Chil Rajchman in Poland
June 14, 1914
|Died||c. May 7, 2004 (aged 89)
|Known for||Treblinka survivor, author of Treblinka memoir|
Chil Meyer Rajchman a.k.a. Henryk Reichman nom de guerre Henryk Ruminowski (June 14, 1914 – May 7, 2004) was a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor; former prisoner of the Treblinka extermination camp which took the lives of 800,000 Jews during the genocidal Operation Reinhard in World War II. Rajchman belonged to a group of inmates who escaped successfully during the perilous Treblinka revolt which resulted in the camp's closure in October 1943. His Treblinka memoir titled The Last Jew of Treblinka: A Memoir originally in Yiddish, was published in 2009 for the very first time in German and French, without the English translation, which appeared in 2011 with the Preface by Elie Wiesel seven years after his death at the age of 89.
Rajchman was born on June 14, 1914 in Łódź. He was one of six children raised by his widowed father. After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, he and his sister joined the family in Pruszków, a small town in central Poland. The Jewish ghetto was created there in October 1940, and liquidated in February 1941. All Pruszków Jews were deported to the Warsaw Ghetto. With the work-permit issued by the Judenrat on German orders, Rajchman went to live and work in Ostrów Lubelski. He was rounded up on October 10, 1942 along with other ghetto inmates, loaded onto a Holocaust train, and sent to Treblinka extermination camp. Upon his arrival at the camp the following day, he was separated from his sister Anna, and put to work with the Jewish Sonderkommando. He was ordered to cut the hair of female victims before they were gassed, and later also to extract gold teeth at the Totenlager and dispose of the victims' bodies.
On August 2, 1943 along with some one hundred other commando prisoners, Rajchman managed to escape from Treblinka during the Jewish uprising. He returned to Warsaw and lived there until 1944 under false "Aryan" identification papers issued by the Polish underground. During this time he joined the Polish Socialist Party and the underground resistance. On January 17, 1945 he was liberated by the advancing Soviets, and 14 days later returned to his hometown of Łódź where most Jews have already been exterminated. He stayed there till late 1946, but soon emigrated to France with his new wife and then relocated to Uruguay. In 1980, he was contacted there by the American embassy and on March 12, 1980 interviewed by the Office of Special Investigations. He went to the United States to testify against John Demjanjuk who was later extradited to Jerusalem for a war trial in 1987–88. Rajchman misidentified Demjanjuk who apparently never served at Treblinka as the so-called Ivan the Terrible (Treblinka guard). Rajchman died in 2004 in Montevideo, Uruguay.
It was not until 2009 that Rajchman's Treblinka memoir, written in Yiddish while in Warsaw in 1944–45, was first published in France by Les Arènes under the title Je suis le dernier Juif. It was then translated into German as Ich bin der letzte Jude. Treblinka 1942/43. The original manuscript had been edited and proofread in 1946 by the poet Nachum Bomze (Bumse) in Yiddish – according to Rajchman's testimony during Demjanjuk's trial in Israel – but appeared in print for the very first time only five years after his death.
Quote about Hirtreiter
This creature specialized in the killing of children. Evidently endowed with unusual strength, it would suddenly snatch a child out of the crowd, swing him or her about like a cudgel and then either smash their head against the ground or simply tear them in half. When I first heard about this creature – supposedly human, supposedly born of a woman – I could not believe the unthinkable things I was told. But when I heard these stories repeated by eyewitnesses, when I realized that these witnesses saw them as mere details, entirely in keeping with everything else about the hellish regime of Treblinka, then I came to believe that what I had heard was true".
Rajchman's description of a physically unlikely method of killing a living human through tearing-by-hand originated from the 1944 memoir of his friend and Treblinka revolt survivor Jankiel Wiernik, where the phrase to "tear the child in half" appeared for the first time. Wiernik himself never worked in the Auffanglager receiving area of the camp where Hirtreiter served, and therefore provided secondhand guesswork based on hearsay. However, the narrative repetition reveals also that such stories were retold routinely. Wiernik's memoir was published in Warsaw by the Jewish National Committee (ŻKN) as a clandestine booklet before the war's end and translated by the American Representation of GJWUoP in New York in 1945, as A Year in Treblinka.
As an old man, Chil (Enrique) Rajchman was featured in the Uruguayan documentary film Despite Treblinka, along with Kalman Taigman and Samuel (Schmuel) Willenberg from Jerusalem. The film was finished in 2002 and presented at the 24th International Film Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, Cuba.
- Chil Rajchman (February 15, 2011). "The Last Jew of Treblinka: A Memoir". Pegasus (Amazon Product Details). ISBN 1605981397. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
- "Chil Meyer Rajchman". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
- Virtual Shtetl (2013). "Getto w Pruszkowie". Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich. Retrieved August 31, 2013.
- Bill Ong Hing (2004). Defining America: Through Immigration Policy. Temple University Press. pp. 223–224. ISBN 1592132332.
- Gerardo Stawsky (2013). "Despite Treblinka. Protagonists". Teaching the Holocaust to Spanish speakers. ORT Uruguay University's Film Department. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
- Rajchman, Chil. Treblinka: A Survivor's Memory trans. by Solon Beinfeld, Amazon Kindle edition, retrieved April 24, 2014; see: Popular Highlights 4. ISBN 1849163995.
- Yankel Wiernik (1945), A Year in Treblinka: An Inmate who Escaped Tells the Day-to-day Facts of One Year of His Torturous Experience (see scanned 1945 original in PDF format), New York: digitized by Zchor.org, OCLC 233992530, retrieved April 25, 2014,
Complete text, 14 chapters; see: chapter 7