Thursday, July 14, 2016

Yad Vashem International Leadership Mission

Mark Moskowitz is the son of Holocaust survivors and a longstanding friend of Yad Vashem. Mark is actively involved in various Yad Vashem activities and events in Israel and the United States. He was a participant of this year's Yad Vashem Leadership Mission, traveling to Poland to view the lost Jewish world, and Israel, to learn more about Yad Vashem's day-to-day activities, achievements and challenges. He made the following address to the Mission at its Closing Event on 12 July 2016, in Yad Vashem's Valley of the Communities.
Mark Moskowitz delivering his address in the
Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

"I was raised in a family of Holocaust survivors. Growing up with an acute awareness of their strength of character and zest for life has impacted my decisions and who I am today. Survivors have imbued in us, the Second and Third Generations, a sense of infinite hope and determination, and a commitment to helping others achieve happy and healthy lives. My late father’s unwavering spirit and commitment to tzedakah (charity) helped him overcome unspeakable tragedies and create a truly significant life for himself, his family and his community.

While my beloved parents, Rose and Henry, restarted their lives in the United States, their passionate connection to Israel was always, and continues to be, a source of strength. Each year, attending the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem plays an integral role in my life. This day always occurs one week before Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and it is a great privilege to observe it here in Israel. Together, these two memorial days intensify the historic bond between Israel and Jews worldwide. It is on these days that we recognize the bravery and sacrifice of Holocaust victims and survivors, and the bravery and sacrifice of the strong young men and women not so different from those we met last night [at an army base].

In one moment, however, in the exact moment between light and dark, day shifts to night and mourning turns to celebration. Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, erupts from the darkness of Yom Hazikaron, and this sharp contrast puts into perspective the sacrifice of so many and the inexpressible gratitude we have for them. This juxtaposition is so powerful and so reminiscent of the remarkable journey we have just experienced together, an extraordinary journey from darkness to light, from experiencing the incredible, overwhelming sadness found in destruction to the exuberance and optimism of rebirth and renewal.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev together with
Chairman of the American Society for Yad Vashem presented
President Rivlin with a facsimile of the Wolfsberg Machzor
In Wroclaw, we learned about the diversity and richness of Jewish life before the war. The diversity of faith and practice, arts and culture, a vitality that was dulled by the poisonous antisemitism and hatred. Most poignantly noted to me by a fellow participant was the realization that the lives destroyed were those of people like you and me, people with families and professions, hopes and dreams.

This Leadership Mission has connected us. It has connected us to our past, to our heritage, to Yad Vashem and to one another. The uniqueness of this Mission has been in the camaraderie we have developed and the mishpacha (family) we have created together – regardless of our personal connections (or lack thereof) to the Holocaust, our backgrounds, our age, or even our faiths.

Through this Mission, Yad Vashem has facilitated a connecting of dots – gathering pieces of our histories and heritage to complete a harmonious picture, connecting the past with the present, on both individual and national levels. Yad Vashem is determined to document the identity and restore the humanity of each of the victims and survivors, by connecting fragments of information from its repositories of documents, photographs, artifacts and testimonies. For example, like trained detectives, the archivists were able to attach a name, history, face, and life story to a six digit number present on a mass gravestone at Bergen Belsen. And as Director of the Archives Division Dr. Haim Gertner said, in an era when only the documents remain to testify, who will be there to tell their story? It is our duty to ensure that Yad Vashem will be there. It is our responsibility to the future, to the Third and Fourth Generations and those to come, that Yad Vashem remain to complete the picture, to tell the story.

Yad Vashem has been an inspiration to me and an unparalleled resource – not only of facts and history, but also of emotional strength. Here, I have gained a comprehensive lesson in humanity – whether from Rabbi Lau and Yehuda Bacon reflecting on recovering the ability to cry after the Holocaust, after their hearts were turned to stone, in essence regaining their humanity; hearing from young Israeli soldiers about the value of human life; or attending the moving Righteous Among the Nations ceremony recognizing Jan Willem Kamphuis and his daughter Klaziena for their pure will to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Participants of the Yad Vashem Leadership Mission received a
'Behind the Scenes' look at Yad Vashem's artifacts with 
Michael Tal of the Museums Division
A highlight of this Mission for me has been the presence of so many from the Third Generation, and being witness to their growing passion for, interest in and commitment to Holocaust remembrance and Jewish continuity – a spark that has been ignited this week here at Yad Vashem. On a personal level, that my nephew Sam joined me on this journey has been so meaningful and such a tangible representation of the continued generational support of Holocaust remembrance through Yad Vashem.

Our Leadership Mission has given us the opportunity to appreciate the myriad of resources Yad Vashem provides, and also to consider the myriad of challenges that it faces going forward. Even the frequent visitors among us were fascinated by the presentations by various department heads on the careful, painstaking, deliberate and, what we can even describe as “holy” work done on a daily basis. Here, meticulous care is being provided to record, archive and index documents, artifacts and history. Innovative and creative ways to teach current and future generations about the Shoah are being developed for varying cultures and age groups in what I would refer to as the Harvard of Holocaust Education, the International School for Holocaust Studies.

Here, at Yad Vashem, is where truth is displayed in its most terrible form, as well as in its most hopeful. Here is where we can continue to connect the past with the present and bear witness long into the future.  Collectively, we must safeguard the memories and be the sentinels for these crucial vaults of history, so that they are never forgotten and never repeated; and that others’ denials are recognized for what they are: abject dangerous falsehoods.
A group of young participants in the Leadership
Mission tour the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem

The profound effect that Yad Vashem has had on me defies description. Actively participating in supporting and maintaining the World Center of Holocaust Remembrance has become a true “center” of my life.

The journey we have taken over the last week has been deeply moving and equally rewarding. On behalf of the Mission participants, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Yad Vashem for organizing such a vitally interesting, well-thought out and equally well-organized program.

Indeed, this Leadership Mission has been a journey from darkness to light, from the chilly, foreboding tunnels of Wolfsberg and the grounds of Auschwitz to the warm embrace in Jerusalem by Yad Vashem, in the heart of the miraculous, reborn State of Israel. We have witnessed the aftermath of destruction and we have seen good triumph over evil.

I ask myself, as the son of survivors: Who will tell their story in future generations? Who will tell the stories of the victims, the heroes and the survivors? Who will safeguard the firsthand testimonies and be able to maintain their authenticity other than Yad Vashem? On behalf of the Second and Third Generations, our participation in this Mission reaffirms our commitment to be the bearers of memory and to further the legacy of the victims and survivors. I ask the Second and Third generation members to join me in this effort, and be Yad Vashem’s partner for years to come.

