Richard Glazar Interview
Richard Glazar’s Former House in Prague 2005
Richard Glazar was born Richard Goldschmid on 29 November 1920, in Prague. He was accepted at the University of Prague in 1939, but the Germans closed the universities after demonstrations by students. He lived in Kilmentska 17 in Prague, but then went to work on a farm near Prague. On 2 September 1942, he was ordered to report to the Mustermesse – a large exhibition hall in Prague, but after staying there two or three days he was sent to the Theresienstadt transit ghetto on transport number BG-
After working for four weeks he was deported to the Treblinka death camp in Poland on transport Bu, with the registration number 639, which left Theresienstadt on 8 October 1942. The transport arrived in Treblinka on 10 October 1942. Glazar was selected to work by the Germans and together with his friend Karel Unger, worked at sorting the victims’ belongings and in the Camouflage Brigade. He and Karel Unger took part in the revolt on 2 August 1943 and they both escaped from the Treblinka death camp.
They made their way across Poland but were arrested by a forester near Nowe Miastro – nad –Pilica in the south-
They worked for the Heinrich Lanz firm which manufactured agricultural machinery. After liberation by the United States Army, Glazar returned to Prague, where he stayed until the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet forces in 1968. Glazar and his family fled to Switzerland, where he became an engineer. He wrote a book about his time in Treblinka entitled ‘Trap with a Green Fence – Surviving Treblinka,’ which was published in several languages. After the death of his wife Zdena, he committed suicide in Prague on 20 December 1997.
He was interviewed by Bonnie Gurewitsch at the US Holocaust Memorial Council 26 October 1981, and what follows is an extract from that interview, covering his life in Prague, and up to his escape from the Treblinka death camp.
Mr Glazar can you give us some background on your family in your pre-
I was born in Czechoslovakia, in Prague. My family was Jewish and Czech. To some extent bi-
What were you doing in 1939?
I was still studying
It was what you call high school, or maybe community college, gymnasium.
How old were you?
I was nineteen at that time. And then when the Germans came they closed the universities, and I could nothing else but go to work on a farm. My parents were deported in 1941, to Poland, to Litzmannstadt, it was a ghetto. So I myself stayed completely alone.
Where were you when your parents were deported?
I was working on a farm. Just for food and accommodation at that time.
How did you get to this farm?
Well, I had no other choice; I had no other possibilities because me being Jewish, I could work nowhere. This was the only possibility to make ends meet.
Were the people who you were with on the farm, had you known them before the war?
No, they didn’t know me, they just accepted me. They got... they had to have the permission to employ me. This was the only possibility, because I was not allowed to do any other job, just nothing.
So you were identified to them as a Jew?
Did you have to wear any particular identification?
Yes, first I had to have in my identity card a ‘J’ which meant Jew. And if I remember well, since 1941, I was obliged to wear a yellow star with the inscription Jude. And then in September 1942, I was deported to Theresienstadt. Theresienstadt was a big ghetto where they concentrated and deported almost all Jews from Central Europe, from Germany, Holland, Belgium and so on. And after a short time, just one month, I was put into another transport that was going to another ghetto eastwards. We understood that it might be Poland.
May I ask you something about Theresienstadt? What were you doing in Theresienstadt during that month?
In Theresienstadt I was, maybe what you call, just, you know, to clean the streets, to take care of the litter – that was my job in Theresienstadt.
Can you describe where you were living?
In Theresienstadt, Theresienstadt was an old fortress founded by Maria Theresa, so there were many, what you call it, stables. So I had to live, just, just, sleep in such a stable with many other persons.
How many people would you say were together with you?
Well, every one of us had room. Some eighty centimetres, that was all, for all the belongings. We were allowed, just to take, 50 kilos with us and that was all. So maybe, we were sixty persons in such a stable. Some people lived better but you know.....
That’s how you lived?
Were you selected in a particular way for this transport?
Yes. Just, I got the order, written order on a paper, on a document that I have to enrol for the transport. That I have to go with the transport to another ghetto to the East that was on the 8th of October 1942, and the train left on that date with thousand persons. We went; we were on the way almost two days. And on the 10th October 1942, maybe at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the train arrived at a place, which appeared to me as a big farm. So I was to some extent, I was satisfied because that was work I knew well.
What made you think it was a farm?
Because there were fences and these fences were green, but in fact they were barbed-
Knitting with green branches; So everything looked nice. Green from outside, and then they took us.
