Samuel Willenberg, the last known living survivor of the notorious Nazi extermination camp Treblinka is nearing the end of a life’s mission to tell of the horrors that he saw there.
Now 92, his remarkable story, featured in a documentary film produced by Miami public TV channel WLRN, is spurring efforts to fulfill that mission by building an educational museum at the camp’s site in a remote pine forest in eastern Poland.
“Treblinka’s Last Witness,” airing on Tuesday, tells the story of how Willenberg, a Polish Jew, became a forced laborer at Treblinka where his two sisters were among the 900,000 Jews sent to their deaths. He later escaped during a camp revolt, one of barely 100 Jews to survive the place.
A history professor he met in the camp told him: “You’re not like other Jews, you have blonde hair, you know how to survive,” Willenberg recalled in an interview during a visit to Miami for a premiere of the film last week before a packed audience, many of them relatives of Holocaust victims.
“You have to run away from this,” the professor told him. “It will be your mission to tell people about what happened here.”
Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls is a British forensic archeologist. Much of her work is with police departments, often literally digging up missing persons — so she’s used to uncovering remains.
Still, what she discovered during her research at the Treblinka death camp was so emotionally wrenching, it forced her to tears. A riveting account of her work there, “Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine,” airs March 29 at 8 pm on the Smithsonian Channel.
Treblinka was actually two camps. Treblinka 1 was supposedly a labor camp. Treblinka 2 was almost certainly the most efficient murder operation in the history of mankind. About 900,000 people fell victim there in a little more than a year. Camp commanders bragged about their efficiency.
But, facing an oncoming Soviet army, the Germans destroyed the buildings, dug up mass graves and burned the bodies, forced local people to spread the ash and planted trees to cover over what had been the camp.
On Monday, Ruth Franklin wrote about sharing a stage with Yann Martel. She is the author of “A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.” Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I’m occasionally asked whether I really think that at this late date, 60 years on, anything new can be said about the Holocaust. But people have been asking this question virtually since the end of the war.
When François Mauriac famously encountered the young Elie Wiesel in Paris in the early 1950s, he was amazed, as he would write in the introduction to “Night,” that Wiesel’s book, “coming as it does after so many others and describing an abomination such as we might have thought no longer had any secrets for us, is different, distinct, and unique nevertheless.” Reviewing Piotr Rawicz’s surrealist Holocaust novel “Blood From the Sky” in 1964, Theodore Solotaroff wrote that “by now there has been a glut of books and articles, reminiscences and diaries, documentary histories and objective analyses that tell us everything we need to know about life in the ghettoes and prisons and death camps.” And yet those who write about the Holocaust continued to surprise then, as they still do now.
Crossposted from Haaretz
French director Claude Lanzmann will visit Israel this week to take part in the inauguration of a new display room in kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot. The new hall, called “Treblinka,” will include a display describing the project for the annihilation of European Jewry, with particular focus on the notorious death camp. The exhibition will include photographs, testimonies, archive exhibits and a partial list of companies that benefited from forced Jewish labor, including Mercedes, BMW, Kodak and Siemens. Video footage will include excerpts from Lanzmann’s film “Shoah.”
This is the first time Lanzmann has agreed to allow any museum to permanently display parts of his work, and he will be a guest of honor in the hall’s inauguration.
For 70 years, fans of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” now widely available on DVD, have marveled at the prescience of the comedian’s anti-Nazi satire. Filmed before America actually entered World War II, when some Hollywood movie moguls still soft-pedaled critiques of Hitler, “The Great Dictator” continues to fascinate today.
Recently published by Les éditions Capricci in Nantes, France, “Why Hairdressers? Timely Notes about ‘The Great Dictator,’” by film critic Jean Narboni, makes some new and cogent observations about Chaplin’s film. Narboni, a veteran journalist for the Cahiers du cinéma, compares the nonsense German-like doublespeak used by Chaplin as the dictator Hynkel (see video below) with the Nazi’s “constant corruption of the German language” as noted by the philologist Victor Klemperer.
In May 1942, around three months before some 300,000 Jews were sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, Nazi filmmakers shot 62 minutes of propaganda footage intended to illustrate the inhumanity of their victims. Staged scenes showed rich Jews living in luxurious indifference to the poverty and death around them, purportedly demonstrating their callousness, even toward their own people.
Chances are you’ve seen this footage, though not in its entirety. One of the only film documents to emerge from the Holocaust, bits and pieces of it have been used in nearly every Holocaust documentary ever made. But only recently has a filmmaker undertaken to examine the footage as a whole, as well as the circumstances in which it was produced.