x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

So the dead speak

Like many holocaust memoirs, Treblinka has the icy strangeness of fable.

Treblinka

Chil Rajchman

Maclehose

Dh75

Like many holocaust memoirs, Treblinka has the icy strangeness of fable. A Polish Jew, Chil Rajchman was arrested in 1942 and sent to the titular death camp. He avoided the gas chamber by helping to process the endless succession of corpses and soon-to-corpses, working as a "barber", shearing the heads of doomed women, or as a "dentist", picking gold from the teeth of the dead. He describes how the Germans disguised the ashes of the cremated as soil, "erasing every trace of the murders". Each morning, the blood of the previous night's victims would bubble to the surface of the earth, "unable to rest".

This short account, written in hiding in 1945 and available for the first time in English, is filled with such hallucinatory moments. Then a prosaic horror returns us with a jolt to this world. "It is worth mentioning that during winter the extraction of teeth became much more difficult", Rajchman observes at one point; "the opening of their clenched mouths was fiendishly difficult for us." In his notes, at least, the tongues of the dead are loosened.