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The Holocaust Lesson
 
One Year in Treblinka
by Jankiel Wiernik

BEFORE READING

Background

By early 1942, the last stage of Hitler’s "Final Solution" was finally taking shape. The goal: to systematically exterminate the European Jews in death camps.

The Nazis had created two different kinds of death camps. The first were "extermination camps," which were largely built with the purpose of mass extermination. There were six of these facilities built in Poland—at Chelmno, Treblinka, Maidanek, Sobibor, Belzec, and Auschwitz. The massive gas chambers installed in these camps could kill more than 6,000 people at each site every day.

The other kind of death camps were "concentration camps," where Jews, politicians, and other Nazi enemies were held and killed, but not with the intentional purpose of mass extermination. The first of the concentration camps was opened in Germany, at Dachau in March 1933. By the end of the war, there were more than a hundred concentration camps throughout Europe, some of the most notorious being Buchenwald, Belsen, and Mauthausen, where prisoners were forced to labor to their deaths in wretched conditions for the German war cause.

In all, the two types of death camps killed more than 6,000,000 people in Poland, the USSR, Hungary, Romania, and Germany-Austria. The following selection offers a glimpse of life at the extermination camp in Treblinka. Poland, and the insane savagery by which the Nazis reached their daily camp quotas.

About the Author

Jankiel Wiernik (1890–1972), a Polish Jew, was relocated to the Treblinka death camp in 1942, where his useful carpentry skills ultimately saved him from death in the gas chambers. Wiernik and other prisoners were able to escape from Treblinka during a 1943 uprising.

Wiernik joined the Jewish Underground and later wrote of his camp experience in One Year in Treblinka (1944), which became one of the first works about the concentration camps to be published aboard.

Vocabulary

1. pall—something that produces an effect of gloom.
2. resignation—a state of having given up.
3. raucous—loud; disorderly.
4. hermetic—airtight.
5. menacing—threatening.
6. agile—characterized by quickness, lightness, and ease
    of movement; nimble.
7. sadistic—extreme cruelty.
8. protruding—to push or thrust outward.
9. saber—a cavalry sword with a one-edged blade.
10. bedlam—a situation of noisy uproar and confusion.

DURING READING

Use the STUDY GUIDE below as a way to work through the selection and improve your comprehension of the essay.

AFTER READING

Answer the Questions to Consider questions in the book as a way to deepen your interpretation of the selection.

1. What factors prompted Wiernik to write his account? How does he feel about this task?

2. What is the dictionary meaning of the word resettlement? What did resettlement mean to the Jews?

3. How were so many Jews lured unsuspecting to their deaths?

Bibliography

Jankiel Wiernik

One Year in Treblinka (1944)

The Holocaust

Lucy S. Dawidowicz. The War Against the Jews, 1933–1945 (1975). A stirring and comprehensive history of the Holocaust, beginning with its roots in anti-Semitism.

Terrence Des Pres. The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camp (1976). A brilliant study of why some survived Hitler’s and Stalin’s death camps and others didn’t.

Lucille Eichengreen. From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust (1994). A survivor’s clear and objective account of her life in three concentration camps, beginning when she was eight years old.

Helen Epstein. Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors (1960). A series of interviews that chronicle the effects of the Holocaust on the next generation.

Philip Friedman. Their Brothers’ Keepers (1978). More than 40 accounts of resistance to the Holocaust, including many photos, collected by a distinguished Holocaust historian.

Raul Hilberg. The Destruction of the European Jews (1961). A three-volume work that is often called the most important documentary history of the Holocaust.

Gerda Weissmann Klein. All But My Life (1957). A sensitive and compassionate story of the author’s struggle for survival as a teenager in Auschwitz.

Primo Levi. Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity (1961). A clear and objective account of daily life and events in Auschwitz, by one of its most famous chroniclers.

Elie Wiesel. Night/Dawn/Day (1985). A Nobel-Prize-winning author’s trilogy of books dealing with his Holocaust experiences and their aftermath.






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