Treblinka Death Camp
a survivor of Treblinka, testifies at a trial in Israel
Treblinka was second only to Auschwitz
in the number of Jews who were killed by the Nazis: between 700,000
and 900,000, compared to an estimated 1.1 million to 1.5 million
The Treblinka death camp was located
100 km (62 miles) northeast of Warsaw, near the railroad junction
at the village of Malkinia Górna, which is 2.5 km (1.5
miles) from the train station in the tiny village of Treblinka.
Raul Hilberg stated in his three-volume
book, "The Destruction of the European Jews," that
there were six Nazi extermination centers, including Treblinka.
The other extermination camps were at Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau, all of which are located
in what is now Poland. The last two also functioned as forced
labor camps (Zwangsarbeitslager), and were still operational
shortly before being liberated by the Soviet Union towards the
end of the war in 1944 and early 1945.
The camps at Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor
and Chelmno had already been liquidated by the Germans before
the Soviet soldiers arrived, and there was no remaining evidence
of the extermination of millions of Jews. The combined total
of the deaths at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor was 1.5 million,
according to Raul Hilberg.
In June 1941, a forced labor camp for
Jews and Polish political prisoners was set up near a gravel
pit, a mile from where the Treblinka death camp would later be
located. The labor camp became known as Treblinka I and the death
camp, which opened in July 1942, was called Treblinka II or T-II.
The following quote, regarding the Treblinka
I camp, is from Martin Gilbert's book entitled "The Holocaust":
The Jewish and Polish prisoners living
there (Treblinka) were employed loading slag, cleaning drains
and leveling the ground in and around the engine shed at Malkinia
Junction, on the main Warsaw-Bialystok line. Later they were
put to work repairing and strengthening the embankment along
the Bug river. The staff of the camp consisted of 20 SS men and
20 Ukrainians. The commandant was Captain Theo von Euppen.
On January 20, 1942 at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, a conference was held to plan "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question" for Europe's 11 million Jews. SS General Reinhard Heydrich, who was the head of RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) as well as the Deputy of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) led the conference. The protocols from the conference, as written by Adolf Eichmann, contained the expression "transportation to the East," a euphemism that was used to mean the genocidal killing of all the Jews in Europe.
This map shows the routes of the deportation of
the Jews to the three Operation Reinhard camps that were set
up following the Wannsee Conference.
On May 27, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich was fatally wounded by two Czech resistance fighters who had parachuted into German-occupied Bohemia from Great Britain where they were trained. Even before Heydrich died 8 days later, Odilo Globocnik began preparations for Aktion Reinhard, which was the plan to send Jews to their deaths at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, according to Martin Gilbert's book "The Holocaust." A fourth extermination camp had already opened at Chelmno in what is now western Poland, and the first Jews were gassed in mobile vans on December 8, 1941, according to the Cental Commission for Investigation of German
Crimes in Poland.
There were no "selections"
made at the three Operation Reinhard camps, nor at the Chelmno
camp. All the Jews who were sent to these camps, with the exception
of a few who escaped, were immediately killed in gas chambers.
There were no records kept of their deaths.
Treblinka and the other two Operation
Reinhard camps, Sobibor and Belzec, were all located near the
Bug river which formed the eastern border of German-occupied
Poland. The Bug river is very shallow at Treblinka; it is what
people from Missouri would call a "crick" or creek,
compared to the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers. It is shallow
enough to wade across in the Summer time, or to walk across when
it is frozen in the Winter.
As this map shows, the territory on the other side
of the Bug river was White Russia (Belarus) and the section of
Poland that was given to the Soviet Union after the joint conquest
of Poland by the Germans and the Soviet Union in September 1939.
This part of Poland was formerly occupied by the Russians between
1772 and 1917; between 1835 and 1917, this area was included
in the Pale of Settlement, a huge reservation where
the Eastern European Jews were forced to live.
