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August 21, 2010

New book about a Polish Jew who survived seven Nazi camps

Filed under: Dachau, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 7:35 am

You can read all about a new book entitled Treblinka Survivor, the Life and Death of Hershl Sperling here. The subject of the book, who changed his name to Henry Sperling when he moved to Scotland, was a Polish Jew who was first sent to the Czestochowa ghetto in Poland, and from there to Treblinka in 1942. Sperling escaped from Treblinka, during a revolt by the prisoners who worked there, just before the camp was closed.  After he was captured and arrested, Sperling was first sent to a penal camp, and then to the Auschwitz main camp.  From there he was sent to Birkenau (Auschwitz II camp), then transferred to Sachsenhausen, from where he was sent to Kaufering. Near the end of World War II, he was sent to the main Dachau camp, where he was finally liberated.

Sperling’s story parallels that of Jankiel Wiernik (Yankel Vernik)  who was transported from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka. Wiernik was from  Czestochowa, Poland.  He also survived Treblinka and after the war, he wrote a book entitled A Year In Treblinka. Despite his age, Wiernik had been assigned to the work squad, composed mainly of young men, which had to carry the bodies to the mass graves.  Sperling had been assigned to sorting the clothes taken from the prisoners at Treblinka.

I haven’t read the book yet, but Sperling was probably among the 60,000 prisoners who were marched out of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 18, 1945, just before the Soviet liberators arrived. He was supposedly taken to Sachsenhausen, but Kaufering was the name of 11 sub-camps of Dachau, so he was probably sent from Dachau to one of the 11 Kaufering sub-camps.

The Nazis referred to Treblinka as a Durchgangslager (transit camp).  It was one of the three Operation Reinhard camps that were set up after the Wannsee Conference, at which the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” and the “transportation of the Jews to the East” was discussed. The other two Operation Reinhard camps were Belzec and Sobibor.  The headquarters of the Operation was in Lublin.

By March 1943, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler  had completed the resettlement of 629,000 ethnic Germans from the Baltic countries into the Polish territory that had been incorporated into the Greater German Reich in October 1939. He had also deported 365,000 Poles from the part of Poland that was incorporated into the Greater German Reich to occupied Poland, and had deported 295,000 citizens from Luxembourg and the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, which were also incorporated into the Greater German Reich. After all this had been accomplished, Dr. Korherr, who was Himmler’s chief statistician, made a report on what had happened to the Jews in Eastern Poland; this was the famous Korherr Report.

In 2000, a document called the Höfle Telegram was discovered by Holocaust historians in the Public Records Office in Kew, England. This document consists of two intercepted encoded messages, both of which were sent from Lublin on January 11, 1943 by SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle, and marked “state secret.” One message was sent to Adolf Eichmann in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) in Berlin and the other to SS-Oberststurmbannführer Franz Heim, deputy commander of the Security Police (SIPO) at the headquarters of German-occupied Poland in Krakow.

The encoded messages gave the number of arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps during the previous two weeks and the following totals for Jews sent to the Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Lublin (Majdanek) camps in 1942:

Treblinka, 71,355; Belzec, 434,500; Sobibor, 101,370; and Majdanek, 24,733.

The number for Treblinka, 71,355, was a typographical error; the correct number should be 713,555, based on the total given. The total “arrivals” for the four camps matches the total of 1,274,166 “evacuated” Jews in the Korherr Report.

Samuel Rajzman, one of the few survivors of Treblinka, testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal that “Between July and December 1942, an average of 3 transports of 60 cars each arrived every day. In 1943 the transports arrived more rarely.” Rajzman stated that “On an average, I believe they killed in Treblinka from ten to twelve thousand persons daily.”

The following testimony was given by Samuel Rajzman at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal:

Transports arrived there every day; their number depended on the number of trains arriving; sometimes three, four, or five trains filled exclusively with Jews — from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Greece, and Poland. Immediately after their arrival, the people had to leave the trains in 5 minutes and line up on the platform. All those who were driven from the cars were divided into groups — men, children, and women, all separate. They were all forced to strip immediately, and this procedure continued under the lashes of the German guards’ whips. Workers who were employed in this operation immediately picked up all the clothes and carried them away to barracks. Then the people were obliged to walk naked through the street to the gas chambers.

