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Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Yad Vashem Studies IV: The Nazi Concentration Camps (3/4)
Summary: Structure and Aims, The Image of the Prisoner, The 
         Jews in the Camps. The Camp Underground.
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Keywords: Yad Vashem
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Archive/File: orgs/israeli/yad-vashem  YVS.Camps.03
Last-modified: 1997/12/09 

                          THE NAZI CONCENTRATION
                                  CAMPS

              Structure and Aims * The Image of the Prisoner
                          The Jews in the Camps

                   PROCEEDINGS OF THE FOURTH YAD VASHEM
                   INTERNATIONAL HISTORICAL CONFERENCE

                        Jerusalem, January 1980
                              YAD VASHEM
                            JERUSALEM 1984

                           SEVENTH SESSION
                         Chairman: Bela Vago

        JEWISH PRISONER UPRISINGS IN THE TREBLINKA AND SOBIBOR
                          EXTERMINATION CAMPS

                             YITZHAK ARAD

      Organization of the Underground in the Extermination Area.

   The underground in the exterminarion area came into being after Zelo
   Bloch and Adolf Friedman, who had been among the leaders of the
   underground in area A, were transferred to the extermination area at
   the end of March or beginning of April.  Both of them were made
   leaders of work groups that were cremating bodies.  Their adjustment
   to the new situation and the men took some time, and, consequently,
   the organization of the underground and the preparations for the
   uprising began only toward the end of May/beginning of June 1943.
   The members of the underground were formed into groups of five with
   each unit assigned different tasks.  As weapons they had to use the
   work implements they used for opening up the pits and burning the
   bodies--shovels, pitchforks, and axes.  (Rajgrodzki, op.  cit., pp.
   113-114; testimony of Rosenberg, op.  cit., p.  12.)

   Contact between the two undergrounds was carried out by Jacob
   Wiernik, a carpenter who was kept in the extermination area, but,
   because of his professional expertise, was brought to work in the
   other part of the camp as well.  As he moved between the two parts of
   the camp, he was able to transmit information and instructions
   between the two groups.  (Wiernik, op.  cit., p.  45.)

   As the underground in Camp A was larger and had more of a chance to
   obtain weapons, the members of the underground in the extermination
   area understood that the chance their activity would succeed depended
   on cooperation with the larger underground and, accordingly, they
   accepted its authority.

   In July 1943 the work of burning the bodies was nearing completion.
   In that period a few transports arrived with about 2,000 Gypsies and
   about 1,000 Jews, but they did not alter the decisive fact--the
   function of the place as an extermination camp was coming to an end.
   The SS even had a party to celebrate the completion of their mission.
   All that reinforced the feeling that the time for the uprising must
   be moved up.  In the second half of July the prisoners in the
   extermination area relayed repeated demands to the leaders of the
   underground in area A that they start the revolt without any further
   delay.  But all they received in response were assuasive assurances.
   At this point the people in the extermination area decided to pass on
   an ultimatum, accompanied by a threat, that if the Underground in
   Camp A would not fix an immediate date for the revolt, the
   extermination area underground would launch the rebellion on its own.
   (Rajgrodzki, op.  cit., p.  114; Wiernik, op.  cit., pp.  51-52;
   testimony of Tajgman, op.  cit., p.  19; testimony of Abraham
   Goldfarb, YVA, 0-3/1846) 

                              The Revolt Plan

   Pressed by the extermination area underground, the "organizing
   committee" in Camp A decided to carry out the uprising on August 2,
   1943.  Word to that effect was transmitted to the extermination area
   underground by Wiernik.  (Wiernik, op.  cit., pp.  56-58)

