Scrapbookpages Blog

July 4, 2011

Claude Lanzmann: “the proof of the Holocaust is the absence of corpses”

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 4:56 pm

Claude Lanzmann, the director of the 9 and a half hour Holocaust documentary Shoah, recently said that the proof of the Holocaust is not the corpses; the proof is the “absence of corpses.”  You can read Lanzmann’s full quote here and more comments on his film here.

Lanzmann went to Iran recently and the Iranian Holocaust deniers wanted him to prove to them that the Holocaust happened: They wanted to see the corpses.

This was Lanzmann’s answer:

“I told them there’s not a single corpse in Shoah. The people who arrived at Treblinka, Belzec or Sobibor were killed within two or three hours and their corpses burned. The proof is not the corpses; the proof is the absence of corpses. There were special details who gathered the dust and threw it into the wind or into the rivers. Nothing of them remained.”

One of the Jews, whose job it was to dispose of the remains at the Chelmno death camp, was Simon Srebnik. I’ve never seen Lanzmann’s documentary, but according to Lanzmann, in the opening scene of Shoah, “we see Srebnik being rowed along the Narew river. As the boat eases through calm waters, Srebnik sings, his lovely voice mingling with the sound of the breeze in the summer trees.”

Since Chelmno was the first extermination center where the Jews were gassed, this was the logical place for Lanzmann to start his documentary on the Holocaust.  

Neren river at Chelmno  Photo Credit: Alan Collins

According to the guardian article, it is later revealed in the Shoah documentary that “Srebnik was one of the Jews compelled by Nazis to daily dump sacks of crushed bones of Holocaust victims into this all-too-calm river. Two days before Chelmno was liberated by Soviet troops, remaining prisoners were shot in the head, among them Srebnik. Amazingly, he survived.”

Building in the background is where Jewish workers lived  Photo Credit: Alan Collins

The Chelmno death camp was located in the small Polish village of Chelmno nad Neren (Chelmno on the river Ner), 60 kilometers northwest of Lodz, a major city in what is now western Poland. The camp was opened by the Germans some time in October or November 1941.

The Chelmno camp was strictly an extermination center; it had neither prisoner barracks nor factories; its sole purpose was to murder Jews and Roma who were not capable of working at forced labor for the Nazis.  The Jews were first taken to an old Castle where they undressed before climbing into the gas vans.

The Jewish workers, called the Judenkommando, who did the work of burning the corpses at Chelmno, were housed in the granary during the second phase of the killing at Chelmno. The granary is shown in the background of the photo above.

In 1939, there were around 385,000 Jews living in the Warthegau region where Chelmno is located. The Jews who were capable of working were sent by the Nazis to the Lodz ghetto where they labored in textile factories which made uniforms for the German army; those who couldn’t work were taken to Chelmno where they were killed in gas vans.

On January 16, 1942, deportations from the Lodz ghetto began; records from the ghetto show that 54,990 people were deported before the final liquidation of the ghetto in August 1944. The Jewish leader of the Lodz ghetto, Chaim Rumkowski, compiled the lists of people to be deported, although he had no knowledge that they were being sent to their deaths at Chelmno.

The gassing of the Jews at Chelmno was carried out in two separate phases. In the first phase, between December 7, 1941 and April 1943, Jews from the surrounding area and the Lodz ghetto were brought to Chelmno and killed on the day after their arrival.

Location of the Castle which was destroyed after the first phase of killing Photo Credit: Alan Collins

After the first phase of the murder of the Jews at Chelmno ended, the Castle was blown up on April 7, 1943 by the SS. What is left of the foundation of the building is shown in the photo above. The second phase of the killing at Chelmno began in May or June 1944. Exact information about Chelmno is scanty because no records were kept and there were only four Jewish survivors.

During this second phase, the Jews were housed in the Chelmno church on their last night of life. The church is shown in the background of the photo above.

According to Holocaust historian Martin Gilbert, the “Final Solution” began when 700 Jews from the Polish village of Kolo arrived at Chelmno on the evening of December 7, 1941 and on the following day, all of them were killed with carbon monoxide in gas vans. The victims were taken on 8 or 9 separate journeys in the gas vans to a clearing in the Rzuchowski woods near Chelmno.

In his book entitled Holocaust, Martin Gilbert wrote the following:

On 7 December 1941, as the first seven hundred Jews were being deported to the death camp at Chelmno, Japanese aircraft attacked the United States Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Unknown at that time either to the Allies or the Jews of Europe, Roosevelt’s day that would “live in infamy” was also the first day of the “final solution.”

Memorial stone at Chelmno Photo Credit: Alan Collins

The text on the Memorial stone in the photo above says that about 350,000 Jews – Men, women and children – were murdered at Chelmno. Martin Gilbert wrote in his book, entitled Holocaust, that 360,000 Jews were killed at Chelmno just in the first phase of the killing, between December 7, 1941 and March 1943. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum says that “at least 152,000” Jews were killed at Chelmno. The Museum at the villa in Wannsee, near Berlin, says that “152,000 Jews and 5,000 Gypsies” were killed at Chelmno.

On the night of January 17 and 18, 1945, the SS men began taking the 47 Jewish workers out of the granary building and shooting them in groups of five, according to the two survivors, Shimon Srebnik and Mordechai Zurawski. The Jews defended themselves and two of the SS men were killed. According to the survivors, the SS men then set fire to the granary.


