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Symbolic concrete blocks mark the path of the former railway line at Treblinka
A memorial at Treblinka.
Each stone represents a Jewish town or city, the population of which was exterminated at the camp

Treblinka II was a Nazi German extermination camp in occupied Poland during World War II. Around 850,000 people—more than 99.5 percent of whom were Jews, but also other victims (among them 2,000 Romani people)—were killed there between July 1942 and October 1943; the camp was closed after a revolt during which a few Germans were killed and a small number of prisoners escaped. The nearby Treblinka I was a forced labour camp and administrative complex in support of the death camp.

Establishment of Treblinka

German Nazi extermination camps in occupied Poland (marked with black and white skulls)

Treblinka was designed purely for extermination of people, its area measuring just 600 by 400 metres (1968' x 1312') and was one of four secret camps of Operation Reinhard the other three being Bełżecmarker, Sobibórmarker and Majdanekmarker. Kulmhof (Chełmnomarker) extermination camp was originally built as a pilot project for the development of the other camps. Operation Reinhard was overseen by SS-Obergruppenführer Odilo Globocnik in occupied Poland as Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler's deputy. Unlike other Nazi concentration camps, Operation Reinhard camps reported directly to Himmler's office (the RSHAmarker) in Berlinmarker. 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 Einsatzgruppenmarker, 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 the millions of Jews that they had concentrated in the ghettos of occupied countries. 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

Sketch plan of Treblinka extermination camp.
1) Loading dock-rail platform.
2) fake rail station (used to trick victims before they were murdered).
3) Barracks, in which the victims were compelled to undress.
4) Gas chambers.
Pits where the bodies of the gassed victims were burned.

The camp of Treblinka was located 100 km (62 miles) northeast of the Polishmarker capital Warsawmarker, near the village of Małkinia Górnamarker, 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Treblinkamarker 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 SSmarker troops, the 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 railway station, complete with a wooden clock. There were two other buildings about 100 m (328 feet) 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 jewelry 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 metres long, inside 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 kilometres away. Many of the soon-to-be-murdered Jews waiting in the railway wagons correctly guessed what would happen to them; thousands instead chose suicide in the trains over death at the hands of the Nazis. In September 1942, new gas chambers were built. These death chambers could kill three thousand people in two hours.

Organization of the camp

The camp was operated by 20–25 SS overseers (Germans and Austrians) and 80–120 guards. The historic record shows that many Treblinka camp guards were of varied ethnic groups and nationalities not only Germans (Volksdeutsche), but also a number of Russiansmarker, Ukrainiansmarker, Tatars, Moldovansmarker, Latviansmarker and representatives of Soviet Central Asia, including a number of collaborating Sovietmarker prisoners of war (POWs). Among them in Treblinka served former Red Army soldiers Ivan Marchenko and Nikolay Shaleyev.

The majority of the camp work was performed on a forced basis by 700–800 Jewish prisoners, organised into specialized 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 ("moneyed Jews") were in charge of handling the money, gold, stocks and jewellery. 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. Another group, dubbed the Totenjuden (the Jews of death), lived in Treblinka II and were forced to carry the dead from the gas chamber to the furnaces, sift through the ashes of the dead, grind up recognisable parts, and bury the ashes in pits. Yet another group took care of the upkeep of the camp. Lastly, the camouflage Kommando 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, with the old crew being sent to their deaths.


A mass grave in Treblinka opened in March 1943; the bodies were removed for burning.
In the background, dark grey piles of ash from cremated bodies can be seen
A picture taken of the Treblinka site in 1945.
Among the ashes and bone fragments in the disturbed mass burial pits are larger fragments of bone and various personal effects
At Treblinka, arriving by train, victims were pulled from the train, separated by gender, 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". Jews who were too resistant to the process were taken to the infirmary and shot. Women had their hair cut off before going into the gas chamber. This hair was used "in the manufacture of hair-yarn socks for 'U'-boat crews and hair-felt foot-wear for the Reichs-railway" to quote from a directive sent to all concentration camp commanders in 1942.

