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Hear John Sack, author of Eye for an Eye, deliver the keynote speech at Cincinnati 2000, Real History, September 22-24, 2000 [Information]

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60 Minutes - November 24, 1993 © 1993 by CBS News





KROFT: [On tape: Steinberg] Elan Steinberg is Executive Director of the World Jewish Congress. He and his organization have been extremely critical of Sack's reporting, citing a lack of documentary evidence and questioning the memories and motives of former prisoners.

quotestart ELAN STEINBERG: The problem is, when you investigate something as serious as this, you can not rely on eyewitnesses who, even with the best of intentions, with the best of intentions, can give you misleading information. quoteend

The Commandant


STEVE KROFT: It's the stuff of fiction: a Polish Jew who loses his entire family to the Nazis during the Holocaust finds himself, at the end of World War II, running a prison camp for Germans and Nazi collaborators, and with an opportunity to exact a terrible and very personal revenge.

While it may sound like a novel or a made-for-TV movie, in fact that much of the story is true. But did Solomon Morel actually exact that revenge, brutalizing German prisoners under his command? Or did he and others fantasize it? That's the subject of an emotional historical debate and an ongoing investigation by the Polish government.

[On tape: Solomon Morel in Israel] Solomon Morel is an old man now and in poor health, living in Israel alongside thousands of Holocaust survivors. As a young man, he saw his parents arrested and led off to be executed. He lost brothers, aunts and uncles, and more than thirty cousins to the Nazis. During the war, he fought the Germans alongside the Russians on the eastern front.

[On film: a battle in World War II] But he won't talk about what happened after Soviet tanks finally drove the German army out of Poland. [On film: Russians with German prisoners] One of the first orders that went out was to round up all remaining Germans, Nazi sympathizers and collaborators, and put them into some of the same prison camps the Germans used during the war.

[On tape: Kroft at the former concentration camp at Swietochlowice] This is all that's left of one of them, Swietochlowice. It was built by the Germans as part of the Auschwitz complex, where more than two million Jews died during World War II.

But by February of 1945, the tables had turned. The prisoners at Swietochlowice were Germans. [Photograph: Morel in 1945, in uniform] And their commandant, their jailer, was Solomon Morel, a Polish Jew.

How did a Jew end up in the Polish secret police, running a prison camp for Germans? [On tape: Auschwitz] Most Polish Jews, more than three million of them, were dead at the end of World War II, killed at places like Auschwitz and Treblinka. And many of those who survived fled as soon as the war was over.

[On tape: Kroft and John Sack in Swietochlowice city] But according to journalist and author John Sack, who's been working on the story for more than seven years, some Polish Jews, like Morel, were drafted into important positions in Stalin's secret police.

[On tape: Kroft interviewing John Sack] Why did Stalin want Jews running the secret police in Poland?

JOHN SACK: He didn't trust the Poles. He thought the Poles were going to be loyal to Poland, not to Russia, not to the Soviet Union. He thought the Jews had no loyalty to Poland. And that was true.

KROFT: Why would they have loyalty to Stalin?

SACK: I don't know if they had loyalty to Stalin. They just wanted revenge. They wanted vengeance. That's why they did it.

[On tape: Sack at Swietochlowice] This would be the main gate.

KROFT: And according to Sack -- a respected journalist, the author of seven books, and himself a Jew -- Solomon Morel took his revenge.

[Photographs: Swietochlowice in 1945] During the ten months that Morel ran the prison camp at Swietochlowice, more than 1,500 people died there. Not just German soldiers but Polish civilians, women, teen-agers, people from families of German origin or under suspicion of Nazi sympathies. Most died from neglect and disease and, according to Sack, many from brutal and sadistic beatings, [Photograph: Morel in 1945, in uniform] administered by Solomon Morel and his prison staff.

SACK: He wanted to do to the Germans what they did to him. That's what he said.

On the first night at Swietochlowice, when the first contingent of Germans arrived, at about ten o'clock at night he walked into one of the barracks and he said to the Germans, "My name is Morel. I am a Jew. My mother and father, my family, I think they're all dead, and I swore that if I got out alive, I was going to get back at you Nazis. And now you're going to pay for what you did."

KROFT: How do you know he said this?

SACK: One man who was there told me the story, and he remembered it very, very specifically.

KROFT: Describe the rest of that night, and tell me about Solomon Morel at Swietochlowice.

SACK: I suppose he thought that these people -- he could picture these people possibly being the ones who killed his mother and father. At that point, he picked up a stool, a four-legged stool, and he just started smashing the Germans with the stool. Just went around beating them on the head, beating them on the chest.

