My blog readers may recall my post about the Kapo at Grossinger’s.
Sam and Esther went to Grossinger’s Hotel in upstate New York for a vacation. The maître d’ greeted them and Sam knew right away that he was a Kapo from Treblinka. Here is an excerpt from the February 8, 2016 blog post:
“Well, when Sam saw the Kapo at Grossinger’s, he was shocked. It had been some 20 years, but still, he recognized him immediately, as the “terrible” Kapo who “lived with maybe 10 girls.” He said to him: “You, you’re here?” The Kapo said to Sam: “Be quiet, don’t say anything.” Needless to say, if it had gotten out that the manager of Grossinger’s was a Kapo at Treblinka, he would not have kept his job very long. Sam decided not to “touch him.” However, the Kapo, feeling the need to add some insurance to Sam’s silence, gave Sam and Esther the nicest room in the hotel and sent them a beautiful bottle of champagne and all kinds of delicious food.”
Well, I may have discovered the Kapo’s name: Joseph Siedlecki.
I am currently reading Treblinka Survivor: The Life and Death of Hershl Sperling, by Mark S. Smith. It is a wonderfully written book about Mr. Smith’s research and exploration of the life and unfortunate death of Hershl Sperling who arrived in Treblinka in September of 1942, at the age of fifteen.
Shmuel Rajzman, Sam’s “best friend,” took Hershl under his wing and taught him the unique Treblinka survival techniques. Hershl made it through – all the way to the uprising. He participated in the planning and execution of the uprising, most likely with Sam, in Rajzman’s group. He ran out to the forest, hiding in a tree during the Nazi search for escaped prisoners. Unlike Sam, he did not stay in the local forest, but made his way back to what was left of the Warsaw ghetto. He did not stay long, as it was thoroughly destroyed. He was captured only seven days after his escape from Treblinka “in or near the town of Koluszki in central Poland.” (Smith at 146). He was taken to Auschwitz. Ultimately, he survived the war and emigrated to Scotland. Holocaust demons tormented him until he committed suicide at the age of 62, in 1989.
I jumped out of my chair as I read Mr. Smith’s description of the Treblinka escapees hiding in the forest. He mentions a man named Joseph Siedlecki: “Siedlecki, a former Polish Army soldier whose wife was gassed on arrival at Treblinka,” Mr. Smith writes, “ended up in Warsaw, where he managed to acquire papers and spent the rest of the war passing as a gentile Pole working with a construction firm attached to the German army. Siedlecki, who later emigrated to America and became a maitre d’ at Grossinger’s Hotel in upstate New York, where Hershl years later visited him.” (Smith at 144)
Mr. Smith also mentions that Siedlecki was interviewed by Gitta Sereny for her 1974 book, Into That Darkness, about Franz Stangl, the Kommandant of Treblinka. I reread the section where he is interviewed. Siedlecki does not mention that he was a Kapo and he states that he “never did harm to anyone [at Treblinka].” (Sereny at 190)
For the record, I have no proof that Mr. Siedlecki was a Kapo at Treblinka. I have only Sam’s interview statement about meeting the manager at Grossinger’s who he recognized as the Kapo. It is possible that the Siedlecki was the maître d’ at Grossingers and there was another Treblinka survivor who was a manager there, but it seems unlikely. We may never find out, but Sam and Esther got an instant vacation upgrade at Grossinger’s. Not too bad.
Smith, Mark. Treblinka Survivor: The Life and Death of Hershl Sperling. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Pellmount. 2010.
Sereny, Gitta. Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience. New York, NY. Random House. 1974.
1997 Interview with Sam Goldberg by Shoah Foundation.