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Czeslaw Borowi - Treblinka

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5032 | Film ID: 3348, 3349, 3350, 3351

Czeslaw Borowi (Borowy) is a Polish peasant who lived his entire life in Treblinka. He describes the transports and the experience of living in the shadow of the camp. When the Germans were shooting at Jews, his family slept on the floor to avoid stray bullets. He repeats some of the common refrains about how rich Jews arrived in fancy trains and the Jews offered no resistance. Borowi makes the throat-slitting sign in "Shoah." See Lanzmann's memoir The Patagonian Hare for his reflections on Borowi and his role in the film.

FILM ID 3348 -- Camera Rolls #46,47,48,56 -- 01:00:13 to 01:23:39
Reel 46 Lanzmann is standing in front of Borowi with translator Barbara flanking him in a field, in front of some piles of various items and a train off in the distance. Lanzmann begins by asking Borowi if he hates cinema, and then yells at his translator. Borowi says that they filmed "Departure and Return" at the same station, and hated all the extra work he was put through to recreate the station's look during the war. He says that he lived here all his life and saw the transports from a distance. He says that trains would arrive with 60 to 80 cars pulled by two locomotives, and each time a locomotive would take about 20 cars into the camp and return empty. There are three lines in the transcript that are not on the tape. 01:02:38 Borowi says that locomotives would take about 20 cars into the camp and return empty, taking about half an hour to do so. He remembers that it was very hot, and that the Germans would actually take some cars and go swimming in the Bug. Lanzmann then has some problems getting his questions answered through his translator and Borowi.

Reel 47 01:04:39 Lanzmann asks for Borowi to explain better, how he could live just 200 yards from the trains that took so many Jews to their deaths. After having more trouble with Barbara Janicka, the translator, Borowi says that they brought a lot of convoys here and began building, and people began to think something was going on. Lanzmann interrupts and the reel ends. For Lanzmann's reflections on working with Barbara and the accuracy of her translations, see pgs. 481 - 482 of the English translation of The Patagonian Hare.

Reel 48 01:07:08 Lanzmann asks if Borowi remembers the first transport, but he says that he doesn't remember that specific date, he never thought he'd need to remember it. He says that he does remember the first transport though, and wondered how they were going to kill so many Jews, and people began to talk about how unprecedented something like this is. He says that the Poles thought that their turn would come too, and they debated on what they would do if the Germans came for them, which surprises Lanzmann. Borowi says that they preferred to die in their town rather than in the camp, and would resist the Germans if it came to that. He mentions that the Germans promised other Germans that once the war was over, they would not work and all of the other races would work for them. All the Poles worked out of fear, waiting for when the Germans would steal them from their houses at night, and some families had people keep watch. As for the Jews, they were not as concerned about them as they were for themselves, he says.

Reel 56 01:14:11 Lanzmann asks Borowi if he remembers the first convoy. He says he does, but only after Lanzmann says that the date is not important. Borowi points out where he lived at that time and says that he would have to sleep on the ground at night to make sure he wasn't shot as the Jews tried to escape. 01:17:06 Borowi asks if they're finished, Lanzmann seems to think that they are. The camera takes a shot of Lanzmann, focusing on him and then the background, then back again. It does the same for Borowi. Shots of Barbara and other B-roll.

FILM ID 3349 -- Camera Roll #49 -- 02:00:20 to 02:11:24
Reel 49 Lanzmann asks about the horrible smell that everyone talked about, and Borowi said it was there. They would put bodies in ditches, then spray them with a liquid, add logs, and set it on fire, and that would cause the smell. He describes a glow over the camp from the constant burning of bodies, and you could smell it in the dew, and the wind would carry it over 10km away. He says that the families tried to shield themselves from it, by closing all the windows even on the hottest days, but it really never stopped. Borowi says that they weren't Gypsies, they couldn't move, so they suffered through it. He says that the Jews didn't have any nerve, not resisting, which Lanzmann asks about. He wondered why the massive numbers didn't simply overrun the few Ukrainian guards and escape. He said that the Poles tried to warn them when they asked for water from the trains, which were very cramped. Lanzmann stops the interview because he doesn't understand something.

