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Częstochowa Jews in Treblinka


[Pages 157-160]

The Road to Treblinka

Izaak Wiślicki

Two weeks after the onset of the War, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, a transport of Jewish deportees from Pławno passed through Częstochowa. They were forced to run. I saw them on ul. Warszawska, pressed on by German soldiers. That same Rosh Hashanah, a freight lorry was brought into town, packed with Jews in prayer–shawls and silken gabardines, also from a small nearby shtetl, whose name I no longer recall. The Poles stood in the street and laughed with pleasure.

Sometime later, the Germans demanded labourers to regulate the river [i.e., change its course or maintain its channels]. We worked in several locations – at the Jewish Hospital by the cemetery, in Bugaj and also in Raków. We went there every day with spades on our shoulders to engage in forced labour.

Two months before the [final] liquidation of the Częstochowa Jewry, policemen took me from my bed and escorted me to the Jewish police station at Aleja 6. From there, I was led to a shop at Aleja 10, where several dozen Jews were already being held. The following day, we were all sent to Gidle, near Radomsko, where we were again employed in regulating a river. The situation was terrible for those who were infirm and unable to work. The sadists beat them murderously, all over their bodies, with planks.


Maks Brum in Treblinka, together with a delegation from Israel, of which Rabbi Frenkel was part


I was at the Gidle camp for four weeks, until I managed to get out of that hell and returned home to Częstochowa. The entire camp at Gidle was subsequently sent away to Treblinka.

I was only home for a few days when the tearful akcje [operations] commenced. I went with the third akcja, when the police told us to go out on the street. This was on Garncarska, on the side of the Jewish technical schools, from #2 to #22. The people stood in row, and cries went up of, “The Lord, he is the God!” [1 Kings 18:39]. With these holy words on their lips, they tread their last path. Following that akcja, the Germans went through all the dwellings, to see if anyone had been left behind. Whoever was found was executed on the spot.

At the Nowy Rynek, we went through the selection – who to the right and who to the left. Those left to live are conducted to ul. Krótka, to the Landau Brothers factory, from where we are sent to various workplaces. A large group was taken along ul. [Świętej] Barbary, next to the convent. We were being conducted to work, breaking rocks in the airfield on the way to Kłobuck. A messenger suddenly arrived in a taxi and we were sent back, running, to Barbary. Later, we were taken to Metalurgia for yet another selection and, again, hundreds of people were sent to Treblinka.

[Pages 159-164]

Nineteen Days in Treblinka

Aron Gelbard

Treblinka – a point which did not exist on any map, and I doubt whether anyone in the entire Polish Jewry had ever heard of such a place, not to mention within World Jewry.

A place with which millions of Jews are now connected, for it became the burial ground of their nearest and dearest!


Where is Treblinka?

On the road from Warsaw to Białystok, there was a place called Małkinia [Górna] – a station with many train lines. One small line led to a tiny village called Treblinka. Its residents, who had had never thought of or known about the civilised world's technology, continued working their field primitively and hacking down branches and trees from the nearby woods to warm their houses and to cook something to eat.

Then the year 1941 arrived and the Nazi beasts ordered the forest to be cut down. They erected a Factory of Death, with all the German precision.

The felled forest was encircled with barbed wire and fully camouflaged with branches from the trees, which had been cut down, so that no human eye should be able to see what was being done there. Thus, concealed from the world, thirteen gas–chambers were quickly built – with the purpose of annihilating the Jewish people.

Over the course of the nineteen days when I was in Treblinka, not one day went by without the arrival of three or four transports, each of which numbered 6,000–8,000 Jews. There were also cases of transports arriving during the night. (The akcja of the Częstochowa policemen also took place during the night.)

A special railway line ran directly into the camp. When a transport arrived, it stopped at the Treblinka station, from which the locomotive would travel into the camp with six carriages each time. There, the S.S., Ukrainians and also Jewish units, who were forced to do the dirtier jobs, were already waiting in readiness.

One group was called “The Blues,” because they wore blue arm–bands. Their task was to drive the people out of the carriages quickly and to throw out the [discarded] luggage, for many passengers had by then understood they would not be needing their belongings any longer. They were also required to take the corpses of those who had suffocated in the crowded carriages. They hurled the cadavers into the [fire–] pits which blazed continuously, with human bodies and rubbish. A different group worked in a large square, which was directly next to the platform. These were called “The Reds” (due to the red arm–bands they wore).

