Treblinka extermination camp
Symbolic concrete blocks mark the path of the former railway line at Treblinka.
|Known for||Genocide during the Holocaust|
|Location||Near Treblinka, General Government (German-occupied Poland)|
|First built||April 1942 – July 1942|
|Operational||22 July 1942 – October 1943|
|Number of gas chambers||6|
|Number of inmates||est. 1,000 Sonderkommando|
|Killed||est. 800,000 – 1,200,000|
|Liberated by||Closed in 1943|
Treblinka [trɛˈblʲinka] was an extermination camp built by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. It was located near the Treblinka village in the modern-day Masovian Voivodeship north-east of Warsaw. The camp operated officially between 23 July 1942 and 19 October 1943 as part of Operation Reinhard, the most deadly phase of the Final Solution. During this time, more than 800,000 Jews as well as unknown numbers of Romani people died in its gas chambers. The victims included men, women, and children. Other estimates of the number killed at Treblinka exceed 1,000,000.
Managed by the German SS and the Eastern European Trawnikis (also known as Hiwi guards), the camp consisted of two separate units: Treblinka I and the Treblinka II extermination camp (Vernichtungslager). The first was a forced-labour camp (Arbeitslager) whose prisoners worked primarily in the nearby gravel mine or irrigation area and in the forest, where they cut wood to fuel the crematoria. Between June 1941 and 23 July 1944, more than half of its 20,000 inmates died from summary executions, hunger, disease and mistreatment.
The second camp, Treblinka II, was designed purely for extermination. A small number of men who were not killed immediately upon arrival became its Jewish slave-labour units called Sonderkommandos, forced to bury the victims' bodies in mass graves. These units exhumed all these bodies in 1943 and then cremated them on massive open-air pyres along with the bodies of new victims. Gassing operations at Treblinka II ended in October 1943 following a revolt by the Sonderkommandos in early August. Several ethnic German guards were killed and some 300 prisoners escaped, although fewer than a hundred survived. The camp was then dismantled and a farmhouse built on top of it in an attempt to hide the evidence of genocide.
In postwar Poland, Treblinka was declared a national monument of Jewish martyrology[a] during an official ceremony held in 1964 at the site of the former gas chambers; 30,000 people attended the ceremony,[k] including many foreign guests. A memorial was unveiled by the Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland in the presence of survivors of the Treblinka uprising from Israel, France, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The structure's cornerstone was laid already in 1958. Over time the government purchased 127 hectares of land that had formed part of the camp. The first official German trial for war crimes committed at Treblinka was also held in 1964, twenty years after the end of the war. Following the end of communism the number of visitors from abroad began to steadily increase. The new exhibition centre located at the camp opened in 2006. It was later expanded and made into a branch of the Siedlce Regional Museum.
- 1 Background
- 2 Killing process
- 3 Organisation of the camp
- 4 Treblinka prisoner uprising
- 5 Operational command
- 6 Death count
- 7 After the war
- 8 Treblinka trials
- 9 Individuals responsible
- 10 Footnotes
- 11 References
The systematic annihilation of the Jews by industrial means began after the 1942 Wannsee Conference near Berlin, where the plans for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" were finalized. The extermination program was codenamed Operation Reinhard (German: Aktion Reinhard) in order to differentiate it from the Einsatzgruppen's killing spree in territories conquered by Nazi Germany, with over half a million Jews already dead. Treblinka was one of three secret extermination camps set up specifically for Operation Reinhard; the other two were Belzec and Sobibor. All three of them were equiped with gas chambers disguised as showers for the mass murder of entire transports of people, based on a pilot project of mobile killing at Chełmno (German: Kulmhof) that began operating in late 1941 and used gas vans. Chełmno was not a part of Reinhard, which was marked by the construction of stationary facilities of mass murder. Chełmno was a pilot project for the establishment of faster methods of killing and incinerating people. In addition to Reinhard camps, mass killing facilities using Zyklon B were developed at the Majdanek concentration camp in March, and at Auschwitz II-Birkenau in September 1942 within the already existing Auschwitz I.
The Nazi plan to murder Polish Jews from across the General Government during Aktion Reinhard, was overseen in occupied Poland by SS-Obergruppenführer Odilo Globocnik, who did so as the deputy of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in Berlin. The Operation Reinhard camps reported directly to the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), which was headed by Himmler. The staff of Operation Reinhard used the Action T4 euthanasia program as a basic framework for the construction of facilities.
The camp of Treblinka was located 80 kilometres (50 mi) northeast of the Polish capital Warsaw, near the Małkinia–Sokołów Podlaski railway junction connecting major cities in central Poland with the gravel mine essential to the production of concrete. The quarry, equipped with heavy machinery, was located 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from the Treblinka town railroad station. Before World War II, it was owned and operated by the Polish industrialist Marian Łopuszyński who built a rail track. From the German perspective, Treblinka was ready for the convenience of a new plan. It was well connected, but distant enough to provide isolation; halfway between some of the largest Jewish ghettos in all of Nazi-occupied Europe, the Ghetto in Warsaw and the Białystok Ghetto in the capital of Bezirk Bialystok. The Warsaw Ghetto had about 500,000 Jewish inmates, while the Białystok Ghetto had about 60,000. From the beginning Treblinka was split into separate subcamps, Treblinka I and Treblinka II. The German contractors who oversaw the construction of Treblinka I and Treblinka II were the Schoenbronn Company of Leipzig and the Warsaw branch of Schmidt–Munstermann. Between 1942 and 1943 the extermination camp was further redeveloped with a crawler excavator. New gas chambers made of bricks and mortar and mass cremation pyres were also introduced during this time. Additionally, the perimeter was enlarged to provide a buffer zone, thus making it impossible to approach the camp from the outside. The number of trains caused panic among the residents of nearby settlements. They would likely have been killed if caught near the train tracks.