When the train pulled up to the station, was there any indication of the name of the place?
Yes it was.
What did you see?
I saw a big inscription ‘Treblinka,’ and some other inscriptions too. For instance; railway station, trains in direction to Bialystok, Volkovysk, to the bath and so on.
So it had been set up to look as if it was a railroad station?
Trains going elsewhere?
Or just some transit station
What were the people saying when they saw they had arrived?
I can’t tell you because, everyone was so occupied with himself , with his family, that was my luck maybe that I was alone. So they took us, we saw Germans in SS uniforms and they had guns.
Who told you to get out of the cars?
Yes, who told you to leave the railroad cars?
And, we saw people that had red and blue armbands and they called us together with the SS to get out of the train and to move to a certain place.
How were these people dressed, the ones with the armbands?
Normally, quite normally, in civilian clothes, in civilian clothes
And what language were they speaking?
Mainly they speak either Polish or a language which I didn’t know before, it was Yiddish. So they took us to a special place. Everywhere was fence, so that we couldn’t see what was happening outside and they told us we should go to disinfection bath, and that we should put off, take off our clothing.
How far away from the railway station was this place?
It was very near. It was maybe 30, 50 meters
Was it an empty place or were there trees?
It was an empty place and on both sides were barracks-
Were you, was your group that was getting undressed, were they all men?
No, no, men and women, children, old people and so on.
Was the entire transport taken to get undressed?
No the entire transport was taken undressed
Were other people pulled out of this group, like you were?
Yes, yes. They pulled out some eighteen people out of these thousand people. And that was, as I knew later, relatively, very, we were very many. There were transports where they took out one or even none. So they led us to another place. And to a barrack, and I saw everything in the barrack was in a horrible, horrible state. Clothing you know, sheets and everything you can imagine, lay everywhere.
And there, after a few minutes, I was told from others, who were working there, from the slave labourers that we were in a gas extermination camp called Treblinka, and that all the people who came with me and who went to the baths were dead already.
What language were these people speaking to you?
They spoke Yiddish or Polish. And because my native language was Czech and I understood German very well I was almost blank. So I could understand them either in Yiddish, German or even Czech, because Czech and Polish is rather similar. It’s a Slav language.
All eighteen people who were selected out of the transport, were they all brought to the same barrack?
They were all with you?
Yes, in the first time
Yes, at first
And, what happened next, after you were told by the other inmates that this was an extermination camp?
Well, everything went, everything must have been done and running. And the SS guards and Ukrainian guards, there were Ukrainian guards, young Ukrainians. So they got us all the time, they had what do you call it, ‘Peitschen,’ to beat.
Oh, they were beating?
Yes, they had very long.....................
Describe it, whips?
Right, whip. They’re called whips.
So they had whips. And so we had to do the work all the time under whips. And the work consisted in sorting the clothes.
Where was this clothing?
The clothing was in the barrack. It was all the clothing, the transports, which came, and which arrived, left
Did the barracks have a particular name?
At this time no, later yes
What was the name?
Later the SS managed to organise all the killings and removing the clothing and all other things so perfectly, so they established different barracks. Barrack ‘A ,’ Barrack ‘B’ and for example in Barrack’A’ were assorted all clothing, and the barrack looked inside like a basement store, or something like a basement store, with inscriptions, with.....
And inquiry boxes, departments with categories; Men’s coats, first assortment, second assortment, women’s coats and so on. Everything was so perfectly organised.
When was that? When did this organisation develop?
It was later. That was at the end of 1942 – so after some two months after I arrived in Treblinka.
What was the, could you tell about any distribution of jobs between the SA, and the Ukrainian guards?
The SS you mean, not SA, they only have SS
Yes, the SS and the Ukrainian guards?
Well, the Ukrainian guards, were just guards, aides
Were they armed?
They had arms of course, guns and the whips.
What sort of uniform did they wear?
And they had either... mainly they had brown uniforms, not black uniforms. Black and green uniforms were the uniforms the SS wore.
And who supervised the work that you did?
So, it was organised like this. There were different Commandos of these mainly young people, who were helping take out of the transport .And this Commando was at the time specialised, so there was for example, there were two or three Commandos for assorting the clothes.
