Why did some live while so many others perished? Tiny children, old men, beautiful girls—in the gas chambers of Treblinka, all were equal. A central cog in the wheel of Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution, the fires of Treblinka were kept burning night and day.
Chil Rajchman was twenty-eight when he arrived at Treblinka in 1942. At the extermination camp, he was forced to work as a “barber,” shaving the heads of victims, and a “dentist,” pulling gold teeth from corpses. But he escaped eleven months later and survived to tell the shocking and heartbreaking tale of his experience—and of those who didn’t make it out alive.
Elie Wiesel calls The Last Jew of Treblinka “an important, heart-rending contribution to our search for truth.” Poignant and powerful, this memoir provides the only survivors’ record of the horrifying Polish extermination camp. Originally written in Yiddish in 1945, without hope or agenda other than to bear witness, Rajchman’s story shows that remembering is sometimes the bravest and most painful act of all.
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The Last Jew of Treblinka
A Survivor's Memory 1942â?"1943
By Chil Rajchman, Solon Beinfeld
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Les Arènes, Paris
All rights reserved.
In sealed railway cars to an unknown destination.
The grim railway cars carry me there, to that place. They transport from all directions: from east and west, from north and south. By day and by night. In all seasons of the year people are brought there: spring and summer, autumn and winter. The transports travel there without hindrance and without limit, and Treblinka grows richer in blood day by day. The more people who are brought there, the more Treblinka is able to receive them.
I, like all the others, do not know where and for what reason we are travelling. We try, nevertheless, insofar as possible, to find out something about our journey. The Ukrainian robbers who guard us will not do us the favour of replying. The only thing we hear from them is—Hand over gold, hand over money and valuables! These criminals visit us constantly. Almost every hour another one of them terrorizes us. They beat us mercilessly with their rifle butts, and each of us tries as best he can to shut the murderers up with a few zlotys in order to avoid their blows. That is what our journey is like.
We travel from Lubartow station, some 20 kilometres from Lublin. I travel with my pretty young sister Rivka, nineteen years old, and a good friend of mine, Wolf Ber Rojzman, and his wife and two children. Almost all of those in the car are my close acquaintances, from the same small town, Ostrow Lubelski. There are about 140 of us in the car. It is extraordinarily tight, with dense, stale air, all of us pressed against one another. Despite the fact that men and women are all together, each of us, in these crowded conditions, has to perform his natural functions on the spot where he is standing ... From all corners one hears deep groans, and people ask each other—Where are we going? Everyone shrugs and replies with a deep oy. No-one knows where the road leads, and at the same time no-one wants to believe that we are going where our sisters and brothers, our nearest and dearest, have been sent over a period of many months.
Sitting near me is my friend Katz, an engineer by profession. He assures me that we are going to Ukraine and that we will be able to settle in the countryside there and work the land. He explains that he knows this for certain because that is what he was told by a German lieutenant, the manager of a state farm in Jedlanka, 7 kilometres from our little town. The German told Katz this ostensibly as a friend, since Katz had from time to time repaired an electric motor for him. I want to believe it, though I know it is in fact not so.
We travel. The train stops often because of the signals, since it is running outside the timetable and therefore has to wait and let the normal trains through. We travel through various stations, among them Lukow and Siedlice. At every opportunity, when the train stops, I beg the Ukrainians, who descend to the platform, to bring us a little water. They do not reply, but if you give them a gold watch, they hand you a sip of water. Many of my friends give them their valuables but do not receive the promised water. I am an exception. I ask a Ukrainian for a little water. He demands 100 zlotys from me for a bottle of water. I agree. In a short while he brings me a half-litre bottle of water. I ask him how long we will be travelling. His reply is—Three days, because we are going to Ukraine. I begin to think maybe it's really true ... We have been travelling for nearly fifteen hours, though the distance is about 120 kilometres.
It is 4:00 in the morning as we approach a station called Treblinka, which lies some 7 kilometres from Malkinia. We stop. The cars are sealed and we don't know what will happen to us. We wait for the train to move again. My sister tells me she is hungry. But we have little in the way of food. Leaving our town unexpectedly, it was impossible to procure supplies. The same was true in the town of Lubartow. I explain to my sister that we still have a long way to go and we have to restrict our eating as much as possible, or our food won't last the journey. She agrees, assuring me that she really isn't so hungry after all.CHAPTER 2
We enter a forest. Treblinka. Before our eyes—an image of death. Men to the right—women to the left!