Founded officially on 15 November 1941, Treblinka I was a forced-labour camp (Arbeitslager) for Poles and Jews captured in nearby locations. Replacing a company set up in June 1941 by Sturmbannführer Ernst Gramss, it operated until 23 July 1944. In three years half of its total number of some 20,000 inmates sentenced to prison term of hard labor perished. The actual workforce consisted of 1,000–2,000 prisoners, who worked 12- to 14-hour shifts in the mega quarry and later also supplied fuel to open-air crematoria by bringing in wood from the nearby forest.
During its entire course of operation, the commandant of Treblinka I was Sturmbannführer Theodor van Eupen. He ran the camp with several SS men and almost 100 Hiwi guards. The quarry, spread over an area of 17 hectares (42 acres) supplied road construction material for German military use, part of the strategic road-building programme in the attack on the Soviet Union. It was equipped with crawler excavator qualified for shared use by both Treblinka I and II. Eupen worked closely with the SS and police commandanture in Warsaw during the deportation of Jews in early 1943 in order to have prisoners brought to him from the Warsaw Ghetto for necessary replacements. He executed prisoners often by "taking shots at them, as if they were partridges" wrote Franciszek Ząbecki. A widely feared overseer was Untersturmführer Franz Schwarz, who would execute prisoners with a pickaxe or a hammer.
Treblinka II (officially the SS-Sonderkommando Treblinka) was divided into three parts and built by two groups of German Jews expelled from Berlin and imprisoned at the Warsaw Ghetto (238 men of 17 to 35 years of age). They were brought in by the head of construction, Hauptsturmführer Richard Thomalla, because they could speak German. The entire death camp, which was either 17 hectares (42 acres) or 13.5 hectares (33 acres) in size (sources vary), was surrounded by two rows of barbed-wire fencing 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) tall. This fence was later weaved with pine-tree branches to obstruct the view of the camp. More Jews were brought in from the surrounding settlements to work on the new railway ramp within Camp 2, which was ready in June 1942.
A telephone line was installed in the Wohnlager administrative and residential compound. The main road within the camp was paved and named Seidel Straße after Unterscharführer Kurt Seidel (SS corporal) who supervised its construction. A few side roads were lined with gravel. The main gate for road traffic was erected on the north side. Barracks were built with supplies delivered from Warsaw, Sokołów Podlaski, and Kosów Lacki. Kitchen, bakery, and dining rooms were equipped with quality items taken from Jewish ghettos. The sleeping quarters, separate for Germans and Ukrainians, were positioned at an angle for better control of all entrances. SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Franz had the idea of setting up a small zoo in the centre (next to his horse stables, aerial photo), with two caged foxes, two peacocks and a roe deer (brought in 1943). Smaller rooms were built for laundry, tailor, and shoe repair shops, as well as woodworking, medical aid, as well as barracks for the cleaning and kitchen women (closest to the SS quarters).
The second section of Treblinka II (lower camp, or the Auffanglager) was the receiving area where the railway unloading ramp extended from the Treblinka line into the camp. There was a platform surrounded by the barbed-wire fence, and a new building was erected on it and disguised as a railway station complete with a wooden clock and fake railroad terminal signage. Behind a second fence, about 100 metres (330 ft) from the track, there were two long barracks used for undressing, with a "cashier's booth", which collected money and jewellery for "safekeeping". Jews who resisted were taken away or beaten to death by the guards. The area where the women and children were shorn of their hair was on the other side of the path from the men. All buildings including barber barracks contained piled up clothing and belongings of prisoners. Further to the right, there was a fake infirmary called "Lazaret", with the Red Cross sign on it. It was a small barracks surrounded by barbed wire where the sick, old, wounded and "difficult" prisoners were taken. They were led to the edge of an open excavation seven metres deep directly behind it, and shot one by one by Blockführer Willi Mentz, nicknamed "Frankenstein" by the inmates. Mentz single-handedly executed thousands of Jews. The same trench was also used to burn loads of identity papers deposited by new arrivals at the undressing area.
The third and the most important section of Treblinka II was the actual killing zone with gas chambers built in the centre of the upper camp. It was completely screened from the railroad tracks by an earth bank built by the crawler excavator. The mound was elongated in shape. It resembled a retaining wall drawn by commandant Franz Stangl later on. On other sides, the zone was camouflaged from new arrivals like the rest of the camp, using tree-branches woven into barbed-wire fences by the Tarnungskommando (the only work-detail led out to collect them). From the undressing barracks there was a fenced-off path leading through the forested area directly into the gas chambers. It was cynically called Himmelstraße ("the road to heaven") by the SS, or der Schlauch ("the tube") in German. Initially, on the opposite side of the gas chambers were the huge burial ditches approximately 50 metres (160 ft) long, 25 metres (82 ft) wide, and 10 metres (33 ft) deep, dug by the excavator. In early 1943, they were replaced with cremation pyres which were up to 30 metres long, with rails laid across the pits on concrete blocks. The roughly 300 prisoners who operated the upper camp lived in separate barracks built next to the work area of Camp 3 behind the gas chambers.
Unlike other Nazi concentration camps across German-occupied Europe, in which prisoners were used as forced labour for the German war effort, the Totenlagers had only one function: to kill those sent there. To prevent incoming victims from realising their fate, Treblinka II was disguised as a transit camp for deportations further east, complete with totally made up train schedules, a fake train-station clock with hands painted on it, names of destinations, a false ticket window; and most notably, the stop sign "Ober Majdan", a code word for Treblinka commonly used to deceive passengers departing from the West. An actual prewar landed estate called Majdan was at 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) distance.
The mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began on 22 July 1942 with the first shipment of 6,500 victims. The gas chambers became operational the following day. For the next two months, deportations from Warsaw in two pendulum trains continued on a daily basis ranging from about 4,000 to 7,000 victims per transport, the first in the early morning and the second in mid-afternoon. All new arrivals were sent immediately to the undressing area by the Kommando Blau who managed the platform, and from there to the gas chambers. According to German records, including the official report by SS Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, some 265,000 Jews were transported in freight trains from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka during the period from 22 July to 12 September 1942 (months before the subsequent uprising). Hundreds of prisoners died from exhaustion, suffocation and thirst while in transit to the camp in the overcrowded boxcars.
Treblinka received transports of almost 20,000 foreign Jews between October 1942 and March 1943, including 8,000 from the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia via Theresienstadt as well as over 11,000 from Bulgarian-occupied Thrace, Macedonia and Pirot pursuant to an agreement with the Nazi-allied Bulgarian government. They had train tickets and arrived predominantly in passenger cars with considerable luggage, travel foods and drinks which were taken by the SS to the food storage barracks. The provisions included such items as smoked mutton, specialty breads, wine, cheese, fruit, real tea, coffee and candy. Unlike Polish Jews arriving in Holocaust trains from nearby ghettos such as Warsaw, Radom and Bezirk Bialystok districts, the foreign Jews received a warm welcome upon arrival. They were told by an SS man (either Otto Stadie or Willy Mätzig) that they were on the way to Ukraine and needed to shower and have their clothes disinfected before receiving work uniforms. While Treblinka dealt mainly with Polish Jews, Auschwitz-Birkenau "processed" Jews from virtually every other country in Europe, Belzec handled the Jews from Austria and Sudetenland, and Sobibor was the final destination for Jews from France and the Netherlands. The rate of arriving transports slowed down only in winter.
In any case, the ultimate fate of the foreign Jews was to die like the others. The unhinged locomotive went back to Małkinia, while the victims were pulled from the carriages onto the platform. They were led through the gate amidst the chaos and constant screaming and yelling. They were separated by gender behind the gate, pushed into one of the two barracks (left or right) and ordered to tie their shoes together and to strip. Some kept their own towels. The Jews who were resistant to the process were taken to the "Red Cross infirmary" and shot right behind it. Women had their hair cut off. The same hair was used in the manufacture of socks for U-boat crews and hair-felt footwear for the Reichs-railway.
The newly arrived Jews were beaten incessantly with whips after undressing to drive them towards the gas chambers; hesitant men were treated particularly brutally. According to postwar testimony of some SS officers, men were always gassed first, while women and children waited outside the gas chambers for their turn. During this time, the women and children could hear the sounds of suffering from inside the gas chambers, and they became well aware of the fate that awaited them, which caused panic, distress, and even involuntary defecation. An entire train transport of people could be killed in a matter of two or three hours.
The gassing area was entirely closed off with tall wood fencing made of vertical boards. Originally, it consisted of three interconnected barracks 8 metres (26 ft) long and 4 metres (13 ft) wide that were disguised as showers. They had double walls insulated by earth packed down in between. The interior walls and ceilings were lined with roofing paper. The floors were covered with tin-plated sheet metal used also for roofing. Solid wooden doors were insulated with swaths of rubber and bolted from the outside by heavy cross-bars. The victims were gassed with the fumes generated by a Soviet tank engine (200 horsepower, water cooled V-8 gasoline engine according to Erich Fuchs), which had been removed from a Red Army tank captured during Operation Barbarossa. It had been brought in by the SS at the time of the camp's construction and was also used to generate electricity. The engine was erected in a separate shack with its exhaust pipe put just below the ground and opening into all three gas chambers. The fumes could be seen seeping out. After about 20 minutes the bodies were removed by dozens of Sonderkommandos, placed onto carts and wheeled away. The system was imperfect and required a lot of effort; trains that arrived later in the day had to wait on layover tracks overnight at Treblinka, Małkinia, and Wólka Okrąglik.
Between August and September 1942, a big new building with a concrete foundation was built out of bricks and mortar under the guidance of T-4 euthanasia expert Erwin Lambert. It contained 8–10 gas chambers (8 metres by 4 metres each) with a corridor in its centre. Stangl supervised the construction and brought in building materials from Małkinia. The new gas chambers became operational in early autumn 1942 and were equipped with two fume-producing engines instead of one. The metal doors, which had been taken out from Soviet military bunkers around Białystok, had portholes through which it was possible to examine the dead before removal. The new death chambers were capable of killing 3,000 people in two hours and 12,000–15,000 victims every day, with a maximum capacity of 22,000 deaths in 24 hours.
This killing process differed significantly from the method used at Auschwitz and Majdanek, where the poisonous gas Zyklon B was utilized. At Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec, the victims died from suffocation and carbon monoxide poisoning. This method meant that many victims were not completely dead after inhaling the engine exhaust. The few prisoners who worked in the Sonderkommandos and survived later testified that victims frequently let out a final gasp of breath from their lungs when they were extracted from the gas chambers.
After the suffocation ended and the doors of the gas chambers were opened, the bodies of victims did not lie on the ground, but were standing and kneeling due to the severe overcrowding, with dead mothers embracing the lifeless bodies of their children wrote Jankiel Wiernik who survived the prisoner uprising and escaped. Sometimes victims began to revive in the fresh air. They were shot by the guards and buried with the others.
