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Treblinka

English 101
Professor Smedley
12-01-96

Los Angeles Pierce College

Treblinka 

Treblinka was one of three camps of Operation Reinhard. The other two
were Belsec and Sobibor. The Chelmno camp was originally built as a
pilot project for the development of the other three camps. Operation
Reinhard was created by Adolf Hitler (leader of Nazi Germany) and
Heinrich Himmler (high official in Nazi government and commander of
the security troops--Shutzstaffel, better known as the SS). Unlike
other concentration camps, Operation Reinhard camps reported directly
to Hitler's office (the Reich Chancellery Office) in Berlin. Hitler
kept the control of the program close to him but delegated the work to
Himmler. Operation Reinhard used the euthanasia program (T-4) for site
selection, construction and trained personnel (The Killing Centers).

The Einsatzgruppen were mobile SS units whose sole purpose was to
execute Jews in territories conquered by the German army. It became
evident, however, that they could not handle millions of Jews,
especially those in the large ghettos of Warsaw and Lemberg. So
Treblinka was especially designed for the rapid elimination of Jews in
ghettos. Both Treblinka and Sobibor were to be ready to operate on
August 1st, 1942 (Klee et al. 228-230). But Treblinka was ready on
July 24, 1942, when the shipping of Jews began: "According to the [SS
Brigadefuhrer Jurgen] 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, 1942 to October 3, 1942"
("Excerpts from Judgments"). 

iThe camp of Treblinka was located 62 miles northeast of the Polish
capital Warsaw ("Treblinka), 550 yards from the Malkinia-Koskow
highway, about one and a half mile from the Treblinka railroad station
("Excerpts from Interrogation")
The camp was organized in two camps: Treblinka I and Treblinka II.
Treblinka I was split in two parts. The first part was the
administrative section. There were barracks for the SS troops, the
Ukrainian guards, the camp commander's barrack, a bakery, a storage
and barracks for the 1000 prisoners who were used to operate the camp.
A road left this part of the camp and rejoined the highway. The other
part of Treblinka I was the receiving area. The railroad extended from
the Treblinka station into the camp. There were two barracks near the
tracks that where used to store the belongings of prisoners. One was
disguised to look like a railroad station. There were two other
buildings about 100 yards from the track. They too contained the
clothing and belongings of the prisoners. One was used as an
undressing room for the women, who received haircuts there as well.
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 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
("Excerpts from Interrogation").

Treblinka II was on a small hill. From camp one there was an uphill
path lined with barbed wire fences--the funnel--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
furnaces. 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 500 prisoners who operated camp II ("Excerpts from
Interrogation").

From his interview with SS Unterschafuehrer Franz Suchomel, Claude
Lanzmann tells us of the beginning days of Treblinka in August of
1942.


"Suchomel: [when I arrived,] Treblinka was operating at full capacity.

Lanzmann: Full capacity?

Suchomel: Full capacity! The Warsaw ghetto was being emptied then.
Three trains arrived in two days, each with three, four, five thousand
people aboard, all from Warsaw.... So three trains arrived, and since
the offensive against Stalingrad was in full swing, the trainloads of
Jews were left on a station siding. What's more, the cars were French,
made of steel. So that while five thousand Jews arrived in Treblinka,
three thousand were dead in the cars. They had slashed their wrists,
or just died. The ones we unloaded were half dead and half mad. In the
other trains from Kielce and elsewhere, at least half were dead. We
stacked them [on the ramp]. Thousands of people piled one on top of
another on the ramp. Stacked like wood. In addition, other Jews, still
alive, waited there for two days: the small gas chambers could no
longer handle the load. They functioned day and night in that period"
(53).

At the very beginning, people were buried in mass graves or piled up
in camp two because the workers did not have time to bury them. The
stench from the decomposing bodies could be smelled up to ten
kilometers away (54). The Jews waiting in the train wagons knew what
would happen and thousand committed suicide in the trains. In
September 1942, new gas chambers were built. They could handle three
thousand people in two hours (61).

The work was performed by special squads (sonderkommandos) of Jewish
prisoners. 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 Goldjuden--Jews of gold--were in charge of handling
the money, gold, stocks, and jewelry. They subjected the prisoners to
an intimate search 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. They carried 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. They never left camp
two. 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 (Steiner 92-95). The
work squads prisoners were continuously whipped and beaten by the
guards and were often killed. New workers were selected from the daily
arrivals and pressed into the commandos.