The tiny village of Treblinka is located
on the railroad line running from Ostrów Mazowiecki to
Siedlce; a short distance from Treblinka, at Malkinia Junction,
this line intersects the major railway line which runs from Warsaw,
east to Bialystok. Trains can reverse directions at the Junction
and return to Warsaw, or turn south towards Lublin, which was
the headquarters for Operation Reinhard. A few Jews from Warsaw
were sent to the Majdanek death camp in Lublin on trains that
turned south at the Malkinia Junction.
When railroad lines were built in the
19th century, the width of the tracks was standardized in America
and western Europe, but the tracks in Russia and eastern Poland
were a different gauge. Bialystok is the end of the line in Poland;
this is as far east as trains can go without changing the wheels
on the rail cars. Treblinka is located only a short distance
west of Bialystok, as can be seen on this map.
In June 1941, the German Army invaded
the Soviet Union and "liberated" the area formerly
known as the Pale of Settlement. By the time that the Aktion
Reinhard camps were set up in 1942, German troops had advanced
a thousand kilometers into Russia. The plan was to transport
the Jews as far as the Bug river and kill them in gas chambers,
then claim that they had been "transported to the East."
In 1942, the Germans built a new railroad
spur line from the Malkinia Junction into the Treblinka extermination
camp. When a train, 60 cars long, arrived at the junction, the
cars were uncoupled and 20 cars at a time were backed into the
camp. Today, a stone
sculpture shows the location of the train tracks that brought
the Jews into the Treblinka death camp.
The first Jews to be deported to the
Treblinka death camp were from the Warsaw ghetto; the first transport of 6,000
Jews arrived at Treblinka at about 9:30 on 23 July 1942. Between
late July and September 1942, the Germans transported more than
300,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka, according to
the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jews were also deported to
Treblinka from Lublin and Bialystok, two major cities in eastern
Poland, which were then in the General Government, as German-occupied
Poland was called. Others were transported to Treblinka from
the Theresienstadt ghetto in what is now the
Czech Republic. Approximately 2,000
Gypsies were also sent to Treblinka and murdered in the gas chambers.
Trains continued to arrive regularly
at Treblinka until May 1943, and a few more transports arrived
after that date.
On October 19, 1943, Odilo Globocnik
wrote to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler: "I have
completed Aktion Reinhard and have dissolved all the camps."
In an article published on August 8,
1943, the New York Times referred to a headline in a London newspaper
which read: "2,000,000 Murders by Nazis Charged. Polish
Paper in London says Jews Are Exterminated in Treblinka Death
House." The subtitle read : "According to report, steam
is used to kill men, women and children at a place in the woods."
The London newspaper story was based upon an article published
on August 7th in the magazine Polish Labor Fights, which contained
information from a Polish report on November 15, 1942.
More news about the killing of the Jews
at the Treblinka camp came from Vasily Grossman, a Jewish war
correspondent who was traveling with the Soviet Red Army. In
November 1944, Grossman published an article entitled "The
Hell of Treblinka," which was later quoted at the trial
of the major German war criminals at Nuremberg. Grossman had
interviewed 40 survivors of the Treblinka uprising and he had
talked to some of the local farmers. The camp had been completely
razed to the ground; there was nothing left for Grossman to see,
"only graves and death." The Jews had all been killed,
according to Grossman.
Proof that Treblinka was an extermination
camp is contained in a 16-page secret document, that was submitted
by Nazi statistician Dr. Richard Korherr to Reichsführer-SS
Heinrich Himmler on March 27, 1943. Reichsführer-SS Himmler
was a five-star general and the leader of the SS; he was responsible
for all the Nazi concentration camps, which were administered
by the SS. This report on "The Final Solution of the European
Jewish Problem," compiled at Himmler's request, stated that
of the 1,449,692 Jews deported from the Eastern provinces, 1,274,366
had been subjected to Sonderbehandlung at camps in the General
On April 1, 1943, Himmler had the report
prepared for submission to Hitler; the words "Sonderbehandlung
at Camps in the General Government" were changed to "Transport
of Jews from the Eastern Provinces to the Russian East, Processed
through the Camps in the General Government." The term Sonderbehandlung,
sometimes abbreviated SB, was used by the Nazis to mean death
in the gas chamber; the English translation is "special
The terms "evacuation" and
"transportation to the East" were Nazi code words for
sending the Jews to death camps where they were murdered in the
gas chambers. The words "resettled" and "liquidated,"
when used to refer to the Jews, were also euphemisms which meant
killed in the gas chambers.
