Oral History

Historian Peter Black describes the impact of a statement made by a former camp guard

In the 1980s and 1990s, historian Peter Black worked for the US Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, as part of a team tracking and prosecuting suspected war criminals. Black later served as the Senior Historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


I guess the ideal for me personally would be to get to a point where each one of us has a sense that there are certain things that we are not going to do, that it is better to die than to do. And there was one statement, a Soviet protocol, a former Trawniki man, who made this statement and regardless of what we might say about Soviet protocols, this clearly wasn't, it was so unusual, that it clearly wasn't canned. The individual involved had been a Soviet soldier who was captured and was selected out of a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp where he probably would have starved had he not been selected for service at Trawniki. And he stated after having served as a Trawniki-trained guard, I can't remember where he served, he stated to his interrogator after the war, to his Soviet interrogator, that "it would have been better for me had I died in that prison camp." And if we are at a stage where there are things of that nature that we as human beings will not do to other human beings, even faced with death, dictatorships are going to have a hard time carrying out mass murders, and one element of that is at least having some potential of legal consequence for participation in that kind of crime.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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