Shalom (Stanislaw) Kon Testimony


Shalom Kohn was born in 1910 in the little town of Praczka. He settled in Lodz, where he worked as a building constructor. He served in the Polish army for eighteen months. After his discharge in 1933 he regularly took part in military exercises until the outbreak of the Second World War. Following the German invasion of Poland he was recalled to active service, and his unit held out for twenty days before being overrun by the invading forces. He returned to Lodz but moved to Czestochowa in March 1940 with his wife. On 1 October 1942, Kohn, his young wife and mother-in-law were deported to Treblinka from the Czestochowa ghetto. On their arrival Kohn’s wife and mother-in-law were sent to the gas chambers, but Kohn was selected to work in the death camp, carrying corpses to the mass graves and sorting the belongings of the murdered victims.

Kohn actively participated in the Treblinka revolt on 2 August 1943, where he escaped from the camp, and eventually emigrated to Israel. In 1944 he gave testimony about the death camp in liberated Lublin and a year later lengthy fragments of his memoirs were published in the Jewish newspaper “Dos Naje Lebin – The New Life,” which is reproduced here.

The thought of revenge which burned in us – witnesses to most horrible and most cold-hearted Nazi criminal methods – grew every day and started to assume tangible form, especially when 50-year old Dr Chorazycki from Warsaw joined in the idea of resistance. Chorazycki worked in the camp as a “medical advisor,” a person necessary to the Germans to play out the comedy which comprised the fictitious examination of the Jews before they were led to the gas chambers. He was a quiet and self –possessed man, in his white smock with an armband bearing a Red Cross. He gave the impression that all of this was of no concern to him, but in his Jewish heart burned the hot desire for revenge.

After an entire day of horrible experiences, four initiators of the uprising gathered together on their wooden beds for a discussion about plans, mainly those concerning weapons and explosive materials. They were Chorazycki, Captain Zelo, a Jewish officer of the Czechoslovak army, Kurland from Warsaw and Lubling from Silesia. When the first steps had already been taken, the Committee was enlarged by four further people, Leon Haberman, an artisan from Warsaw, Salzberg, a furrier from Kielce, Markus, a twenty-two year old man from Warsaw and Warsaw agronomist Sudowicz.

Efforts began to obtain weapons from two sources: from outside, and from within the camp by stealing guns from German or Ukrainian SS- men. We became interested in the camp’s armoury, which was situated between two of the camp’s buildings. Only Germans were allowed there and it was not possible to gain access.We tried to use different ways, we planned to dig a tunnel, but this was not possible because it could have been discovered by Hitler’s bandits, who guarded us very thoroughly. We decided to make extra keys for the armoury. This was also not possible for so long as we did not have access to the doors of the armoury. For this reason we had to wait for a suitable opportunity and then act very quickly. The lock was broken in the door to the armoury and the Germans had to order the Jewish locksmith to repair it. They were so careful that they took the complete doors to the workshop. The locksmith diverted the guard’s attention for a moment and made a wax copy of the key. Several days later the Committee received the key, which to us was like the most holy thing. We waited for the best moment.

Chorazycki decided to buy weapons outside the camp. Having made contact with a Ukrainian guard who was very well paid, he decided to buy pistols. There were several successful transactions. An accident finished further dealings, as well as the life of Chorazycki. One day Chorazycki had prepared a larger amount of money for the Ukrainian when the deputy commandant of the camp, SS-man Franz suddenly arrived, a bandit who was known throughout the camp as a sadist. He discovered the banknotes in Chorazycki’s smock, “You have money!” – screamed the SS-men.This meant that Franz believed that Chorazycki wanted to escape from the camp. Chorazycki immediately attacked Franz and tried to cut Franz’s throat with a surgical knife. But Franz succeeded in reaching the window and called for help. Chorazycki knowing the kind of torment that awaited him and how great was the danger for the resistance group, drank a large dose of poison of the kind that all the conspirators possessed. The arriving SS-men tried to keep Chorazycki alive, because they wanted to torture him, but to no avail. So perished the initiator of the uprising, but his death did not stop our work.  

