Break His Bones:
The Private Life of A Holocaust Revisionist
When the trial of John Demjanjuk opened in Jerusalem the State brought in Yitshak Irad, director of Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, to describe for the court how Treblinka had been organized and run. Yad Vashem is the acknowledged brains, heart and soul of the internationally based Holocaust industry. Demjanjuk was accused of being the man known by some Treblinka internees as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan is supposed to be the man who operated the gas chamber machinery at Treblinka where about a million Jews were allegedly gassed.
As there are no documents relevant to “gas chambers” known to exist anywhere in the world from Treblinka, or anywhere else for that matter, the case against Demjanjuk was prosecuted primarily with eyewitness testimony. While it’s claimed that about a million Jews were murdered at Treblinka, a few dozen internees escaped during the tremendous uprising that took place there one afternoon in August 1943, during which it has been estimated that perhaps one German was killed during the fierce fighting that took place. Yankiel Wiernik was one of those who escaped. It’s primarily the testimony taken from these escapees that form the foundation of the story that Treblinka was a German “extermination” camp for Jews.
When Yitshak Arad provided the Jerusalem court with the official history of Treblinka during the first week of the Demjanjuk trial, he relied on the eyewitness testimony of Yankiel Wiernik more than any other. Wiernik was a Polish Jew, a carpenter by trade, who was interned at Treblinka in 1942 and escaped during the great August 1943 uprising. At that time he returned to Warsaw where he was able to make immediate contact with the underground. Put up in a safe house he wrote an autobiographical essay allegedly describing his experiences at Treblinka, two thousand copies of which were published in Polish for local distribution. In 1944 the essay was published in English in-Brooklyn, New York! So we are not dealing here with esoteric material that has been unavailable to American scholars. Today, Wiernik’s essay is available in an anthology published by ex-internees in New York City titled Death Camp Treblinka.
If there are no documents about gassing chambers known to exist anywhere in the world from Treblinka, and I am asked to believe the testimony of a man who claims that he witnessed a mass-murder factory operating in the camp, I want to consider carefully what the man tells me. I don’t want to be a credulous ninny. Jews are only half the Treblinka story. Germans and Ukrainians are the other half and a terrible accusation is being leveled against them. On balance, Jews are no more valuable as persons than Germans and Ukrainians, and they’re no more truthful either. I want to know a little something about this Yankiel Wiernik before I believe his story, which is a long litany of accusations against others. I don’t want to buy a pig in a poke. Can any of his statements of fact be questioned? If some can be, are they primary to his story or peripheral to it? I want to know something about the man’s character. On balance, does he appear to be truthful, reasonable, psychologically sound and so on? Does he appear to be otherwise?
With respect to Mr. Wiernik’s character, we have his own introduction to it from the first page of his remarkable autobiographical essay.
I sacrificed all those nearest and dearest to me. I myself took them to the execution site. I built their death chambers for them … I led millions of human beings to their doom.
That’s clear enough. Wiernik claims he acted the part of the Judas goat at Treblinka, leading Jews to the place where they were to be slaughtered, including, one concludes, his family and his friends. He collaborated with the SS in the construction of the poison-gas chambers. When he writes that he led millions of Jews to their doom he is speaking of tens of thousands of Jewish babies with their mothers and fathers, their grandmothers and grandfathers, their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins. Everybody! Entire communities of Jews erased from the face of the earth, according to our eyewitness survivor.
I have a natural inclination toward disbelieving Yankeil Wiernik on this score. I don’t believe the Germans did what Wiernik claims they did. I don’t believe Jews behaved the way he claims they behaved. And I don’t believe that Yankiel really was the inexplicable slug of a human being that he makes himself out to be. I doubt that anyone ever has been. At the same time, historians and professional Holocaust lobbyists have accepted his testimony at face value. Who am I? I don’t know of a single published paper containing reservations about this-let’s say it-Nazi collaborator. It falls to me then to do a little imaginative work here for our historians. Break the ice for them, you might say. Nothing extravagant. I’ll simply quote Wiernik’s own words in context and, as I am not a professional Holocaust historian, look them over from the perspective of a human being. Here then is the story of a true Holocaust survivor hero.
