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Serving as a "Barber" in the German Death Camp at Treblinka in German-Occupied Poland
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).