My name is Eddie (Idl) Weinstein (born: Yehuda Jakob Wajnsztajn) from Łosice. I escaped from Treblinka on September 10, 1942.Yad Vashem published my story in Hebrew in 2001 under the name “Plada Rotahat” פלדה רותחת and in English in 2002 under the title of “Quenched Steel – The Story of an Escape from Treblinka”. The title of the book was changed in 2009 by Yad Vashem to: "17 Days in Treblinka" I feel that my brother along with five Jewish boys played major roles in my survival; therefore I want to honour their names by posting my story on the Łosicer website.
Eddi Weinstein, 17 Days in Treblinka The Story of an Escape from Treblinka, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2001 (Hebrew, translated from Yiddish by Miriam Talitman, Lingual Editor Yechiam Padan, Edition of the Manuscript: Noah Lasman, Cover Design: Tamir Lahav-Redelmeser, Picture Meir Akselrod, at the Pit, 1943, Yad Vashem Art Collection)
English version published in 2002 by Yad Vashem: Eddie Weinstein, 17 Days in Treblinka, The Story of an Escape from Treblinka, edited by Noah Lasman, translated from Hebrew by Naftali Greenwood.
Eddie Weinstein: 17
Days in Treblinka, Daring to Resist, and Refusing to Die, editor:
Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2008
(4th new edition)
Eddie Weinstein was deported to the Treblinka death camp from Łosice on August 22, 1942. The next day, while waiting in line for water, he was shot in the chest by an SS guard, the bullet piercing his lungs and exiting through his back. His brother hid him in a building full of the clothing of murdered Jews and left to get him water, but never returned. Eddie escaped the camp and returned to the remnant ghetto in Łosice, telling the remaining Jews about the gas chambers. He hid with his father in a pigsty, a fishpond, and a bunker in the forest and was liberated by the Soviet army on July 31m 1944, after which he was inducted into the Polish Army. Eddie escaped six times during the Holocaust. After the war, Eddie rebuilt his life in the United States.
|The old cover of the book, "Quenched Steel"|
|The Small Ghetto||81|
|Searching for Food||115|
|Appendix A: After the Liberation - a Letter||159|
Appendix B: Generations of Jewish Life in Łosice
The Author's Overview of His Town
It is the new cover of Eddie Weinstein's book "17 Days in Treblinka" which has been translated into Polish in 2008. Special thanks to "Yad Vashem" for permission and Rafal Zubkowicz for the translation.
With the permission of Yad Vashem, one chapter "treblinka" is posted in this web site 8.12.2006.
My Only Brother Israel (Srulik) - Beloved Israel.
My only brother ISRAEL [ SRULIK ]. Beloved Israel. He was 16 when he died in Treblinka. We stayed together while we were being rounded- up by the Nazis. On August 22 1942 we were forced-marched thirty two kilometers to Siedlce. Two days passed before the cattle train arrived to transport us to Treblinka. We were amongst the first ones to get into the train. The cattle cars were so overcrowded that the people were passing out because of lack of air. My brother and I realizing that we will soon die, reacted in the only way possible. We pushed ourselves on the peoples' heads and with a super-human effort managed to get out. Better to be killed from a bullet than suffocate. Some time passed and there still remained hundreds of people waiting on the station platform. The SS now realized that no more bodies could be squeezed into the existing cattle cars, so more were added. When the train arrived on the Treblinka station there was a water pump. Overcome by thirst people began breaking open the little car windows and jumping, running to the water pump. Immediately they were shot. The next day in Treblinka while I was standing in line to get water I was shot in my right chest, the bullet pierced my lung and exited from the back. Within seconds my brother was next to me. He got some help to drag me over to the group of workers who were sorting the clothing. He took of my blood stained shirt. The workers found some iodine and poured on my wound. He tied a large towel around me, and put a large shirt on me. My cousin Chaim Brukman came and told my brother that Dr. Majes was in a building near the ramp bandaging Jolke Goldberg's elbow. He had also been shot. My brother and Chaim took me into this building, which was full of packages from Radom. But the doctor was no more there. My brother made a hole between the packages where I could hide. He told me that he would try to bring me some water. I never saw him again.
My Cousin, Chaim Brukman.
Chaim was taken to Treblinka along with his mother and two sisters. We were together in the same cattle car. On August 22nd, the night that we arrived, his father, my mother’s brother, was killed at the old Jewish cemetery in Siedlce.
Four days passed since Jolke and I were hiding in the large hut near the ramp. I noticed workers boarding up the entrances. I made a decision to get out. Jolke Goldberg was afraid to leave because his elbow was heavily bandaged.
I now met Gedale Rosencwejg son of Shye who was a builder of wooden houses. He told me that only 7 boys were left from our transport, the others were killed the first day we arrived in Treblinka. Gedale and the others were working in a special work detail designated by red patches on their right side of their pants. This group was responsible for sorting through the closing of the victims. Gedale found a red piece of cloth and attached it with a safety pin to my pants. I now also became a sorter of the clothing of the dead which quickly formed "large mountains".
The 10th of September 1942 I, Gedale and Michael escaped together.