In Warsaw, on 23 August 1942, the Germans loaded Yankiel Wiernik onto a train with thousands of others bound for the east. The next afternoon the train pulled into Treblinka. There Wiernik found
… the camp yard was littered with corpses, some still in their clothes and others stark naked, their faces distorted with terror, black and swollen, the eyes wide open, with tongues protruding, skulls crushed, bodies mangled. And blood everywhere-the blood of innocent people, the blood of our children, of our brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers.
Helpless, we intuitively felt that we would not be able to escape our destiny and would also become victims of our executioners. But what could be done about it…?
That’s is, Wiernik disembarked from his train into a living hell and, with a passivity that appears to pass all understanding, decided to settle in as quickly as he could and make the best of things. He, together with other Jews who were assigned the task, passed that first afternoon carrying the mangled and bloody corpses of their children, brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers to ditches where they were being burned. The only break in this labor occurred during the half hour or so when, in a different part of the yard, the Germans machine-gunned four hundred Jews into oblivion. While this was going on Wiernik and his fellow work Jews, as they are called in the literature, stood to one side with their hands in the pockets listening to the “screaming” and “moaning.” At the end of the work day Wiernik and the other patient and forbearing Jews allowed themselves to be driven with whips and rifle butts into a barrack that was dark and “had no floors.”
The next morning Wiernik was wakened at daybreak and assigned to “handle the corpses” again. Work Jews in teams of two were to drag Jewish cadavers “approximately 300 yards” to the ditches where they were burned. A German or Ukrainian armed with guns and whips hovered over each work team, hitting the work Jews “over the head” as they pulled the corpses along.
“The corpses had been lying around for quite some time and decomposition had already set in, making the air foul with the stench of decay. Already worms were crawling all over the bodies. It often happened that an arm or a leg fell off…
Thus we worked from dawn to sunset, without food or water… under these appalling conditions. “
Appalling conditions indeed! Nevertheless, Wiernik and the great majority of the other work Jews were able to adjust. Wiernik describes how quickly he was able to fall into the camp routine.
On August 29 there was the usual reveille… Second Lieutenant Franz Kurt delivered a speech in which he said that from now on everybody was going to be put to work at his own occupation.
The first to be called were specialists in the building trades; I reported as a master construction worker…
So here it is that Wiernik, after passing what admittedly was a laborious and unpleasant first week at Treblinka, was able to improve his position considerably. And here it is that Wiernik began his long and successful collaboration with the SS in the destruction of European Jewry.
Our group of workers grew… the foundations were dug for some sort of building. No one knew what kind of building this would be. There was in the courtyard some wooden buildings surrounded by a tall fence. The function of this building was secret. A few days later a German architect arrived with an assistant and the construction work got under way. Fate spared me nothing. A few days later I learned the purpose of the building behind the fence, and the discovery left me shuddering with terror.
What is intended to be understood here is that the building behind the fence contained a “gas chamber.” The foundations that the work-Jews built “for some sort of building” were foundations for additional gas chambers. This is what Wiernik referred to early on when he wrote that he himself had built the death chambers in which millions of Jews were exterminated, among them his nearest and dearest. In 1963, after a spectacular kidnapping and trial, Adolf Eichmann (German) was hanged in Israel for allegedly having transported Jews to camps such as Treblinka. Eichmann’s defense was that he knew nothing about exterminations in such camps and, in any case, he had been following orders. He was hanged in Jerusalem.
Yankeil Wiernik (Jew) claims that he knew everything about the exterminations at Treblinka and moreover that he helped build the chambers in which they took place. His defense was that he followed orders. Wiernik survived Treblinka and the war and lived out the remaining 30 years of his survivor life in Israel as an honored citizen. In university English classes the professors call this sort of thing irony and it’s much admired.