FILM ID 3350 -- Camera Rolls #50-52 -- 03:00:11 to 03:22:04
Reel 50 Lanzmann wants clarification on some statements, the one where Borowi said that they had no courage, and then how he described the conditions in the car. He asked that considering the conditions, what could they do? Borowi responds that they all had tools, and sometimes they would actually cut away the barbed wire screens. One time, he says, a Jew jumped out through that window, and when threatened by a Ukrainian, he wasn't killed. He then says that most guards were Polish, and the Jews spoke Polish, and sometimes there weren't even guards to keep them in. Lanzmann is confused, he stops the interview again.

Reel 51 03:03:25 Lanzmann asks for further clarification. Borowi says that this escaped Jew was cowardly for not attacking the Ukrainian. Lanzmann presses the issue, citing the horrible conditions that the Jews had been in for two years. Borowi then, when asked, talks about the signal to the Jews, and that everyone knew what was happening to them in all nations. He says that foreign Jews arrived in Pullmans with playing cards and flowers, guarded by Police and not Gestapo men. He says that the Jews knew their fate, but wouldn't accept it, that they all tried to warn them. Lanzmann, interrupting, asks him if he really believes that the signal was to get the Jews to rise up for themselves. When he asks why the Poles didn't kill the Germans themselves, he gets a lot of an answer and interrupts the tape.

Reel 52 03:12:10 Lanzmann asks why they did not kill the Germans and Ukrainians themselves. He says that they couldn't, they had their families here, they had their homes and lives here, and everybody knew everybody else, so the fear of being turned in was too great; they could kill off your family for your actions. Borowi says that the Jews who escaped the cars died here, and that many times the Ukrainians would shoot through the walls of the trains because they wanted quiet and the Jews were talking. When Borowi makes a sound he considers an imitation of their language, Lanzmann presses him on it. He asks about what would happen to the bodies, and Borowi answers that the local authorities were in charge of ensuring that the bodies got buried so that animals wouldn't get to them. 03:17:43 Lanzmann changes topics to the Jews' gold. Borowi says that some threw it out the window so some Pole could have it rather than the Germans, but most hid it in their clothes or shoes. Sometimes, he says, curious people would find hidden pockets full of money and gold in the piles of clothes left behind.

FILM ID 3351 -- Camera Rolls #53-55 -- 04:00:13 to 04:31:18
Reel 53 Lanzmann asks Borowi about trafficking of goods in the area. He says that the Ukrainians would smuggle gold out of the camp, pay for goods with it, and people would come from as far as Warsaw to buy the gold. They talk about the prostitutes who would come from all around and be paid with this gold. Borowi says that as he worked the fields, sometimes, near the camp, you would hear geese and shouts of Jews. Religion is mentioned, and the prayers for the Jews, but Lanzmann has some problems with the translator again and cuts.

Reel 54 04:11:33 Lanzmann asks Borowi why he thinks all of this happened to the Jews. He first declines to answer. Lanzmann presses him. He says that the old Jews always talked about a time when they would have to perish, but he does not know why. He also says that the Jewish merchants would talk about how the Germans described them as parasites that needed to be removed. He says that the Germans also considered the Gypsies to be lazy people like the Jews. Borowi says that the Catholic elders said that the Jews were going to atone for the death of Christ, and this must have been it. Lanzmann stops the interview, saying that they'll continue in a second.

Reel 55 04:19:57 Lanzmann asks Borowi if he thinks that he [Lanzmann] is Jewish. Borowi answers yes, because of his accent and his gait. He says that Jews tended to sway, and he saw this at the inauguration of the camp [memorial]. He is glad they survived, and doesn't think this could happen again, not in the civilized world, but he also says that he really does not know the world very well at all. 04:24:28 Lanzmann thanks Borowi and offers to pay him for his interview. He asks how much he would like, and he says that he does not know, he does not want to ask for too much. They begin to joke about Jewish gold and the riches of American Jews. Lanzmann and Borowi, and perhaps translator Barbara, seem to participate in this equally. Lanzmann asks Borowi about what he thinks of Israel, and he says that they are supported by the Americans, because such a small nation would not last without them. Lanzmann says, "He's a genius! He recognized and exposed me as Jewish, immediately; he has flair, tell him he's got flair... he's got a feel for the Jews." (ellipses quoted in context). Borowi says one last thing, about how the Germans made peace with Israel after the war, and then sent police to say that the Poles murdered the Jews, when that was not true. The interview ends.

Event Date
July 1978
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
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Record last modified: 2018-03-07 13:22:44
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