It is hard to imagine what human beings can become, the things they can do and the punishment they can absorb. The first person witnesses to the Holocaust are rapidly aging and vanishing. Chil Rajchman's story of surviving Treblinka is a chilling and horrid account of a killing camp; its' express purpose to kill as many Jews as possible.
The story tells what he did to survive. It is almost written in journal fashion with little emotion - telling what he witnessed and what happened to him. There is little philosophizing or even bemoaning of his fate. It is what life was. He describes the people around him, the words of those who knew they were about to die. He tells of the constant beatings and what he had to do to live to tell what happened there. The actions of the camp guards are depicted and how they set out to accomplish the goal of a killing camp...so successfully that consequently, so many bodies would be buried that blood would seep to the surface, and then the solution of how to burn all these corpses and how it was done is told. It is not a book for the faint of heart or soul. It is appalling in its recollections..
It is left to the reader to think...What is done to survive?... to think what would you have done? Why do some live?
The time of these horrors, in this place has passed and soon all will be gone. There will only be these chronicles that need to be read to remember a history, so that perhaps humanity will never sink to these depths again.
on March 29, 2011
The author describes his deportation on a train bound for Treblinka, during which he hears assurances that the Jews are being transported to a work camp in the Ukraine. Upon arrival, he describes the scene at Treblinka, including the fake railroad station. The Germans pull him out of the line to the gas chambers, and recruit him as a barber. His job is to shave the heads of people before their gassing. The victims know what awaits them. Some women vainly hope that the men will not be gassed, so that their sons will survive and eventually avenge the crime.
Rajchman writes: "Treblinka is guarded by 144 Ukrainians and about a hundred SS men." (p. 111). The gassing of a train transport of several thousand people could be finished within an hour. (p. 36). Any Jews working not quickly enough, or not moving fast enough to the gas chambers, were savagely whipped by Germans and Ukrainians.
In common with some other Treblinka escapees, Rajchman believes that the Spring-1943 Germans' switch from mass burial to mass cremation of corpses developed because of the incriminating nature of the discovery of the bodies of murdered Polish officers at Katyn. (p. 85). At Treblinka, hundreds of thousands of decomposing corpses had to be exhumed and burned. To this, fresh bodies from newly arrived gassed victims were added. The massive pyres, however, did not always burn bodies completely, leaving behind charred heads, feet, large bones, etc. The Jewish prisoners were forced to pulverize the cremains to a small enough size to pass through a net. The burial of pulverized cremains and ash, in deep pits, in alternating layers of sand and with a 2-meter "cap" of sand just below the surface, took place. When not being watched, the prisoners would deliberately bury intact bones, so that someone could find them later.
After fleeing Treblinka during the prisoner revolt, Rajchman encountered Poles who closed the door when he approached them for help, and one who suggested denouncing him. (The reader may not realize that the Germans imposed draconian terror upon the Poles, freely using the death penalty for not only the slightest aid to the Treblinka escapees, but also destroying entire Polish villages for such acts. Besides, the Germans randomly killed Poles in order to terrorize other ones into telling them anything that they knew about the Jewish escapes. Finally, Germans put up posters depicting the Jewish escapees as typhus-bearing Jewish bandits that should be denounced or liquidated. Owing to the fact that fugitive Jews often engaged in banditry against the near-starving rural Polish population, this German propaganda did resonate among part of the Polish peasantry.)
In spite of all the difficulties and mortal dangers involved, a succession of Poles aided Rajchman following his escape from Treblinka. (pp. 133-138). In particular, his Polish friend, Jarosz, helped him extensively, and provided him Aryan papers, which Rajchman successively used for over a year to outlast the German occupation. (pp. 137-138).
