Encyclopedia

Treblinka

one of the Nazi extermination camps, with the second highest mortality after Auschwitz. Between 700,000 and 870,000 people were killed there, including most of the Jews from Warsaw.

The camp was closed after a revolt by the prisoners during which most of the camp was burned. Treblinka was purely a death camp, the small number of prisoners there functioned only to run the camp, unlike Auschwitz which maintained a large prisoner population as slave laborers.

Treblinka was located in a heavily wooded area in a sparsely populated part of Poland near the diminutive Malkinia railway station. The camp was completed in July 1942.

A spur railway ran from the nearby station into the camp. From the reception area a narrow path had been fenced in and camouflaged with tree branches; this led into the extermination area. The narrow path was known as the "tube" or the "pipe".

The extermination area was 656 by 820 feet. A brick building contained 3 gas chambers fed by a diesel engine that produced lethal carbon monoxide gas. Later 10 more gas chambers were added.

Huge pits were dug to be used as mass graves. In March 1943 Himmler ordered the mass graves opened and the corpses burned on huge pyres called "roasts". The bones were crushed and together with the ashes were re-buried in the mass graves. This was to obliterate the evidence of the killing.

There was an underground resistance organization formed by 50 to 70 prisoners in the beginning of 1943. The plan was to take weapons from the SS armory, seize control of the camp and destroy it and flee into the forests to join the partisans.

The date of the uprising was fixed for the afternoon of August 2, 1943. With a copied key the armory was opened and weapons distributed. At this point the prisoners became suspicious of SS officer Kurt Kuttner, and he was shot.

The shot alarmed the guards and the plan to seize control of the camp was aborted. Those who had arms fired on the SS and the camp buildings were set ablaze. Most of the camp structures except for the gas chambers were destroyed. Masses of prisoners tried to storm the fence. Many of those who succeeded in breaching the walls were rounded up by security forces who had been alerted outside of the camp.

Of the approximately 750 prisoners who tried to escape only 70 survived the war. The prisoners who did not take part in the rebellion were forced to dismantle the camp and then they were shot.

The grounds were plowed under and trees were planted. The camp was turned into a farm and a Ukrainian peasant family was settled there.

There were 2 trials of camp personnel held in Germany. In the first the deputy camp commandant, Kurt Franz, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Franz was a sadist whose handsome appearance earned him the nickname "Lalka" ("doll" in Polish); he compiled a photographic album of the camp which he titled "Schone Zeiten" (Happy Days). The second trial resulted in the camp commandant, Franz Stangl, also being sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 1964 a memorial was created consisting of 17,000 granite shards set around a 26 foot obelisk. It was designed by architect Adam Haupt and sculptor Franciszek Duszenko. The shards are engraved the names of the cities and countries from which the victims came.


Sources: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust; Historical Atlas of the Holocaust.


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