Albert Einstein Caught Napping


The Black Book of Polish Jewry: The Treblinka legend in its infancy

"When the execution chambers are filled the doors are hermetically closed and the slow suffocation of living people begins, brought about by the steam issuing from the numerous vents in the pipes." Black Book of Polish Jewry
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Perhaps the world at large has little reason to subject to critical scrutiny the legends and folk tales circulating within some ethnic or religious group; however, the Jewish story of the Treblinka death camp differs from ordinary legends and folk tales, and does deserve critical examination it is used to kill people.

The Jewish story of Treblinka was used to execute American citizen Feodor Fedorenko in Ukraine in 1986, and was used to execute numerous Soviet citizens over several decades prior to that.  The Jewish story of Treblinka came so close to taking John Demjanjuk's life in Jerusalem in 1988 that he could hear the hammering of his gibbet being constructed within earshot of his prison cell.

A story which is used to kill people may well be examined to see if it meets some minimal standard of credibility.  A story which is used to extract reparation payments and which is used to incite fear and hatred of national groups may well be examined to see if it falls more on the side of fact or of fiction.

The 1943 The Black Book of Polish Jewry (BBPJ) statement on Treblinka assists us in tracing the evolution of the story of Treblinka from its earliest manifestations to the version presented by the State of Israel at the 1987-1988 Jerusalem show trial of John Demjanjuk for crimes committed as Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka in 1942-1943.

Below are reproduced two descriptions of Treblinka that are found in the BBPJ:

The BBPJ statement on Treblinka is particularly noteworthy for its seeming authority the book's list of sponsors (shown at Sponsors p. iii below) includes one first lady, one Nobel Laureate whose name has become synonymous with genius, three U.S. Congressmen, one U.S. Senator, one mayor of New York City, one U.S. Cabinet member, and other notables.  Did ever a Jewish-holocaust creation come more highly recommended than this one?

On top of such illustrious sponsors, the BBPJ also lists fifteen members of the Publication Committee, and gives special acknowledgement to Abraham Goldberg, former chairman of the Administrative Council of the American Federation for Polish Jews.  And on top of that are listed nineteen names of contributing authors.  (All these additional personages lending weight to the BBPJ are listed at Committee p. iv below.)

One expects that the integrity of the BBPJ would arise less from such illustrious, and such numerous, sponsors all actually monitoring its writing and verifying its research, and more from the sponsors' care to associate themselves only with authors of good reputation, and from the authors' care to avoid disgracing by means of untruths their many and illustrious sponsors.

However, despite all the hopes of authenticity that its exalted sponsorship might encourage, the BBPJ delivers an account which clashes both with later accounts and with reality, and which supports the view that the Treblinka story is largely legendary:

Other defects in the BBPJ account of Treblinka can be discovered.  The number and weight of all these defects considered together demonstrates that the Treblinka story is largely legendary, and unsuitable for use in a court of law.  Any court which does rely on such a legend is a kangaroo court.  Any trial which credits legends is a show trial.  Anyone executed for crimes committed within a legend is the victim of state murder.

Here at last, then, is one of the earliest and most prominent and yet no more credible of the many different recitations of the Jewish legend of the Treblinka death camp:

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An Account of the Martyrdom of Polish Jewry
Under the Nazi Occupation



Published by
in cooperation with

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    Columbia University

    Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee
    of the House of Representatives

    U.S. Congressman


    Mayor of the City of New York

    Secretary of the Interior

    Editor, The Nation

    Chairman, Committee on Rules of the
    House of Representatives

    Member of the Polish National Council

    Vice-Chairman and Majority Leader,
    New York City Council

    Polish Minister Plenipotentiary

    Jewish Institute of Religion


    U.S. Senator

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Gershom Bader, Sam Berke, Morris Blumenstock, Jacob Brown, Chaim Finkelstein, Dr. Isaac Kornfeld, Jacob Kenner, Mendel Moses, Dr. Simon Segal, Dr. Arieh Tartakower, Dr. Joseph Tenenbaum, Joseph Thon, Benjamin J. Weinberg, Benjamin Winter, Dr. Leon Wulman.

The publishers acknowledge the moral support extended to the publication of this book by the late Abraham Goldberg, former chairman of the Administrative Council of the American Federation for Polish Jews.

Special chapters in this book have been contributed by the following: Aaron Alperin, Jacob Apenszlak, Gershom Bader, Samuel Berenholc, Wold Blatberg, Chaim Finkelstein, Dawid Jedwabnik, Jacob Kenner, George Kowarski, Leopold Lazarowitz, Isaac Lewin, Mendel Moses, Moses Polakiewicz, Henryk Szoszkies, Leib Szpizman, Arieh Tartakower, Joseph Thon, Abraham Weiss, Leon Wulman.


