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Treblinka II was a Nazi extermination camp
Treblinka II was a Nazi extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II. Around 750,000 Jews and other victims of the Holocaust were murdered there, along with 2,000 Roma, between July 1942 and October 1943.
The nearby Treblinka I was a forced labour camp
Treblinka II was one of four camps of Operation Reinhard, the other three being Belzec, Sobibór and Majdanek. Kulmhof (Chelmno) extermination camp was originally built as a pilot project for the development of the other camps. Operation Reinhard was overseen by Nazi Germany official Heinrich Himmler, commander of the SS, and headed by Odilo Globocnik in Poland. Unlike other Nazi concentration camps, Operation Reinhard camps reported directly to Himmler's office (the Reichs Sicherheits Hauptamt) in Berlin. Himmler kept the control of the program close to him but delegated the work to Globocnik. Operation Reinhard used the euthanasia program (Action T4) for site selection, construction and trained personnel.
Before Operation Reinhard over half a million Jews had been killed by the Einsatzgruppen, mobile SS units whose sole purpose was to murder Jews and commissars in territories conquered by the German army. It became evident, however, that they could not handle millions of Jews that the Nazis had concentrated in the ghettos of Poland. So Treblinka, along with the other Operation Reinhard camps were especially designed for the rapid elimination of the Jews in ghettos. Treblinka was ready on July 24, 1942, when the shipping of Jews began: "According to the SS Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop report, a total of approximately 310,000 Jews were transported in freight trains from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka during the period from July 22 to October 3, 1942."
The camp of Treblinka was located 100 km northeast of the Polish capital Warsaw, 500 m from the Malkinia-Koskow highway, 2.5 km from the Treblinka railroad station. The camp was organized in two subdivisions: Treblinka I and Treblinka II.
Treblinka I was further divided into two parts: The first part was the administrative section, which included barracks for the SS troops, the Ukrainian guards, the camp commander's barrack, a bakery, a storage and barracks for up to 800 prisoners who were used to operate the camp. A road left this part of the camp and rejoined the highway. The second section of Treblinka I was the receiving area where the railroad extended from the Treblinka station into the camp. There were two barracks near the tracks that were used to store the belongings of prisoners; one was disguised to look like a railroad station. There were two other buildings about 100 m from the track. All of the buildings were used to contain the clothing and belongings of the prisoners. One was used as an undressing room for the women, who were also shorn of all of their hair. There was a cashier's office which collected money and jewellery for "safekeeping". There was also an infirmary, where the sick, old, wounded and already dead were taken. It was a small barrack painted white with a red cross on it. There, the prisoners were led to the edge of a ditch where bodies were continuously burning. They had to strip naked and then sit in the edge of the pit before they were shot in the back of the head. Then they fell in the ditch and burned.
Treblinka II was on a small hill. From camp one there was an uphill path (cynically called Himmelstrasse - the Road to Heaven - by the SS) lined with barbed wire fences - der Schlauch, "the tube" - which led directly into the gas chambers building. Behind this building there was a large pit, one meter wide by twenty meters long, inside of which burned fires. Rails were laid across the pit and the bodies of gassed victims were placed on the rails to burn. There was also a barrack for the prisoners who operated camp II.
At the very beginning, people were buried in mass graves or piled up in camp II because the workers did not have time to bury them. The stench from the decomposing bodies could be smelled up to ten kilometers away. The Jews waiting in the train wagons knew what would happen and thousands committed suicide in the trains. In September 1942, new gas chambers were built. They could murder three hundred people in two hours.
Organization of the Treblinka camp
The camp was operated by 20-25 SS (Germans and Austrians) and 80-120 Ukrainian guards.
The work was performed by 700-800 Jewish prisoners, organized into special squads (Sonderkommandos). The blue squad was responsible for unloading the train, carrying the luggage and cleaning the wagons. The red squad had the task of undressing the passengers and taking their clothes to the storage areas. The Geldjuden ("money Jews") were in charge of handling the money, gold, stocks, and jewelry. They were forced to search the prisoners just before the gas chambers. Another, the dentist, would open the mouths of the dead and pull out gold teeth with a pair of pliers. Then there were the Totenjuden, the Jews of death, who lived in Treblinka II and were forced to carry the dead from the gas chamber to the furnace and sifted through the ashes of the dead, ground up recognizable parts, and buried the ashes in pits. There also were the court Jews, who took care of the upkeep of the camp. There was the camouflage commando, which went every day into the forest and gathered branches to camouflage the camp and the "funnel" by weaving branches in the barbed wires. The work squads prisoners were continuously whipped and beaten by the guards and were often killed. New workers (usually the most healthy people) were selected from the daily arrivals and pressed into the commandos.