There was a bruise rule; if a prisoner has been bruised on on the
face, he would be shot that evening at roll call, or the next morning
if the bruise had not shown yet. 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 (Steiner 84). Normally, the 1500 men work crews were
almost entirely replaced every three to five days ("Excerpts of
Interrogation").

So the train passengers were savagely pulled from the train, separated
by sex, and ordered to strip naked. In winter, the temperature often
dropped to 25°F. The Germans chose who would go to the "infirmary".
The technique was to rush the whole process while beating everyone so
nobody would have the chance to resist. The guards would first whip
the men and force them to run uphill through the thirteen feet wide
funnel all the way to the gas chambers. The men were locked in and
asphyxiated with carboneverything was eventually set up to make them
feel better. The Germans had the camp decorated into a train station,
complete with train schedules, posters of faraway lands and a
real-looking clock (in reality, a prisoner would move the hands to the
approximate time before each convoy arrived). The Germans did not do
this in order to make things more humane for the prisoners, but rather
to have less work. The prisoners, as soon as they realized where they
were, went mad and began to run around in horror, sprising 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." (Klee et al.
247)

After a revolt at Sobibor around the same time, it was decided to shut
down the death camps. "Operation Reinhard commander Globocnik wrote
Himmler: 'I have on Oct. 19, 1943, completed Action Reinhard and
closed all the camps' " (Ruckerl 40).

In 1965, after a report by Dr. Her 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 ("Excerpts from Interrogation"). It
is exceedingly difficult to correctly assess the actual number of
those killed, as many witnesses were later killed during the war
(which ended two years after the camp's closure, on May 8, 1945). Many
records were lost or destroyed, especially regarding railroad
transports, which were heavily bomber by Allied warplanes. Less than
one hundred Treblinka survivors were found at the end of the war
("Excerpts of Judgments").

I have given only those facts which I could cross-reference. My
personal belief about the deaths is that 1,000,000 for one year
averages to 2,740 killed each day. From what testimonies I have
seen--and I have by no means listed them all here--the camp could
process 12,000 to 15,000 people per day. 900,000 seems to be a very
conservative estimate. Of course, scholars must be conservative. One
Ukrainian guard who was there for the entire life of the camp claims
over two million deaths. He cannot prove it, but he was there every
day.

The truth will probably never be known. There are so many different
"facts" about these terrible events. Who is to know what? But if we
ignore the evidence we do have; if we fail to believe the truth
because it sounds too outrageous, we will once more believe the Nazi
lie that they were going to get showered, be given new clothes and be
on their way to the promised land the next day.

Bibliography:

1. Court of Assizes in Dusseldorf, Germany. Excerpts From Judgments
(urteilsbegrundung). AZ-LG Dusseldorf: II 931638, 1965. Online.
(ftp://ftp1.us.nizkor.org/pub/camps/aktion.reinhard/treblinka/german.court)

2. Klee, E., Dressen, W., Riess, V. The Good Old Days. New York: The
Free Press, 1988.

3. Lanzmann, Claude. Shoah: An Oral History of the Holocaust. New
York: Pantheon Books. 1985.

4. The Nizkor Project. The Killing Centers. 1995. Online. Available:
(ftp://ftp1.us.nizkor.org/pub/camps/aktion.reinhard/treblinka/killing.cntr)

5. Ruckerl, Adalbert, hrsq. NS-Prozesse. Karsruhe, Germany: Verlag C F
Muller, 1972.

6. Steiner, Jean-François. Treblinka. Trans. Helen Weaver. New
York, Simon and Schusters, Inc. 1967.

7. "Treblinka." Encyclopedia Americana. Ed. unknown.

8. United States. Department of Justice. Excerpts from Interrogation
of Defendant Pavel Vladimirovitch Lelenko. Original source:
Directorate of Counterintelligence of the Second Belorussian Front,
former USSR. 1978. Acquired by US in 1994. Available online.
(ftp://ftp1.us.nizkor.org/pub/camps/aktion.reinhard/treblinka/lelenko.001
and .002)




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