KROFT: [On tape: Sack, writing] Sack's reporting was based on face-to-face interviews with survivors, and on twenty-one affidavits from former prisoners at Swietochlowice [On tape: affidavits in the German Federal Archives] that have been on file collecting dust in the German Federal Archives.

After the war, the rest of the world didn't want to hear about the suffering of Germans. So it was left to the German government to investigate what happened to more than two million of its people who died in Poland, Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries immediately after the surrender. Sack came across the affidavits while researching a book on Jews in Poland after the war.

KROFT: [On tape: Alojz Richter] But we went to Poland to conduct our own interviews with former prisoners at Swietochlowice, sixteen in all, including eight we found independently of John Sack or the German Federal Archives. And we heard the same stories over and over again.

[On tape: Richter walking with Kroft] Alojz Richter was a teen-ager when the war ended. He says he was taken to Swietochlowice when his mother and brother were arrested. He claims they were just farmers, not Nazi collaborators, and he says he remembers Solomon Morel.

ALOJZ RICHTER [Through interpreter]: We had to lie down, and the commandant, Morel, would trample on us with his boots and kick us in the head.

KROFT: Did people die from the beatings?

RICHTER [Through interpreter]: Many of them, many of them.

KROFT: [On tape: Gerhard Gruschka] Gerhard Gruschka, a former schoolmaster, now retired in Germany, says he was only fourteen when he was taken to Swietochlowice. [Photograph: Gruschka, age fourteen] He told us he had been forced into Hitler Youth, and expelled for failure to attend meetings. He, too, remembers Morel.

GERHARD GRUSHKA [Through interpreter]: I can clearly remember Morel, definitely Morel, beating people to death. I can confirm this even after fifty years. He took stools by the legs and used them to beat people over the head. He would do that until skulls were so badly smashed that people were left dying.

KROFT: [On tape: Kroft and Dorota Boreczek at Swietochlowice] Dorota Boreczek told us it wasn't just beatings that prisoners at Swietochlowice died from. When we brought her back to what's left of the camp, she talked about deplorable conditions, about malnutrition and near starvation.

DOROTA BORECZEK: The grass, it was no grass because we had so a big hunger that the prisoners were eating the grass. It was not a little bit of grass.

KROFT: [On tape: Kroft and Boreczek] Dorota was a girl of fourteen, the daughter of a wealthy Polish family, when she was brought to Swietochlowice with her mother. What she remembered and feared the most was a dark concrete hole called the bunker.

What was the bunker?

BORECZEK: For prisoners. I suppose who did something wrong. And they went there and nobody left it. Not alive.

KROFT: [On tape: Boreczek laying flowers on the bunker's site] The bunker, Dorota says, was filled with rats and near-freezing water. Some prisoners were forced to spend the night there holding onto a metal bar.

Many people died there?

BORECZEK: Many people.

ELAN STEINBERG: The problem is, when you investigate something as serious as this, you can not rely on eyewitnesses who, even with the best of intentions, with the best of intentions, can give you misleading information.

KROFT: [On tape: Steinberg] Elan Steinberg is Executive Director of the World Jewish Congress. He and his organization have been extremely critical of Sack's reporting, citing a lack of documentary evidence and questioning the memories and motives of former prisoners.

STEINBERG: You better be damn sure you have your evidence there. Because if you don't, you're not simply blackening his name, you're blackening history and you're insulting the memory of six million martyrs.

KROFT: You're obviously very sensitive about the story.

STEINBERG: Yes, of course.

KROFT: You prefer to see 60 Minutes not do it.

STEINBERG: I'd prefer to see 60 Minutes do it right. And if the story isn't there, you don't do it.

KROFT: [On tape: the gate at Swietochlowice] In fact, there's evidence the story is there, [Photograph: report of the British Foreign Office] beginning with this report of the British Foreign Office, written in 1945, which says, "Prisoners at Swietochlowice who do not die of starvation or aren't beaten to death are made to stand up to their necks, night after night until they die, in cold water."

[On tape: U.S. Congressional Record] A similar report can be found in the U.S. Congressional Record from 1946.

[On tape: death certificates] In the attic of the town hall of Swietochlowice, we found 1,580 death certificates for prisoners at the camp, [On tape: Morel's signature] many of them signed by Commandant Solomon Morel.

[On tape: Polish prosecutor, writing] And a Polish prosecutor, with a special commission investigating what went on at the camp, told us he's gathered enough information to charge Morel with beatings, physical and moral persecution, and driving prisoners to commit suicide. His superiors in Warsaw have told him to keep investigating.

