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AUTHOR-TRANSLATOR-EPILOGUE

Editors' Introduction

Chelm, located near the river Bug which was the eastern border of Poland, was a center of Jewish life, immortalized in much of the Shtetl folklore. Sobibor, located about 25 miles north of Chelm, was an extermination camp. More than a quarter million Jews were killed there between May 1942 and October 14, 1943 when the largest escape from any camp took place here. Most of the escapees were either killed during the outbreak or rounded up and killed afterwards. A few survived by hiding in the forest or with Polish farmers. Immediately afterwards the Germans destroyed the camp in order to remove all evidence of what happened there.


The number of survivors of the Sobibor death camp is variously reported as 50-70 persons (Arad, p. 364) or 58 persons at the time of liberation (Blatt, p. 233), or more than 30 persons who were liberated by the advancing Russian troops (Rückerl, p. 196). Rashke, in a carefully researched book based on eighteen interviews with survivors (p.viii), compiled a list of 46 names of Jewish camp inmates who survived the war; this list "was compiled with the help of the survivors still alive....Besides these survivors, there is one who lives in Canada. His name could not be verified." (p. 374) This document is the testimony of that survivor in Canada.


This document describes the suffering of the Jews at the hands of the Germans, their Ukrainian helpers, and the Poles. It explains the source of the strength he found to survive, against all odds. But it also documents the help he received from ordinary Poles, in spite of the reprisals that the Germans carried out if they were caught. Most importantly, it is a rare eyewitness account from a survivor of the Sobibor revolt.

PREFACE


I had been invited to be the guest speaker at a Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration service sponsored by a local fraternal society. The small hall was packed with people, mostly elderly, who had come to remember and to grieve.


After some preliminaries, I rose to speak. I had been involved at that time in research on the heroic resistance in the Treblinka death camp. As I spoke that evening, I noticed a mumbling from the back of the hall every time I mentioned the heroic resistance fighters of Treblinka. When I spoke of the bravery of the Warsaw ghetto resistance combatants I heard the same mumbling from the back of the hall. This interjected mumbling happened three or four more times.


When I ended, and the ceremonies were concluded, the chairman of the evening came up to me and apologized for the mumbling. "You have to understand," he said, "the man in the back is a survivor of the uprising in Sobibor. He wasn't mumbling--he was adding Sobibor to your mention of heroic acts of resistance and revenge. That was his way of commemorating those who fought with him and fell in battle."


I became excited on hearing these words. The Sobibor camp was not a labor camp, it was an extermination camp. Hundreds of thousands of innocent victims were turned into smoke and ashes there until the desperate inmates revolted and broke out. Very few survived the revolt and fewer still managed to survive in the hostile countryside. The number of eyewitnesses who could tell the story of the Sobibor tragedy and heroism was very limited. I asked the chairman to introduce me to the Sobibor survivor. He brought me over to an ordinary-looking man at the back of the hall, Mr. Kalmen Wewryk, and introduced me.


Mr. Wewryk, I soon learned, was anything but ordinary. This sincere and simple man had witnessed the tragedy of his family, his community and his people. He had also witnessed their grandeur, when the helpless skeleton-like Jews, abandoned by the world and doomed to death, rose in fury and wrote a chapter in the book of Jewish heroism.


I met Mr. Wewryk several days later and I urged him to transmit his unique testimony to future generations. I didn't have to urge him. He desperately wanted to tell his story before it would be too late. Mr. Wewryk was obviously not in the best of health; I felt somewhat hesitant about bringing him back to his tear-laden past, to a suffering beyond words and to emotions that strained human sanity and endurance.


We sat together for over three years while he told me his story. Many times his eyes filled with tears and he ran out of the room. Many times I ran out of the room. I felt guilty at having brought this humble, good man back into the hell from which he had never really completely escaped. We pushed on, however, and the following pages are his memorial to those who perished and his legacy to future generations who must know.


Howard Roiter


Epilogue

It is now 1984, and I live in a quiet, residential area of Montreal. I enjoy my retirement. I visit the local library and peruse the newspapers and magazines. I meet friends and we discuss and debate the current political situation.My friends and family have noticed one odd element in my behavior. I take a roundabout route to the library and the park. I go several blocks out of my way to reach my destination. My friends and family have always wondered about this "eccentricity" in my otherwise very conventional behavior.What they don't realize, and what nobody can realize, is that there is a very simple reason for my "odd" behavior. I take the roundabout route because, on the direct route, there is a branch of a famous, cowboy-style chain steak and hamburger restaurant. There is always a certain smell around that restaurant--the smell of broiling meat and sputtering fat. The air around there is thick with what is, to others, a delectable smell. I can't take it. That smell is so similar to the all-pervasive stench of burning Jewish bodies in Sobibor that, when I smell it, I am instantly brought back to the hell I escaped from over 40 years ago. And I see the faces of the innocent, gentle children, all lined up for the slaughter, and I hear the cries of the women and men, whole communities of my people who are no more.So if you are ever in the CÙte des Neiges area of Montreal, and you see a short, elderly man walking his roundabout route to his friends, you need not wonder why. There's a reason. An enormous reason. A reason beyond human understanding.

Sobibor!



Kalmen Wewryk


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