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Treblinka survivor

Jan Peczkis|Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This work contains much detail about the Treblinka Death Camp. It is semi-biographical, focusing on Hersh Sperling (Szperling), who escaped from Treblinka but committed suicide a few decades later. Owing to the breadth of its content, I focus on only a few issues.

The Treblinka prisoners' revolt is, in my opinion, better described than in most other books on Treblinka. It even features a map (p. 135) that traces the course of revolt. The revolt was hindered by the presence of Jewish informers among the kapos, including Kuba and Paulinka (or Perla). (p. 130, 133).


The book flashes back to Sperling's native Klobuck, a Polish town then situated a short distance from the pre-WWII German-Polish border. The author's description of Jewish economic life in that town includes the following: "A number of Jews also made a living by smuggling goods to and from Germany across the border, particularly tobacco, saccharin and silk. One Jewish entrepreneur was known for shooing his geese into the air just before the German frontier and gathering them up on the other side, where he could sell them for twice the amount without having to pay toll charges at the border." (p. 40). [How might such conduct affect popular perceptions of Jews?]

Jewish economic dominance and increasing Polish efforts to reverse it were a major source of pre-WII Polish-Jewish antagonism. Smith alludes to this matter when he elaborates on the city of Czestochowa, where Szperling eventually lived during the early stages of the German occupation of Poland: "Jews were at the centre of this economic boom, and by 1939 they owned around 80 per cent of the city's industry and commerce. The bulk of the remaining businesses--mainly the largest of the city's factories--were owned by French and Belgian industrialists, whose profits flowed out of Poland into western Europe." (p. 53).

During the Auschwitz Carmelite and Cross controversies, some Jews said that they found Christian symbols to be objectionable reminders of past Christian persecutions of Jews. Poles, on the other hand, pointed out that Jews had no problem beholding and even handling Christian symbols when they could profit from them. Such indeed was the situation in the city of Czestochowa, beloved by Poles for the Black Madonna and Jasna Gora Monastery. Smith writes: "Jewish factories once produced these religious artifacts and souvenirs for the pilgrims of Czestochowa." (p. 59).

Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, is quoted as saying that, at one time, 95% of Poles were anti-Semitic. (p. 235). He does not define this oft-used very-elastic term, nor explain how he arrived at that figure. He is also silent about Jewish attitudes and conduct towards their Polish host state.

While discussing the Holocaust, this work frequently lapses into Polonophobic innuendo, the most egregious of which is the absurd accusation that the German actions could not have succeeded without Polish attitudes, and the "...complicity and tacit approval of the local population." (p. 32). Fact is, the Germans acted unilaterally against the conquered Poles, and could not care less about the opinions of the despised Polish untermenschen (subhumans). The biggest assets to the German Nazi extermination of Polish Jews were the Ukrainian, Baltic, and, yes, Jewish collaborators. Poles were a distant fourth, and their role in the Holocaust was small. [Jews were also complicit in Polish sufferings, as at the hands of the Soviets, but that is another subject.]

In common with much Holocaust material, this work commits the genetic fallacy in logic [(A) preceded (B), therefore (A) caused (B)] as it endorses the blaming of past Christian teachings about Jews for the Holocaust. Using the same logic, we should conclude that the anti-Catholic teachings of Protestants eventually caused the Nazi persecution of devout Catholics, and that the anti-Protestant teachings of Catholicism eventually caused the Nazi persecution of devout Protestants.

In all fairness to Smith, the author, he at least goes beyond the common "most Poles were indifferent" insinuation, and realizes the true cause of most Poles not acting on behalf of Jews, as after the Treblinka revolt: "However, most [Poles] did nothing and remained in their homes for fear of German violence." (p. 140). The author indirectly also touches on the causes of Poles blackmailing fugitive Jews: "Meanwhile, most Warsaw Poles had been reduced to poverty. Records reveal that Warsaw residents received the lowest food rations anywhere in German-occupied Europe and correspondingly the city became an enormous centre for illegal commerce." (p. 146). The author mentions Polish farmers sometimes approaching the trains nearing Treblinka and warning Jews of their fate (p. 74), but does not repeat the accusation of Poles being gleeful.

One unique feature of this book is its occasional departure from a purely Judeocentric analysis of Nazi actions. Smith mentions the Battle of Mokra in the 1939 war. He also discusses the German genocidal destruction of Poland's intelligentsia (p. 66) as well as eventual genocidal plans against Slavs as a whole. (p. 65). He also mentions the fact that the Nazis murdered 10,000 Poles at labor-camp Treblinka. (p. 79).
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