They called out, “Men to the right! Women to the left!” and “Strip naked!”.

Women, with children, were taken naked by armed S.S. to have their hair cut off. The people were thereupon conducted along an avenue, which they called “The Avenue of the Garden of Eden,” to the gas–chambers. They were being taken to be “bathed,” as it were.

Meanwhile, the men were forced to gather the clothing that had been taken off and, running naked, haul it off to a far–off square.

All this transpired in a tumult of horrendous shouting and blows, instigated by the murderers, that the victims should not have the presence of mind or the time to grasp what was happening. When six new carriages arrived, there was already no trace left of the people who had arrived earlier.

Then, a group worked at the “Red Camp,” which was the same camp, but from the other side, from which they had to take the dead bodies out of the chambers. The chambers were sloped – they were high at the entrance and became progressively lower the further one went inside. There were doors at the back too and, when they were opened, the bodies would fall straight into pits, which an excavator buried day and night, as well as preparing pits to receive the fresh victims to come.

But some corpses always remained. They needed to be dragged out. Those performing this task did not survive for more than a few days, because they were poisoned just by entering the chambers.

The day after Yom Kippur, 22nd September 1942, the liquidation of the Częstochowa Jewry began and transports were sent to Treblinka at intervals of three days between one akcja and the next. I went with the fourth akcja, arriving in Treblinka on 2nd October 1942.

Our shipment numbered up to 8,000 people, crammed into the railway carriages, unable to make the slightest movement.

I must present the image – when a woman wished to suckle her baby, we were forced to hold the infant in the air and she raised her breast in such a manner that the baby should be able to, at least, get something. As a rule, we held all small children above our heads so that they should not suffocate. We travelled thus for twenty hours.

I do not know what I should call this – “luck?” I did not consider this a great fortune, but it is a fact. Proportionately, more people from the Częstochowa transports survived than from other cities. Fate decreed that, at the very same time when transports had begun to arrive from Częstochowa, a shipment of personal belongings that the murderers had wanted to sell to a German firm had been sent back, with the stipulation that they could only buy goods which were already sorted – shoes separately, linen separately, clothes separately, etc.

They required labourers for this and, when young men were chosen from the transports to sort the luggage, I was also among those selected. There, I already found Częstochowa Jews from the earlier transports – Aron Berliner, Mojsze Glik, the two Gelber brothers and others whose names I no longer recall.

My task consisted of cutting thin rope into 60cm. long sections, which were given to each individual when the transport arrived, with which to tie his shoes together. I admit and confess that the first two days, I had no idea what was happening with me or around me.

But, once I regained consciousness, I already witnessed with my own eyes the tragedy and the destruction of our people.

So, I at once decided that I must not remain here, for with our every actions, we were indirectly aiding the annihilation of our folk.

I had also set myself another goal – to come to the few remaining Jews in the ghetto and to the underground movement, to be able to enlighten them and call them to resistance in order to save all who could yet be saved.

I met my friend and teacher, whom we had saved – one of the most respected social workers in our city – Gerszon Prędki. I tried to convince him to join me in my plans for escape but, sadly, the man was so broken in morale and physique, that he said to me, “This is the grave of my wife, my child, and all our nearest ones – so it shall already be my own grave too”.

But he encouraged me and called me to carry through my plan, that I should be among those to avenge the innocent Jewish blood spilt.

Over the course of the nineteen days that I was in Treblinka, we endeavoured to save anyone we could. How? As we ran with the clothes which the people had shed, we would throw the naked person into the mountain of personal belongings and cover him with baggage. Afterwards, we would secretly give him a pair of trousers and a shirt. Thus, the saved also stood at once and sorted the luggage. How many people needed to be at work – the Germans did not know, for every day a few dozen labourers were shot. So they kept no accurate tally of how many were supposed to be at work. They reasoned that – either way – they were all in their hands and sentenced to death. Sadly, many did not grasp what we meant by throwing them into the mountains of things. They got up and continued running. In this manner, we managed to rescue Jews from Częstochowa – Jakób Ajzner (now in Israel), Rapaport (“Po Pięć[1]” – lives now in America) [and] Izaak Zajdman – [who was] killed while escaping.

