Franz Suchomel

Language of Description
Alt. Identifiers
  • 1996.166
  • RG-60.5046
1 Jan 1985 - 31 Dec 1985
Level of Description
  • German
EHRI Partner


Biographical History

Claude Lanzmann was born in Paris to a Jewish family that immigrated to France from Eastern Europe. He attended the Lycée Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand. His family went into hiding during World War II. He joined the French resistance at the age of 18 and fought in the Auvergne. Lanzmann opposed the French war in Algeria and signed a 1960 antiwar petition. From 1952 to 1959 he lived with Simone de Beauvoir. In 1963 he married French actress Judith Magre. Later, he married Angelika Schrobsdorff, a German-Jewish writer, and then Dominique Petithory in 1995. He is the father of Angélique Lanzmann, born in 1950, and Félix Lanzmann (1993-2017). Lanzmann's most renowned work, Shoah, is widely regarded as the seminal film on the subject of the Holocaust. He began interviewing survivors, historians, witnesses, and perpetrators in 1973 and finished editing the film in 1985. In 2009, Lanzmann published his memoirs under the title "Le lièvre de Patagonie" (The Patagonian Hare). He was chief editor of the journal "Les Temps Modernes," which was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, until his death on July 5, 2018.

Scope and Content

Lanzmann interviewed Franz Suchomel, who was with the SS at Treblinka, in secret at the Hotel Post in April 1976. This was the first interview Lanzmann filmed with the newly developed hidden camera known as the Paluche, and he paid Suchomel 500 DM. In the outtakes, Suchomel provides further details about the treatment of Jews at the camp, as well as a more ambivalent memory of his experiences than is apparent in the released "SHOAH". FILM ID 3753 -- Camera Rolls 1-2 Lanzmann asks Suchomel to describe his arrival at Treblinka and Suchomel tells of his shock at finding himself with seven other Germans from Berlin in a concentration camp, whereas in Berlin, he had been told he would be going to a resettlement area, supervising tailors and shoemakers. It was the height of the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto, and during a tour of the camp, he saw the doors of the gas chamber being opened and people falling out "like potatoes." Suchomel and his group were crying "like old women," and Suchomel asked Eberl, the Commandant, to be sent back to Berlin, but Eberl told him he would be sent to the front with the Waffen SS, a sure death. Suchomel hid out and drank vodka to adjust to "the inferno." He says that he learned that the corpses stacked at the railroad tracks were from three daily trains carrying 5,000 people, of whom 3,000 fell out dead on arrival, many by suicide. A new commandant, Christian Wirth, was able to stop the transports so that the corpses could be buried. At this point, there were no "worker Jews," as all the Jews dragging corpses into the trenches were chased into the gas chambers in the evening or shot. FILM ID 3754 -- Camera Rolls 3-4 Wirth reorganized the Germans, and assigned Suchomel to be head of the "Gold Jews." Lanzmann asks if the Poles in the surrounding villages could smell the odor and Suchomel says everyone knew what was going on in the camp. He says that the Poles were not fond of the Jews but they were also scared. Suchomel describes "the tube" in which 100 men or women were sent to the gas chambers at a time. Some even jockeyed for position, not knowing they were going to their deaths. Many had to wait in the barracks up to three days without food and only a bucket of water because of gas chambers' lack of capacity. Suchomel confirms that the method was carbon monoxide from a truck motor, rather than Zyklon B. When Wirth came, he forced Germans and Jewish prisoners to move the piles of corpses to the trenches. Lanzmann questions the use of Germans, but Suchomel insists that they were ordered to do so. Under Wirth, a new gas chamber was built in September. FILM ID 3755 -- Camera Rolls 5-10 In the new gas chamber perhaps 200 could fit in at a time and 3,000 people could be "done" in two hours. Lanzmann says that Auschwitz could handle a lot more than that and Suchomel says Auschwitz was a factory, and that though Treblinka was primitive, it was "a well-functioning assembly line of death." Belzec was the laboratory in which Wirth tried everything out before coming to Treblinka. Suchomel describes the second phase of his time at Treblinka after Wirth came, and says the killing went much faster. Lanzmann mentions 18,000 per day, but Suchomel says that the number is too high. Suchomel explains how transports came from Malkinia, ten kilometers away. 30 to 50 train cars arrived, of which varying numbers went on to Treblinka, the rest remaining behind. At the ramp, two Jews from the Blue Detachment ordered the passengers out, supervised by ten Ukrainians and five Germans. The Red Detachment processed the clothing in the undressing room. It