This Leadership Mission has ignited a spark in us all, it has connected us to one another and to Yad Vashem’s sacred efforts, and it will propel us further into our commitment to carry the Torch of Remembrance far into the future."

The Yad Vashem Leadership Mission included many of Yad Vashem's most influential friends from around the world to explore prewar Jewish life in Europe, to reflect on the past, present and future, and to connect to Yad Vashem as well as to one another.  While in Israel the Mission was greeted by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, met with senior staff members at Yad Vashem and extensively toured the Yad Vashem campus.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Yad Vashem Leadership Mission Kicks Off in Wroclaw, Poland

The Yad Vashem Leadership Mission began yesterday in Poland. The Mission brings together Yad Vashem's friends and leaders from around the world to explore prewar Jewish life in Europe, reflect on the past, present and future, and connect to one another and to Yad Vashem.

In Poland, the Mission will travel through Wroclaw and the Wolfsberg forced labor camp before spending a memorable Shabbat in Krakow with Yad Vashem Chairman of the Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. After Shabbat, the Mission will travel to Israel and begin a comprehensive, behind-the-scenes journey through Yad Vashem and their critical efforts made towards Holocaust remembrance and education.

A longstanding, dear friend of Yad Vashem, Benjamin Warren, delivered the opening address for the Mission in Wroclaw, Poland. At this event, the Mission was greeted by the head of the Jewish community of Wroclaw, Mr. Alexander Gleichgeurchet.

The following were Mr. Warren's remarks at the opening event of the Yad Vashem Leadership Mission. 

Benjamin Warren speaking at in Wroclaw, Poland
"On behalf of the participants of this journey, I would like to share with you my story, my connection to the Holocaust and the importance of Holocaust remembrance, which of course underscores the spark that causes each and every one of us to be here today.

Let me start by introducing myself to you. I come from Houston, Texas. I'm the son of two Holocaust survivors: Martin Warren, who grew up and was educated in Warsaw, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald from which he was liberated in April 1945 by the United States Army. This is the same camp that Prof. Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, was liberated from at the same time.

My mother, Naomi Warren, an extraordinary woman, who at the age of 95 continues to exhibit a zest for life in spite of a very difficult past, which took her from her home in Wolkowysk, Poland to Auschwitz, where her mother and first husband perished, then on the death march following the approach of the Russian Army to a women's camp Ravensbruk, that dark place where the Nazi's experimented on women in ghastly ways, then to Bergen Belsen from where she was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945.

As a child growing up in Houston, Texas with two sisters, I wasn't aware of our parents’ very difficult past until I was a young adult. No doubt like many of you, my parents, whether the result of wanting to put their painful past behind them, or more likely the result of wanting to shelter, to protect their children from this horrific experience, to avoid  wounding them, to avoid making them feel different from their friends whose parents were fortunate enough to miss this horror.

Today much of my life revolves around a variety of activities targeted towards making the world a better place. None however is more important, as much a part of my DNA, than my commitment to carrying the "Torch of Remembrance" to honor my parents, to remember those who perished and also those who survived, whether it's through my deep commitment to Yad Vashem and its mission, or my deep passion to furthering Holocaust education at the Holocaust Museum Houston through the Warren Fellowship for Future Teachers.

As the window closes on those brave and strong souls who survived, it becomes increasingly critical that those who follow carry on the responsibility of carrying the "Torch of Remembrance," which after all is the solemn purpose and goal of Yad Vashem. It's this responsibility, which I know each of you here today embraces, a privilege in the name of those who perished and those who survived, that I hope each of us further commits themselves to with this journey.

My personal story and connection to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, takes me back to the year 2000, when our family made a journey to Israel and to Yad Vashem. When we visited the Archives at Yad Vashem and sought to take a look into the lost community that our mother came from, from Wolkowysk, we found a book, "The Miracles of Tyranny" that chronicled the life of Mom's first husband, Alexander Rosenbaum, along with her brother in Auschwitz, including numerous references to her time sorting bundles in the "Canada" unit, which was a much sought after job for prisoners.

Fast forward to 2011, when my sister Geri and I made a journey to Germany with our cousin Elsa Spizdbaum Ross, to follow the tracks of her father whose whereabouts and fate ceased when he was arrested in Warsaw by the Nazis.

Elsa never knew what happened to her father, who owned a very successful chocolate factory in Warsaw, until Yad Vashem and my dear friend Shaya Ben Yehuda took it on himself with the support of Yad Vashem's research team to search the records of Yad Vashem and those of the Bad Arolsen International Tracing Service of the Red Cross to see what they could learn about her father's past. What they uncovered was extraordinary. Including a trail that followed his arrest in Warsaw, an inventorying of his personal belongings, and a chronicle of his life as a slave laborer in an ammunition factory and internment camp outside of Warsaw. As the Russian Army approached, the story woven included a chronicle of the destruction of the munitions factory by the Nazis and the moving of the laborers to Buchenwald in advance of the opening of a new ammunition factory at a sub camp of Buchenwald named Schlieben. Unbelievably, the story continues with Elsa's father arriving in Schlieben and the tracking of his service in the munitions factory until he, along with 28 other prisoners, perished in an explosion at the factory.

But the story doesn't end there. Included in the Bad Arolsen records was a photograph of a mass grave with a monument listing the names of the 29 slave laborers who perished, including Elsa's father. You can imagine the emotion that followed as my cousin Elsa, my sister Geri, Shaya Ben Yehuda, a guide from Yad Vashem's German Desk, and I, said Kaddish for my cousin Elsa's father in the beautiful, well-manicured cemetery in Schlieben.

Now you can understand the closeness that I feel for Yad Vashem, for Shaya Ben Yehuda and his colleagues, who through their persistent diligence wove this incredible tapestry that chronicled the final chapter of my cousin Elsa’s father's life and allowed her the opportunity to bring closure to this haunting life experience.

This is but a single story that now is part of Yad Vashem's beacon of light, the burning "Torch of Remembrance." No doubt many of you have your own stories. Hopefully my story underscores the critical importance of staying connected with Yad Vashem, of supporting its mission and its critical work, making possible the continued weaving of stories like Elsa's father for all generations of the future.

To conclude, on behalf of our Leadership Mission participants and in advance of what will no doubt be a very emotional journey, I want to thank you Shaya, along with your extraordinary team, for weaving together the program ahead that will twine each of us to Yad Vashem and Holocaust remembrance forever. I also wish to welcome each of you who have traveled from Australia, from Canada, from Mexico, from the United States and from Israel for joining this journey and committing yourselves to adding to your knowledge of the Holocaust."

Farwell to a dear friend and an exemplary son of the Jewish People

Prof. Elie Wiesel touring Yad Vashem circa 1997
This week, we mourn the death of Elie Wiesel, z"l. His passing not only saddens and fills us with a sense of loss. It also constitutes a painful milestone in the gradual transition to an era and world lacking live personal Shoah testimony.