Once Wiernik and his Jewish work crew completed building the gas chambers for the SS, it wasn’t long before he was able to observe the fruit of his labors.
The day I first saw men, women and children being led into the house of death I almost went insane. I tore at my hair and shed bitter tears of despair… Many of us saw our children, wives and other loved ones among the victims…
I can understand his being upset. The sight of hundreds, maybe thousands of naked Jews being herded to the gas chambers. Naked parents carrying their naked children. Ukrainian brutes beating them with pipes and slashing them with sabers. Dogs biting and tearing at them until these unfortunates begin to rush through the gas chamber doors on their own, as Wiernik has it, the stronger shoving the weaker ahead of them, anxious to die quickly in the human slaughterhouses. And all the while Wiernik and his pals standing by, tearing their hair and bawling. Twenty-five minutes later the extermination is over and the work Jews are dragging their brethren from the death chambers and carrying them to the cremation ditches.
We could have refused, but that would have meant a whipping or death … so we obeyed without grumbling.
I’m staggered when I read of the capacity of the Treblinka killing factory. Ten to twelve exterminations in one day in a dozen or so 16×16 foot gas chambers. Terrible, but remarkable too. Who could have pulled off such a feat but the Germans-the most technologically developed society on the planet, at that time. Secretly, I have to admire them a little. Who were the research scientists who were able to develop such a murderous gassing agent? Where were their secret laboratories located? How did all that perverted high scientific technology really work? Yankiel has that information for us.
A motor taken from a dismantled Soviet tank stood in the power plant. This motor was used to pump the gas into chambers by connecting the motor with the inflow pipes. The speed with which death overcame the helpless victims depended on the quantity of combustion gas admitted into the gas chamber at one time.
Simpler than I would have thought, really. But then I suppose genius oftentimes expresses itself simply.
How were the personal chosen and trained who operated this fearful abattoir of death?
The machinery of the gas chambers was operated by two Ukrainians. One of them, Ivan … enjoyed torturing his victims. He would often pounce upon us while we were working; he would nail our ears to the walls or make us …
Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Do I have this right? Nailed our ears to the walls? To what walls? The walls of the “wooden” gas chamber inside the fence? What a wonderful image. I can see it now.
Hundreds of naked Jews, maybe thousands, are being driven to the gas chambers with whips and clubs. They are beginning to reflect seriously on the injustice of how they are being treated. Some of them are growing annoyed. It’s beginning to cross the minds of a select few that they are not going to take it anymore, that maybe they ought to turn on their captors who, after all, are not very numerous, and beat the shit out of them. At that decisive moment, however, they come upon the sight of six or eight master construction workers nailed by their ears to the outside of a gas chamber wall, pinned up there like so many homely butterflies. The naked Jews can’t believe their eyes. Two or three of the master construction workers, following orders to the last, still have hammers and saws clutched in their gnarly hands. The hundreds-or thousands-of Jews who, a moment before-(maybe)-had been on the point of resisting their extermination and that of their wives and children, suffer a moment of distraction at this grotesque vision and before they can recover it’s all over for them. They’re inside the infernal Treblinka death chambers.
How often did Yankeil Wiernik find himself nailed up to the wall of a gas chamber by one of his ears? “Often,” if we’re to take his word for it. It’s important that we believe him about this story, because if we don’t it might tempt some of us to have reservations about a couple of the other stories he tells about the Treblinka death camp. Who knows what that would lead to?
Nevertheless, a serious question presents itself. When the back doors to the gas chambers were opened, Yankeil could see the exterminated Jews inside, still standing up. There wasn’t enough room for them to fall over, you see, so they continued to stand there and “just leaned against each other.” Do you wonder why the knees of these exterminated folk didn’t buckle a little? That’s a perfectly a good question but it isn’t the serious one. The serious question refers to a second aspect of Wiernik’s eyewitness account where he claims that these standing-up cadavers were “all yellow from the gas.” The second serious question is this one: What do the toxicology manuals say about the color of folk who die by carbon monoxide poisoning?
