Book Review: The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman

Author: Chil Rajchman
Series: None
Age Category:
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publish Date: February 15, 2011
Print Length: 160

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Official Synopsis

Why do some live while so many others perish? Tiny children, old men, beautiful girls. In the gas chambers of Treblinka, all are equal. The Nazis kept the fires of Treblinka burning night and day, a central cog in the wheel of the Final Solution. There was no pretense of work here like in Auschwitz or Birkenau. Only a train platform and a road covered with sand. A road that led only to death.

But not for Chil Rajchman, a young man who survived working as a “barber” and “dentist,” heartsick with witnessing atrocity after atrocity. Yet he managed to survive so that somehow he could tell the world what he had seen. How he found the dress of his little sister abandoned in the woods. How he was forced to extract gold teeth from the corpses. How every night he had to cover the body-pits with sand. How ever morning the blood of thousands still rose to the surface.

Many have courageously told their stories, and in the tradition of Elie Wiesel’s Night and Primo Levi’s Survival at Auschwitz and The Drowned and the Saved, Rajchman provides the only survivors’ record of Treblinka. Originally written in Yiddish in 1945 without hope or agenda other than to bear witness, Rajchman’s tale shows that sometimes the bravest and most painful act of all is to remember.

My Review

So, this is going to be a different kind of book review in that it won’t be a review. Given that this is a Holocaust survivor’s account from the Treblinka death camp, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to review this work. Rather, I feel the preface by Samuel Moyn accurately describes THE LAST JEW OF TREBLINKA as,

“…a bleak and discomfiting testament, not a redemptive one. Even the Treblinka revolt, often treated as an uncomplicated triump of the human spirit, is narrated by this participant in tones that are far from straightforwardly heroic. Rajchman bore witness, but did not offer lessons: the memoir’s insights seem to be for a posterity that does not know where they should lead.”

Though I don’t present a review, I still want to share this memoir to bring awareness to it. Never should we forget that the Holocaust happened. And never should we let these lesser known death camps (which were often covered up in a “no trace” fashion, if you will) fade into oblivion.

I thought it important to share because Treblinka is not a Nazi death camp about which I’d previously heard. In high school I remember learning about the most well known concentration camps (e.g., Auschwitz). And perhaps I did learn about the camps whose sole purpose was for genocide rather than enslaved labor and, later, genocide. (But it’s been 18 years since those history and english units in high school, and my memory is a bit rusty on the syllabus specifics.)

I’m not the best with expressing myself on these deeply feeling events. I guess what I’m trying to say is the accounts of survivors from the lesser known concentration and death camps are equally important as those that are more well known. THE LAST JEW OF TREBLINKA obviously isn’t light reading. But I hope by sharing about this memoir that it keeps our collective memory alive of what these people went through, what nobody should ever have to experience.

Rating: No rating
Content warnings: genocide, blood, murder, torture
Reading format: Library hardback

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