Rudolf Reder

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Rudolf Reder
Henryk Ross
A photo of Rudolf Reder
in the collections of the Museum in Bełżec
BornApril 4, 1881
NationalityPolish, Canadian
Known for1946 book Belzec

Rudolf Reder a.k.a. Roman Robak (April 4, 1881 in Dębica – 1968 in Toronto) was one of only two Holocaust survivors of the Bełżec extermination camp who testified about his experience after the war. He submitted a deposition to the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in January 1946 in Kraków.[1] In terms of the number of Polish Jews who perished in its gas chambers, Bełżec had the third highest death toll among the six Nazi death camps located in occupied Poland, estimated between 500,000 and 600,000 men, women and children. Only Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka had more victims.[2]

The postwar testimony of Reder was of special significance, because Chaim Hirszman who also survived Bełżec,[3] joined the new communist militia in Stalinist Poland tasked with the crushing of Polish underground, torture, makeshift executions, and mass deportation to Siberia of over 50,000 political undesirables.[2] Hirszman was shot in March 1946 at his residence by the Cursed soldiers from TOW, in the course of an anti-communist insurrection against the new regime, before he was able to give a full account of his camp experience.[3]


Reder ran his own soap factory in Lemberg (then in the Austrian Partition) until 1910, according to the Bełżec Museum website.[4] He married Feiga (née) Felsenfeld. They had two children, daughter Freida (Zofia) born in 1908 (or 1916) and a son Boruch (Bronisław), in 1907.[5] Historian Dariusz Libionka informs that until 1919 Reder was in the United States. He returned to Lwów in already sovereign Poland and resumed (or perhaps, only began) soap production with the newly acquired knowledge.[3] During the Holocaust, he lost his (then) first wife and both children. Reder, age 61, was deported to Bełżec on August 11, 1942,[5] with one of the first transports of Jews from the Lwów Ghetto after the new big gas chambers were erected of brick and mortar.[6] Because of his good knowledge of German he was not sent off to die, but assigned to the Sonderkommando with a handful of others.[7] At the ramp he claimed to have been a machinist, and for the next three months performed maintenance on engine for the gas chambers among other tasks.[4] At the end of November 1942, during the prisoner transport to Lviv for camp supplies and sheet metal,[3] he escaped under cover of darkness. A Ukrainian woman, his former employee, helped him first, as did the Polish Righteous Joanna Borkowska whom Rudolf Reder married after the war and later emigrated with, settling in Toronto, Canada.[4]

Reder's book[edit]

Soon after the Soviet takeover, whilst still in Poland, Reder testified in January 1946 in Kraków before the Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes (known as the Institute of National Remembrance at present).[7] In the same year, he published his testimony in a book, with the help of the Jewish Historical Committee in Kraków. His monograph titled Bełżec was written in Polish with the Preface by his editor, Nella Rost, and illustrated with a map by Józef Bau, a Holocaust survivor who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts.[8] In the book, Reder wrote about what he saw as the motor-maintenance worker, and what he learned afterwards:

A dozen or so SS men drove the women along with whips and fixed bayonets all the way to the building and from there up three steps to a hall. There the askers counted 750 people for each gas chamber.[a] Those women who tried to resist were bayoneted until the blood was running. Eventually all the women were forced into the chambers. I heard the doors being shut; I heard shrieks and cries; I heard desperate calls for help in Polish and in Yiddish. I heard the blood- curdling wails of women and the squeals of children, which after a short time became one long, horrifying scream. This went on for fifteen minutes. The engine worked for twenty minutes. Afterwards there was total silence. Then the askers pushed open the doors that led outside. — Rudolf Reder, Bełżec [6]