According to Merck & Company’s Treatment of War Injuries for example, (2nd revised ed., 1942, p56) death by carbon monoxide poisoning may result in the skin assuming a “cherry red color.”
It’s either Merck and Company then, or Yankiel Wiernik. Let’s admit it. It looks like Wiernik is a little something here. Is it going to be claimed 45 years after the fact that the man was color blind? The evidence is mounting that Wiernik is no great pillar of truth. I suppose he wanted to be a big shot eyewitness testifier against Germans, took a flyer at what a gassee might look like who was pumped full of carbon monoxide, and guessed wrong. I can forgive Jews for telling such stories about Germans, but what can I say about academics who repeat such testimony to their students without examining it?
While Wiernik and his fellow work-Jews labored to finish ten new gas chambers in camp II for the homicidal, Jew-hating SS, transports were arriving daily to be gassed in the three original chambers. These newly arrived Jews were stripped of their clothes and marched naked to the original gas chambers to be exterminated, passing the work Jews working along the way.
Many of us saw our children, wives and other loved ones among the victims.
No protest from the designated gassees. No warnings from the work-Jews who watched them pass.
No rage. No desperate attempt to fight, to escape, to kill those who were about to kill them. Occasionally, with an “impulse of grief,” a man would rush to his loved ones to embrace them but he would be killed on the spot.
It was under these conditions that we constructed the death chambers for our brethren and ourselves.
According to his own account, that was Wiernik’s routine for five weeks. Then he was transferred back to Camp number One where he was ordered to set up a barbershop and perform other services for the Jew-murdering SS, who needed their little comforts. Transports of Jews bound for extermination continued to arrive, carrying perhaps a thousand to five or six thousand Jews on each train.
“The children cried, while the grownups moaned and screamed.” When winter came naked children would stand in the open for hours on end waiting to be gassed. Their feet would freeze to the icy ground, which made them cry. Some froze to death. Germans and Ukrainians walked up and down the ranks of designated gasees beating and kicking them. A German named Sepp
… would frequently snatch a child from (his mother’s) arms and either tear the child in half or grab it by the legs, smash its head against a wall and throw the body away … scenes of this kind occurred all the time.
It’s important to picture the scene here. There’s the receiving yard in Camp One with maybe two or three hundred work-Jews being supervised by a dozen or so Germans and maybe fifty or sixty Ukrainians. A transport of maybe four or five thousand Jews is disgorged into the yard. Try to visualize the confusion and craziness. The Germans and Ukrainians are shoving and shouting orders while they beat and whip the Jews. The Jews are moaning and screaming. Now the “vile and savage” Sepp is walking up and down the ranks of those thousands of Jews snatching babies from their mother’s arms and tearing them in half or smashing out their little brains against a wall. Can you see it? How the Jewish mothers resist the urge to fight savagely for their babies? Can you visualize it-how maybe a thousand adult male Jews look on while their sons and daughters, their nephews and nieces are being brained and torn in half? Terrific scene, isn’t it? Sepp may be a vile and savage beast, but where are the words that can be used to describe these Wiernik Jews who are mothers and fathers and look on passively while a beast murders their babies? Where are the words?
The number of transports grew daily, and there were periods when as many as 30,000 people were gassed in one day.
Not bad, considering that the sole agent of death was the exhaust fumes of a single diesel engine removed from a Soviet tank. Looks like about 1,250 gasees each hour. The little engine that could. If we take time out for removing the cadavers after each gassing and cleaning the place up a bit we might have a figure of about 1,250 exterminated Jews each 40 minutes. Remarkable! Particularly when it’s noted that the carbon monoxide produced by a diesel engine is about fifteen percent of that produced by an engine using regular gasoline. How did Yankiel Wiernik ever come to dream up this baloney? Mexicans have an expression for men who are willing to talk like this. They say a man such as Wiernik has the balls of an ox.
