Home' Greymouth Star : October 30th 2014 Contents S
amuel Willenberg, the last
known living sur vivor of the
notorious Nazi extermination
camp Treblinka is nearing the
end of a life’s mission to tell of
the horrors that he saw there.
Now 92, his remarkable story, featured in
a documentary film produced by Miami
public tv channel WLRN, is spurring
efforts to fulfil that mission by building an
educational museum at the camp’s site in a
remote pine forest in eastern Poland.
Treblinka’s Last Witness, airing today,
tells the story of how Willenberg, a Polish
Jew, became a forced labourer at Treblinka
where his two sisters were among the
900,000 Jews sent to their deaths. He later
escaped during a camp revolt, one of barely
100 Jews to sur vive the place.
A history professor he met in the camp
told him: “ You’re not like other Jews,
you have blonde hair, you know how
to sur vive,” Willenberg recalled in an
interview during a visit to Miami for a
premiere of the film last week before a
packed audience, many of them relatives of
“ You have to run away from this,” the
professor told him. “It will be your mission
to tell people about what happened here.”
Willenberg, who after World War Two
moved to Israel, married and worked for
40 years as a civil servant, has dedicated
his retirement to memorialising what
happened by creating a series of 15
haunting bronze sculptures, each capturing
a scene from the camp, as well as leading
educational visits there.
Today, Willenberg will also be a guest
of honour alongside Israeli President
Reuven Rivlin at the opening of the
main exhibition at Warsaw’s newly built
Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a
project that sets out to recall not just how
Jews in Poland died, but how they lived.
Of Poland ’s pre-war population of 3.5
million Jews, only a few tens of thousands
remain, their place in the nation’s history
and culture having been largely eradicated.
Only recently has Poland started to re-
connect with its role in history as a home
for 1000 years to one of the world’s biggest
Polish Jews have also played a major role
in American history, with an estimated
80% of US Jews able to trace their roots
back to ancestors in Poland.
Unlike other Nazi concentration
camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau and
Buchenwald, where efforts have been made
to educate visitors, the Treblinka site has
been left largely untouched after the Nazis
demolished it near the end of the war in a
desperate effort to cover up their deeds.
All that exists there today are some
railroad ties leading up to the remains of a
station platform set among large stones.
“It’s a very moving place, but there’s
nothing to tell the story,” the film’s British-
born director Alan Tomlinson said.
“I have heard a lot of stories in my career,
but no-one has ever told me a story like
Samuel’s,” Tomlinson, 66, told the audience
at the premiere. “And Samuel is such a
great story-teller,” he added, crediting
Willenberg’s lucid passion and vivid
memory with providing the film’s powerful
Experts say that much more could be
done at the current site to help visitors
understand the monstrosity of Treblinka.
Historians have called it the Nazis’ most
efficient death camp which, operating like
a factory assembly-line, they killed almost
a million people in barely 13 months in
“It ’s an intuitive, emotional understanding
that concentrates beautifully the sense of
loss, but it’s wordless and doesn’t articulate
what was lost there,” Holocaust scholar
Michael Berenbaum said.
“ You experience the presence of absence
and the absence of presence,” he added.
“ Treblinka is a place where a crime is not
Berenbaum said an anonymous donor
has already committed $US1 million to the
museum project. During his Miami visit
Willenberg met with a number of wealthy
Polish immigrants who pledged to see the
“Thanks to Samuel’s extraordinary
persistence, the project now has real life,”
After the film airs this week on WLRN
in south Florida, it will be distributed
nationally through the PBS network.
4 - Thursday, October 30, 2014
We appreciate the value of the Letters to the Editor
column as a public forum for West Coasters and
welcome your opinion and suggestions.
Letters may be submitted by post, fax or e-mail and
must include your name, address, phone number
and - except for e-mails - your signature. Noms de
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Please keep your letters honest, respectful and
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Post to PO Box 3, Greymouth, fax to 768 6205 or
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uLetters to the editor
1270 - The eighth and last Crusade is
1841 - Fire erupts at the Tower of L ondon.
1918 - Czechoslovakia is proclaimed an
1922 - Benito Mussolini forms a fascist
government, becomes premier of Italy.
1929 - The second rocket-powered
aircraft, invented by Fritz von Opel,
1961 - The Soviet Union tests
a hydrogen bomb with a force
estimated at 58 megatons.