If Chorazycki was the initiator of the uprising, Captain Zelo was the chief organiser, the presence of this army specialist contributed to the realisation of this difficult and complicated task. In the black moments of despair when many people lost all hope of the uprising, he never ceased to call on us for further efforts. He was the soul of the uprising and even when he was moved to another group of workers, all plans and projects were still sent to him for acceptance, however, great the risk. In place of Dr Chorazycki, engineer Galewski from Lodz was chosen to replace him. He too, dedicated himself into the idea, he was also a very self-possessed, which was a considerable virtue.

For different reasons the date of the uprising was changed several times. While Chorazycki was still alive, the first date of April 1943 was chosen. Later many transports from the Warsaw Ghetto arrived in Treblinka, and from the Jews we learned about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Germans treated them with exceptional brutality. Many wagons were loaded with the bodies of fighters from the ghetto who refused to go on the transport whilst still alive. The last deportees from the Warsaw Ghetto were not people who were already resigned and passive. In place of tears they armed themselves with grenades and explosive materials. From them we also received some weapons. The leadership decided that this was the moment that was best for the uprising to begin.

There was a group of Jews in the camp that acted as servants for the Germans, cleaning their quarters etc. They were the only Jews who had access to every area of the camp. Often they were also close to the armoury. The leadership had the idea to use them. They received an order to procure 100 grenades on the day of the uprising. They proved equal to the task. Haberman who worked in the German laundry, Markus, a cleaner of shoes, and 17-year old Jacek from Hungary, smuggled some grenades from the armoury. Especially praiseworthy were the efforts of 14 –year old Salzberg, son of a furrier from Kielce. He gathered uniforms, as though he was taking them to the tailor’s for pressing, but in fact the pockets of these uniforms were filled with hand grenades. Unfortunately these hand grenades lacked detonators, and for that reason the revolt had to be postponed at the very last moment.

In the meantime new activists joined our group, Dr Leichert from Wegrow was selected by the Germans from a new transport to replace Dr Chorazycki. The second was Rudolf Masarek, a close relative of the President of Czechoslovakia.* He did not want to be separated from his Jewish wife and shared her fate in the transport to Treblinka. Here he was “lucky,” he was assigned to the working groups. Before his eyes his pregnant wife was taken to the gas chamber. Maserek was one of the most active people. It is also necessary to mention the driver and mechanic Rudek from Plock who worked in the German garage. His place of work was a main point for our operation because it was there (in the garage) that we stored our weapons.

So passed the months of tension and waiting. We saw before us death at every step, we saw the German brutality. Every day thousands of Jews were led to the gas chambers, naked women and old people. They were driven in long rows to the “Judenstaat,” as the Germans cynically called the building with 12 gas chambers.** In the speeches which Untersturmführer Franz gave at every opportunity, he repeated that “if there is still even one Jew in the world, the gas chambers will be working.” Our desire for revenge grew even greater.  At last leader Galewski gave the order for the revolt. The date was fixed for 2 August 1943 at 5pm. The plan was to kill the main hangmen, disarm the guards, to cut the telephone wires, to burn and destroy the extermination plants. We also planned to liberate the Poles from the Treblinka work camp which was located 2 kilometres away, and together with them, flee into the woods to organise a partisan unit.

On Monday morning the tension in the camp was enormous. The leadership tried to calm the people. Duties were assigned so that all of the camp work should be conducted as normal. All the details of the plan were known only to the 60 people who constituted the nucleus of the fighting organisation. The activists were divided into three groups and as soon as the signal would be given each group was to occupy the position assigned to it. At 1 p.m. there is a roll call, the last roll call in the camp. We do it normally, as if nothing will happen. But when Galewski, told us that work that day would end an hour earlier because Scharführer Reuter is going to Malkinia to bathe in the River Bug, he gave us a little wink as though alluding to the “bath” we had prepared for the Nazis. At two o’clock in the afternoon the distribution of weapons began. Young Salzberg and several other boys are looking for weapons in the barracks. They are successful in smuggling 20 rifles and one machine gun and took them to the garage. It was very difficult to steal the hand grenades from the armoury. That day a pile of garbage was being removed from near the armoury. This was very convenient but it disturbed the camp administrator, SS –man Miller, who had just arrived and wanted to sleep. The agronomist, Sudowicz,, who was in charge of the gardens, called on him with the excuse of wanting to talk over some problems relating to the plants.

