.

      I have the same problem with Carolyn Yeager's messterpiece, "jan27."

  22. Warning for the future: comments containing invective against the blog members may be deleted regardless of their content.

  23. Actually, Rabinowicz's mention of a diesel engine is more ambiguous.To quote from a German translation:

    "Das Licht wurde gelöscht, der Dieselmotor ausgeschaltet - bis die Bomber vorbeigeflogen waren. Danach war alles wieder beim Alten, und das Morden ging unablässig weiter." (from Verfolgung und Ermordung Bd.9, p.459, Dok. 147).

    I'm quoting from this version because it's the one available to me where I am currently. When I read and copied Sakowska's 1980 publication of Rabinowicz, I understood the Polish as above. I understood the sentences when I then read them in German translation in Sakowska, Die zweite Etappe ist der Tod, and again when republished in Polish in Archiwum Ringelbluma t. 13, which came out in 2013 and also includes a DVD of scans of the original Ringelblum archive documents, and again in English when I saw the translation in Kermish.

    The possibility of interpreting these two lines in a number of different ways should be obvious, especially when compared to other testimonies from AR camps identifying diesels powering the electricity supply, as we discussed later in the critique. Testimonies from SS familiar with the setup in AR camps distinguish between diesels for power and petrol engines for gassing; they help explain why there was a slippage to diesels for gassing that is repeated by many different eyewitnesses.

    Considering that deniers also fuss over diesel engines when they have stopped fussing over steam chambers, interpreting Rabinowicz's ambiguous remarks to imply a diesel engine was used for killing is practically throwing revisionists a bone. Of course, deniers would also have to concede, as Jansson has done, that these two lines strongly suggest that the diesel was connected to the power supply as well. So Jansson was wrong to think that I jumped to a conclusion that was convenient to my thesis, quite the opposite: I was flaunting the invocation of diesel knowing full well that deniers fuss over diesels as much as about steam, just as I included several references to electricity for Treblinka that Mattogno had not mentioned, knowing full well that deniers fuss over electric chambers too.

    My thesis was and is that there was an entirely understandable confusion over killing methods at the AR camps, for a variety of reasons; this confusion doesn't add up to "propaganda" or a deliberate conspiracy to hoax alleged transit camps into extermination camps, indeed the confusion refutes the possibility of a conspiracy from above or from below entirely. Periodising and locating some of these confusions and misunderstandings by fugitives and in hearsay, as Statistical Mechanic is doing, also makes a 'hystory' argument that hygiene measures were misinterpreted hysterically rather improbable.

  24. We called the 2011 critique a white paper because we knew that time pressures meant there would be errors in it; and the Rabinowicz quote is one example. There was no page reference because in the rush to finish that section, I did not have time to check beyond my notes and locate the photocopies in a pile of them. So there were slippages as in this case.

    By the way, Statistical Mechanic's series is a foretaste of the significantly increased number of sources we have available to us. On this issue, there are a number of Polish sources not mentioned in the series that will be added to the mix in the 2nd edition, while we also have access now to originals of a number of other sources; there are more German sources as well regarding the 1942 Warsaw ghetto action.

    This highlights something important: Rabinowicz was mentioned in the critique, but had been ignored by Mattogno and Graf in their Treblinka brochure. Many other omissions were noted in the critique, and we have spotted many more since then, either in sources that were available theoretically to M&G before they wrote their books, or which have been published or been seen in archives or digital archives after they published.

    The sum total of evidence has simply increased, and this means arguments from revisionists have to account for *all* of the evidence, since picking out a few sources for obsessive nitpicking is "unwissenschaftlich". In the past few months, Hans and Sergey have offered good demonstrations of what this means in practice, by identifying numerous witness statements to petrol engines in gas vans and numerous contemporary German documents about Sonderkommando 1005.

  25. @ Black Rabbit of Inle: The point of the blog piece is to add in some evidence and some of my own thinking about the early reports and to straighten out what Jansson misstated so badly. Any thoughts on why Jansson misstated so much? I have nothing to add to Nick Terry's remarks above or how I introduced this piece except to reiterate that the obvious point is placing "steam testimonies" in context, which Jansson decided not to do.