The term "die Endlösung der Judenfrage" was written by Hermann Goering in a letter to Reinhard Heydrich on July 31, 1941. Translated into English as "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question," this is as a euphemism which was used by the Nazis to mean the genocide of the Jews in Europe. However, at the Nuremberg IMT, Goering testified that the term meant the "Total solution to the Jewish question" which was a euphemism for the evacuation of the Jews to the East.
In order to hide its real purpose as
a death camp, the Nazis referred to Treblinka as a Durchgangslager
Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler
was responsible for completing, by March 1943, the resettlement
of 629,000 ethnic Germans from the Baltic countries into the
Polish territory that was incorporated into the Greater German
Reich in October 1939. He was also responsible for deporting
365,000 Poles, from the part of Poland that was incorporated
into the Greater German Reich, to occupied Poland, and for deporting
295,000 citizens from Luxembourg and the provinces of Alsace
and Lorraine, which were also incorporated into the Greater German
Reich. All this had been accomplished by Himmler by March 1943
when Dr. Korherr, who was Himmler's chief statistician, made
his report on what had happened to the Jews who were living in
In 2000, a document called the Höfle
Telegram was discovered by Holocaust historians in the Public
Records Office in Kew, England. This document consists of two
intercepted encoded messages, both of which were sent from Lublin
on January 11, 1943 by SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle,
and marked "state secret." One message was sent to
Adolf Eichmann in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) in Berlin
and the other to SS-Oberststurmbannführer Franz Heim, deputy
commander of the Security Police (SIPO) at the headquarters of
German-occupied Poland in Krakow.
The encoded messages gave the number
of arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps during the previous
two weeks and the following totals for Jews sent to the Treblinka,
Belzec, Sobibor and Lublin (Majdanek) camps in 1942:
Treblinka, 71,355; Belzec, 434,500; Sobibor,
101,370; and Majdanek, 24,733.
The number for Treblinka, 71,355, was
a typographical error; the correct number should be 713,555,
based on the total given. The total "arrivals" for
the four camps matches the total of 1,274,166 "evacuated"
Jews in the Korherr Report.
Besides the freight trains that carried
the Jews in box cars to Treblinka, there were also passenger
trains with 3,000 people on board each train, as well as trucks
and horse-drawn wagons that brought the victims to Treblinka.
Samuel Rajzman, one of the few survivors
of Treblinka, testified at the Nuremberg International Military
Tribunal that "Between July and December 1942, an average
of 3 transports of 60 cars each arrived every day. In 1943 the
transports arrived more rarely." Rajzman stated that "On
an average, I believe they killed in Treblinka from ten to twelve
thousand persons daily."
The following testimony was given by Samuel Rajzman at the Nuremberg
International Military Tribunal:
Transports arrived there every day;
their number depended on the number of trains arriving; sometimes
three, four, or five trains filled exclusively with Jews -- from
Czechoslovakia, Germany, Greece, and Poland. Immediately after
their arrival, the people had to leave the trains in 5 minutes
and line up on the platform. All those who were driven from the
cars were divided into groups -- men, children, and women, all
separate. They were all forced to strip immediately, and this
procedure continued under the lashes of the German guards' whips.
