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Holocaust testimony comes to light

BY CHRISTINE DAVIS Jewish Star Times Published Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Survivor, 85, makes translation his mission

Mark Swiatlo, 85, of Boca Raton, curator of Florida Atlantic University’s Judaica Collection is a storyteller. He has about 7,300 stories that he is determined to tell.

“These testimonies are given by survivors of the Holocaust as early as 1944,” said Swiatlo, who is also a survivor. “They are the earliest testimonies in existence. And because they are early, it makes them the most faithful.”

FAU, in partnership with the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland, has undertaken the task of translating these stories into English and publishing them.

Only 50 or 60 of the testimonies have been translated. Translators must be found who are fluent in both Polish and English and money must be found to pay them. The work does not have to be done in Poland or at FAU; it can be done anywhere that can receive e-mail.


Swiatlo is particularly compelled to pour his energy into this project because these are forgotten testimonies, he said.

“These `Voices from the Ashes’ [the name of the project] have been silenced for more than 50 years. Ninety percent of them are in Polish with another 10 percent in Yiddish.”

Swiatlo explained how these stories came to be taken. “When the war was still waging, the Red Army liberated part of Poland and established a Polish Republic. People came out from their hiding places and small Jewish committees were formed. The purpose of this was to help these people find their relatives. At the same time, they gave short testimonies. Then these testimonies came to a central organization. Now, these testimonies are at the Jewish Polish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland. And they have been neglected for so many years.”

When Swiatlo came upon these documents, he could not walk away. “This is a moral scandal. These books are collecting dust. As long as they are in a local language, they will not be known to people-at-large. People would be denied access to information,” he said.

“You know, there is a book that came out this month. It’s called Neighbors, by Dr. Jan T. Gross. There is already big talk of this book all over the world. It is about the whole Jewish population of Yedvabne who were burned to death in a barn. Everyone thought the Nazis had done it, but it was found out that the Poles did this — the neighbors.

“We have a testimony of Samuel Wasserstein, one of the survivors of this massacre, taken in Krakow in 1945. The book, The Neighbors, was dedicated to him.”


The documents also include the testimony of children. “There is a story of a Polish woman who found a child at a railroad station. She took that child and saved her. We have both the child’s and the woman’s testimonies.

“There is one story about a woman who was a prostitute. But she hid a boy under her skirts.”

There are testimonies of people who survived the death camps, Sobibor, Treblinka and Belzec. At Chelmno, only two people survived out of 300,000 to 400,000. “We [as part of the 7,300 testimonies] have one of those survivor’s testimony. The other is unknown,” he said.

Swiatlo bristles with urgency.

“All the camps and ghettos are represented in these papers. It will give history a different look at the Holocaust. To translate all this and to publish it is a gigantic task. I think about it night and day. It’s like a nightmare. We are the generation to do this. But we need the help and the support of any person of good will. Once people read these documents, they won’t be able to sleep at night.

“With 7,300 testimonies, who knows what we’ll find out? Everything, good and bad must be revealed and we need to see and face the truth. We need to know where it is not right, and to right it. There is evil in all of us. We must put the evil in prison, and then throw away the key.”

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