I also wish to mention [two] people whom we very much desired to save. These were the lawyer Asz, our rabbi's son, and my dear friend Jakób Aronowicz. But we were not successful, because they were extremely unsettled and, during the running, they lost their spectacles. I also wish to mention several who, as I recall, also managed to save themselves by escaping – Pacanowski (lives in Israel), “Bombe” [Yid. “Bomb”] (lives in America) [and] “The Angel of Death” (that is what he was called, I think. [He is] in Australia).

As I have mentioned already, I fled after nineteen days. This was on 21st October 1942. But on the following day, Poles caught me in the woods – 8 km. from Treblinka. They stripped me and left me in my undergarments, without any means of survival.

This was the “aid” one could receive from the Poles.

In mid–November 1942, I returned to Częstochowa, this time to the “Small Ghetto,” where I found the remnants of Częstochowa Jewry.

Regretfully, I am forced to mention that, when I met with a group of people in the ghetto kitchen and I told them what my eyes had seen in Treblinka and what was being done to our people, they spoke among themselves [saying] that I was not normal, that I had slightly departed from clear reasoning.

Later, I began working at the “Furniture Camp,” and put myself in contact with the [Jewish] Fighting Organisation. Through a Polish railroad worker, we contacted those Częstochowa people still alive in the camp [?], sent them Polish documents and called them to participate in the uprising, which would make escape possible.

Sadly, things did not work out the way we wanted. In June 1943, the insurrection planned in Częstochowa fell through and the best of our fighters fell in their positions. At this opportunity, I wish to mention my dear brother Izaak Gelbard, who also fell when the Fighting Organisation was liquidated, together with the “Small Ghetto”.

Translator's footnote:

  1. See above, Volume One, col. 343. Return

[Pages 165-170]

I Was Freed By the Revolt

Arie Kudlik

On 6th October 1942, I arrived in Treblinka together with multitudes of Częstochowa Jews in sealed carriages. Upon the train's arrival, I was among the first to descend from the carriages. By orders of the Germans, we ran to the camp's yard, where we were made stand by a row of barracks and go through a selection – men to the left and women to the right. They then ordered us to undress.

I had already taken off my shoes and coat, when a S.S. man suddenly came and asked, “Who knows how to work with knitwear?” From among those who replied [in the affirmative], he chose ten. I was also one of those who shouted that they knew how to work in this, but many people stood in front of me and they therefore did not hear me. In that moment, it occurred to me to jump over the heads of people and thus I joined that group of ten which had been chosen. However, another S.S. man suddenly sprung up from nowhere, as it were, and demanded to know what I was doing there. As it turned out, he had seen from afar how I had joined the group. I replied that the first S.S. man had told me to join. He seemed to believe me, a fact which decided my future fate. Our group went to a place where there were piles of clothes, which we had to sort by type. As I performed this task, I saw how people, who had arrived together with us, already ran naked with their clothes in their arms, which they brought to put in our piles.

Everything was done with dazzling speed and, within a quarter of an hour, these people were already being led to the gas–chambers. This spectacle continued all day long and it encompassed thousands of people.

For some time, I worked at sorting belongings, but I was unable to continue, because I could not come to accept the horrors. Through acquaintances, I tried to get myself transferred to different work and I was then sent to a place where fountain pens were packed into cases. I worked at this over several months. Meanwhile, the number of transports increased and more labourers were needed to sort the belongings. They therefore returned me to my previous workplace. But, luckily, I was soon taken to yet another field of labour, this time to prepare a plot intended for a zoo. This was a large square shed which housed deer, ducks and all kinds of birds.

My task was to arrange the paths leading to this shed, to plant the flowers in the garden and to set up the wooden décor surrounding it.

People cut down trees in the forest and brought them to camp and, from these, I had to make the mosaic [?]. For some time, I also worked at installing the new barrier for the train that entered inside the camp.

One day, something happened that shocked all the prisoners in the camp. In this period, the vigilance was not as yet excellent and many considered escaping. But the perils and difficulties were so great, that only very few could actually contemplate fleeing. And if someone did escape, his neighbours were held responsible and punished with death (in the camp, there was only one punishment).