Workers who were employed in this operation immediately picked
up all the clothes and carried them away to barracks. Then the
people were obliged to walk naked through the street to the gas
At the camp, a storehouse was "disguised
as a train station," according to a pamphlet which I purchased
at the Visitor's Center in 1998. The fake station was designed
to fool the Jews into thinking that they had arrived at a transit
camp, from where they were going to be "transported to the
Regarding the fake train station, Samuel
Rajzman testified as follows at the Nuremberg IMT:
At first there were no signboards
whatsoever at the station, but a few months later the commander
of the camp, one Kurt Franz, built a first-class railroad station
with signboards. The barracks where the clothing was stored had
signs reading "restaurant," "ticket office,"
"telegraph," "telephone," and so forth. There
were even train schedules for the departure and the arrival of
trains to and from Grodno, Suwalki, Vienna, and Berlin.
According to Rajzman's testimony
at Nuremberg, "When Treblinka became very well known, they
hung up a huge sign with the inscription Obermaidanek."
Maidanek was the German name for Majdanek; it was a death camp
on the outskirts of Lublin, the headquarters of the Operation
Reinhard camps. Rajzman explained that "the persons who
arrived in transports soon found out that it was not a fashionable
station, but that it was a place of death" and for this
reason, the sign was intended to calm the victims.
In spite of all this effort to reassure
the victims, the SS soldiers at Treblinka were allowed to grab
babies from the arms of their mothers and bash their heads in.
The first person to be tried for war crimes committed at Treblinka
was Josef Hirtreiter, who was put on trial in a German court
in Frankfort am Main, and sentenced on March 3, 1951 to life
in prison. Based on the testimony of survivors, Hirtreiter was
found guilty of killing young children at Treblinka, during the
unloading of the trains, by holding them by the feet and smashing
their heads against the boxcars.
The pamphlet from the Visitor's Center
says that "In a relatively short time of its existence the
camp took a total of over 800,000 victims of Jews from Poland,
Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Jugoslavia,
Germany and the Soviet Union." Raul Hilberg puts the number
of deaths at Treblinka at a minimum of 750,000. Other sources
say that the total number of deaths was 870,000. Although the
Nazis kept detailed records of everything, they did not record
the number of deaths by gassing.
The following quote is from the same
"The extermination camp in Treblinka
was built in the middle of 1942 near the already existing labour
camp. It was surrounded by fence and rows of barbed wire along
which there were watchtowers with machine guns every ten metres.
The main part of the camp constituted two buildings in which
there were 13 gas chambers altogether. Two thousand people could
be put to death at a time in them. Death by suffocation with
fumes came after 10 - 15 minutes. First the bodies of the victims
were buried, later were cremated on big grates out of doors.
The ashes were mixed witch (sic) sand and buried in one spot."
Martin Gilbert wrote in his book entitled
"Holocaust Journey" that the gas chambers at Treblinka
utilized carbon monoxide from diesel engines. Many writers say
that these diesel engines were obtained from captured Russian
submarines, but according to the Nizkor Project, they were large
500 BHP engines from captured Soviet T-34 tanks. However, at
the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal proceedings against
the major Nazi war criminals, which began in November 1945, the
Nazis were charged by the Soviet Union with murdering Jews at
Treblinka in "steam chambers," not gas chambers. Steam
chambers were used at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt for disinfecting
the clothing of the prisoners.
The pamphlet continues with this information:
"Killing took place with great
speed. The whole process of killing the people, starting from
thier (sic) arrival at the camp railroad till removing the corpses
from the gas chambers, lasted about 2 hours. Treblinka was known
among the Nazis as an example of good organization of a death
camp. It was a real extermination centre."
The United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum has the following information about Treblinka:
"The camp was laid out in a trapezoid
of 1,312 by 1,968 feet. Branches woven into the barbed-wire fence
and trees planted around the perimeter served as camouflage,
blocking any view into the camp from the outside. Watchtowers
26 feet high were placed along the fence and at each of the four
The camp was divided into sections with
one area reserved for the living quarters of the administrators
of the camp and the Ukrainian guards; another section at the
south end of the camp was for the 1,000 Jewish workers who sorted
the clothing and removed the bodies from the gas chambers. Another
section, where the gassing operation took place, was fenced off
from the reception area and the living area. The victims went
through a tube, which was a fenced-in and camouflaged path that
led from the reception area, where they had to undress, to the
gas chamber. The victims had to run naked through the tube to
a building with a deceptive sign that indicated that this was
a shower room.