At that same moment Markus and Salzberg are taking carpets for cleaning opposite the armoury, so that the guards had to move out of the way for a while. At that moment the door of the armoury was opened with our key and Jacek, the Hungarian boy, slipped inside, climbed onto the window sill at the end of the room, used a diamond to cut out a small square in the glass, through which he gives the grenades and ammunition to Jacob Miller from Wlodzimierz- Wolynski, who was waiting outside and put them on his garbage cart. These weapons were also gathered in the garage. We are feeling better, it is very difficult to keep everything secret, so the leaders decide that the revolt will start an hour before the time originally agreed on. At four o’clock sharp messages were sent to all groups with orders to assemble immediately at the garage to pick up their weapons. Rudek from Plock was responsible for the distribution. Anyone who came to fetch weapons had to give the password “Death,” to which the proper reply was “Life.” The passwords are given feverishly. At the same time the main murderers are attacked, the telephone wires were cut and the watchtowers were set on fire with gasoline. Captain Zelo attacks two SS men with an axe and joined us to take over command. Close by the garage stood a German armoured car, which had been immobilised by Rudek. Now we are seeking some cover from where it is possible to shoot at the Germans. Our gunfire felled Sturmführer Kurt Seidel and other Nazi dogs. The armoury was taken by assault and the captured weapons handed out to the insurgents. We already had 200 armed men, the others attacked the Germans with axes and spades. We set fire to the gas-chambers,*** to the bath-house, burned the simulated railroad station with all the fake signs: “Bialystok- Wolkowysk,” Office, Tickets, Waiting Room.” The barracks which bore the name of the Nazi hangman Max Biela were ablaze too.

Captain Zelo gave commands and encouraged the men to fight. Nobody cared about his own life. A fiery spirit of revenge had taken hold of us. We had acquired more weapons; we even had a machine gun now. Rudolf Maserek took care of it. He stationed himself on the roof of the pigeon coop and poured fire on the confused Germans. Through the exchange of fire we can hear his voice shouting, “Take that for my wife, and take that for my child who did not even have a chance to come into the world! And take that, you murderers, for the humanity which you have insulted and degraded!” Roused to action by the flames and the firing, the Germans began to arrive from all sides, SS and police arrived from Kosow, soldiers from the nearby airfield and finally a special unit of SS from Warsaw. A full scale battle developed, Captain Zelo was darting in and out among the flames, giving us courage and urging us to fight on. He gave orders, concise, warlike – until a Nazi bullet put an end to his life. Night fell. The battle had already been going on for six hours. The Germans were getting reinforcements and our ranks had become thinner. Our ammunition was running out. We had been ordered to make for the nearby woods, most of our fighters fell but there were many German casualties.**** Very few of us survived.

Notes

*Rudolf Maserek was not related to Thomas G Masaryk, the first President of the Czechoslovak Republic, he was in fact half –Jewish and had married a Jewish girl from Vienna in October 1942, and after incarceration in Theresienstadt they both had been deported to Treblinka.

**The number of gas chambers in the new gas chamber building constructed in August / September 1942 was ten according to a number of Jewish eye-witnesses such as Jankiel Wiernik who was a master builder who worked on the new construction.

***Kon is incorrect here, the gas chambers, were not damaged in the revolt

****Kon is mistaken over the number of casualties only one German was wounded SS- Hauptscharführer Kuttner  - five or six Ukrainians were killed or wounded – but there are no official German report on the revolt or information regarding their casualties    

Sources:

Testimony by Stanislaw Kon / Shalom Kon – Jewish Historical Institute Warsaw

Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka – The Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987

A.Donat, The Death Camp Treblinka, Holocaust Library, New York 1979

© Holocaust Historical Society 2014