Gedale had an idea we should try to get to Mokobody which it was only about 10 kilometers away. One of his brothers was working there every day. Trucks used to bring them from the concentration camp in Siedlce in the morning and when they were finished take them back to the camp. We arrived there as the work was ending. We mixed ourselves with the workers. When we arrived into the camp it was already night. I met my father Asher Weinstein The following night we escaped to the small ghetto of Losice. In the middle of November 1942 Gedale and his brothers left for a hiding place. He never returned. To this day I don't know how they perished.
Michael was the oldest among us to have escaped from Treblinka. He was about twenty-six years old. Michael collected victims’ belts, hid pieces of gold in them and buried them in the sand near a large building next to the train station ramp. On one occasion Michael gave me a belt in which was embedded fifteen gold coins. This belt helped us to survive for the coming two years.
In the second (small) ghetto someone informed the commandant of the Polish police that the three of us – Michael, Gedale and I – escaped from Treblinka and that we were in possession of gold. During one evening the Polish police surrounded the building in which we would meet. I remember the commandant holding a little box filled with sport cigarettes. On it I noticed three names. He asked everyone for his family name. I gave a fictitious name; Fishman gave his real name and was led away together with his brother. I was placed under detention on the second floor of a building located near the rynek (town square). As soon as I could I jumped from a window and hid. The Fishmans were taken to the Jewish cemetery where they were threatened with death if they did not give up the gold. The threats had no effect so the Fishmans were locked up in jail. The following day I gave Jankel Łosice, who knew the commandant, five thousand zlotys and the Fishmans were released. In the middle of November 1942 Michael and his brother left the ghetto for a hiding place. After our liberation they didn’t come back. To this date I do not know their fate.
Eddie with friends while in the Polish Army, October 1944, from right to left: Noah Lasman edited Eddie's book and lives in Jerusalem; Hanka Charlupska, jumped from a train heading to Treblinka and survived, was only 15 years old; not remembered; Belcia Pinkus, sister of Oskar Pinkus , author of the book: "House of Ashes" (Union College Press, 1990); Eddie Weinstein (Yehuda Jakob Wajnsztajn).
I think that he was from Wlodzimierz. In 1939 he was in the Polish army, captured by the Germans but was released in 1940. He settled in Łosice.
In Treblinka he was one of the seven boys from our town whose job it was to pick up victims’ clothing. This work group was designated by red patches on their clothing. One day the guards told us to go into “that” building to undress. I knew what that meant. I had nothing to lose so I began to walk in the opposite direction to where Jacob Miller and others were enlarging the latrine. An armed guard stopped me but I told him that I was sent to work with this group. I didn’t stop walking. When Jacob noticed my crisis with the guard he yelled to me to come back to work. Others now began to do the same and the guard released me. Jacob saved my life. He escaped in the uprising of August 2, 1943. He returned to Łosice after we were liberated. I believe that he was living in Uruguay after the war. I was told by Noach Lasman that he had a son living in Tel Aviv.
On the 10th of September an empty train arrived to pick up the mountains of clothing which belonged to those who had been murdered. For the first time I saw an opportunity of an escape. Two men were assigned by the SS to a wagon. I carried a bundle on my back and wanted to get in the wagon with the bundle. But I was stopped by the 2 loaders, however when the next batch of cars arrived Lejzer Mordsky and another man started loading and they let me in. He also let Gedale and Michael in. We hid under the clothing. Lejzer and the other man loaded up the wagon. The SS man checked if it is full and locked the door. The train left the camp. It was on the station all night. The next morning the train started moving. Later we jumped from the train. About a month later Lejzer escaped the same manner we did. He was hiding in a forest 5 kilometers from Konstantinów Podlaska. Three weeks before liberation he was murdered by the A-K polish underground.
Berl and I became friends in the ghetto. In the middle of one night in July 1942 we witnessed the German police shoot two girls and a boy across the street from our apartment. Since that night I was sleeping in a garden shed, which belonged to my uncle Matys. Berl joined me there. When the ghetto was liquidated Berl escaped as we were being led away to the ghetto in Siedlce. Later when he learned that the Germans had set up a small ghetto he returned to Łosice.
I told Berl about his brother, Sane who was killed in Treblinka and his brother Jolke who had been shot in the elbow.
I told Berl that if he could find a place to hide I would pay all his expenses. Berl contacted a old neighbor from before the war, and we built a hiding place in a pigsty on his property. After about three weeks he asked us to leave. My father sent me to see Mr. Szczebunski who managed the fish hatcheries on the Wozniki estate which was three miles from town. This is where we hid for 17 months, my father I Berl and Hersh Wiur.
In april 1944 we were discovered by farm hands who threatened to denounce us if
we didn"t pay for their silence. The price became so excessive that we made the
decision to move our hiding to the forest about a half a mile away. We were
staying there for about two and a half months. On July 30th 1944 we were
discovered by retreating Germans soldiers. We ran in different directions. my
father ran into field of corn, I ran into a potato field, and Berl sadly
was killed. The following day my father, I and Wiur were liberated by the
Russian Army. We asked the farmers from the surrounding villages to look for a
body. A few weeks passed when a farmer plowing his field came upon his body. We
buried my friend Berl at the Jewish cemetery in Łosice . To this day I
believe that with his running he saved our lives.
Eddi Weinstein, Steel Quenched in Cold Water, The Story of an Escape from Treblinka, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2001, Pages 39-63.