Samuel Rajzman testified at the Nuremberg
IMT that the Nazis had nicknamed the path to the gas chamber
"Himmelfahrtstrasse," which means Street to Heaven.
In his testimony, Rajzman stated that there were originally 3
gas chambers at Treblinka, but later 10 more were built and there
were plans to increase the number of Treblinka gas chambers to
On August 23, 1942, fifty-two-year-old
Jankiel Wiernik (Yankel Vernik) was among several thousand Jews
transported from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka. Wiernik, who
was born in 1891 and lived in Czestochowa, Poland, survived and
after the war, he wrote a book entitled "A Year In Treblinka."
Despite his age, Wiernik had been assigned to the work squad,
composed mainly of young men, which had to carry the bodies to
the mass graves that had been made by "an excavator which
dug out the ditches." According to Wiernik, "The dimensions
of each ditch was 50 by 25 by 10 metres."
Wiernik wrote that there was originally
one gas chamber building which had 6 small rooms, three on each
side of a narrow hallway. This was a rectangular building located
at the end of the tube; the door into the building faced north.
Today, a large monument stands in the spot where this building
According to Wiernik, the engine room
was at the south end of the hallway; carbon monoxide was pumped
from diesel engines into the gas chambers. After the gassing,
the bodies were removed through six outside doors on the east
side which opened upward like a garage door. The bodies were
first buried in pits, then later dug up and burned on two pyres
located just east of the gas chamber building.
The first Commandant of the Treblinka
II death camp was SS-Obersturmführer Irmfried Eberl, who
held this position from July 1942 to September 1942. He was succeeded
by SS-Obersturmführer Franz Stangl, who served as the Commandant
from September 1942 to August 1943. Prior to his service at Treblinka
II, Stangl had been the commander of the Sobibor death camp and
before that, he was on the staff at Schloss Hartheim, where mentally and physically
disabled Germans were sent to be gassed.
The 3rd and last Commandant of Treblinka
II was SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Franz who was the commander
from August 1943 until October 3, 1943. Franz was a handsome
man who was nicknamed "Lalka" by the prisoners. Lalka
is the Polish word for doll. The German word for little doll
is Puppi, a common term of affection for little girls, but for
a man, this nickname was a term of derision.
Kurt Franz was nicknamed
"Doll" by the prisoners
On September 3, 1965 Kurt Franz was convicted
by the German Court of Assizes in Düsseldorf, Germany in
the First Treblinka Trial, along with 9 other SS officers who
had worked at Treblinka II.
The killing of Jews at Treblinka had
not bothered Kurt Franz in the least; the photograph album, that
he complied while working in the camp as the deputy of Franz
Stangl, and later as the Commandant, was entitled "Schöne
Zeiten" which means Good Times.
Kurt Franz was sentenced to life in prison.
His conviction was based on the finding of the court that "At
least 700,000 persons, predominantly Jews, but also a number
of Gypsies, were killed at the Treblinka extermination camp."
This finding by the court was based on
the expert opinion submitted to the Court of Assizes by Dr. Helmut
Kraunsnick, director of the Institute for Contemporary History
(Institute fur Zeitgeschichte) in Munich, who referred to the
following documents during his testimony:
(1) The Stroop report, a book by SS Brigadeführer
Jürgen Stroop, which contained photographs and daily reports
of the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943. The Stroop
report mentioned that approximately 310,000 Jews had been transported
in trains from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka during the period
from July 22, 1942 to October 3, 1942. After the Warsaw ghetto
uprising, the Jews who survived were transported to Treblinka.
(2) The testimony at the International
Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.
(3) The official records of train schedules,
telegrams, and train inventories pertaining to the transports
of Jews and Gypsies to Treblinka.
Franz Stangl was imprisoned by the Allies
after the war, but was released two years later without ever
having been put on trial. Following his release, he went to Italy
where he was helped by the Vatican to escape to Syria, where
he lived with his family for three years. In 1951, he moved to
Brazil where he lived openly, using his real name.
