Advanced Search

Learn About The Holocaust

Special Collections

My Saved Research




Skip to main content

Short interviews near Treblinka

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5077 | Film ID: 3369, 3811, 3812, 3813, 3814, 3815, 3816, 3817, 3819

RG-60.5077 Short interviews with Polish people living around the Treblinka camp in Iladou, Poniatowo, and Wolka Okraglik, Poland. Lanzmann talks with Polish men and women who describe having lived and worked in the fields in the shadow of Treblinka during its operation. They describe being forbidden to look that direction, the Ukrainians who worked in the camp, the scene at the train station when transports arrived, and the effects of the weather on the Jews. Lanzmann visits the quay where trains stopped at the entrance of the camp. A Polish man describes routinely finding the corpses of Jews in his field who had tried to escape; he would return the bodies to the camp to be incinerated. Lanzmann talks with a group of children in an attempt to discern current attitudes toward Jews.

FILM ID 3369 -- Camera Rolls # TR85-87 -- 07:59:39 to 08:27:38
[There is no corresponding transcript. This reel was preserved with the Gawkowski interview.] Lanzmann drives through a town near Treblinka. Windshield wipers; Lanzmann comments on the beautiful scenery. They approach a farm house where children play. 08:03:52 Lanzmann talks with an older gentleman, First Farmer, who initially resists being interviewed. The man had seen trains 80 cars long coming into the town. A woman off-camera repeats several times in Polish that, "It's not allowed to talk about it" and "You couldn't go in there."

08:05:42 TR 86 Conversation is distant with the loud noise of geese. A farmer witnessed two young boys who had escaped being beaten and killed by German officers. 08:07:07 Everyone 'trembled with fear' in that era, particularly because Germans posted a warning on the door of every house stating that those who helped Jews would be killed. 08:08:00 Lanzmann asks the woman, who had been standing silently whether she had been in Treblinka at that time, and she replies that she was very young. 08:08:15 While a man worked in the fields his sister stayed at home and a young Jewish girl took the sister because she thought if she was seen with a Pole from the town, she could trick the Ukrainians. The sister started to scream, neighbors came over, and the Jewish girl ran away. 08:09:21 The smell was so bad that when the wind blew from the direction of the camp, it was impossible to work. No one knew what was going on there. Second Farmer shouts out that they were burning people, and another woman says they were killing people. Comments are not translated into French because they are talking over each other. 08:10:26 Lanzmann presses whether they really knew what was happening in the camp, and the woman says it would take an entire day to discuss everything that happened. 08:10:39 First Farmer worked in a field about 100 meters from the camp and saw how they strangled the Jews, how they cried. They were not allowed to stop and look because if the Ukrainians saw them, they would be shot. 08:10:30 The man tells the story of a woman from Poniatowo who went to sell potatoes from her field to the people of another town. A Ukrainian on the observation tower saw her looking and shot and killed her. They cast glances at the camp but mostly worked with their heads down. 08:11:30 Foreign Jews arrived on a passenger train with a restaurant car, and they had been told they were going to work in a factory. They were rich Jews, whereas 'our Jews' (i.e. Polish Jews) arrived in cattle cars. The Poles would show the Jews the hand motion of being strangled, signaling that death was waiting for them. 08:13:55 When Germans guarded the transport, sometimes they would tell the Jews to get off the train and drink some water. Second Farmer and others told them to run away because they were on their way to death. It was forbidden to talk to the Jews. 08:14:36 The train would stay long enough to push 20 train cars to the camp. In the beginning, they killed them running. [Picture cuts out at several points.]

