Surviving Treblinka The book, Surviving Treblinka, describes a miraculous story of one man s struggle to remain alive through each coming day and his escape from Germany s killing machine. Samuel Willenberg is one of a very small group of people, who have lived to tell about their horrific experiences in the concentration camps, but what made these people so different from all the others who never saw liberty again Perhaps some individuals survived the Holocaust while others didn t because they received help from old acquaintances, had a very strong will to live and were in a close group of helpful friends during their imprisonment. The only reason why Samuel Willenberg survived the most dreadful five months of his life, which he spent at a concentration camp, was because he got crucial advice from other inmates. Treblinka was not a labour camp like Auschwitz and many others. The only Jews who lived there were in charge of the collection of the brought in goods and the operation of the gas chambers. Samuel would have never survived the day of his arrival if one of his former friends did not tell him, It is you Same Tell them you are a builder! (Willenberg 10).
Only the builder survived from each trainload of people, and by being selected as a builder Samuel avoided a direct trip to the gas chambers, a path took the lives of all the people who came with him. Another friend instructed Samuel on the importance of the hat. The advice was that, When SS men come by, stand to attention, whip off your cap and say, I report in submission (Willenberg 61). One mistake, no matter how small or foolish, when it was seen by SS officers meant guaranteed death at Treblinka and that s why it was very important to know how to report to Germans. Samuel also looked for ways to escape with a small group of Jews. However, this would be very dangerous because it was going to be very easy for the Nazis to track down a small group of fugitives Samuel s foreman, Klein baum, warned him about these dangers when he said; I see how you study the trees and the railways around us, as if you want to photograph the whole area with your eye.
It will not work You ll never get out of here alone (Willenberg 95). If Samuel was to try to flee Treblinka without the cooperation of all other Jews, he would have surely died and this advice saved him from making such a fatal mistake. Not making any mistakes was one of the most important factors in remaining alive at a concentration camp and without advice or help from others Samuel would have died sooner or later. It was almost impossible to survive even for a few weeks in a death camp without having a very strong will to live.
One day Samuel was whipped twenty-five times on his back and that aggravated an old war injury, which in turn began to swell. Something had to be done about this swelling and slowly Samuel s time began to run out, but he persevered even in this extremely difficult situation. He gave his friend a dull butter knife and said, Cut or they will shoot me! (Willenberg 112). It takes a lot of courage and mental strength to endure this kind of pain and Samuel could have very easily given up.
He fought the infection and his will to live overcame this great obstacle. Many people also became insane under these harsh conditions. In this quote Samuel described the behavior of an insane prisoner: Then, without another moment s let-up, the insane laughter resumed. I had the feeling that I would be the next to act thus, that I would scream until my skull burst open and sent my brain spilling from it together with my torn, aching neves (Willenberg 118). The fact that he remained sane during his months at Treblinka shows that he did not let the horrifying surroundings get to his head.
He could have let the camp take over him, but instead he remained calm and eventually escaped alive. Seeing so many die every day could have made him lose hope in surviving. Not only did Samuel not lose hope, but he also looked for escape paths anywhere he could find them. Only a person with a very strong will to live could keep an optimistic view, which was the only way to survive, in an environment were death and suffering were at every corner. Another very important factor in staying alive at a death camp was having a close group of reliable friends. Samuel was in a group of four or five people who helped each other at any cost or risk.
One good example of this friendship was when Samuel s friend, Alfred, became sick with typhus. Alfred was too weak to work or even stand upright. During roll call Samuel held him up to prevent a selection by the SS men, and hid him in the huts during the day. In this incident Samuel and another friend risked their lives for Alfred, As Mite of the SS strode into view, we feared he might notice Alfred s deadly appearance. The minister and I immediately staged a fight.
I grabbed Alfred s head as if beating him, and supported him with my shoulder (Willenberg 100). If a prisoner did not have friends then his chances of survival at Treblinka decreased with each day. Dr. Chorazycki, who was one of Samuel s closest friends, helped him in a different way. He told Samuel, You re building a new fence near us. When you come in, I will always treat you to some good liquor.
I know you like a drink (Willenberg 90). Liquor allowed people to forget at least for a few hours their dreadful situation and it was one of the pleasures, which were sometimes available to the prisoners. Friends were also vital in keeping one s morale up in the worst possible times. Every evening Samuel joined his friends in long conversations about past and present times.
Such conversations were perhaps the only place in the camp where a ray of humanity burst through the smoke of the burning bodies. A group of friends gave Samuel a sense of belonging along with the ability to count on someone in the worst situation. If it were not for his friends Samuel would have never lived through the year 1944 and without them his morale would definitely be very low, which always led to executions. There was no recipe for surviving the Holocaust. Receiving advice from people and having a close group of friends as well as having a strong will to live definitely helped Samuel in surviving, but most others who fit the above criteria still died. For example Alfred and Samuel were in the exact same situation, but only Samuel managed to escape from Treblinka.
A man could only help himself so much in staying alive and ultimately luck and fate were the deciding factors in the German game of life and death. Many Jews survived the death camps just because of their desire to tell the world about their indescribable experiences and it is very important that we never forget about the lives of those whose bodies still remain cremated in the fields of Poland and Germany.