Between 1941 and 1943 some 900,000 Jews were sent by the Nazis to the extermination camp at Treblinka in Poland. Only a mere 70 survived the war. This memoir by one of those survivors, now living in Israel, describes Treblinka from his arrival there in 1942. He illustrates in detail the physical conditions of transport to, and life at, the camp, the brutality of the Nazis and the Ukrainian collaborators and the heroism of the inmates. Willenberg's grisly special duties as one of the camp's labour forces are described, as well his observation of the incongruities of camp life: the orchestra playing music to drown the screams of the dying, the forced community singing to make local inhabitants think that the place was nothing more than a labour camp. It culminates in a description of the organization and execution of the uprising on 2 August 1943, when a small group of prisoners, including Willenberg, succeeded in escaping from the camp after setting fire to it.
Very few prisoners survived the killing camp Treblinka, and those few who did had no words for the netherworld they saw there. Five years ago, on a sunny April day in Jerusalem, Willenberg, survivor of Treblinka and Israeli citizen, was stopped in his tracks by the sirens that proclaimed the start of Holocaust Day 1984. Immobilized on a crowded road, he was transported by the sirens back in time and place and images and pain long buried were brought back. By the time the wailing stopped Willenberg had decided to write his memoirs. The result is this well-written and deftly translated account enriched by Bartoszewski's informed introduction and a 28-page commentary on the war in Poland, the concentration camps in general, and Treblinka in particular. An important book.
- Gerda Haas, Holocaust Human Rights Ctr. of Maine, Lewiston