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Gitta Sereny

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Franz Stangl
Diana Athill Writer
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He… this man Stangl, was one… he was the commandant of Treblinka. Treblinka was one of the… I think it was only five actual extermination camps. Not concentration camps, they were different. They didn't exist to have people working there and being worked to death, they existed simply and solely as places where people were exterminated. They came off trains, they were stripped of their goods, they were sent naked into the gas chambers, excepting for a very, very few, who were kept to sort of manage. Not managed, but to be used as servants in the camp. And he had been… he was one of the very few people who had actually been a commandant of such a camp. And Gitta had worked, when she was young, on the children. She'd… she'd got a job trying to sort out the children who'd ended up in Germany. God knows how. You know, they were the children of slave workers and things. And they were lost, and they'd got to be reunited with their families, if that was possible. And she got a pretty good view, as a young woman, of the unspeakable horrors that these children had gone through. And she thought, 'Well, how? How did perfectly normal people inflict such horrors?' And it came to her that someone, someday, ought to try and get hold of some of these people and get to the bottom of it by talking to them. And when she heard about Stangl had been discovered, and was in prison, and available, and she had, by that time, become a practiced journalist, she thought that she could perhaps take this on. She would get permission to go and see this particular man, who had done the most evil thing that anyone possibly could do, and talk to him, and see what he had to say about how it happened. And of course, he had begun by saying, 'I never did anything excepting what I was told to do. I was not responsible, I would have… if I hadn't done it, I would have lost my life. I simply obeyed orders'. And he stuck to that for quite a long time, which was the answer that they all gave, of course. Until finally, finally, finally, she… she had… she felt, in the end, I think, in a funny way, that she needed to try and save his soul by making him see what he'd done.

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She has worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Treblinka, Franz Stangl, Gitta Sereny

Duration: 2 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008