And here, two individuals decided to escape despite everything. They prepared money for themselves in advance, which they took from the pockets of the clothing they worked on during sorting and which they put in packs. Later, as the time of the escape neared, they thought to take the money from the packs and hide it in their clothes. But, to their misfortune, they were caught in the act by Ukrainian guards, who then put them into the hands of the Germans. In retaliation, they took them to the centre of the camp, stripped them and began beating them cruelly – until they lost consciousness. They then gathered all the people of the camp, made them stand in rows all around and, in their presence, erected a gallows in the centre of the square. The poor fellows were bound hand and foot, and then hanged with their heads facing downwards. They hung like that for a long while, with a Ukrainian by the gallows, standing guard over them. I remember something that I shall never forget. When they regained consciousness, the two shouted, “Jews! Don't look at the food, think only of revolt!”

Their desperate call echoed widely. It may be said that the first seeds of revolt had been sown. This was the match that lit the fire and, from that moment on, this thought pervaded the minds of the people and did not lessen its grip on them until the actual rebellion broke out. Upon hearing their proclamations, the Germans appeared immediately and ordered the Ukrainian guard to shoot them dead.

Another incident, which also influenced the consolidation of the people's awareness towards the idea of revolt, was a similar murder. A young man from Częstochowa (whose name I no longer recall) worked at sorting coats from the piles of clothes and was required to empty the pockets of any contents. One time, an S.S. officer, whose nickname in the camp was “Kiwe”[1], arrived and began testing samples. He ordered the young man to open one package of coats and to turn the pockets inside out. Unfortunately for him, one of the pockets contained a “mark of disgrace” – a yellow Star of David. When he saw this, the S.S. officer ordered all the young men to present themselves at a certain spot, where he made them stand in a row, with the youth, who had been caught in his “transgression”, standing in front of them. He then told a different S.S. man to “see to him”. The man called a Ukrainian guard and ordered him to shoot the young man. As the Ukrainian was aiming his gun at the back of the Jew's head, the S.S. officer told him to shoot him precisely from the front, so that he should “look straight at death”. After the Ukrainian had shot him, he still remained alive, whereupon the S.S. officer took out his pistol and killed him.

As these incidents became more common, people began thinking and talking more and more about an uprising. The goal was to kill the German staff, burn down the camp's barracks and installations and then escape! In the midst of all the thoughts and thinkers, there were also practical people who decided to translate this into action. I shall not elaborate on the preparations for the revolt – these are described in detail by our landsmann Mr Willenberg in his article. I will only note that the people in the camp knew nothing during the entire time, because there was a danger that it may leak out and fall on undesired ears.

And then, when the day of the rebellion came, when everything was in readiness, something occurred which made this first attempt fail. It turned out that the grenades that had been taken from the warehouse were without explosives and so the matter fell through. A different date was therefore appointed and the time for the revolt was set for five o'clock. But, due to unforeseen circumstances, the affair was moved three hours forward. One man, who was in on the plot, was apprehended by the S.S. and there was a danger they might execute him. Therefore, the rebellion started earlier [than planned]. On this day, all those held in the camp already knew and had made preparations – some for action and some for escape. At about one o'clock in the afternoon, a shot was heard, followed by explosions [and] shouting and everyone began to run towards the gate and the fences.

I, too, was among the escapees. I ran to the gate. To my right and to my left, I saw hundreds of people – multitudes – running towards the fences and gates (there were several) and shots at us were also heard.

Once I had passed the gate, I regained my composure, but I continued running with all my strength until we reached the road. Here, we halted a few seconds, looked back, crossed the road and continued running and walking, running and walking, until we reached the woods. Now, it was difficult to continue running and, anyway, we were also exhausted. So we stopped.

At this point, I noticed that I had been wounded in the arm. Meanwhile, an argument ensued amongst the fugitives as to whether to continue forward en masse or to split up into small groups. Both courses had proponents. However, the majority preferred that we divide into small groups. As if on their own, without any leadership or deliberate intent, separate groups formed. I, too, instantly belonged to a group of nine people. We separated ourselves a bit from the others and continued our progress. In the meantime, dusk fell and, when we reached the end of the forest, we noticed a village nearby. We decided to approach the village and investigate, for which two of us volunteered – me and one other friend (his name is Rajzman, and he lives now in Canada). When we came to the village, people were standing by the fence. They already knew that the Treblinka camp was burning and they asked us if we had escaped from there. We answered that we had and asked them for a little food and drink. Without a word, they gave us a jug of water and some bread. We wanted to pay them, but they would accept nothing in return. We told them we had other friends in the woods, upon which they gave us food for them as well. We returned to the forest and gave our friends the details of the encouraging meeting. Since the food was not sufficient, we wanted to return to the village, but as we neared it, we heard shouting in our direction, “Run away! Quickly! The entire area is surrounded by Germans!”