   At that time there were about 850 Jews in Treblinka, one-third in the
   extermination area.  Several factors were considered in fixing the
   precise hour for beginning the revolt.  The uprising plan, which was
   based on obtaining arms from the camp arms store, had to take place
   during the daytime, when the SS people were not in their quarters.
   The distribution of the arms to the various groups and deployment
   near the targets of attack could be done more easily during the
   daytime under the guise of routine work in the camp.  On the other
   hand, it was important to begin the uprising near dusk, so that
   escape could take place under cover of darkness, thus hampering the
   German pursuers.  Another factor was the time it would take to
   organize the escape of all the prisoners in the camp--in addition to
   the fighters--for it was certain that in reprisal, the Germans would
   murder all the remaining prisoners.  All of these considerations
   resulted in 16:30 being set as the hour for the insurrection.  The
   plan for the revolt was as follows: Stage A: From 14:00 to
   16:30--Acquisition of Arms and Deployment 1.  Removal of the arms
   from the arms store and their transfer to the combat groups' assembly
   points.  2.  Deployment of the combat groups near the targets of
   attack--the camp headquarters, the quarters of the SS and of the
   Ukrainians, the guard towers.  3.  Quiet elimination of Germans
   entering workshops and work sites.  Stage B: Beginning at
   16.30--Seizing Control of the Camp and Destroying It 1.  Attack the
   camp headquarters and SS people in various places.  2.  Cut telephone
   lines and open fire on the guard towers, forcing the guards to
   abandon their positions.  3.  Break into the Ukrainians' quarters,
   seize their weapons and lock them up under guard in the barracks.  4.
   Set the camp afire and destroy it.  5.  Arm with additional weapons
   taken from the SS and the Ukrainians.  6.  Link up with the
   extermination area people.  The signal for beginning Stage B was to
   be a grenade explosion.  The plan for the extermination area
   contained the following stages: 1.  Prisoners leave the barracks
   where they were kept in the afternoon hours after work.  2.  Attack
   the SS men and Ukrainian guards near the barracks and seize their
   weapons.  3.  Prisoners burst into the guard room and seize the
   guards' weapons.  4.  Take over the guard tower where a Ukrainian
   guard armed with a machine gun was stationed.  5.  Take control of
   the entire extermination area, destroy it and link up with the people
   of the lower camp for a joint escape.  Stage C: Organized Departure
   to the Forests by All Prisoners.  On Sunday, August 1, in the late
   hours of the evening, the "organizing committee" in Camp A held its
   final meeting.  At the meeting it was decided that the uprising would
   definitely take place on the following day.  (Shmuel Rajzman,
   "Hitkomemut be-Mahane ha-Hashmada Treblinka," 'Kehillat
   Wengrow--Sefer Zikkaron', 1961, pp.  66-68) 

                   The Insurrection -- August 2, 1943

   The final decision on the uprising was conveyed to the other members
   of the underground on the eve of the revolt and in the early hours of
   the morning.  The underground members who worked in rhe workshops
   prepared weapons--knives, axes and the like.  Until noon work went on
   as usual.  In spite of the secrecy, however, word of the revolt had
   reached other prisoners.  The men prepared extra clothing and money
   and valuables that would be useful once they were outside the camp.
   As it happened, on the afternoon of that same day a group of four SS
   men and sixteen Ukrainians, headed by Kurt Franz, left the camp to go
   bathing in the Bug River, which was just a few kilometers away.  This
   coincidence helped weaken the force guarding the carnp.  At 13:00
   hours the "camp elder," as usual, inspected the noon roll-call, after
   which the men dispersed to their places of work, but this time with
   certain changes--the combat groups and commanders went to work places
   in accord with the tasks assigned them for the insurrection.  The
   mission of the group in the potato storage, which worked near the SS
   headquarters, was to attack the headquarters with grenades.  (Marian
   Platkiewicz, "Mered ba-Gehnom -- Parshiyot Zeva'a u-Gevura be-Mahane
   ha-Hashmada Treblinka," 'Plock -- Toledot Kehilla Atikat Yomin
   be-Polin', Tel Aviv, 1967, p.  549.  Testimony of Tajgman, op.  cit.,
   p.  14; testimony of Wolf Schneidmann, YVA, 0-3/560, p.  4)

   The leaders of the underground, Galewski, Kurland and others,
   gathered in the square near the lazarett in the southwest section of
   the camp.  Most of the prisoners were in this section, which was also
   close to the extermination area, a fact that was supposed to
   facilitate contact with rhe underground people there.

   The assembly of the prisoners and their organization for escape
   during the uprising were also to take place in the southern part of
   the camp.  A shortcoming of the concentration of the leaders of the
   revolt in the southern part of the camp was their remoteness from the
   place where the removal of the arms was carried out and from the
   attack on the SS and Ukrainian quarters.