on April 29, 2011
In spare and Spartan-like language, the author renders a first person account of one of the most infamous icons of the Holocaust. Because Treblinka has not been as well chronicled as places such as Auschwitz and Dachau, and because its sole function was to serve as an industrial killing machine, this memoir has a singular impact on the human psyche. A slender volume that is easily read in one sitting, the experience of reading the book was akin to viewing a disturbing film in black and white, with a haunting violin solo as a score. The irrefutable immediacey of human evil simply takes one's breath away. Those who read this book may experience a disquieting chill the next time they set foot on German, Polish or Ukrainian soil. Delivered like a needle to the heart, it effectively conveys our humanity (or lack thereof), utilizing little reflection or emotion. As such, this book will soon attain the canonical status of other works in this genre such as Elie Wiesel's Night and Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz. May Raichman's soul rest in peace.
on April 12, 2011
I first became interested in Treblinka after reading Vasily Grossman's essay about this death camp in the recent compilation "A Writer at War" edited by Antony Beevor. Those killed at Treblinka numbered in the hundreds of thousands; those who survived numbered in the dozens. Having Raichman's extraordinarily moving memoir available to future generations is nothing less than a gift to history.
I do have a few quibbles with whoever edited and captioned the included photographs. The ones of Raichman and his family are not the problem -- it's obvious they come from the author himself. Since Raichman died before this was published, it's obvious the editor or the publisher supplied the rest of the photos.
The worst problem is that there is a photo of Hitler and Himmler with the caption "Hitler and Himmler inspect Treblinka." That Himmler visited Treblinka there is no doubt -- Raichman (and other survivors) recalled the visit. Someone with expertise correct me if I'm wrong, but I am pretty sure there is no evidence that Hitler himself ever went to Treblinka. Since no source is given for this photo, it's impossible to track down what event is really being pictured.
On one page, the caption is for three photos of the leaders of the August 1943 uprising, but there are only two photos provided, so we don't know which named person is shown in each picture.
The publisher has included a number of fascinating photos taken by Treblinka's SS commandant Kurt Franz, and these are included and explained -- no problem with these.
There is one picture which, if the caption is correct, would be the most extraordinary one provided: "Smoke rising from Treblinka during the uprising." This shows the Polish countryside and in the far distance woods and structures of some kind with dark smoke rising into the sky and spreading out.
Frustratingly, there is no source at all given for this picture and no explanation how it came to be that someone took a picture of the burning camp on the actual day of the uprising. Was this from Franz's photo album? Was this even taken by a German? Whoever the photographer is, did he take other pictures at the time?
None of the problems or unanswered questions about the photos included in this edition have anything to do with Raichman's memoir itself, which must be read by anyone interested in the death camps of the Holocaust.
on August 9, 2011
Chil Raichman gives the world what millions who passed through Treblinka couldn't... an authentic account of life [and death] in the Treblinka death camp. This is a short hard cover memoir of heroism and gut-wrenching survival. Discussions include transport and arrival at Treblinka, early methods of gassing and disposal of corpses, intolerable punishments, housing and landscape of the camp, eating habits, and the courageous revolt. Raichman did what he needed to survive, from cutting hair of women right before their entrance to the chambers to clearing bodies and removing all types of valuable teeth from corpses. He did this while dealing with the profound emotion of loss. He could have very easily been killed on numerous occasions from missing a tooth from a corpse to reporting himself sick. The book also includes approximately thirty black and white photos of camp landscape, Raichman's family, SS Officers, Hitler and Himmler, and smoke from afar.
As many other books and documentaries have discussed is the great struggle to essentially do a job that facilitates gassing of fellow jews and family or simply refusing with subsequent death of their own. Raichman defied the Germans on two fronts: He made the choice to survive when Jews were really not in any position to choose anything and he acquired knowledge that many people had but few lived to tell about it. Knowledge is power. Raichman's message is to never forget and that one does what one needs to do when confronted with a doomed hellish existence. Raichman also describes the quick method of departure from the train to removal of clothes and valuables to entering the chamber all under the force of the whip. This depicts one of the notable characteristics of Germans...staunch discipline and efficiency. The myth that jews are passive is also quelled in this memoir with the plan and carrying out of a revolt and also the Warsaw uprising which inmates at Treblinka heard second hand. Raichman also offers knowledge of makeup of SS officers, at Treblinka there were former communist party members and pastors in the ranks.A great work.