08:15:27 TR 87 Second Farmer lets Lanzmann visit his field where he still grows wheat and potatoes. Lanzmann asks whether he finds remnants of the camp when he is working and he says no. Others have found skulls on the surface of the grass. 08:17:37 People have found gloves, rings, earrings, and even 20-dollar gold coins. 08:18:47 When the last Ukrainian left, they flattened the camp and planted flowers. 08:19:05 The Poles talked to the Ukrainians because they got drunk at night and would look for locals, demanding to be driven back to the camp. The Ukrainians trafficked vodka. Some were cunning and some would escape. 08:20:10 Second Farmer says, "It's only Hitler who can know." First Farmer adds, "Who could have expected this? No one." Once, the Jews set fire to the camp, and everyone ran away to Poniatowo. Lanzmann clarifies the date: August 2, 1943. 08:21:26 The Poles worked in the fields that day, and the Ukrainians had gone to swim in the Bug. They rushed back and stopped First Farmer on the road and asked whether he had seen the Jews running. He said yes, they were running to the forest with grenades and guns. 08:23:20 Lanzmann asks the farmers why they think this happened to the Jews. Second Farmers replies that "the Jews have good heads," and that's why they were able to organize this revolt. Those who hid in the forest survived, but others were captured. 08:24:38 They talk about living normally with Jews before the war, and the two Jewish families in Poniatowo. Stores belonged to Jews and he bought his food from them. People used to say when there were no Jews, there would be no commerce, but there is still commerce now.

FILM ID 3811 -- Camera Roll # TR88 – Interview Paysans gare (chutes) (Iladou)
When the transports arrived, it was very hot and the Jews were very thirsty. When they tried to exit the train, the Ukrainians would shoot them. The Ukrainians instructed the Jews inside the trains to give them their gold and sometimes the Ukrainians would hit them with their guns. There were up to 150 people in one car, and there were always some dead in the train car when they arrived. They were so cramped that those who were alive would sit on the corpses. It was so hot in June and July. Sometimes, he would give water to the Jews. They would try to escape the train by jumping through the windows. Sometimes they would intentionally jump out the window and sit on the ground, because they knew they would be shot in the head. When there were no more train cars, they would come to get the corpses with two or three cars. They would put all the corpses in those cars and take them inside the camp.

00:04:28 Lanzmann asks whether it bothered the Germans and Ukrainians to be doing all this in front of the local residents. The man says that they did not care. When a train was in the station, they could not cross the tracks but they were allowed to walk the length of the platform. 00:05:15 He wonders how man could do these things to another human being. He remembers an instance when a woman in a transport asked for water and a Ukrainian said no, and she threw the pot she was carrying on her head. He stepped back 10 meters, and began shooting at the car at random. He says that winter was worse because of the cold, but then says that maybe the Jews weren't cold on the trains because they were so cramped, and that in summer it was so hot that they suffocated. 00:07:26 Lanzmann and the gentleman walk toward his field.

FILM ID 3812 -- Camera Rolls #TR 89-97 -- Paysan dans son champ (doubles) (Iladou)
TR 89 Lanzmann talks inaudibly, they struggle to light cigarettes, the gentleman points out his field.

TR 90 They stand in his field and discuss its proximity to what were the gates of the Treblinka camp, about 200 meters away. The stones that mark the location of the crematoria are also visible. His field is on a small hill, and he was able to see the convoys arriving. There was a wooden fence made of tree branches, about 3 meters high, but from his hill he could see over the fence. Lanzmann does the majority of the talking, and is incredulous as to the proximity of the man's field to the camp itself.

TR 91 Lanzmann comments on the proximity of some of the fields to the camp, and that farmers were allowed to work their fields. The gas chambers were just on the other side of the fence. He was scared to work, but nothing ever happened to him while he was there. They discuss the poor quality of the dirt for planting. TR 92 Silent walk through the fields. TR 93.

TR 94 They walk from his field toward the camp. Lanzmann asks whether residents of the villages on the other side of the camp also had fields adjacent to the camp, and the man says yes. They arrive at the platform where the train would offload Jews-- the platform could exactly accommodate 20 train cars.

