Treblinka was a death camp built by the Nazis near the Polish village of Treblinka northwest of Poland occupied by the Germans, as part of the Final Solution , the systematic annihilation of Jews and other groups.
It was in operation from July 1942 until November 1943 during World War II . In total some 780 000 people were killed in Treblinka, the vast majority of Polish Jews, including some 265 000 from the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto . 1 2
Treblinka was one of six death camps that were included in the framework of Operation Reinhard . The other five were Auschwitz-Birkenau , Belzec , Sobibor , Majdanek, and Chelmno . [ Citation needed ]
The field of Chelmno was originally built as a pilot project for the other three fields. Operation Reinhard was conceived by Heinrich Himmler (high official of the Nazi government and commander of the Security Troops – Schutzstaffel , better known as the SS). Unlike other concentration camps , the camps of Operation Reinhard reported directly to the office of Hitler (the Reich Chancellery Office) in Berlin . Hitler kept control of the program very close to him but delegated the work to Himmler. Operation Reinhard used the program of euthanasia ( T-4 ) for site selection, construction and training of staff occupied the territories Wehrmacht , since they could not handle the millions of Jews, especially the ghettos largest located in Warsaw And Leopolis . Treblinka was specially designed for the rapid extermination of Jews in the ghettos . Sobibor was ready to operate on August 1, 1942 .
The camp was located 100 km northeast of the capital of Poland , Warsaw ( 6 ), 500 m from the Malkinia-Koskow road and about 1.5 km from the railway station of Treblinka (8). The field was organized into two subdivisions: Treblinka I and Treblinka II , built in 1941 and 1942 , respectively.
Treblinka I had an administrative section. There were barracks for the troops of the SS , the guards Ukrainians , the commander of the camp barracks, a kitchen, a store and barracks for the 1,000 prisoners who were used in field work quartermaster. A road to the left of this field connected with the road. The other section of Treblinka I was the area where prisoners were received.
Treblinka II was on a small hill. From the first field there was a uphill route lined with electrified wire barriers – the funnel – which led directly into the building of the gas chambers. Behind this building existed a pit one meter deep by twenty meters long, inside which were furnaces to burn the bodies. The tracks were stretched along the pit and the bodies of the gassed victims were put on the tracks for incineration. There was also a tent for the 500 prisoners operating the second camp.
Treblinka was ready the 22 of July of 1942 , when it began the deportation of Jews: “According to report Jürgen Stroop , Brigadeführer SS”, a total of approximately 310,000 Jews were transported in freight trains from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka during the period from 22 as July as 1942 and 3 as October as 1942 “.
The railway line reached the interior of Treblinka. There were two barracks near the train tracks that were used to store the prisoners’ belongings. One was camouflaged to look like a regular station. In another two buildings, some 100 meters away, the belongings of the murdered prisoners were stored and the women’s hair cut off.
Unlike other extermination camps, such as Auschwitz , in Treblinka there were no barracks to house the prisoners, since the Jews on the field were killed directly. Because of this, it has been difficult to keep track of the victims.
Life expectancy at Treblinka was about one and a half hours.
When they arrived at the camp, the prisoners were in two rows, separated by their sex, men on the right and women on the left. The Germans led the Jews and beat or killed those who refused to obey, something that rarely happened, for the vast majority of Jews did not know that they were in a death camp.
Once murdered in the gas chamber, the prisoners were stripped of their belongings. Previously, an officer had collected the objects of greater value under the pretext of keeping them safe.
During the interview of Claude Lanzmann with the SS Unterscharführer Franz Suchomel , who operated in the field, he tells us about the early days of Treblinka in August 1942 :
When I arrived, Treblinka was operating at full capacity. The Warsaw ghetto was being emptied by then. Three trains arrived in two days, each with three, four, five thousand people on board, all from Warsaw … So three trains arrived, and since the offensive against Stalingrad was in full swing, Jewish convoys were left To one side of the train station. What’s more, the wagons were French, made of steel. So while five thousand Jews were arriving in Treblinka, three thousand died in the wagons. Their wrists were cut, or they were simply dead. Of those who got off the train, half were dead and half crazy. On the other trains coming from Kielce and elsewhere, at least half were dead. We stacked them [on the ramp]. Thousands of people stacked one on top of the other on the ramp. Stacked like wood. Besides this, other Jews, still alive, waited there for two days: the small gas chambers could not afford. They worked day and night during that period.