There was a special Commando and they took the people out of the transport. They asked for who was involved in a Jewish business for instance, or who was a banker. They took these people out of the transport and established a Commando which was called in German ‘Goldjuden.’ If you want it’s Gold Jews. Gold Jews and their task was to assemble all the money, all the jewels, which the people brought with them and to assort it and to pack it and for it to be shipped and sent away. And it’s very difficult especially this part of the story to explain this part of the story... to explain nowadays to the people. The people who were persecuted for such a long time before they were deported. So they kept the last most precious things for the last moment. And its obvious that they brought the last very precious things, jewels, gold and so on with them. And all the money, and all this properly piled in Treblinka to a horrible ... I call it ‘Mamon’ – Is that the right expression?
Now, just imagine that all the ‘Mamon’ corrupted all the people. The SS, the Ukrainian guards, and even the Polish inhabitants. And so all of them did things that Treblinka persists, and Treblinka creates the by-
Did you see this?
Was it outside? Outdoors?
Yes, it was outside. In Treblinka everything happened outside. And so then, at last there was nothing, but ash. Am I right? Is that the right expression – ash? And the ash was mixed with sand. And everywhere there was sand, so at least there was nothing by then and nothing was the final product in Treblinka.
Did you speak with anyone? Were the different Commandos, the different work details kept separated or were you able to speak with people who worked for example in the Sonderkommando?
We were able to speak to people who were organised in other Commandos, but not for the people who were working straight in the gas chambers or around. But, still, with time, we managed to establish contact with them when preparing, when organising the revolt, the uprising.
How did you do this? How did you establish contact? Perhaps it would be helpful if you described the layout of the camp? Which part of the camp were you in?
Quite opposite to Auschwitz, Treblinka was a very small camp. Treblinka had dimensions of some 300 by 500 meters. That was all. And the capacity of Treblinka was some 15,000 even 18,000 people a day. So Treblinka maybe had the bigger capacity than Auschwitz and if the Germans had managed to transport all the people to Treblinka, they would have killed off all the six million Jews. Even they would have been able to kill off all the six million Jews killed in the Second World War in Treblinka. The bottleneck -
How many barracks were in your part of the camp?
There were several barracks. The ‘A’ barrack, the so-
What were they called? Did they have numbers – letters?
No, no they called them just ‘Wohnbarack’ – live in, one, two, three. And there were some shops. They took out at times from the transports even craftsmen, and they had to work in Treblinka.
About how many people would you say were kept alive and working in Treblinka?
In October –November 1942, we were some 1,000 people. But later on this reduced, partly the SS, reduced the population to some 500 -
Where were these people coming from?
Most people came mainly from Poland. Only some 25,000 came from Theresienstadt and those were Jews from Czechoslovakia or Germany. I saw some luggage with the inscription Darmstadt, for example. So, those were the people who were first deported to Theresienstadt and then to Treblinka. But the majority, the overwhelming majority of the people deported to and then killed in Treblinka were Polish Jews or even Jews from Russia, from the occupied part of Russia.
So, for example, first of all Warsaw, from the ghetto, other towns of Poland, mainly eastern Poland, and then Bialystok, Volkovysk, Gdansk, and Russian towns in the neighbourhood of Poland. And at the end they brought the rest of the liquidated Warsaw uprising to Treblinka, in June, July 1943. And even some gypsies. I remember very well that they brought to Treblinka and killed several hundred gypsies, men, women and children and so on.
Did you see the transports coming in?
Yes. You know I was in Treblinka ten months from October the 10th until the 2nd August 1943, the day of the uprising and I managed to work in several Commandos.
Could you tell about the others besides what you told us?
So, I knew Treblinka very well. And at last there was in connection with organising the uprising – I was in a special – I worked in a special Commando, the work was very, very hard there. The Commando was called Camouflage. And the task of this Commando was, that was the only Commando which went outside the camp, and to make what they called ‘mocking,’ to camouflage the fences, the barbed-
How many people were in this Commando?
We were some eighteen in this Commando.
Who was the leader of this Commando?
The leader of the Commando was – he was half German, half Polish Jew, his name was Kleinman.
Before we go onto the revolt, I just wanted to ask you something else about the running of the camp. Was there an orchestra?
Right, right, yes
Could you describe that?
The orchestra was established, let me see now, at the beginning now of 1943. The chief of the orchestra, his name was Gold.
Who was he?
He was a Jew from Warsaw. They took out people who were musicians for the orchestra. They took out singers, very good ones. They let one of the Czech Jews to compose a song. A sort of Treblinka anthem, which we had to sing when we went to work, when we got back and so on, which we had to sing, at what they call the ‘Appel’
Could you describe that?