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Dr. Ignacy Schwarzbart, member of the Polish National Council, stated in London on November 15, 1942:

"The methods applied in this mass extermination are, apart from executions, firing squads, electrocution and lethal gas-chambers.  An electrocution station is installed at Belzec camp.  Transports of settlers arrive at a siding, on the spot where the execution is to take place.  The camp is policed by Ukrainians.  The victims are ordered to strip naked ostensibly to have a bath and are then led to a barracks with a metal plate for floor.  The door is then locked, electric current passes through the victims and their death is almost instantaneous.  The bodies are loaded on the wagons and taken to a mass grave some distance from the camp.  A large digging machine has been installed recently at Treblinka.  It works ceaselessly, digging ditches, mass graves for Jews who are to meet their death there.  The Ukrainian guards, witnesses of the mass murders, are allowed to keep the money stolen from the victims.  These bestial murders sometimes take place in the presence of the local non-Jewish Polish population, who are helpless and overcome with horror with the sight of such inhuman violence."

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Official Report Submitted to the Polish Government

The village of Treblinka is situated near the Warsaw-Bialystok railroad line, a few kilometers from Malkinia, in a sandy and wooded area.  The population consists of Polish peasant-farmers and forest workers.  In 1940, the Germans established a penitentiary concentration camp, Treblinka A, on the sandy stretches near the village, for Poles who were guilty of transgressions against the occupant, of not supplying the demanded amounts of agricultural produce, or who were caught smuggling.  The discipline at the camp is very strict; prisoners are shot on any pretext.  The camp is as notorious as the penitentiary camp at Oswiencim.

In March, 1942, the Germans began the construction of another camp, Treblinka B, in the vicinity.  That camp has become the slaughterhouse for the Jews of Poland and of other European countries.  Poles from the nearby Treblinka A, as well as Jews caught in the neighboring villages, were put to work at the preparatory construction.  That work lasted until the end of April when the central building of the camp, death-house No. 1, was built.

Treblinka B is situated on sandy hills among woodland.  The area of the camp is comparatively small, some 5,000 hectares (about 12,500 acres).  It is entirely surrounded by a green fence interwoven with barbed wire entanglements.  Part of the fence runs through a young forest in the north.  At the four corners of the camp, observation points were placed for the Lagerschutz (Camp Guard).  The Lagerschutz consists mostly of Ukrainians armed with machine guns.  At the observation points strong searchlights have been placed to light the entire place at night.  Observation posts are also set in the middle of the camp and on the hills in the woodlands.  The western border of Treblinka B is formed by the rail embankment along which runs a side-track that connects the camp with the main railroad-line.  The side-line was constructed in recent months, in order that the trains of transports might be delivered directly to the slaughter-house.  The northern border of

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the camp is formed by the forest; east and south the border cuts through sandy hills.  In the area of the camp, bushes form a long stretch parallel to the railroad tracks starting in the north.

A railroad-crossing is adjacent to the side-track; trains with transports halt there.  From that barrier there is an entrance to a square which holds two to three thousand persons.  The square is fenced in with barbed-wire.  On the square, not far from the northern border, there is a wooden barracks.  In the south-western corner of the square there is a guard-house with a military post on 24-hour duty.  South of the square, outside of the fence, there is a cloth-sorting place (Lumpensortierungsplatz), and further south, there is the execution place for the camp-commandant and the graves of the victims murdered by him.  The arrival-square is connected with the rest of the area by an entrance in the north-eastern corner in the fence.  From there, a path runs through the woods for about 200 meters eastwards and then turns at right angles to the south and runs along a forest, parallel to the western limit of the arrival-square.  This road stops at a large building of an unusual shape: it is an unfinished one-story brick-construction, about 40 meters long and 15 meters wide.  (When we received the information concerning Treblinka B in the first half of September, this building was about to be finished.)  The Germans began the construction of that building after the action started, probably in the middle of August, with the help of Jewish artisans picked out from among the Jews brought to Treblinka for slaughter.  It is significant that the bricks for the construction had been brought from as far as Warsaw, in trucks attacked to each transport.  The bricks were loaded in the Warsaw Umschlagplatz by Jewish workers.  According to the report of an eyewitness, the interior of the building is as follows: a corridor 3 meters wide runs through the middle; there are five chambers on each side; the height of each chamber is about 2 meters; the area about 35 square meters.  The execution chambers are without windows, but they have doors opening on the corridor and a type of valve on the outside walls.  Next to these valves there are large scoops (they remind one of large vessels).  In the walls pipes were installed from which water-steam is supposed to pour into the chambers.  This was to have been death-house No. 2.

