Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bloodlands: Belźec was not to be a camp...people spend the night at camps.

More quotes from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Chapter 8 (“The Nazi Death Factories”) focuses on the evolution and operation of the death factories run by the German regime. While some facilities exploited those Jews healthy enough to work, others were solely intended to kill. As Snyder shrewdly put it, “Belźec was not to be a camp. People spend the night at camps. Belźec was to be a death factory, where Jews would be killed upon arrival.” Belźec wasn’t the only location like that either. Snyder goes into detail on the construction and administration of the facilities, even such elements as euthanasia “expert” Irmfried Eberl writing his wife while constructing Treblinka that “It’s going very well for me, … there’s lots to do and that’s fun.”Eberl was later removed for incompetence to be replaced by Franz Stangl in order to make Treblinka function as it was designed.
Within a few months, Stangl had changed the appearance of Treblinka, and thereby increased its lethal functionality. Jews who arrived at Treblinka in late 1942 disembarked not to a simple ramp surrounded by dead bodies [as it had become under Eberl] but inside a mock train station, painted by a Jewish laborer to resemble a real one. It had a clock, a timetable, and ticket counters. As Jews stepped from the “station,” they could hear the sound of music, played by an orchestra led by the Warsaw musician Arthur Gold. … In the courtyard, the Jews were forced to strip naked, on the pretext that they were to be disinfected before a further transport “to the east.” Jews had to bundle their clothes neatly and tie their shoes together by the laces. They had to surrender any valuables; women were subjected to cavity searches. At this point a few women, in some of the transports, were selected for rape; and a few men, in some of the transports, were selected for labor. The women then shared the fate of the rest, whereas the men would live for a few more days, weeks, or even months as slave laborers. All the women went to the gas chambers without their clothes, and without their hair.
Snyder continues to go into detail on Treblinka and also how it was dismantled once closed, then turns to Auschwitz. Auschwitz evolved over the years, becoming “the climax of the Holocaust, reached at a moment when most Soviet and Polish Jews under German rule were already dead.” Regular Poles, Soviet prisoners of war worked and died at the camp, as well as the gypsies.

Part of what makes Snyder’s history so moving is his weaving individual stories into his narrative in order to highlight the fourteen million people deliberately murdered by the Nazi and Soviet regime during the timeframe he covers in the “bloodlands”. As he explains later in the book, those regimes numbered its victims. Snyder attempts to remind the reader of the people behind the numbers. Or, as he put it in an earlier chapter: “People were perhaps alike in dying and in death, but each of them was different until that final moment, each had different preoccupations and presentiments until all was clear and then all was black.” It is easy to become numb as the deaths mount and the atrocities worsen, but Snyder restores the humanity to the victims so they are no longer just “round numbers.”

Update: A Year in Treblinka by Yankel Wiernik

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