Holocaust history

Holocaust history


Holocaust history

Lavallee Wlasichuk 2
1. Kalmen Wewryk is one of the very few men who not only witnessed and survived the daily hell
of Sobibor, but was also part of the largest escape and revolt in the camp’s history. In his
memoir To Sobibor and Back: an Eyewitness Account, Wewryk describes the countless
struggles he went through as a Polish Jewish man to survive the Holocaust without the help of
any family members, papers, possessions or contacts1
. His Yiddish memoir captures the sorrow
and distress that submerged the everyday Jewish life in his hometown Chelm under Nazi
occupation. Though the Jews complied through wool, gold and fur decrees, they quickly
realized that money would not save them from the Fuehrer’s plan2

. ″We were doomed anyway.
Whether we would die of hunger, or other causes, was immaterial- we would all die anyway.″3
Wewryk explains that although he lived to tell the tale, nothing would ever be the same.
Wewryk experienced dehumanization by the Germans in the early stages of the war, through
physical abuse, forced labor and psychological torments. Certain episodes as the hat incident4
or when
Kalmen and his Jewish comrades had to stand in line for hours waiting to be shot proved that, not only
could a Jewish man never be right, but also that the Nazis enjoyed playing horrific mind games5
Working in neighboring towns and travelling at night to bring back food to his family, Wewryk
showed courage from the start, for every action he took was putting his life at risk. Describing his
nighttime routes, he recalled ″I came and went at night because unfriendly eyes were everywhere ″6
He admits to moments of weakness such as falling in pits and crying for hours, illustrating that, as they

1 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 36, Chapter 3
2 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Pages 8-9, Chapter 1
3 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 13, Chapter 1
4 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 15, Chapter 1
5 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 15, Chapter 1
6 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 7, Chapter 1
Lavallee Wlasichuk 3
lived in a heightened state of fear7
, they could never quite willingly believe how cruel life was
In the ghettos, Ukrainian collaborators went on destructive raping and killing sprees. Kalmen’s
wife and children were taken away and killed8
. Kalmen had a particular bitterness towards Ukrainians
for his old family friend betrayed him. Even when they helped him, Wewryk never felt quite safe
around them and feared to fall asleep for they would squeal on him. But when he did sleep, he dreamt
of revenge, sweet vengeance which he experienced when finally joining the partisans9
Once in Sobibor, he used his carpentry skills to get jobs that would drag him away from the gas
chamber every day. His friendship with a Wehrmacht soldier also ensured his protection and
information gathering throughout Sobibor. His personableness attracted the sympathy of Russian
POWs that lead him to escape10
Hiding in ditches, bunkers and barns, Wewryk experienced starvation, disease and lice11. He
developed survival skills such as hiding food in the sandy ground of the camp and rubbing his feet to
avoid hypothermia12. Several encounters in villages where he begged for food and in the forest, made
him realize how much war changes people. The instance of the two Jewish children who decided not to
trust him the second time around was one of these many eye-opening confrontations: ″This is what the
war did to ordinary people- turned them into egotistical and suspicious animals″13

7 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 27, Chapter 1
8 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 18, Chapter 1
9Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 26, Chapter 3.
10 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 17, Chapter 2
11 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 2, Chapter 3
12 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 27, Chapter 3
13 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 19, Chapter 3
Lavallee Wlasichuk 4
The hope of revenge sustained him and led him to the partisans. Nevertheless, it is humbling to
realize how all of this hard work and tenacity was accomplished with a shattered heart. Moments in
which Wewryk describes hugging his family pictures14 or reluctantly selling his wedding ring that he
clung to in the camp at risk of death, capture the emotional distress that Nazism inflicted on an entire
population. As he hugs his step-brothers after the war, Kalmen describes it perfectly: ″They too had
lost their wives and children. We cried together. Our world had died.15″ He remembers one evening
where he asked advice to his wife and, as she cried quietly, he realized that in wartime, there is nobody
to turn to for advice16
. As he was called the ″Sobiboru″
17, Wewryk was reminded how his survival was
an example of determination, courage, and patience bordering on insanity. ″Hunger and solitude can
push a man very hard″ 18
Wewryk’s memoir has no happy ending. ″As I get older, I see even more clearly the lines of
beautiful children waiting to be gassed; (…) and I see my little boy Yossele playing at the entrance of
our Chelm home. I am called a ″survivor″, but did I really survive? I doubt it.″19