Elie was an exceptionally gifted witness of the Holocaust, remarkably articulating and communicating its haunting messages. An exemplary son of the Jewish people, he came to represent, embody and nurture its amazingly durable and resilient creative forces, following the Shoah. Despite the collapse of civilized morality that he witnessed and endured during the Holocaust, Elie believed, and inspired others to believe, that sincere human efforts to repair a broken world – can make a difference. 

I think that it was the complementary contrasts that so characterized Elie - sadness and hope, desolation and renewal, Jewish and universal values - that helped forge his unique bond with us at Yad Vashem, to which he was deeply devoted and which he described as "the heart and soul of Jewish memory". Elie Wiesel identified intensely with Yad Vashem's commitment and ability to delve into the complex legacy of the Holocaust in order to offer empowering insights, and to convey them to a multitude of individuals and communities, both Jewish and non-Jewish.     

Prof. Elie Wiesel with Avner Shalev at the Inauguration
Ceremony of the Holocaust History Museum, March 2005
We shared a special kinship and bond.  When I first met Elie Wiesel, he told me something I will never forget.  He told me that he had waited several years before meeting with me, so that he could learn more about Lt. General David "Dado" Elazar, the IDF Chief of Staff from 1972 to 1974.  He wanted to learn more about Dado before meeting with me because I served as the head of his office during the Yom Kippur War. That was just the type of person he was; those were the details he was concerned with. 

Personally, I have lost a friend. Though our youthful backgrounds were strikingly different, Elie and I found common cause in our shared conviction in the Jewish people's post-Holocaust continuity and future, in Judaism's ethical vision, and in our fervent love for the State of Israel.

Wiesel visiting the original Holocaust History Museum circa 1997
Elie Wiesel believed to his dying day that the world must remember and relate to the legacy of the Holocaust as a unique Jewish event containing a universal human message. I know that he was encouraged that Yad Vashem is working to ensure the vibrancy and relevance of that legacy for generations to come.
May his memory be blessed.

Since 1993, Avner Shalev has been Chairman of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. He established the Museums Complex, including the Holocaust History Museum, for which he serves as chief curator and founded Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies.  He also serves as chief curator of Yad Vashem's permanent exhibition in the Auschwitz- Birkenau State Museum's Jewish Pavilion.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Shoah Remembrance: A Personal Perspective

By: Sam Gelman
"Never forget" is a motto synonymous with Holocaust remembrance and education.  Time and again, we are reminded that we can never allow ourselves or the world to forget about the Holocaust and the six million Jews murdered by the German Nazis and their collaborators. We have heard numerous survivor testimonies, watched disturbing films, and seen heart-wrenching photos. Hundreds of books and research studies have been written on the subject with the express purpose of fulfilling this task.
With each passing day, however, this duty becomes more challenging. The last of the survivors are passing away, soon to leave no eyewitnesses to the atrocities. Holocaust denial and antisemitism are on the rise around the world. It is incumbent upon us to find ways to ensure that Holocaust commemoration remains relevant for future generations. 
Sam Gelman at the Memorial to the Deportees, Yad Vashem 
Last spring, I went on a trip to Poland with my Yeshiva. Before the trip began, I tried to prepare myself for the tidal wave of emotions I was about to experience. I thought about how I would react when I arrived at the death camps. Never did it occur to me that my most poignant moment would be on the first day of the trip at the Radegast train station, a small railway terminal, near Lodz Poland, from which Jews were taken to the extermination camps. The station now serves as a memorial and small museum, and houses a few cattle cars that were once used to transport the Jews. On one of these cattle cars that tourists are allowed to enter, there is a sign that states: “For security reasons, a maximum of 20 persons are allowed to be in the railway car at one time.”
To me, this sign was heartbreaking. Just over 70 years ago, these same rail cars were packed with over 100 people each, and now this sign was telling me that I had to wait my turn because the car could not handle so many people. It reminded me that every aspect of the Holocaust was a nightmare, and that even those of us who have learned about this horror cannot truly comprehend what the victims endured. However, to a visitor not familiar with the Holocaust, the sign would be completely benign; of course no more than 20 people should go in the car at the same time! Not only would that be uncomfortable for the visitors, but the aging car could collapse and hurt someone. They would not be able to see the paradox within the sign. How could they? They were never exposed to it. 
This is why Yad Vashem is so important to me, and why I decided to volunteer here this year. Educating the public about the victims and horrors of the Holocaust is vital in helping people gain an understanding of the scope of the tragedy, as well as in preserving the memory of the calamity. Yad Vashem is at the forefront of this mission. As Elie Weisel said, “There are many other museums in the world, but the source is here at Yad Vashem. This is the heart and soul of Jewish memory.” As a Jew, I feel both obligated and honored to be able to help with this task. However, we are not alone. Every year, dignitaries and leaders from around the globe visit Yad Vashem to learn about the Holocaust and to pay their respects its victims. For some, it is the next step in their education regarding the Holocaust. For others, it is their first real exposure to this world-shattering event.
                Sam Gelman at the Hall of Names, Yad Vashem
Recently, Texas Governor Greg Abbot visited Israel and prioritized a visit to Yad Vashem to honor the victims of the Holocaust. He is only one of a long list of leaders from every continent around the world that have visited Yad Vashem since it was founded in 1953, including the recent visits of US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
As a student from Texas studying here in Israel, I was pleased to hear that Governor Abbot had visited Yad Vashem. With all that Israel has been through over the last few months, it is comforting to know that the Jewish state still has friends who are willing to come and honor the six million Jewish men, women and children who were brutally murdered during the Holocaust. 
Regardless who the leader is or how many times they have been to Yad Vashem, each visit is monumentally significant. Each of its close to one million annual visitors sends a strong message to Holocaust deniers that this tragedy indeed took place, and that we will not stand silently by and let history be changed for a nefarious agenda. Yad Vashem is at the forefront raising Holocaust awareness in those countries where the public knows the least about it. Through its outstanding Museums Complex, world-class International School for Holocaust Studies, comprehensive and multilingual website, strong social media presence and range of traveling exhibitions, Yad Vashem is at the center of Holocaust commemoration, remembrance, documentation and education. However, our most important goal is to show that the world has not forgotten, and that our friends and allies across the globe are strengthening Shoah Remembrance day by day.
We must do everything we can to make sure the memory of the Holocaust remains solid, so people remember not only the 20-person cattle cars, but the millions of people who traveled in them as well.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Unto Every Person There is a Name: Remembering Ita Rochel Aronstein