The Germans became fully aware of the political danger associated with the mass burial of corpses only in 1943, when the Polish victims of the Soviet Katyn massacre were discovered near Smolensk in Russia and reported to Berlin. Those 22,000 officers' bodies were well preserved underground, attesting to the Soviet war crimes. By April, the Nazi propaganda began to draw attention to it amongst the international community via the Katyn Commission, in order to drive a wedge between the Allies. The secret orders to exhume corpses already buried at Treblinka and burn them instead came directly from the Nazi leadership.
Within Treblinka II, there were two large cremation pits constructed to incinerate dead bodies. The masses of corpses that had been buried with the crawler excavator during the camp's initial operation were dug up again and cremated according to the orders of Heinrich Himmler, who had visited the camp in 1943. The instructions to utilise rails as grates came from Herbert Floß, the camp's cremation expert. The bodies were placed on grates over wood, splashed with petrol, and burned in one massive blaze. It was a harrowing sight according to Jankiel Wiernik, with the bellies of pregnant women exploding from boiling amniotic sac fluid. He wrote that the heat radiating from the pits was maddening. The bodies would burn for five hours; the pyres operated 24 hours a day. Once the system had been perfected, some 10,000–12,000 victims could be incinerated there at the same time.
The open-air burn pits were located east of the new gas chambers and refuelled from 4 a.m. till 6 p.m. The current camp memorial includes a flat grave marker resembling one of them. It is constructed from melted basalt and stone and has a concrete foundation. It is a symbolic grave, as the Nazis spread the actual human ashes, mixed with sand, over 22,000 square metres.
Organisation of the camp
The camp was operated by 20–25 SS overseers (Germans and Austrians) and 80–120 Wachmänner guards who had been trained at camp Trawniki. While the guards were mainly ethnic German Volksdeutsche from the east and native Ukrainians, there were also some Russians, Tatars, Moldovans, Latvians, and Central Asians, all of whom had served in the Red Army. They were recruited of their own free will by Karl Streibel from the prisoner-of-war camps for the Soviet soldiers captured after the outbreak of war with the USSR.[b]
The work at the Camp 2 Auffanglager receiving area was performed under threat of death by 700–800 Jewish prisoners organised into six specialised Sonderkommando squads, each of which had a different color triangle. The triangles made it impossible for new arrivals to try to blend in with members of the work-details. The blue unit (Kommando Blau) managed the railroad terminal and unlocked the freight cars. They met the new arrivals, carried out people who were already dead, removed bundles, and cleaned the boxcar floors. The red unit (Kommando Rot), which was the biggest squad, unpacked and sorted the belongings of victims after they had been "processed". The red unit delivered these belongings to the storage barracks, which were managed by the yellow unit (Kommando Gelb), who separated high-quality items from the low-quality clothing, removed the Star of David from all outer garments, and extracted any money sewn into the linings. The yellow unit was followed by the Desinfektionskommando, who disinfected the storage, including sacks of hair from "processed" women. The Goldjuden unit ("money Jews") collected and counted banknotes and evaluated gold and jewelry. A different group of about 300 men, called the Totenjuden ("Jews of death"), lived and worked in Camp 3 across from the gas chambers. They took the corpses away for burial and cremation after any gold teeth had been extracted, refueled the pyres, crushed the remaining bones with mallets, and collected the ashes for disposal. Each trainload of "deportees" brought to Treblinka consisted of an average of sixty heavily guarded railcars. They were divided into three sets of twenty at the layover yard. Each set was processed within the first two hours of backing onto the ramp, and made ready by the Sonderkommandos to be exchanged.
Members of all work units were continuously beaten by the guards and often shot or hanged at the gallows. Only the strongest men were selected from new arrivals daily to obtain the necessary replacements. A different work detail was responsible for cleaning the common areas of Treblinka II. The Tarnungskommando was tasked with camouflaging its essential structures. The Camp 1 Wohnlager residential compound contained barracks for 700 Sonderkommandos, which, when combined with the 300 Totenjuden living across from the gas chambers, brought their grand total to roughly one thousand at any given time.
Showing up to work bloodied and bruised would lead to execution. If a prisoner beaten on the face sustained black eyes, open wounds and severe swelling, he would be called "clepsydra" (Greek: water clock) by the other prisoners and most likely shot that same evening at roll call or the next day if the bruised cheeks first began to swell up then. Many Sonderkommando prisoners hanged themselves at night, incapable of coping with the horrors. Suicides in the Totenjuden barracks, wrote Wiernik, occurred at the rate of 15 to 20 per day. The work crews – usually unable to eat or sleep from fear and anxiety – were almost entirely replaced every few days; members of the old work-detail were sent to their deaths except for those most resilient to stress.
In early 1943 a Jewish underground resistance organization formed at Treblinka with the hope of seizing control of the weapons and escaping to freedom. The planned revolt was preceded by a long period of secret preparations. The clandestine unit was originally organised by a former Jewish captain of the Polish Army, Dr. Julian Chorążycki,[c] who was described by fellow plotter Samuel Raizman as a noble man essential to the action. His organising committee included Zelomir Bloch (leadership), Rudolf Masaryk, Marceli Galewski, Samuel Rajzman, Dr. Irena Lewkowska (sick bay), Leon Haberman, Hershl (Henry) Sperling from Częstochowa, and several others. Chorążycki committed suicide on 19 April 1943 when faced with imminent capture. The plot was not discovered. The next leader was another former Polish Army officer, Dr. Berek Lajcher,[d] who had arrived on 1 May. Born in Częstochowa but practising medicine in Wyszków, he had been expelled by the Nazis to Wegrów in 1939. The initial date of the revolt was set for 15 June 1943 but had to be postponed because of a change in circumstances caused by an explosion. A Ghetto fighter detonated a grenade in the undressing area, throwing the SS and guards into a panic. He arrived in one of the early May trains carrying captured rebels from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which erupted on 19 April 1943 and coincided with the last deportation of 7,000 Jews from the capital. The remaining 42,000 Warsaw Jews were deported to Majdanek instead. Meanwhile, the burning of dug up corpses continued at full speed until the end of July. The Treblinka II insurgents became increasingly concerned about their own fate.
