twinkle in her eye, she describes how they
had four SS officers billeted on them --
staying in that room there, she
5, 2007 (Monday)
- Jaroslaw (Poland)
AT 9:45 a.m. the Russians film a ten-minute
interview on what we have seen at Auschwitz.
They have given me six hundred euros towards our
costs, which exactly meets our hotel bill here in
Andrea of SkyTV International, who has ridden on
the Russians' coat-tails throughout, hands me a
note for 200 towards our costs, but then I see it
is Polish zlotys, which is worth less than fifty
euros. Cheapskate, a product of Rupert
Murdoch. I decline his request for a one-on-one
interview. He is departing unexpectedly for
Alexandria, Egypt, to interview a terrorist.
With Alan once more at the wheel, we commence
our long drive across south-eastern Poland. During
the day we stop at a motel, which turns out to have
excellent WiFi: Larry C. has emailed from
Atlanta, Georgia, that the book (his mini-edition
of my 1981 history, Uprising)
has reached Budapest, which explains the package
that has arrived there this morning for me.
6, 2007 (Tuesday)
- Belzec - Wlodawa (Poland)
EXCELLENT breakfast in a surprisingly good
hotel, which will have to fuel us for the whole
day. We set out for Belzec late, around nine a.m.
and reach Tomaszów (five kilometers from
Belzec) at eleven a.m., where we take Mike
Treganza (at right in photo)
chainsmoking veteran researcher, on board.
is acknowledged as one of the world's leading
experts on these Bug River "death camp" sites.
We begin with the first of three calls on
surviving Belzec witnesses.
Giza G. is a wizened 82-year-old (see
photo below), born May 1924. In 1942 she was
eighteen, and her father ministered to the Trawniki
men (nearly all Ukrainians) detailed to do the
actual gassing, corpse-carrying, and other dirty
work at Belzec. The little frontier town was
largely Jewish, fifty-fifty Polish and Ukrainian.
No love was lost between them, the Poles and
Ukrainians, and all were set against the Jews.
Everybody knew what was happening, and nobody
objected. Giza and her sister (now dead) worked in
what was the only bakery supplying the Belzec camp
and villages around until 1976.
twinkle in her eye, she describes how they had four
SS officers billeted on them -- staying "in that
room there," she says, indicating the room next to
us: "Handsome men they were too," and she recalls
to us the laughter, drinking, and singing in the
evenings with those handsome men in their smart
photo at left for a complete video of our interview
with the Belzec baker's
She could not recall how many loaves, or what
amount, the bakery handled each day. She herself
took the bread in a horsedrawn cart each morning to
the gates of the camp, where it was taken over by
an SS man; so she herself did not enter the camp,
which renders much of her eye-witness evidence of
dubious value therefore.
Their house was surrounded by a fence with
Ukrainian guards. They had three Jewish girls from
camp working in the bakery; they did not survive,
Mike provides more background detail. Of twenty
locals who built the camp and its homicidal
facilities only one was officially questioned after
the war, on October 10, 1945. Some in
Tomaszów were questioned in February 1946,
but not those who built the camp. The Poles wanted
to cover up the extent of their collaboration with
the Nazis. Everybody had a hand in it; it was a
Reinhardt operation was run, says Mike, by SS
Obersturmführer (promoted on April 20, 1943 to
SS Hauptsturmführer) Christian Wirth,
right, the commandant of the "Sonderkommando
Belzec"; Wirth was killed on May 26, 1944 by
Partisans while on an inspection visit near the
cottagege of Kozina between Trieste and Fiume. Giza
recalls that three Polish girls who worked in
Wirth's kitchen, in his cottage facing the camp
(see photo below), did survive, and they
went after the war to Lvóv -- now in the
In Belzec they had started building work on
November 1, 1941, cutting down trees and clearing
the site; then building the camp; they had
recruited a team of locals a week before November 1
and the local community secretary,
Nowosielski, told them what they would be
doing. There was no shortage of volunteeers.
Killing operations officially started on March 17,
WE then go to see Teofil P., 88, a former
local railway official and a keen huntsman, in a
kitchen whose wall is hung with a score of animal
skulls as trophies. I take several photos. He says
he saw the trains of victims coming in full and
leaving, presumably empty -- he had no way of
knowing, he protests.
The trains arriving at Belzec station were
heavily guarded and filled with people, often
crying out for water. Asked by me if he saw rail
wagons of loot departing, he does not remember.