At the camp, a storehouse was “disguised as a train station,” according to a pamphlet which I purchased at the Visitor’s Center in 1998. The fake station was designed to fool the Jews into thinking that they had arrived at a transit camp, from where they were going to be “transported to the East.”

Regarding the fake train station, Samuel Rajzman testified as follows at the Nuremberg IMT:

At first there were no signboards whatsoever at the station, but a few months later the commander of the camp, one Kurt Franz, built a first-class railroad station with signboards. The barracks where the clothing was stored had signs reading “restaurant,” “ticket office,” “telegraph,” “telephone,” and so forth. There were even train schedules for the departure and the arrival of trains to and from Grodno, Suwalki, Vienna, and Berlin.

According to Rajzman’s testimony at Nuremberg, “When Treblinka became very well known, they hung up a huge sign with the inscription Obermaidanek.” Maidanek was the German name for Majdanek; it was a concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, the headquarters of the Operation Reinhard camps.  Rajzman explained that “the persons who arrived in transports soon found out that it was not a fashionable station, but that it was a place of death” and for this reason, the sign was intended to calm the victims.

In spite of all this effort to reassure the victims, the SS soldiers at Treblinka were allegedly allowed to grab babies from the arms of their mothers and bash their heads in. The first person to be tried for war crimes committed at Treblinka was Josef Hirtreiter, who was put on trial in a German court in Frankfurt am Main, and sentenced on March 3, 1951 to life in prison. Based on the testimony of survivors, Hirtreiter was found guilty of killing young children at Treblinka, during the unloading of the trains, by holding them by the feet and smashing their heads against the boxcars.

The pamphlet from the Visitor’s Center says that “In a relatively short time of its existence the camp took a total of over 800,000 victims of Jews from Poland, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Jugoslavia, Germany and the Soviet Union.”

Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg put the number of deaths at Treblinka at a minimum of 750,000. Other sources say that the total number of deaths was 870,000. Although the Nazis kept detailed records of everything, they did not record the deaths by gassing.

The following quote is from the same pamphlet that I obtained from the Visitor’s Center:

The extermination camp in Treblinka was built in the middle of 1942 near the already existing labour camp. It was surrounded by fence and rows of barbed wire along which there were watchtowers with machine guns every ten metres. The main part of the camp constituted two buildings in which there were 13 gas chambers altogether. Two thousand people could be put to death at a time in them. Death by suffocation with fumes came after 10 – 15 minutes. First the bodies of the victims were buried, later were cremated on big grates out of doors. The ashes were mixed witch (sic) sand and buried in one spot.

Martin Gilbert wrote in his book entitled Holocaust Journey that the gas chambers at Treblinka utilized carbon monoxide from diesel engines. Many writers say that these diesel engines were obtained from captured Russian submarines, but according to the Nizkor Project, they were large 500 BHP engines from captured Soviet T-34 tanks. However, at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal proceedings against the major Nazi war criminals, which began in November 1945, the Nazis were charged by the Soviet Union with murdering Jews at Treblinka in “steam chambers,” not gas chambers. Steam chambers were used at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt for disinfecting the clothing of the prisoners.

The pamphlet from the Visitor’s Center  has this information:

Killing took place with great speed. The whole process of killing the people, starting from thier (sic) arrival at the camp railroad till removing the corpses from the gas chambers, lasted about 2 hours. Treblinka was known among the Nazis as an example of good organization of a death camp. It was a real extermination centre.

5 Comments

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    Comment by Jerzy Ulicki-Rek — July 2, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

  3. What about the steam chambers in Treblinka?

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    Comment by Jerzy Ulicki-Rek — July 2, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

    • It is not surprising that steam chambers were used to disinfect the clothing at Treblinka. Steam chambers were also used at Auschwitz-Birkenau; you can see photos of the steam chambers on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/AuschwitzScrapbook/Tour/Birkenau/CentralSauna.html There is no claim that the steam chambers at Birkenau were used to kill people. I am guessing that the steam chambers at Treblinka were much larger than the steam chambers at Birkenau.

      Comment by furtherglory — July 3, 2012 @ 11:23 am


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