Stangl was a native of Austria, but for
years the Austrian authorities declined to bring him to justice
for the murder of thousands of Jews at Treblinka. Finally in
1961, a warrant for his arrest was issued, but it was not until
six years later that he was captured in Brazil by the famous
Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal; he had been working at a Volkswagen
factory in Sao Paulo, still using his own name.
In 1969, Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler submitted
an expert opinion, based on more recent research, that the total
number of persons killed at Treblinka was 900,000.
Franz Stangl was finally put on trial
in the Second Treblinka Trial by the court of Assizes at Düsseldorf
on October 22, 1970, charged with the deaths of 900,000 people
at Treblinka. Stangl confessed to the murders, but in his defense,
he said, "My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my
After his six-month trial in the German
court, Stangl was found guilty on December 22, 1970 and sentenced
to life in prison in January 1971; he died in prison at Düsseldorf
on June 28, 1971.
Aerial photos taken by the Soviet Union
while the camp was in operation show that there were Polish farms
adjacent to the camp and that the area of the camp was devoid
of trees. Today, the area of the Treblinka Memorial site is completely
surrounded by a forest and the section of the camp where the
guards once lived is now covered by trees.
Like the Buchenwald concentration camp, the Treblinka
II camp had a zoo, which was built by Commandant Franz Stangl
for the amusement of the SS staff and some of the privileged
prisoners, called Kapos, who assisted the Germans in the camp.
Treblinka also had a camp orchestra and a brothel for the SS
According to Jean Francois Steiner, who
wrote a book called "Treblinka," the privileged prisoners
in the camp had "a great life." They were allowed to
marry in the camp, and Kurt Franz conducted the wedding ceremonies.
After one of the wedding celebrations, the prisoners got the
idea of "a kind of cabaret," where there was music,
dancing and drinking on the Summer nights.
The following quote is from Steiner's
When Lalka heard about what was going
on, far from forbidding it, he provided the drinks himself and
encouraged the SS men to go there. The first contact lacked warmth,
but the S.S. men knew how to make people forget who they were,
and soon their presence was ignored. In addition to the dancing,
there were night-club acts. The ice was broken between the Jews
and the S.S. This did not prevent the S.S. from killing the Jews
during the day, but the prospect of having to part company soon
mellowed them a little.
The high point of these festivities
was unquestionably Arthur Gold's birthday. An immense buffet
was laid out in the tailor shop, which the S.S. officers decorated
themselves. Hand written invitations were sent to every member
of the camp aristocracy. It was to be the great social event
of the season and everyone was eager to wear his finest clothes.
[...] The women had done each other's hair and had put on the
finest dresses in the store, simple for the girls and decollete
for the women. [...] Arthur Gold outdid himself in the toasts
that preceded the festivities. He insisted on thanking the Germans
for the way they treated the Jews.
One evening a Ukrainian brought an
accordion and the others began to dance. The scene attracted
some Jews, who with the onset of Summer, were more and more uncomfortable
in their "cabaret." The nights were soft and starry,
and if it were not for the perpetual fire which suffused the
sky with its long flames, you would have thought that you were
on the square of some Ukrainian village on Midsummer Eve. Everything
was there: the campfire, the dancing, the multicolored skirts
and the freshness of the night. Friendships sprang up. Just because
men were going to kill each tomorrow was no reason to sulk.
On August 2, 1943, the Jewish prisoners
who worked at Treblinka staged an uprising after they had managed
to steal weapons stored at the camp. The prisoners sprayed kerosene
on the camp buildings and set them on fire. Jankiel Wiernik survived
the uprising, although he was shot by one of the guards. According
to Jean Francois Steiner, the Treblinka guard known as Ivan the
Terrible was killed during the uprising.
In 1986, John Demjanjuk, an American
citizen, was extradited from the United States to Israel, where
he was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death in 1988.