  1. I can accept that the proof of the Shoah may lie in the absence of corpses, but only if you have certain knowledge of the prior existence of the people killed in the Shoah and no other explanation for their disappearance. Many Jewish families may have this and for them the Shoah may be fact, but those who live in countries which were not occupied by the Nazis and do not know any families directly affected may not have such knowledge. A bit of understanding both ways may help discourse.

    Comment by Ethelred — July 5, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    • The Red Cross International Tracing Service is still finding long lost relatives of survivors of the Holocaust. The survivors went to many different countries and many changed their names or the spelling of their names. The most usual explanation for the disappearance of a survivor is a name change. The reason that the Tracing Service was set up is because so many people were missing and there was no explanation.

      Comment by furtherglory — July 5, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

  2. “My favorite interview in Shoah is the one with Abraham Bomba, the Barber of Treblinka. I’m not alone in my fondness for Bomba either. Many critics have commented on his performance. They gave him rave reviews. George Will of ABC Television, for example, wrote in the Washington Post that Bomb’s narrative was “the most stunning episode in this shattering film.”

    Some eyewitnesses to alleged gas chamber horrors recount stories that are so lacking in credibility that they can be dismissed out of hand. Others repeat stories that cannot easily be shown to be false but reveal the characters of the tale-bearers to be so sniveling and shameless that one feels compromised by even listening to them. Bomba is becoming an important character in the Holocaust-survivor-eyewitness scenario in that he embodies much of both of these characteristics.

    The way Bomba tells the story, he had been interned in Treblinka about four weeks when the Germans announced that they wanted some barbers for a special detail. Bomba volunteered, of course, then helped the SS identify 16 other Jewish barber among the internees. They were all taken to the second part of the camp where the alleged gas chamber was. They were led inside the gas chambers where a Kapo (almost certainly a Jew; note 1) explained that the 17 barbers were to shear the hair from the woman who would arrive to be gassed. Lanzmann asked Bomba about the greatest murder weapon of all time, the German homicidal poison gas chamber.

    Lanzmann: How did it look, the gas chamber?

    Bomba: It was not a big room, around twelve feet by twelve feet.

    And there you have it. Claude Lanzmann is finished with his in-depth investigation of how the Treblinka gas chamber looked.”


    From “Abraham Bomba, Barber of Treblinka” by Bradley R. Smith

    Comment by who+dares+wings — July 4, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    • I am familiar with the testimony of Abraham Bomba. I included it on the Treblinka section of my website. This quote is from my web site:

      Begin Quote:
      One of the 40 prisoners who escaped from Treblinka, and lived to tell about it, was Abraham Bomba, a Jew who was born in 1913 in Germany, but raised in Czestochowa, Poland. Bomba was one of the 1,000 Jews who lived in the barracks in a separate section of the Treblinka II camp and worked for the Germans who ran the death camp. Bomba was a barber and his job was cutting the hair of the victims inside the gas chamber, just before they were gassed. In 1990, he told about his experience in the camp in a video-taped interview for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The quote below is from the transcript of his interview:

      “And now I want to tell you, I want to tell you about the thing…the gas chamber. It was, they ask me already about this thing. The gas chamber, how it looked. Very simple. Was all concrete. There was no window. There was nothing in it. Beside, on top of you, there was wires, and it looked like, you know, the water going to come out from it. Had two doors. Steel doors. From one side and from the other side. The people went in to the gas chamber from the one side. Like myself, I was in it, doing the job as a barber. When it was full the gas chamber–the size of it was…I would say 18 by 18, or 18 by 17, I didn’t measure that time, just a look like I would say I look here the room around, I wouldn’t say exactly how big it is. And they pushed in as many as they could. It was not allowed to have the people standing up with their hands down because there is not enough room, but when people raised their hand like that there was more room to each other. And on top of that they throw in kids, 2, 3, 4 years old kids, on top of them. And we came out. The whole thing it took I would say between five and seven minute. The door opened up, not from the side they went in but the side from the other side and from the other side the…the group…people working in Treblinka number 2, which their job was only about dead people. They took out the corpses. Some of them dead and some of them still alive. They dragged them to the ditches, and over there they covered them. Big ditches, and they covered them. That was the beginning of Treblinka.”

      After each gassing, the Jewish workers at Treblinka had to clean up in preparation for the next batch of victims, according to Abraham Bomba. The clothing that had been taken off by the victims had to be removed and put into piles for sorting before being sent on the next empty transport train to Lublin. Everything was done with great efficiency in this assembly-line murder camp, and nothing was wasted. All of the clothes and valuables, taken from the Jews when they arrived at Treblinka, were sent to the Majdanek camp in a suburb of Lublin where everything was disinfected before being sent to Germany and given to civilians.

      In his 1990 interview at the USHMM, Bomba described what happened next. Below is a quote from the transcript of his interview:

      “People went in through the gate. Now we know what the gate was, it was the way to the gas chamber and we have never see them again. That was the first hour we came in. After that, we, the people, 18 or 16 people…more people came in from the…working people, they worked already before, in the gas chamber, we had a order to clean up the place. Clean up the place–is not something you can take and clean. It was horrible. But in five, ten minutes this place had to look spotless. And it looked spotless. Like there was never nobody on the place, so the next transport when it comes in, they shouldn’t see what’s going on. We were cleaning up in the outside. Tell you what mean cleaning up: taking away all the clothes, to those places where the clothes were. Now, not only the clothes, all the papers, all the money, all the, the…whatever somebody had with him. And they had a lot of things with them. Pots and pans they had with them. Other things they had with them. We cleaned that up.”
      End Quote

      You can read my article on Treblinka on my web site at

      Comment by furtherglory — July 5, 2011 @ 6:51 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: