Will of Last Survivors of Chelmno, Long Held by Soviets, Made Public

A will written by the last 47 Jews to survive the Chelmno death camp, describing their story and calling for revenge for the deaths of the 350,000 Jews there, was made public for the first time last week.

“To the attention of the happy man who finds this notebook,” the document begins. “Please read the contents carefully and pass it on to everyone, and also to the members of our families still alive, those who were far away from this horrible tragedy.”

The rare original document, which until now had not been seen in the West, became available by agreement between the Soviet State Archives and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Authority in Jerusalem.

Its existence has been known since the end of World War II, when Ilya Ehrenburg documented Nazi war crimes in “The Black Book.” But the Soviet authorities banned publication of the book and only one copy was smuggled out of the USSR.

It is not a will in the legal sense, but a description of the fate of the Chelmno inmates, a farewell to their families and an appeal to future generations never to forget.

The document, dated Jan. 9, 1945, was drafted by the 47 Jews the Nazis had kept alive to dismantle the Chelmno crematoria and destroy other evidence of the death factory before Soviet troops reached the camp, situated in the Lodz district of Poland.

The document describes the backgrounds of the 47, their professions and what they endured at various Nazi camps until they reached the final one at Chelmno.

Berek Wittenfeld, one of the 47, wrote, “When I see how the thousands of innocent Jews are being murdered, my heart is torn up inside me. I am only 16, but they have chained my feet like a criminal.”

Another testimonial describes the hopelessness of the inmates. “Armed soldiers are standing around me. What can I do?” one prisoner wrote.

“Tell my brothers, Yitzhak Laser and Mordechai Motek, and my sister, Hava, in Moscow about my fate, about my last wish before my death.

“Whoever finds this, please avenge the tens of thousands of Jews that were slaughtered here.”

Although 47 names were listed at the end, only 10 Jews actually signed the will, probably for lack of time. It was smuggled out of the camp to a Polish farmer, who passed it on to Red Army headquarters nearby.

The Chelmno will was translated from the original Polish into Russian and the translation sent to the Soviet State Archives in Moscow, where it remained until now.

An estimated 360,000 Jews were murdered at Chelmno from 1942 to 1945. Only two survived.

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