Kristine Johansson-Smith, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor from Riga, Latvia, grew up never knowing what her maternal grandmother, Ita Rochel Aronstein, looked like. Kristine's mother, Ruta Johansson-Aronstein, born in 1936, was only five years old when the Nazis occupied Latvia. The young Ruta survived the war under the care of her stepmother, who was not Jewish, but her grandmother Ita was deported and never heard from again.
Kristine Johansson-Smith in the Hall of Remembrance
 "My mother survived the Shoah during the Nazi occupation of Latvia," Kristine related. "Her freedom was 'bought' from the Nazis during the war, while her mother – my grandmother – was deported and executed. According to my mother, my grandmother knew she was going die. She had given her blessing to my mother's wealthy stepmother who adopted and saved my mother." Kristine added, "All through my childhood in Sweden, I witnessed how much my mother missed her own mother, saying 'If I only had one photo of my mother,' 'I don't even  know where she is buried, where I can visit her.' 'One photo, if only I had one photo.'" 
Ita-Rochel Aronstein
Kristine relocated to Israel in January 2016. As part of her aliyah process, she contacted the Latvian State Historical Archive in search of documents to confirm her Jewish identity. In addition to the documentation she sought, Kristine was surprised to discover that the Archive contained a photograph of her grandmother. After contacting her mother and sending her a copy of the photograph, Kristine decided to commemorate her grandmother by registering her name with Yad Vashem.  
Pictured with Cynthia Wroclawski,
Deputy Director Archives Division
Kristine contacted Yad Vashem with the idea that it would be most befitting for her to complete the process of commemoration on Holocaust Remembrance Day. While Ita Rochel Aronstein's name does appear on Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, it is recorded as it appears in several archival sources documenting pre-war Jewish residents of Riga, Latvia only – as Rochel Jukowitsch nee Arenstein.
For this reason, the documents do not state the fate of the individual. With the goal of providing her grandmother with a personal commemoration and in order to attest to her murder, Kristine submitted a Page of Testimony for her grandmother, Ita Rochel Aronstein, along with the newly found photograph. Pages of Testimony are special forms created by Yad Vashem to restore the personal identities of each one of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices. Submitted by survivors, family members or friends in commemoration of the Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust, these one-page forms, containing the names, brief biographical details and, when available, photographs of each individual victim, are essentially symbolic tombstones. To date the names of some 4.6 million Holocaust victims are recorded on Yad Vashem's online Names Database.
Entry in Names Database for Ita-Rochel Aronstein
 In addition, Kristine will also submit a Shoah Survivor Registration Form for her mother Ruta, documenting her experiences during the Holocaust and briefly recounting her life history in its aftermath. She also consulted with experts from the Yad Vashem Archives on the region of Latvia regarding the fate of her family during the Holocaust.
After submitting the forms, Kristine took part in a moving ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, called "Unto Every Person There is a Name," wherein she publically read out her grandmother's name, granting her a sense of closure after so many years of doubt and heartache.

"Reading my grandmother's name in the Hall of Remembrance, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, was a deeply moving experience for me," recounted an emotional Kristine. "Finally she has a resting place, a place where she can be remembered by the whole world for generations to come. This is what my mother wanted for her all these years." Kristine hesitated, and added, "Wishes do come true. It may take your whole life. I believe this is one of the most beautiful miracles that has occurred since I landed in Israel."

 For assistance with submitting Pages of Testimony and for additional information, contact: The Shoah Victim's Names Recovery Project: 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Connecting to my Jewish Roots

By Alana Luttinger 

For the past four months I have been an intern at Yad Vashem in the International Relations Division. Before this internship, I had been to Yad Vashem twice: once with my family, and once with Birthright. During both of these trips, I only saw a small portion of what Yad Vashem had to offer. But throughout my internship here, I have learned how substantial the organization is, and I have had the opportunity to see so much of the vital work being done here. One aspect of my internship is to accompany special visitors to Yad Vashem, often to the Holocaust History Museum, but sometimes to places more "behind-the-scenes." Through these tours I have learned a great deal about the Shoah than I had previously learned in high school and grade school. Before my internship, I hadn’t known much other than that six million Jews were murdered. Since coming to Yad Vashem, I have learned more about the terrible suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, but also about the occasional moments of light.

One of these moments of light that I found a true connection with, and will remember for the rest of my life, is the story of Irena Sendler. Irena was a young non-Jewish woman who went against the norms of society and with the help of some friends was able to save around 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto. Even while in prison, Irena never gave the name of a single child she had saved. The tree that was planted in her honor at Yad Vashem in recognition of her as a Righteous Among Nations is located just before the entrance to the Holocaust History Museum, and visitors often begin their tour with her story.

Alana standing next to Righteous Among the Nations, 
Irena Sendler tree

Since hearing Irena’s story, I have found myself striving to become a better person. As a young adult who has recently graduated college, I am struggling to become my own person, an individual among millions. Irena Sendler has become my role model, and someone I strive to emulate. While Yad Vashem honors many Righteous Among Nations each year, what makes Irena special to me is that when she was honored a number of years ago and when she stood up to speak at the ceremony, she apologized. She said she was sorry she hadn’t done more, sorry she had not saved more people. While six million Jewish people were murdered and millions did nothing, this one woman saved thousands. My hope is that one day instead of being a quiet girl who is afraid to speak her mind, I will become more like Irena, who knew that there was wrong in the world, and instead of being a passive observer took action.

While some people see the Holocaust as an event of the past, the antisemitism that fueled it is still very much a problem in the world today. So, no matter how irrelevant some see the Holocaust to be, from my time at Yad Vashem, I have found it to be quite the opposite.

Alana in the Valley of the Communities, Yad Vashem
Another consequence of my time at Yad Vashem is the deeper connection I built not only with the country of Israel, but also with my own personal identity. This self-awareness came mainly from research I did on my own family background. I knew that my great-grandparents came to the United States starting in the early 1900s through the 1920s, but I had never known anything about the members of their families who remained in Europe. From my research at Yad Vashem, I now know that a couple from each side of my family came from the same city, Czernowitz. Out of all four sets of grandparents, my maternal grandfather’s family lost the most family members during the Shoah. With the recent passing of my grandfather, I fear that the identities and stories of his six aunts, uncles and grandparents who did not leave Europe will be lost forever. Without their names I cannot even fill out Pages of Testimony for them. For some like my family, where nobody is left to remember the names of those murdered in the Holocaust, I have found a connection to the family I lost in the Valley of the Communities. The Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem pays tribute to the many towns and cities that were destroyed during the Holocaust. From my grandmother, I have learned that my maternal family was from Czernowitz, Romania and Szeged, Hungary. Finding my family’s home towns engraved in the wall of the Valley, I have been able to honor and connect to the memory of all those lost.

