Survivor’s horrific tale will be used to ‘rubbish deniers’

By Rachel Fletcher, April 18, 2008

The story of a Birkenau survivor who also lived through the 1945 sinking of the Cap Arcona ship is being meticulously researched in order to refute the claims of Holocaust-deniers.

Polish-born Sam Pivnik, 81, spent four months in Birkenau before being sent to a coal-mining camp in Poland. He was one of just 350 survivors of the Cap Arcona ship, which sank in 1945 after being mistakenly fired upon by the RAF. Thousands of concentration-camp prisoners who were aboard died.

Both his parents and all but one of his six siblings were killed in the Holocaust.

Mr Pivnik’s story has been researched by writer and former army officer Adrian Weale, and is supported by literary agent Andrew Lownie and Aish.

Mr Weale, who has spent the last five years working on books about the SS and Holocaust survivors, said: “In the process of doing background research, I read a lot of Holocaust memoirs. Many are quite contrived and often not true. We are trying to set down an unimpeachable record that can’t be rubbished by deniers.

“People like David Irving will pick apart inaccurate books to say it never happened. It is damaging to history and sows confusion in the minds of the younger generation.

“I have been going back to the original sources to confirm parts of the story, for example for the names of some of the SS personnel involved. I have been to the National Archives in Washington and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.”

Mr Weale’s research even uncovered a photograph of Mr Pivnik’s grandmother, taken as part of an initial Nazi plan to evacuate Jews to Madagascar.

Research assistant Philip Appleby said: “There are three or four Holocaust memoirs where you can say people survived by a sheer miracle. Sam is one.”

Mr Weale expects to finish writing the book in around three months. A publisher is still being sought.

Mr Pivnik, now a retired tailor and art dealer living in London, told the JC: “I cleaned the trains at Birkenau — I was there at the beginning. I had typhus.

“ At one time, I kissed Dr [Josef] Mengele’s boots, pleading not to be sent to the gas chambers. I have seen hangings; as a teenager, I had to pull the stools out from under people.

“I don’t know how I avoided being shot on the Cap Arcona. I jumped into the sea and held on to a lump of wood. The wind blew me to the coast. There was plenty of shooting.”

He later fought in Israel’s War of Independence as a Machalnik (volunteer from abroad). He will attend the final Machal reunion in Israel next month.

“We did go back to Poland, but I couldn’t take it. It was very traumatic, like seeing nothing but black in front of me.”

The Friends of Sam Fund has been established to fund research and publicity for the project.

Rabbi Naftali Schiff, Aish executive director, said: “At a time when the Holocaust is under fire from revisionists, we value survivors so much because their courage to tell their stories turns a history lesson into a tangible, moving and personal reality.”

Last updated: 4:36pm, May 13 2008