The locomotive came back and towed away twenty more cars. Our car stayed where it was. I sat down in a corner and fell asleep; night had begun to fall. I awoke to the sound of my brother's sobbing. Everyone around us was sobbing. A few people prayed; mainly I heard Shema Israel. Others embraced their loved ones and bid them goodbye. A few, in their despair, pounded their heads against the walls of the car. I pushed my way toward the small peephole and looked out. All along the platform, corpses were heaped up. We couldn't see any farther, because a long building blocked our view. Nothing was moving. Although at the time I didn't know anything about the gas chambers and the crematoria, I was sure we had been brought here to play our part in the Nazi genocide scheme. We all believed that the soldiers were going to shoot us the minute they opened the doors of the cattle cars. Several minutes later, when the doors were opened, we were struck by the sickening stench of burning flesh. The German and Ukrainian guards bellowed at us to hurry up. Those who did not move quickly enough were beaten with rifle butts. Some of us got out of the cars but could hardly stand on our feet. Others sank to the ground. An order was given: men and older boys to the right, women, children, and the elderly to the left. My brother and I joined the right-hand column. We gazed at the left-hand column as it disappeared through a large gate. I was puzzled about why so few people were coming out of the cars. Soon I found out why.
We were ordered to remove from the train those who had suffocated or who lay motionless. In every car there were corpses, lying in every conceivable posture. In some cases, entire families had died together - mothers still clutched their children, husbands still embraced their wives, mouths still agape, as if gasping for air. Sometimes three generations lay together in a befouled corner. I knew some of the dead; they all came from my town.
I found my cousin Esther Yocheved, with her three red-headed daughters and her husband, all dead. Before the war, they had lived in Włocławek. Lying nearby were my uncle Matis, his wife, and his daughter, married only a year earlier.
In pairs we carried each corpse out to the platform, where the pile rose to a height exceeding that of the tallest man. Some of the dead still frothed at the mouth, a sign that they had perished within the past few hours. Others still showed signs of life: although unconscious, they wiggled an arm or leg. Some groaned, perhaps for the last time. The corpses, as well as those still wavering between life and death, were taken to pits that other Jews had already dug. I heard Germans shouting "Arbeiten, arbeiten," and Ukrainians shouting, "Raboti, raboti, bo bodu strelt" "Work, work, or I'll shoot." Although we had never heard Ukrainian before, we understood perfectly, because it closely resembles Polish.
Heaped up next to the pile of corpses was a vast pyramid of parcels, bundles, suitcases, and clothing - the belongings of victims who had arrived on earlier transports. My brother and I occasionally hid under the pile of rags to rest, but not for long, because the guards ordered us to get out and go back to work. Despite everything, we still wanted to live. We were still afraid of death.
We worked all night under the searchlights. Many people who started working with us died before the night was over and were taken away exactly as they had dragged off other bodies. Only luck determined who lived and who died. Israel my brother and I toiled doggedly until daybreak. Early that morning, a bulldozer appeared and began to excavate three large, deep pits near the fence. Later the locomotive came by, pulling three flatcars. About twenty-five Ukrainians and Germans were standing on the first and third cars. Twenty prisoners, including my brother and me, were ordered to climb aboard the unoccupied middle car. We were each given a small cup of lukewarm water, not nearly enough to slake our thirst.
The guards opened the gate and we left the camp. The Ukrainians told us that we would not be coming back there; we were going to work in the forests. Soon we found ourselves at the Treblinka railroad station. Dozens of corpses were strewn on the platform and along the tracks - evidently persons murdered the previous day. Amidst shouting and blows of rifle butts we were ordered to load the corpses onto the flatcar. We worked on the run, without a moment's rest. Those who could not run or who moved too slowly were beaten with rifle butts. Later, two guards ordered me and three boys to follow them. We climbed down from the platform and walked toward some dense vegetation. On our way, we had to cross a shallow stream. Unable to control ourselves any longer, we sank to our knees and drank deep drafts until the guards aimed their rifles straight at us.
Across the stream we saw two bodies, apparently those of would-be escapees who had managed to make it that far before being shot down. One of them, a middle-aged man, was still clutching a handful of banknotes; others were strewn around him. He had evidently tried to buy off his murderer, but the bribe was not accepted this time. Whoever caught him had no trouble taking his money and the valuables in his pouch, and killing him too. One of us recognized him; it was Nissim Rosenbaum, a well-to-do Warsaw merchant who was born in Łosice and had returned to his hometown along with his family when the war began. We lugged the two corpses to the car and loaded them aboard.
In addition to the bodies there were severed legs, arms, hands, and other body parts lying between the railroad tracks. We were ordered to load them aboard the flatcars, too.
After we finished our work we were led back to the camp. After we unloaded the bodies, we joined the other workers. Later I figured out the source of the dismembered bodies: people who had jumped from the train and hid under the cars but were too exhausted to go any further. When the train pulled out, they fell and were crushed under its wheels.
After we returned to the camp, an SS man appeared, accompanied by two young men carrying pails of water. Quickly we lined up and waited to drink. However, the German saw something he didn't like. He drew out his gun and suddenly I found myself prostrate on the ground. I felt no pain but realized that I had been shot. As if in a dream, I heard somebody lying next to me sobbing and mourning his father's death. I was weak but still conscious. The right side of my white shirt was stained with blood.