   At 14:00 hours the removal of the arms and their transfer to various
   places got under way.  Sadowicz, a member of the "organizing committee," 
   was in charge of this operation.  A group of youngsters, among
   them Markus and Salzberg, made their way into the arms store and
   filled sacks with grenades, firearms and ammunition.  The sacks
   were passed out through the window and loaded on garbage carts.  on
   which they were taken to the nearby garage, wl~ere two other members
   of the underground worked--Rudek Lubernicki and Srenda Lichtblau.
   From the garage some of the weapons were transferred in pails and
   carts of building materials to the assembly points of the combat
   groups, especially to the area where the leaders of the revolt were
   located.  (Platkiewicz, op.  cit., pp.  548-549; Sereny, opt cit., p.
   246; Rajzman, op.  cit., p.  221; Kon, op.  cit., pp.  537-538) Up
   until about 15:30 everything went according to plan, but then the
   operation was disrupted.  A SS man called Kurt Kuttner suddenly
   appeared in the area of the prisoners' quarters.  After having a
   short talk with the prisoner in charge of Barracks Number 2, Kube,
   who was known to be an informer, Kuttner seized a young Jew and found
   money in his pockets.  He began to interrogate the youth and to beat
   him.  Word was immediately dispatched to Galewski and his colleagues,
   and they, fearing that Kube may have noticed unusual activity in the
   camp and had told Kuttner, and fearing that the youth might break
   under interrogation and give away the uprising, decided to eliminate
   Kutlner on the spot and proceed directly to the second stage of the
   revolt, before Kuttner would be able to alert the camp guards.  This
   decision was reached even though part of the arms had not yet been
   removed from the storeroom and the rest had not all been distributed.
   Committee member Salzberg conveyed the decision to the underground
   people who were near the prisoners' quarters, and one of the men
   killed Kuttner with a pistol shot.  That shot was the signal for the
   outbreak of the insurrection.  (Testimony of Strawczynski, op.  cit.,
   p.  57; testimony of Schneidmann, op.  cit., p.  4)

   From that moment the "organizing committee" was no longer in control.
   The groups of fighters acted separately.  Rudek Lubernicki and Stenda
   Lichtblau set fire to the large fuel tank, and when it exploded all
   the nearby buildings caught fire.  The two also immobilized an
   armored vehicle in the garage.  The prisoners' quarters and the ware-
   houses were also set aflame, and the group working in the potato silo
   hurled hand grenades at the SS quarters.  The explosions and gunshots
   were heard in all parts of the camp.  Prisoners began running in the
   direction of the square and the eastern and southern fences of the
   camp.  The Ukrainian guards and SS opened fire from the guard towers
   and elsewhere, and some of the insurgents who were armed returned the
   fire.  Several Ukrainians were wounded and their weapons taken from
   them.  The few grenades and meager ammunition that the rebels had was
   running out very quickly.  The camp was going up in flames and in
   total disarray, and the prisoners began to break through the fences
   and get themselves over the anti-tank obstacles, throwing blankets
   and coats on the barbed wire.  Many of those fleeing in the area of
   the fences were hurt and fell, but the others trampled over them and
   continued to run.  All the members of the "organizing committee,"
   including Galewski, and other members of the underground who were
   actively involved in the revolt, were the last to make for the
   fences; most of them were hit and fell within the camp.  (There are
   several versions concerning tne death of Galewski.  Leon Perelstein,
   a prisoner who escaped from the camp together with Galewski, relates
   that after they had gone a few Kilometers, Galewski felt that he did
   not have the strength to go on.  He took some poison out of his
   pocket, swallowed it and died on the spot.  See YVA, 0-16/106, p.  5.
   Rachel Auerbach, however, wntes that Galewski killed himself after
   being surrounded.  See her book, Be-Huzot Varsha 1939-1943, Tel Aviv,
   1954, p.  346, note 106.  Also see testimony of Strawczynski, op.
   cit., pp.  58-59; Platkiewicz, op.  cit., pp.  549-550; Wilenberg,
   op.  cit., pp.  56-58)

      Stangl, the commander of the camp, relates about the
      outbreak of the revolt: Looking out of my window I could
      see some Jews on the other side of the inner fence--they
      must have jumped down from the roof of the ss billets and
      they were shooting...  In an emergency like that my first
      duty was to inform the chief of the external security
      police.  By the time I'd done that, our petrol station blew
      up.  That too had been built just like a real service
      station, with flower beds round it.  Next thing the whole
      ghetto camp was burning and then Matthes, the German in
      charge of the Totenlager, arrived at a run and said
      everything was burning up there too...(Sereny, op.  cit.,
      pp.  239-241) 

