was never intended to be a mere Travelogue, nor was I going to become involved with any Political contentions along the way. My own search was into a journey back in time, to a place where People could be so abjectly abandoned as to be swept aside and burned. I most certainly was not in any sense going to be side tracked from that initial aim. My only wish was to share with those who would read the Books I have written on the subject of The Holocaust, and give them a sense of why I am involved so personally. Auschwitz-Birkenau remains the foremost tool by which a World can know the depths to which people can descend into an abyss of atrocity. The necessity to deliver what is an outrage for the 6,000,000 Jewish People, all too many of whom are interred in Poland itself, this is my sole objective. The essential to depict The Holocaust in an impartial way will clearly identify what Hitler sought out as his Final Solution and how that final resolve was all but completed.
This fact alone infringes also upon the concept of what civilises us. Auschwitz and Birkenau were an awe inspiring place of immense pain, suffering and grief for a Jewish World all but made to vanish, and certainly from within Poland. But what I have witnessed this time, wishing always to add toward my search for any form of comprehension in The Holocaust, has seen a Country riddled with Political and Church corruption’s. My visits to Belzec, Sobibor and Majdanek have made me think more resolutely of what The Holocaust has taught us, and what necessarily History needs to learn correctly from it. I have met some of the most wondrous people ever, oddly enough considering I am in Poland, they were all Polish. They were gracious, sympathetic, considerate, accommodating and filled with a charitable zeal that is infectious. Of course there are the few who would sully such a reference point, negatively.
But Society the world over has its own share of those whose intolerance trawls the gutter. I met a young man from Sri-Lanka, who was returning to his home in Oslo. He would not be becoming a Doctor. That is a real loss to those in need of any Medical attention. Tragically also, he would not be returning to education in Poland where his experience was less than mine, and all because my suntan needs to be paid for. We remember mostly those who inspire something in us which allows us never to forget them. That should not be marked by intolerance’s which do not inspire but recognise the difficulty some in this World have to endure with the bias, prejudice and an intolerable abuse rendered by lesser people.
This brand of racism is a very sad indictment upon any Student Body whose prospect for learning will be tinged with more than a certain partiality. Their prejudice and even a hate filled intolerance shows the less than positive lessons some have learned. Those many Polish people though, whom I came to know in my ever so brief stay, have proved as educationally diverse and culturally involved in matters both Nationally and Internationally as any people I have met in Europe. So when I consider that my own realisation of an other person’s differing experience in Poland, is an isolated case, it remains for me a little sad that all people cannot be tolerated. But what needs to be learned from such experiences as perhaps only Poles have experienced and witnessed, it would appear that there are still those who have not accepted the equality in all of us. But then, only Jews were so targeted that theirs was a certain and deadly fate.
Marta is a prime example of those Polish Citizens whose every endeavour ensured I got to see Sobibor when it seemed I might not. Her willingness to assist is a very great example of what Polish citizenry should be represented by, magnanimity and altruism. Sobibor was to be my last Death Camp visit and it all looked doubtful until Marta’s help enabled me to navigate the pitfalls of my own lack of appreciation for the Polish language. I couldn’t speak it! Also deserving of a mention, and of great credit here was Agata, various Agathe’s, Arleta, Ewa, Filip, Kasia, Magdalena Monika and also Tal. There are also many other’s, and I thank them all profusely for not just their good nature, struggling with my English, but for their time, their patience and for the sympathy I received for having placed upon myself a need to achieve what I had set out to do. My rather poor lost English abroad role, with so little Polish language skills, left me frustrated and with a requirement which placed demands on those I sought assistance from.
As my own inability to realise my shortcomings required compensating by those I came to rely upon, my journey would be a success and fulfil a wish to add experience to memory. As it happens, on my second day in Lublin, I could not pick up the transport necessary for my visit to the Belzec Death Camp. So on that day, this was January 14th., I busied myself in and around Lublin Castle and Lublin City Centre. I stood on the steps of Lublin Castle and judged where once a Jewish People was prosperous, viable and vital to Lublin society. That they no longer congregated amidst the clamour of those like myself seeking their way through the ruins of Jewish existence, I am uncertain as to how many now know the Jewish story as Lublin had seen it? From a spot just to the side of the main Castle rampart I could clearly make out, in the distance, the factory that stands beside Majdanek Death Camp. It struck me here and now that when Hans Frank demanded the destruction of Polish Jewry, from his seat in Cracow, he could state on April 12th. 1940:
"..Cracow has to become ..town most cleansed of Jews in ..General Gouvernment" Hans Frank.