I lay there as the column advanced slowly. Suddenly I heard somebody saying, "He's still moving. Maybe we should ask the SS man to finish him off; why should he suffer?" Apparently somebody was concerned about me. I agreed with him. This terrible camp was no place for the healthy, let alone for the wounded. Either way, my time was numbered. Within seconds, however, my brother was next to me. The moment he saw me he burst into tears. I told him to stop crying; this was no place for tears. All of this happened next to the platform and the hut filled with piles of clothing stripped from the dead. Israel and somebody else dragged me over to the hut and lay me under a pile of clothes.
I asked Israel to find a towel so I could clean out the wound. He removed my blood-stained shirt and wrapped me in a towel that the workers found nearby. Then he dressed me in a shirt that was too big for me, so the towel fit inside. It turned out that the bullet had penetrated my chest on the right side and exited from my back. Israel concealed me in a stack of clothes and went out to look for water.
After I drank the water he brought me, my pain got worse. I wanted to find an SS man and ask him to put an end to my agony, but Israel began to cry again and pleaded with me to reconsider. He had just lost his mother; he didn't know if his father was still alive; and now I, too, wanted to abandon him. That was more than he could bear; if I died, he too would no longer wish to live. He had to survive, I told him. He was the only member of our family who could avenge our deaths after the Germans lost the war. My luck had run out; he still had a chance. He was young and healthy and had to carry on.
My brother sat down next to the place where I was lying under a pile of rags. Then, to avoid attracting attention, he started working with the young men who were opening and sorting the orphaned parcels. I raised my head and gazed into the cloudless blue sky. I could not recall if I had ever noticed its beauty. Suddenly, I recovered my will to live.
The parcel-openers found a bottle of iodine in one of the packages and gave it to my brother, who poured it into my wound. It stung horribly but I was determined to prevent infection. I hoped the wound would eventually heal. Somebody found a sugar cube and gave it to me to suck on. The pain erupted again - this time it was so severe that I ripped off the towel that served as a bandage. Just then my cousin Chaim Brukmann peeked in. He told Israel that Dr. Majes was hiding in the long hut and might be able to help me. The two of them gripped me under the armpits and dragged me around the corner, into the hut. Dr. Majes was no longer there. He was a young doctor from Lwow who had served with the Polish army at the beginning of the war and been taken prisoner. Freed in 1940 but unable to return home, he had settled in Łosice.
The hut was stuffed to the rafters with parcels and bundles bearing the names and addresses of people from Radom. We found several people there whom the doctor had helped. One of them, well concealed among the clothes, was a friend of mine, Julke Goldberg; he had been shot in the elbow. I decided to share his hiding place. Israel arranged a comfortable spot for me among the piles of rags. My whole body was covered, except for my face, and he stacked several bundles on my left side so I could hide my face, too, if necessary (my right arm was totally disabled). Then he went out to look for water. I never saw him again. I do not know and never will know what became of him and how he perished. He may have been hit by a stray bullet, as I had been. It made no difference to the murderers, for whom we were just a herd of slaves doomed to extermination in any event.
Several moments later I heard one of the guards shout, "Get out, get out, or I'll shoot." Within seconds I covered myself totally. I knew I could not obey the order even if I wanted to. The guard climbed on the heap of parcels. At one point his foot came down right over my head. He discovered a few concealed men and I heard him shoot them dead. I think I must have lost consciousness.
It was not yet evening when I woke up to the sound of machine-gun fire outside the hut. Breathing heavily, I pressed my wound with my left hand and obtained a little relief. Soon afterwards, my friend Julke Goldberg crawled toward me and told me that his brother, Sane, was lying dead next to us. He, too, had gone out to look for water and had been spotted by the guard on his way back. The guard followed him in and killed him with the others. In the same breath, Julke told me that he had dreamed that he and I would survive.
His dream strengthened my resolve to stay alive. I wanted to believe him. Unfortunately, only part of the dream came true. Several days later, Julke joined the ranks of the dead.
The next morning, August 26, I crawled out of my hideout and saw three young men drinking. Half-dead with thirst, I asked them to share the water with me. One of them replied that they were drinking urine, not water. I pointed to my chest, told them that I had been shot and could not go outside, and was very thirsty. One of the men poured a little of the cloudy liquid into a cup, measuring it as if it were a rare treasure, and gave it to me. I sipped a little but it did not quench my thirst.
On Thursday, August 27, I heard from the men in the hut that a transport had arrived from Międzyrzec Podlaski. A transport from Kielce had also come in during the day. Before sunset, a young man clutching a pair of scissors approached me and asked me to cut his long hair. Unable to move my right arm, I could not do as he asked. Instead, I asked him to search through the parcels, hoping that he would find something for me to drink. He found a small bottle of vinegar and poured a little of it onto a sugar cube. I popped the cube into my mouth. My lips, tongue, and gums stung; it was vinegar concentrate. Nevertheless, it gave me some relief because the burning helped slake my agonizing thirst.
The boy also tasted a drop but refused to drink more and gave me back the bottle. I put it in the pocket of my trousers. About half an hour later, I felt a strong burning sensation in my thighs. Slipping my hand into the pocket, I found the bottle empty. The pain was unbearable. Fate had played an especially cruel trick on me, I thought. My back, too, ached and itched, because it was still peeling from sunburn that I had incurred before the deportation. My back had blistered on the way to Treblinka and was now covered with scabs. I was uncomfortable no matter how I lay. But worst of all was the thirst.
