Death Camp Treblinka: Survivor Stories (2012) Movie Script

This programme contains scenes which
some viewers may find upsetting.
In August 1944, a Red Army offensive
swept into Nazi-occupied Poland.
Following the railway toward
Warsaw, Russian scouts
came across
an eerie forest clearing.
An attempt had been made to erase
every trace
of what had happened here.
There were no buildings,
no bodies,
no mass graves.
But the earth did not conspire
in the cover-up.
This was Treblinka, the dark heart
of the Nazi Holocaust.
Its gas chambers once stood here.
Nowhere in human history
had 800,000 human beings
been murdered in such a short time.
Only two last survivors can now
tell of the hell of Treblinka.
We found small children,
newborn children.
No-one had liberated these men.
They had staged a prisoners' revolt
and fought their way out.
There were flames, smoke,
explosions, gunfire.
The swastika was burning
and fell down.
Everything was burning.
After the escape,
they would pursue vengeance,
waging war on the SS
in Warsaw's bloody uprising.
And justice,
confronting a key architect
of Nazi genocide
in the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
So you were in Treblinka 1? Yes.
The selection started right here.
Women were sent to the left,
men to the right.
Final witnesses to monstrous crimes.
This is the story
of two extraordinary men
who journeyed into the abyss
and achieved the miracle
of surviving Treblinka.
Kalman Taigman lives by the sea
in Israel,
far from his birthplace in Poland.
His Zionist father
had emigrated here in 1935,
but efforts to bring young Kalman
and his mother had failed.
In the fateful summer of 1942,
they were factory workers
in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto.
A time of bitter memory.
Since the German invasion of 1939,
Poland's Jews had been subjected
to persecution and forced labour.
The majority had been rounded up,
and corralled inside hundreds
of ghettos.
Warsaw was the biggest.
Over 400,000 were crammed
into a tiny, unliveable area,
sealed off behind high walls.
The death toll through disease
and deliberate starvation
was appalling.
Terrible days.
You'd go out in the morning,
you have to go to work.
You can see dead people
on the sidewalk.
The family, after the person died,
took from him the clothing,
to sell.
And to buy something to eat.
Yet such cruelty was just a prelude
to the unimaginable.
Many Jews in Poland
believed that the worst was over,
that if they were able to work,
if they could work for the Germans,
then they would be left alone.
They were not to know that
a decision was being taken
that would lead ultimately
to the liquidation
of all the ghettos in Poland
as part of a plan to annihilate the
entire Jewish population of Europe.
Racial hatred, military conquest
and new empire in the east
impelled Hitler in late 1941
toward a "final solution"
of the Jewish question.
SS Einsatzgruppen
had already slaughtered
hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews
in mass shootings behind the lines.
Now, Heinrich Himmler's SS
was authorised to cleanse,
or annihilate, all Europe's Jews,
by industrial means.
Adolf Eichmann would organise
the transportation of Jews,
by rail, from across the continent
to the death camps.
In May 1942, the Nazis began filming
Warsaw's doomed Jews for posterity.
Not even the children
were to be spared.
The death factory being built to
kill them all was virtually ready.
Mass deportations
began on July 23rd.
They came in the morning.
They brought together 6,000 people,
and then they sent away.
They told us
we are going to work in the east.
I didn't know I'm going to Treblinka.
I didn't know.
Samuel Willenberg is an artist
living in Tel Aviv, Israel.
He has turned searing
wartime memories into bronze.
And his drawings
give a rare illustration
of life inside Treblinka.
That tense summer of 1942, he was
on the run, outside the ghettos,
140 miles south of Warsaw.
He was in Czestochowa, a sacred
Catholic place of pilgrimage,
with his mother and two sisters.
Samuel grew up here, a headstrong
tearaway with Aryan looks
who blended easily
into Polish society.
Now fugitives with forged papers,
they had taken rooms here,
in the very shadow
of the Jasna Gora monastery.
But for Jews, the risk of betrayal
was ever-present.
But, stunned and despondent,
Samuel hesitated.
In October, he too was rounded up
and deported to the east.
Hidden just 60 miles northeast
of Warsaw, Treblinka was the last
and most lethal of three
new extermination camps.
With Sobibor and Belzec,
Treblinka served Aktion or
Operation Reinhard -
the SS plan to liquidate over
two million Polish Jews.
The three camps that were
the core of Aktion Reinhard
were constructed with one purpose,
and only one purpose.
