|Source: German Crimes in Poland. Volume I. Published by the
Central Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland. Warsaw,
THE TREBLINKA EXTERMINATION CAMP
The evidence on which this account relies is in the first placethe testimony of 13 Jews, former prisoners at Treblinka, who succeeded in escaping during the armed revolt of August 2, 1943. Their names are: Jankiel Wiernik, Henryk Poswolski, Abe Kon, Aron Czechowicz, Oskar Strawczynski, Samuel Reisman, Aleksander Kudlik, Hejnoch Brener, Starisław Kon, Eugeniusz Turowski, Henryk Reichman, Szyja Warszawsski, and Leon Finkelsztejn.
Additiond facts concerning particularly the number of railway transports, is to be found in the evivdence of 11 Polish railway workers.
The railway records at Treblinka station have a1so been consulted, as well as documents and coins dug out during the levelling of the surface; and the results of legal and medical inquiries, as well was the sworn evidence of a land surveyor, were used by the prosecutors.
The Extermination Camp at Treblinka in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered is situated near the village of Wolka-Okraglik, in the commune of Kosow, district of Sokolow Podlaski, province (voivodship) of Warsaw. The camp site was placed in a sandy region, overgrown with pines and far from human habitation. The nearest village, the above mentioned ,Wolka, was 1½km from the camp boundary. The nearest railway station Treblinka (after which the camp was named) is 4 km. away.
Near the south-western edge of the camp a branch line runs to a gravel pit and was continued to the camp itself. This extension no longer exists; it served to bring the transports of victims. A road also, still in existence, was made from the high road and continued to the camp.
The area of the camp amounted to 13.45ha. (33 acres). The entire camp
had the shape of an irregular rectangle. Construction work was begun on
June 1, 1942, and was carried out mostly by Jewish workers brought in
cars from the adjoining small towns of Wegrow, and Stoczek Wegrowski,
who during their work were killed in masses.
The first railway transports of victims destined for destruction arrived at the camp on July 23, 1942, and from that time until approximately the middle of December, 1942, there was a constant stream of fresh arrivals. After New Year, 1943, the number of transports began to diminish. In February or March, 1943, Himmler visited the camp, and after this a whole-sale burning of corpses was undertaken. On August 2 a revolt broke out, during which part of the camp hutments were burnt. But at the end of the month several more transports arrived The camp was finally ,,liquidated" in November, 1943. At the present time no traces of it are left, except for the cellar passage with the protruding remains of burnt posts, the foundations of the administration building, and the old well. Here and there can also be traced the remains of burnt fence posts and pieces of barbed wire, and short sections of paved road. There are also other traces. For example, in the north-eastern part, over a surface covering about 2 ha. (5 acres),
there are large quantities of ashes mixed with sand, among which are numerous human bones, often with the remains of decomposing tissues.
As a result of an examination made by an expert it was found that
ashes were the remains of burnt human bones. The examination of numerous
human skulls found in the camp has shown that they bear no traces of
external injuries. Within a radius of several hundred yards from the
camp site an unpleasant smell of burnt ash and decay is noticeable,
growing stronger as one approaches.
The south-western part of the camp site is covered with the remains of all kinds of aluminum, enamel, glass and porcelain vessels, kitchen utensils, trunks, rucksacks, and remnants of clothing. Almost the whole camp-site is now covered with pits and holes.
According to the evidence of the Jewish witnesses who had been confined at Treblinka, the general appearance of the camp was as follows while it was functioning:
It was enclosed within a 3-4 m. (10-13 ft.) high barbed-wire fence, densely interwoven with pine branches to make it invisible. Along the enclosure were barricades of barbed wire, and at intervals were watch-towers, where Ukrainian guards armed with machine-guns were stationed.