Wiernik has returned to Camp Two, the “death” camp, where he performs repair work in the kitchen. A carpentry shop is built, its foreman a “baker” from Warsaw. Now Wiernik’s primary job as a carpenter is to make stretchers for carrying the cadavers from the gas chambers to the mass graves. The stretchers are nothing fancy, “just two poles with pieces of board nailed at intervals.” Just what your state-of-the-art death factory would use, wouldn’t you say, to transport 10,000 or 12,000 or maybe even 30,000 corpses a day 300 yards from the gas chambers to the burial pits?
If one work-Jew could make the 300-yard trip from the gas chamber to the burial pit three times an hour, and each time he was able to load his stretcher-sled with two cadavers, and he worked twenty hours a day without taking time out for dinner or a smoke break, which appears to be about an average work day for these hapless but superhuman work-Jews, he would be able to transport about 120 cadavers during each work day. To get 12,000 cadavers from the gas chambers to the burial pit then would take about 100 superhuman Jews dragging like crazy back and forth between the gas chambers and the pit. On those days when “30,000” Jews were gassed it must have been a real whirlwind of activity.
When Wiernik had laid in enough stretchers to assure the SS that the extermination of the Jews could go forward without any glitches, and after he finished working on the SS kitchen, he went on to build a laundry for the SS, a laboratory and accommodations for 15 women. If you’re going to collaborate with the bastards you might as well go all the way.
I selected my crew and began to work. I brought in some of the new lumber from the woods myself. Time flew fast on the job.
I’ll bet it did. Time always flies when you’ve found a place in the whirlwind to save your own ass. Meanwhile, as Wiernik works in the woods between the two camps dressing lumber in nice warm work clothes:
The procession of nude children, men and old people passed that spot in a silent caravan of death… Now and then a child would whimper but then some killer’s fingers would grasp the thin neck in a vise-like grip, cutting off the last plaintive sobs. The victims walked to their doom with raised arms, stark naked and helpless.
In an event that no historian has been able to trace, Himmler now arrives at Treblinka and orders the previously exterminated one-half million Jews be dug up and cremated. It’s about then that things go from bad to worse. A typhus epidemic breaks out, but even more seriously it’s discovered that it isn’t so easy to burn the corpses of the guys who have been offed.
… the male corpses simply would not burn.
The work-Jews of Treblinka were problem solvers, however, if nothing else.
It turned out that bodies of women burned more easily than those of men. Accordingly, the bodies of women were used for kindling the fires.
And I’d always thought dead broads were completely useless. But leave it to the Treblinka work-Jews. They’ll figure it out for you. But these unusual Jewish lady corpses displayed yet another rare talent.
It was a terrifying sight, the most gruesome ever beheld by human eyes. When corpses of pregnant women were cremated, their bellies would burst open. The fetus would be exposed and could be seen burning inside the mother’s womb.
I go back and forth on this one. One moment I admire the creative force behind this sado-masochistic imagery. The next I see it as an expression of hard-core Jewish chauvinism. The British and the Americans incinerated tens of thousands of pregnant German and Japanese women in mass terror bombings and I don’t know of a single report that claims that those non-Jewish ladies were able to create such a spectacle with their own fetuses. But then, if we don’t love and admire ourselves, who will love and admire us?
Wiernik tells s that the work-Jews were well along with excavating half a million cadavers from the burial pits and burning them for the Jew-hating SS when a new problem surfaced. Soviet over flights.
Whenever an airplane was sighted overhead, all work stopped, [and] the corpses were covered with foliage as camouflage against aerial observation.