The uprising was launched on a hot summer day of 2 August 1943 (Monday, a regular day of rest from gassing), when a group of Germans and some forty Ukrainians drove off to the Bug River for a swim. First, the door to the arsenal near the train tracks was silently unlocked with a key duplicated earlier, and some 20–25 rifles, 20 hand grenades and a dozen pistols were stolen and delivered in a cart to the gravel work-detail. At 3:45 p.m. some 700 Jews launched the attack on the gates. They set some buildings ablaze, including a tank of petrol, which exploded, spreading flames on surrounding structures. Many prisoners attempted to climb over the fence. However, the machine-gun fire from about 25 Germans and around 60 Ukrainian Trawnikis resulted in near-total slaughter. Lajcher was killed in the revolt along with most insurgents. Only 150–200 Jews (sources vary) succeeded in crossing over the fence. Half were killed after a chase in cars and on horses. Some of those who escaped successfully were transported across the river by the partisans of the Armia Krajowa hiding in the surrounding forest, while others who ran 30 kilometres nonstop like Sperling were helped and fed by Polish villagers. Of the roughly 150 Jews who managed to break free only around 70 are known to have survived until the end of the war, including future authors of published Treblinka memoirs: Jankiel Wiernik, Chil Rajchman, Samuel Willenberg, and Richard Glazar.
Among the Jewish prisoners who escaped successfully after setting fire to the camp, there were two 19-year-olds, Samuel Willenberg and Kalman Taigman, who had both arrived in 1942 and had been forced to work there under pain of death. In August 2012 they were the only remaining Jewish survivors of the camp. Both emigrated to Israel after the war and devoted their last few years to retelling the story of Treblinka.[e] Taigman stated of his experience, "It was hell, absolutely hell. A normal man cannot imagine how a living person could have lived through it – killers, natural-born killers, who without a trace of remorse just murdered every little thing." Escapees Hershl Sperling and Richard Glazar committed suicide because of survivor guilt syndrome.
In spite of the revolt, Treblinka II continued to operate for another year. Stangl met in Lublin with the head of Operation Reinhard Odilo Globocnik and inspector Christian Wirth, and decided not to draft a report, indicating that no native Germans died in the process. The camp's new deputy commandant Kurt Franz recalled during his testimonies: "After the uprising in August 1943 I ran the camp single-handedly for a year; however, during that period no gassings were undertaken." Facts prove otherwise. Despite the extensive damage to the camp, the gas chambers were left intact and the killing of Polish Jews continued, albeit at a reduced speed with only ten boxcars "processed" at once until the end of the month. On 19 October 1943, Operation Reinhard was terminated by a letter from Odilo Globocnik. The following day, a large group of Jewish Arbeitskommando who had worked on dismantling the camp structures over the past several weeks were loaded onto the train and transported via Siedlce and Chełm to Sobibor for gassing on 20 October 1943. Cleanup operations continued over the winter. The last Sonderkommando disposing of the incriminating evidence were executed in July 1944.
SS-Obersturmführer Irmfried Eberl was appointed the camp's first commandant on 11 July 1942. He was a psychiatrist from Bernburg Euthanasia Centre; the only physician-in-chief to command an extermination camp. According to some, his poor organisational skills soon caused the operation of Treblinka to turn disastrous; others point out that the number of transports that were coming in reflected the high command's wildly unrealistic expectations of Treblinka's ability to "process" these prisoners. The early gassing machinery frequently broke down due to overuse, forcing the SS to shoot Jews assembled for suffocation. The workers did not have enough time to bury them and the mass graves were overflowing. According to the testimony of his colleague Unterscharführer Hans Hingst, Eberl's ego and thirst for power grossly exceeded his grasp: "So many transports arrived that the disembarkation and gassing of the people could no longer be handled." On incoming Holocaust trains to Treblinka, many of the soon-to-be-murdered Jews locked inside correctly guessed what would happen to them. The putrid odor of decaying human remains could be smelled up to 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) away. It was evident that large-scale killings were happening on site.
Oskar Berger, a Jewish eyewitness who escaped, told of the camp's state when he arrived there in August 1942:
When we were unloaded, we noticed a paralyzing view – all over the place there were hundreds of human bodies. Piles of packages, clothes, suitcases, everything in a mess. German and Ukrainian SS-men stood at the corners of the barracks and were shooting blindly into the crowd.
Commandant Irmfried Eberl was relieved of his duties after Odilo Globocnik visited Treblinka on 26 August 1942 along with Christian Wirth and his adjutant from Belzec Josef Oberhauser. Among the reasons for dismissal were: incompetently disposing of the tens of thousands of dead bodies, using inefficient methods of killing, and not properly concealing the mass murder. Eberl was reportedly transfered to Berlin, closer to operational headquarters in the Hitler's Chancellery, where the main architect of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler, had just embarked on stepping up the pace of the program. Globocnik assigned Christian Wirth to remain in Treblinka for a while to help clean up the camp. On 28 August 1942, Globocnik temporarily suspended deportations. He chose Franz Stangl, who had previously been the commandant of the Sobibor extermination camp, to assume command of the camp as Eberl's successor. Stangl had a reputation as a competent administrator with a good understanding of the project's objectives, and therefore Globocnik trusted that Stangl would be capable of resuming control.