That was mass murder.
They weren't like Auschwitz which
had a huge camp population
which was used for work purposes.
They were quite small,
about 400 metres by 600 metres.
They were near to railroads
so that Jewish populations could be
delivered to them quickly
and easily.
They were in remote locations
because they were not meant to
service any kind of industry.
They were not meant to have any
function other than mass murder.
At Treblinka's two sister camps,
SS technicians had already refined
the process of deception
and mass killing.
The German overseers numbered
just 30,
supported by over 100 troniki -
Soviet Ukrainian SS auxiliaries.
A few prisoners were made to tidy up
the aftermath of a gassing,
then they, too, were killed
at the end of each day.
Kalman's transport drew up to
the ramp at Treblinka on
September the fourth.
Immense suffering had begun
on the slow train journey itself.
Like beasts.
First of all they put in a wagon
approximately 100 person.
The journey was terrible. There was
no place to sit. You must stand.
You couldn't breathe.
There is only a small window.
Now water. No food. No nothing.
So therefore I am telling you
a part of the people were dead.
In the melee with 2,000
other victims,
19-year-old Kalman held tight
to his mother, Tima.
Once a train arrived in the camp
Treblinka, then the SS men and
the Ukrainian guards
went at them with a fury,
herded them out of the trucks,
beat them, shot people, created
a mood of absolute panic and terror.
You could hear shouting.
"Raus." "Out."
And we all went out from the wagons,
and they sent us to a place
where was a door.
An iron door.
I came to the door with my mother,
But they say us,
"Woman, left. Man, right."
I didn't want to let her go.
So I don't know what, I get something
in my head.
From a German. And I fall down.
And when I stand up, I saw her.
She's going in the barrack.
With other women and children.
In under two hours, victims had
crossed unseen into the camp
of the dead.
Driven naked up this corridor
to a building containing
three gas chambers,
fed by a Russian tank engine.
Kalman soon learned the German name
for this path.
Himmelstrasse. The way to heaven.
Samuel is making his own pilgrimage
back to Treblinka.
The odds of survival beyond
this point were virtually nil.
But a new commandant, Franz Stangl,
saw the daily killing of prisoner
helpers as inefficient.
Operation Reinhard camps began
to form pools of Arbeitsjuden,
or Work Jews.
Forced on pain of death to be
slave labourers.
Selection still required
a miracle of good fortune.
Samuel retraces these fateful last
steps with his daughter, Orit.
Camp 1 was where the living
were processed on arrival.
Kalman and Samuel were forced
to sort victims' belongings
in the lower camp.
Here they would witness
daily horrors.
We went to the barracks to take out
the clothes from the women.
And we found small children.
Newborn children.
We must take two, four children
to put in a blanket
and four persons took the blanket,
and we are going to the laundrette.
Anyone who risked slowing progress
toward the Himmelstrasse
was taken out of line
and led to the so-called
"field hospital", or Lazaret.
Sick persons.
Dead persons.
I was in a big hall.
Deep. And there's fire.
Children who are living still...
..and they shoot them.
And put on the fire.
And there were children
who were still living.
The SS held the lives
of Work Jews cheaply too.
Samuel and Kalman
determined to stay alive
in the desperate and
unlikely hope of escape.
But many could not endure.
The workforce was culled regularly.
The life expectancy of
the Work Jews, the Arbeitsjuden,
was a few weeks,
a few months at the most.
A lot of them committed suicide.
It was very common for
those who had been taken
from one of the groups of Jews
doomed to the gas chambers
and put into the workforce.
Kurt Franz,
Treblinka's deputy commander,
was the most feared
of a vicious SS contingent.
Photography inside Treblinka
was strictly forbidden,
but Franz took these rare images
of the SS living area
for his private album.
He labelled it "Schoene Zeiten" -
"Good Times".
Franz made Work Jews
memorise and sing
Treblinka's camp song at roll call.
He wrote the lyrics
to Fester Schritt.
They beat us all over the day.
You can't go, you must run.
And if you didn't do something
like he wants...
..he could shoot you.
Nazi death camps
were tasked with more
than the physical
extermination of Jews.
They were designed to plunder
every economic asset
for the enrichment of the SS state
and the German war machine.
Precise instructions were given
to death camp Kommandants
on how to handle the loot.
'Guidelines for the distribution
of the belongings of the Jews...'
As many as 800
Work Jews were needed
to sort the vast
pyramids of belongings
stripped from incoming deportees.