After a short while, the train begins to move. By now it is light outside. We grow uneasy because we see that the train is moving backwards. The train moves slowly and we enter a forest. We look at each other with uncertainty. The answer is: who knows? But soon there appears before our eyes a grim and terrible scene. A scene of ... death. Through a small opening I see great piles of clothes. I realize that we are lost. Alas, it is hopeless. After a short while the door of the traincar is abruptly thrown open to the accompaniment of fiendish screams—Raus! Raus! (Get out! Get out!). I no longer have any doubts about our misfortune. I put my arm around my sister and try to get out of the car as quickly as possible. I leave everything behind. My poor sister asks me why I am leaving our baggage. I reply—It is not necessary ... I don't manage to say even a few more words to her before we hear a murderous shout—Men to the right, women to the left. I barely have time to kiss her and we are torn apart forever.
Blows begin falling on us from all sides. The murderers drive us in rows into an open space and scream at us to surrender our gold, money and valuables immediately. Anyone who tries to conceal anything will be shot. Nearly all of us part with what we still have. Then we are ordered to undress quickly and tie our shoes together by the laces. Everyone undresses as quickly as possible, because the whips are flying over our heads. Whoever undresses a bit more slowly—is savagely beaten.
Treblinka is built in a professional way. On arrival it might appear to be an ordinary train station. The platform is long and wide enough to accommodate a normal train of as many as forty cars. A few dozen metres from the platform two barracks stand opposite one another. In one, on the right, is stored the food that people bring with them. The barracks on the left is where the women and children undress. The murderers are so considerate that they do not require the women to undress in the open air along with the men. On the way to their deaths, from which there is no return, men and women will meet intimately.
On the left side of the platform stand several wooden structures, among them the kitchen and the workshops. Opposite these are the sleeping quarters. Nearby are the barracks where the SS men live. The SS barracks are provided with every comfort. On the right side of the railway platform there is a big space where clothes, shoes, underwear, bedclothes and other things are gathered. Here several hundred workers work to sort the clothing and carry it to a special place. Every few days the sorted clothing is sent to Germany on lorries.
Opposite the platform where the barracks stand begins the road to the gas chambers, known as the Schlauch (pipeline). The road is planted with small trees and looks like a garden path. Down this road, which is covered with a layer of white sand, all must run naked. No-one returns from this road. People driven down this road are beaten mercilessly and stabbed with bayonets, so that after the people have been driven down it, the road is covered in blood.
A special commando, known as the Schlauch-Kolonne, cleans the road after every transport. They spread fresh sand so that the next victims will be unaware.
The Schlauch road is not long. In a few minutes you find yourself in a white structure, on which a Star of David is painted. On the steps of the structure stands a German, who points to the entrance and smiles—Bitte, bitte! The steps lead to a corridor lined with flowers and with long towels hanging on the walls.
The size of the gas chamber is 7 by 7 metres. In the middle of the chamber there are shower-heads through which the gas is introduced. On one of the walls a thick pipe serves as an exhaust to remove the air. Thick felt around the doors of the chamber renders them airtight.
In this building there are some ten gas chambers. At a short distance from the main structure there is a smaller one with three gas chambers. By the doors stand several Germans who shove people inside. Their hands do not rest for a moment as they scream fiendishly—Faster, faster, keep moving!
I am already undressed and look around. I no longer have any doubts about our fate. We are helpless. I notice that in the barracks opposite us, the women and children are undressing, and we can hear their pitiful screams. It is impossible to get near them. We are ordered to line up in rows. We stand as we are ordered to. Those who are still undressing are mercilessly beaten. When nearly all of us are lined up, the guards approach and choose some hundred men from among us, only young ones, and have us stand aside. The others are led away. Where, no one knows. I find myself among the chosen hundred young men. From a distance, I see my friend Rojzman with his son, and, not really knowing whether it is better for him, I gesture to him to run over to me in my group.
We stand for a few minutes until all the other men have been led away and then we are led back to the baggage that the Jews brought with them. Each of us must grab a bundle bigger than himself, and if anyone takes a smaller bundle he is whipped constantly. We are driven to a big space. Along the way guards are posted, arms linked in a human chain, so that no one will escape the whips.