Here’s the picture: once a work Jew, busy destroying the evidence for the extermination half a million of his compadres, eyeballed an airplane coming in the direction of the Treblinka death camp, he would shout out a warning. The work Jews of course didn’t want to be discovered down there below and run the risk of being liberated by the commies. So they’d drop their shovels and start covering up the 3,000 to 4,000, and later when things were really cooking more than 12,000 cadavers, with foliage that was kept nearby. This had to be completed between the time the airplane was sighted barreling toward them at 300 or so miles per hour and before the aviator happened to glance down. Can you imagine how desperately the work-Jews had to hustle to pull off a caper like that one? Little wonder that after the war they had such bitter complaints about how hard the SS had worked them.
Maybe you’re wondering why the perversely clever SS chose to cover up thousands of gasoline-soaked male corpses, together with all those quick-burning kindling women, with foliage (brush?) in order to hide their cremation from Soviet aviators? Maybe you’re wondering if there wouldn’t be some telltale signs of smoke from such a pyre that might alert even the most vodka-soused Soviet flyer. Wiernik has already described the scene of 12,000 corpses burning at one time as
…a huge inferno, which from the distance looked like a volcano breaking through the earth’s crust to belch forth fire and lava.
Nevertheless the SS, who we believe was still more or less running things at Treblinka, although with work Jews like Yankiel Wiernik maybe the SS didn’t have all that much to do, figured that the very best material to top off a fiery volcano would be “foliage.” And all in a matter of minutes.
While work-Jews are “overwhelmed with horror and pain” at viewing these infernal cremations, Germans react differently. They stand
… near the ashes, shaking with satanic laughter. Their faces radiant with a cruel satanic satisfaction, they toasted the scene with brandy and with the choicest liqueurs, ate, caroused and had a great time … (While the work-Jews suffered)… the hearts of the … (German) … fiends were filled with pride and pleasure… The sergeant who had created this inferno sat by the fire, laughing, caressing it with his eyes and saying `tadellos (perfect)!”
While these work-Jews are feeling overwhelmed with horror and pain at what they are collaborating with, their instinctual drive to came out on top, as it were, never leaves them.
Since cremation was hard work, rivalry set in between the labor details as to which of them would be able to cremate the largest number of bodies. Bulletin boards were rigged up and daily scores were recorded. Horror and pain are all right in their place, but with half a million stiffs to burn, might as well make game of it.
Camp discipline became stricter. In Camp Two-the death camp-a guard station was built and a telephone installed. If you ask me, with half a million already dead, it was about time to build a guard station. I don’t know about the telephone. That appears a little excessive.
An SS officer approached Wiernik to ask his advice on building a four-story observation tower. This was to make it easier to keep an eye on those slippery work Jews and the tens of thousands gassees as they arrived. We wouldn’t want any to escape, would we? The observation tower would also help the SS to watch out for those avenging Jewish partisan bands in the nearby woods that, in the event, never thought to attack the Treblinka death camp. The SS officer was very happy when Wiernik gave him
… all the required information and he rewarded me with some bread and sausage… I knew that my life would be spared for a few weeks longer because as long as they needed me, they would not kill me.
And what did they need him for? We don’t want to lose sight of that. To help the SS exterminate a million or so Jews. When Wiernik completed the first tower he writes that the SS praised him “extravagantly” and asked him to build three more of the same around Camp Two, the death camp. What the hell, why not?
By April 1943 another typhus epidemic was raging in Camp One. Transports began to arrive from Warsaw. These Jews were treated with exceptional cruelty, unlike those who came before I suppose.
While one batch of women and children were being killed, others were left standing around, waiting their turn. Time and time again children were snatched from their mothers’ arms and tossed into the flames alive.” (Their tormentors laughed) urging the mothers to be brave and jump into the fire after their children …
At the same time, because many of the tens of thousands of Jews who were being exterminated had brought food with them, happily, “the food in our camp improved.” A shower is built for the work-Jews, clean linen is issued to them once a week, and a laundry is built in which female work-Jews labor. It’s at this time that Wiernik and a handful of the most courageous work-Jews decide that when spring arrives they will make a break for it. So far they have collaborated with the SS in exterminating about 600,000 of their nearest and dearest and they’re getting fed up with the routine.