They packed into their bundles,
into their suitcases,
their most valuable and
treasured possessions.
Orthodox Jews took with them
the candlesticks for holding
the Sabbath candles.
Wealthier Jews, of course,
took with them
any foreign currency they had,
or gold, or diamonds,
in the hope that they could use
that money to make their lives,
wherever they were going to be
resettled, a little bit better.
Women victims of Treblinka were
sent to the gas chambers
after the men so that their hair
could be harvested too.
One day, Samuel was ordered
to work as a barber.
He encountered a naked Warsaw girl
fully aware of her fate.
Samuel and Kalman felt fortunate
only to have been selected
for work in the lower camp,
and not in the Camp of the Dead.
Just metres away, the Totenlager
was sealed off
behind high, camouflaged fences.
There were no crematoria.
The dead were simply
thrown into five giant pits.
Kalman and Samuel could hear and
imagine what they could not see.
'Where are they? Where did they go?'
Kommandant Franz Stangl
was unmoved by what he saw.
"I remember pits
full of blue-black corpses,
"a mass of rotting flesh.
"It had nothing to do with humanity.
"It could not have.
They were cargo."
He was elegant, clean,
in a white jacket.
He changed shoes three times a day,
because he runs in blood.
He came home.
He kissed his wife.
He kissed the children.
How is this possible,
to go out from a hell,
to come home after his work?
You'd like... kill him with all the family.
Like he did.
It was the particular agony
of the prisoners to witness
or to discover the murder
of their own flesh and blood.
One morning, a transport
arrived from Czestochowa.
The pace of Treblinka's
killing was frenzied.
Between September
and mid November of 1942,
over 438,000 Polish Jews perished.
Ten bigger gas chambers
had been erected,
raising its killing capacity
to 15,000 per day.
Franz Stangl remembered
that he would start the day with
breakfast round about seven o'clock,
and then, after he processed
a trainload of people,
would go back
to his quarters for lunch.
That would mean that up
to 6,000 people had been
murdered between his
breakfast and has lunch.
With its mission to wipe out
Polish Jewry virtually complete,
Treblinka would
open its gates to gypsies
and over 135,000 Jews
from across Europe.
These stones represent
not murdered individuals,
but whole Jewish towns,
villages and communities.
More humans had been killed
here in 1942 than at any other
place in the history of mankind.
The slaughter and defeat
at Stalingrad finally turned
the tide of the war
against the Nazis in February 1943.
The threat of defeat,
and exposure of their crimes
began to weigh on the SS leadership.
Himmler now ordered
the SS to liquidate
and to destroy
Warsaw's Jewish ghetto.
Thoughts there had turned
to diehard resistance.
And escape.
Among some 70,000 remaining captives
was a 13-year-old girl,
Ada Lubelczyk.
She had seen her mother Rachel
deported to the east
the previous summer.
The destination was Treblinka.
Ada did not know that she
was an orphan.
I remember that I was happy that she
was dressed when they took them.
I remember exactly that I wanted
to believe that it would be OK.
Ada's relatives had planned
a daring escape over the wall
to get her into hiding
on the Aryan side.
I have before, to arrange
to have documents, you know,
Aryan documents,
and I have to know all the praise,
how to make this and this...
all the praises. When I was ready,
they arranged the escape.
Just weeks later, lightly armed
young Jewish resistance fighters
began a desperate and heroic
last stand against the SS.
They fought and died in bunkers
and burning streets.
Trainloads of prisoners were
sent daily to Treblinka.
There, embers of hatred and
resistance were burning too.
Jewish prisoner Rudy Masaryk
was a Czech army officer who helped
camp elders shape
an ambitious plan... break into the SS armoury
using a copied key.
Burn the camps wooden buildings
and destroy the gas chambers.
To kill Kurt Franz
and other hated SS guards.
Then, break out en masse
into the woods by nightfall.
But the oppressive regime
made planning near impossible.
The Jews who were part
of the killing machine,
they were being culled regularly
so there were constant searches.
The Work Jews were kept under
very close supervision,
and there were,
what were called "squealers"
in their ranks
Jews who thought that they
could extend the life expectancy
if they co-operated with the Nazis.
If they told them that they'd
heard rumours
about an underground in the camp,
a resistance.
One day, Samuel was ordered to
the lazarette where a sick man
had just been taken for execution.
The arrival of giant cranes
and excavators that spring
signalled a new stage of horror.
