Posts Tagged ‘Treblinka’

WW2 Competitions

|   1 November 2010

October Competition Result

Congratulations to Mr Atkinson of Northumberland, Mr Fenton of Argyll and Mr Steury of Virginia, USA, who were the first three subscribers selected at random from all of those who got the right answer to October’s’s members competition. A signed, hardback copy of Martin Davidson’s ‘The Perfect Nazi’ is on its way to you.

They correctly answered ‘Reinhard Heydrich’ to the question: ‘Who commanded the SD? This infamous Nazi, who was also a key figure in the development of the ‘Final Solution’, was eventually killed by agents sent by the British to Prague in the spring of 1942.’

I’ve always thought Heydrich one of the most interesting and sinister of all the Nazis. Many of the people I met who dealt with him personally were still affected by the experience, remembering him as both highly intelligent and supremely cold-hearted (Hitler called him the man with the ‘Iron Heart’).

The Nazi action to exterminate the Polish Jews was known as ‘Operation Reinhard’ in his ‘honour’. Something which, at one level, tells you all you need to know about this man’s legacy to the world.

WW2 Relevance

|   16 September 2010

The Barrier of Death.

Who can imagine their own death?

We’ve just been interviewing a variety of veterans for the site, and I’ve been struck again by the fundamental problem I have faced in the last 20 years of research into this subject.

Not the difficulty of convincing former Nazis to talk, or the time consuming task of checking that interviewees are actually who they say they are. Difficult as those tasks can be, they are all surmountable. But there’s a much bigger conceptual challenge that lurks behind all of this. Which is that we cannot interview the dead.

Yes, I know that’s a truism. But it represents a tremendous barrier to our understanding of the experience of war. I’ve met and interviewed, for example, survivors from the Nazi extermination centres of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka. But I have never met an individual sent to any of those camps who had the ‘normal’ and ‘average’ experience – because the majority of people the Nazis sent to those camps were murdered. What that means is that we are denied a personal insight into what, in a way, is the fundamental horror the Nazis created – the last moments in the gas chamber. We also, and this worries me more, can sometimes create an impression, by interviewing survivors, that if the viewers were to be in a similar situation then they too would survive – when they almost certainly wouldn’t.

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WW2 Relevance

|   7 May 2010

The Poles, Katyn and the recent plane crash.

The Polish flag flies at half mast at the Polish Centre, West London

Someone once asked me a really unexpected question: of all the sites of death and destruction that I had ever visited, which did I think still felt the saddest today?

It wasn’t a question I’d ever considered before – despite having traveled to many places in the world which have an extremely depressing history. Most obviously Auschwitz, of course, but also some terrible battlefields like Vyazma, west of Moscow, where I remember seeing rusting military equipment still lying amidst the trees, or the fields around Stalingrad where each spring human bones still push their way up through the thawing earth.

So I had to think a bit before I gave my answer. And in the end I could only narrow it down to two locations – each of which seemed as desperate as the other. The first was the site of Treblinka death camp. What was so dreadful about this place was the immensity of the crime committed here – around 900,000 people were killed on this one spot – combined with the scale of the camp. Treblinka was tiny. Only a few hundred meters square. And the reason it was so small was because it only had one function – murder. Almost everyone who came here was dead within a few hours of arriving.

And the other site that had the most profound impact on me was a forest near Smolensk in Western Russia. A forest called Katyn. It was here in April 1940 that the Soviet secret police – the NKVD – shot around 4,000 Polish citizens, the vast majority of them officers in the Polish Army. (Over 20,000 members of the Polish elite were murdered that April in total, since there were two other related murder sites elsewhere in Russia). Read the rest of this entry