By then, it was completely dark and, when we heard gunfire, we dived into a ditch, where we stayed all night. In the morning, we crawled out of the ditch and went into a potato field. Suddenly, we heard rustling noises, but did not know what they were. I cautiously raised my head and, just a few metres away, I saw a woman with a girl harvesting potatoes. When they noticed us, they told us to put our heads down, because Germans were prowling about nearby. We told them we were extremely hungry, but they explained to us that, at the moment, it was dangerous for them to be around us and that, consequently, they could not offer us aid. That said, the woman pointed out a lone tree standing in the field and said that she would place a loaf of bread there, which we could retrieve at night. We lay that way the entire day, hungry and thirsty. Once darkness fell, we went up to the lone tree but, to our great sorrow, we found nothing. So we left the field and continued walking until, from afar, we saw a farmer travelling with a wagon. We were extremely hungry and thirsty, exhausted, and battered. We could no longer continue so, having no other options, we said to ourselves, “Either way, we have nothing more to lose”.

So, we turned to the farmer, told him the truth and asked his advice. He took pity on us. He took us to his home, fed us, gave us cool water to drink and hid us on his premises for the night. His son was a member of the Polish Resistance A.K. [Armia Krajowa – Home Army] and he cautioned us to flee the following day. Indeed, the next day we did flee the area and we actually proceeded onwards specifically during the daytime, for we knew that the Germans searched for fugitives, mainly, at night. Next to the village was a dense forest and we had agreed with the old Christian that we would hide there. We spent a prolonged period there and the man, whose surname was Golos and who shall be remembered as one of the Righteous Among Nations, manifested sublime uprightness, brought us food and drink every so often.

If we paid him, he returned the change. This man kept us alive until joyous day of liberation.

Translator's footnote:

  1. Karl (Fritz) Küttner. Return

[Pages 169-174]

The Revolt in Treblinka

Szmul Willenberg z”l

Sz. Wilenberg was born in 1923 in Częstochowa (Poland). In 1942, he was transported to Treblinka. He was active in the camp's underground and participated in the revolt. Following the revolt, he fled wounded to the Treblinka woods and, after wandering, managed to arrive in Warsaw.

He took part in the Warsaw Uprising, and later, as a partisan, fought in the Puszcza Kampinoska [Kampinos Forest].

With the liberation of Poland, he joined the army, where he served as a Lieutenant until 1947. In 1950, he emigrated to Israel, where he now lives[1].

And then came that unforgettable day, 2nd August 1943. We rose from our bunks, excited and anxious. Thousands of thoughts raced through our minds, which burned with the fever of anticipation. No one among us dwelled on the fact that he was eating his last breakfast, standing in the yard for his last roll call, going out to work for the last time. Peace reigned all around us – a humdrum state of affairs, to the point of boredom. The familiar sentinels stood at their posts in the watchtowers and gazed, with disinterested eyes, at the prisoners' activities. S.S. men ambled about in the yards, as they had done yesterday, the day before yesterday, a week and a month ago. Nothing predicted a change. Routine prevailed throughout and led our enemies' wakefulness astray. Our hearts were filled with hate and lust for revenge. Only with great difficulty were we able to conjure a nonchalant smile each time we encountered our henchmen. The smoke billowed as usual from the chimneys. The clamour of chatter was no different than on any other day. Even so, the knocks of the axe on the tree stumps, the cries we uttered – every sound was a portent of unsettling tidings and it is curious that the all–knowing Germans perceived nothing. They did not sense what was about to happen in another instant.

For some weeks already, relative tranquillity had prevailed in the camp. The henchmen left us to ourselves. No one was shot. But we were actually suspicious of this stillness, of this lack of cruelty, of the Angel of Death's respite.

The hour of the rebellion was set for the afternoon. The pre–agreed signal – a pistol shot. We were divided into groups, each of which had its special task. Some were to kill the guards in the watchtowers, some to attack the barracks with hand–grenades and some to fall upon the S.S. officers rounding the camp. We forgot no detail and no individual. We planned cutting the telephone lines, setting fire to the supplies of petrol and other flammable materials and ransacking the arsenal.

Until noon, we worked as usual in the area of the camp. Nothing went wrong. There were no “transgressions” and no one fell into the hands of the murderers. And then, the conversations, the confessions and the whispers grew quieter. The sun blazed with greater intensity.