[On tape: Kroft walking to Morel's front door] And we also went to Tel Aviv to try and talk to Morel about the allegations. But after agreeing to an interview, he changed his mind.

[On tape: Morel's daughter opens door] We're from 60 Minutes.

When we went to his apartment, his daughter said he no longer wanted to talk to us about Swietochlowice.

[On tape: Morel walking in Tel Aviv] We found out later that Morel did talk to someone about what happened at Swietochlowice. He talked to the former Director of Archives at Yad Vashem, the pre-eminent Holocaust archive in Israel. According to Dr. Shmuel Krakowski, Morel called and wanted to be interviewed by Yad Vashem, saying that he was the commandant of a prison camp after the war and that he killed Nazis for revenge. Dr. Krakowski told us Morel made himself out to be some sort of a hero, [Photograph: Morel, wearing uniform] and he dismissed Morel's story as a Jewish fantasy.

KROFT: [On tape: Steinberg and Kroft] You find it implausible that a Polish Jew who lost his entire family during the war and the Holocaust, who suddenly finds himself at the end of the war in charge of a prison camp with Nazi prisoners, would exact revenge?

STEINBERG: I'll say something I shouldn't. I find it hard to believe he wouldn't.

KROFT: I think many people share your view.

STEINBERG: Who of us cannot feel for somebody that has lost their family? Who of us does not feel that they would seek revenge? On the other hand, what has been remarkable is that we, as a civilized society, have refrained from that kind of revenge. And that has been the rule.

KROFT: [On tape: Sack and Kroft] Why are you so sure that Solomon Morel did this for revenge and did it as a Jew? [Sack shakes his head, no] Isn't it just as easy to believe that he had lost his family during the war, and that he just snapped?

SACK: Yes, yes. I can believe that. Absolutely. If I were his defense attorney, I would plead temporary insanity; if I were his jury, I would buy that argument, I would acquit him. It doesn't have anything to do with his being Jewish; it's the opposite of his being Jewish. Everything Jewish in him cried out against that and said, "Don't do this, this is wrong."

STEINBERG: [On tape: Steinberg and Kroft] Here you have a situation where the Holocaust is placed on its head. Here you had a Jew, representing all Jews, if you will, running a concentration camp, wreaking his revenge upon the Nazis. And you've built up a very nice symmetry here. Nazis killed Jews, then Jews killed Nazis. Fine, things are a wash.

Well, first of all, it didn't happen that way. And secondly, what you have is a kind of relativism which not only distorts history, but is in itself a crime against history. And I think that's really the issue hire.

KROFT: [On tape: Kroft and Sack walking in Swietochlowice city] As John Sack found out, no one was interested in printing it. It was rejected by virtually every magazine and publishing house in New York as too controversial, sensational or inappropriate. And that was only one of the problems Sack encountered reporting the story.

SACK: People would not talk to me. People told other people, "Don't talk to John Sack." People talked to me, and they lied to me. One person talked to me for two-and-a-half years and then said, "I don't want you to write this. If you write this, I will stop you, I will stop you!" People said they would sue me. People said they would kill me. Solomon said he would kill me.

KROFT: Why have you pursued it?

SACK: It's my job as a reporter and as a Jew to tell this story. And if I know about it and I don't report it, then I am guilty too.

KROFT: [Photograph: "The Wrath of Solomon" in the Village Voice] Sack finally got his story published last spring in New York's Village Voice, and it's part of a new book called An Eye for An Eye.

Your critics say the danger of this story is that when it's told, it plays right into the hands of the Holocaust revisionists, the people who say the Holocaust didn't happen, that the Holocaust wasn't that bad.

SACK: The Holocaust was worse than people thought. We've all known that the Germans killed six million Jews. [On tape: Auschwitz] Now we know that also the Germans brutalized a couple of hundred Jews, brutalized them so badly that they became like the Germans themselves. What happened in these camps, what happened to Solomon Morel, is another effect of the Holocaust. It would not have happened if it weren't for the Holocaust.

KROFT: [On camera: Kroft] Regardless of what Solomon Morel told Yad Vashem, the Holocaust archive in Israel, he's told the special commission investigating what went on at Swietochlowice that he's innocent of any wrongdoing, dismissing the allegations as an anti-semitic plot.square

Hear John Sack, author of Eye for an Eye, deliver the keynote speech at Cincinnati 2000, Real History, September 22-24, 2000 [Information]

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