The interior of the camp was divided into two parts: the first, including about five-sixths of the whole, had a railway siding, stores, warehouses, workshops, offices, living-quarters for the SS men, Ukrainians and Jewish workers; garages and a kitchen-garden. It was the administrative part. The second was the extermination camp proper‘and contained two buildings -with 13 gas- chambers, living-quarters for the Jewish
During the first phase of the camp, from July, 1942 onward 3 gas-chambers were in use. In the early autumn of 1942, however, the construction of a new building, holding 10 chambers, was begun. One of the witnesses brought to Treblinka on October 10, 1942, saw these chambers already functioning.
The aspect of the chambers in which victims were gasssed, according to statements by the witnesses Wiernik, Rajchman and Czechowicz, was as follows: Both buildings had many corridors, within the larger building the entrances to the chambers being on both sides of the corridor, but in the smaller one on one side only. The entrances were small and had tightly closing doors. In the outer wall’s of the chambers were large trap doors which could be raised in order to permit the removal of the corpses. The chambers had tiled floors, sloping towards the outer side. In the ceiling were openings connected by pipes with engines situated in adjoining buildings, which produced the CO gas with which the victims were suffocated.
The witness Wiernik, who worked as a carpenter during the whole time of his stay in the camp, and so had a certain amount of freedom, gives the dimensions of the chambers as being in the smaller building 5x5 metres (15ft. 6 in. square) and 7 x7metres (23 ft. square) in the larger.
The burning of the corpses had begun already at the time of the full functioning of the camp. At Treblinka there were no crematoria with furnaces, but there was a primitive arrangement of grates made from rails placed on supports of reinforced concrete, which could hold 2,500 corpses. Mechanical excavators were used for digging the pits and later for the exhumation of the corpses. In the waybills for the wagons sent from Treblinka at the time of the final "liquidation" of the camp three excavators are mentioned. One of them was
In the general lay-out of the camp the so-called Lazarett or hospital is interesting. It was situated in the first part of the camp, and was in essence a place enclosed by a high fence and divided inside into two unequal parts. The entrance was through a small hut, on which was a Red Cross flag, whence the way led to a smaller "waiting-room", with plush-covered sofas, whence again the victims were taken to the second part. Here there was a pit, on the edge of which an SS-man or Ukrainian shot the victim through the back of the head with a revolver, The Lazarett was designed for the destruction of the sick, invalids, old people, and small children who were too weak to enter the gas-chambers by themselves.
The Sonderkommando tried thus to prevent interruption of the normal smooth working of the camp activities.
The fact of the existence in the camp of arrangements whose sole aim was to deceive the victims as to its real purpose is very noteworthy. A sham railway station was built to resemble a real one, with various inscriptions, such as "refreshment room", "waiting room", or "booking office", and signs showing the "passengers" where to get in for Bialyatok and elsewhere.
The camp was run By a relatively very small group of SS
- men. Witnesses mention the names of the following: Stengel, the camp
commandant, from Vienna, Kurt Franz from Thüringen, the vice-commandant
Rütner from Leipzig, Franz Miete from Bavaria, Mentz from the vicinity
of Bydgoszcz, Paul Bredow from Silesia, Willy Post from Hamburg, Kurt
Seidel from Berlin, Müller from Hamburg, Suchomil from the
Auxiliary functions were carried out by the Ukrainians, who numbered about 100, but there were also a certain number of Jewish workers, who were frequently killed off and replaced. As stated by the Jewish witnesses, these workers were chosen from particular transports in parties of not less than ten and not more than 100. In the first part elf the camp there were about 1000 of them, and in the second from 200 to 500. The workers in the two different parts of the camp could not communicate with each other. At the head of the group was a senior official who wore an arm-band with the inscription: Aeltester der Juden (Senior Jew). The group was subdivided as follows:
a) A group with blue arm-bands, who cleaned the wagons after the transports had arrived; b) a group with red arm-bands, who helped to undress the victims; c) the largest group, who sorted the clothing, d) Goldjuden (Gold Jews) who took valuables from the victims, e) a group of workers specially employed in niterweaving the fence with brenches and f) a group of artisans who worked in the workshops. In the secoad part of the camp Jewish workers were employed in removing corpses from the gas-chambers, burying them and later on in burning the remains.
