Escaping Hell in Treblinka includes two remarkable documents written by two survivors of that hellish darkness while the authors were still in hiding, unsure if they would succeed in evading the Nazis. Israel Cymlich’s memoir provides a rare insight into the Treblinka I forced labor camp’s brutal daily life, as well as the regular contact and human traffic between the two Treblinka camps. Srul escaped in April 1943, just before he was due to be transferred to the Treblinka II extermination camp. Oskar Strawczynski’s memoir is one of the earliest written eyewitness accounts of the August 1943 uprising in Treblinka. He tells of Jewish camp officials’ cruel treatment of their fellow Jewish prisoners; the viciousness of the German staff; preparations for the uprising, and life after the mass escape from the camp. Both men owed their survival to their own daring and initiative as well as to the assistance they received from a variety of people, including Polish rescuers.
As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel has observed, “The Holocaust must never be studied exclusively from the perspective of the perpetrators. Each survivor’s story is unique, and adds to our understanding of the Holocaust and the understanding of future generations”. Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Survivors’ Memoirs Project, with the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations assistance, have embarked on a mission to publish Holocaust survivor memoirs in English. With a grant from Random House, this joint project hopes to publish several memoirs annually over the next few years. Our goal is to collect, preserve, and make available to interested readers the autobiographical accounts of Holocaust survivors.