Here, at Lublin Castle it was SS Gruppenfuhrer Odilo Globocnik who could see and even smell the scent of destruction, as he invariably watched the smoke of Extermination billow forth from Majdanek’s pyres and Krematoria. This present visit proves for me that Majdanek, as perhaps the lesser of The Death Camps in the General Gouvernment, was a significant find for acknowledging the overall Truth of The Holocaust. Majdanek remains of greater importance given its almost complete capture as a working, viable and capable Camp facility. Also, a result of this enforced stay in and around Lublin I met Tal. I was still wondering whether I would indeed get to Belzec when I was greeted warmly by her, after I had introduced myself to a group of Jewish tourists. And here their English proved more exemplary than my Hebrew, as did Tal’s English, which exposed my own lack of ability to speak to the Polish people in their own language.
"..I concluded Operation Reinhard which I had conducted in ..General Gouvernment and have liquidated all camps. A few SS men and Ukrainians remained in ..extermination camps. In Treblinka even a group of Jewish prisoners was left behind in order to dismantle ..huts ..fences ..and other camp installations. After completion of this work ..November 17th. 1943 ..last group of Jewish prisoners was shot in Treblinka." SS Gruppenfuhrer Odilo Globocnik.
I was asked to meet Tal at her office:
the following morning. Here, at what can only be described as a place of revelation, I walked though a doorway to a project of Christian Jewish Reconciliation. This grand scheme, which shone a light on a very dark period for Jewish Poland and Christian Poland, was an unexpected bonus for me. This Theatre group provides links for Jews and Poles to come together and resolve issues over their blighted past. For me, it feels that it might just provide the spur to other Jews to return to Lublin and perhaps occupy the same significant space in numbers as can be witnessed in Cracow? If the Brama project alone fosters a Jewish Polish inter cultural relationship of Tolerance, some lessons from The Holocaust will be being learned. Educationally, it seeks to:
"..bring students closer to the main issues, referring to life and Extermination of Jewish community in Lublin and its region."
WE clearly acknowledge that with a mere spark we can so easily light the way from whence 42,000 Lublin Jews were extinguished toward a clearer appreciation of what we have all lost because of this. The Theatre actively seeks to Remember the former presence of those Jewish Citizens removed from Poland to the Extermination sites. The Theatre’s effort is present at:
This very specific portal is in need of a more fundamental recognition for its obviously well directed efforts. The Exhibitions on Lublin, Memory of the Place, Memory of the Righteous - Memory of Light and The Primer, Children in Majdanek Camp will provide the visitor an opportunity to see what Tolerance can enable. This Theatre is a progressive embodiment of what the essentials in learning from History should be. In order for us to take the best elements of that learning process into the future we need to learn accurate lessons from that past. This Theatre too is a clear signal from within a Country which is attempting to come to terms with what was achieved against its own Jewish neighbours. That Hitler established the Death Camps on Polish soil, and Slaughter was conducted by legions of Hitler’s acolytes, followers and lackey’s is no coincidence. On what has been a tremendous experience that I have enjoyed, this trip has been an eye opener in other ways too. With regard to what the Polish people are dealing with on a daily basis, theirs is a struggle which Europe appears to ignore or is unwilling to resolve.
Also, and in terms of what my own Church demands of Polish society, the young people of Poland have become disenfranchised and disillusioned with what Catholicism should mean. As Christ surely intended, so must my Church grasp and understand the fundamental need to adhere to a doctrine that is giving, altruistic and charitable. But then, Capitalism was never one of God’s commandments and as far as I know, is not endorsed by a young Christ upon seeing money lenders in the Synagogue. As for the Political arena, while Poles can be expected to work on subsistence level earnings, those who have the mandate from the very People they represent, resent those very same people who have presented them with that position of power. The politician has gained a strong financial means toward their own very personal ends which is oblivious to the plight of those they represent. As with the Church, which has laboured with what was happening to Jewish existence, 70 and 80 years ago, today, both Government and Church has begun the process of reneging upon its own Ministry and responsibility.