The road ran alongside the railway. When we were about fifteen, twenty minutes' drive from Treblinka, we began to see corpses by the line, first just two or three, then more, and as we drove into Treblinka station, there were what looked like hundreds of them – just lying there – they'd obviously been there for days, in the heat. In the station was a train full of Jews, some dead, some still alive ... that too, looked as if it had been there for days.
Stangl reorganised the camp and the transports of Warsaw and Radom Jews began to arrive again on 3 September 1942. Stangl wanted the camp to look attractive to him, wrote Arad, so he ordered the paths paved in the Wohnlager administrative compound. Flowers were planted along Seidel Straße as well as near the SS living quarters. He further concealed the appearance of Treblinka by requesting that all arriving prisoners be greeted by the SS with a verbal announcement translated by the working Jews. Franz Stangl liked to wear a white uniform and carry a whip, and so he was nicknamed the "White Death" by prisoners. Although he was directly responsible for the camp's operations, Stangl limited his contact with Jewish prisoners as much as possible, at least according to his own testimony. He claimed that he rarely interfered with unusually cruel acts perpetrated by his subordinate officers at the camp. He grew accustomed to the killings and perceived prisoners not as humans but merely as "cargo" that had to be destroyed, he said.
After the Treblinka revolt and cessation of Operation Reinhard, Stangl went with Globocnik to Italy where the SS reinforcements were needed. The next and the last camp commandant was Kurt Franz nicknamed "Lalka" (the doll) by the prisoners, a former boxer with innate power to deliver knockout punches. He managed Treblinka II until November 1943 and took care of its subsequent complete liquidation in the following months. His deputy was Hauptscharführer Fritz Küttner who maintained a network of Sonderkommando informers, and did the hands-on killings.
According to postwar testimonies, when transports were temporarily halted, Franz wrote lyrics to a song meant to celebrate the Treblinka extermination camp. In actuallity, prisoner Walter Hirsch wrote them for him. The melody came from something Franz remembered from Buchenwald. The music was happy, in the key of D major, as though the deaths at the camp were a joyful process rather than one of bereavement. The song was taught to the newly arriving Jews assigned to work in the Sonderkommando. They were forced to memorize it by nightfall of their first day at the camp. Survivor Samuel Willenberg remembered the song beginning: "With firm steps we march ..." The lyrics recalled by Unterscharführer Franz Suchomel are quoted below:
Looking squarely ahead, brave and joyous, at the world. The squads march to work. All that matters to us now is Treblinka. It is our destiny. That's why we've become one with Treblinka in no time at all. We know only the word of our Commander. We know only obedience and duty. We want to serve, to go on serving until little luck ends it all. Hurray![f]
There are many estimates of the total number of people killed at Treblinka based on fragmentary data from a variety of sources. Definitive reports are scarce. Many postwar testimonies of survivors contain unsupported information and only alleged facts. Franciszek Ząbecki was one of the few non-German witnesses to see every transport that came into the camp. Ząbecki, a Polish station master before the war, was present at the nearby Treblinka railway station when the first Holocaust train arrived from Warsaw. He was employed by Deutsche Reichsbahn as a traffic controller at Treblinka village from 22 May 1941. He was a member of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army), which formed most of the Polish resistance movement in World War II, and kept a daily record of the extermination transports. He also took a clandestine photo of the burning Treblinka II perimeter during the prisoner uprising. He witnessed most passing transports, including the last set of five enclosed freight cars carrying Sonderkommando to the Sobibor gas chambers on 20 October 1943. From his own records, Ząbecki estimated that no fewer than 1,200,000 people were murdered at Treblinka. He published his findings in a book in 1977.
In 1965, after a report by Dr. Helmut Krausnick, director of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, the Court of Assize in Düsseldorf concluded that at least 700,000 people were killed at Treblinka. In 1969, the same court, after new evidence revealed in a report by Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, reassessed that number to be at least 900,000. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the death toll in the gas chambers of Treblinka II (not including the deaths from forced labour in Camp I) is somewhere between 870,000 and 925,000.
The approximate number can also be estimated on the basis of a 1942 telegram from Operation Reinhard's deputy commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle. In 2001, a copy of a decryption of this telegram was discovered among recently declassified information in Britain. The Höfle Telegram, sent to Berlin on 31 December 1942, listed 713,555 Jews as having been sent to Treblinka officially. The actual number of people who died there was probably higher, as shown through the Armia Krajowa communiqués.[j] On the basis of the telegram and additional German evidence for 1943 (undated) listing 67,308 persons deported, historian Jacek Andrzej Młynarczyk observed that by the official count, 780,863 victims were brought by Deutsche Reichsbahn to Treblinka, regardless of the true number of victims.
The last rail transport of Jews for gassing was brought to the camp on 19 August 1943 from the Białystok Ghetto. It consisted of 39 cars, according to communiqué published by the Office of Information of the Armia Krajowa, which was based on observation of Holocaust trains passing through the village of Treblinka. Following the uprising, only ten wagons were rolled onto the ramp at one time, while others had to wait. The mass shootings continued into 1944. Jews from the surviving work detail dismantled the gas chambers brick-by-brick and used them to erect a farmhouse in place of the camp's former bakery. Its purpose as a secret guard post for the Nazi-Ukrainian agent to remain behind the scenes, was confirmed by Globocnik in a letter to Himmler sent from Trieste on 5 January 1944. In late July 1944, long after the camp's official closure, Trawnikis murdered the last Jewish work commando of 300 to 700 men because Soviet troops were closing in. Soon later, the new home was set on fire by its new occupant who also fled to avoid capture.
