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Posted Saturday, March 10, 2007

A twinkle in her eye, she describes how they had four SS officers billeted on them -- staying in that room there, she says

NTV films David Irving in Krakow

click for originMarch 5, 2007 (Monday)
Kraków - 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 Kraków.

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.


March 6, 2007 (Tuesday)
Jaroslaw - 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.

Alan Hesth, Mike TreganzaHe 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.

Giza GdulaA 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 uniforms.

Click photo at left for a complete video of our interview with the Belzec baker's daughter video

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, says Giza.

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 communal operation.

Christian WirthThe 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 Ukraine

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, 1942.


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, Irving with Teofil P.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.


Irving at Belzec monument

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 the Belzec site, about three kilometers outside the little town, which has been wrecked, even more comprehensively than Auschwitz, by the 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.

Heath at Belzec lava fieldThe 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.

Loot storage at Belzec

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 over.

Christian Wirth's villa, Belzec

Photo, above: The cottage of the commandant Chrstian Wirth still stands, across the road from the Belzec site.

Right: 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

Our video on Wirth's house video


FINALLY we visit Bronyslaw Cz., brother of Kazimierz Cz., who allegedly worked on the gas chambers at Belzec but died a few years ago.

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.

Bronyslaw CzThis 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.      continue

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