On Friday, peering through the cracks in the walls of the hut, I noticed that water was being doled out next to one of the large pits near the fence. Barefoot, and taking care to remain unnoticed, I stepped out of the hut and swiftly mingled with the group of workers. Now it took four men to drag away one body, each holding an arm or a leg. The corpses had become heavy and bloated, swollen to approximately twice their natural size. Their skin was deformed by insect bites; their clothes seemed to be covered with grease. These people had suffocated aboard the train and their bodies had been lying next to the platform for days. The workers had to get used to the stench of the decomposing flesh. I wanted to join the corpse-draggers to get a little water but was roundly rejected. I didn't look like someone who could help. Indeed, I more closely resembled the dead who were being tossed into the pit. I understood the workers' concern: I might attract the murderers' attention. Finally I found a three-man team that agreed to accept me as its fourth member. Each time we brought a body to the pit, we received a little water. From time to time soldiers fired in the air to expedite the work. On one occasion I took advantage of the commotion to slip back into the hut and bring Julke some water.
The next day, August 29, marked a week since I had left Łosice. That morning, I heard men at work near the main entrance to our hut, and discovered they were nailing it shut. I realized that we had to abandon the refuge; if we stayed there, we would die of thirst. Julke was afraid to leave because the bandage on his elbow was visible, so he stayed anyway
When I left the hut, my first thought was to look for my brother. I hoped he was still among the living. I looked around, scouting for someone whom I knew. My eyes fell on Gedalia Rosenzweig, my friend from the cheder and the son of Shaya the builder. My appearance had changed so severely that Gedalia did not recognize me; I had to tell him who I was. He told me that only seven people from the Łosice transport were still alive and led me to them. All had been assigned to clothes-sorting duty and wore a red patch on their pants. Unfortunately, none of them knew what had become of my brother. Two of the seven had been hiding with me in the barracks: Jakob Müller of Wlodzimierz (in Volhynia) and Michael Fischmann, a relative of the Goldstein family, from Biala Podlaska. They told me that three days earlier the Germans had selected fifty men for labor and then murdered all the others.
All the clothes-sorters had been given a red triangle that they sewed or attached with a safety pin to their right trouser leg. They called the Gruppenführer the group leader - a heavy, solid man, Wiener Fleischer ("the Viennese butcher"). I think his real name was Singer. As a special gesture they had not killed his wife. Gedalia found a piece of red cloth among the rags and attached it to my pants with a safety pin. Before sunset I reached the enclosed barracks area where the "legal" or "special" workers were supposed to assemble. An SS man came over and began the roll call. He counted us and found too many people. Holding the list in his hand, the man walked back and forth, looking for the culprit. When he asked me my name, I answered, "Gedalia Rosenzweig". He located the name on the list and moved on. He came across another suspect and asked him his name, too - but before he received an answer he was called away. Seizing the opportunity, I went into the barracks and concealed myself under the rags that the workers had brought previously. The Gruppenführer completed the roll call. When the workers entered, I sighed with relief; I was still alive. But no one could know for how long. We lived not only from day to day but from minute to minute. The pain in my right side and arm had become unbearable.
That night I lay in the dirt alongside Gedalia. I could not fall asleep, because of the hard ground I was unable to find a comfortable position that could ease my agonies. My whole body ached; every posture was torture. At most I managed to doze off briefly.
At sunrise we were sent out to work. We worked in a large field behind the building where I was hiding, where the clothing and parcels were stored. A mountain of bundles rose about two hundred yards to our left. Three hundred yards to our right, just inside the fence, there were three deep pits where they burned the corpses. About 650 yards straight ahead was a chain-link fence; beyond it were the gas chambers. With my left hand I lay coats, dresses, and underwear on a sheet that had been spread out. When it was full Gedalia tied the corners into a bundle and took it over to the stack.
The other workers were nearly finished with the job of clearing all the corpses from the platform. Some of the bodies had lain there for ten days and were in an advanced state of decomposition. Armed guards patrolled among us. SS men kept showing up to pick a few of us out of the rest and lead them to the edge of the huge cremation pit. There the victims were ordered to disrobe and stand facing the pit. Then they were shot to death. At first, each of the victims had to drag the body of his predecessor into the pit; his reward, when he climbed out, was a bullet. Anyone who pleaded for his life was ordered to lie on the ground and absorbed a terrible beating before being shot. Most of these people, however, had become too indifferent to ask for mercy, knowing that that virtue had lapsed from the world. Brutal and untrammeled murder had become so routine that any German or Ukrainian might kill at any time. I do not remember a single case in which a person selected at random in this fashion was allowed to live for even a short while.
Several days passed without transports. The workers cleaned the platform, covered it with burned-out coal, and laid fresh branches along the fence. But the stench of charred corpses hung in the air. In the barracks at night we bolstered one another's morale, trying to construe the changes as an indication that the ordeal was about to end and our release was imminent. The older workers cited the absence of transports and the clean-up work ordered by the SS men as evidence that a Red Cross team from Switzerland would soon visit to investigate the camp. Some went further and asserted that Allied aircraft were bombing German cities because the Germans were murdering innocent people. We wanted to believe that the world was reacting to the mass murder in some fashion. These prophecies definitely strengthened our resolve. Others did not share our optimism, though; several of these realists hanged themselves each night. Workers hauled their bodies away in the morning.
