Eliahu Rosenberg’s 1947 deposition on Treblinka

Published: 2008-01-04

Many revisionists are likely familiar with the name of Eliyahu Rosenberg from the Demjanjuk affair. Rosenberg was the witness who swore that the Ukrainian-born Cleveland mechanic John Demjanjuk was the one and the same as “Ivan the Terrible”, a notorious guard at the Treblinka “death camp” – only for it to be found out that he had previously testified that “Ivan” had been killed during a prisoner uprising.

However, Rosenberg’s strained relationship with the truth is not limited to the above episode. As a key witness to the alleged gas chamber killings at Treblinka, Rosenberg also testified at the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem as well as the at the trials against former Treblinka personnel held in former West Germany. The perhaps most crucial testimony left by Rosenberg consists of a 12-page typewritten deposition (Tatsachenbericht) signed by Rosenberg (as Elias Rosenberg) in Vienna on December 24, 1947 – that is, roughly four years after his escape from Treblinka. The deposition gathered dust for decades before being discovered at the time of the Demjanjuk trial. It was published by journalist H.P. Rullman in his book on the trial, Der Fall Demjanjuk – Unschuldiger oder Massenmörder? (Verlag Helmut Wild 1987), and later also made available online in facsimile.[1]In the following article, I will scrutinize this piece of testimony and the relation of its contents to the orthodox historiography of the camp.

Deportation to Treblinka

On page one of the report, we are told that Rosenberg was deported from the Warsaw Ghetto on August 20, 1942, together with his mother and three sisters. Together with 6000 other Jews, they were loaded onto a train consisting of 60 cars. The transport to “the infamous death camp” Treblinka via “the town of Malkinia” took 11 hours – Rosenberg speculates that the Germans chose a longer than necessary route just in order to fool the deportees! One may note, that at the Eichmann Trial the Attorney General for an unknown reason (possibly based on pre-trial investigation material) suggested that Rosenberg and his family had been deported on July 11, 1942 – a suggestion to which Rosenberg merely replied that the deportation had taken place “in the summer”.[2]

The Description of Treblinka II

This is how Rosenberg describes the location and size of Treblinka II:

The camp was located about 83 kilometers from Warsaw, in the middle of a forest. The camp covered an area of approximately 4 square kilometers and lay quite isolated. The closest village, named Kutaski Vulka Wiginowska, was about 1 kilometer away. The camp was built in 1941 by Jews who first had to clear the area that was to be used. Those Jews were later killed.[3]

Rosenberg has the name of the nearest village wrong – Wolka Okraglik is slightly closer to the camp, but there is also village called Kutaski-Stare about a kilometer north-west of Treblinka II which may be the village the witness is thinking of. Besides, only the northern part of Treblinka II bordered on a wooded area. Those mistakes are of course understandable. Likewise, the statement regarding the construction of the camp can only be based on hearsay, so that Rosenberg may have been mistaken in earnest when writing this.

On the other hand, it is hard to see how the witness could be as grossly mistaken regarding the dimensions of the camp that he is. In reality, Treblinka II covered an area corresponding to about five percent of the four square kilometers claimed by Rosenberg.[4]As we will see later on, our witness could not only offer more or less exact measures for a number of buildings and other features in the camp, but he had also spent time in both the "reception camp", "the sorting camp" and the proper "death camp", together making up close to four fifths of the entire camp area. As pointed out below, Rosenberg's exaggeration of the camp's size likely had to do with his claims regarding the mass graves and the number of victims allegedly contained in them.

The sorting camp and the Lazarett

After taking leave of his mother and sisters the witness, still not aware of being in an extermination camp) mixes himself with the Jewish prisoner workers at the railway ramp. Afterwards he is taken to a part of the camp where inmates are sorting the belongings of the deportees. On page 2 of the deposition, Rosenberg describes his first impression of the sorting camp:

[a]s we ran inside the camp, I saw a mountain of gold and money thrown up in a pile […]

Rosenberg also describes a well in the camp as being thirty meters deep, with corpses from an unspecified number of suicided prisoners lying rotten inside it. Next the witness describes the so-called Lazarett, allegedly a fake field hospital where sick and immobile deportees where shot instead of being sent to the gas chambers:

Not far from this place [where the well was located] I noticed a pit, about sixty meters long, seven to eight meter wide and four meter deep, which was half full of corpses. This pit, I was later told, bore the name “Lazarett”. At this place were shot all people who could not work or who were ill. For this purpose an SS-man in a white coat came and told us, that those who were ill had to report themselves, in order to be taken to the “Lazarett”. In fact a number of people reported themselves, naturally believing that they were to be taken to a hospital.

