Oral History

Isadore Helfing describes labor in the Treblinka camp

Isadore was born to a Jewish family in Kielce, Poland. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Isadore and his family were forced into the Kielce ghetto, which was established in April 1941. When his parents were deported to the Treblinka killing center in 1942, Isadore went with them rather than remaining behind for forced labor. After arrival at the camp, Isadore hid in a pile of bodies. His parents were killed. Isadore survived by working in the camp. On August 2, 1943, prisoners at Treblinka revolted and Isadore escaped. He was first taken in by a farmer, and then stayed with a partisan group until Soviet forces liberated the area.


The way I survived is like this. In that camp there was a, a, a horse, and a, and a two-wheeler buggy, what picked up garbage, you know, and, and wor...picked the garbage and took it to the grave where the people were burning. And he backed it out and, and dumped the garbage in, for burning. There was no, uh, trash cans, uh, something to haul away, everything what went into the grave and to burn it. Nobody had, uh, cans there or anything. There was no such a thing what, uh, this is gonna burn, not gonna burn. So, what happened, when the guy pulled back the horse, told him, the horse, pushed him to go backwards, the horse got wild and backed it up, and went in right to the fire with the buggy. And then the, the, the German what was around to see what's going on, he shoot him. There was a stable, there was five horses. And they used the horses for, horseback riding, and two horses for going for, for, to bring this materials, you know, the food from the, from the other towns for the Germans. So they need another guy, and it happens to be I was in the barracks with a guy who worked in the stable, cleaned the horses, uh, uh, feed the horses. He says, he said, "You're gonna be good." And I substitute the other guy who got killed with the thing there. In account of that thing, I survived in Treblinka. I, from then on I had nothing to do with the people, with the, working by the dead people. I just used the horse. I learned how to clean horses, and feed them, and bring water. There was no krans [faucet], you know, uh, you had to go to the well and get the water. And this fellow happens to be, was a, a few years older. And that Ukraine, was an Ukrainian was in charge of the stable. When he got to the town, so he got for himself, uh, food, you know, all this, uh, salamis, and vodkas, and that. So I have, uh, as far as food is concerned, I was eating there, and it was, it was okay. And then he want me to drink some vodka. I didn't touch it, and the guy said, "Don't you touch it. I don't know if, you, if they came in and they see you a little, little drunk you be killed." Now I was listening to him, and that's why I survived.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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