                The Uprising in the Extermination Area

   The decision to begin the insurrection on August 2 was communicated
   to the extermination area several days before.  On the day of the
   uprising itself, around noon, Wiernik arrived in the extermination
   area and confirmed that it was definitely decided that the uprising
   would take place that very day.  Because of the summer heat, the work
   hours for cremating the bodies were from 4:00 A.M.  until noon, after
   which the prisoners were kept under guard in their fenced-off and
   closed barracks.  In the extermination area there were usually four
   SS men (three of them operating the bulldozers) and another seven
   Ukrainian guards.  However, when the uprising began only one SS man
   was there, as the three bulldozer operators had already finished
   their work.  In order to enable the members of the underground to be
   outside the barracks at the hour set for the revolt, Bloch and
   Friedman decided to leave some bodies for burning so that it would be
   necessary to continue the work in the afternoon.  Friedman, who was
   the head of a work group, inforrned the SS man in charge of the
   cremations that they had not managed to finish the work, and he gave
   permission to a group of thirty men -- most of them members of the
   underground -- to go out to work again at 3:00 P.M.  (Testimony of
   Rosenberg, op.  cit., p.  3; testimony of Goldfarb, op.  cit.,p.  26)
   Four other members of the underground were also allowed to be outside
   the barracks, ostensibly for drawing water for the kitchen, with a
   Ukrainian guard close by.  All of them were tense and ready for the
   agreed-upon sign to be given from Camp A.

   At about 15:30 a shot was heard from the direction of the lower camp,
   immediately followed hy the sound of exploding grenades.  The members
   of the underground in the extermination area then went into action.
   The group of water-drawers killed the Ukrainian guard, and another
   group killed the Ukrainian guard who was positioned at the entrance
   to the living quarters.  Zelo Bloch took one of the rifles and fired
   at the guards in the guard towers.  The insurgents took over the
   guardroom, taking a number of rifles from it.  At this stage the
   insurgents were successful.  While the underground members were
   fighting, the other prisoners burst through the fences that were
   behind the barracks on the southern side of the camp and began
   escaping into the fields in the direction of the forest.  A machine
   gun fired on them from the guard tower in the southeastern corner of
   the camp.  Block and Friedman, who stayed behind to cover the
   escapees with rifle fire, were killed by the gunfire.  The gas
   chambers themselves were not damaged in the exchange of fire that
   took place in the camp.  (Wiernik, op.  cit., pp.  59-60; testimony
   of Rosenberg, op.  cit., pp.  3 4; Rajgrodski, op.  cit., pp.
   115-116; testimony of Sonia Lewkowicz, YVA,0-3/4181, p.  5) 

                         Escape and Pursuit

   On the day of the uprising there were 850 prisoners in the entire
   camp.  About half, including most of the members of the underground,
   were killed trying to escape, gunned down in the camp itself, between
   the fences or near them.  About 100 prisoners decided io remain in
   the camp and made no attempt to escape.  Despite the heavy gunfire,
   about half of those who tried to escape did manage to get over the
   fences.  In order to reach the forest they had to cross a distance of
   5-8 kilometers.  In the meantime Stangl the camp commander, alerted
   the German security forces by telephone (because of the disruptions
   in the plan the insurgents had not had time to cut the lines).  They
   arrived from Malkinia, Kosov, the Treblinka labor camp and elsewhere
   and cordoned off an area at a radius of 5 kilometers from the camp.
   (Sereny, op.  cit., p.  247; Rajgrodski, op.  cit., p.  116)

   The pursuit, the combing of the area and the roadblocks resulted in
   the capture of most of the escapees, most of whom were shot on the
   spot.  The local population was of no help.  Prominent in the
   testimonies of the survivors is the assertion that the peasants in
   the region caught the escapees, took their money and then handed them
   over to the Germans.  (Rajzman, op.  cit., p.  190; Greenberg, op.
   cit., pp.  63-64; testimony of Schneidmann, op.  cit., pp.  4-5;
   testimony of Tajgman, op.  cit., p.  20) Nevertheless, some of the
   survivors of the escape from Treblinka owe their lives to the help
   they received from the local inhabitants.  (Testimony of Goldfarb,
   op.  cit., p.  28)

   There is no way of knowing the exaet number of prisoners who
   successfully escaped and found places to hide.  According to various
   estimates, about 60-70 of the Treblinka escapees were still alive at
   the end of the war.  It may be assumed, however, that a larger number
   escaped during the uprising but that some met their death under
   various circumstances in the year between the uprising and the
   liberation of the area by the Soviet and Polish armies, or until the
   liberation of all of Poland.  Thus, of the 850 prisoners in the camp,
   it is probable that at least 100 escaped and successfully eluded the
   pursuit forces.  This estimate is higher than the figure generally
   accepted until now.  (See, for example: The Death Camp Treblinka--A
   Documentary, Alexander Donat, ed., New York, 1979.  A list of
   sixty-nine survivors is given in this work, but it contains mistakes
   and duplications.  Testimonies of twenty-seven of the survivors are
   in my possession.) 

[Concluded in yad_vashem YVS.Camps.04]


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