A path skirts the building and runs along its western wall finally ending at the next building near death-house No. 1.  This building is at right angles to the death-house No. 2.  It is a brick construction much smaller than the other.  It consists of only three chambers and a steam-room.  Along the northern wall of this house runs a corridor from which there are doors to the chambers.  The outside walls of the chambers

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have valves (until recently doors which had been changed into valves for utility reasons).  Also here a scoop in the shape of a shallow vessel is placed at the height of the valves.  The steam-room is adjacent to the building.  Inside the steam-room there is a large vat which produces the steam.  The hot steam comes into the chambers through pipes installed there, each having the prescribed number of vents.  While this machinery of death is in action, the doors and valves are hermetically closed.  The floor in the chambers has a terra-cotta inlay which becomes very slippery when water is poured over it.  There is a well next to the steam-room, the only well in the whole area of Treblinka B.  Not far from the death-house, south of the barbed-wire and wooden fences, there is a grave-diggers' camp.  The grave-diggers live in barracks next to which are the kitchen buildings.  On both sides of the camp there are two guard-houses.  The remaining area of Treblinka B is destined for the murdered victims.  A part of that area is already a large cemetery.  At first, Poles employed in the camps dug the graves; later, as the slaughter was intensified and the need for more ditches grew, special digging-machines (bulldozers) were brought, which run day and night at grave-digging.  A Diesel-motor supplies the energy and its rattle is a characteristic sound at Treblinka B.

The supervisors and execution-staff are small in numbers.  The slaughter-house is commanded by an S.S. man of the rank of major; his name is Sauer.  The German staff, consisting of S.S.-men, are in terror of their chief.  The moment they see him from the distance they drive the Jewish workers as well as the victims on their way to death with even greater energy.  Altogether, there are ten Germans and thirty Ukrainians.

The German crew changes from time to time; sometimes S.S.-men from various towns of the General Government who were active at the deportations there, arrive in the camp.

In addition to the German-Ukrainian Lagerschutz, there is also the Jewish auxiliary, part of whom are busy at the sorting place for the clothing of the victims (Lumpensortierungsplatz), and part of whom act as grave-diggers.  They empty the execution chambers and bury the dead; the rest work at the arrival-square.  The groups of the Jewish auxiliary service are headed by group-leaders whom the Germans call "kapos."  They are relatively better fed than the rest and wear a triangular yellow patch at their knees to distinguish them from the others.  The personnel of the Jewish auxiliary service undergoes almost daily changes.  Rarely can a Jew stand that service for more than two weeks, due to the inhuman treatment they receive at the hands of the Germans.

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They are constantly tortured and whipped; corporal punishment (25 strokes) is very frequent as well as the shooting of the weak ones who lose their fitness for work.  This is done mostly by the chief himself.  Every day there is a roll-call.  The German asks who does not feel strong enough to carry on with the work?  A few men step out of the row, report their unfitness and beg him as though for a favor to be shot.  The executions take place at a special spot; the victim himself stands erect over a grave while the chief shoots at the back of the victim's head.  The next victim has to step nearer and throw the body of the murdered one into the ditch, and then a few moments later, share the fate of his predecessor.  These young Jews are so overworked that all will to resist is gone; on the other hand, the German terror is so atrocious that it makes them even want to die so as not to suffer further inhuman tortures.  In one of the first days of September, the chief of Treblinka thus murdered 500 young Jews by shooting them one after another with his gun; what is startling is that not one of this group of a few hundred men attempted to resist death.  The execution lasted from 7:30 to 3 P.M.

The relatively lightest work in the death camp is the sorting of the clothing of victims.  While assigned to that work, one can eat to one's heart's content, for the "deported" Jews took along large food-stocks: bread, marmalade, fat, sugar.  But the chief does not leave the men at this work for any length of time; after a few days, he transfers them to grave-digging.

The gaps in the Jewish auxiliary service are supplemented from among the transports arriving in Treblinka.  As a rule, two transports arrive daily: one in the morning and one toward evening.  In the period of greatest intensity of the action a few transports arrive daily.  Each train consists of a few score of freight cars.  Some of the cars halt at the side-track straight across from the arrival-square, while the remaining cars are shifted to the side to wait until the first part is taken care of.  The cars are quickly emptied.  The tortured and excited throng breathes with relief when let out on the square.  They are immediately taken over by the Jewish auxiliary guard headed by the "kapos."  These give orders in Yiddish.  The women and children are ordered to enter the barracks immediately while the men remain in the square.  Looking around, they see a high pillar with a poster bearing a large inscription: Achtung Warschauer (Attention, natives of Warsaw) despite the fact that transports of Jews from many other towns of the General Government, from Germany and the states of Western Europe are also brought to Treblinka.  "Do not worry about your fate," continues the poster.  "You

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are all going eastward for work; you will work and your wives will take care of your households.  Before leaving, however, you have to take a bath and your clothing must be disinfected.  You have to deposit your valuables and money with the cashier (of Treblinka) for which you will get receipts.  After the bath and disinfection, you will receive everything back unharmed."