The gas chamber had portholes through which the Germans could watch the victims die. The victims were gassed with carbon monoxide generated by diesel engines. 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 initially buried in large mass graves; in a later stage of the camp's operation, they were burned on open-air grids made of concrete pillars and railway tracks. 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, and would burn for five hours. The incinerator operated 24 hours a day.

The killing centers had no other function, unlike concentration camps where prisoners were used as forced labor for the German war effort. The camp was disguised as a railway station to prevent incoming victims from realizing their fate, complete with train schedules, posters of destinations and what appeared to be a working clock (in reality, a prisoner would move the hands to the approximate time before each convoy arrived). The camp and the process of mass murder is described by Vasily 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 Trialsmarker.


August 2, 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, a number of German soldiers were killed but many more prisoners perished: of 1,500 prisoners, about 600 managed to escape the camp, while only 40 are known to have survived until the end of the war. These survivors are almost all of the known survivors of Treblinka camp. 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 Sobibórmarker two months later.

After the revolt, it was decided to shut down the death camp and shoot the last of the Jewish prisoners. 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 was 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 Munichmarker, the Court of Assize in Düsseldorfmarker 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 Germans and the 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.

The Hofle Telegram.
In 2001, a copy of a decrypted telegram sent by the deputy commander of the Operation Reinhard 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 Młynarczyk estimates the minimum death toll as 780,863.

The Austrian Franz Stangl was the commandant at Treblinka from Summer 1942 on. In 1951, Stangl escaped to Brazilmarker where he found work at a Volkswagen factory in Sao Paulomarker. His role in the mass murder of men, women and children was known to the Austrian authorities, but Austriamarker 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 Germanymarker 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". Found guilty on October 22, 1970, Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died of heart failure in Düsseldorf prison on June 28, 1971.


See also


  • Court of Assizes in Düsseldorfmarker, Germany. Excerpts From Judgments (Urteilsbegründung). AZ-LG Düsseldorf: II 931638, 1965. Online. (
  • Arad, Yitzhak, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987. ISBN 0-253-34293-7
  • Glazar, Richard. Trap with a Green Fence. Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, 1999.
  • Klee, Ernst., Dressen, W., Riess, V. The Good Old Days: the Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders. New York: The Free Press, 1988. ISBN 1-56852-133-2
  • Lanzmann, Claude, Shoah: An Oral History of the Holocaust. New York: Pantheon Books. 1985.
  • The Nizkor Project. The Killing Centers. 1995. Online. Available: (
  • Steiner, Jean-François. Treblinka. Trans. Helen Weaver. New York, Simon and Schusters, Inc. 1967.
  • Rückerl, Adalbert, hrsq. NS-Prozesse. Karlsruhe, Germany: Verlag C F Muller, 1972.
  • "Treblinka." Encyclopedia Americana. Ed. unknown.
  • United States Department of Justicemarker. Excerpts from Interrogation of Defendant Pavel Vladimirovitch Lelenko. Original source: Directorate of Counterintelligence of the 2nd Belorussian Front, USSRmarker. 1978. Acquired by US in 1994. Available online: [7043], [7044])
  • Originally based on writing by Christopher Mahan as a Pierce Collegemarker English 101 assignment:
  • Sereny, Gitta Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience, 1983
  • Vassily Grossman's article The Treblinka Hell (1944) was disseminated at the Nuremberg Trialsmarker as a document for the prosecution. (The original in Russian: Треблинский ад)
  • Martin Gray (with Max Gallo), For Those I Loved, Little Brown Company, 1984, hardcover, ISBN 0-316-32576-7, 351 pages
  • Testimony of Treblinka survivor Ya'akov Wiernik during the Adolf Eichmann trial:
  • Höfle Telegram, Public Record Office, Kew, England, HW 16/23, decode GPDD 355a distributed on January 15, 1943, radio telegrams nos 12 and 13/15, transmitted on January 11, 1943.

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