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Wspomnienia Dawne i NoweAn Eyewitness Polish Railroad Stationmaster to the Threshold of the Treblinka German Death Camp,

jan peczkis|Wednesday, October 9, 2013

RECOLLECTIONS OLD AND NEW is the title of this Polish-language book. Considering all the non-English Holocaust-related books that have been translated into English, it is a wonder that this one has not been thus translated in its entirety. I focus primarily on matters that have not been raised in translated excerpts from this book.

Wspomnienia Dawne i Nowe      
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The author, a member of the Polish Underground ARMIA KRAJOWA (A. K.), worked at the railroad station near Treblinka. He fed intelligence information to the Underground. For instance, he noted the German military buildup in the area in early 1941 and, from this, correctly deduced that the Germans were planning to invade their erstwhile Soviet ally. He remembers well the sights and sounds of the night that Operation Barbarossa began.

Throughout the German occupation, the area became a hub of railroad-related surreptitious commerce. (pp. 28-29). Poles, in order to relieve their destitute state under the Nazi occupation, would break into German rail cars to take back materials that the Germans had confiscated from Poles. In one humorous case, a group of Polish peasants took back the pigs that the Germans had requisitioned from them, and replaced them with piglets. After the Wehrmacht's invasion of the USSR, Poles also came across rail cars with wounded German soldiers, and across rail cars full of agricultural produce confiscated from occupied Soviet areas. The Polish rail workers even befriended an Austrian German who sold agricultural produce to them.

Now consider the fact that neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross has accused Poles of being greedy and exploitive of Jews in buying goods, from Germans and Ukrainians, that had belonged to the Treblinka-murdered Jews. From Zabecki's description in the previous paragraph, it is evident that the destitute Poles were engaging in life-preserving all-around railroad-related commerce, and not doing something aimed at Jews. Even then, the property acquisition should be kept in perspective. The Germans shipped, to Germany, an estimated 1,000 rail cars full of goods that had belonged to the murdered Jews (pp. 72-73, 122, 139), and only a vanishing fraction of these goods were acquired by the Ukrainian collaborators, and still less eventually by local Poles.

Zabecki describes the operation of what became to be known as Treblinka I--a labor camp, mainly for Poles. He then describes the subsequent construction of the extermination camp--Treblinka II. The latter was located 6 km from Treblinka station. (p. 138). Because the track to the camp itself dead-ended, everything entering or leaving the camp had to pass through Treblinka station. (p. 139).

The first Jews--those from the Warsaw Ghetto--began to arrive in late July 1942. The trains consisted of about 60 rail cars, each of which contained 100-200 victims. (p. 33, 40). The trains soon returned empty, leading Zabecki to realize that this was a death camp. (p. 41). Soon thereafter, as many as five trains arrived at the station daily. (p. 42).

Franciszek Zabecki noted that, in 1942, trains arrived on 125 of the days between July 23 and December 15. At an average of 1.5 trains per day, 50 cars per train, and 100 people per car, this comes out to 937,000 victims. (pp. 87-88). Based on similar calculations, another 360,000 humans fell victim in 1943. (p. 100). Zabecki stuck to his high estimates decades later.

In the movie SCHINDLER'S LIST, a Polish girl is shown scornfully yelling, "Good-bye, Jews!" A number of authors (e.g., Michael Steinlauf) have charged that death-camp bound Jews, aware of being in the last hours of their lives, had to endure the additional agony of beholding the faces of indifferent or hostile Poles. Eyewitness Zabecki's observations do not support these Polonophobic insinuations. To begin with, until the very end, the arriving Jews generally believed the German lies about resettlements for work in factories or farms, as evidenced by the worksite-related questions they commonly asked of the Polish railroad workers. (p. 40). [As an example, a Polish rail worker used a cut-throat gesture to inform the Jews about their actual fate, provoking an outcry among them. He was then identified and shot by the Germans. (pp. 44-45). Obviously, he was not mocking the Jews. Neither was the peasant who made the same cut-throat gesture, when interviewed by Claude Lanzmann on the documentary SHOAH.] Second, the barbed-wired windows on the railroad cars were high and small (OKIENKA in Polish, which means "little windows": p. 39), and difficult to look out of. Thus, most of the Jews on the death-bound trains probably did not see any Poles at all.

Finally, Zabecki reports that, when the trains arrived at the Treblinka station, local Poles were sympathetic (even crying), and brought the Jews pails of water. (p. 40). Later, the Germans forbade the bringing of water, and for any Poles to approach the Jew-filled trains, under penalty of death. (p. 40). However, some Poles, at great risk to their lives, continued to bring water to the Jews arriving at Treblinka station. (p. 46).

While in the A. K., Franciszek Zabecki encountered security problems from prospective guerrillas that turned out to be Gestapo-serving Polish-speaking Germans (Volksdeutsche). (pp. 62-63). This reminds us that Polonophones were not necessarily ethnic Poles. Thus, many of those who denounced fugitive Jews, as for example after the eventual Treblinka revolt, were likely not ethnic Poles.

The Poles of the nearby village of Wolka Okraglik eventually became the subject of attacks by Jan T. Gross. However, Zabecki (p. 81) points out that the Treblinka Ukrainian collaborators would force the inhabitants of Wolka Okraglik and Poniatowo to deliver alcohol to them.

What about the Polish victims of death camp Treblinka? Zabecki reports that, among prayers he overheard, there were ones to Mary asking for her intercession. (p. 41). Were Christian Jews the only ones who said these prayers, or did ethnic Poles say some of them? Interestingly, the victims of death camp Treblinka included arrivals from Pawiak prison. (p. 43).

A guerrilla operation against Treblinka by the A. K. was out of the question, as the camp was too well guarded. The impossibility of communication between the A. K., and Jews within the camp, prevented any coordinated effort during the Jewish revolt.

Just before the Germans blew up the building with the records of the camp, during the approach of the Red Army, Zabecki daringly stole some of the camp records. (p. 107). In the 1960's, they became part of his testimony, at trials in West Germany, against Nazi defendants such as Komandant Franz Stangl
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