A survivor of industrialized genocide describes the housekeeping details and the management of business in a Nazi death camp.
There were, of course, many concentration camps that worked prisoners to death in Poland and elsewhere. Treblinka, where Rajchman (who died in 2004) survived for more than a year, was a little different. It was established only to kill Jews and other undesirables. The author was selected to sort valuables and clothing of the dead—early on he found his younger sister’s dress—and he carried the remains of the victims, body parts intermingled, to mass graves. The cadavers of small children were dismissed as “trinkets” by their murderers. Pitchforks supplemented earth-moving equipment to transfer disintegrating corpses. Rajchman lived because he worked as a “barber” and then as a “dentist,” shearing the heads of those on the way to the gas chambers and plucking gold from their teeth. It was grueling, noxious employment. On busy days, the camp could eliminate as many as 10,000 with efficiency. Methods were regularly improved and systems upgraded, all under the sportive supervision of some 100 SS men and about 150 Ukrainian henchmen. In Treblinka, life and death merged; illness was not tolerated; there were many suicides. Still, Rajchman had the supernatural will to survive and to bear witness. The author wrote this book in Yiddish in 1945, within a few months after the workers’ revolt and his escape from the camp, and he lived to give evidence against “Ivan the Terrible,” one of the most notorious of the guards at Treblinka. Rajchman’s searing story, frequently narrated in the present tense, has a powerful authenticity and should not be forgotten.
A Holocaust testament of heart-rending immediacy.