After the war
The surrounding villages (Poniatowo, Prostyń, Grądy) were destroyed by the departing Germans along with most direct evidence of genocidal intent; 761 buildings were burned to the ground and many families were killed. The fields of grain that once fed the SS were scorched. By the time the Soviets entered the area in late July 1944, everything had been leveled, plowed over, and planted with lupins. What remained, wrote visiting war correspondent Vasily Grossman, were small bits of bone in the soil, human teeth, scraps of paper and fabric, broken dishes, jars, shaving brushes, rusted pots and pans, cups of all sizes, mangled shoes, and lumps of human hair everywhere. The road leading to the camp was pitch black. Until summer 1944 human ashes (up to 20 carts every day) were regularly strewn by the remaining prisoners along the road for two kilometres in the direction of Treblinka I. When the war ended, destitute locals started walking up the so-called Black Road (as they began to call it) in search of manmade nuggets shaped from melted gold in order to buy bread.
The new Soviet-installed government failed to preserve evidence of the crime. The scene was not legally protected at the conclusion of World War II. In 1947 the first remembrance committee named Komitet Uczczenia Ofiar Treblinki (KUOT) formed in Warsaw and launched a design competition for the memorial. Stalinist officials allocated funds for neither the design competition nor the memorial itself, and the committee disbanded in 1948; by then many survivors had left the country. However, in 1949 the town of Sokołów Podlaski took it upon itself to protect the camp with a new fence and a proper gate. A work crew with no archaeological experience was sent in to beautify the grounds. In 1958, after the end of Stalinism in Poland, the Warsaw provincial council declared Treblinka to be a place of martyrology.[a] In the next four years, some 127 hectares that had formed part of the camp were purchased from 192 farmers in the villages of Prostyń, Grądy, Wólka Okrąglik and Nowa Maliszewa.
The construction of a monument 8 metres (26 ft) tall, designed by sculptor Franciszek Duszeńko was inaugurated on 21 April 1958 with the laying of the cornerstone at the site of the former gas chambers. The sculpture represents the trend toward large avant-garde forms introduced in the 1960s throughout Europe, with a granite tower cracked down the middle and capped by a mushroom-like block carved with abstract reliefs and Jewish symbols. Treblinka was declared a national monument of martyrology on 10 May 1964 during an official ceremony attended by 30,000 people. The monument was unveiled by Zenon Kliszko, the Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, in the presence of survivors of the Treblinka uprising from Israel, France, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The nearby building of the camp's custodian (built in 1960)[g] was turned into an exhibition house following the collapse of communism and the retirement of the custodian; it opened in 2006. It was later expanded and made into a branch of the Siedlce Regional Museum. An archaeological study using non-invasive archaeological technology began at the site in 2010. The soil resistance was analized with the ground-penetrating radar and in the process the exact placement of the former gas chambers has been confirmed.
The first official trial for war crimes committed at Treblinka was held in Düsseldorf between 12 October 1964 and 24 August 1965, preceded by the 1951 trial of SS-Scharführer Josef Hirtreiter triggered by charges of war crimes unrelated to his service at the camp.[h] The trial opened twenty years after the war ended because the United States and the Soviet Union had lost interest in prosecuting German war crimes with the onset of the Cold War. Additionally, many of the more than 90,000 Nazi war criminals recorded in German files were serving in positions of prominence under West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Thus, only in 1964–65 were eleven former SS camp personnel brought to trial by West Germany, including commandant Kurt Franz. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, along with Artur Matthes (Totenlager), Willi Mentz, and August Miete (both from Lazaret). Gustav Munzberger from Gas Chambers received 12 years, Franz Suchomel (Gold and Money) 7 years, Otto Stadie (Operation) 6 years, Erwin Lambert (Gas Chambers) 4 years, and Albert Rum (Totenlager) 3 years. Otto Horn (Corpse Detail) was acquitted and set free.
The commandant of Treblinka Franz Stangl escaped with his wife and children from Austria to Brazil in 1951. Stangl found work at a Volkswagen factory in São Paulo. His role in the mass murder of Jews was known to the Austrian authorities, but Austria did not issue a warrant for his arrest until 1961 likely because of indifference or pro-Nazi-sentiment. Stangl was registered under his real name at the Austrian consulate in Brazil. It took another six years before Simon Wiesenthal tracked him down and triggered his arrest. After his extradition from Brazil to West Germany Stangl was tried for the deaths of around 900,000 people. He admitted to these killings but argued: "My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty." Found guilty on 22 October 1970, Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died of heart failure in prison in Düsseldorf on 28 June 1971.
The stealing of cash and valuables, collected from the victims of gassing, was conducted by the higher-ranking SS men on an enormous scale. Notably, it was a common practice among the concentration camps' top echelon everywhere; two Majdanek concentration camp commandants, Koch and Florstedt, were tried and executed by the SS for the same reason in April 1945. When the top ranking officers left Treblinka to holiday at home, they would request a private locomotive from Klinzman and Emmerich at the Treblinka station just to transport their personal "gifts" to Małkinia for a connecting train. Then, they would drive out of the camp in cars without any incriminating evidence on their person and later arrive at Małkinia to transfer the goods.[i] The overall amount of material gain by Nazi Germany is unknown except for the period between 22 August and 21 September 1942, when there were 243 wagons of goods sent and recorded. Globocnik delivered a written tally to Reinhard headquarters on 15 December 1943 with the SS profit of RM 178,745,960.59 including 2,909.68 kilograms of gold, 18,733.69 kilograms of silver, 1,514 kilograms of platinum (all melted into bars) and 249,771.50 American dollars, on top of 130 diamond solitaires, 2,511.87 carats of brilliants, 13,458.62 carats of diamonds, and 114 kilograms of pearls. The amount of loot stolen by Globocnik himself is unknown, although Suchomel admitted in court to filling up a box of one million Reichsmarks for him.
