“[Shmuel Rajzman] said to me that I would survive, I will live, I will get out of there. . . . I have a picture of this man, I carry it around with me because he was my best friend.” Sam Goldberg July 13, 1997 Shoah Foundation Interview.
Sam spoke of Shmuel (Samuel) Rajzman as a man larger than life. After Sam and Esther were liberated from their forest pit by the Soviet Army, it was Shmuel Rajzman that officiated at their small wedding in Stoczek. The picture of Rajzman that Sam carried in his wallet (above) was with him until the day he died.
The greatness of this man was reinforced when I read about him in a book about Hershl Sperling by Mark S. Smith. Hershl came to Treblinka at the age of 15. Hershl spoke of Rajzman with awe, respect and love, just like Sam.
It was the end of August, 1942 that Rajzman arrived at Treblinka just a week before Hershl. But a week at Treblinka was an eternity. Rajzman saw Hershl – a teenage boy – alone and scared – in the bewildering altered universe that was Treblinka. Rajzman helped him begin his new life. He “taught [Hershl] the crucial ‘how to look, but not look’ at the SS. From the clothes of the dead, Rajzman also provided Hershl that day with his first cap, the most essential item a Jew could possess in Treblinka. In this perverse world, possession of a cap was a matter of life and death. Without one, a prisoner stood out and was thus marked to die in the daily ritual of murder.” (Smith at 96)
Rajzman was born in Wengrow, Poland in 1902, only 66 kilometers from Bagatele, Sam’s hometown. In 1942, he was married and had a daughter and lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Before the war, he had been an accountant and translator with an import-export business, but now, he and his wife worked in a Ghetto factory. After hearing the truth about Treblinka from an escapee, he hid his daughter, along with 19 other children, in a cellar of the factory. Even though they were “essential workers” in the factory, Rajzman and his wife were rounded up the very next day and taken to the Umschlagplatz – the gathering square where Jews were collected to board trains to Treblinka. After a couple of days Rajzman got away from the square and went back to the cellar to get his daughter. But all the children were gone – the Germans had taken them.
Running back to the square, Rajzman was able to find his daughter and they went to the factory and hid there for days. But in the end, the Germans found them and forced them on the train to Treblinka. (Sereny at 257-58)
Rajzman described his initial arrival at Treblinka:
“Upon our arrival, we all had to hand in our valuables and get undressed. Everybody was told to tie up his clothes in such a way that he would be able to recognize his package. That was how the Germans fooled us into thinking that we would get our clothes back. The women had to line up, and all their hair was clipped off. It was destined for use in German mattresses. Naked, they went the road of no return, into the gas chamber. While they undressed and walked to the gas chambers, the Germans hit them very hard; many people died from the beatings alone. Everybody was pushing to get to the gas chamber fast, because the Ukrainians and the Germans were beating them so hard. Everyone was stampeding forward. (Rajzman at 232)
As he was about to enter the “Road to Heaven,” the way to the gas chamber, Galewski, the Camp Elder, saw him and recognized him from Warsaw. He pulled him out of the line and brought him to the work camp. The Germans needed another translator, so he was saved.
According to Sam, at Treblinka Rajzman became a carpenter. “He wasn’t really a carpenter,” explained Sam, “but he worked in the carpentry shop.”
Mark Smith describes how Hershl and Rajzman would have nightly talks and created a familial bond. Hershl remained “human,” explains Smith, “with the help of his friend Rajzman.” (Smith at 103)
When I read that Hershl’s son said that Rajzman was “almost like a deity to [Hershl],” (Id. at 139) I realized that Rajzman must have been a giant among giants at Treblinka.
Not surprising, Rajzman was one of the leaders of the uprising. Rajzman explained that there were about 50 men involved in the planning and they split up into groups of 12. The men did not know who was involved outside of their group of 12 so that if they were tortured, they would only know the 12 in their group. Sam was in Rajzman’s group of 12 and it seems that Hershl was also. So, that means that Hershl and Sam surely knew each other in Treblinka.
After the uprising, Rajzman ran out into the woods. Since he was from Wengrow, only 36 kilometers from Treblinka, he knew this part of the forest and he helped others to find their way. He was hiding with a group of escapees. One day, he left them to go gather food. When he returned to the hiding place in the woods, all the escapees he was with were dead. They had been shot, presumably by the Nazis or the Ukrainians, who were out searching the forest for the escaped prisoners.
After this, Rajzman went to a local farmer and the farmer agreed to hide him. So, like Sam and Esther, thanks to a Righteous Gentile, Rajzman hid until liberation. Years later, Rajzman told Hershl that on a Sunday, soon after the Treblinka uprising, the farmer went to Church and the “priest there had given a sermon about Treblinka’s escaped Jews. He told the congregation that it was their duty as Poles and Catholics not to harbor any of the ‘Christ-killers’ in their homes. Rajzman asked him what he was going to do and the farmer responded by telling him, as related to Hershl’s son Sam, that ‘it was not a priest he had heard in his church, but the devil himself’ and he agreed to hide Rajzman. We do not know where he was hidden or how long Rajzman stayed at the farm, amidst the random searches by the Germans, Ukrainians and Polish posses, however, it was long enough to him and the farmer to develop a close relationship. After the war, Rajzman kept in contact with the farmer and sent him and his family gifts each year until Rajzman’s death in 1979.” (Smith at 144)
After the war, both Sam and Rajzman both appear in the famous picture of twelve Treblinka survivors. Sam is back row center with a scarf and Rajzman is front row center with glasses.
Shmuel Rajzman emigrated to Montreal, Canada, remarried and built a successful lumber business. Rajzman was the only Treblinka survivor to testify at Nuremberg, at the Polish Treblinka trial, and later at the Treblinka and Stangl trials in Dusseldorf. (Sereny at 256)
My husband, Shlomo, remembers a childhood trip to Montreal to visit Shmuel Rajzman. The bond that both Sam and Hershl had with this man, continued through their lives.
THE END OF TREBLINKA, by Samuel Rajzman, in Donat, Alexander, ed. The Death Camp Treblinka: A Documentary. New York, NY. Holocaust Library. 1979.
Sereny, Gitta. Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience. New York, NY. Random House. 1974.
Smith, Mark. Treblinka Survivor: The Life and Death of Hershl Sperling. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Pellmount. 2010.
Interview with Sam Goldberg by Shoah Foundation – 1997.