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Mordechai Podchlebnik

Last Update 23 August 2006

Mordechai (Michael) Podchlebnik (Podklebnik, Podchlewnik) was a Jew from the village of Bugaj, north of Kolo (German: Warthbrücken) and Chelmno (German: Kulmhof) in the annexed Warthegau. As part of the action to make the Warthegau, like the rest of the Greater German Reich, "judenrein" (free of Jews), the Jews of many towns and villages in the area were deported to the extermination camp in Chelmno between December 1941 and mid-April 1942, and murdered there. The Gypsies in the area, also “Untermenschen” in the Nazi racial hierarchy, were to meet the same fate.

Podchlebnik was a prisoner in Chelmno during the first phase of the extermination camp. He was selected with 29 others in a round-up, around New Year 1942. He applied for work in the Waldkommando (forest command), a grave-diggers squad. He and his fellow prisoners had to dig the pits in the forest, in which the victims of the Chelmno gas vans (Gypsies and Jews) were buried. There were about 8 or 9 gas van transports per day, according to the account of fellow digger Szlamek Bajler (also known by the name of Yakov Grojanowski), each of them containing some 50 - 70 corpses.

After only a few days Podchlebnik discovered that his wife, his seven year-old son and his five year-old daughter were among the victims. Overwhelmed by grief, he asked to be shot in the same pit in which his family was interred, but an SS guard refused the appeal: “You have enough strength, you can work.”

Podchlebnik is mentioned in Bajler’s account of Thursday 15 January 1942, as joining with Bajler’s in saying the mourner’s prayer over the pit in which Bajler’s brother and parents had been buried that day.

Podchlebnik eventually escaped from the Waldkommando, as did Bajler.
Bajler was later deported to Belzec and gassed there. Podchlebnik survived the war. He gave evidence at the Eichmann trial in 1961 in Jerusalem. He is also to be seen in Lanzmann's film "Shoah", in two short appearences in the beginning.

Gilbert, Martin. The Holocaust – The Jewish Tragedy, William Collins Sons & Co. Limited, London, 1986

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