TR 95 The man heard screams from his field. The Jews would scream when the doors of the train cars finally opened, and they saw where they were. He describes the cries as a "lamentation." To him, it sounded like "one great common scream," instead of many voices. After a while, the screams sounded less human and more like the cries of geese. He was scared for his life, and thought he might be the next to be submitted to the fate of the Jews inside the camp.

TR 96 The man would rather not have worked in this field, but his father asked him to because the family had few fields. Most of the people from the area near Treblinka are poor. 00:01:03 They stand on the platform where Jews disembarked from the trains. The man distinguished the screams from an orchestra that was playing. The man could see the people disembarking because there were no trees.

TR 97 The man describes the moments after the Jews descended from the trains. Clothing went to one side, kitchen wares and tools to the other, and then they were pushed further into the camp itself. The gas chambers were on the left.

FILM ID 3813 -- TR 97A-100 -- White 8- Le Camp
Driving along a dirt road towards the memorial stones at Treblinka with Beethoven’s 7th symphony (the death march) playing. TR 99 Different views of the same, INT car.

FILM ID 3814 -- TR 100A-100B -- White 8bis- Les Pierres
Silent shots of stones at Treblinka memorial.

FILM ID 3815 -- TR 100C-102 -- White 9- Eglise de Prostyn. Poniatovo: oratoire
Silent shots of the church in Poniatowo, street and farming scenes. An elderly woman walks towards the camera with a flower bouquet. 08:55 TR 102 The woman who has lived in Poniatowo her whole life lays flowers on the altar of the Virgin Mary. Lanzmann asks what she is praying for, and she replies that she does not know. He asks her about the war, and she says, "How could I have known what was happening [inside the camp]?". She admits knowing bad things were happening, but that she was not allowed near the camp and never approached. Lanzmann presses her for more memories from that time, and she walks away.

FILM ID 3816 -- TR 103A-104 -- White 9bis- Int. Poniatowo
TR 103 Lanzmann meets an 84-year-old man in the village of Poniatowo, who remembers both wars. He says he remembers everything, and that Poniatowo is the closest village to the Treblinka camp. The man says he knew that Jews were being exterminated in the camp. "How could I not know?" he says. He explains that Ukrainians also killed a few people in this village, for the smallest thing. At the Treblinka station, three or four trucks came every day to pick up the corpses of Jews who had tried to escape and been shot. He remembers the smell of death coming from the camp when the wind blew from that direction, and of hearing children crying at night. He explains that many people arrived every day: Polish Jews in cattle cars, and Jews of other nationalities on passenger trains. The Jews, he says, thought they were going to work, and when local people warned them (with the hand motion of cutting one's throat), the Jews laughed. In the camp, he says, there were only about 20 Germans and many more Ukrainians. The Ukrainians would come into the town with a lot of gold and buy vodka and meat. They would visit prostitutes in the woods, too. He remembers seeing Jews running from the camp during the revolt.

11:23 TR 104 Lanzmann asks whether the man remembers the revolt of August 1943. He does, though they did not pass through the village in their flight. He did see the corpses of those who were killed while fleeing. He helped Jews when he could, mostly by giving them direction and telling them what areas were safe, but he was very scared to do so. Lanzmann interjects that he knows a Jew who escaped from Treblinka, who hid for 15 hours in a swamp near Prostyn. Lanzmann asks the man whether he is saddened that there are no more Jews in Poland. He replies that no, he does not wish there were still Jews in Poland because he prefers to live amongst Poles. Additional shots of the group of locals with background conversation in Polish.

FILM ID 3817 -- TR 105-110 -- White 10- Wolka Okraglik
Cows and main road in village of Wolka Okraglik. 02:04 TR 106 Lanzmann meets a 45-year-old man from Wolka Okraglik, a village further away from the camp, and decides not to interview him. TR 107. Lanzmann and his interpreter peer into a local home.

