Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman

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Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman

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Category: History
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book that had no right to exist, by an author who had no reason to be there to write it, and a manuscript that had no reason to be hidden so long.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 9781849163996

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Here comes yet another book about the Holocaust, and yet another with more than enough damning indictment of those events and their perpetrators, with more than enough horrific reportage to make your blood run cold, and with more than enough distinguishing features to make it a necessary purchase. The latter is partly down to where it came from - while Dachau started out as a camp for political prisoners, and Auschwitz I was a work camp based round barrack blocks that you can squint at and see a bad private school, this is coming from Treblinka, which was constructed purely and simply to kill. It has rightly been called a conveyer-belt executioner's block.

The odds of anyone surviving it for almost a year to tell the tale are ridiculous. Chil Rajchman went there packed in a train with perhaps twelve thousand others. If anything, the Nazis wanted to give breakfast to five of them - those they employed to shave the heads of the females brought there to be gassed. Stifling summer heat, disease, vicious winters, and being beaten black and blue throughout a twelve-hour day of hard labour should have prevented anyone lasting long. But various jobs, building up to that of ripping gold teeth from the mouths of freshly slaughtered people, were Rajchman's occupation, and beyond all hope, he was able to live to tell the tale, when so damned few could.

This is the first publication of his text in English. In French its title is I am the Last Jew, in Spanish (he emigrated to Uruguay) A Cry for Life. It's remarkable that he managed to portray his time, and that it has taken so long to come to light. His style is as hard-hitting as one could dread. Instead of the gas chambers, we are led to the second camp, which is far worse than the gas chambers. There is not much description, no attempt to itemise the daily variety because there was no daily variety. He gets hungry once - and stays that way throughout - and so only mentions it once. I have become an automaton he says, and the bluntness of his writing shows that.

Compare and contrast then, if you are so inclined, with the second half of this book, Vasily Grossman's reportage. Long before VE Day, the Soviets had reached Treblinka's ruins, and Grossman's job was to write back a report showing the incorruptible evil of the Nazis and what they committed at Treblinka, and the virtue of the Red Army. It is both almost as matter-of-fact as Rajchman, and yet so much more poetic. And all these thousands, all these tens and hundreds of thousands of people, of frightened, questioning eyes, all these young and old faces, all these dark- and fair-haired beauties, these bald and hunch-backed old men and these timid adolescents - all were caught up in a single flood, a flood that swallowed up reason, and splendid human science, and maidenly love, and childish wonder, and the coughing of the old, and the human heart.

Put together, alongside a valuable introduction, we still only get a slender book, but one that is vital to carry those unnamed victims into the next world - our world. It begs for reflection, contemplation, prayer perhaps, and a lot of further reading and Internet research for the reader to get the full picture, but as an abrupt true-life horror, and as an encapsulating vision of Soviet response to the Bloodlands of Nazi Europe, it is priceless and flawless.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

We can easily recommend the unusually-titled HHhH by Laurent Binet for a look at the life and death of Heydrich, the man who perhaps worked hardest on the Final Solution.

Buy Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman at

Buy Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory by Chil Rajchman at


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