At the trial, five survivors identified him from a photograph
as "Ivan the Terrible," a guard at the Treblinka extermination
camp who was famous for his brutality. His conviction was overturned
when it was learned that the real Ivan the Terrible was probably
a man named Ivan Marchenko, who had been killed with a shovel
during the prisoner revolt at Treblinka in 1943, just as Jean
Francois Steiner wrote in his book.
The following quote is from a book written
by Jean Francois Steiner, entitled "Treblinka":
All the members of the Committee and
most of those who played a role in the uprising of the camp died
in the revolt. Of the thousand prisoners who were in the camp
at the time, about six hundred managed to get out and to reach
the nearby forests without being recaptured.
Of these six hundred escapees, there
remained, on the arrival of the Red Army a year later, only forty
survivors. The others had been killed in the course of that year
by Polish peasants, partisans of the Armia Krajowa, Ukrainian
fascist bands, deserters from the Wehrmacht, the Gestapo and
special units of the German army.
The photograph below shows three unidentified
survivors of Treblinka who escaped during the uprising.
Photo Credit: US Holocaust
One of the 40 prisoners who escaped from
Treblinka, and lived to tell about it, was Abraham Bomba, a Jew
who was born in 1913 in Germany, but raised in Czestochowa, Poland.
Bomba was one of the 1,000 Jews who lived in the barracks in
a separate section of the Treblinka II camp and worked for the
Germans who ran the death camp. Bomba was a barber and his job
was cutting the hair of the victims inside the gas chamber, just
before they were gassed. In 1990, he told about his experience
in the camp in a video-taped interview for the US Holocaust Memorial
Museum. The quote below is from the transcript of his interview:
"And now I want to tell you,
I want to tell you about the thing...the gas chamber. It was,
they ask me already about this thing. The gas chamber, how it
looked. Very simple. Was all concrete. There was no window. There
was nothing in it. Beside, on top of you, there was wires, and
it looked like, you know, the water going to come out from it.
Had two doors. Steel doors. From one side and from the other
side. The people went in to the gas chamber from the one side.
Like myself, I was in it, doing the job as a barber. When it
was full the gas chamber--the size of it was...I would say 18
by 18, or 18 by 17, I didn't measure that time, just a look like
I would say I look here the room around, I wouldn't say exactly
how big it is. And they pushed in as many as they could. It was
not allowed to have the people standing up with their hands down
because there is not enough room, but when people raised their
hand like that there was more room to each other. And on top
of that they throw in kids, 2, 3, 4 years old kids, on top of
them. And we came out. The whole thing it took I would say between
five and seven minute. The door opened up, not from the side
they went in but the side from the other side and from the other
side the...the group...people working in Treblinka number 2,
which their job was only about dead people. They took out the
corpses. Some of them dead and some of them still alive. They
dragged them to the ditches, and over there they covered them.
Big ditches, and they covered them. That was the beginning of
After each gassing, the Jewish workers
at Treblinka had to clean up in preparation for the next batch
of victims, according to Abraham Bomba. The clothing that had
been taken off by the victims had to be removed and put into
piles for sorting before being sent on the next empty transport
train to Lublin. Everything was done with great efficiency in
this assembly-line murder camp, and nothing was wasted. All of
the clothes and valuables, taken from the Jews when they arrived
at Treblinka, were sent to the Majdanek camp in a suburb of Lublin
where everything was disinfected before being sent to Germany
and given to civilians.
In his 1990 interview at the USHMM, Bomba
described what happened next. Below is a quote from the transcript
of his interview:
"People went in through the gate.
Now we know what the gate was, it was the way to the gas chamber
and we have never see them again. That was the first hour we
came in. After that, we, the people, 18 or 16 people...more people
came in from the...working people, they worked already before,
in the gas chamber, we had a order to clean up the place. Clean
up the place--is not something you can take and clean. It was
horrible. But in five, ten minutes this place had to look spotless.
And it looked spotless. Like there was never nobody on the place,
so the next transport when it comes in, they shouldn't see what's
going on. We were cleaning up in the outside. Tell you what mean
cleaning up: taking away all the clothes, to those places where
the clothes were. Now, not only the clothes, all the papers,
all the money, all the, the...whatever somebody had with him.