Himmler had recently toured
Treblinka's camp too,
and discovered that three
quarters of a million bodies
lay uncremated within the pits.
Stangl was ordered to exhume and to
burn them on giant open-air pyres.
An SS technician
nicknamed "The Artist"
constructed the so-called "roasts",
which burned day and night
for months.
All prisoners knew
that the burning of the last corpse
would trigger camp closure
and their own execution.
We know that as we are going,
finished the last one...
they will put us too.
Don't wait for it,
they will take you too.
And so it begins.
A day for the revolt was chosen...
The uprising was not just
a gesture of resistance,
it was the effort of men
who had seen hellish things,
who had seen criminality
on an unbelievable scale.
It was their determination
to get out, to stay alive
and to tell the truth to the world.
The Germans,
they saw what was going on
and called to one another...
..they are Jewish, start shooting.
Jewish - we are broken people.
Almost dead.
And the Ukrainian soldiers,
they begin to run after us...
There were scenes of absolute chaos.
one of the leaders of the revolt,
Rudi Masarek was one of the first
to be shot, went down near the wire.
But the chaos itself
served a purpose.
There were so many people
running in so many directions.
There were flames, smoke,
explosions, gunfire
that dozens and dozens of Jews
were able to get to the fence,
get over the fence
and then plunge into the minefield
and into the forests.
After 15 minutes of running, we stop,
turn back and look at how
everything is burning.
The swastika was burning and falling
down. Everything was burning.
The feeling was...
Me? Outside?
Stangl launched a massive manhunt.
By nightfall, fewer than 200 rebels
were still alive and on the run.
And we ran all night long.
No lights, nothing.
Next morning we saw a guy
and I asked him,
"Where are we? What is here?"
And he told us...
"Jews burned the camp and ran away.
"Run away too, because you are Jews."
We are looking for food, for water
and we found a farmer.
I ask him if we can stay there
for one night.
He said, "OK. Come."
Kalman and his friends decided
to lie low in the wild.
To survive a year-long ordeal,
they would dig a makeshift bunker
and live underground.
Samuel went solo.
Trusting in his charm and looks,
he set out for Warsaw
to find his artist father.
This perilous journey took months,
but eventually Samuel traced
Perec to an apartment block
where he was living
under a false name.
Samuel learned that his mother
Manifa was also alive.
He was then asked for news
of his sisters.
The time for revenge
would soon come.
On 1 August 1944, almost a year
after Treblinka's revolt,
a great uprising
by the Armia Krajowa -
the Polish Home Army -
began in Warsaw.
Already with the resistance,
Samuel volunteered to fight
against his old SS tormentors
in bloody street fighting.
The battle raged for over 60 days.
No mercy was given.
Yet, when Warsaw's uprising was
finally crushed,
Samuel managed to slip out
of the devastated city.
He fought on as a partisan,
based in the Campinos woods.
For Kalman, the sound of Russian
tank engines
had augured the gassing
of innocents.
But the roar of Soviet tanks
now heralded
One day in the morning, a tank...
..came in...
..and stopped, the tank,
near our place.
Everything was...
trembling there.
We didn't know
what kind of tank it is.
Finally, one of us...
Samuel was freed form Nazi rule
in January 1945.
Both he and Kalman joined
the Soviet-led Polish army,
and fought on, through to
the final defeat of Hitler.
At war's end, Treblinka
was desolate,
and forgotten.
It had been completely demolished
soon after the prisoners' revolt,
back in 1943.
Only war crimes investigators
now visited
the wasteland.
A stunned world focussed more
on the Nazi concentration camps
which had been liberated intact,
and with many survivors.
Yet fewer than 70
had survived Treblinka.
And they were now scattered,
seeking to rebuild shattered lives.
Samuel had met a young girl
in the city of Lodz.
Ada Lubelchik,
sheltered through the war
by a Polish family,
was looking for accommodation when
she met a dashing army officer.
I went to the office where my
friends worked. I came there,
and in this place was sitting
a very nice-looking Polish officer.
You know, with all this uniform
and with the cap -
a soldier, how it looks.
And he was very nice.
He was blond, with blue eyes.
But my matter was to
ask about an apartment.
And they ask.
And he told me, "Yeah -
I have an apartment.
"I have a very nice one - two rooms,
"but one condition.
"You have to marry me."
It was the first time
that I met him.
It's supposed to be a joke.
