Notes, Sources and Further Reading
‘A Year in Treblinka’ by Yankel Wiernik was taken from the version published in the book, Alexander Donat, “The Death Camp Treblinka”, Holocaust Library, New York, 1979. I was able to find it at this website.
This chapter is a dramatized retelling of selected passages in Yankel Wiernik’s A Year in Treblinka. It is difficult to find a copy of this book. For this reason I will share the passages that I used in the story. Please note that the Alexander Donat version that I had access to is incomplete and an adulteration of the original book. Dean Irebodd talks about this in his documentary, One Third of the Holocaust—A holocaust denial movie on the subject of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec.
For the orthodox Holocaust historians Wiernik is considered to be a reliable witness. His testimonies had a major part in shaping the official story of the Holocaust. He was even called on to testify at the Eichmann trial.
Dragging the Bodies
“We had to carry or drag the corpses on the run, since the slightest infraction of the rules meant a severe beating. 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 when we tied straps around them in order to drag the bodies away. Thus we worked from dawn to sunset, without food or water, on what some day would be our own graves. During the day it was very hot and we were tortured by thirst.”
Little Frozen Feet
“All through that winter, small children, stark naked and barefooted, had to stand out in the open for hours on end, awaiting their turn in the increasingly busy gas chambers. The soles of their feet froze and stuck to the icy ground. They stood and cried; some of them froze to death. In the meantime, Germans and Ukrainians walked up and down the ranks, beating and kicking the victims.”
Size of the barracks and gas chambers, description of the perimeter fence. According to Wiernik’s testimony at the Eichmann trial 350-400 men lived in these barracks that were slightly larger than a tennis court. Apparently in the 1940’s people were much, much smaller!
“When I arrived at the camp, three gas chambers were already in operation; another ten were added while I was there. A gas chamber measured 5 x 5 meters and was about 1.90 meters high. The outlet on the roof had a hermetic cap. The chamber was equipped with a gas pipe inlet and a baked tile floor slanting towards the platform. The brick building which housed the gas chambers was separated from Camp No. 1 by a wooden wall. This wooden wall and the brick wall of the building together formed a corridor which was 80 centimeters taller than the building. The chambers were connected with the corridor by a hermetically fitted iron door leading into each of the chambers. On the side of Camp No. 2 the chambers were connected by a platform four meters wide, which- ran alongside all three chambers. The platform was about 80 centimeters above ground level. There was also a hermetically fitted wooden door on this side.
Between 450 and 500 persons were crowded into a chamber measuring 25 square meters. Parents carried their children in their arms in the vain hope that this would save their children from death. On the way to their doom, they were pushed and beaten with rifle butts and with Ivan’s gas pipe. Dogs were set upon them, barking, biting and tearing at them. To escape the blows and the dogs, the crowd rushed to its death, pushing into the chamber, the stronger ones shoving the weaker ones ahead of them. The bedlam lasted only a short while, for soon the doors were slammed shut. The chamber was filled, the motor turned on and connected with the inflow pipes and, within 25 minutes at the most, all lay stretched out dead or, to be more accurate, were standing up dead. Since there was not an inch of free space, they just leaned against each other.
Camp No. 2 was entirely different. It contained a barrack for the workers, 30 x 10 meters, a laundry, a small laboratory, quarters for 17 women, a guard station and a well. In addition there were 13 chambers in which inmates were gassed. All of these buildings were surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Beyond this enclosure, there was a ditch of 3 x 3 meters and, along the outer rim of the ditch, another barbed wire fence. Both of these enclosures were about 3 meters high, and there were steel wire entanglements between them. Ukrainians stood on guard along the wire enclosure. The entire camp (Camps 1 and 2) was surrounded by a barbed wire fence 4 meters high, camouflaged by saplings. Four watchtowers stood in the camp yard, each of them four stories high; there were also six one-storied observation towers.”
“The new construction job between Camp No. 1 and Camp No. 2, on which I had been working, was completed in a very short time. It turned out that we were building ten additional gas chambers, more spacious than the old ones, 7 by 7 meters or about 50 square meters. As many as 1,000 to 1,200 persons could be crowded into one gas chamber. The building was laid out according to the corridor system, with five chambers on each side of the corridor. Each chamber had two doors, one door leading into the corridor through which the victims were admitted; the other door, facing the camp, was used for the removal of the corpses. The construction of both doors was the same as that of the doors in the old chambers. The building, when viewed from Camp No. 1, showed five wide concrete steps with bowls of flowers on either side. Next came a long corridor. There was a Star of David on top of the roof facing the camp, so that the building looked like an old-fashioned synagogue. When the construction was finished, the Hauptsturmfuhrer said to his subordinates, “The Jew-town has been completed at last.””