Wiernik catches a cold, which develops into pneumonia. The policy at Treblinka is to kill anyone who is not in perfect physical condition. A black eye, a scratch on the face, a dizzy spell and it’s a bullet in the neck, no appeals allowed. Wiernik however, being invaluable as perhaps the only master construction worker in that part of Eastern Europe, is attended to daily in his sick bed by a Jewish physician who gives him “medicine and comfort.” His German superior, Loeffler, brings him white bread, butter and cream. When Loeffler confiscates food from smugglers he shares it with Wiernik.
… despite the incredible hardships under which I lived, I recovered. I went back to work to finish the construction of the observation towers.
Once the observation towers are out of the way the SS approaches Yankeil Wiernik to ask if he wouldn’t be so kind as to build them a blockhouse. Of course Yankiel will build the SS a blockhouse. Where’s the problem?
Compared with Camp One where thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of Jews are being exterminated every day, work-Jews in Camp Two
… enjoyed complete freedom. For instance, we were permitted to smoke while we worked and even received cigarette rations.
Yankiel’s crew also receives additional daily rations of ½ kilogram of bread apiece to sustain them in the hard work they are performing for the SS. When the blockhouse job is finished the SS and the work-Jews celebrate the occasion with “liquor and sausages.”
No hard feelings you see.
While it isn’t all sweetness and light at the Treblinka death camp, Yankiel and his companions are not deserted by their native sense of humor. One night when “the yard was littered with thousands of corpses” Yankiel watches Germans and Ukrainians beating the work-Jews with rifle butts and canes while the moon and the reflector lights
… shed an eerie light upon that appalling massacre… the… moans of the tortured mingling with the swishing of the whips made an infernal noise… Would you believe that a human being, living under such conditions, could actually smile and make jokes at?
Sure. Why not?
In order to demonstrate that Germans, too, have their lighter side, the SS decides to organize theatrical performances, concerts, dance recitals and so on. Performers are recruited from among the inmates who are excused from their regular work-exterminating the Jews of Europe-to participate in rehearsals. The performances take place on Sundays, of course. Lady work-Jews form a choir while a three-piece orchestra provides accompaniment. This orchestra had been formed earlier to play each day at roll call “after the whippings.” While the SS eat their midday meal, performer-Jews stand in front of the mess hall making music and singing.
…our tormentors had quite a bit of fun with the rest of us, dressing (us) up as clowns and assigning functions which, heart-sore though we were, actually made us laugh.
Encouraged by such laughter, and ever apt to go a little too far in any case, the SS dresses up one of the work-Jews as a Circassian in red pants, a tight-fitting jacket, belts of wooden cartridges, a wooden rifle, and a tall fur calpack. He’s forced to “clown and dance to the point of exhaustion.” On Sundays it’s particularly hilarious. On Sundays this same work-Jew is dressed in white linen with red stripes on the pants, red facings and a red sash, after which he’s given too much to drink and used for “horseplay.”
Another of the work-Jews is called the “shitmaster.”
He was dressed like a cantor and even had to grow a goatee. He wore a large alarm clock on a string around his neck. No one was permitted to remain in the latrine longer than three minutes, and it was his duty to time everyone who used it… Just to look at him was enough to make one burst out laughing.
As the end of July 1943 rolls around it is estimated that seventy-five percent of the cadavers of the exterminated Jews have been dug up and cremated on giant pyres. Maybe 700,000 Jews. Now it’s time to “fill in the empty ditches with the ashes of the… victims, mixed with soil in order to obliterate all traces of the mass graves.” It appears then that the ashes of the cremated Jews had been put to one side temporarily. If one cadaver reduces to about six pounds of materials, lets say that there are something like 27,000 tons of ashes piled up behind the gas chambers.