Due to this, I have come to realize how important Yad Vashem’s work is in gathering the names and stories of individual victims and survivors. Particularly important is the recording of survivor testimonies. Since my time at Yad Vashem, I have read and heard many such testimonies that must be recorded and passed down to future generations so people can never deny the horror of what happened to each and every one of the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust

For instance, during my internship at Yad Vashem, I had the privilege to hear the testimonies of Hannah Pick – Anne Frank's childhood friend – and Berthe Elzon, a volunteer at Yad Vashem. Both women have very different stories but both experienced extreme hardship and saw more death than any person should ever witness. I even had the opportunity to type up the story of one woman who only recently sent the story of her experiences in the Shoah to Yad Vashem. Each of these individual stories make up the mosaic of Jewish life - and suffering – that we know as the Holocaust. 

Learning about the survivors, my family, and incredible people such as Irena Sendler has made me feel closer to my Jewish heritage, and makes me want to live a full, positive and meaningful life to make up for the life denied to all of the men, women and children so cruelly persecuted and killed during the Shoah.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

One of the Last Survivors of Treblinka Passes Away

Samuel Willenberg
Yad Vashem mourns the loss of Samuel Willenberg,  one of the last survivors of the German Nazi death camp Treblinka, who passed away at the age of 93. Willenberg, a renowned artist and author, escaped Treblinka during a revolt in August 1943. Together with other survivors, he became an outspoken eyewitness of the horrors that took place during the Holocaust.

As we move further away from events of WWII, surviving eye witnesses are sadly becoming fewer in number. Nevertheless, the survivors' stories live on through testimonies, diaries, letters and other documenatation that can be found at Yad Vashem.

Below is an interview with Samuel and his wife Ada Willenberg with the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies from 2011.

An Interview with Samuel and Ada Willenberg
By Sheryl Ochayon

My colleague Liz Elsby and I sat down to interview Samuel Willenberg on Sunday, December 4, 2011 in his apartment in Tel Aviv, Israel. His wife, Ada, herself a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, sat with us, plied us with tea and pastries, and added to our knowledge and to the discussion.

Samuel was born in 1923 in Czestochowa, Poland. When the Germans invaded Poland he was 16 years old, but he enlisted in the Polish Army in order to fight against them and was wounded severely. His family moved to Opatow for a time. In the fall of 1941, while hiding from the Germans, his two sisters were arrested in Czestochowa. His parents managed to survive in Warsaw with false documents. Samuel himself was taken together with the Jews of Opatow to Treblinka, when the Opatow ghetto was liquidated. He spent about ten months at forced labor in the Treblinka death camp, and participated in the revolt there on August 2, 1943. Later, Samuel joined the Polish underground and took part in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. For his bravery he was awarded the Virtuti Militari medal, the highest military commendation in Poland, and the Komandorski Order of Polonia Restituta. He made aliyah to Israel in 1950.

Treblinka was the most lethal extermination camp of Operation Reinhard, where approximately 870,000 Jews were murdered during the thirteen months that the camp was in operation, from July, 1942 through August, 1943. Currently it is believed that there are only two survivors of Treblinka who remain alive in the world: Samuel and Kalman Taigman.

Samuel has created a series of fifteen sculptures that are scenes from Treblinka. They have been displayed in Germany, in Poland and in Israel.

Samuel, where did you learn to create art?

My father was an artist – I guess I have the genes.

Did you draw when you were a child?

My father was a painter. My mother didn’t allow me to pick up a pencil - she didn’t want me to be a poor artist!

So you never learned to draw? It came to you naturally?


In the camps, did you ever think about art?

No. In the extermination camps I didn’t think of art; the sculptures I did later, after the war.

My artistry is my memory – my ability to remember what my eyes saw… I remember pictures. I see the pictures from “there”, even today.

How did you start sculpting?

When I retired[1], I took courses in art at a local university in Tel Aviv (“University Ammamit”) . I began with painting but I decided to sculpt.

The sculptures that you sculpt, are they connected to what you experienced? Do they somehow “translate” pictures that you have in your head?

Yes! When you see my sculptures – you see Treblinka.

When you do a sculpture, would you say that you sculpt more for the purpose of making art or for the purpose of documentation, in order to document what happened?

Definitely for purposes of documentation. The first sculpture I did was the “Scheissmeister”[2].

The Scheissmeister (1999-2000)
Why was that the first?

Because it’s a symbol of German cynicism, a symbol of EVERYTHING. [Samuel says this through clenched teeth]. With the clothing of the hazzan[3], with the clock, because of this I did it first…. He is screaming. He’s screaming to the heavens. But God is not there. There is no God.

Which sculpture do you think is the strongest?

Everyone thinks a different sculpture is the best. My wife likes the sculpture of the father helping the son take off his shoes. This is what happened right before they went to the gas. This is what the whole history of the Shoah looks like.

Can you tell us more about the sculpture of the little boy with the father helping him to take off his shoes?

Father helping his son take off his shoes
before entering the gas chambers at Treblinka
(2002), detail
Yes. You need to understand where this is happening - that it’s not just a father helping the boy off with his shoes at home – this is happening on the way to the gas chamber. That’s the explanation - it changes the whole meaning. The little boy is holding a string, because the “reds”[4], the people with the red armbands on the ramp[5], gave strings to the people getting off the train and told them to tie their shoes together.
… This scene with the boy and the father - I saw this happen. I was next to them. I saw the people that this happened to. It happened near a barrack. I saw it happening! Others were taking off their shoes, but by themselves. And then afterwards, I saw the scene always before my eyes. I still see these things today.

After you finish a sculpture, how do you feel?

After I finished the Scheissmeister, I felt like him – like the Scheissmeister. I relived the situation, I was part of him. That’s why he is screaming. 

How did you feel while working on a sculpture?

When I was sculpting it was impossible to bother me, to talk to me, until I finished sculpting. I become the sculpture; I am inside it.

Ada: When he sculpted, he was “inside” it; he was agitated.

Samuel: But when I finished, I never felt relief. There is no relief! It never gets easier to bear. I only felt a kind of satisfaction.

Every time I made a sculpture, I saw the scene – I lived it. The scene with the boy and the father - I saw this happen. And then afterwards, the scene was always before my eyes.

So the sculptures tell your story instead of you?

Ada: Why instead of him? He tells his story, too – he has told it to groups in Treblinka more than 30 times. He talks to groups in Israel that come from all over the world.

How long does it take you to do a sculpture?

Each is different, but all the sculptures of Treblinka I did in 3 years. I don’t make all the details exact.