The affair began close to three o'clock in the afternoon. Two prisoners, young lads who served as messengers for the Germans, were given the weapons–storeroom key, which was in the plotters' possession. They immediately took a stretcher, which was used for transporting rubbish and rags, as well as a few buckets and crept, unseen, into the storeroom. It was an incomparably auspicious hour for this mission. The sentries and the S.S. men were weary with the heat of the day and paid no attention to what was happening all around. The youths were permitted to saunter in the vicinity of the Germans' barracks, as their task required this. The entrance to the arsenal was left unguarded, for several reasons. Firstly, it was securely locked with iron doors [in front] and a barred hatch at the back of the building. Secondly, builders were working next to the storeroom, installing a waterboiler. Thirdly, the guards in the watchtowers were required to watch over events that occurred in the open and not inside the buildings.

The boys locked themselves inside the storeroom and began passing out guns, ammunition and grenades through the bars of the hatch to the builders, who had been brought into the secret. They then sneaked back out, circled the building and conveyed the armaments to the centre of the camp in the rag–covered stretcher. The grenades were carried in buckets, which were also covered with rags. Everything was concealed in heaps of potatoes which were at the distribution point of the weaponry. Bit by bit, the rifles and bullets were carried away. Anyone who knew how to use handgrenades was given some. We also had several pistols at our disposal. Additional weapons were supplied by the storeman, a young and extremely ugly lad from Warsaw, whom we nicknamed “The Monkey.” It was he who, that morning, had supplied the conspirators with a large quantity of axes, cutters for barbed–wire and a few pairs of pliers. Many among us had hammers, knives, cudgels, [and] tins of petrol.

But, then, something happened in the yard which had a significant bearing upon the success of our meticulously planned scheme. Each of us had prepared money and gold for himself pending the escape. This “little” was relative, if compared with peacetime, because there was such an abundance of gold in the camp, that two canteens filled with gold were considered trivial.

It was nigh on four o'clock when one of the prisoners passed through the yard running and dropped a twenty–dollar gold coin on his way. To his misfortune, this was noticed by Chaskel[2], who turned him over to Kiwe. The interrogation was not very lengthy. Kiwe simply carried the detainee off to the “Lazarett[3] and, as usual in such cases, shot him.

We heard the shot, and mistook it for our signal to start the revolt.

I recollect that moment very well. I remember the image of the camp in every detail. There was much movement around me. I was working with a friend, cutting wood. It was uncommonly warm. We worked either just in shirtsleeves or bare–chested. The S.S. man [Franz] Suchomel passed by on his bicycle and shouted something at the labouring prisoners. Weary sentinels dozed in the watchtowers. By the gate, which led to a green garden – our own handicraft, one of the S.S. men stumbled about.

The instant I heard the shot, I sprang from my post to run to the barrack and fetch my coat, in which I had concealed the gold intended for my escape. But, at that very moment, a shout of “Hurrah!” rose up, which made my feet turn in a completely different direction.

The storming had begun.

Shots rained down on the guards in the towers. The sound of one, two, three explosions shook the air. Our comrades hurled grenades at the barracks and the camp's buildings. From all sides, prisoners came running. They formed units which grew increasingly and, yelling, they attacked the guards, the Ukrainians, [and] the S.S. men.

A mighty and prolonged roar went up, which became stronger with every second and echoed deep into the forest. Some way off, grenades severed the telephone wires and the barbed–wire fences. Words cannot describe the pandemonium. One of the wooden barracks, dried by the sun and the heat–wave, burst into flames. Among the crowded multitude of humanity, I noticed a few Germans running in the yard, seized by panic, who hid behind some trees, joining a group at the far end of the camp.

Two Jewish drivers, one a Pole and one a Czech, set fire to the pools of petrol and oil. The flames rose to the heavens, billows of black smoke clouded the sky. From the six watchtowers thundered rifles and machine–guns. Our side responded with just a few volleys. The S.S. man standing by the garden turned around upon hearing the gunfire and yelling [and] made a movement as if to flee for his life. But a bullet perforated him. The German writhed and his body plummeted to the ground. His dread of impending death had contorted his features into a sort of demented satanic leer. As he lay on the ground, he still convulsed, as with a bothersome fit of coughing. One prisoner passed by him running, then a second and a third, closely followed by an entire host. A machine–gun fusillade suddenly struck the group. The bullets claimed numerous victims. The multitude retreated in panic. A cry of terror arose, but above the sounds of agony and fear, was carried the thunderous roar of “Hurrah! Hurrah!”