At first T. is unwilling to speak, and
repeatedly says he will not, and he continues to
say this as he accompanies us out; once outside,
however, with his fearsome and loudly barking dog
only yards away and restrained on a length of chain
that seems very rusty and friable to me, he does
begin to talk, and Mike indicates to me that he is
talking quite a lot. Alan records the whole
subsequent interview, which continues for perhaps
another half hour or more.
BEFORE visiting the third and final witness, a
local engineer who has claimed to have built a gas
van and other killing apparatus, we drive over to
site, about three kilometers outside the little
town, which has been wrecked, even more
comprehensively than Auschwitz,
construction by the American Jewish Committee of a
monument the size of four football fields --
and by a "field of lava" about which Alan earlier
told me and which I took to be one of his
characteristically opaque jokes.
lava field is quite impossible to walk across, a
kind of moonscape, with a concrete passage from the
gate to the monument, a half-size imitation of a
Wailing Wall, at its far end. The monument covers
all six mass graves, says Mike.
I chat with the museum director at length; his
museum features Kurt
Gerstein's story, without comment, and I
advise the director to display a big enlargement of
the Hermann Höfle document
which appears essential to any history of these
Reinhardt, or Bug River, camps.
Mike has fetched the key to SS
Obersturmführer Christian Wirth's cottage,
which is just scross the main road from the Belzec
camp. The back yard is overrun with a dozen large
chickens, so we step carefully. The doors of the
cottage are stiff with age and difficult to open.
From the rooms upstairs -- all the light switches
and fittings have been looted recently -- Wirth
would have had a good view of the camp and its
large warehouse, a former railroad engine shed
(below), over the fields to the left.
There is a well known photo showing the
murderers including the notorious Lieutenant
Lorenz Hackenholt parading informally in the
cottage's back yard, before the chickens took it
above: The cottage of the commandant Chrstian
Wirth still stands, across the road from the
In 1942 a dozen of the camp's 22 SS men parade
in the backyard of the cottage: right to left,
Heinrich Barbl, Arthur Dachsel, Lorenz
Hackenholt (nearest camera), Ernst Zierke, Max
Gringers, unidentified, Reinholt Feix, Karl
Scluch and Fritz Tauscher
video on Wirth's
FINALLY we visit Bronyslaw Cz., brother of
Kazimierz Cz., who allegedly worked on the
gas chambers at Belzec but died a few years
At first his family or neighbours deny that
Bronyslaw is home, after we ring the bell. But then
he emerges, stumping up the short flight of stairs
from the basement apartment where he still lives
and works on engines. He is a short, stocky man,
now aged 85, with inch-long bushy eyebrows that
have evidently never been trimmed, and the
filthiest black overalls I have ever seen.
On earlier occasions Bronyslaw has freely
admitted to both Mike and Alan that he designed and
built the first Belzec gas van, whose operation he
explained to Mike, even helpfully (and no doubt a
little proudly) making a diagram; and that he then
serviced the wooden gas chambers at Belzec.
time Alan has his camera and sound surreptitiously
switched on, and I hold a tape recorder with the
little red light mostly concealed, but he does not
come as clean, which is a disappointment.
Talking of clean, his hands are almost black
with engine oil, as he was working on an engine,
his qualified trade, when we called and his first
room was fifty percent by volume, at least, filled
with engine parts, radios etc.
His dumpy little wife, wearing a headscarf and
clothes of different shades of grey, a year or two
younger than him, struts up and down like a
Coldstream Guards sentry, arms folded across her
bosom, angrily snapping and yapping at him and
telling him not to be a fool and not to talk with
us, which scene -- in itself both amusing and sad
-- goes on for about half an hour, with Bronyslaw
responding rudely to his woman, though perhaps not
as rudely as she has been snapping at him.
With dusk already fallen, we set out on the long
drive back to Lublin.
Around nine pm there is a text message from B.
in London, who is probably worried about not having
heard from us all day. I persuade Alan to text back
briefly, "All okay."
In Lublin, we drop off Mike; a no less mean and
unhelpful woman squabbles around us and never quite
brings us the tea and coffee she has offered. We
leave at my instance as the hour is already far
advanced, and we consequently find no hotel vacancy
here in Lublin either.
We drive on for an hour or two until we reach
Wlodawa, on the White Russian frontier, just short
of Sobibór, our tomorrow's port of call,
arriving toward midnight. Its sole hotel, the Hotel
Ester, has one room left. We're in luck. It has
been a long day.
dossier on the Holocaust
Our file on Belzec
video of our interview with the Belzec baker's
Die Welt says Italian
Sky TV film quotes David Irving as "denying the
Holocaust" at Auschwitz again | Mr Irving
denies it [German] | HNN
well-produced revisionist film on problems with
the Holocaust controversy