There is one problem with the above description. First of all, this Lazarett was not built until October 1942, if we are to trust the foremost orthodox historian of the Reinhardt camps, Yitzhak Arad.[5]In Rosenberg’s description we are still on the first day of his stay in the camp, that is, in late August of the same year. According to orthodox historiography there existed pits for shooting prisoners and burying deportees who had died en route prior to this date, but the field hospital ruse was allegedly not put into use until October 1942.

The gas chamber buildings according to Rosenberg

Rosenberg writes that on his second day in Treblinka he and twenty other men were taken to work in the “death camp” proper. The following is his description of the alleged gas chambers which he saw for the first time that day:

The first thing that met our eyes was a building made of red bricks, similar in shape to a tall barn. As we learned later, this was the gas chambers in which an untold number of people had met a terrible death. This building consisted of three sections [Abteilungen] each about as large as a normal living room. The ground [Erde, for this we should likely read floor] as well as one half of the walls were covered with red tiles, so that the blood which often stuck to the walls would not be visible. In the roof sat a small window, sealed air-tight, through which the man who regulated the gas supply could look. In the ceiling there was also a shower head, without any water pipe leading to it. As it was very dark inside the chambers, one could not see that there were a number of pipes, about five centimeters in diameter, running along the walls. Through those pipes the exhaust gas from a single diesel engine was led into the cabins. Into one chamber could be pressed four hundred people. Since they could not move due to the terrible lack of space, it was not possible for them to fall or to put up any kind of resistance. The Ukrainians were interested in driving as many people as possible into each “partio” of the gas chamber building, since less gas would be needed and the asphyxiation would take shorter time. As a rule, the gas was fed into the chambers for approx. 20 minutes, and after that one waited another fifteen minutes until there were no longer any death cries to be heard.[6]

Leaving aside the already well-known Diesel exhaust issue, we encounter the most crucial problem with Rosenberg’s testimony. As many readers will be aware of, there allegedly existed two gas chamber buildings at Treblinka II: an earlier, smaller brick building containing three gas chambers each measuring 4 x 4 meters, and a later, larger concrete structure comprising ten chambers each measuring 4 x 8 meters.[7]The later building replaced the previous one.

Is the building described by Rosenberg identical to the first or the second of the gas chamber building? The construction material is identical to the first, but no number of gas chambers is given. However, later in the deposition, on page 7, we come across a passage where Rosenberg describes the construction of a new gas chamber building:

A short time after that, new gas chambers were constructed which could hold up to 12,000 people. In order to use as little gas possible, the ceilings of the cabins were built very low, so that a tall person could stand inside it only while bowing down. It sometimes happened in the larger cabins that most of the light gas flowed towards the ceiling, so that a few children remained alive. The small ones were taken to the pits and mercilessly shot into them by guards.

When is “after that”? If we read the text closely, we find that Rosenberg in the immediately preceding paragraph tells of a transport of 6000 Jews sent from Grodek in “March 1943”. This means that Rosenberg in his 1947 deposition describes the second gas chamber building as having been constructed at earliest in March 1943. Yet in the orthodox Treblinka narrative, which ultimately derives mainly from Jankiel Wiernik’s book A Year in Treblinka, the second gas chamber building is described as being completed by mid-October 1942, that is half a year earlier than the date given by Rosenberg![8]

The witness does not provide any dimensions for the chambers, for good reason: an installation able to contain 12,000 people would have been enormous. In fact, Yitzhak Arad claims that each chamber in the new building could hold 380 people (itself not a mean feat, with 12 persons squeezed in per square meter).

The corpses and the mass graves

Since Rosenberg allegedly worked with pulling corpses from the gas chambers to the mass graves, both his description of the gas chamber building and the bodies of the victims could be expected to be authoritative. The look of the corpses is described thus:

The corpses were very bloated, their skin looked gray-white [grauweisslich] and easily peeled off, so that it hung from them like shreds. Their eyes protruded and the tongues hung out of their mouths.[9]

However, as has recently been shown by revisionist F.P. Berg, the skin of victims of carbon monoxide poisoning displays a characteristic cherry pink or deep red discoloring. They would not be gray-white, as Rosenberg would have it. The discoloring displayed by real carbon monoxide victims is so striking that the witness certainly would have noted it, had he actually seen a real gassing victim.[10]

This is how the corpse carrying was conducted according to Rosenberg:

It was now our task to quickly carry the dead on wooden stretchers to an about one hundred and twenty meter long, fifteen meter wide and six meter deep pit, and put them in it. At the time I arrived to the death camp, there were already tens of thousands of corpses in it.[11]

In addition to the pit there were later dug others at a distance of about three hundred meters from the gas chambers, yet we still had to run to them with the wooden stretchers.[12]

Yitzhak Arad writes that the death camp proper where the gas chambers as well as mass graves and later cremation devices were located measured approximately 200 x 250 meters.[13]In order to cover a distance of three hundred meters, Rosenberg must have run in circles.