What these institutions have failed to administer, upon the learning processes of what History can still teach us, is the positive examples to take us forward, positively. The Polish Government it seems, and from all those Polish people I have spoken with who have confirmed this, is now embarking upon an impoverishment of its own people for their own very specific political ends. It would appear that Polish people go hungry, some say that they might even starve, so that an elite can set themselves up, just as Hitler did, to ensure the fittest can stand taller. As this political elite assume an arrogant posture and ignore their calling, their mandate and their duty is diminishing those very people they have sworn to represent. For me, the Theatre is an example of what we attempt to learn well and this should be an exercise the Polish and other Governments should apply to their own criteria for the representation they have undertaken. The Theatre is just across the way from the Hotel where I was staying:
which loomed large as I passed Lublin Castle on the day I arrived in Lublin. This was on January 13th. and I was eager firstly to settle in and then get to the Death Camp at Majdanek. From Concentration Camp to Extermination centre, at the very heart of the Lublin environs, I found thoughts to the title of my next Book might be present from amongst three very different though competing themes. As I made my way from Lublin to all of the 3 Death Camps, as I am about to visit the scenes of such depravity and devastation, titles suggested themselves:
1) '..Trudging through the Snow in Search of Comprehension.'
and as I still found comprehension difficult to come by, it is a search that continues way past my departure from Poland. Whilst attempting to at least understand the insane deformity which allowed for a Society, both ‘civilised and cultured’, to follow a murderous route selected by an absolute lunatic, Adolf Hitler, History hardly defines the schism this causes with what has civilised humanity for thousands of years. The fundamental grasp as to what happened, what was allowed to happen, which I am still continually dealing with, strikes at the very core of what humanises us. As I journeyed, Poland was not only cold, it was freezing and even seemed forbidding. It was Snowing on each of those days I visited the 3 Death Camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Majdanek.
I visited Majdanek first, as it was nearer to my stay in Lublin and I could easily revisit it on any other day, given I had the time to do so. For me though, I always felt somehow that Belzec might hold the key to an understanding I had always sought with the terms I had already given for the work I had done on The Holocaust. The words I had used in anticipation of my own move to visit the sites of such monumental atrocity, would have a newer emphasis. As I moved closer toward my next destination, which was Belzec, I realised that I was literally walking:
2) '..In the Footsteps of The Jews of The Holocaust.'
We had sped along major routes which, while they sign posted the way to all of these Death Camps, we were passing Community’s where the entire Jewish presence had been extinguished. The signs to the many Towns that dotted the landscape along the way toward the Destruction of a humanity lost forever. Where the representative scores of places passed us by, here where the Jews of these Towns had been removed, resettled and then destroyed in the Death Camps, Jewish existence is no more. In places like Bialystok, Bitgoraj, Brodek, Chelm, Krasnik, Lubertow, Przemsyl, Radom, Tomaszew Lubelski, Warsaw, Wlodawa and Zamosc, entire Jewish Community’s which have had their very existence all but obliterated with Hitler’s extermination solution stand voided of all Jewish connection. It is significant that there are Book titles to resonate the concern History must show for what Hitler achieved in Poland against the Jewish People. They are simple titles like Belzec, Majdanek and Sobibor but with deep hidden meanings to penetrate an enlightenment we once called civilisation.
Belzec, Sobibor & Treblinka -- Yitzhak Arad.
Belzec -- Rudolf Reder.
Majdanek -- Anna Wisniewska.
Sobibor -- Marek Bem.
Sobibor, Ashes of -- Thomas 'Toivi' Blatt.
Sobibor, Escape from -- Richard Rashke.
Sobibor -- Jules Shelvis.