The work was carried out by special crews ( “Sonderkommandos” ) of Jewish prisoners. The blue crew was responsible for unloading the train, loading the luggage and cleaning the wagons. The blue crew had the task of undressing the passengers and taking their clothes to the storage area. The Goldjuden – gold Jews – were in charge of managing money, gold, stocks and jewels. They conducted a thorough search of the prisoners before sending them to the gas chambers. The dentist opened the mouths of the dead and pulled the gold out of her teeth. One of the officers of the SS and cruelest responsible for crimes against humanity in the Treblinka camp was the Untersturmführer Kurt Franz .
Testimony and Description of the field by Franz Suchomel
According to the testimonies of Franz Suchomel in the film Shoah by Claude Lanzmann and Franz Stangl, Treblinka, under the command of Doctor Eberl was a complete disorder, Suchomel arrived at Treblinka, 18 of August of 1942 with other seven Germans, coming from Berlin , Making stops from Warsaw to Lublin, returning to Warsaw and from there to Treblinka, the extermination camp operated at full speed. Their first impression of the camp was catastrophic, their superiors had not been told that they killed people there and commissioned them to supervise workshops of tailors and shoemakers, “The Führer ordered transfer actions” they said, officer Otto Stadie, taught them the field , When passed Suchomel and those of his group, the doors of the gas chambers were opening and the people fell, according to Suchomel that had a devastating effect in him, went to sit on his suitcases with his other friends of the SS and They began to cry.
The Germans chose a hundred Jews to drag the corpses to the graves, at night the Ukrainians took them to the gas chambers and liquidated them, that happened every day, in the middle of a strong August heat, the earth rippled, like The sea because of the gas from the corpses, many newcomers of the SS vomited and wept.
Many Jews cut their veins before reaching the field, sensing their fate, Jewish women who opened their children’s veins and then opened them, others were poisoned.
One night, Wirth, inspector of fields of action Reinhard, inspected everything and left immediately, then arrived with people from Belzec, were technicians, the authorities interrupted the transport due to the inefficient pace of the first gas chambers, as it fell So many people, and there were so many dead, bodies were piled around the gas chamber and there were for days, under that mountain of bodies was a cloak of four inches with blood, worms and excrement, no one wanted to pick up those corpses, the Jews They preferred to be shot, buried their relatives and saw with their eyes the flesh of the corpses that remained in their hands. Then Wirth went in person with some Germans and had cut long straps that passed through the torso of the corpses to drag them to the graves. Germans and Jews were forced to do this.
There was a rule: if a prisoner had been hit in the face, they would be shot that afternoon when they were ready, or the next morning if the bruise had not yet appeared before. Many prisoners, in their desperation for the horrible deaths of their relatives and no longer desirous to live, committed suicide by hanging in the barracks with their belts (Steiner 84). Normally, the 1500 workers were totally replaced every three to five days. [ Citation needed ]
Gas chambers and ovens
Very early on, people were buried in mass graves or stacked in Camp II, because the workers did not have enough time to bury them. The stench of decaying bodies could be smelled even ten kilometers away (p.54). The Jews waiting in the train cars knew what would happen and thousands committed suicide in the convoys. In September of 1942 new gas chambers were built, the engines that powered the chambers of death were heard at times from the station and were a T-34 tank.
The doors of the gas chambers were made of steel, coming from Soviet bunkers transported to Kielce .
Herbert Floss, the commander of the mass graves revealed his secret to burn bodies: the composition of the bonfire. As he explained, not all corpses burned evenly. There were good and bad corpses, incombustible and easily flammable. The art was to use the good to burn the bad guys. According to their investigations, which were obviously well advanced, the old corpses burned better than the fresh ones, fat rather than skinny, women better than men, and children, not as good as women, but better than men. From this it turned out that old corpses of fat women were the ideal corpses. Herbert Floss made them put aside as well as those of men and children. After having been unearthed and classified almost 1,000 corpses, they were stacked, placing the best combustible material down and the lower quality. Floss rejected the gas cans that were offered to him and in his replacement did bring wood. His act must be perfect. The wood gathered under the grate of the bonfire forming small foci, like bonfires. The hour of truth had come. They solemnly handed him a box of matches; He bent down, turned on the first bulb, followed by the others, and as the wood began to burn slowly, with his strange stride he approached the officials waiting at some distance.
The flames grew more and more, licking the corpses, hesitating first but then blazing. Suddenly, the whole bonfire was enveloped in flames that grew out of clouds of smoke. There was an intense crackling, the faces of the dead contracted painfully and burst their flesh. A hell of a show. For a moment, even the SS men stood petrified, watching the miracle dumb. Herbert Floss was radiant. The bonfire was the most beautiful experience of his life …
Such an event was to be celebrated. They brought tables that were placed in front of the fire and loaded with bottles of brandy, beer and wine. The day drew to a close, and the twilight sky seemed to reflect the high flames of the bonfire, over there on the horizon, where the sun set with the splendor of a fire.