There eyes were set on "aliyah" -
emigration to Israel.
Kalman's new life in Israel
had begun in 1948,
when he was finally reunited
with his father, Shimon.
A successful businessman,
he had married Rivka -
herself a survivor of
a Nazi concentration camp.
They had a son, Haim.
Yet, in 1960,
the Israelis brought the world's
attention back to the Nazi genocide
by sensationally kidnapping
Adolf Eichmann from Argentina.
Kalman and three other Treblinka
survivors were summoned
to be part of a huge trial,
held on the stage of Jerusalem's
biggest auditorium.
It was a time for revelation
and justice.
LAWYER: Was there any law authorizing
you to carry out the mass
TRANSLATOR: I had received orders
and instructions from my direct
Eichmann by himself
never shot people.
He was a good organiser
of trains.
Was there any law
authorizing the commander
of an extermination camp
to murder people?
That law, of course, did not exist.
But I know that those who did it
referred to the maxim
according to which
the words of the Fuhrer
have the force of law.
This is what those people say.
I think the uniform
make from him a man.
He was not a man.
He was nothing.
On June 6th, 1961,
Kalman confronted Eichmann
with the crimes of Treblinka.
Lazarette was a kind of grave -
a big dugout, fenced off
by barbed wire,
and near the entrance
there was a hut, painted white
with red crosses on it
and the inscription
"lazarette" on the walls.
He stayed on after his testimony
to listen to Eli Rosenberg.
He had slaved in the Totenlager
and was an eye witness to the last
and darkest secrets
of Treblinka.
TRANSLATOR: When the people entered
into the gas chambers,
the last ones
were stabbed in their bodies
by the bayonets.
The last people already saw
what was happening.
They did not want to enter.
and the just jammed the people inside
- 400 into the small chamber.
This was the final capacity, the full
capacity of the gas chamber,
and was so jam-packed
that it was difficult
to close the door.
When they locked the door,
we were on the outside.
We heard only screams
and prayers - "Mother, father."
And after 35 minutes, they were dead.
And two Germans were standing
and they said, "Everyone is asleep.
"Open the doors."
And we opened the doors
and we took the bodies out.
It's difficult not to understand.
Take a beast, take a wolf, a lion.
They can kill people
when they are hungry.
They were not hungry.
They took people, small people,
small children.
Eichmann was convicted of crimes
against the Jewish people
and was hanged in 1962.
Yet few of the perpetrators of
Operation Reinhard shared that fate.
Himmler committed suicide
in Allied custody in May 1945.
Treblinka's commandant, Franz
Stangl was extradited from Brazil.
Sentenced to life imprisonment
in a West German court in 1970,
he died soon afterwards in prison.
Kurt Franz was put on trial in
Dusseldorf with nine other
Treblinka SS guards
and sentenced to life
imprisonment in 1965.
Released in 1994 for health reasons,
Lalka, "the doll",
died at home four years later.
The majority of the SS
and the Ukrainian guards at
Treblinka have evaded justice.
This house in Udim was Samuel
and Ada's first home in Israel.
It belongs now to their
architect daughter, Orit.
Samuel's mother, Manifa,
was with them in the '60s,
still haunted by the loss
of her two daughters.
Samuel has dedicated his life to
remembrance of the suffering
and resistance
of fellow Poles at Warsaw.
And of fellow Jews at Treblinka.
As many as 850,000 innocents
were cruelly murdered here
in little more than a year.
Nazi secrecy denies us
knowledge of all the victims' names.
Samuel asks that
we never forget Treblinka.
Kalman shares this mission,
visiting Yad Vahsem in Jerusalem.
In the Hall Of Names,
records of victims' identities
are collected and preserved.
Kalman has submitted
the names of 18 close relatives.
This is my mother.
They murdered her
when she was 39 in Treblinka.
Shalom, Kalman. Shalom.
Historians recognise
the unique significance
of these final witnesses
to Treblinka.
The fact that anybody survived
means that they went
completely against the odds.
The Nazi plan was to kill
every single Jew there.
The Nazis almost succeeded. I mean,
look at the survival rates.
50, 60, 70 people out of 859,000
were killed.
That's essentially zero.
These last two survivors
of Treblinka are of very different
kinds of personalities.
Samuel Willenberg is this outgoing,
gregarious person
while Kalman Taigman is reserved.
When you see these two
personalities, you also see
just how there was no formula for
survival for Jews in the Holocaust.