Do you still sculpt? No, there wasn’t anyone to sculpt for. The Israeli newspapers didn’t even cover the exhibitions. I had a well-publicized and well-reviewed exhibition in Warsaw, though. In my exhibition in Warsaw, the caretaker wrote beautifully about my sculptures that they were “grotesque” and showed “the most tragic moments of extreme horror”; she wrote, "The tormented figures of the camp are returning back to life."

Did you ever sculpt anything that happened to you after Treblinka?

No, only Treblinka. Treblinka was the most…No, the rest is the history of Poland.
But I did create maps – actually drawings – of Treblinka. These were made on the basis of the measurements of the camp recorded in 1944 and published in 1946 in the first Bulletin of the Central Commision for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland, a commission created after the war by the provisional Polish government to take evidence of the crimes. I created the drawings in 1981, when my book first came out. Many models of Treblinka have been made throughout the world on the basis of these renderings.

Which sculpture was the most difficult for you to do because it involved the most painful incident for you?

Samuel Willenberg with one of the maps
 he drew of Treblinka

The most difficult sculpture to do was the sculpture that I didn’t do. It’s the sculpture of when I discovered the truth about my sisters[6]. I wasn’t able to make this sculpture. Not at all.

Ada: He relives this incident all the time. On one hand, he is full of the joy of life. On the other hand, he still “sees” this all the time, he remembers.

Samuel: I return to it every single day – I live it, even if I don’t want to, alongside my day-to-day life.

What do you think of artists who make Holocaust art without having experienced the Holocaust?

This is normal – in every time, in every era there are artists who never see the incidents they represent in their art.

Do you think there are any limits to Holocaust art?

It depends on the artist. It depends whether history accepts the art. It depends on the trends – you can’t know in advance. Look at expressionism – the colors they used. Cubism. It’s the same thing – it’s normal.

There are sculptures with a lot of details, and there are those with less. Why is that?

I didn’t want to create naked women. But [in the sculpture of women on their way to the gas chambers, created in 2000] there are a lot of suitcases – because the Holocaust was not just murder, it was also robbery. And what a robbery!

Which sculpture do you feel is the most important?

There are two: the first is the sculpture of the uprising itself. It shows the heroism of the Jews in trying to destroy Treblinka[7]. You know, rebelling in a death camp was a very difficult thing. It was not easy to organize an underground – many prisoners were strangers to each other, and each was afraid of the other because there were informers among the prisoners who might tell the Germans about any conspiracy to revolt. It was a different situation than the uprisings in the ghettos, where there were youth groups and everyone knew each other, relied on each other and trusted one another. In Treblinka it was dangerous to let people in on the secret of the underground because this invited betrayal. I wrote in my book about a prisoner called Kronenberg, a journalist who had worked for Chwila, a Polish-language daily Zionist newspaper published in Lwow. He was entrusted with the secret of the uprising. One day he was caught by the Nazis for not working, and was taken to the Lazarett. As soon as he realized he was about to be killed, he tried everything to save his life, including telling the Germans that there was an underground in the camp, and promising to tell them everything he knew about it if they would only let him live. 

The Treblina inmates' revolt, August 2, 1943 (2002-2003)
In the sculpture of the revolt you can see the young boys who removed grenades, pistols and other weapons from the Nazi’s storeroom. One of them is handing over a grenade that was hidden in a bucket used for potatoes. These weapons were delivered throughout the camp. You can also see the overturned baby carriage used by my best friend in the camp, Alfred Boehm, to collect garbage. Alfred was the liaison between the boys and the rest of the camp. He was killed in the gunfire during the uprising – I found him slumped next to his carriage. I am the man on the right, escaping with a gun in my hand. 

The sculpture of the escape is also important. It shows what happened when the prisoners in the camp tried to escape while trying to dodge gunfire from the Ukrainian guards in the watchtowers. The camp was surrounded by two rows of barbed wire, but also by anti-tank barriers. Many of the prisoners who tried to escape were killed while trying to climb over the wires, and in order to escape I actually had to climb over the bodies of my friends who were killed there[8]. I was wounded in my foot during the escape.

Can you tell us the story of Ruth Dorfmann?[9]

I was not a frissiere (barber)[10]; there was a group of barbers but I was not one of them. Suddenly a big transport arrived, so Kiwe, the SS-man, grabbed some of us to help. I wore the white robe, and I had the scissors, in the “jupa” – the hut that the Germans built. I cut her hair cleanly, for a reason. I did more than I had to – I made it a clean haircut, because if I had just cut randomly here and there, they [the women] would have understood [that the haircut was not for purposes of disinfection, as the Germans told them, but that they were going to be killed. –Ed.] I cut cleanly, as though with a razor, to make it smooth. For a reason. And this girl started talking. She had come from the Warsaw ghetto. She was beautiful. She was naked. And in the background there was fog, like mist, that was rising from the ground, from the warm clothing left on the ground, from the body heat left in the clothing, and maybe also because the women had urinated. They had just come from the big room where all the women were forced to take off their clothing, into a smaller room, through some doors. So in the background there was mist rising from the clothing. And she started talking. She said, “I am Ruth Dorfmann.” I remember! She said, “I have a diploma.” She had learned in the ghetto. She was about 20, my age.

How old were you?

I was 19, turning 20. I turned 20 in Treblinka.
And she was talking. She asked, “How long will it take?” She knew [that she was about to be killed]! They all knew!
You know, I made a sculpture of a painter who painted all the signs that were on the ramp. Why? Why? The Germans made signs: signs to Bialystok, a clock that didn’t really work. The Germans made it look like a real train station….[11] And it really looked like one.

Tell the story of the sculpture of the girl from Warsaw who lost her mind and stood with the piece of bread.

Ada: You know, Samuel knows the stories of Treblinka. But in the Warsaw ghetto – I was there – there were people dying of hunger, there were people who committed suicide, there were people who went crazy. I was lucky that I was still a girl – maybe I didn’t understand everything. But a lot of adults went crazy.

Samuel: Some killed themselves.
Half-crazy girl from the Warsaw
ghetto holding her last treasure-
a piece of bread (2002)

Ada: Many people went crazy. So simply, around January 18th, when Ruth Dorfmann arrived on the transport, many of the Jews living in Warsaw already knew where they were being taken. By January there were already instances where people had escaped from the trains on the way to Treblinka and came back to the ghetto and told stories – and we didn’t want to believe them. Even today I can’t believe what went on in Treblinka, so how could they then? I was about 13 years old in the ghetto. I remember that there were those who came [back to Warsaw] and told that they had escaped from the train, or from the camp itself – but people didn’t believe them. And then those who did begin to understand – some of them went crazy, and others committed suicide. And this girl, she was one of those who went crazy.

Samuel: It was winter. There was a girl who got off the train, and just stood there. Everyone else went inside the yard – “Schnell, schnell, schnell, schnell!!” [“Fast, fast, fast!” the Germans yelled]…

Ada: And they went in towards the “Death Road”[12].

