Rarely could any volume better illustrate the evil and utterly bankrupt nature of the Third Reich’s “racially pure” population policy than Treblinka: A Survivor’s Memory, Chil Rajchman’s chilling and posthumously published memoir.
Rajchman’s story, now available in paperback, and collected here with Vasily Grossman’s The Hell of Treblinka is, in the words of Samuel Moyn’s preface, “an incisive depiction of how the Nazis organised the destruction of millions of human beings” in its concentration camps. It is impossible to disagree.
Sent to Treblinka (and to his death) in 1942, Rajchman escapes execution but is instead deployed first as a corpse carrier and then a puller of teeth, required to extract gold from the mouths of the dead to fuel the creaking Nazi war effort.
It is the utterly dehumanised and sparse nature of his prose that is most disturbing and, indeed, most compelling: “The work proceeds without hindrance,” he informs us. “The whole transport is disposed of in an hour; several thousand people have been gassed.”
Rajchman would later escape the slaughterhouse and lived until 2004. In death, his legacy is a disturbing portrait of a terrible war.