During my stay in Treblinka, we ate mainly what we could salvage from the victims - bread, sausage, and sometimes delicacies that we had not seen in years. Some deportees believed they were being taken to a camp where they could live together with their families; they brought their best clothes, food, money, and valuables. Thus, although we were always short of water, the incoming transports kept us from being hungry. We were not allowed to eat during work hours because the food that the deportees had brought with them was the property of the Third Reich. The usual penalty for putting something in your mouth was death.
One day, five SS officers who were not part of the regular camp detachment paid Treblinka a visit. They were accompanied by an officer from Treblinka whom we had nicknamed "Lalka", Polish for "doll". He evidently gave them a tour of the death factory. Several minutes later, as we busied ourselves sorting clothes, two guards came up and selected me and other members of the group, forty in all. One of the guards ordered us to stand on the side and form a column. As the men complied, I slipped away and rejoined those who had not been selected. I still do not know what prompted me to do that. The forty selectees were led toward the pits. About fifty yards from the last pit, the guards told them to undress. Six of them were ordered to go over to the pit, where the SS men were waiting, and stand facing it. At Lalka's order, they were shot in the back of the neck. Then each gunman kicked his victim into the pit. The next group of six were led to the same fate. The slaughter continued until the last victim had been murdered. None of them asked for mercy.
The young German whom we called Lalka was an especially handsome and elegant man - always nattily dressed, clean-shaven, boots gleaming. No one would ever have guessed what kind of beast lurked behind the handsome facade. To this day I cannot understand how people who must have had normal parents, homes, wives, and children, who went to school and who believed in God, could carry out such atrocities and return home after their day's "work" to eat dinner, go to sleep, and perform all their other daily activities. Nor can I understand why we still wanted to live. My thoughts, like those of an animal, focused on one thing only: finding a way out of this trap.
Every day we worked until sunset, followed by roll call, which included the workers with the red patches. Roll call was conducted in an area between the barracks where the workers slept and the hut where the new arrivals undressed. The Germans did not have a list of workers' names; a head count was enough for them. I understood that after each day's shootings they wanted to know only how many workers would be available for the next day's labor. After roll call, we received a little hot water and some haff-cooked potatoes. That was our supper.
I think that by this time the number of red-patch workers toiling under the command of the "Wiener Fleischer" had grown to between sixty and eighty. We were privileged to have a separate entrance to the large barracks, where a wall separated us from the rest of the prisoners. In the absence of a floor, 200-250 workers slept on the sand in a larger area of the same barracks.
One evening, aircraft passed over the camp and the staff immediately turned off the searchlights. Our morale soared. We believed that Russian bombers had arrived to destroy the death factory and hoped that at least some of us would escape and tell the world what was happening there. Unfortunately, nothing came of it. Several minutes after the aircraft passed overhead, we heard dull reverberations of bombs, but far away - perhaps near Malkinia. Later we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that the Germans must have suffered serious damage.
The next day, when we went back to our cleaning duties, we found a sign with a seven-paragraph message. One paragraph spoke of showering and delousing; another was about sorting clothing and tying pairs of shoes together by their laces. Money, valuables, and documents were to be stuffed inside. Later I learned that before victims entered the "showers" they threw off their clothes where they stood, leading to a situation of tens of thousands of unpaired shoes. The Germans, with their innate thriftiness, had to put some order into this chaos. The Fatherland could not tolerate the wasting of resources that were now state property.
One evening, the SS men divided us into labor details. Together with Gedalia Rosenzweig I was sent to join a forty-man crew. Each of us received a broom. Working in pairs, we cleaned out railroad cars after their passengers had been removed. Now we knew why the Germans had made us fix up the platform: to dupe their new victims into believing that they were about to be interned in a labor camp. All the rumors about international committees were no more than wishful thinking.
The first new transport arrived the very next day. Twenty cars, each guarded by an SS man, stopped alongside the platform. The train carried people from Warsaw, who still looked relatively healthy and certainly were in better condition than those in the transport from Łosice. The weather had cooled off; the cars were less crowded. The Germans prodded the passengers to exit the cattle cars quickly. As they rushed to comply, the workers cleaned up after them. All the men, women, and children were quickly pushed into a hut, where they were ordered to disrobe; from there they were led directly to the gas chambers. The empty railroad cars were towed out of the station. As soon as all the newcomers had finished undressing, the Germans prodded the workers to remove their clothing, parcels, and shoes as quickly as possible and carry them to a spot behind the long hut. A short time later a locomotive arrived, pulling another twenty cars. We repeated the process for the rest of the transport.
New transports stopped at the platform the next day, but by now we were more sophisticated. The moment each train stopped, we went into action and handed our brooms to some of the new arrivals. The brooms proved that they were workers, and we, in turn, were protected by the red patches on our clothing. The newcomers swept out the cars and we removed the trash from the train and dumped it into the burning pit. Afterwards, the newcomers mixed with the veteran workers and returned the brooms. At roll call, our murderers could not distinguish between "legal" and "illegal" laborers. In their frustration, the guards shot many people from both groups.