There was a bruise rule; if a prisoner had been bruised on the face, he would be shot that evening at roll call, or the next morning if the bruise had begun to show. Many prisoners, in utter despair at the horrible deaths of their families and unwilling to go on living, committed suicide by hanging themselves in the sleeping barracks with their belts. Normally, the work crews were almost entirely replaced every three to five days.[
At Treblinka, arriving train passengers were pulled from the train, separated by sex, and ordered to strip naked. In winter, the temperature often dropped to -20 °C (-5 °F). The guards chose who would go to the "infirmary".
After the gassing of the victims in the gas chamber, when the doors of the gas chamber were opened, "the disfigured, bitten prisoners, with ears torn off, lay on top of each other in the most varied posture." The bodies were then carried to the furnace to be burned. Sometimes, the people were not dead and began to revive in the fresh air, especially pregnant women. They were shot by the guards and burned like the others. Some 800-1,000 bodies were burned at the same time. They would burn for five hours. The incinerator was operating twenty-four hours a day.
The killing centers had no other function. They were not part of the war effort, so the prisoners were just killed as soon as possible. The Germans had the camp decorated into a train station, complete with train schedules, posters of far away lands and a real-looking clock (in reality, a prisoner would move the hands to the approximate time before each convoy arrived). After the camp had been camouflaged as a station, the people did not suspect that their death was imminent. The camp and the process of mass murder is described by Vasilliy Grossman, a Jewish correspondent serving in the Red Army, in his work "A Hell Called Treblinka", which was used as evidence and distributed at the Nuremberg Trials.
In August of 1943, the prisoners in the work details rebelled. They seized small arms, sprayed kerosene on all the buildings and set them ablaze. In the confusion, many German soldiers were killed but many more prisoners perished. Of 1,500 prisoners, only 40 are known to have survived the revolt. The camp ceased operation. Camp commander Kurt Franz recalled during his testimonies: "After the uprising in August 1943 I ran the camp single-handedly for a month; however, during that period no gassings were undertaken. It was during that period that the original camp was leveled off and lupins were planted." There was also a revolt at Sobibór around the same time.
After the revolt, it was decided to shut down the death camp and shoot the last of the Jewish prisoners [Arad, p.373]. The camp had been badly damaged by the fire, and the murder of the Polish Jews was also largely complete. Odilo Globocnik wrote to Himmler: "I have on [October 19, 1943], completed Operation Reinhard, and have dissolved all the camps." The final group of about thirty Jewish girls at Treblinka were shot at the end of November.
Death toll and the aftermath
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 the minimum number of people killed in Treblinka was 700,000. In 1969, the same court, after new evidence revealed in a report by expert Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, reassessed that number to 900,000. According to the German and Ukrainian guards who were stationed in Treblinka, the figure ranges from 1,000,000 to 1,400,000. It is somewhat difficult to assess exactly the actual number of those killed, however the approximate number can be established on the basis of the Hoefle telegram and surviving transports documentation.
In 2001, a copy of a decrypted telegram sent by the deputy commander of the Operation Reinhart was discovered among recently declassified information in Britain. The Höfle Telegram listed 713,555 Jews killed in Treblinka up to the end of December 1942. With the addition of 1943 transports listed in Yitzhak Arad's book, one may arrive at the figure 800,000. On the basis of the telegram and additional data for 1943 Jacek Andrzej Mlynarczyk estimates the minimum death toll as 780,863.
In Israel on April 25, 1988, John Demjanjuk was sentenced to death for war crimes committed in the camp. The sentence was based on completely falsified evidence. He was accusd of being a notorious guard known as "Ivan the Terrible" by survivors and later acquitted in 1993.
The Austrian Franz Stangl was the commandant at Treblinka. In 1951, Stangl escaped to Brazil where he found work at a Volkswagen factory in Sao Paulo. His role in the mass murder of men, women and children was known to the Austrian authorities but Austria did not issue a warrant for Stangl's arrest until 1961. In spite of his registration under his real name at the Austrian consulate in Brazil, it took another six years before he was tracked down by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and arrested in Brazil. After extradition to West Germany he 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."
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