Name Rank Function Citation Nazi leadership Heinrich Himmler Reichsführer main architect of the Holocaust  Odilo Globocnik SS-Hauptsturmführer and SS-Polizeiführer at the time (Captain and SS Police Chief) head of Operation Reinhard  Hermann Höfle SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) coordinator of Operation Reinhard  Christian Wirth SS-Hauptsturmführer at the time (Captain) inspector of Operation Reinhard  Richard Thomalla SS-Obersturmführer at the time (First Lieutenant) head of death camp construction during Operation Reinhard  Erwin Lambert SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) head of gas chamber construction during Operation Reinhard (large gas chambers)  Treblinka commandants Theodor van Eupen SS-Sturmbannführer (Major), Commandant of Treblinka I Arbeitslager head of the forced labour camp  Irmfried Eberl SS-Obersturmführer (First Lieutenant), Commandant of Treblinka II, 11 July 1942 – 26 August 1942 transfered to Berlin due to incompetence  Franz Stangl SS-Obersturmführer (First Lieutenant), 2nd Commandant of Treblinka II, 1 September 1942 – August 1943 transferred to Treblinka from Sobibor extermination camp  Kurt Franz SS-Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant), last Commandant of Treblinka II, August/November 1943 (gassing) – July 1944 (cleanup) promoted from deputy commandant in August 1943 following camp prisoner revolt  Deputy commandants Karl Pötzinger SS-Oberscharführer (Staff Sergeant), Deputy commandant of Treblinka II head of cremation  Heinrich Matthes SS-Scharführer (Sergeant), Deputy commandant chief of the extermination area  Staff Fritz Schmidt SS-Sturmbannführer (Major) gas chambers  Lorenz Hackenholt SS-Hauptscharführer (Master Sergeant) gas chambers, gas pipes  Kurt Küttner SS-Oberscharführer (Staff Sergeant) Lower Camp of Treblinka II  Willy Mätzig SS-Oberscharführer (Staff Sergeant) unloading ramp  Herbert Floss SS-Scharführer (Sergeant) cremation pyres  Erich Fuchs SS-Scharführer (Sergeant) generator, gassing engine  Josef Hirtreiter SS-Scharführer (Sergeant) unloading ramp terror  Karl Emil Ludwig SS-Scharführer (Sergeant) head of the Waldkommando forest brigade  Gustav Münzberger SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) gas chambers  Max Biala SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) stabbed to death by inmate Meir Berliner on 11 September 1942 at roll call selection  Paul Bredow SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) head of Kommando Rot  Hans Hingst SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) gas chambers  Otto Horn SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) corpse detail  Willi Mentz SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) Lazaret killing station  August Miete SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) Lazaret  Max Möller SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) Lazaret  Willi Post SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) Head of Ukrainian Guard, Volksdeutsche SS squad leader  Albert Franz Rum SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) gas chambers  Karl Schiffer SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) command of Ukrainian guard unit of 12 Trawnikis overseeing farmhouse construction  Ernst Stengelin SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) killed in attack on 14 October 1943  Franz Suchomel SS-Unterscharführer (Corporal) Goldjuden supervisor  Otto Stadie SS-Stabsscharführer (Staff Squad Leader) camp administration  Ivan Marchenko Wachmänner (Guard), presumed Ukrainian gas chambers  Feodor Fedorenko Wachmänner (Guard) gas chambers 
- "Place of martyrology" is a calque borrowed from the popular Polish phrase "Miejsce Martyrologii Żydów", which was introduced by the Act of Parliament (Sejm) on 2 July 1947 in Warsaw.
- See list of known Hiwi guards.
- Improperly, Chorazyski.
- He was remembered differently by survivors as either Dr. Lecher [sic], or Dr. Leichert.
- There was also a revolt at Sobibor two months later, and at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 October 1944.
- Here are the Suchomel's lyrics in German: "Wir kennen nur das Wort des Kommandanten / und nur Gehorsamkeit und Pflicht / Wir wollen weiter, weiter leisten / bis daß das kleine Glück uns einmal winkt. Hurrah!"
- The custodian and the first director of the Treblinka camp museum was Tadeusz Kiryluk originally from Wólka Okrąglik.
- The Treblinka Trials were preceded by the 1951 Frankfurt am Main trial of SS-Scharführer Josef Hirtreiter charged with complicity in the gassing of patients at the Hadamar Euthanasia Centre. Further investigation revealed that he had supervised the undressing of prisoners at Treblinka and personally murdered many children (see also: The Hirtreiter trial).
- See Ząbecki's court testimonies at Düsseldorf.
- j. ^ The Armia Krajowa communiqués were published by the Polish Underground State through the Biuletyn Informacyjny newspaper (BI) on behalf of the exiled Polish government in London. It was the most widely read Underground publication in occupied Poland.
- k. ^ Translation from Polish: The official unveiling of the monument took place on 10 May 1964. At this time, the name of the Mausoleum of the Fight and Martyrdom was introduced. The event was attended by 30,000 people. [...] Original: "Oficjalne odsłonięcie pomnika odbyło się 10 maja 1964 r. Przyjęto wtedy nazwę tego miejsca – 'Mauzoleum Walki i Męczeństwa w Treblince'. W wydarzeniu tym uczestniczyło ok. 30 tys. osób. [...] Odsłonięcia dokonał wicemarszałek Sejmu PRL – Zenon Kliszko. Wśród zebranych byli więźniowie Treblinki II: Jankiel Wiernik z Izraela, Richard Glazar z Czechosłowacji, Berl Duszkiewicz z Francji i Zenon Gołaszewski z Polski."
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