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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.

After 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.

When 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."

I 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.

Mr. 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.

I 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.

We 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.

Howard Roiter



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