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Simon Srebnik - Chelmno

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5024 | Film ID: 3278, 3279, 3280, 3281, 3282, 3283, 3284, 3285, 3286, 3287, 3288, 3289, 3290, 3291, 3292

Simon Srebnik (Shimon Srebrnik) was a boy of 13 when he was deported to Chelmno from the Lodz ghetto. He worked on a Sonderkommando burying those who had been murdered by gas. Srebnik was seriously wounded by Nazi gunfire during the liquidation of the camp, but managed to escape and find refuge with a Polish farmer. The Germans offered a large cash reward for turning Srebnik in, but the Poles, who already feared the approaching Russians more than the Germans, did not betray him. After the war he immediately immigrated to Israel. Srebnik's story is a focal point in the film "Shoah." The interview takes place first in Chelmno, Poland (September 1978) and later in Israel (Fall 1979). Corinna Coulmas interprets the sections in German; Barbra Janicka interprets the sections in Polish; and an English to Hebrew intepreter in Israel.

FILM ID 3278 -- Camera Rolls #1-3 -- 01:00:12 to 01:22:33
The whole reel consists of shots of a party in a yard in Israel (presumably Srebnik's yard). Several children play while adults sit on the grass. Srebnik pushes two children on a swing. Srebnik's wife is also present. People talk and laugh and relax. Note: CR #1-7 are filmed by Lubtchansky and chronologically later (in Fall 1979) than the rolls shot in Poland but have earlier camera roll numbers.

FILM ID 3279 -- Camera Rolls #4-7 -- 02:00:20 to 02:27:19
Srebnik sits with wife indoors. Lanzmann speaks English, which is translated into Hebrew. Later Srebnik speaks German directly to Lanzmann. Note: CR #1-7 are filmed by Lubtchansky and chronologically later (in Fall 1979) than the rolls shot in Poland but have earlier camera roll numbers.

FILM ID 3280 -- Camera Rolls #45-48A -- 03:00:19 to 03:12:22
Scenes shot from the back seat of Srebnik riding in the passenger seat of a car, in Poland. Srebnik speaks Hebrew, which interpreter Corinna Coulmas translates into French. 03:07:34 When they get out of the car Srebnik is still speaking Hebrew. 03:11:19 Srebnik stands by a church and there is no audio.

FILM ID 3281 -- Camera Rolls #49-50 -- 04:00:20 to 04:18:26
Srebnik, Corinna and Lanzmann are on the site of the Chelmno camp, which appears to be a coal yard now. Corinna translates Srebnik's Hebrew into French. Srebnik points out various features of the site. 04:07:17 clapperboard says "Glasberg." CR #50 Lanzmann and Srebnik speak German. Srebnik tells the story of one SS man who spoke German with a Bavarian accent. This man somehow got the idea that Srebnik could understand him better than the others. 04:08:38 Lanzmann tells Srebnik that they will speak German and says, "Two Jews in Chelmno speaking German, that makes sense." Srebnik explains how workers were shot and replaced by new workers from the transports that arrived in the camp. He describes how prisoners were executed two days before the camp was liberated by the Soviets in January 1945. He himself was shot in the back of the neck but the bullet exited through his mouth. He recounts how he got up and ran into the woods. The SS realized that one body was missing but they didn't find him hiding behind a tree.

FILM ID 3282 -- Camera Rolls #51-55 -- 05:00:20 to 05:35:09
The clapper board reads "Glasberg." Srebnik speaks Polish with a local man who remembers the events of the war years. A group of Poles stands behind them and watches as they compare memories of the area before the war. Srebnik asks if there are any members of the Król family still around, and the man informs him that there is only one surviving family member. He also asks about the Miszczak (or Mistrzak) family, which he used to visit often. They discuss how nice the place used to look before the war, and Srebnik describes the park, the raspberries that grew around the buildings, and similar. 05:01:31 The local man asks questions about what exactly was going on with the cars arriving at the building, as from his vantage point he could never see anyone/anything getting in or out. They discussed that he remembers this from 1943 and 1944, but Srebnik admits he only arrived to the camp in '44. The local man asks if the people were electrocuted in the cars and Srebnik clarifies that the cars came over already loaded with people from the palace, and then the hoses were changed, and they drove off, alive, to the burial place in the forest, about four kilometers away, by which time all the people would be dead. He also describes the digging of ditches and how the bodies would be placed into them. 05:05:23 A much younger local man invites Srebnik and Lanzmann into the large building, which had been Srebnik's living quarters. 05:06:04 No picture inside the building until CR #52 begins. Audio continues during this time, some Polish and French, but switches to German at 05:06:22 as Lanzmann speaks to Srebnik in German. Srebnik describes the barrack where he slept (?). 05:07:04 On CR #52 and 53 Srebnik and Lanzmann speak in German while standing in the location of the barracks (now a construction site). Srebnik describes how, at 13 years of age, he stood out in this courtyard in January wearing only underwear and chains. He points out where the gas vans were repaired in the yard. The Germans called him "Spinnefix" because he was so fast and he earned privileges by running. Walter Burmeister, one of the gas van drivers, saved his life when Bothmann ordered that he be executed. Burmeister told Srebnik that after the war he would adopt him. Lanzmann asks Srebnik how he explains this act of human kindness on Burmeister's part, given that he was also a member of the SS and a war criminal. Lanzmann says that he traveled to Flensburg to find Burmeister but he had been dead for two months by the time he found him. He describes the daily executions and the sadistic games that the SS played with the prisoners. He points out a barracks where he removed the gold from prisoners' teeth. Most people only remained in Chelmno for up to 5 days (?) but Srebnik remained for 6 months. 05:20:00 On CR #54 Barbara Janicka translates Polish to French. (For Lanzmann's reflections on working with Barbara and the accuracy of her translations, see pgs. 481 - 482 of the English translation of his memoir The Patagonian Hare.) They have been joined by an older local man who clearly remembers the occupation and events of that time. Srebnik stands with a group of Poles, including two young boys, still on the grounds of the former camp. 05:23:49 CR #55 Lanzmann and Srebnik speak German. Srebnik describes how Bothmann took him hunting and he fetched the dead game "like a dog." 05:25:15 Lanzmann begins conversing again with the Poles and Srebnik in Polish. Among other things, they discuss the Miszczak family who had aided Srebnik in the forests, and the family's whereabouts.