And they had a lot of things with them. Pots and pans they had
with them. Other things they had with them. We cleaned that up."
After a visit to Treblinka in
February 1943, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered
that all the evidence of the killing of the Jews had to be destroyed.
Beginning in March 1943, the bodies of approximately 750,000
victims were exhumed and burned on pyres; the ashes were then
buried in the original pits, according to Raul Hilberg. Today,
a symbolic cemetery is located where some of the ashes were buried.
By May 1943, the daily transports had stopped and the Treblinka
camp was getting ready to close.
During his trial, the last Commandant,
Kurt Franz, testified that "After the uprising in August
1943, I ran the camp single-handedly for a month; however, during
that period no gassing was undertaken. It was during that period
that the original camp was leveled off and lupines were planted."
There were neither factories nor living
quarters for the 713,555 Jews who arrived at the fake transit
station at the Treblinka death camp in 1942. The terms "arrivals"
and "evacuated" were Nazi code words for extermination;
the Jews who were sent to Treblinka and the other Operation Reinhard
camps were immediately gassed, only hours after their arrival.
The following quote, regarding the purpose
of the Treblinka camp is from the trial transcript of David Irving's
libel case against Deborah Lipstadt which is on this web site:
(Richard Rampton, the lawyer for the
defense, shows David Irving a map of the railroad lines to the
Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec camps, as he questions him about
the purpose of these camps.)
[Mr Rampton] Then there is that another
marking, which we do not have to bother about, which is the actual,
I think, German railway as opposed to the Russian one or the
Polish one. A different gauge, I think. The line runs north/east
or east/north/east out of Warsaw to a place called Malkinia;
do you see that?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Just on the border with White Russia?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] And there is a sharp right turn and the first dot
down that single line is Treblinka.
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Then if you go to Lublin and you go east/south/east
towards the Russian border you come to a place Kelm or Khelm.
[Mr Irving] First of all Treblinka and then Kelm, yes.
[Mr Rampton] And you go sharp left northwards to Sobibor?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Which is just again next to the border. If on the
other hand you turn right before you get to Kelm or Khelm and
go to Savadar, again, travelling right down to the border on
single line you get to Belsec?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Those, Mr Irving, were little villages in the middle
of nowhere, and from the 22nd July 1942, if these figures you
have given in your book are right, which they are not quite,
but the volume, if you multiply, must be hundreds of thousands
of Jews transported from Lublin and Warsaw and as I shall show
you after the adjournment also from the East; what were those
Jews going to do in these three villages on the Russian border?
[Mr Irving] The documents before me did not tell me.
[Mr Rampton] No, but try and construct in your own mind, as an
historian, a convincing explanation.
[Mr Irving] There would be any number of convincing explanations,
from the most sinister to the most innocent. What is the object
of that exercise? It is irrelevant to the issues pleaded here,
I shall strongly argue that, it would have been --
MR JUSTICE GRAY: If you want to take that point, can you
[Mr Irving] -- it would have been irresponsible of me to have
speculated in this book (Hitler's War), which is already overweight,
and start adding in my own totally amateurish speculation.
MR RAMPTON: No, you mistake me, Mr Irving, it is probably not
your fault I, as his Lordship spotted what I have done, I have
taken what you have wrote (sic) in the book as a stepping stone
to my next exercise, which is to show the scale of the operation,
and in due course, and I give you fair warning, to demonstrate
that anybody who supposes that those hundreds of thousands of
Jews were sent to these tiny little villages, what shall we say,
in order to restore their health, is either mad or a liar.
MR RAMPTON: No. I suggest, Mr Irving,
that anybody -- any sane, sensible person would deduce from all
the evidence, including, if you like, the shootings in the East
which you have accepted, would conclude that these hundreds of
thousands of Jews were not being shipped to these tiny little
places on the Russian border in Eastern Poland for a benign purpose?
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