I am astounded by the terrible scene: you see several mountains of piled-up baggage. We are driven to one such stack where parcels of bedclothes and sacks are lying. People stand by the stack sorting the contents. I see that they are all Jews and, running past, try to ask them—Brothers, tell me, what is this? Unfortunately I receive no reply. Each of them tries to turn his head away so as not to have to answer. I ask them again—Tell me, what is going on here? One of them replies—Brother, do not ask. We are lost!
The running back and forth with the bundles happens so fast that I no longer know what is happening to me. We make several round trips, the bundles are cleared away, and we are driven back to the clothes that we took off. We are ordered to retrieve the pairs of shoes which each of us had tied by the laces. We grab the shoes and are driven back to the big open space to a second stack, which is about four storeys high and which consists of nothing but shoes, tens of thousands of pairs of shoes. After the shoes, the clothes that we men had taken off are cleared away. We change direction to another stack, which contains only clothes. After the space is finally cleared, we are driven into the barracks where the women undressed. Before my eyes lie the clothes of the poor women, among them those of my pretty young sister. I look around, but none of the women are there. They have all been led away, driven further on. I am distracted for a moment, pick up a small bundle and try to move on. I am hit so hard with a wire whip that I nearly black out. The murderer screams at me like a stuck pig—You dog, the bundle is too small!
I hardly know what is happening to me. I throw myself to the ground, spread my arms as wide as possible and grab as much as I can. I run out quickly, because the last ones remaining are mercilessly beaten.
We run back and forth several times with the bundles with the whips falling on us every step of the way.CHAPTER 3
I am chosen as a barber.
I sort clothing until the next transports arrive. Once, when I straighten up, I am beaten till I bleed.
I no longer know where I am in the world. Suddenly, running back for more bundles, I hear one of the murderers, an SS man, shout—Which of you is a barber?
I look around and see that four undressed men already are standing to one side, among them my friend Leybl Goldfarb from our town. I run over to them and announce that I am a barber.
The murderer asks me if I am telling the truth. I answer—Jawohl! He tells me to move over to the four others—I am the fifth. Several others try to run over after me, but he does not want to take any more. The answer is —Es reicht (That's enough).
He orders us to come with him right away to the storeroom where the sorted-out men's clothes are lying. He orders the Jews working there to give us something to put on, and each of us quickly receives a pair of trousers and a jacket. I ask for a shirt, but the Jew who works there tells me to be quiet and to dress as quickly as possible. He says to me—Brother, you have been saved from death! I quickly put on the trousers and jacket. The other four Jews do the same.
The murderer leads me to another place and orders that we be given shoes. Each of us grabs a pair of shoes and quickly puts them on. We are then led to another place where Jews are sorting parcels and are ordered to stay there and sort. When a new transport arrives, we are to be released, since we are intended for barbering.
I have no notion of barbering and no idea what will happen if I cannot carry out the work. But I tell myself that after all it cannot be worse than dying ...
As I stand among the piles to be sorted, I notice other men from my transport running past, and suddenly I see my friend Rojzman among them. I yell to him to run over to the German who took me from the previous place and tell him that he, Rojzman, is a barber too. Rojzman runs over to the German and the answer is a whip over his head. Alas, that is the last time I see my friend. He is driven away forever.
We are at once put to work sorting. My friend Leybl stands next to me. We inspect every garment as carefully as possible. On the other side of me stands a worker who has already been here for several days. I want to find out from him what happens here, since, despite the fact that I see the clothes left behind by the victims, I still cannot grasp what is going on. He advises me—Remember, don't talk, try to stay bent over, don't straighten up, or you will feel the whip.
I bend over more deeply and ask him again what happens here.
—Don't you see what is going on here? Here they take the lives of our nearest and dearest. Don't you see that these are the clothes of the poor wretches who come here?
He is afraid to talk too much. The fear here is tremendously strong. I tell him that the five of us were selected from the transport as barbers and I don't know what our work will be. I find out that he too belongs to the barbers, and that our work consists of cutting off the hair of all the women. I want to find out from him how the work is carried out and he answers—You'll see.
