I had been invited to be the guest speaker at a Holocaust Memorial
Day commemoration service sponsored by a local fraternal society.
The small hall was packed with people, mostly elderly, who had
come to remember and to grieve.
some preliminaries, I rose to speak. I had been involved at
that time in research on the heroic resistance in the Treblinka
death camp. As I spoke that evening, I noticed a mumbling from
the back of the hall every time I mentioned the heroic resistance
fighters of Treblinka. When I spoke of the bravery of the Warsaw
ghetto resistance combatants I heard the same mumbling from
the back of the hall. This interjected mumbling happened three
or four more times.
I ended, and the ceremonies were concluded, the chairman of
the evening came up to me and apologized for the mumbling. "You
have to understand," he said, "the man in the back
is a survivor of the uprising in Sobibor. He wasn't mumbling--he
was adding Sobibor to your mention of heroic acts of resistance
and revenge. That was his way of commemorating those who fought
with him and fell in battle."
became excited on hearing these words. The Sobibor camp was
not a labor camp, it was an extermination camp. Hundreds of
thousands of innocent victims were turned into smoke and ashes
there until the desperate inmates revolted and broke out. Very
few survived the revolt and fewer still managed to survive in
the hostile countryside. The number of eyewitnesses who could
tell the story of the Sobibor tragedy and heroism was very limited.
I asked the chairman to introduce me to the Sobibor survivor.
He brought me over to an ordinary-looking man at the back of
the hall, Mr. Kalmen Wewryk, and introduced me.
Wewryk, I soon learned, was anything but ordinary. This sincere
and simple man had witnessed the tragedy of his family, his
community and his people. He had also witnessed their grandeur,
when the helpless skeleton-like Jews, abandoned by the world
and doomed to death, rose in fury and wrote a chapter in the
book of Jewish heroism.
met Mr. Wewryk several days later and I urged him to transmit
his unique testimony to future generations. I didn't have to
urge him. He desperately wanted to tell his story before it
would be too late. Mr. Wewryk was obviously not in the best
of health; I felt somewhat hesitant about bringing him back
to his tear-laden past, to a suffering beyond words and to emotions
that strained human sanity and endurance.
sat together for over three years while he told me his story.
Many times his eyes filled with tears and he ran out of the
room. Many times I ran out of the room. I felt guilty at having
brought this humble, good man back into the hell from which
he had never really completely escaped. We pushed on, however,
and the following pages are his memorial to those who perished
and his legacy to future generations who must know.