In retrospect, I don't think the Germans cared about our ruse one way or the other. Certain that we would all die in the end, it was all the same to them who dragged out the bodies and who sorted the clothing. They spared those among the newcomers who said they were construction workers, because at that time they were building new facilities to improve the slaughterhouse and make it more efficient.
We also heard that the Germans spared pretty women, whom they kept around for gang rape by German officers and Ukrainians, and then murdered them. Only men were employed in the parts of Treblinka where I worked. Once someone called my attention to a young woman dressed as a teenage boy, who was sorting the clothes with us. I don't know how long she survived.
When each transport arrived, the women were always the first who were ordered to take off their clothes. Lalka strolled alongside them and, after they stood naked, whipped those who were ashamed of their nudity or covered their private parts with a sheet or a piece of cloth. Sometimes he lashed one of them simply to inflict pain.
By now the transports were coming every day. One day was much like the next; the same incidents recurred again and again. Once, as I swept out the interior of a car, an SS man suddenly struck me with his whip and ordered me to help a woman, who was unable to stand, climb out of the car. The idea was to show his victims how well the ill were being treated. Then he ordered one of the workers to take the woman to the field hospital for care.
The newcomers really believed that the ailing woman would be taken to an infirmary. None of them realized that the "field hospital" was in fact just a giant pit, about thirty yards in diameter, which was always ablaze. They would place those who were sick or disabled on the ground at the edge of the pit, facing in. The SS man in charge circulated among them and shot them in the back of the neck; then the workers cast them into the pit. Some of the victims were still breathing when they were tossed in with the other bodies.
The pit was separated from the spacious field by a barrier of fresh pine branches, which were replaced from time to time to conceal the "infirmary" from the newcomers until the last moment. Twenty minutes after I helped the woman climb out of the railroad car I was told that some infants were sitting by the pit, and no one else was there because the SS soldier had taken his lunch break. I gathered some trash and went over there. I saw the woman whom I had removed from the car, still breathing, sitting at the edge of the pit and staring in fright into the burning inferno and its contents: the half-cremated bodies of old people and children, mixed with smoldering trash. She tried to stand up, but her legs would not hold her. She looked at the workers who stirred the embers - remnants of human beings - so they would burn better. Nearby were about a dozen infants, too young to have learned how to walk. They were not crying - they certainly did not understand what was happening. They looked about, almost certainly in hopes of finding their mother or father. Later I heard that right after he returned from his lunch break the SS man shot them all and ordered the workers to throw the tiny bodies into the flames. Of all my memories of that accursed place, the vision of these babies is undoubtedly the worst. I see their faces whenever I remember Treblinka. As I write these lines, more than fifty years after that day, I still cannot overcome the horror.
The atrocities mounted in number with each passing day. Every evening I was surprised to find myself alive. Members of our work detail vanished every day. Once forty or fifty Jews passed through the gate, half-dead, and were driven like cattle toward the gas chambers. Some of us believed that they had been marched to Treblinka from a nearby labor camp. Whenever prisoners were sent to the gas chambers, replacements were selected immediately; but they, too, survived only until they had deteriorated to the condition of their predecessors.
One day, all red patches were ordered inside the barracks. Everyone else at least 300 men - was ordered to undress and dispatched to the gas chambers. I was afraid that an SS man would come to recheck the names and discover my identity. Just then, however, a new transport came in. Some of its passengers were selected to join us, which messed up the count even more. The grapevine had it that the Germans "replaced" us so frequently because they had heard that we were planning an uprising.
The next day, some of us, including me, were ordered to join a group that was earmarked for extermination. They told us to go to the barracks and undress. By this time I had enough experience to know that obedience meant death. As before, I was determined not to die now. Behind the barracks where we slept, workers were digging a new pit to serve as a latrine. I decided to join the group. An armed Ukrainian guard stopped me, shouting "kuda?"- "Where?" - and tried to block my path. I stood up straight and without hesitation answered that I had been sent to work here. He pointed his rifle at me but, even though I was gripped with dread, I kept striding forward until the other workers could see me. An acquaintance of mine, who worked there, Jakob Müller, spotted me and began to shout at me to get back to work. Grumbling, the Ukrainian allowed me to move on. Others, wishing like me to survive, tried the same thing. I went to work right away; many of the others perished before the day was out.
A new transport from Warsaw came in on September 7. Again I had to sweep out the cars. A seasoned veteran by this time, I immediately handed the broom to someone else. Later, in the square, the new sweepers would join those who transferred and sorted the possessions. We called them "Lumpenporters". Those who came with us to collect valuables from suitcases were called Goldjuden – "jewelers".
One of the workers was a young Warsaw Jew whose nickname was "the Gypsy". He was no more than twenty when he arrived, driving a horse cart. His job was to ransack the victims' suitcases and collect delicacies such as cocoa, canned food, cheese, and dried sausage for the Germans to eat. Once, when the Gypsy spotted a worker secreting a piece of candy in his clothes, he jumped down from the cart and demanded that he put it back. The worker, a newcomer in Treblinka, saw no reason to obey the orders of another Jew, even one who held an official position. The Gypsy began hitting him with his riding whip but the worker, undeterred, pushed the Gypsy against a wall. Suddenly three SS soldiers appeared. When the Gypsy complained to them they only mocked him. At this, the Gypsy, the murderers' lackey, struck and killed the helpless Jew. The SS men looked on in equanimity; afterwards, they ordered the Gypsy to send two men to carry the body to the burning pit.