Reder changed his name to Roman Robak in 1949 and left Poland for Israel in 1950.[4] He emigrated with his second wife to Canada in 1953.[9] In 1960 he submitted a deposition at the prosecutor’s office in Munich as part of the German preparations for the Belzec trial against eight former SS members of Bełżec extermination camp personnel.[10] Further information on Reder is scant. His second daughter married Leonard Shenker (Szenker) and settled in Great Britain. Reder died in Toronto in 1968.[11] His account of the Belzec camp imprisonment, published for the first time in 1946,[12] was reprinted in 1999 by Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum with Fundacja Judaica in bilingual edition featuring an English translation by Margaret M. Rubel,[8] then issued again as "Belzec" in Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry (volume 13, 2000), and republished in the UK as part of a book titled I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp by Mark Forstater in 2013.[13]


  • Rudolf Reder & Wojewódzka Żydowska Komisja Historyczna w Krakowie (1946). "Bełżec" (WorldCat catalog). Książki wojewódzkiej żydowskiej komisji historycznej w Krakowie, (vol) 4. Preface by Nella Rost: Wstęp. Kraków : Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna (Jewish Historical Committee in Kraków. Provincial Branch of Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna division of the Central Committee of Polish Jews). pp. 1–65. OCLC 186784721. Retrieved 11 May 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)


  1. ^ The bricks-and-mortar building with the new gas chambers had six cubicles, each about 25 sq. m. It is almost impossible to squeeze such a large crowd [i.e. 750 people] into such a small space. According to Kurt Gerstein, the figure of 750 victims per gas chamber was provided by the camp's commandant Christian Wirth to a company of high-ranking SS officers who visited the camp in the middle of Aug. 1942 including Gerstein himself. The above figure is identical to that stated in his own Gerstein Report. Therefore, Rudolf Reder must have been familiar with the Nuremberg records already at the time of his book publication — from "End Notes" by Robin O'Neil.[6]


  1. ^ Arad 1999, pp. 264–265.
  2. ^ a b Poland's holocaust By Tadeusz Piotrowski. Page 131. ISBN 0-7864-2913-5.
  3. ^ a b c d Dariusz Libionka (2015). "Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu (Death camp in Bełżec)". Portal Społeczności Żydowskiej. Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku (Majdanek State Museum). Archived from the original on 5 November 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2015. Obóz zagłady w Bełżcu w relacjach ocalonych i zeznaniach polskich świadków (Testimonies of survivors and witnesses). Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ a b c d "Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku: Rudolf Reder vel Roman Robak". Bełżec Museum, 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-11-29. Retrieved 2014-06-17. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ a b Arad 1999, p. 105.
  6. ^ a b c Robin O'Neil, Rudolf Reder (2011). "Appendix 5: Rudolf Reder's "Bełzec" with Introduction by M. M. Rubel". The Rabka Four. Instruments of Genocide and Grand Larceny (Poland) By Robin O'Neil. Spiderwize Publishing (digitized by p. 237. OCLC 796270628. Retrieved 12 May 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)
  7. ^ a b C.R.W. for H.E.A.R.T (2007). "Remember Me! Honoring those who died in Belzec. Holocaust Roll of Remembrance". Retrieved 2014-06-17.
  8. ^ a b SearchWorks catalog (2015). "Bełżec. Author/Creator: Reder, Rudolf, 1881-". Stanford University Libraries' official online search. Imprint: Kraków, Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna, 1946. p. 1. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  9. ^ Andrew Duffy (15 June 2007). "Belzec survivor escaped to reveal all he witnessed in gas chambers". Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-17. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  10. ^ Alan Elsner (29 March 2010). "A New Nazi War Crimes Trial -- And This Time It's Personal". Internet Archive. The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on May 8, 2015. Retrieved 12 May 2015. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  11. ^ Menemsha Films, BELZEC a film by Guillaume Moscovitz. Notes. PDF file, direct download 101 KB.
  12. ^ Rudolf Reder, Belzec, Cracovie, 1946. ISBN 8390771535 ; ISBN 978-8390771533
  13. ^ Amazon (2015), I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp By Rudolf Reder (Author), Mark Forstater (Author). Paperback: 80 pages. ISBN 0907633374.