1974 - Muhammad Ali knocks out
George Foreman in the eighth round
of a 15-round bout in Kinshasa,
Zaire, to regain his world heavyweight title.
1975 - Prince Juan Carlos assumes the role
of Spain’s acting head of state after General
Francisco Franco falls ill.
1990 - China announces the results of a
nationwide census that shows its population
totals 1.13 billion people.
1993 - Two gunmen open fire in a village pub
in Northern Ireland, killing seven people.
2012 - Storm Sandy floods New York’s subway,
leaves million without power, kills at least 182
people and causes $US65 billion in damage.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
John Adams, second US president (1735-
1826); Andre Chenier, French poet-hero
(1762-1794); Ezra Pound, US poet
(1885-1972); Ruth Gordon, US
actress (1896-1985); Louis Malle,
French film director (1932-1995);
Henry Winkler, US actor (1945-);
Harry Hamlin, US actor (1951-);
Diego Maradona, Argentine
footballer (1960-); Gavin Rossdale,
British musician (1965-); Ivanka Trump, US
business woman (1981-) .
“I’ve got a couple of very interesting projects
. . . but what I don’t have any more is time.”
— Juan Antonio Bardem, veteran Spanish film
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as
Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give the reason
for the hope that you have. But do this with
gentleness and respect. ” — 1 Peter 3:15
Mrs Mary Bradley,
like so many in that
static-plagued region, could not receive a clear
radio reception this morning when she tuned
in to the commercial network to hear the
Golden Kiwi lottery results at 9.30 — so she
turned the set off before the results were given.
As a result, she missed hearing her own nom
de plume and ticket number being read out as
winner of the £3000 second prize.
But Mrs Bradley did not have to wait
long before she found out the good news. A
neighbour had heard the results, and knowing
Mrs Bradley’s nom de plume, was quickly on
the telephone to give the mill manager’s wife
her fist inkling that she had struck a ‘ jackpot ’.
Mrs Bradley has been living at Inangahua
Junction for about 20 years and has an adult
family of three sons. The £3000 is the first prize
Mrs Bradley has ever won in a lottery.
The Westport harbour was the scene of an
unusual fire when the galley of the cement ship
Guardian Carrier was the seat of the flames.
The fire had apparently been caused by fuel oil
flowing over on to a stove. The Westport Fire
Brigade spent a hectic 15 minutes before the
fire was brought under control.
The steel structure of the galley was so hot
when the firemen arrived, after the alarm was
given at 6pm, that it had to be cooled down
with water before CO2 gas could be used to
suffocate the oil-fed blaze. Chief fire officer
WD Phibbs said last night that had the vessel
been at sea, the fire could have had serious
uFood for thought
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Of the four contenders for the
leadership of the Labour Party, it is David
Parker who pursues most consistently the
“traditional” Labour member’s support.
“Labour was formed by working people,
for working people,” is one of Mr Parker’s
favourite riffs. And lest any member of
the party should doubt his commitment
to Labour’s “core values”, he chose Labour
Day as the time and the Savage Memorial
as the place to launch his Auckland
But how much sense does it make
to pursue the votes of Labour’s
traditionalists when so little of the world
that made them (and the Labour Party
for that matter) still remains? Is it even
possible to be a party of the New Zealand
proletariat when the New Zealand
proletariat (or, at least, the New Zealand
proletariat as it was configured from
1935-85) no longer exists?
Which is not to say that, globally-
speaking, the industrial working-class,
with all its vast potential for upsetting
the applecart of industrial civilisation,
has ceased to exist. Far from it. What
should be said, however, is that if you’re
looking for a mass of exploited toilers
recognisable to Karl Marx and Friedrich
Engels, then you have a much better
chance of finding them in China than you
have in the post-industrial societies of the
Over the past 40 years, western
capitalists have solved the problem of
having large and self-assertive working-
classes in their own backyard by ruthlessly
shipping their employees’ jobs overseas
to places where unions, civil rights and
most other democratic practices are
conspicuous by their absence. If you want
to see the equivalent of Henry Ford’s vast
River Rouge car assembly plant nowadays,
you will have to visit Shenzhen.