How many corpses did the witness and his work companions bury? On page 7 of the deposition, we read that:

According to statements by the SS-guards at Treblinka, a total of between 2,25 and 2,5 million had been gassed there.

No small wonder then that the camp according to Rosenberg covered an area of approximately four square kilometers!

Two absurd anecdotes

A Holocaust eyewitness testimony would not be complete without relating a few outrageous stories of SS cruelty towards inmates and victims. Rosenberg’s anecdotes mainly concern the German and Ukrainian guards working in the “upper camp” i.e. the death camp proper.

At this time two new excavators were brought to the camp, as well as two especially sadistic SS to service them. When the excavator buckets were about thirty meters up into the air, they let body parts fall on the heads of the Jewish workers below. They greatly enjoyed themselves when any person hit fell unconscious to the ground. If the person hit did not regain consciousness fast enough, he was thrown into the fire.[14]

Certainly this would not be considered obstruction of work!

Rosenberg also tells us:

An SS by the name of Hermann (I don’t remember his given name) had a favorite hobby of a special kind. He kindled himself a fire and searched for an especially fat woman among the corpses, which then had to be brought to the place where he stood. He threw the corpse into the fire and then stood there for hours, watching it slowly incinerate.[15]

Apparently, a fire large and hot enough to incinerate a human body could be improvised on a whim. The Hindus who build meter-high pyres of wood in order to carry out their outdoor cremations should have consulted Mr. Hermann!

Conclusion

The deposition made by Eliyahu Rosenberg in Vienna in 1947 does not only contain statements which defy common sense, there also several statements which contradicts the orthodox Treblinka historiography. Most important of them is the dating of the construction of the second-phase gas chamber building to March 1943, six months later than the standard narrative has it.

Rosenberg was born in Warsaw on March 10, 1924. He was thus 18 when deported to Treblinka II, and 23 at the time he made the deposition. Senility could not have been an issue, and merely four years had passed between the alleged events and their recounting. It would have been one thing if Rosenberg wrote that the construction began in August or November 1943; it is conceivable that he could have been mistaken by a month or two. Being wrong with a marginal of half a year is another thing entirely. According to standard historiography, construction on the new gas chamber building began in late summer/early autumn 1942. Rosenberg on the other hand has the work begin in March 1943, on the verge of spring. The winter between those two dates was the only one Rosenberg spent in the camp (in fact, it was the only winter during which the camp existed). We should thus expect the witness four years later to be able to tell which major episodes took place prior to the winter, and which took place afterwards.

Taken together with the statements regarding the size of the camp, the look of the corpses, and the alleged mass graves, the above contradiction serves to demonstrate the blatant unreliability of Eliyahu Rosenberg’s 1947 Vienna deposition. If his later accounts came closer to the standard version of the camp’s history, it is likely due to Rosenberg^ acquainting himself with other witness literature.


Notes

[1]
http://www.vho.org/D/dfd/5.html
[2]
The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Transcript of District Court Session 66.
[3]
Elias Rosenberg, Tatsachenbericht, (cf. Note 1), p. 1; translation by the author.
[4]
Cf. Carlo Mattogno & Jürgen Graf, Treblinka. Extermination Camp or Transit Camp?, Theses & Dissertations Press, Chicago 2004, p. 91.
[5]
Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1987, pp. 121-122.
[6]
Tatsachenbericht, pp. 4-5.
[7]
Arad, p. 42, 119.
[8]
Ibid, p. 120.
[9]
Tatsachenbericht, p. 5.
[10]
Cf. http://forum.yourforum.org/viewtopic.php?t=4520
[11]
Tatsachenbericht, p. 5.
[12]
Ibid, p. 6.
[13]
Arad, p. 41.
[14]
Tatsachenbericht, p. 10.
[15]
Ibid, pp. 9-10.

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Author(s) Thomas Kues
Title Eliahu Rosenberg’s 1947 deposition on Treblinka
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Dates published: 2008-01-04, first posted on CODOH: April 29, 2008, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
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