Hersz Finkelsztajn, born in 1928 in Warsaw, was with his family in the Warsaw Ghetto, in 1941 they moved to Siedlce. He escaped from the train to Treblinka together with an unknown girl, they returned to Siedlce. He was again taken to Treblinka in December 1942. He worked sorting things, also carrying corpses. He hid in a wagon with the clothes of the murdered and escaped. Hiding in the countryside claiming to be Polish, he was deported to work in Germany. He stayed in a camp in Frankfurt on the Oder, then was sent to work in the village of Papenbruch.
“We were pushed into wagons, there was chaos, noise. 150 people were in one wagon. I lost my parents right away. Everyone rushed to the window. There was a huge cramp, we were stuffed like herrings. When everyone was packed into the wagons, they were sealed. So we stood until 3 o’clock in the afternoon, without food or drink. We didn’t have a bit of water in our mouths for 2 days. We were so weak that none of us had the strength to think about escaping, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon we left for Siedlce. A Ukrainian sat on each car and watched. We wanted to take out a board or pull something out, because we had knives and hammers. Then somebody shouted from above: “don’t tear or we’ll shoot”. From this we learned that there is a German guard above us. They were constantly shooting for fear. It didn’t bother us. We continued to work quietly and in the evening we had a hole cut under the window, because it was placed too high and the hole was close to the door so that you could grab the steps. Many people jumped, many were killed. Many of the living had broken arms and legs. The Jews who knew the area said that we were in Sokołów near the Treblinka camp and I jumped out of the wagon. I might not have jumped, but there was also a girl with me, she had Polish papers. She said we should jump together and that we would walk together. When we were passing through the forest, 3 km from Treblinka she jumped out first, followed by me. It was already dark. I went into the ditch and waited for the transport to pass. While people jumped from the train, the Ukrainians fired again and again. The bullets flew overhead and when the transport left, we walked along the rails and saw hundreds of people killed, wounded, shot, and here and there separate arms and legs. Because when a train was passing by and a dead Jew was lying on the rails. His body had not been cleared away, and the train ran over him and pieces of his body were flying all over the place.”
Hersh was sent to Treblinka for the second time in December 1942.
“We were pushed into a wagon, 150 people each, sealed and headed towards Treblinka. It was impossible to get out of the wagon. No window, no plank could be torn out because they were fastened with iron. we were going. We could see through the cracks that we had passed through the wire and that there was a guard there. Our hair stood on end. We understood that we were in Treblinka. The train began to move along the rails and enter Treblinka. Through the cracks we saw the barracks and heard at once; faster, faster, damned Jews, faster. The wagons were opened and 10 SS men stood by each wagon. They jumped into the wagons and began beating with rubber truncheons with lead heads. Everyone was hit, either in the face or in the back. An elderly Jew was standing next to me and an SS man hit him on the head. His head shattered into pieces, he died instantly. When I remember it now, I want to cry. When he came to me, I didn’t wait for him to hit me, I immediately jumped down on people, not waiting for anything. The screams and cries were very great, they began to shout: “Enter the barracks!” In the meantime, several people were selected to carry the dead out of the wagons. Six people were selected and I was the seventh. We put the dead in cement pits, 8 meters deep. When a layer of corpses was laid, boards were placed on top of them, then people again, and boards again. Then everything was set on fire and burned. During the burning, I was no longer there, I did not see it. When we arrived, we saw large piles of hair near the barracks, the hairdressers were stepping on the hair, and when we returned from work, the hairdressers collected the hair in bags and took it to the warehouses. After burying the dead, we returned to the barracks. There was a roll call and we were counted. We were 360 workers. We slept on bare mattresses. A German guarded us at night. We weren’t allowed to go out, and if he wanted to, he would shoot people. There was another call this morning. An SS man burst in and we had to leave the barrack immediately. We could barely run out with one shoe on our foot. After the roll call, we had to carry the dead out of the barracks. 20-30 people could die overnight. It lasted until 12 noon. We received dinner in the form of a small amount of water with pearl barley, without potatoes, in the morning and evening a little coffee with a piece of bread. There was very little bread because the kapo was stealing. With such meager food and work, one could survive a month. But working and eating like that was very hard to endure. On the third day there was an assembly again, we carried out the dead and 150 of the 360 people remained. We were taken to work. From these 150 some were selected for a new job, sorting the things of the murdered. I was among the 10 who worked on sorting. The few Jews with whom I worked together lived well among themselves and, as each could, helped the other to save himself. I had no appetite at all and gave them my food. Things started to be loaded and shipped. We used cars to take things to wagons and load them. The car would pull up close to the wagon’s door and we would put things in it. The Germans stood by it and watched over the loading. I asked the Jews that when they were dropping things, let them also load me with things into the wagon. And that’s how it happened. We drove the car to the wagon and during loading I jumped into the wagon and the Germans didn’t notice it. I was lying together with the rags and I lay down in the wagon right away so that they wouldn’t notice me. But I was covered with rags that I couldn’t catch my breath. When the wagon was full, a German entered it to check whether anyone was hiding in it. He had a long stick with an iron point on it, and with that stick he would poke things and look for people that way. I was not noticed. The wagons were sealed and we left the camp. At the first station 15 km. from Treblinka, I jumped off the train for the second time.”
Based on: Written testimonies collected in the Archive of Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw; testimony number and the relationship of the witness and the deceased (if known) are provided. Archive, testimony no 301/4506