“Dogs were set upon them, barking, biting and tearing at them. To escape the blows and the dogs, the crowd rushed to its death, pushing into the chamber, the stronger ones shoving the weaker ones ahead of them.”
“ I looked around and saw that almost all the other workers were sharing my fate. A pack of dogs, along with Germans and Ukrainians, had been let loose on us. Almost one-fourth of the workers was killed. The rest of us tossed their bodies into the ditches without further ado. Fortunately for me, when the Hauptmann left, the Unterscharfuhrer relieved me from this work.”
Using bodies, not wood, as kindling. In fact there is not one mention of using anything besides dead women as fuel for the fires.
“Work was begun to cremate the dead. 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. 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. Nevertheless, the results were very poor. The corpses were soaked in gasoline. This entailed considerable expense and the results were inadequate; the male corpses simply would not burn. Whenever an airplane was sighted overhead, all work was stopped, the corpses were covered with foliage as camouflage against aerial observation.”
Julian the Scheissmeister
“Another such poor wretch was the so-called “Scheissmeister” [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. The name of this poor wretch was Julian. He also came from Czestochowa, where he had been the owner of a metal products factory. Just to look at him was enough to make one burst out laughing.”
Access to Cigarettes
“The workers in Camp No. 1 were continually under the threat of the whip. Compared with them, we enjoyed complete freedom. For instance, we were permitted to smoke while we worked and even received cigarette rations. We took advantage of our relative freedom for our own purposes. Some of us drew our guard into conversation to divert his attention, while others used that opportunity to make contact with inmates of Camp No. 1.”
“Among the most difficult tasks was to lure the Ukrainians from the watchtowers. Once they began shooting at us from above, we would have no chance of escaping alive. We knew that gold held an immense attraction for them, and they had been doing business with the Jews all the time. So, when the shot rang out, one of the Jews sneaked up to the tower and showed the Ukrainian guard a gold coin. The Ukrainian completely forgot that he was on guard duty. He dropped his machine gun and hastily clambered down to pry the piece of gold from the Jew. They grabbed him, finished him off and took his revolver. The guards in the other towers were also dispatched quickly.”
The Miracle Bullet
“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 a mark. I was alone. At last, I was able to rest.”
Now, you may be saying to yourself that Mr. Wiernik was just writing a story and was exercising poetic license. That’s all good and well for a fictional story. However, ‘A Year in Treblinka’ is heavily cited in books that are considered to be gold standards of Holocaust history.
‘The Destruction of the European Jews, vol. 3’ by Ralph Hillberg, cites Wiernik’s book 5 times. This book is widely considered the ‘landmark study of the Holocaust’. Hilberg’s comprehensive account ‘spurred discussion, galvanized further research, and shaped the entire field of Holocaust studies’.
Worse yet, Yitzhak Arad’s book, ‘Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka : the Operation Reinhard Death Camps‘ cites Wiernik a whopping 29 times! According to Wikipedia; “As recently as 2019, the book is still being used as the basis of research on the Holocaust.”
As I have illustrated, Wiernik’s book is not a reliable source for scholarly works and is only a marginal source of entertainment.
If you are sitting there thinking that it is outlandish that the Germans would have designed such a ridiculous death camp, you are not alone. If you find it unbelievable that so many bodies could have fit in such a small gas chamber, you are not alone. If you deem it impossible to bury so many bodies in such a small area, you are not alone. If you are wondering where all the fuel needed to burn hundreds of thousands of bodies came from, you are not alone. If you are secretly thinking that maybe this whole Treblinka story needs to be examined critically, you are not alone.
Claim of 700,00 bodies buried: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka : the Operation Reinhard Death Camps by Arad, Yitzhak, page 177
The bone crushing method: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka : the Operation Reinhard Death Camps by Arad, Yitzhak, page 175
In depth information on Treblinka: Treblinka—Extermination Camp or Transit Camp? 3rd edition by Carlo Mattogno, Jürgen Graf