I leave him alone and continue to sort the clothes, one by one, just like the others. I look around and see where a lot of suitcases have been placed. Each suitcase contains something different. For example, the main suitcase is for the money that has been found. It quickly fills up with gold, money and valuables. From time to time a special worker, called the Gold-Jude, comes around and carries away the filled suitcases. Then there are suitcases for small valuables like watches, others for razors, cigarette lighters and various other things. Everything has to be sorted separately.
My neighbour urges me to select a good, sharp pair of scissors for my work. I find a pair of barber shears and tell my friend Leybl to do the same, since he knows about as much about barbering as I do.
The clock strikes 12:00 and we hear a bugle call. Everyone heads in the direction of the place where we are to be given a midday meal. My friend and I try to stay close to our neighbour, since we don't yet know how things are done here. Everyone tries to get as close to the kitchen as possible. We all stand in rows of five. After a short while we move in the direction of the kitchen. When we come to the kitchen, the window is still closed. We wait several minutes, then, marching in groups of five past the little window, we get the soup. Everyone tries to eat it as fast as possible. Soon we hear the bugle call again. All of us have to stand in rows as before. That has to happen very fast: whoever gets disorientated and doesn't stand in the right place is whipped.
I continue to stay close to my neighbour. With a few minutes to spare, I try to learn from him how to go about the work. His explanation is as follows: when a fresh transport arrives, the same murderer rushes over. His name is Kiewe; he has been here a long time. He yells out—Barbers! and we have to report at once. We are led to the gas chamber where our brothers and sisters are gassed. My neighbour points out that we have to cut the hair as quickly as possible. It must all happen extraordinarily fast. The murderers are standing around and whoever cuts slowly is badly beaten.
The bugle call sounds again and we get ready. Each group is inspected and then we move, each to his place. The work continues. I try to go through the clothing as quickly as possible, but I forget that it is forbidden to stand upright. I straighten up for a few minutes and suddenly one of the bandits approaches and starts to whip me without stopping. Then he asks me if I know why I was whipped. I answer—Jawohl! The bandit has cut me in the head and blood runs over my face. I find a bottle of water and put a wet rag to my head. My neighbour yells—Remember to stay bent over, or you'll get more lashes!
Excerpted from The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman, Solon Beinfeld. Copyright © 2009 Les Arènes, Paris. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- Cover Page
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
- Chapter Nine
- Chapter Ten
- Chapter Eleven
- Chapter Twelve
- Chapter Thirteen
- Chapter Fourteen
- Chapter Fifteen
- Chapter Sixteen
- Chapter Seventeen
- Copyright Page
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A fast read because i was unable to tear myself away from this gruesome story of human tragedy and the human will to live under horrtfying conditions --a story that had to be told
This is a powerful description of the horror of the Nazi death camps. And he survives!
While the subject matter is difficult and depressing, this book itself is excellent. I have read about the Holocaust for years, but still have found new information about the hardships endured during those years. It is well worth your time and money to read.
This book is a stark, realistic look at what life was like in one of the death camps. It is something that more people should read. It is amazing what humans could do to each other and the strenght it took for some to survive.
Fact-like reading. The author does not embellish with emotional filler....He doesn't have to. The content is disturbing and emotional without it.
Very sad but very interesting and thought provoking memoir. If you are very interested in the holocaust (as I am) then you will find this book very insightful. I learned things in it that hadn't been mentioned in other memoirs, owning to the fact that each person's experience is different. I definitely recommend this book.
Highly recommended for those who like to read about the holocaust. This was a very gruesome story but all of it was true. It shows that you do what you have to if you want to survive.
An older gentleman I worked with from Poland told me I needed to find out about Treblinka. He said it was worse than Auschwitz. After having read this memoir and books about Auschwitz, I think he may have been right.
would have liked to know more of his life before and after liberation
The significance of Rajchman¿s personal memoir is made clear with the title. Treblinka was a notorious death camp with most Jews facing immediate extermination upon arrival. Rajchman, along with a few others chosen to perform slave labor at the camp, suffer brutality, humiliation, and unbelievable atrocities. His account of his year in Treblinka and survival is overshadowed by his own feelings of guilt of being the one to survive. His memoir is an important part of history.
frightening. How any individual could be so sadistic is beyond my comprehension.
I wish the writer would have shared more details about his ascape from Treblinka. I would have loved to known more about his life after he was free from the camp. He still had to remain in hiding for quite some time before he was liberated.