Think of the political economy of
globalisation in terms of the fate of the
Before the great waves of European
settlers washed over the American prairie,
it was the preser ve of Native American
tribes and unimaginably large herds of
buffalo. So long as the buffalo endured,
settlers would not only have to contend
with the indigenous peoples the great
beasts supported, but they would also find
it impossible to transform the prairie into
Obviously, both had to go. In the space
of just 45 years the buffalo herds (the
largest of which sometimes stretched
from horizon to horizon) were reduced
from more than 30 million to just a few
hundred. And with the destruction of
the buffalo the indigenous cultures of the
prairies found themselves robbed of the
very substance of their being. After a brief
but doomed burst of resistance they were
reduced to objects of anthropological
curiosity and Hollywood fantasy.
The social-democratic welfare-states
that grew up in the west in the 1930s, and
which reached their peak effectiveness in
the early 1970s, had the same relationship
with factory-based production as the
indigenous tribes of the prairie had
with the buffalo. It was the factory-
based process of mass production that
underpinned the full-employment upon
which the welfare State depended. Also
dependent on the jobs of secondary
industry were the trade unions — out of
whose economic and political influence
the social-democratic and labour parties
of the west had emerged. Take away those
jobs and in remarkably quick succession
the unions, their parties and the welfare
State itself would crumble and die.
The mass slaughter of the buffalo came
to an end in the mid-1880s submerging
the tribes in existential despair. Five
years later, however, the Bureau of Indian
Affairs began to receive reports of a
strange religious phenomenon sweeping
the reservations — the “ghost dance”.
A Paiute shaman, Wovoka, prophesised
that if the tribes danced the ghost dance,
then the living and the dead would be
reunited, the world re-made anew, and all
its peoples could live in peace. Among the
Lakota nation, however, the new religion
took on a more millennial character. The
dance would bring back the buffalo, the
Lakota chief, Kicking Bear, said, and by
wearing “ghost shirts” warrior-dancers
would be rendered imper vious to bullets.
On December 29, 1890, at Wounded
Knee in South Dakota, this belief was put
to the test — with tragic results.
Could David Parker be Labour’s
Wovoka? Is his invocation of a political
movement created “by working people,
for working people” as tragic, in its way,
as the Native Americans’ longing for the
buffalos’ return? Could we be witnessing
Labour’s ghost dance?
Chris Trotter is an independent,
left-wing political commentator.
A diagram by sur vivor Sam Willenberg showing the layout of the Treblinka death camp.
Willenberg and his wife Ada.
Last man standing
It has long been said that pop
stars live fast and die young,
but a new Australian study has
added scholarly credibility to the
adage, finding that United States
musicians die up to 25 years earlier
than the general population.
“This is clear evidence that all is
not well in pop music land,” the
University of Sydney ’s Dianna
Kenny, who analysed the deaths
of 12,665 predominantly male
American musicians between 1950
and June this year, said.
Kenny believes the study is the
first of its kind in capturing the
lifespans of all popular artists
over the seven decades, with her
research looking at musicians
across a wide range of genres from
jazz to Christian pop to punk.
The psychology and music
professor found that pop stars’
accidental death rates were
between five and 10 times greater
than the general US population,
while suicide rates were between
two and seven times higher.
Homicide rates were up to eight
times greater than the wider
population, she said.
The study also found that “across
the seven decades studied, popular
musicians’ lifespans were up to 25
years shorter than the comparable
US population”, she said.
Kenny found that while the
lifespans of the two groups have
been rising over the years, male
pop musicians had an average age
of death of between 55 to 60 in
the past decade while the general
population had an average age of
just above 75.
Female pop musicians had an
average age of death of just over
60, unlike the wider population
which had a lifespan of above 80,
the study showed.
A 2011 Queensland University
of Technology study debunked
the myth of the 27 Club, where
rock ‘n’ rollers succumb to their
lifestyles while in their 27th year,
but limited its research to only
artists who had a No 1 album in
the British charts between 1956
Similarly, another study
published by Liverpool John
Moores University in England —
which was published in the British
Medical Journal in 2012 — had
a narrower focus, examining the
deaths of 1489 rock and pop stars
from North America and Europe
who became famous between 1956
The Liverpool John Moores
University researchers found
then that the musicians’ mortality
increased relative to the general
population over time after they
become famous. — AFP
Pop music will kill
you, study finds
Traditional Labour values no longer valid?
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