took two hours from arrival to death. People had to wait, naked, to enter the gas chamber, and it was very cold by Christmas. Since the women had to get their hair cut and thus wait longer, Suchomel claims that he told the barbers to go slower so they could remain inside. Suchomel describes the "tube" as camouflaged by branches. If the male prisoners resisted entering, they were whipped by Ukrainian guards. Suchomel says he does not know of women being beaten. He says he is often ashamed. Lanzmann responds that Suchomel is the reporter of these historical events. FILM ID 3756 -- Camera Rolls 5-10 chutes Suchomel says that some people got rich by fleecing the Warsaw Jews, but in later phases the people were so poor that the women didn't even have wedding rings, having given them up to Poles at Malkinia in exchange for water. Suchomel claims that if he ever reported violence among the prisoners his SS superior told him not to interfere if Jews were beating Jews. Lanzmann asks about the hospital. It was the Blue Detachment's responsibility to accompany those selected by the SS. Once there, people undressed and sat down on a dirt embankment where they were shot in the neck. They were mostly old and sick people who would have disrupted the smooth processing of the assembly line. Suchomel says he couldn't get out of the vicious cycle because he knew of two regime secrets: euthanasia in Berlin and Treblinka. Referring again to the hospital, he explains that people were fooled by the Red Cross flag flying over it. He says that those who arrived in cattle cars with one bucket among them had to be cleaned up by the Blue Detachment upon arrival. The Escort Detachment consisted of Ukrainians and Latvians; the former could be bribed, but the latter not, as they were committed Jew haters. Many passengers committed suicide or died of illness during the transport, most of the rest had gone crazy. Being part of all this, Suchomel tells Lanzmann caused him to have a nervous breakdown and to turn to alcohol. Lanzmann wants more details about the hospital and Suchomel explains that [SS man Willi] Mentz was the neck-shot specialist and people fell into a pit where there was always a fire going. FILM ID 3757 -- Camera Rolls 11-12 Lanzmann asks which was the better way to die and Suchomel says the neck shot was, because it was quicker; in the gas chamber, with one motor servicing three or four gas chambers, death could take twenty minutes. Suchomel describes his position as the German in charge of the "Gold Jews." He claims that he was harshly punished by Wirth for once allowing a young girl to keep a piece of jewelry. Lanzmann asks about the vaginal exams alleged at Suchomel's trial, but Suchomel says that never happened, as the whole process was designed to move masses of people through the system at top speed. He says that once women knew they were going to their deaths, they cut the veins of their children with razor blades, so the children would die more quickly in the gas chambers. After they gave up their valuables to Suchomel's department the women sat on benches and had their hair cut. In response to a question from Lanzmann Suchomel says he thinks he recognizes the name of Abraham Bomba. FILM ID 3758 -- Camera Rolls 13-16 After an interruption Lanzmann again asks Suchomel about Bomba. Suchomel says that the Jews were robbed of their human dignity, the SS even took the hair on their heads, and they were treated worse than cattle. Lanzmann asks if Suchomel saw the prisoners as human beings and Suchomel says that he always did, that he was often nauseous and couldn't cope, especially if German Jews came through. He tells of one woman from Berlin who cursed at him and offered herself to him sexually, hoping that insulting the honor of an SS man would force him to shoot her, sparing her the gas chamber. He claims that he talked with her and they drank a bottle of wine together before she was gassed. Suchomel explains again that the excrement in the "tube" was a result of the terror of the women who had to wait while hearing the truck motor and the screaming in the chambers. For the men, there was no waiting, as they were chased through the "tube." Under Commandant Wirth, the unloading, sorting of clothes, herding of prisoners into the chambers had to done quickly, but the removal and burial of corpses took longer. FILM ID 3759 -- Camera Rolls 17-19 After Katyn became known, in order to destroy the evidence the corpses were dug up and burned in pits with grills made from railroad iron. When no transports arrived in the winter of 1943 and there were still 500-600 "worker Jews," they were given so little to eat that typhus broke out and killed many of them; the rest no longer believed that they would be spared by the SS and told Suchomel that they were just "corpses on vacation." Suchomel prided himself on chatting with his Polish and Czech worker Jews, including women prisoners, in his workshop and letting them have concerts