Glazar, Richard

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GLAZAR, Richard

Nationality: Swiss (originally Czechoslovakian). Born: Prague, 1920. Education: Studied in Prague, London, and Paris, mid-1940s; degree in economics. Family: Married; two children. Career: Interned, 1942, and escaped, 1943, Treblinka death camp. Lived in Czechoslovakia, 1950s and 1960s; fled to Switzerland after the Soviet invasion, 1968. Worked as an engineer in Bern, Switzerland, until 1995. Returned to Prague, 1995. Died: Suicide, 1998.



Die Falle mit dem grünen Zaun: Überleben in Treblinka. 1992; as Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka, 1995.

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Richard Glazar was born in Prague in 1920. The son of an officer in the Austrian army who had been wounded in World War I, he grew up speaking both German and Czech in a secular humanistic Jewish home. In 1939, after the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia, Glazar's parents helped him escape to a remote rural Czech town where he kept a low profile—not registered as a Jew—while doing farm chores. In early September 1942 he was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto. A month later he was transferred to the Treblinka death camp. After being held there for 10 months as one of a thousand Arbeitsjuden (work Jews), Glazar was one of the few to escape during the prisoner uprising on 2 August. He fled across Poland with a fellow inmate, Karel Unger, whom he had already befriended in Theresienstadt. The two eventually settled in Mannheim, Germany, where, under assumed names, they passed themselves off until the end of the war as Gentile Czech workers belonging to the Todt Organization.

Beginning in 1945 Glazar studied in Prague, London, and Paris and earned an economics degree. In the early 1950s, during the Stalinist era in Czechoslovakia, he was arrested because of his nonconformist political views and forced once again to do manual labor, this time in a steel plant, from 1951 to 1953. With the liberalizing of the Czechoslovak government in the 1960s, Glazar's personal and professional situation increasingly improved. After the Soviet invasion of 1968, however, he fled with his wife and two children to Switzerland. Upon his retirement from an engineering firm in Bern in 1995, he moved back to Prague, where he committed suicide in 1998.

Earlier, in 1957, Glazar returned to Treblinka for the first time after the war on a business trip. As one of only 54 eyewitnesses, Glazar testified at the trials of the Nazi officials in charge of Treblinka in Düsseldorf in 1963 and 1971. The author of an invaluable memoir, Die Falle mit dem grünen Zaun: Überleben in Treblinka (1992; Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka, 1995), Glazar also made major contributions to two important Holocaust-related works: Gitta Sereny's study Into That Darkness (1974) and Claude Lanzmann 's film Shoah (1985). In his writings and interviews Glazar confessed that, together with his outer coolness and his close, mutually supportive friendship with the other inmates in his unit, luck played a major role in his survival. He had arrived at Treblinka exactly when the guards desperately needed another slave laborer to sort victims' clothing. Had he stepped off the train at any other time, he probably would have been gassed along with most of the others in his transport.

Sereny characterizes him as "the most credible of witnesses" who survived Treblinka. In the chapter she accords him exclusively, Glazar succinctly describes the four successive phases of operation in Treblinka's history: (1) the fledgling first stage under Dr. Eberl through much of 1942, before Franz Stangl, the later commandant and organizing force, came on the scene in September; (2) Stangl's first months (September through December 1942), a period in which the duties of the work Jews, who were assigned to sort and pack the goods confiscated from the gas chamber's victims, had not yet been clearly organized; (3) the first half of 1943, when there was a "terrible kind of community" between "the murderers" in charge of the camp and the work Jews, with each of these groups literally dependent on the efficient mass murder of incoming transports for their own survival—although the labor was backbreaking, goods could be stolen and exchanged with the SS and Ukrainian guards, allowing Glazar and his fellow inmates, at times, to be among the best-fed and best-dressed victims of Nazi oppression; (4) the final unraveling culminating in the armed inmate uprising of 2 August during which each of the German camp officials, aware of the approaching Soviet army, became increasingly terrified of the consequences of his individual genocidal acts.

Glazar is also featured in Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, in which he provides detailed and vivid testimony about his incarceration in Treblinka, covering his arrival, his daily life as a work Jew, and the organizing of the 1943 uprising. In one of the most effective examples of armed insurrection carried out by Nazi prisoners, the inmates permanently shut down the largest Nazi camp devoted exclusively to extermination, a site where close to 900,000 Jews had been exterminated. Glazar's extended interviews with Lanzmann are no less evocative and precise than his written memoirs.

—Steven R. Cerf

See the essay on Trap with a Green Fence: Survival in Treblinka.