This is the story of one individual's struggle amidst the torment and death of countless Jews at Treblinka during a time when the Nazi's held control over German society. Chil Rajchman's memoir demonstrates the pain, both physical and mental, he endured to remain alive while witnessing the genocidal slaughter of family, friends, and fellow human beings.
Rajchman's description of the work he was forced to perform in order to survive brought the personal view of the extermination camp at Treblinka (and by extension those of Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno and Sobib'r). The memoir reinforces what the world has known since the end of WWII, that the Germans systematically pursued the genocidal killing of Jews and in process sought to reap economic benefit from the bodies they slaughtered.
To survive Rajchman was assigned many labor tasks, such as sorting clothing of those executed, carrying bodies from the gas chambers, pulling gold teeth from the dead, and cutting the hair of women. While about to be sent into a gas chamber and killed, a young woman said to Rajchman, "But remember, you see what is being done to us. That's why my wish for you is that you will survive and take revenge for our innocent blood, which will never rest..." (page 40). In a way, Rajchman's revenge is in the telling of his story so future generations will not forget the inhumanity that was perpetrated by the Nazi's on the Jews of Europe. In some small way Rajchman honors the memory of this woman and millions like her by his writing of this memoir. This memoir keeps the tragedy fresh in our minds less we forget what tyrants are capable of.
In this memoir Rajchman has related what he saw and heard at the time of its occurrence without embellishment or conjecture. Forced to perform ungodly tasks to survive Rajchman describes the beatings and random killing of those doing forced labor. Reading this book took my emotions from painful sadness to anger. This book may not be for everyone, however, those who read "The Last Jew of Treblinka" will not soon forget his chronicle. I recommend this book and give it 5 stars.
on August 1, 2012
The Nazis tried very hard to erase every scrap of evidence that Treblinka, one of six killing centers in Poland during World War II, existed. They exhumed and burned the murdered victims, ensuring no bone remained. They destroyed or simply did not create records. They prohibited any photos of the prisoners and victims be taken. Perhaps without the brave uprising and escape of the few survivors of this killing factory, they may have succeeded. This firsthand account of the operation and eventual destruction of Treblinka, written soon after Chil Rajchman's escape and while in hiding during the last year of the war, ensures that the Nazis' attempt to silence the cries of its victims was a failure. We should be grateful that this hero strove to survive to tell his story.
This slim volume is a fast read. Its pages are packed with devastatingly sad details about the innocent people who were murdered...both as victims of the gas chambers and victims of equally deadly forced labor. The few people selected to expire through work rather than die immediately are subjected to horrifying treatment at the hands of sadistic guards (referred to in the book only as "murderers," a fitting description), inhumane living conditions and the most nightmarish of tasks. The author describes his many assignments in chilling detail.
I found myself reading this book quickly. I was afraid that if I lingered on the details too long, my sadness would become overwhelming. This incredibly important book should be read, and the victims, all heroes, deserve to be remembered. In the beginning of the book is a quote, very appropriate and fitting for this book and the accounts of all survivors of the Holocaust: "it is the writer's duty to tell the terrible truth, and it is a reader's civic duty to learn this truth. To turn away, to close one's eyes and walk past is to insult the memory of those who have perished."
on February 21, 2011
I recommend everyone read this book. Not only will it show the depths to which some humans can sink, but also the bravery and determination of the human soul. A tear-jerker but also uplifting.
on July 3, 2012
A haunting and memorable story told by a sole survivor of this holocaust camp. It's so important to listen to these stories as we are rapidly losing the survivors of those terror-filled times.
on March 8, 2012
Having met so many survivors through my relationship with Viktor Frankl this exposure of camp life was compelling.No matter how many times you hear about the conditions in the camp they always seem incredulous. This book will last long beyond the life span of those who are witnesses ,and must be read for generations to come.
S.J.Tagliareni author of Hitler's Priest