Samuel: But this girl stood still. The barracks were just like the ones in Majdanek – they were actually stables for horses – just like in Birkenau. There were two prefabricated barracks standing together. Here there was an opening.[13] And suddenly Miete of the SS – the “Angel of Death” – told the girl to move forward. We saw her entering the sorting yard. He nudged her forward into the yard, like a child rolling a ball forward. And suddenly she saw all the people, all the colors, the open suitcases.[14]
And we[15] saw her. We stopped working and we all stared at her.

Ada: And she was dressed differently…

Samuel: You see that she was wearing high heels. She was dressed in all kinds of things she had probably found in one of the destroyed houses in Warsaw, where the people had run away at the last minute. And probably when they ran, they left shoes like this behind. They didn’t wear shoes like this!

Ada: I know – my mother was taken to Treblinka. And I know that every time we were called to assemble in a courtyard and rounded up for an Aktion, people wore layers of clothing – they wore as much clothing as they could. Because we believed we were being taken to a labor camp. So you wore a lot of clothing so that you would have a change of clothing – three dresses, several pairs of underwear. So people usually wore very practical clothing. And this girl… 

Samuel: She was dressed like a ballerina!

Ada: She was dressed like for a ball. With the high-heeled shoes.

Samuel: And she was staring with these eyes – it was abnormal. She was clutching a piece of bread to her chest. It was something extraordinary.[16]

Where did she get the bread? Was it bread that was given out by the Germans at the Umschlagplatz[17]?

Ada: No, I don’t think so. When the Germans first started the transports from Warsaw, the miserable people in the ghetto who didn’t have anything to eat would go to the Umschlagplatz because there the Germans gave them bread and jam.[18]
Afterwards, the Germans already stopped with this.

Samuel: It wasn’t in the first days of the transports [so the bread she was clutching wasn’t given to her by the Germans]. It was December, 1942 or January, 1943 – around when Arthur Gold[19], the conductor from Warsaw, came.

You don’t understand. I saw people, pass by – artists. People you’ve never heard of. And they were killed in Treblinka. It’s hard to explain what art there was! Culture. Warsaw was culture!

Tell us about the sculpture of Arthur Gold.

[The sculpture shows the trio of violinists that the Germans forced to play in the camp. They played popular prewar tunes. Samuel wrote that the tunes reminded the prisoners of years gone by, and “left us depressed and sore of heart. The Germans were pleased with themselves: they had succeeded in organizing an orchestra in the death camp.” Willenberg, p. 133].

Samuel: During the time of the exhibition of my sculptures in Israel, the Polish Ambassador came. I put a tape on the side, and while I explained the sculpture to the audience, I put on the music [of Arthur Gold]. I put on music and he cried.

Ada: You know why he cried – because my husband said, “We will stand here for a moment in memory of Arthur Gold. He isn’t alive anymore, no one remembers him, he has no grave, so we’ll stand here for a minute and listen to his music.” And the ambassador cried.

Samuel: You know why they dressed the orchestra like this [20]? So that the SS-men could make fun of them, and could laugh at them. To show them that they were nothing, that they were not men. To make them into clowns. This made it easier for the SS to kill them – it’s much easier to kill if it’s not a human being that must be honored.

What about the sculpture of the man with the baby carriage. 

the nickname for the group of
Jewish prisoners collecting
glass bottles to eliminate the
signs of those killed at Treblinka

Ada: You know that the Germans had a special department, the Flaschensortierungkommando.[21] Before the war there was no plastic, so everyone had glass bottles that they used in order to bring things with them – medicines, everything. And suddenly the Germans made a special work detail – a detail that collected all the bottles – they did this because glass remains in the earth and doesn’t disintegrate for thousands of years…

Samuel: The Germans were afraid that someone would find all these bottles, in the middle of the forest, and get suspicious: where did so many bottles come from? So the Germans made a new department to clean up all the glass.

What is the sculpture of the man without the leg? 

A Jewish disabled WWI German army
veteran in Treblinka, with his prothesis,
was considered unfit to walk to the
gas chambers and was sent to be shot
in Lazarett (2002)
Ada: This sculpture is of a German war veteran from WWI who lost his leg. He thought that if he came to Treblinka with all his medals, that he’d get some kind of special treatment, but they killed him just like they killed all the other Jews – they killed him in the Lazarett with a bullet because he couldn’t walk.

And the sculpture of the stretcher?

This is the group that had to clean the cattle cars – they took the corpses out of the trains at the time that the trains arrived. They were called the “Blues.”[22]

We are indebted to Samuel, and to Ada, for sharing their time and their insights with us and for allowing us to see Samuel’s wonderful sculptures, which bring the scenes of Treblinka back to life.

