Yitzhak Arad   Letter 6   09-Jul-1999   Jankiel Wiernik stops a bullet
"Believe it or not, the bullet had not really hurt me.  It had gone through all of my clothing and stopped at my shoulder, leaving only a scratch." Jankiel Wiernik

  July 09, 1999
Yitzhak Arad
Yad Vashem
PO Box 3477
91034 Jerusalem

Yitzhak Arad:

Wiernik almost gave the Demjanjuk prosecution some documentary evidence.

In your February 1987 appearance as expert witness in the Jerusalem trial of John Demjanjuk, you testified that not a shred of physical or documentary evidence remained of the Treblinka death camp.  The only evidence presented was the testimony of putative survivors.  The closest anybody came to providing documentary evidence that the Treblinka death camp depicted by the prosecution existed was the photograph of a model of the Treblinka death camp, which photograph and which model were both attributed to putative Treblinka survivor Jankiel Wiernik, whose name can be found to be variously spelled, with me adopting in the present letter the spelling used in the source cited in the block quotation below.

But who was Jankiel Wiernik?

As heavy reliance was placed upon this photograph of a model of Treblinka, it would seem important to cross examine Jankiel Wiernik to verify that he had really been at Treblinka, to enquire as to the building of the model and the photographing of it, and to gauge his overall credibility.  However, this was not possible at the Demjanjuk trial, as Jankiel Wiernik did not appear, being presumed dead.  Independent evidence concerning Wiernik's credibility was not adduced at the trial, it being assumed throughout that he had indeed been at Treblinka, that his model was indeed accurate, and that he was indeed credible.

Maybe we can still find out.

However, even at this late time, it might still be possible to weigh Jankiel Wiernik's credibility.  I offer as a single revealing piece of evidence the following account, in Jankiel Wiernik's own words, of his escape from Treblinka in the course of an inmate uprising:

Our objective was to reach the woods, but the closest patch was five miles away.  We ran across swamps, meadows and ditches, with bullets pursuing us fast and furious.  Every second counted.  All that mattered was to reach the woods because the Germans would not want to follow us there.

Just as I thought I was safe, running straight ahead as fast as I could, I suddenly heard the command "Halt!" right behind me.  By then I was exhausted but I ran faster just the same.  The woods were just ahead of me, only a few leaps away.  I strained all my will power to keep going.  The pursuer was gaining and I could hear him running close behind me.

Then I heard a shot; in the same instant I felt a sharp pain in my left shoulder.  I turned around and saw a guard from the Treblinka Penal Camp.  He again aimed his pistol at me.  I knew something about firearms and I noticed that the weapon had jammed.  I took advantage of this and deliberately slowed down.  I pulled the ax from my belt.  My pursuer a Ukrainian guard ran up to me yelling in Ukrainian: "Stop or I'll shoot!"  I came up close to him and struck him with my ax across the left side of his chest.  Yelling: "Yob tvayu mat" [you motherfucker!] he collapsed at my feet.

I was free and ran into the woods.  After penetrating a little deeper into the thicket, I sat down among the bushes.  From the distance I heard a lot of shooting.  Believe it or not, the bullet had not really hurt me.  It had gone through all of my clothing and stopped at my shoulder, leaving only a scratch.
Jankiel Wiernik, One year in Treblinka, pp. 147-188 in Alexander Donat (ed.), The Death Camp Treblinka: A Documentary, Holocaust Library, New York, 1979, p. 188.  Material within square brackets was in the original.

Wiernik puts more on our plates than we can swallow.

There is more than one detail of Jankiel Wiernik's story that either clashes with your Demjanjuk testimony, or else simply does not ring true.  However, I wish to step past all such lesser defects and to restrict attention here to only the one big incongruity.  It is that Jankiel Wiernik hears "Halt" right behind him, and following that hears his pursuer gaining on him.  The shot that follows, then, might have been fired from a range of not much more than five meters, and possibly less.  The bullet penetrates all of Wiernik's clothing, is stopped by his shoulder but does not at all penetrate his shoulder, and in fact leaves only a scratch.

I put it to you that Wiernik's story is an utter impossibility, and that prudence demands that we consider anyone telling such a story to lack credibility.  I bring to your attention, furthermore, that the lie that Wiernik tells does not concern some unrelated topic, as for example some financial misdealing or some sexual transgression, but concerns his recollections of Treblinka, which is the same topic that he treats in building his model of Treblinka and in photographing it.  What his story of stopping the bullet tells us is that Jankiel Wiernik is not to be trusted on the subject of Treblinka.

The Wiernik photograph of a model of Treblinka should not have been relied on.

It would appear, then, that the only documentary evidence for the existence of the Treblinka death camp that the prosecution was able to bring forward originated from an individual who could not be cross examined because he was absent and presumed to be dead, who could not be proven to have ever been at Treblinka, and who had demonstrated a readiness to tell tall tales about Treblinka.  Therefore, the photograph of the model of Treblinka that you spent so much time discussing in John Demjanjuk's Jerusalem trial lacked credibility.

How weak was the prosecution case?

Conclusions that I arrived at in my earlier letters to you are now strengthened.  The prosecution case was so weak that it failed to establish that John Demjanjuk had been Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka.  More than that, the prosecution case was so weak that it failed to establish that there had ever been any Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka.  More even than that, the prosecution case was so weak that it failed to establish that the Treblinka death camp being described had ever existed.  I caution that I do not deny that some sort of camp or facility existed at Treblinka, or that crimes were committed at this facility.  I only point out that the death camp that you describe in your Demjanjuk testimony in which 870,000 victims were murdered, most of them gassed, most of them buried in pits, all of them ultimately consumed in open fires so completely as to leave not the slightest trace this Treblinka is the one that the prosecution utterly failed to prove the existence of, and succeeded only in creating doubt about.  Now that we see that the Wiernik model of Treblinka is susceptible to doubt, the prosecution's case is revealed as being even weaker than it was seen to be before.

Your role.

If you were unaware of Jankiel Wiernik's propensity to confuse fantasy with reality, then you were poorly informed and had no business appearing as expert witness.  If you were aware of Jankiel Wiernik's propensity to confuse fantasy with reality, you had an obligation to disclose this to the court.

To give credence to a photograph of a model attributed to Jankiel Wiernik would be irresponsible in circumstances in which little was at stake, and in a capital case was unconscionable.

Lubomyr Prytulak