The song? I remember it.
Could you sing it?
Just the beginning, because its very long, you know
Festern Schritt und trit und dem Blik geradeaus
Maschiert die Kolohnen zur arbeit
Fur uns gibt heute nur Treblinka das unser Schicksaal ist
Did you understand?
I understood some of it, perhaps you can translate a little bit of it?
For us does pay today, only Treblinka, which is our fate. Right?
Who wrote the song?
The song writer – I knew him. I knew him quite well, one of those boys who were taken out of the transport with which I came to Treblinka. I don’t remember his name anymore. But I knew he was from Mahrish-
And everyone had to sing it at Appel?
How many members were there of the orchestra? Do you remember?
Maybe some twelve
Do you remember which instruments were represented?
Violin of course
Right and drums
Drum of course and what you call it?
Accordion and this is a special story. They took out of a special transport a boy, he was a Polish boy from Warsaw. And all you could have seen from the boy only the hat and his feet. Because all other was his accordion, when he was playing it, in front of him. His name was Edek. And he had a special task in the uprising. He was the one who got the task to put, because he had access to the SS barracks.
What did he do to get access to it?
He was allowed to go to the SS barracks, because he played the accordion. And sometimes they call the musicians to the SS barracks in the evening to make music to entertain them. So he and all the musicians belonged to a Commando which was called ‘Hofjuden.’ How would you translate into English?
Yes, privileged Jews. So they had yellow armbands. Not all of them, some of them were allowed to have access to the SS barracks. Mainly very young people, boys of twelve, thirteen, fourteen, they had to make also the cleaning up. So Edek had the task to put a small metal chip into the lock of the munitions store. Of course the door didn’t go out, so they called the people from the Commando – what you call it Schlosser?
You know to lock, unlock
They were in charge of locking and unlocking doors?
And these people told them they couldn’t repair it on the spot. They had to take all the doors from the munitions stores to the shops.
Now was this Commando – they were inmates of the camp?
Of course, all was already organised
It was all prepared – this whole scenario? Could we go back a little further to the very beginning of the preparation for the uprising?
How did that happen? How did it begin to be organised. And why, I would say?
The first idea, the first common action was in November 1942, when we sent, managed to send, two people out in a loading of clothing.
What were their names?
I don’t remember, Eide, something like that I guess. And with the task they should join the Polish Underground, if they could manage it. And let the world know. Especially, let the English Government know what was going on in Treblinka.... of the existence of Treblinka.
The train that they were sent on – were they sent together on the same train?
Yes, they were sent together... the same train. It was the first common action.
Where did the train go?
We didn’t know that. I saw only when empty wagons came and we helped them to load them with assorted things. So I saw the inscriptions on the wagons with the names of different German towns. I’ll tell you later something about that story. After I and my friend Charlie escaped and came to Germany under false names. Well that was the first action, common action.
Did these people succeed?
I was told after the war from the Polish officials that they did succeed and that the English Government or officials simply refused to handle the mater, as the matter which belonged to the domain of absurdum – of something which was completely absurd. This is what I was told after the war.
There were several escaping people..... tried to escape on their own. Most of them, they failed, and they were killed, of course, they were killed. They killed the people in a horrible way, they hanged them naked between two trees. The hanged them naked by the feet.
Was this in public?
In public, of course, in public! Because it should be for us-
And really it took ever since December 1942 until August 1943 before we succeded. There were.... we had different concepts, different ideas and we had always some or other reason to postpone it.
Can you describe some of the planning and why you needed to postpone it?
One plan was the so-
Wherever, they were, to take their guns and to set Treblinka on fire. That was one plan...... failed. We simply dropped it – we dropped it because from one day to another, half of the camp, maybe some 300 people got typhus. And in Treblinka everyone of us just simulated he was healthy.
Because when we just appeared to be not completely fit, they took us to a place which they called the ‘Lazarett‘ (Field Hospital). And this hospital was nothing in Treblinka, but a place where they finnished people who either couldnt work aymore or they simply disliked them for any reason. Or even people from transports, old people and children. That was, where they were sent, when the transports came in, arrived. So they set these old people and children, and those that were sick, disabled and so on, aside. They would go to the hospital, and the hospital in our language was a place where everyone was made completely healthy with one pill ...... Shot
Were there suicides among the inmates?
In the first time there were
When was that?
