My father survived Treblinka. That sentence borders on the unbelievable. The statistical probability of anyone surviving Treblinka is 1 and 14,600 (60 out of 875000). My father worked as a slave at that camp for more than a year. He is probably the person who survived the longest time in that camp. His story is so incredible, that when I was growing up, I did hardly believed it and I had strong doubts about the details. I was very afraid that he had to do something terrible to survive that long
After my mother died, my father and I would visit Israel annually. About half of the remaining survivors of Treblinka live in Israel. They all knew each other. It was easy for me to arrange a lunch meeting with all of them. After that, I had no choice but to believe my father’s story. For the first time, I could feel comfortable that he hadn’t done something terrible to survive that long. I could feel confident that his story was true.
At that meeting, many of the attendees criticized my father for failing to testify in the recent trial of John Demjanjuk, who have been accused and convicted of being Ivan the Terrible, the cruelest executioner in Treblinka. The other survivors talked about how they had identified him: by his footsteps. I thought that they would have been so busy looking at where their own feet were, making sure they are were not in the wrong place, making sure they were not one of those 15,000 people whom they might have been (the ones who died in their stead) that they could never Identify any of the executioners.
But my father refused to testify. He said he couldn’t recognize it. It is hard to recognize somebody who was aged 50 years, who has become an old man. There had been a lot of pressure on my father and now there were recriminations for his failure to be part of the crowd.
My father previously had given testimony against Kurt Franz. My father had been Kurt Franz’s pets Jew. That was an easy identification.
Now I think back on that meeting in Israel quite often. I tell the story to my children. I am proud of my father’s honesty. That was a quality that belonged to him, it was not imposed on him, like his survival. Whatever tendency to that honesty I received from him, I want to cultivate and I want my children to cultivate it – and I think I see it in my children.
The New York Times Book Review today discussed a book about John Demjanjuk, It review the history of the situation. After his conviction, Demjanjuk was exonerated by the Israeli Court of Appeals, a great tribute to justice under duress. The Israeli Court of Appeals shared my father’s sense of honesty.
Demjanjuk was ultimately convicted of participation in the mass murders at another death camp, Sobibor. His conviction was in a German Court Demjanjuk himself was Ukrainian
A friend once told me that the vast majority of people in prison have committed crimes that merit their imprisonment. However, many of them are in prison for crimes they did not commit