[back] Eye Witnesses
One of Claude Lanzmann's most prominent witnesses was Henryk Gawkowski, seen
in the film Shoah dressed in his driver's uniform, wearing a cap and driving an
engine as he had during the war years when he transported trainloads of Jews
from Warsaw to Małkinia, and then to Treblinka. In a re-enactment scene, he
leans out of the cabin door and, running a finger across his throat, he directs
that gesture towards the space formerly occupied by the Jews as a sign that they
were about to be killed.
I came upon Gawkowski in Małkinia, where he was born in 1922. In the mornings, our question and answer sessions went smoothly enough, but in the afternoons, under the influence of alcohol, he became an endless talker, incapable of replying coherently to questions. He went on about everything as if he had seen it all. He did not recall Lanzmann's name. Possibly, though, Lanzmann had, as is his habit, introduced himself under some assumed name, arrogating academic titles to boot. All the same, he spoke with fond remembrance of the film's director, a Frenchman who, as he let us know, had supplied him with such fine "Spanish wines".
One morning, while he was reciting stories that he had plainly read and not lived, I interrupted Gawkowski to put to him, point-blank, a question that would topple the whole edifice of his boastings and regurgitations of what he had taught himself. I asked him: "But then, were you aware of taking all those Jews to their death, day after day, and over a period of nearly 15 months?"
His reply burst forth: "No, of course not!"
I asked him at what moment he became aware of such killings. Answer: "After the war."
In other words, to take up the parable of the American revisionist Arthur Butz, Gawkowski was another one of those who, at the time, had not seen "the elephant." He had neither seen it, nor heard it trumpet, but a good while later had become convinced that, in this particular corner of Poland, a monstrous pachyderm had, for nearly 15 months, secretly haunted the area, spreading terror as it went. Enough to make one think that "the elephant" was magical, unless it were only a mirage!  Treblinka: An Exceptional Guide By Dr. Robert Faurisson
Henryk Gawkowski, in Małkinia, June 1988