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Defense Documents

Evidence for the Implementation of the Final Solution: Electronic Edition, by Browning, Christopher R.

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Concerning the last category of eyewitnesses, due to prisoner uprisings and breakouts in Treblinka and Sobibor, approximately 50 Jews from each camp survived the war.148 Some testimonies were recorded even before the end of the war,149 and one Treblinka survivor, Samuel Rajzman, testified very briefly before the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg.150 The testimonies of many others have subsequently been collected, especially at Yad Vashem, and many have been published.151
The situation regarding Belzec is much different. Perhaps as many as six prisoners escaped individually from Belzec,152 but only one, Rudolf Reder, has given extensive post-war testimony.153 In his very early testimony of December 1945, Reder recounted how he had been deported from Lwow to Belzec on August 17, 1942, in a train of 50 cars, each crammed with 100 Jews. He was only one of eight prisoners selected as skilled workers to join the Jewish labor force in the camp that day. Working in the camp as a mechanic, for several months he operated the excavator that dug graves behind the gas chamber. He could see the gas chambers even more closely when he delivered gasoline (Benzin) to the engine room at the end of the corridor that ran between the three gas chambers on each side. He gave the following description:
In these chambers the people were packed so tightly together, that even after death they were found in standing position. As soon as all chambers were crammed full, all the doors were tightly shut; ....then the motor was started. The work of the motor was watched over by the prisoner Moniek, a cabman from Cracow. The motor was always run exactly for 20 minutes, after which Moniek gave one of the machinists the signal to turn it off. After the motor had been turned off, on the order of Moniek the prisoners opened all the doors wide and pulled the dead in pairs out of the chambers with the help of straps placed around the hands of the corpses; the corpses were then pulled to the mass graves already dug out beforehand by machine. On the way between the ramp of the chamber and the grave, dentists pulled gold teeth from the corpses.
In November 1942 Reder escaped his captors and survived in hiding in Lwow until the arrival of the Red Army. He emigrated to Canada in 1953.
Once again, human memory is imperfect. The testimonies of both survivors and other witnesses to the events in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka are no more immune to forgetfulness, error, exaggeration, distortion, and repression than eyewitness accounts of other events in the past. They differ, for instance, on how long each gassing operation took, on the dimensions and capacity of the gas chambers, on the number of undressing barracks, and on the roles of particular individuals. Gerstein, citing Globocnik, claimed the camps used diesel motors, but witnesses who actually serviced the engines in Belzec and Sobibor (Reder and Fuchs) spoke of gasoline engines. Once again, however, without exception all concur on the vital issue at dispute, namely that Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were death camps whose primary purpose was to kill in gas chambers through the carbon monoxide from engine exhaust,   and that the hundreds of thousands of corpses of Jews killed there were first buried and then later cremated.

Notes

148. Jules Schlevis, Vernietigingskamp Sobibor (Amsterdam, 1993), pp. 243-50, lists the names of 47 survivors. Alexander Donat, The Death Camp Treblinka: A Documentary (New York, 1979), pp. 284-90, estimates that some 60 escapees from Treblinka survived the war and provides a list of 69 names, 13 with no accompanying information.
149. For example, the testimonies of Abraham Krzepicki and Jankiel Wiernik in Donat, The Death Camp Treblinka, p. 77-188.
150. IMT, vol. VIII, pp. 324-9.
151. For example, 29 very brief eyewitness testimonies of Sobibor survivors are published in: Miriam Novitch, Sobibor: Martyrdom and Revolt (New York, 1980). Eight considerably longer testimonies of Treblinka survivors are published in: Alexander Donat, The Death Camp Treblinka: A Documentary. The two most recent book-length memoirs of survivors are: Thomas Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival(Evanston, 1997); and Richard Glazer, Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka (Evanston, 1995).
152. Thomas Blatt, Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt (Issaquah, WA, 1996), p. 12.
153. Rudolf Reder, Belzec (Krakau, 1946); ZStL, 208 AR-Z 252/59: vol. II, pp. 226-28; vol. III, 688-90; vol. V, 981-89; VI, 1175-80 (testimony of December 1945). (In diesen Kammern wurden die Menschen so zusammengedrängt, dass man sie sogar nach dem Tode in stehender Position in den Kammern vorfand. Sobald alle Kammern vollgestopft waren, wurden alle Türen dicht verschlossen; ...dann wurde der Motor in Gang gesetzt. Die Arbeit des Motors überwachte der Häftling Moniek, ein Droschkenkutscher aus Krakau. Der Motor war immer genau 20 Minuten in Betrieb, wonach Moniek einem von den Maschinisten das Zeichen gab, ihn abzuschalten. Nach der Ausschaltung des Motors machten die Häftlinge auf Befehl von Moniek alle Türen breit auf und zogen zu zweit mit Hilfe von Riemen, die man den Leichen an die H#x00E4;nde anlegte, die Toten aus den Kammern heraus; die Leichen wurden dann zu den vorher mit Maschinen ausgehobenen Massengr#x00E4;bern gezogen. Unterwegs zwischen der Rampe der Kammer und dem Grab zogen die Dentisten den Leichen die goldenen Z#x00E4;hne heraus.)
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