This must have been a sight for sore eyes, but none of the other brave survivors seems to have mentioned it. Maybe it was covered with foliage. How is this mountain of ash pushed into the giant ditches and mixed with maybe 27,000 tons of earth? Yankiel says that the job was given to the work-Jews. With shovels and rakes? If those exhausted and heart sore work-Jews are supposed to mix 27,000 tons of ashes with 27,000 tons of earth inside those giant ditches I couldn’t really blame them if they demanded a little help with it.
Somehow, the job gets done. “The parcel of ground thus gained had to be utilized one way or another.” So it is fenced in with barbed wire, together with some land from Camp One, and the work-Jews plant lupine and pine trees on it.
One day the SS celebrates the “retirement” of its excavator by pointing its scoop high into the air, firing “salvos,” and having a banquet with much drinking and merriment. “Ashes don’t talk,” Wiernik writes. I think 27,000 tons of ashes and ground bone would say a little something if they were discovered to constitute half of a 54,000-ton land fill within the borders of carefully delineated excavations at a site where, eyewitnesses claim, Germans murdered about a million Jews. Maybe I’m overlooking something.
By now the Treblinka underground, made up of the most farseeing and courageous of the work-Jews, is furthering its plot to revolt, escape, and tell their story to the world. The underground had been formed during the early days of the camp and has been functioning all the while that its members, in their aboveground life, have collaborated in the extermination of about a million Jews. As August approaches even the underground has grown “sick of our miserable existence, and all that mattered was to take revenge on our tormentors and to escape.” They are “fully aware” of the problems in making a break for it. Armed guards, for example, now man the observation towers that Yankiel had built for the SS.
However, we decided to risk it, come what may. We had had enough of the tortures, of the horrible sights.
On the afternoon of August 2, 1943, as Yankiel Wiernik has it, the work-Jews of Treblinka stage their revolt and Yankiel is one of those who makes it to safety, where he is able to pen his moving eyewitness memorial to German bestiality and Jewish patience and suffering. What are the qualities of character, and how are these revealed in Wiernik’s memoir, that allow Yankiel to endure such suffering yet retain his dignity and humanity? Perhaps the answer lies in this simple anecdote:
I never acted obsequious toward the Germans. (For example)… I never took off my cap when I talked to Lieutenant Franz. Had it been another inmate, he would have killed him on the spot. But all he did was whisper to me in German: `When you talk to me, remember to take off your cap.’
Well, there it is. Yankiel Wiernik was willing to go only so far with the SS and there he would draw a line in the sand. He would build their poison gas chambers for them; he would build their kitchens, laboratories and quarters for women. He would build birch wood fences around the SS flower garden and menagerie and he would construct special gates for the fences. He was willing to collaborate in the extermination of a million or so Jews, bury the cadavers and then help uncover them and burn them in order to hide evidence of the crime. He was willing to go along when he saw SS guards brain Jewish babies on the corners of buildings or tear the kids in half with their bare hands, but when it was necessary to converse with SS Lieutenant Kurt Franz, Yankiel Wiernik could go no further. He would refuse to remove his cap.
Yankiel Wiernik’s testimony was used by the Israeli prosecution and accepted by the Jerusalem court in their charges against John Demjanjuk. Wiernik’s testimony was presented by Yitsak Irad, director the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, the international center for research on the Holocaust. Allen Ryan, while he was chief prosecutor for the United States Office of Special Investigations was the man most responsible for the extradition of Demjanjuk to stand trial for his life in Israel, made Yankiel Wiernik’s testimony the centerpiece of his book Quiet Neighbors: Hunting Nazi War Criminals in America.
In 1944, who could have predicted it? Yankiel Wiernik could have simply disappeared from history and the memory of his folk. With his shameless lying, however, together with his penchant for sado-masochistic fantasies and his crazy sense of humor, he was able to turn himself into an internationally respected hero of the Holocaust cult. His autobiographical essay has influenced entire classes of intellectuals and the prosecutorial staffs of the most sophisticated Western governments. Yankiel Wiernik’s lunatic and, let’s face it, dirty-minded essay has become a cornerstone of the orthodox history of the Holocaust.
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