Other than these first two titles I was considering for my next work, both of which appeared to resonate with me, I was so profoundly and acutely aware, as I walked around Majdanek, Sobibor and especially Belzec that:
3) '..I Would Finally Emerge and I Would Get Back'
This was realised while those many 100’s of 1,000’s of Jews who entered these Death Camps did not. I had this deep sense that of the 600,000 Jews Murdered within Belzec, their final moments of life were restricted to a walk toward a Gassing Chamber and certain extinction. This was also true as I had witnessed in Majdanek, and would undoubtedly find at Sobibor as I indeed felt at Auschwitz and Birkenau a year previously. There is still much to be done to make people aware of the very fact of The Holocaust and I will continue in that quest:
Always to Remember, Never to Forget
and to Remind all of those willing to listen and understand why it is so wrong, that all told 6,000,000 Jews were Murdered because of a hatred. Hitler’s Final Solution should be seen, not as some might have it out of an ideology which was fabricated, but as a ruse by which Hitler could accomplish the greatest larceny in all of History. Alongside this monumental larceny there was the most unprecedented Destruction of so many Human Beings ever contemplated. I am deeply aware also that for many, The Holocaust is simply defined by Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is clear that the very existence of a further 5 Death Camps, all established by Hitler and all within Poland, is largely left along the margins for those who study the subject or who are personally connected in some way to those specific Death Camps. Also, as with all of Hitler’s Concentration Camps, the History of the mass Murder which Hitler established for the Jews, Poles and other’s, and all throughout his reign, cannot be simply explained by Belsen, Dachau or Sachsenhausen.
Nor will The Holocaust be fully explained by the depths to which mankind sank to as these 6 Death Camps plied their Genocidal trade. For me, what made The Holocaust possible was the ability of one man, Adolf Hitler, to be able to sway a Civilised acculturated nation, like the German people, into performing acts of such atrocity. Humanity then required a name to fix that outrage in our History. That genocidal term was characterised by Rafael Lemkin and from its very essence, the World has attempted for more than 70 years to comprehend the far reaches of The Holocaust. With the clear intention which Hitler alone perceived, conceived, contrived and ultimately achieved, 6,000,000 Jews of Europe were taken from all corners of Europe toward a Final Solution and were physically Slaughtered in that final resolve.
Accusingly, from the sheer absence of all too many objecting voices, Hitler found a seeming acquiescence in all that he would achieve. There was not too dissenting enough of a NO for Hitler and so Jewry in Europe paid too heavy a penalty. The Culture of an enlightened Germany has been savagely ripped apart and has been ceremonially laid to waste in a Poland riven with burial mounds, sites and scenes of atrocity. Here on foreign soil, where Hitler established these 6 Death Camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, Poland was to become and is the graveyard of a Jewish pre-eminence now struggling to come to terms with what ‘christians’ did and allowed to be done. All too many Jews of Europe have been sacked from existence with a disregard that is barbarous, hideous and without precedence.
as it nestled merely 5 kilometres away, it seemed prudent to visit here first. The Death Camp itself was still intact. The Russian offensive had proved too swift and incisive for Hitler and there was no time for his SS minions to dismantle completely the evidence of what was perpetrated here. That first visit to a Death Camp on the fringes of a major City was a real eye opener. I had visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, which seemed set away from the local Towns. But not for the Majdanek Death Camp the concealment of Forest, distance or remoteness. I walked about the entire area and looked out on a vista that had community’s still vibrant and obviously in such close quarters as to be able to look in and see every single detail of the destructive process Majdanek undertook. This close proximity of Majdanek to Lublin was startling.
One cannot begin to imagine how such devastation can be imposed upon the Jewish People in a Death Camp over looked by the whole of Lublin. I thought rightly also that my visit to Majdanek on this first day would now allow for any difficulties I might encounter if Belzec could not be reached. As that proved to be the case on my second day in Lublin, it was fortuitous that Majdanek was indeed so close. Majdanek, where it has been previously suggested that more than 235,000 Jews were Slaughtered, had the capacity to achieve more than Hitler's aim. It is also suggested that during the time of its existence it was responsible for approximately 360,000 victims who had died or were murdered at Majdanek of which 120,000 of them Jews. Numbers play a strange note here, as it is essential that exactness is sought ahead of inflated terms for the true nature of the atrocity perpetrated.