14 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 24, Chapter 3
15 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 36, Chapter 3
16 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 10, Chapter 1
17 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 20, Chapter 3
18 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 15, Chapter 3
19 Wewryk, Kalmen, 1999. Page 39, Chapter 3
Lavallee Wlasichuk 5
An event of global proportion, the systematic killing of millions of European Jews brought the labeling
of crimes against humanity to the public’s attention. As many Nazi criminals were put on trial after the
war, a new type of author was born: the Holocaust denier. One in particular, David Irving, is known for
falsifying and manipulating of historical facts and the glorifying of Adolf Hitler through countless
books and articles. In Richard Evan’s book Lying about Hitler, the author describes his job as a
researcher verifying Irving’s assertions. Evans spent months going through original texts, phone
transcripts and speeches to uncover evidence that Hitler was indeed fully aware of the carrying out of
the Final Solution plan. He thus exposed Irving’s lies on the Fuehrer’s alleged ignorance of atrocities
committed on the Jewish population.
Evans combed through original German documents and discovered shoddy translations,
falsified diary entries and misrepresented quotes created by Irving to shed a different light on Hitler’s
actions. In fact, while writing a book on Goebbels, Irving made it seem as if Hitler had never planned
anything against the Jews. However, as Evans examined primary sources, he unraveled a few
purposely clumsy translations proving the contrary. He did so by studying the translations from
German transcripts and noticing how phrases were cut and altered in the English version. Thus, such
alterations changed the structure and meaning itself of the former text, making both versions very
. Evans proved how Hitler truly thought that Jews should be dehumanized and eliminated: ″I
discovered the Jews as the bacillus and the fermenting agent of all social decomposition″21. In fact, the

20 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p. 75
21 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 78
Lavallee Wlasichuk 6
Fuehrer expressed a disdain and animosity towards the Jews of Europe well before wartime, stating
that he ″had to remain inactive for a long time against the Jews too″22
Furthermore, Evan’s meticulous study of Himmler’s private phone conversations also showed
that Irving had misrepresented the date on the phone records to make it appear that Hitler was
discussing a delay on the Jewish question and the liquidation of Jews. What was really being
considered during the conversation held on November 30th 1941 between Hitler and Himmler was one
particular transport of Jews to Berlin23
Fully developed and targeted research such as Evan’s helps readers and students understand
that, although printed words seem to have evidentiary weight, they may not be accurate and might be
biased for political or personal reasons. At first glance, the argument may seem coherent, but it is
riddled with mistakes, false attributions, or quotes taken out of context. As the appearance is credible,
it leads to fallacy, in which case the reader is mislead.
Evan’s work with the paralegal team teaches a lesson to educated readers that there is a way to
verify and clear such doubts. Indeed, there are various techniques available to counteract work such as
Irving’s. It is essential to always go to the original source as Evans did for the Weidenfeld German
translation and seriously check footnotes to verify authors’ names and credibility24. In one case, Irving
concealed that an important source, Ingrid Weckert, was in fact a Nazi sympathizer25

22 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 75
23 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 79
24 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 49
25 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 67
Lavallee Wlasichuk 7
Furthermore, when statistics play in the author’s favor too neatly, it is constructive to start a
secondary search of the sources. Evans shows how Irving had falsified 1932 crimes statistics involving
Jews to demonstrate what he thought was justification for the Jewish persecution26
. It is also useful to
conduct a background research on the people interviewed for testimonies in a biography, as Irving used
many people in Hitler’s entourage as main sources, in which case the inquiry becomes biased27. Irving
indeed almost always chose people in favor of the Nazi party and the Fuhrer decisions over neutral
sources ″ He made a point of almost never citing the work of other historians″ 28
Thus, books written on Holocaust deniers such as Evan’s work demonstrate that Hitler was
certainly aware of the Holocaust and warns readers to beware of falsifying techniques that lead to the
wrong lessons being drawn from this dark period of history. ″It vindicated our capacity to know what
happened after the survivors are no longer around to tell the tale″29

26 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 52
27 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 67
28 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 65
29 Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008, p 266
Lavallee Wlasichuk 8
Evans, Richard. Lying About Hitler. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
Wewryk, Kalmen. Memoirs of Holocaust survivors in Canada: To Sobibor and back: an eyewitness
account. Montreal: Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies and the Montreal
Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, 1999.


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