Blatt and the phantom fires of Belzec
Toivi Blatt claims to have seen fires and smelled a stench (supposedly of burning and decmposing bodies) while travelling by train (under an assumed identity to evade the Nazis) past Belzec.
It was one in the morning, time to get ready for the train. Slowly, one after another, we departed. The date is etched in my memory: October 26, 1942.
It was a cold fall night. We crept from building to building until, reaching the vincinity of the train station, we hid behind the switchman's house and waited. Our guide passed out the tickets, purchased in advance.
I sat close to Wolf. Our turned-up collars hid our faces. We pretended to be asleep. But my mind raced. Will it work? Will somebody recognize us? Will our guide at least be honest? Or will he kill us someplace near the border, forcing us first to write a letter home that we were safely across, so he could cheat others? We had heard many such tales. Such fearful thoughts bore into my mind like a drill.
At the Zawada station, who should come into our darkened compartment but my former boss, Tadek Solecki! We were terrified. Suppose he recognize us? We hid our faces in our collars. We were lucky. He got off at the next stop.
Suddenly a kind of subdued anxiety spread among the passengers. They closed the windows; some lit cigarettes. What had happened? Why did the talk turn to whispers? I caught scraps of sentences. "They gas... fat for soap." Despite the closed windows, the odor of rotting flesh seeped through.
BELZEC! Of course! I grew numb with shock. We were passing near one of the rumored death factories! My heart pounding, I looked out the window. There were scarce woods, then, in the distance, I saw flames - now fading, now shooting higher into the sky. This was the destiny I was trying to escape. The smell receded as the train raced on, but I could still see the reflection of fire in the sky.
Note here that Blatt confirms that there were rumors spread about a "soap factory" at Belzec (cf Wiesenthal's 1946 articles on "soap factory Belzec") as well as the apparently wide-spread rumors (probably spread by Jewish-Bolshevik resistance in the gettos) of Nazis having their victims write fake postcards to calm their relatives and making them believe that they were taken to the occupied parts of the USSR - a rumor later integrated in the Operation Reinhardt narrative.
Blatt supposedly later passed by Belzec again on a train and saw the same sight (p.78 ):
As I had six months earlier, I now passed Belzec. Again the same horrible stench and flames. The Germans showed no interest. Could it be they were unaware of the death camps, coming from the front? I saw no unusual reactions, no understanding looks or conversations about it, but Krauze, who did understand, watched me intently.
My God, I thought, nothing has changed in these six months(2). Six months! How many days...hours? And over there they are burning people...Jews, people like ME! Will the fire never stop? Is there no help?...No I mustn't think about it.
The note (2) to the above passage reads (p.229):
(2) The Belzec camp stopped exterminating the Jews at the end of 1942, but the cremation of the bodies stored in huge graves continued for several months in 1943.
Thus Blatt claims to have seen fires and smelled the stench of decomposed bodies from a train passing by Belzec at two times:
- October 26 1942 circa 01:00
- six months later, that would mean in late march or early april. Blatt was interned at Sobibor on April 28 1943 (p.3). On April 18 the Izbica getto were Blatt and his parents hid themselves was searched through by the Germans (p.82-83) and some time passed between this event and the day when Blatt saw Belzec for the second time, which would have this second sighting somewhere in mid-to-late March 1943.
The problem with Blatt witnessing fires at Belzec in October 26 1942 and late March 1943 lies in that this contradicts the official version on when the cremations at Belzec took place.
Arad states in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka
The opening of the mass graves in Belzec and the cremation of the corpses removed from them began with the interruption of the arrival of transports and of the killing activities there in mid-December 1942. At that time there were about 600 000 corpses of murdered Jews in the pits of the camp.
Arad then quotes on the same and following page the testimony from a SS Scharfuhrer named Heinrich Gley who supposedly served in Belzec at the time of the alleged cremations. Gley stated that:
Then the unearthing and cremation of the bodies began. It lasted from November 1942 until March 1943. The cremation was conducted day and night, without interruption.
Arad then cites a "concluding report" from "an official Polish committee investigating German crimes in the Lublin area" which states that (p.173)
From December 1942 the arrival of transports with Jews to the Belzec camps [sic] came to a standstill. The Germans then started to erase systematically the trails of their crimes. They started to remove from the graves, with special cranes, the corpses of the murdered, pour over them some highly flammable material, and cremate them in large heaps [...] The burning of corpses was finished in March 1943.
On the same page, Arad gives his final verdict as to the date of the last cremations:
The cremation of all the murdered in Belzec was accomplished by the end of April 1943.
Arad gives no explanation to why he claims that the cremations finished in April, when the eye witness testimonies claims March.
Anyway, according to the established version of the Belzec legend, Toivi Blatt could not have seen fires or smelled decaying bodies at Belzec on October 26 1942, since the unearthing and cremation of bodies supposedly did not start until about 2 months later, in December 1942.
One may further remark on Blatt's description of the other train passengers during the second passing-by of Belzec:
I saw no unusual reactions, no understanding looks or conversations about it, but Krauze, who did understand, watched me intently.
Is this believable? Would noone react, not even to the stench of burning and decaying corpses? The likely explanation is that the real memories of Blatt, here, the memory of bored passengers on a train, does not fit very well with the "memory" that Blatt has likely convinced himself that he should have: that of fires raging towards the sky at the "death factory".