Someone set the pine branches alight that were woven into the barbed–wire. The dried–out wood burned with a clear, crackling flame which continued to spread. And then the barracks were ignited, followed by the garages, the workshops, the storerooms, the building with the gas–chambers. Everywhere, the blaze intensified, the heat struck our faces and, from all edges of the camp, the prisoners came and gathered.

From the heights of the nearest tower, the machine–gun spits forth volley after volley of fire. The bullets reach our men, thinning our lines. Circumstances in this sector become hazardous. A man by my side is holding a rifle,but does not open fire. I snatch his weapon away, aim slowly and composedly and finally pull the trigger once, twice and thrice. The dark silhouette at the top of the watchtower collapses on the railing. The machine–gun falls silent. Now, the path is clear.

“Strike, strike, kill!” – someone shouts in my ear.

“Back, the fences are down! Slowly, don't push!” The sound of the commands in Polish blends with curses in Yiddish. Someone prays in a language incomprehensible to me. One calls to God in Hebrew, another in Yiddish. The smoke burns the eyes, it suffocates. Projectiles whizz by one's ear, like [violin] strings breaking. At the far end of the camp, the Germans organise, but their fire is still intermittent. The panic and surprise temporarily prevent them from assessing the situation and responding effectively. The same as mice, they hide in the corners of burning buildings, attacking with caution. The weapons and ammunition we have are too few. That accursed Chaskel! Had we been able to complete our preparations, our standing now would have been altogether different. Again a machine–gun is rapping. Its fire forces us to slowly retreat. We dash from tree to tree, going towards the fence. Many of us are unarmed. Three more leaps, two, one – I am at the fence. The severed wires dangle limply.

Now, running, we must traverse the 50–metre long open space to the jumble of barbed–wire and the anti–tank defences. The machine–gun fire intensifies. Behind me, tragedies are happening. The brave climb onto the tangle of iron and barbed–wire and there the bullets reach them. They fall with a cry of despair. Their corpses hang on the wires and spatter a trickle of blood onto the soil. No one takes heed of them. Over the quavering bodies, other prisoners, who have just now arrived, pass. They too are cut down and collapse. Their madness–stricken eyes stare at the camp, which now resembles a gigantic torch.

“Onwards, onwards, onwards!” – a voice emerged nearby.

“The inferno is behind us!” – I roar like a madman – “The inferno is behind us!” – these words instil strength in me, they bring me back to my senses, they force me to proceed cautiously.

Here, I crawl across the open ground and reach the barricades. I look around. To my rear, the slain made a sort of bridge over the jumble of barbed–wire, over which a fleeing prisoner crossed every instant. Beyond the barricades is the redeeming forest – freedom.

And, again, thoughts torment [me]. If we had finished the preparations, the weapons would have reached every corner. Once the agreed–upon signal was given, the shots would have hit all the S.S. officers and sentinels. We would have simultaneously paralysed the guards in the towers and vanquished all the cores of German resistance. When Kiwe's shot rang out, the piles of potatoes still contained many weapons that had not been distributed – a large number of hand–grenades had not yet reached the hands of the conspirators. Now, numerous prisoners were forced to run from the fences back into the centre of the camp to fetch the rifles, to later retreat under lethal fire. It is no surprise that many of our men fell. Had our plan fully succeeded, we would now have two armoured vehicles at our disposal and we could have crossed the river Bug in cohesive lines to join the partisans.

Once more, I carefully raise my head and check what is happening around me. The machine–gun's rat–tat–tat continues, but there is no time to linger any longer. With one leap, I climb onto the bridge of cadavers. I hear a round, feel an impact, but one more bound and I am at the edge of the woods. In front of me, to the sides and at my back, people are running. It is difficult, today, to determine the number of survivors. I suppose that in the same direction I fled, about two hundred men had burst from the camp. On the other side, some one hundred and fifty had escaped.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Samek Willenberg sadly passed away on 19th February 2016. Return
  2. A Jewish butcher from Warsaw, where he was also known as a thief. In Treblinka, he was an informer for the S.S. Return
  3. Ger. “Infirmary.” Under the guise of a field–hospital, victims who were unable to walk to the gas–chambers were taken there and murdered. Return


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