The railway trains had staffs consisting mainly of
Ukrainians and Lithuanians under the command of SS-men, recruited from
outside the camp. Two German railway mans, Rodolph Emerich and Willy
Elinzman were permanently employed at Treblinka station unloading trains
The treatment of the victims was as follows: the railway trams arrived at the station at Treblinka. As the branch line could not take more than 20 wagons at once, the trains were divided, each section in turn being drawn by an engine on to the extension line leading to the camp. Here the SS-men and Ukrainians were standing ready with arms and whips, and after opening the wagons they drove the Jews brutally forward. Everything had to be done in the quickest possible time. The unwilling and those who were too slow were shot. At the same time Jewish workers removed corpses and baggage from the wagons and cleaned them out. We must bear in mind that the victims travelled in locked cars meant for the transport of freight, and especially on bad days, owing to overcrowding (often as many as 200 persons in one car) the weaker ones died before their arrival at the camp.
After leaving the cars the victims were driven along with blows and shouts to the enclosure, where the men were separated from the women and children. Old people, the sick, and abandoned children were directed thence to the lazaret, where they were shot.
A small number of the men were then selected for work in the camp, while others were sent to the adjoining labour camp. After a short time they also died wholesale.
AS the SS-man ordered all money and valuables, to be given up, Jewish workers (Goldjuden) went round with trunks collecting everything that was precious. Afterwards the order was given to strip. The majority of witnesses state that the men were stripped in the courtyard itself; the women and children in a hut on the left. In the huts60 barbers were kept busy cutting off the women’s hair. Meanwhile the naked men were driven about with whips and made to run and collect all
the clothes from the whole transport, putting them in heaps to be sorted. Then, when the women had had their hair cut off, the naked men, women and children were directed on to the road leading to the gas-chambers, being told that they were going to the baths. At first the victims were ordered to take a zloty each in their hands as bath fee, the better to deceive them up to the last moment the money being collected by an Ukrainian in a hut by the way, but later this practice was stopped. In front of the entrance to the gas-chamber there were usually several Ukrainians standing by with dogs, who cruelly drove the victims in, often wounding them with knives. The victims were driven into the gas-chambers with their hands up, so that as many might be squeezed in as possible, and small children were piled on top.
SS-man Hitreider specialized in killing infants, seizing them by the legs and killing them with one blow on the head against a fence.
The actual gassing in the chambers lasted about 15
minutes; and after the state of the victims had been observed through a
special small window, the doors on the outside of the building were
opened, and the corpses, being so closely packed inside, fell out of their
own weight on to the ground.
At first the corpses were buried in pits, but afterwards
they were burnt. Only a few hours passed between the arrival of a
train-load by the branch line and their gassing.
ceased its activities in the autumn of 1943, so that the German authorities had enough time to wipe out the traces of their crimes. The most reliable method of counting the number of victims is by counting the number of train-loads. The figures based on the dimensions of the gas chambers give no guarantee whatever of accuracy, as we do not know, firstly, how often the gas-chambers were used, and, secondly, the number of people who, on an average, were gassed at any one time. In establishing the number of train-loads, the commission based its findings on the evidence given by the witnesses, laying special stress on the statements of the railway workers and on the railway records from Treblinka station, which are in the possession of the commission of enquiry.
The most active period seems to have been from August to the middle of December, 1942. During that time we may assume one daily train-load as unquestionable according to the evidence of the railway-workers. Indeed four witnesses put the figure at two per day. After that, from the middle of January to the middle of May, 1943, the average was probably one a week. Some of the witnesses put the figure at three.
The average number of wagons in a transport was 50 through sometimes, as the railway records showed, it was as many as 58.
The total number of wagon-loads of victimls from August 1, 1942, to May 15, 1943, may be taken, with some certainty, to have been 7,550.