[1] Samuel was, for many years, chief surveyor in Israel’s Ministry of Construction and Housing.[2] The Scheissmeister was a prisoner put on duty to guard the latrine, so that no prisoner could spend more than two minutes there. As Samuel himself says in his book, “When the Germans noticed that the prisoners were going to the latrine too often and spending too much time there, Lalka [Kurt Franz, one of the SS men who later became the camp Kommandant, nicknamed “Lalka”, which means “doll” in Polish, for his “baby face” - Ed.] ordered the Vorarbeiters [sic] [Jewish foremen of a labor detail] to go to the storeroom and procure two rabbinical black suits and a couple of black hats with pompoms on them. Two prisoners were equipped with whips and ordered to don this getup. It was their job to make sure no more than five prisoners entered the outhouse at any one time and that they spent no longer than one minute inside. Alarm clocks dangled from their necks on strings. They were called the Scheisskommando – the “Shit Detail”. The Germans enjoyed their joke raucously….” Samuel adds that the Germans purposely made the prisoner who was the “master” of the Scheisskommando look ridiculous. “It was incredibly humiliating.” Samuel Willenberg,Revolt in Treblinka (Warsaw: Jewish Historical Institute, 2008), pp. 135-136, 273.[3] A hazzan is the cantor who sings liturgical music in a Jewish synagogue.[4] The “reds”, or the Transportkommando, were among the few Jewish prisoners who were kept alive in order to work for the Germans at Treblinka. A group of “about forty prisoners was engaged in the activities carried out on the square where the victims undressed. They directed the victims, relayed the German orders to undress, and distributed string for tying shoes together so they could be easily reused in the future without having to sort them….In Treblinka this team wore red armbands and became known as ‘the reds,’ or, in the prisoners’ special slang, the ‘burial society’ (Chevra kadisha).” Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 108.[5] By “ramp”, Samuel is referring to the train platform at Treblinka onto which Jews from all over Poland and a number of additional countries, as well as about 2,000 Sinti and Roma, disembarked from the cattlecars and entered the camp to be exterminated.[6] Samuel’s sisters were murdered at Treblinka. He became aware of this when, as he was sorting the possessions of Jews in the sorting yard at Treblinka, he found a small brown coat that had belonged to his little sister, Tamara, who was five years old. A skirt worn by his older sister Itta was clinging to the skirt, “as if in a sisters’ embrace.” Samuel was able to recognize the coat as his sister’s because his mother had lengthened its sleeves with bits of green cloth as his sister grew. Willenberg, Revolt in Treblinka, p. 72.[7] The uprising at Treblinka took place on August 2, 1943. As Samuel writes in his book, “It was a singular and unique day, one which we anticipated and hoped for. Our hearts pounded with the hope that maybe, just maybe our long-nurtured dream would come true. We harbored no thoughts of ourselves and our lives. Our only desire was to obliterate the death factory which had become our home.” Willenberg, Revolt in Treblinka, p. 180.[8] Samuel described the scene as follows: “The machine gun stepped up its bursts. Behind me, at the outer fence, tragedy. The brave ones climbed up the iron and wire complex only to be hit there by a bullet. They fell with screams of despair. Their bodies remained hanging on the wires, spraying blood on the ground. No one paid any attention to them. More prisoners climbed over the still-quivering bodies and they, too, were cut down and fell, their crazed eyes staring at the camp, which now looked like a giant torch…I crawled through the open area and reached the barriers….The dead had created a sort of bridge over the barbed-wire complex across which another escapee moved every moment…With a leap, I climbed the bridge of bodies. I heard a shot, felt a blow – but another jump, and I was in the forest….” Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, p. 292. [9] The sculpture of the girl whose hair is only partially cut is connected to the story of Ruth Dorfmann. The events that Samuel describes here occurred in mid-January, 1943, when transports from the Warsaw Ghetto began reaching Treblinka every day after a letup of several months. At that time, Samuel was working in the sorting yard, sorting and packing up the personal effects of murdered Jews.[10] A group of ten to twenty men in the camp were forced to cut the hair of the women immediately before they were sent to the gas chambers. Samuel generally worked in the sorting yard, but in the incident he is speaking about, because of the size of the transport, extra men were needed to cut the women’s hair. Haircutting in the Operation Reinhard camps began in September or October, 1942, after the SS Main Office for Economic Affairs and Administration issued an order dated August 16, 1942 that provided, “care is to be taken to make use of the human hair collected in all concentration camps. This human hair is threaded on bobbins and converted into industrial felt. After being combed and cut, the women’s hair can be manufactured as slippers for submarine crews and felt stockings for the Reichsbahn.” Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, p. 109.[11] Samuel is referring to the German’s blatant and painstaking use of signs (including other signs for “First Class Waiting Room”, “Second Class Waiting Room”, “Ticket Booth”, and so on), and other means of deception on the ramp to fool the arrivals at Treblinka into thinking that they had reached a harmless, pastoral train station in a transit camp and would be showered and sent on to labor camps. Victims were to be deceived until the very end.[12] The reference here is to the path taken by most of the people who arrived at Treblinka: they were taken and forced to undress, women had their hair cut, and then all were sent to the gas chambers. The Germans cynically referred to the path to the gas chambers as the Himmelstrasse – the road to heaven. Prisoners more realistically called it Death Road.[13] Samuel indicated, on the sketch of Treblinka that he drew in 1981, a space near the rear gate between two huts that abutted the train platform. This was not the way most prisoners were led into the camp; they went in through the main gate and never saw the sorting yard, which would have revealed all the secrets of Treblinka and given them clues that Treblinka was a death camp. This was purposeful deception by the Germans. [14] The reference here is to the plundered Jewish property. Suitcases were opened on the ground for sorting, and there was what Samuel himself describes as a “towering multicolored mountain” of property in the sorting yard. Willenberg at p. 79. [15] Samuel is referring to the prisoners working in the sorting yard, sorting through the possessions of the murdered Jews.[16] In his book, Samuel finishes the story of the girl: “Like an apparition from another world, she approached the sorters one after another, glancing at the contents of the suitcases as if she were visiting a market at a sidewalk of street peddlers. She wandered among us, showing us a gentle smile and terrified eyes. Stopping at one of the suitcases, she withdrew kerchiefs of various colors and flung them into the air, as if dancing. Work came to a halt; everyone contemplated this strange specimen of colorful Warsaw misery….Suddenly her skinny face froze with fear. Terror seized her from top to bottom, driving the madness from her….She contemplated us with the fear of a person who, with the intuition of an animal, senses that her end is near.” Miete propelled the girl toward the area of the sorting yard near where an innocent fence with interwoven pine branches camouflaged the Lazarett – the so-called “field hospital”, also disguised with a Red Cross flag. In the Lazarett, prisoners who couldn’t walk or would have held up the extermination process were killed with a gunshot to the back of their heads. The girl from Warsaw was killed this way in the Lazarett. According to Samuel, the workers in the sorting yard paid the little girl from Warsaw their last respects when they heard the gunshot. Willenberg, pp. 77-79.[17] The deportation area where the trains left with their human cargo. [18] This was a ruse used by the Germans to get unsuspecting, starving Jews to volunteer for deportation.[19] Arthur Gold was a well-known conductor of popular music, like waltzes and tangos, that was brought from the Warsaw ghetto and murdered in Treblinka.[20] In his book, Samuel describes the clothes the Germans forced the musicians to wear. “They ordered our tailors to sew jackets of shiny, loud blue cloth, and to attach giant bow ties to the collars. Dressed not as prisoners any longer but as clowns, they provided entertainment after roll call, day in, day out. …The music was usually accompanied by the tenor of the crane engine. The diligent machine kept on exhuming and relocating corpses in the death camp even after 6:00 p.m., for the Germans had decided to expedite the matter of covering all traces and burning the bodies. The moment the concert ended, the SS-men ordered us to march toward the entrance to the hut….”[21] Translated, the Bottlesorting Detail. The baby carriages and strollers of the children who were murdered at Treblinka were used by this work group to collect bottles, thermoses, jars and aluminum containers. Children’s strollers were also used by the prisoners to collect garbage. [22] “This group of forty to fifty prisoners worked at the train platform. The team’s job was to open the freight cars and transfer the orders of the SS man in charge to disembark from the train. After the victims disembarked, the team workers removed the bodies of those who had died en route and transferred them to the burial ditches. Then they cleaned the cars and removed any remaining belongings to eliminate any traces of the transport cargo. Two or three prisoners would clean each freight car, and within ten to fifteen minutes the entire train had been cleaned. In Treblinka the platform workers’ team wore blue armbands, and thus were known as “the blues.” Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, at p. 108.