"..Each furnace had only one retort ..independent ..fuelled by oil. ..could hold 2 to 5 corpses. ..daily capacity of 1 furnace was about 100 bodies ..burning round ..clock. ..burning of one load ..lasted about 1 hour." SS Unterscharfuhrer Erich Muhsfeldt.
I did manage to get to Belzec on Friday 15th. and am greatly indebted to all those whose co-operation, commitment and advice got me toward Tomaszow Lubelski and from there to Belzec. It is a little sad that whilst I was in Tomaszow Lubelski, a Town which witnessed the vanishing of those of its own Jewish Neighbours, I could not spend more time there to look around this Town. Historically, with more than 1,500 of Tomaszow Lubelski’s Jews being removed and Murdered on February 25th. 1942, the Town is a key link to the Jewish extermination process. Less than a month later in March 1942, a further 300 Jews were ‘resettled’, destroyed, murdered. I took that exact same route now toward my next visit to Belzec. Belzec though was a quite extraordinarily moving experience. Having traipsed through the Snow for some 4 kilometres or so, I felt so aware that this was a journey all too many Jews had already made and 600,000 of them would Never return. My visit to Belzec was made all the more constructive an experience with the knowledge shared with the educator that is Ewa.
Not only was her knowledge of The Death Camp thorough and exact, but her willingness to ensure I gained enough from my visit is of immense credit to her dedication and professionalism. She had greeted me warmly and allowed me to take my steps through the site of an atrocity still to be accounted for. By the time I had walked the entire perimeter, and through the Crevice-Road back to the Ohel Niche, I was cold and drained. I felt I had made every attempt to see all that could be seen, even if the heavy snow fall had completely obliterated the poignancy of what had been set as The Memorial. I felt it poignantly that even this snow could not conceal what History knew had been conducted here at Belzec, and indeed at all the other x5 Death Camps. I walked till the cold took its toll upon me and I headed back to the shelter of the Museum Building. I had a welcome cup of Tea and Ewa then made all arrangements to ensure I made it back to Tomaszow Lubelski. She even instructed the Coach driver in Tomaszow Lubelski that I be taken back to Lublin.
I was on the road again, heading back to Lublin, past all of those same community’s lost in The Holocaust, and now lost in darkness. Thank You Ewa for what you did for me. Now though I was tired. I was cold, wet and hungry, but that is by no means a complaint. It seemed a reverent issue to put up with a little of the discomfort of a Polish Snow fall to pay tribute to those Jews who could no longer voice their concerns as to what was due to happen to them and what did happen to them. After my return to Lublin I set about organising my train of thought. But I had no time to be hungry. I was far too cold and busy for that. During the short period of its existence, The Death Camp Belzec with an SS cadre of about 30, assisted by more than 100 Ukrainian collaborators, achieved with the phenomenal account of 600,000 Murdered Jewish People, a place infamous in the midst of The Holocaust. Though the Belzec system involved was basic and bestial and 80,000 Jews alone were murdered in the first few week, it proved equal to its task.
"..beginning ..August 1942 until ..camp ..closed ..September 1943 I was in Belzec. ..gassing stopped ..end ..1942 ..snow ..already falling. ..unearthing ..cremation of ..corpses began. ..lasted ..November 1942 until March 1943. ..cremation ..day and night without interruption. At first ..burning took place at one site ..later on at two. One cremating site had ..capacity to burn 2,000 corpses in 24 hours. About four weeks after ..beginning of ..cremation operation ..second burning site ..erected. On ..average ..during 5 months ..about 300,000 corpses ..cremated and ..4 months at ..second burning site ..240,000 corpses. ..these are average estimations." SS Oberscharfuhrer Heinrich Gley.