In the later period, from the railway records; the list of the wagons for August 17, 1943; a telegram of August 18, 1943; and a document entitled Fahrplanordnung Nr. 290 sent from Treblinka station by the Reichsbahndirektion Königsberg, the number of train-loads could be established quite accurately.
In the above-mentioned Fahrplanordnung we read among ather things: Zur Abbeförderung von Aussledlern verkehren
folgende Sonderzüge von Bialystok nach Malkinia. Ziel Treblinka, from which it may be concluded that after the revolt the following train-loads, were brought in: on Aug. 27, 1943, 41 wagons; on Aug. 19, 35 wagons; on Aug. 21, two transports of 38 wagons each; on Aug. 22, two transports of 39 wagons each; and on Aug. 23, one transport of 38 wagons; i. e. a total of 266 wagons.
As an average number of persons per wagon we may take 100 (the majority of witnesses deposed that it was more than 150).
According to this calculation the number of victims murdered at Treblinka amounts to at least 731,600. Taking into consideration the great caution with which the investigators assessed the number of train-loads and the average number of persons per wagon, this must be accepted as probable, that in actual fact the number of victims was even larger1. (1It should be pointed out that from pertinent documents such as telegrams, time-tables and way-bills it appears absolutely certain that more than two thousand wagon-loads of Jews were brought to Treblinka; yet these documents constituted but a small part of all the railway documentary evidence, the greater part of which is lost.)
It w a s mostly Jews Polish citizens from the central parts of the country (Warsaw, Radom, Czcstochowa, Kielce and Siedlce) who were killed at Treblinka; though there were Jews from the vicinity of Bialystok, Grodno and Wolkowysk; German, Austrian, Czech and Belgian Jews from the west, and Greek Jews from the south.
The railway documents have enabled a number of localities to be identified from which the trains were originally dispatched. We read that on August 6, 1942, a transport
arrived from Warsaw; on September 1 others from Wloszczowa
and Sedziszow; on September 27, one from Kozienice; on October 4, 1942,
one from Czestochowa; on February 14, 1943, one from Grodno; on March 23
and April 1, 1943, one from Vienna; on March 26 one from Salonica; on
March 29 one from Skoplje (Jugoslavia); and on August 23, 1943, one from
Among the evidence is a collection of coins, Polish, Soviet, German, Austrian, Czech, Greek, Belgian, French and even American, dug up during levelling operations at Treblinka. A German-Jewish identity card issued at Göttingen, the remains of a Soviet passport, and a collection of Polish documents were also found.
One of the witnesses, called Strawczynski, stated that his
brother, who worked in the camp sorting the clothing, told him that he
also found English documents. The witness Rajzman saw a certificate issued
by Cambridge University.
The belongings of the victims were systematically collected and sorted, before being sent to the Reich. Specialisation in the sorting of this Jewish property even extended to eye-glasses and fountain pens. Gold, jewels and money were collected and sorted with particular care. From time to time lorries were dispatched from the camp loaded with goods of every kind. Among the proofs of this there is a collection of military tickets (Wehrmachtsfahrscheine) dated September
2-21, 1942. They relate to 203 freight-trains loaded with clothing (described as Bekleidung der Waffen SS). The lists were stamped with an official seal inscribed Der SS Polizei-führer SS Sonderkommando im District Warschau.
A typical Nazi proceeding was to pack the wlomen’s hair, after it had been steamed, in bales, and send it to Germany.
The eradication of all traces of the crime by wholesale burning of corpses began after Himmler’s visit in the early spring of 1943 and lasted till the Warsaw Rising, or even later. The camp was finally closed in November, 1943.
During the investigation when the ground was levelled, no collective graves were found, and this together with the evidence given by the witnesses leads to the conclusion that almost all the remains were burnt; the German authorities having had plenty of time to do it since the camp was closed. The site of the camp was ploughed over and sown, and on it Ukrainians were settled. They fled, however, on the approach of the Red Army.
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