The testimony of Pavel Leleko (part 1, part 2) is not much used by holocaust historians, and for good reason. Nevertheless, a certain notorious controversial blogger has used it as a base from which to elaborate an entirely new conception of the Treblinka cremation facilities. In view of this fact it is worth noting some of the anomalies in Leleko’s statements, leaving cremation aside. It goes without saying that this list is far from complete.
I have quoted from nizkor’s text, without fixing the obvious errors. Unfortunately, an original of this statement is not readily available, and I have never seen an archival reference.
The construction of the new gas chambers: According to Treblinka historiography as established by the courts and by orthodox historians, construction of the new gas chambers was begun in the end of August or beginning of September 1942, and the chambers came into operation some time in October. Leleko said that he was in Treblinka from September 1942 to September 1943. But he also states that
Some 20 meters from the above mentioned gas chamber building stood the building of the old gas chambers, which contained only three gas chambers. This building functioned until 1943. But as it was unable to handle the enormous number of people brought by the Germans to the “death camp”, the new, large gas chamber building that I have described above was built. After it came into use, the old one was no longer utilized.
Leleko should have noted that the new gas chambers were already under construction when he arrived at the camp in September 1942, but instead he claimed that they were built in 1943.
The layout of the new gas chambers and the gassing engines: Leleko describes the new gas chambers as having ten rooms, two of which contained the gassing engines.
Eight chambers out of the ten existing in the gas chamber building were used to poison people. In the two remaining ones, there were two powerful German engines, about 1.5 meters high – two engines in all. Each engine fed gas to four gas chambers.
In case there was any confusion, Leleko repeats that there were two engines:
When loading of the chambers was completed, they were sealed off by hermetically closing doors. Motorists MARCHENKO and Nikolay started the motors.
In contrast, the standard Wiernik/Rajchman version had 10 chambers, all of which were used for gassing people, while the single engine was in a separate room not counted among the ten chambers.
Leleko’s engines (diesels – another contradiction for the new story of Treblinka-with-a-gasoline-engine) were giant 1.5 meter high German engines. For comparison, the engines of German heavy tanks were around 1 meter tall, while the Soviet M-17 gasoline engine that went into some of their heavy tanks was 1.1 meter tall. In contrast, Shalayev (the key witness of the end run towards a gasoline engine) speaks of an ordinary four cylinder engine. Such an engine would have been considerably smaller than these heavy tank engines, and could never have been confused with a giant 1.5 meter tall engine, never mind two such engines.
The station: Leleko’s statement claims that
One of the barracks had been given the appearance of a railroad station. A wooder facsimile of a clock had been nailed above it.
Leleko describes this as being the case from his arrival onward, but according to the standard version this was the result of construction that took place at the end of 1942, after the completion of the new gas chambers and quite some time after Leleko’s arrival. This might not be worth mentioning, if not for the fact that Martin Gray’s account of Treblinka has been declared fraudulent precisely because Gray describes seeing the “station” on his arrival, when it was supposedly not built until after that. If such an error in a book written decades after the fact can disqualify it, then it should be all the more damaging to Leleko’s 1945 statement, as the events should have been fresh in Leleko’s mind.
The identity of the camp commandant: Leleko states that
Each group of women or men was pushed from behind by some German and very frequently by Franz, the camp commander himself, escorted by dogs. As they approached the gas chambers, the people started to recoil in horror, sometimes they tried to retrace their steps. Then whips and clubs were used. Franz immediately ordered his dog to attack the naken people. Each trained for this, it grabbed them by their genitals.
Franz is evidently Kurt Franz, not Franz Stangl, as the latter was never associated with dog attacks on the genitals, while the former always was (with his dog Barry). So it seems that Leleko did not even know who the commandant of Treblinka was, despite working there for an entire year. This hardly seems likely, given how small the Treblinka staff was. However, it does fit well with other Soviet sources, such as Vasily Grossman’s Treblinka Hell. Grossman is unaware of Stangl, but does know of “Captain Franz”, whom he associates with the usual stories of dog attacks on the genitals.
They threw children on the heads: The theme of throwing children on the heads of those in the gas chambers is a common trope in holocaust stories. It occurs not only in a number of Reinhardt stories but also in a number of Auschwitz stories. Anyone who thinks about how this would work (how tall was the door? how much room was there above the heads of the people? could babies really be thrown into the available space? what would the people in the chamber do when a couple of guards started throwing babies on their heads? etc.) will easily see that the story is impossible. Michael Tregenza has stated in the context of Belzec that telling this story makes a witness unreliable, as it “is improbable considering the height of the ceiling in the chambers.” (The heights of the ceilings in the new chambers at Belzec and Treblinka are supposed to have been the same – although the real issue is the height of the door.)
Leleko tells this story as well; he writes:
When the chambers were filled to the very limit, the Germans started to throw in the children left by the women either in the undressing place or more frequently outside the gas chamber building. As the ceiling of the gas chambers was very low, the children thrown into the chamber hit the ceiling and then, disfigured, sometimes with broken heads, fell on the heads of the prisoners.
The magical peephole: Leleko claims that the insides of the gas chambers were mysteriously invisible to him, but visible to the motorists. He writes:
the motorists looked into the chambers through special observation portholes situated near each door, in order to determine how the process of extermination was going on. When asked what they saw, the motorists answered that the people were writhing, crushing each other. I also tried to look through the porthole, but for some reason could see nothing.
The dentist: Leleko describes a single dentist pulling teeth. Given that thousands of Jews were supposedly gassed at once, one dentist would have been completely inadequate, and would have created a huge bottleneck in the process.
An especially assigned man with pincers stood right there and opened the dead mouths. If he found any gold teeth he yanked them out with his pincers.
The revival of the victims: Leleko claims that the Jews were often not killed in the gas chambers, and that pregnant women in particular tended to revive once brought out into the fresh air.
The bodies were carried on stretchers to the special furnace about which I have testified earlier. On the way there, under the effect of the fresh air, some of the killed, especially pregnant women, began to revive, to groan.
This contradicts other testimonies, and seems extremely implausible, in particular the bit about pregnant women.
The number of victims: Leleko gives wildly excessive numbers. Just as importantly, his account describes a constant rate of arrivals, while in reality the rate slowed dramatically in 1943. He writes:
During my stay in the “death camp”, i.e. during the period from September 1942 to September 1943, no less than two million were exterminated there. Every day, with rare interruptions, two-three trainloads arrived to the camp, each one bringing in some 3,500-4,000 doomed prisoners. On the average six to eight thousand were exterminated daily.
Anyone who had been at Treblinka would know that the rate of transports in 1943 was very slow, nothing like what is described in Leleko’s statement.