The next morning I would be set for my last visit, which was to be to The Death Camp at Sobibor. However, I had a secret weapon this time round. I had arranged to meet Marta, whom I had met on my Journey to Lublin. She arranged to meet me in Wlodawa and from there we made our way to Sobibor:
The sheer expectation, ensuring that all The Death Camps were to be reached before I departed on January 17th., hinged now on my visit to Wlodawa, my meeting with Marta and a hope that, while the Sobibor Museum was to be closed, I could at least visit and take photographs of the actual area of The Death Camp. I arrived in Wlodawa, another Community whose more than 5,600 Jews had been decimated in the Sobibor Death Camp and surrounding area. In 1939, after the Germans had all but vanquished the Polish Army, more than 300 Jewish Prisoner’s of War were taken to Wlodawa and Murdered. This was followed by the destruction of over 2,000 Wlodawa Jews on May 23rd. 1942, sent to Sobibor. The following month, June 1942 more than 300 of Wlodawa’s Jewish Children were rounded up and Murdered. In October a major Aktionen, which saw 8,000 Jews of Wlodawa and the surrounding area dispatched to their destruction in Sobibor. 2,000 more of Wlodawa’s Jews were Murdered after they were ‘resettled’ on April 30th. 1943.
A revolt at Sobibor was led by some of these last of Wlodawa’s Jews as they were detrained at Sobibor. Their victory was short lived however, being shot and blown into pieces by the SS use of grenade’s. The remnants of the Jewish Community of Wlodawa, some 1,000 persons, were Murdered June 1943. The short journey from Wlodawa to Sobibor is a relatively short one. It was a treacherous one as we drove along snow covered roads and I am indebted to Marta’s Sister, Monika for making the journey possible. Of The Death Camps I had visited, only Sobibor has given that air of sought after secrecy which Hitler searched for in his Annihilation of The Jews of Europe. Sobibor is set in the middle of dense forest, well away from the Road, along a Railway line where a ramp links an opening in a forest clearing. Here is where the Destruction of those Jews to be ‘resettled’ there would be accomplished.
After trudging through a field of snow, it was with an eerie sense that I felt that not even the snow could keep from me what happened here at Sobibor. I felt that exact same certainty I had experienced at Belzec, and even in Majdanek, where the covering of snow, while blanketing all sites, could never conceal the truth of what had taken place. Nor could the snow prevent the awful feeling of desolation, desperation and tragedy. Nor the fact that so much was done by so few to so many Jews, this could not be ignored. So as to obliterate the very traces of Jewish existence, and the atrocity conducted upon them in these places, a cleansing operation was conducted. All that remains, under the soil of Belzec and Sobibor allows only for purely Archaeological digs to bring to the surface the evidence of Mass Destruction. Between May 1942 and October 1943 The Death Camp Sobibor was operational and with the use of x5 Gassing Chambers, the Murders of more than 250,000 Jews was accomplished. This extermination camp was for the almost exclusive destruction of those Jews sent there, though there were others who had been brought to the Camp for 'special treatment.' Sobibor was dismantled after the Uprising and closed down on October 14th. 1943.
"..I estimate ..number of Jews gassed at Sobibor ..about 350,000. In ..canteen at Sobibor I once overheard a conversation between Frenzel ..Stangl ..Wagner. ..discussing ..number of victims in ..extermination camps of Belzec ..Treblinka ..Sobibor and expressed ..regret ..Sobibor ..’came last’ ..in ..competition." SS Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Erich Bauer.
My visit to x3 more of the Death Camps that Hitler had erected in Poland was over, it was time to get back to Wlodowa and then embark on my return trip to Lublin. Before that though I was shown around a community which was grasping hold of the fact of that Jewish existence that had been extinguished. There were signs that the community was coming to terms with an immense loss. Catholic, Jewish and Orthodoxy faith was to be celebrated, recognised and an immense loss was still to be understood. After a meal at Atmosfera Caffee, where the hospitality was exemplary, the Food was a delight and I was finally thawing out, I had time to reflect. Before long though I was once more travelling back to Lublin. My Wlodawa stay had been a kind of whistle stop effort to ensure I had reached all x3 Death Camps. Now it was my intention to acknowledge, for my own Remembrance, what would be enhanced by this personal experience, I could now spend time thanking all of those who efforts made my trip the valued experience it became. The pieces on those specific Death Camps now visited will be delivered to the Blog in a little while. For the time being, my experience is gaining, my knowledge is growing and the words and Gallery is growing.
I stand corrected now! Marta, a Citizen of Wlodawa contacted me and pointed out that I had been mis-spelling the name of her Town. I have always attempted to do the right thing as far as correcting what is wrong and am happy to acknowledge that Wlodawa is the Town I visited en-route to The Sobibor Death Camp