and meetings there. Suchomel says that the Eastern transports came in livestock cars, whereas the Germans and Czech Jews from Theresienstadt arrived in passenger cars, believing they were being resettled. The Eastern Jews were beaten, but the Western Jews were not. Suchomel claims that he spoke with Rudi Masaryk about logistics for escape. Suchomel tells of encountering an old school friend from the Sudentenland and says he offered to save him and his wife. However, the wife had already been killed and the husband chose to die as well. FILM ID 3760 -- Camera Rolls 20-22 -- 01:00:16 to 01:31:34 [This is the only reel of picture preserved as of 2015.] CR20 Lanzmann secretly films Franz Suchomel in what appears to be living room. Lanzmann asks Suchomel about his time working in Treblinka. The tube, the pathway the Jewish prisoners were forced to walk through on their way to the gas chambers, was referred to as "The Way to Heaven," "Ascension Way," and "The Last Road," by the prisoners. Suchomel only ever heard the latter two names while working in Treblinka. [No image 01:01:02 to 01:01:10] The transports of Jews from the East arrived in cattle cars, while the transports from the west arrived passenger train cars. At this point in the interview Suchomel requests asks to pause as he is experiencing heart pain. He has angina pectoris. Lanzmann asks him if the pain in brought on by emotion, which Suchomel confirms. After a short pause, the interview picks back up. Suchomel claims the Jews brought from the west were not beaten on their way to the gas chambers. Nevertheless, Jews from the west and east all ended up in the gas chambers. Stangl, Franz and Küttner ordered a façade of a train station to be constructed, complete with flowers throughout the camp, counters, train schedules and a clock. The camp was given the fictitious station name "Ober Maiden," to keep the prisoners calm. 01:10:14 CR21 Lanzmann asks if the SS guards were more afraid of a revolt from the Jews from the west or the east. Suchomel begins telling the story of the Treblinka revolt. He claims he saved the life of a Jewish prisoner twice, Rudi Masaryk, and told him where weapons were located in case Masaryk wanted to escape. Lanzmann tells Suchomel he is not asking about the revolt [recording stops from 01:12:33 to 01:12:38]. The interview continues with Suchomel telling Lanzmann about a Czech transport carrying a former schoolmate, his brother and father. Suchomel says he tried to save his friends life but after he found out his three month pregnant wife had already been gassed, he did not want to live. His brother asked Suchomel to save him, but since his face was beaten green and blue, Suchomel would not save him. When asked why he would not save a man who had been beaten, Suchomel says that is was a standard procedure and cannot further elaborate. Suchomel states that only the worker Jews who were no longer wanted were beaten. [Audio continues after filming stops] 01:20:45 CR22 Franz Küttner would beat prisoners when he felt like it. If the prisoner was not given express permission, this was a death sentence as the prisoners face was marked. Lanzmann asks Suchomel if he is alright, as he appears to be in pain. Recounting his experience pains him emotionally and physically, and the interview continues after a moment. The SS guards were worried about the transport of Jews from the Bialystok ghetto. Upson arrival, the men threw bottles and small hand grenades at the guards. When they were unloaded from the train they beat up and wounded with a knife or razor blade Kapo Meier. Kapo Meier was allowed to recover and live instead of being sent to the fake camp hospital, the Lazaret. Suchomel claims he tried to make life as pleasant as possible for the Jews working in his workshops. Jews in the camp began to destroy currency that prisoners brought with them. Jews arriving from Warsaw, Tschenstau and Bialystok in the beginning carried lots of money, which Suchomel’s workshop was in charge of sorting and even gluing together when prisoners ripped it up. His Gold Jews sorted currencies, jewelry and glasses, which were all used for the war. Gold teeth were brought from Camp II, after they had been pried from the mouths of the dead. [Audio continues after filming stops] FILM ID 3761 -- Camera Rolls 23-25 Suchomel says that he once intervened on behalf of one of his Jewish workers, who was caught with money, then savagely beaten by an SS officer. Though rescued, the worker did not want to be saved and was shot. Upon questioning by Lanzmann about taking money himself, Suchomel insists that he didn't, that he knew the punishment and was too cowardly to risk that. They talk again about the black market economy around the camp. Polish farmers sent their children to the fence to sell him and his workers food. Suchomel explains that ten prostitutes were brought in for the Ukrainian guards, not for the Germans. It was too dangerous for the Germans to go into