October – November 1942, not later. I dont remember later because we were preparing for the revolt. And in different perods in the history of Treblinka should, must be differed. The first period when everyone, everything was in horrible disorder, shooting, killing people. They killed even people they took even three hours ago. There were cases where some young people were just taken out of the transport and they just lived two hours and were killed. But later, but somehow it was the idea of the Commander-
Can you now go into more detail about the revolt?
I told you how we got the key of the munitions storage.
Alright, that’s how it began, when the Commando said they have to remove the door in order to fix it, but what happened next?
Then the uprising had to take place on Monday, because on Monday these boys had to make the cleaning up in the barracks, very properly. And they used for this purpose a cart. And this cart, under the litter, they were able to hide the guns and grenades from the munitions store. It happened that it was, I think it was still in July, on one Monday they succeeded in doing it. But then we found out that the grenades were without firing points, so they were hidden away to put everything out and we had to postpone it. It was just at that time when I was very ill. I had typhus. So if the revolt had taken place on that date, I wouldn’t have survived.
On Monday August 2nd we succeeded. But the whole revolt was not a heroic one in my view. It was half success and half failure. It was just an act of desperation. Where we succeeded was to set fire to all the barracks. But we didn’t succeed – that was the failure to get hold of the towers, where the Ukrainian guards were. And what we didn’t reckon with was that the Ukrainians would defend so strongly. I would call it a ‘welfare’ in Treblinka, for money and all they had from the dead people.
Who was in the guard towers? Were they Ukrainians or the SS?
And they were the ones firing at you?
How many people were involved in the revolt?
Almost all of them, some 450 people, some 250 in the first part of the camp, some 200 or a good 150 -
So, in addition to setting the barracks on fire, was there any other part of the camp destroyed?
All the barracks were burning except the gas chambers. There’s one thing to say, its not so well known, there was another Treblinka camp, not very far away from Treblinka extermination camp. Sometimes it was a forced labour camp. A small camp, it was just a quarry. Once I was brought with my Commando there just to bring sand and stones to Treblinka. So I saw how it looked like. It was a normal concentration camp. And one can imagine the Germans, the Nazis , they camouflaged it, with the existence of this labour camp, the existence of the extermination camp.
What did you do during the revolt? What were you supposed to be doing? What did you do?
I had no gun. I had just an axe.
And where did you go? What did you do?
We attacked the Ukrainian barracks. Just behind the Ukrainian barracks were the barracks of the SS. We didn’t come far, we were just giving, what do you call it, just giving a chance for those who had guns to shoot.
Did you escape from the camp?
And then came the order, after some fifteen minutes, came the order to escape.
Who gave the order?
One, he was what we call the connecting liaison officer
Do you remember his name?
So where did you go?
So, then we passed the barbed-
Were there minefields around the camp?
No, no minefields, not even electricity
How many people would you say managed to escape?
Out of these 450 -
The Polish partisans?
He succeeded to join the partisans and was shot down. Because in these times and these circumstances it was better to kill somebody you didn’t know then let them live. And you know all the population, they were mainly anti-
Mr Glazar let’s go back to your escape from Treblinka during the uprising. And you described that you were hiding with a friend in a pond full of water. How long were you there?
Some eight hours, until late at night. And then we went out and we saw that Treblinka was burning, still burning.
Was there an attempt on the part of the Germans and Ukrainians to find those who had escaped?
Yes, of course, all the time. We had even a plane. They must have called a German garrison, near Treblinka. We heard it. They put the region under curfew, with a plane and dogs. So it was our luck that we had hidden in the water.
And you stayed under water for eight hours?
Not under water, just.....
In the water and over us were branches, so we were hidden under the branches, but in the water all the time.
By then it was night?
It was night. We went out. And our idea was, because Poland was for us a completely new land, so our idea was to flee, to escape, get to the Moravian border, where we knew where some groups of partisans were operating.
Interview with Bonnie Gurewitsch, at the US Holocaust Memorial Council , Brooklyn, 26 October 1981
A.Donat, The Death Camp Treblinka, Holocaust Library, New York 1979
Richard Glazar, Trap with a Green Fence, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois 1995
G. Sereny, Into That Darkness, Pimlico, London 1974
C Webb & M. Chocholaty, The Treblinka Death Camp, Ibidem-
USHMM – Washington DC
Photograph – Chris Webb Archive
© Holocaust Historical Society 2015