04:46 (probably TR 110 – slate is concealed) Lanzmann asks whether there were women from Warsaw who came to the village during the war, and his interviewee replies that he never saw one, but that it's possible they were in the woods. A plane came twice a week to deliver goods to the Ukrainians working at the camp. Even the Ukrainians didn't have gold, though, he explains. "Gold was worth killing for." There was no way to alert the Jews as to what was going on in Treblinka because they moved the train cars quickly to the camp, and villagers were not allowed to approach them. Doing so was risking death, because, "the Ukrainians shot at people as though they were rabbits." Jews would run to try to escape, even naked. Every morning when he would come to his field, he would find the corpses of Jews laying in it, "like stalks of cut wheat." He would put the bodies in a wagon and wheel it to the entrance of the camp, where Ukrainian workers would burn them with the other corpses. This was common for fields around Treblinka, because many people tried to escape and were machine gunned down. Every night there would be escaped Jews in the village, even naked, who asked for help. They wanted to run as far away as possible. It was impossible to help them, because Ukrainians were in the village, except to give them clothes. His brother gave clothes to an escaped Jew. Very few who escaped survived. Lanzmann asks whether the residents of the village are very religious, and the man replies that they are. Lanzmann asks whether there were Jews in the village before the war, and the interviewee says no, but that some lived in another village six kilometers away. He saw the Jews from Kosow Lacki walk on foot toward the camp. When Lanzmann asks whether the gentleman is sad that there are no more Jews in Poland, he replies that it is not his business and that it doesn't matter to him.

14:39 TR 109 Lanzmann and his interpreter enter private gates and meet a farmer who worked in the construction of the Treblinka camp. Once Jews began to arrive he was no longer allowed inside. He describes hearing the cries coming from the camp, as well as the orchestra which was there to "drown out the cries of the Jews." The man remembers watching the convoys of Jews from Warsaw arrive at Treblinka. Six transports arrived per day, and each had 60 train cars. Only 20 cars could be shunted to the camp to be unloaded at a time, so they divided each train into three parts. He worked in a field very close to the barbed fence, so he could hear the terrible cries. In fact, the camp was built partly on his fields. He could not go inside, but could hear everything. In the beginning, he couldn't handle the sounds, but eventually he became accustomed to it. Now it seems impossible that it happened, though he knows it did. Lanzmann asks him about the smell emanating from the camp. He explains that initially the odor was terrible because the bodies were buried in mass graves, and the smell became too much so they dug up the graves and burned the bodies, spraying them with gas. He explains that there were not many Germans working, about 120 Ukrainians, and about 1000 Jews working in the camp. The Ukrainians worked eight hours per day and were allowed to leave the camp after hours, so they would come to the village.

FILM ID 3819 -- TR 31-32 – Interview Enfants Gare
Lanzmann interviews a group of children and asks what they think of the history of their town. They don't believe all of the stories their parents tell, because they weren't there. One child comments that she knows what a Jew is, though she couldn't define it. A boy says that a Jew is "a guy who has a beard." 00:03:36 The children laugh and joke; the brother of one found a gold tooth in the forest, and they have found bones and rings as well, on the land where the camp used to be. Lanzmann presses them-- if they have found human bones, must the stories told by their parents be true? One says yes, they must be, and another says he does not believe because his family is Ukrainian. 00:07:34 The children say that Jews came to the camp for a meeting, and they saw them. A boy adds that the Jew he saw had a curved nose. When Lanzmann asks, the children say they don't have sympathy for the Jews because they are dark and have beards. 00:08:35 Lanzmann asks the group of children whether they attend church and whether they believe; the children say that they do, and ask Lanzmann whether he does. When he says that he does not, they yell that he is a capitalist and a Jew. Jews are capitalists, they say. The children admonish Lanzmann for not believing in God and when he asks whether it is worse to kill or to not be a Christian, they say that both are sins and both are bad. Lanzmann asks what they have learned about Jews in church, and they refuse to tell him.

Event Date
July 1978 or 1981?
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Expand all
Record last modified: 2018-09-25 11:51:33
This page: