I set this weekend aside to finish reading The Last Jew of Treblinka. It is a difficult biography and I could only read one chapter at a time. The book was written by Chil Rajchman, one of the few survivors of Treblinka, a WWII death camp set up by the Germans and overseen by the Ukranians. Rajchman's narrative is plainly written yet the simplicity in the telling leaves the reader shaken to the core.
Chil Rajchman and his sister are sent to Treblinka by rail, crammed into a box car that leaves little room to breathe. Bodily needs are expelled where they stand among the crowd of others who do the same. Rajchman wants to believe they are being relocated, but he expects the worst.
After the train stops and the doors opened, his sister is ordered to strip and run a sandy gauntlet lined with trees and gardens to a hallway replete with white towels and flowers. Rajchman is not fooled. In a short time, the screams of the soon-to-be murdered are heard in the courtyard where Rajchman is herded and chosen for work detail.
Work consists of ridding the corpses of hidden jewels and money. Rajchman must work fast to keep up, but notices the weakened state of his fellow Jews. Those too frail to work are told to strip, ordered into a burial pit, and shot. There is no mercy. Rajchman learns quickly and even though he is beaten daily, he continues to work as hard and as fast as he can to stay alive. Rajchman writes of his roll as a mass grave digger, a dentist who removes gold crowns from the dead, to body cavity searches for jewels and money, All of which is hard to read and even harder to accept.
After a year, Rajchman is still at Treblinka. A thinly worded plan, woven together with furtive glances and perilous meetings, gives Chil and others like him, the opportunity to escape. They set fire to one of the crematoriums and use stolen wire cutters to cut their way out of barbed wire while others use guns stolen from the armory. He is one of the few who makes his way to freedom.
While I have given Rajchman's narrative a 5 star review, be prepared for graphic violence. Remember that The Last Jew of Treblinka is written by a man who lived to tell the tale. Treblinka is nothing like the western German concentration camps we've seen on TV. Treblinka was designed to kill and to destroy the evidence of mass murder. The biography is best taken in small doses, otherwise you will be overwhelmed at the cruelty of humankind. It is a book worth reading if you've ever asked yourself if evil exists.
After learning of the mass killing in Orlando, Florida I was immediately drawn back to The Last Jew of Treblinka. I am forever saddened at humankind's ability to be cruel. The intolerance and bigotry of individuals and groups of individuals harkens back to the days of Hitler where murder and condemnation are the rule and not the exception. Humanity needs to be careful here. Evil exists in many forms and to treat it as a mere aberration will come at an enormous price.
On a personal level, my grandchildren are currently visiting Disneyland with their parents. Last night, my daughter-in-law called to let me know there are armed guards on each corner keeping the facility safe. I asked her if the kids were uncomfortable with such a large show of guns. She said no, and that in fact, they made her feel better.