the surrounding villages, so instead, they got frequent vacations. Lanzmann asks if the prostitutes knew that this was an extermination camp and Suchomel says that everyone, including the villagers and the Polish underground army knew. Lanzmann asks Suchomel about the assertion that "the Jews went to their deaths like sheep to the slaughterhouse." FILM ID 3762 -- Camera Rolls 26-28 Suchomel replies that people don't know how demoralized the Jews were by the time they reached Treblinka. He speculates on the causes of hatred toward Jews: years of blaming them for misfortunes, greed and envy. He knows from his own experiences that most Polish and Czech Jews were poor. Lanzmann asks Suchomel if he feels guilt about his role in Treblinka and Suchomel replies that he is ashamed to have been there and that he feels guilty, yet he quickly adds that his court records show that individual Jews testified in his favor. He says he couldn't stand up to the authorities because of the need to protect his family. Since he was a carrier of two state secrets he couldn't be assigned elsewhere. By chance, he also learned of a third secret, Operation Brand, wherein the Germans euthanized those victims of bombing raids in Germany who were severely injured or became mentally ill. Suchomel says he did not think about suicide, just survival for himself and his family, and that he will have to live with this burden for the rest of his life. He claims that even then he saw Hitler as the biggest mass murderer in history, but couldn't say that to anyone. FILM ID 3763 -- Camera Rolls 29-30 Suchomel claims he was called "Yom Kippur" by the Jews because he never beat any of them, except two Berlin Jews. He was also called the "Gold Boss." Lanzmann urges Suchomel to sing the Treblinka song, which the prisoners had to sing every morning and evening. Suchomel sings it twice at Lanzmann's bidding, but is concerned that if neo-Nazis heard it, they would call him "a pig." FILM ID 3764 -- Camera Rolls 31-32 Lanzmann asks what Suchomel remembers most vividly, the euthanasia period or Treblinka. Suchomel says that Treblinka will always be with him, a vicious cycle from which he couldn't free himself. Responding to Lanzmann's questions again about a revolt, Suchomel says that after the Warsaw ghetto uprising was put down, his worker Jews lost all hope of surviving because even the Jews who had worked for the Germans in the ghetto were shot. Some of the surviving ghetto Jews who were brought to Treblinka, however, infected the camp Jews and that's how the will for a revolt began. Discussing Christian Wirth, Suchomel calls him the most brutal man he knows. He was a skilled organizer and was head inspector for Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Lublin. He was a Jew-hater and everyone was afraid of him. Lanzmann pays Suchomel for the interview and asks Suchomel how he feels about being paid by a Jew. Suchomel says that the money is compensation, not a reward for the interview. "Why compensation?" Lanzmann asks and Suchomel says he will suffer for having brought all the old memories to light. Lanzmann wants another interview and gives his word of honor that he will not "betray anything." Suchomel gives his word of honor that they will meet again, but not soon. --- The following reels contain only audio. --- FILM ID 3485 -- Audio Reel #1-1-2 FILM ID 3486 -- Audio Reel #3-4 FILM ID 3487 -- Audio Reel #5-6-7-8 FILM ID 3488 -- Audio Reel #9-10-11 FILM ID 3489 -- Audio Reel #12-13 FILM ID 3490-- Audio Reel #13-14-14-15-16 FILM ID 3491-- Audio Reel #17-18-18 FILM ID 3492-- Audio Reel #19-20 FILM ID 3493-- Audio Reel #21-22 FILM ID 3494-- Audio Reel #23-24-25 FILM ID 3495 -- Audio Reel #26-27 FILM ID 3496-- Audio Reel #28-29-30 FILM ID 3497-- Audio Reel #31-32


  • Franz Suchomel is in SHOAH (1985). The parts of his interview in the final release are not available at USHMM. Claude Lanzmann spent twelve years locating survivors, perpetrators, and eyewitnesses for his nine and a half hour film Shoah released in 1985. Without archival footage, Shoah weaves together extraordinary testimonies to render the step-by-step machinery of the destruction of European Jewry. Critics have called it "a masterpiece" and a "monument against forgetting." The Claude Lanzmann SHOAH Collection consists of roughly 185 hours of interview outtakes and 35 hours of location filming.

  • The date of April 27, 1976 is inscribed onto the cameraman's slates.

  • The picture Camera Rolls 20-22 were selected to be preserved first [before the other rolls] in early 2015 and was identified as Film ID 3613. The current Film ID for this reel is 3760. The remaining camera rolls were preserved later in the year 2015.




This description is derived directly from structured data provided to EHRI by a partner institution. This collection holding institution considers this description as an accurate reflection of the archival holdings to which it refers at the moment of data transfer.