    @ Jon Harrison: That's exactly right. If one "listens" for steam, one will certainly hear some steam. But if one instead listens for what the escapees had observed, how they described what they observed, the conditions they were in and how they reported, one hears something else - in which steam is a minor part of what the first escapees concluded - overtaken by better informed testimonies by prisoners who had more prolonged experience in Treblinka and the opportunity to discuss and "compare notes" with other prisoners, and come to better interpretations, which prevail for 1943 escapees. The denier argument is the exact circular logic you describe: look for steam and steam you will find. But you will miss the broader reality of the evidence that's available. What I find hard to believe is that those who espouse the "steam narrative" are unaware of the far more numerous, later, and more informed testimonies - which leads me to think that the circular logic is a tactic more than a method.

  26. "The context makes it absolutely clear that the diesel engine was used to power flood lights which had to be extinguished when the Soviet bombers approached"

    This is not nearly as clear-cut as you are pretending. Diesels powering the lighting are nowhere mentioned in the account, the lights being turned off are mentioned *separately* from the diesel engine being shut down, the two events being separated by a rather clear comma in the Polish original (which is the one I knew in 2011), as well as the German translation, but not in the English translation.

    One can *infer* that the diesel powered the lights but this is not stated *explicitly*. Nor is it stated explicitly that the diesel engine was involved in the killing process, but the very next sentence indicates that once the bombers had passed, everything resumed as before, and the killing continued.

    Given the prevalence of diesel in a variety of other Treblinka testimonies, it really should not be hard to understand why the two sentences can be read as I understood them in 2011.

    As it happens, I agree *now* with Statistical Mechanic that the mention of the diesel more likely connects with the power supply and lighting, but there is no way of stating this in absolutist terms given the wording of the text. Nor is there a way of connecting the diesel mentioned by Rabinowicz unequivocally with the killing method.

    I consider diesel-power supply, no details on killing to be more favourable to a sane, non-denial interpretation than my original one, so perhaps you guys should now change tack and insist that the comma means absolute proof that Rabinowicz was a diesel witness OMG LOL Hoax!1!!1!

  27. Sergey, I didn't consider BRoI's response to be entirely invective, but agree that the over-personalisation towards Statistical Mechanic was unnecessary. If BRoI wants to claim that I was talking 'bollocks' that's not ad hominem.

  28. BRoI will have to learn to be polite in order to post here.

  29. Well, I don't think my deleted comment was invective. Especially not compared to some of the comments posted on this blog.

    Here, one "Sergey Romanov" calls Balsamo, of all people [I think his aunt died in Ravensbrueck], "a little wanker"!

  30. Once again: our blog, our rules. Don't like it, go elsewhere.

  31. Is BRoI going to offer a defence of Jansson's steam thesis? That might be a more constructive contribution than jumping up and down about one sentence in a chapter we wrote in 2011, which was really an aside and ultimately did not affect the conclusion that there was a confusion of gas, steam and electricity accounts. It's also a disjointed, out of context reading because Jansson is complaining about a quote on page 62 of the Critique whereas the "gas, steam and electricity" quote by Ringelblum that makes Nick's overall point clear was already given on page 61.

  32. No he`s not. He knows his theory is doomed so he has stooped to his usual masturbatory citing of random paragraphs, italicization, and low browed insults. Fuck him. I knew as soon as I saw the draft for this article that he was gonna have nothing in response for it, it`s way above his level, he can`t weasel his way out of this one.

    Ladies, don`t do coke during pregnancy, lest your child grow up to be like this hunk of rotting meat.

  33. On floodlights and Soviet bombers: in the summer of 1942 the Germans were deep in the Russia and the Soviets had no real ability to bomb Poland. The Luftwaffe at the time had a huge edge over the VVS in every way, something that would not turn around until 1943. There was no bombing threat to speak of.

  34. I just found this site. My uncle is Yakov Rabinowicz that Seidman writes about in his Warsaw Diaries. I am reeling in shock that someone would think he made it all up. He appears in Guta Sternbuch's book and also in Adam Boren's. His 75th yahreit is the first night of Passover, the first night of The Uprising. He was fighting back, a rifle in his hands.

    Any attempt to diminish this young, brave Hasid, brother of the Admor of Munkacs, son of the Parcever Rebbe, a descendant of the Holy Jew, Der Yid Hakodesh... is beyond words.


Please read our Comments Policy