At a signal from Lalka the corks rang and a fantastic party started. The first toast was dedicated to the Fuehrer. The dredge operators had returned to their machines. When the men of the SS raised their glasses to shouts, the machines seemed to come to life; With an abrupt movement they raised the steel arm to the sky in a sudden and vibrant Hitlerian salute. It was like a sign. Ten times the men also raised their arms, making the “Sieg-Heil” ring every time. The animated machines responded to the greeting of the machine-men and the air echoed from the cheers to the Führer. The party lasted until the bonfire was extinguished. After the toasts it was sung; Wild and cruel songs were heard, songs filled with hatred, horrifying, songs in honor of eternal Germany. (Steiner, Treblinka, Gerhard Stalling Verlag, 1966, pp. 294 et seq.
Testimony of Jankiel Wiernik
The corpses were made to soak in gasoline. This caused significant costs and the result was not satisfactory; The male corpses simply did not want to be cremated. Whenever a plane appeared in the sky, the work was interrupted and the corpses were covered with litter so as not to be detected from above. It was a dreadful spectacle, the most horrible spectacle ever seen by a human eye. When the corpses of pregnant women burned, the bellies burst and it was possible to see the embryos in the mother’s body …
To mitigate the monotony of the massacres, the Germans founded a Jewish orchestra in Treblinka … This served a double purpose: On the one hand, their music covered as much as possible the screams and moans of people harnessed to the gas chambers and, On the other, served as a musical fun for the country guards, who came from two music-loving nations: Germans and Ukrainians
The 2 of August of 1943 , prisoners of job commands rebelled. They made small guns, sprayed kerosene on all the buildings, and set them on fire. In the confusion, many Germans died but many more prisoners were killed. Of the approximately 1000 prisoners in camps I and II of Treblinka, about 600 were able to leave the camp and only about 40 survived the revolt and subsequent persecutions suffered by Germans, Ukrainians and Polish peasants, as well as other events of their own. war. The field stopped its operations. Field commander Kurt Franz said during his testimony: “After the rebellion in August 1943 I only operated the camp for a month. However, during that period there were no gasses. It was during this period that the original field was leveled and the lupins were planted. “(2) p. 247).
This revolt was planned for more than a year. At the head of it was a committee of which the Galapagos kapo was prominent member, who during the revolt defended the positions inside the field allowing the prisoners to escape with a small group of men who resisted for several minutes and, with their Action, helped create the necessary confusion so that the “REVOLUTION IN BERLIN” (slogan with which the revolt started) was a notable success, given that, with all hope virtually lost and feeling the Life of the country and of their own, they sought to leave to the world testimony of all that they had suffered during that long year in Treblinka, where the clock always marked 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
After the revolt in Sobibor , that happened almost at the same time ( 14 of October of 1943 ), it was decided to close the camps of ” Operation Reinhard “. Operation commander, Odilo Globocnik wrote to Himmler the 19 of October of 1943 : ‘I have completed the Action Reinhard and closed all fields’ “(5) p. 40).
In 1965 , after a report by Dr. Helmut Krausnick, director of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich , the Court of Cassation in Dusseldorf concluded that the number of people killed in Treblinka amounted to at least 700,000. In 1969 , the same court, after having new evidence revealed in a report by the expert Dr. Scheffler, raised the number to 900,000. According to the German and Ukrainian guards who were on duty in Treblinka, it is believed that the number of victims was between 1,000,000 and 1,400,000. Among those who perished was Lidia Zamenhof , daughter of the initiator of Esperanto , LL Zamenhof .
It is very difficult to have a correct figure for the actual number of people, as many witnesses were later killed during the war (which would end two years after the camps had been closed, the 8 of maypole of 1945 ). Many records were lost or destroyed, especially those concerning rail transport, which were heavily bombed by Allied aviation. Fewer than one hundred survivors of Treblinka were found at the end of the war.
In Israel , John Demjanjuk was sentenced to death on 25 of April of 1988 for war crimes committed in the field. He was accused of being a notorious guard known as “Ivan the Terrible” by the survivors and acquitted in 1993 . His deportation from the United States was ordered in 2006, but it is not until 2008 that Nazi war crimes investigator Kurt Schrimm asked the Munich prosecutor’s office – where Demjanuk lived before emigrating to the US – that he was accused Of the participation in the murder of 290,000 Jews. Since then, his case has been submerged in legal frameworks and deferrals.
At present Treblinka is National Monument of Poland.
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- Back to top↑ Snyder, 2011 , p. 325.