Velvel (Wolf) Schneidman and Sam Goldberg – what are the chances?

What are the chances?  Two men:

  • captured in Stoczek in June of 1942 and taken to Treblinka by truck and forced to build the camp;
  • survived Treblinka for 13 months; one working in the laundry and one as a skilled worker – a “court Jew”[1];
  • escaped during the prisoner revolt on August 2, 1943;
  • ran to the forest – towards Stoczek;
  • found each other as they were running;
  • met Esther who was hiding in the area;
  • saved by Esther, who convinced Helena Stys to hide them;
  • allowed to hide in the Stys barn long enough to escape the Nazi dragnet of the area;
  • survived until liberation;
  • are in the 1944 picture of twelve Treblinka survivors (above: Sam- top row center; Velvel – top row, far right); and
  • emigrated to New York after the war.

Thanks to Chris Webb and Michal Chocholaty, I now know that there were (at least) two Jews who were captured in June of 1942, taken to Treblinka to build the camp, who survived.  After reading book after book that stated all those that were brought to build the camp were killed, it was yet another – “I cannot believe this” moment.

I read in The Treblinka Death Camp: History, Biographies, Remembrance, that Wolf Sznajdman was captured in Stoczek in June of 1942 and taken to Treblinka, first to the penal camp (Treblinka I) and then shortly thereafter to the Death Camp (Treblinka II) where he was forced to build the camp.

Webb and Chocholaty state that Wolf Sznajdman “represents a unique exception refuting the theory that none of the Jews who built Treblinka survived throughout the entire history of the death camp.” (21)   The authors of this book were (before I contacted them) unaware of Sam Goldberg.  I thought that Sam Goldberg was the only one to build the camp and survive.  But here, I see that Wolf Sznajdman was another such survivor.

Then, I just about spit out my morning coffee.  Sznajdman – Wolf – hmmm.   Could this be Velvel Schneidman?  I called Shlomo at 7:30 AM from Berkley, where I was visiting my brother and asked:

“Is Wolf the English name for Velvel?”

“Of course,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

So, these two men, Sam Goldberg and Velvel Schneidman, beat the crazy odds of survival for 13 months at Treblinka, ran away during the revolt, found each other in the woods where they met Esther. Esther, knew Velvel from Stoczek, but did not know Sam.  She saved them both by convincing Helena Stys to hide them in her barn.

Although Sam stayed and hid with Esther for the next year until liberation, Velvel left after those initial few days.  But both Sam and Velvel were reunited in 1944 for the famous Treblinka survivor photo (above).  They both emigrated to New York city and stayed friends for many years.

What are the chances?

[1] Court Jews at Treblinka included carpenters, blacksmiths, painters, and other skilled workers.  They wore yellow arm bands and had separate living quarters.  Webb & Chocholaty at 84.

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