I found the episode disgusting. I could not banish the idea that we should kill the Gypsy. We all wanted to survive, but not at the expense of others. Indeed, every time we passed on our brooms to newcomers we reduced our own prospects of survival - but we took the risk anyway. I discussed the episode with the members of the group and made a request: "If anyone finds a knife in one of those suitcases, bring it to me." I planned to corner the Gypsy in the area where he gathered his booty. It would have been easier to kill him in his sleep, but he did not live with us.
The next evening, the roll call found 200 extra workers, even though there had been many murders that day. This was due to our broom-sharing and various other ruses. The SS men ordered the "illegals" to identify themselves. About sixty men stepped forward. After a few moments the SS men ordered all of us to go to sleep. The next morning, they held another roll call; again the 200 extra men were ordered to identify themselves and the same sixty people obeyed. The Germans chose another 140 men at random and led them off to the gas chambers. Jakob Müller was one of them.
That day I heard that the German kitchen supervisor had shot the Gypsy dead after discovering that the latter was hiding money. In Treblinka, death was the penalty for such a crime - in fact, for any infraction imaginable. Any Jew who could still breathe was ipso facto a criminal, and all the more so one who broke the rules. A member of the labor detail told me that he had seen the German kitchen superintendent lead the Gypsy to the pit and shoot him at its edge. I was pleased to hear this, although I would have preferred that he meet his death at the hands of one of us.
That afternoon, we were ordered for the first time to load bundles of victims' belongings onto the empty trains. We knew that the goods were going to be shipped to the central warehouse in Warsaw, or perhaps to Germany. Several times I tried to enter a car and hide under the suitcases, but the loaders working in the train did not let me in. Before they locked each car, the Germans checked to make sure no one was hiding inside. Had they caught a stowaway, they would have held the loaders responsible. But when the second group of cars came, I found two husky teenagers from Łosice working in it. I remember only one of them; his name was Leizer Mordski. Everyone else was hauling bundles. The suspense was so great that I forgot the pain in my right arm. Michael Fischmann passed me a belt filled with gold coins, which he had previously concealed in the sand near the platform. When the car was partially filled, I carried a bundle inside. But instead of going back out, I hid in a corner near the window. When the car filled up halfway, Michael Fischmann and Gedalia climbed in and joined me under the bundles. Michael was the oldest of us, about twenty-four. Evidently anticipating our future needs, he had concealed several belts filled with gold coins that he had taken from corpses.
We lay there, anxious and tense, sweating from the heat and the lack of air but mainly from fear. In the meantime, our comrades added more bundles to the car until there was no room left. When they finished, Leizer Mordski called the SS men to come over and inspect it. We held our breath as the German soldier rummaged through the bundles, until he said "in Ordnung" - "Everything's okay" - and jumped onto the platform. Some time later, we heard the heavy door being slammed shut and locked. We lay in total darkness for about half an hour more until the locomotive lurched into action and the cars began to move. I climbed up a bit and peered through the slats of the grate. The platform began to fade into the distance. Several shots were fired, but they were far away. Suddenly I realized that I was outside. I had escaped from Treblinka. At that moment I could think of nothing else, not even the unknown destination of the transport, not even whether we would manage to get out of the car before the Germans opened it.
I think we left the death factory on the afternoon of Thursday, September 10. I had been there for seventeen days, each of which was more like a century. It would be more appropriate to reckon the time I spent in this inferno in seconds, not days.
Leizer Mordski, who had helped us escape, was the son of the owner of an olive curing plant. He had lived with his family on Międzyrzecka Street in Łosice. He managed to escape from Treblinka the same way we had. In early July 1944, when he was in the Konstantinów area with two additional comrades, soldiers of the Polish nationalist "People's Army" (the Armia Krajowa) killed him. The Red Army liberated the area only three weeks later.
I later found out that Jakob Müller of Wlodzimierz (Volhynia) had managed to elude death after I saw him being led away with 199 additional victims. He survived in Treblinka for almost a year. In August 1943 he took part in the uprising and escaped from the camp. Until the liberation, he hid in the forests along the River Bug. We met again after the liberation. Today, he lives in Montevideo, Uruguay.
After the war I learned details about the German camp staff. The commandant when I was there was SS Obersturmführer Imfried Eberl, a respectable physician in civilian life. Lalka, the "doll," was a certain Kurt Hubert Franz. He came from Thuringia, where he had worked as a waiter. When we were in the camp we assumed that the Germans had recruited our tormentors from among criminals or deviants. But it seems that the Nazi regime had the power and allure to attract ordinary people, too, to commit the most unspeakable acts.
Later, I discovered in Gitta Sereny's book Into That Darkness that, at approximately the time I arrived in Treblinka, Franz Stangl came from Sobibór to take over the command of this factory of death. He was the commandant of Treblinka until the prisoners' uprising in August 1943.
Remember! Do Not Forget! זכור Never Again!
Eddie Weinstein at the site of Treblinka death camp, July 1993.
Courtesy of Maciej Kobylinski and the www.polinow.pl website this is a photo of the fish hatcheries in Wozniki which was the hiding place for Mr. Eddie Weinstein. He remembers this place as if it were just yesterday. December 24th, 2006.
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First posted in October 2006
Last updated July 17th, 2009