FILM ID 3283 -- Camera Rolls #56-59 -- 06:00:20 to 06:28:43
Lanzmann asks (translated) questions of the same Polish men as in CR #55. Now there are six young boys, wearing some kind of scout uniforms. CR #60 Mute, shots of the boys and of some of the Poles listening to the conversation. Note: Title on screen at beginning of tape says CR #57-60, this tape contains CR #56-59.

FILM ID 3284 -- Camera Rolls #60-63 -- 07:00:29 to 07:37:12
Lanzmann sits in the church in Chelmno with Srebnik and the priest. Lanzmann speaks French and Srebnik and the priest speak Polish.

FILM ID 3285 -- Camera Rolls #70-82 -- 08:00:18 to 08:29:59
This reel is made up almost entirely of different takes of Srebnik on the boat on the river, sometimes singing and sometimes simply silent shots.

FILM ID 3286 -- Camera Rolls #83-85 -- 09:00:19 to 09:19:00
Barbara translates from French to Polish and back. Srebnik stands with three Poles, Lanzmann, and Barbara by the river.

FILM ID 3287 -- Camera Rolls #86, 102-105 -- 10:00:18 to 10:21:28
All in German. Lanzmann and Srebnik walk down a dirt road toward the camera. On the next reel, Srebnik stands with the forest in the background. He says that in 1944 corpses from Chelmno were burned in large ovens at this site. From every transport 10 men were chosen to write letters back to Lodz, telling that there was work and food at the camp. This encouraged the relatives to come as well. Srebnik describes how the corpses were burned using wood as fuel after the people were killed in gas vans. Srebnik stands and contemplates the site. He says that he was told by a guard that there were mass graves here in 1942 and they built the ovens in early 1944. In 1944, after the corpses were burned, they took the large bones, pulverized them, and threw the ash in the river. Srebnik says that the spot was as quiet then as it is now. There was no screaming, people simply got on with the work of burning the bodies. He points out the route the gas vans took to the ovens. He describes again how the bodies were burned and the larger bones were pulverized. At Lanzmann's urging, he describes the bone crushing machine in more detail. The workers cleaned out the ovens before receiving the transports, which came every two days. At Lanzmann's request, Srebnik describes in detail what happened when a gas van full of corpses arrived. Srebnik was part of the crew that built the ovens. They did not know what they were for until the first gas van full of corpses arrived. He was not so shocked by this because he had already seen so much. Lanzmann finds it hard to believe this.

FILM ID 3288 -- Camera Rolls #106-109 -- 01:00:18 to 01:26:09
All in German. Srebnik stands in the field where the crematoriums were in 1944. He continues to explain why he was not so shocked when he discovered what the ovens were to be used for. He had already seen a lot of death (by starvation) in the Lodz ghetto. People dropped dead in the streets and were picked up and taken away.

FILM ID 3289 -- Camera Rolls #111-112, 116 -- 12:00:23 to 12:15:07
Srebnik stands in front of the church in Chelmno, surrounded by Polish villagers. They speak to Srebnik in Polish and to Lanzmann through Barbara Janicka (the interpreter). Singing can be heard from the church in the background. Several of the men were also interviewed with Srebnik at the site of the camp (see Film ID 3282-3284 for CR #51-60). The priest and a crowd of churchgoers leave the church to the ringing of church bells. More shots of Srebnik surrounded by Poles.

FILM ID 3290 -- Coupe Son 1 + Fin Chelmno II Montage -- 13:00:19 to 13:05:16
Srebnik says that he was at the trial of the SS men of Chelmno and they were all surprised and happy to discover that "Spinnefix" had survived. The judge asked the defendants, including Laabs and Burmeister, whether they recognized the witness Srebnik and they all said no. Another shot of Srebnik riding a boat down the river, singing.

FILM ID 3291 -- Camera Roll #112A -- 15:00:18 to 15:01:29
Mute CUs of people in front of the church in Chelmno.

FILM ID 3292 -- Coupes -- 16:00:20 to 16:06:44
Mute CUs of Srebnik and his wife in their house in Israel.

Genre
Outtake
Duration
05:08:24
Event Date
September 1978 (Poland) and Fall 1979 (Israel)
Locale
Israel
Poland
Chelmno, Poland
Genre/Form
Outtakes.
Credit
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
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Record last modified: 2018-04-26 13:42:21
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn1002783