In the first period of murder in Treblinka an S.S. officer with a kind, confidence-inspiring face used to come to the square and hold a speech along the same lines.  However, when in the course of the action ever larger transports arrived from various parts and the crowds had to be quickly liquidated, the Germans cancelled the speech as superfluous.

To make the Jews believe that actual classification according to trades would take place at the arrival-square in oder to send occupational groups for labor, they placed small signs with the inscriptions: Tailors, Shoemakers, Carpenters, etc.  It goes without saying that such segregation never took place.

The "kapos" quickly put the men in rows of ten, ordering them to take off their shoes, undress completely and prepare for a bath.  Everybody is permitted to take along a piece of soap and his documents.  In the meantime the sorting-service men take away the clothing to the sorting-place.  Women and children also have to undress completely.  Now comes the last act of the Treblinka tragedy.  The terrorized mass of men, women and children starts on its last road to death.  At the head a group of women and children is driven, beaten by the accompanying Germans, whips in their hands.  The group is driven ever quicker; ever heavier blows fall upon the heads of the women who are mad with fear and suffering.  The cries and laments of the women together with the shouts and curses of the Germans interrupt the silence of the forest.  The people finally realize that they are going to their death.  At the entrance of death-house No. 1 the chief himself stands, a whip in his hand; beating them in cold blood, he drives the women together with the shouts and curses of the Germans interrupt the silence of the forest.  The floors of the chambers are slippery.  The victims slip and fall, and they cannot get up for new numbers of forcibly driven victims fall upon them.  The chief throws small children into the chambers over the heads of the women.  When the execution chambers are filled the doors are hermetically closed and the slow suffocation of living people begins, brought about by the steam issuing from the numerous vents in the pipes.  At the beginning, stifled cries penetrate to the outside; gradually they quiet down and 15 minutes later the execution is complete.

Now comes the turn of the grave-diggers.  Shouting and cursing, the

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German overseers drive the diggers to their work, which consists of getting the bodies out of the execution chambers.  The grave-diggers stand at the scoop, near the valves.  The valves open but not a body falls out.  Due to the steam all the bodies have become a homogeneous mass stuck together with the perspiration of the victims.  In their death agonies, arms, legs, trunks are intertwined into a gigantic macabre entanglement.  To make it possible for the grave-diggers to get out single bodies, cold water from the near-by well is poured over the mass.  Then the bodies separate and may be taken out.  As a rule the surfaces of the bodies are not defaced; only the faces and buttocks are purple.  The grave-diggers, constantly beaten and driven by the Germans, place the corpses on the scoops until the chambers are empty.  The bodies lie piled up like slaughtered cattle.  Now the burying takes place.  Formerly (during the first half of August), the Jewish grave-diggers had hand-carts to convey the bodies to the ditches, which had to be done at top speed.  Lately, however, the chief did away with them.  "Ein Mann zwei Leichen" (one man two corpses), meaning that each grave-digger has to bury two corpses.  He ties the legs or the arms of the body with his belt and running, pulls it from the scoop to the ditches, throws it in and, again running, returns for the next load.  Formerly the graves were right at the death-house so that the burying of corpses could take place quickly.  As new victims were added, the grave-line moved ever further to the east and the pulling of the corpses to the graves takes longer and longer.  After the ditch is filled, the grave-diggers quickly cover the bodies with earth and the digging-machine nearby prepare the next grave.

The execution of the men is identical.  They also are driven through the road in the woods to their death.  The victims react differently while being driven in the direction of the death-house; some repeat loudly psalms of penitence, confess their sins; others curse God; but a sudden shout of the Germans and the blows falling upon the backs of the doomed men immediately brings silence on the whole crowd.  Sometimes all the victims cannot get into the overcrowded chambers; then the Germans keep the rest in the woods near the slaughter-house.  These people see and hear everything but there is no attempt at self-preservation.

This is irrefutable proof of the atrocious terror wielded over their victims by the Germans.

The new death-house provides for the liquidation of 8,000 to 10,000 victims.  If we consider that right now 2,000,000 murdered Jews, or the greater part of Polish Jewry, are already buried in the area of

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Treblinka, the disturbing question arises: for whom do the S.S.-men intend that new house of death; who are to utter their last breaths in that slaughter-house? Most probably the death-machine, once started, will not limit itself to murdering Jews.  At present, the specter of death in steam chambers rises before the Polish population; there have already been some signs of it: according to a report of an eyewitness, the Germans exterminated a group of Poles in death-house No. 1, in the second half of August.