Franz Stangl, commander of the camp, would boast that he could ‘process’ an entire train between his breakfast at 7am and lunch at midday – killing an average of 6,000 Jews. Once new gas chambers had been installed, 12,000 people could be exterminated in single a day!
Treblinka was the third extermination camp of Operation Reinhard to be built, following Bełżec and Sobibór, and incorporated lessons learned from their construction and operation.
Treblinka II was operational until November 1943. The camp was then shut and completely demolished by the Nazis. The graves were covered with earth and the whole area of the former camp ploughed and sown with lupins.
Why Did This Occur?
The mass extermination of Jewish people was driven by the ardent antisemitism (anti-Jewish) sentiments of Adolf Hilter, the German Führer (leader). Hitler blamed the Jews for everything that was wrong with the world; a weak Germany, communism, capitalism… you name it, he said the Jews were behind it. Furthermore, Hitler believed that Jews and the ‘Slavic’ races, such as Poles and Russians, were inferior to the German (or Aryan) race and their extinction was necessary for the long term dominance, by the superior Germanic races. Hitler was supported by the Nazi Party, the government, the military, and thousands of ordinary civilians, who all played their part in the Holocaust.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, he did everything he could to make life for Jews in Germany difficult. Increasingly harsh anti-Jewish laws were passed and the general population were incited to abuse Jews. However, it wasn’t easy for the Jews to leave. The processes to emigrate from Germany were hard to comply with, and other countries refused to change their immigration policies, or strict quotas to make it possible for Jews to emigrate, without lengthy procedures, and a lot of money.
You can read the list of the documents that Jews needed to provide in order to emigrate from Germany and immigrate into the USA.
Once World War II broke out, Jews from either Germany or the occupied territories, were unable to leave, and Hitler was able to put his lethal plans into action, with the full support of his Nazi cohort. In January 1942, a secret meeting of top Nazis agreed on the details for the ‘final solution to the Jewish question in Europe’. The Death Camps at places such as Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór arose following these discussions, which included agreement to ‘comb’ Europe for Jews, and deport them eastwards, to be worked to death or executed.
Poland was a natural site for many of the camps due to its high number of Jewish people already living there. Furthermore Poland was located far from the prying eyes of Western Europe.
For further reading about the final solution click here.
Why Didn’t They Fight Back?
They did! And Jews participated in the resistance movement, in all of the occupied countries. In the Polish Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos, (areas of the cities where the Nazis forced the Jews to live), there were uprisings against the Germans. The overwhelming military force of the German army quickly crushed their attempts, however. The Jews involved preferred to face their death fighting, rather than be sent passively to the gas chambers.
The Germans were meticulous in how they controlled vast number of Jews without them rioting and overwhelming the guards. A story developed that they were being sent to transfer camps, and then onto work camps, or for resettlement. They could take one bag, or suitcase, containing their personal belongings. Anyone who showed any sign of dissent was immediately shot. On arrival at Treblinka, the victims were usually in no condition to fight back after the train journey, and were hurried through to the ‘decontamination rooms’ immediately. Total brutality and cold-bloodedness were used to instantly quell any problems.
In the Labour camp, anyone giving any trouble faced certain death, usually by gunfire, being hung, or simply beaten to death. The bodies then were on display as a deterrent to others, who might be thinking the same way.
There was, however, a rebellion at Treblinka II organised by the prisoners, which broke out on 2nd August 1943. The camp was partly destroyed by fire, but less than a hundred survived the escape, and subsequent hunt by the guards.
What Is Left Of The Area Today?
The destruction of all evidence of the Final Solution was ordered in an effort to conceal from the Russian Army, and the world, what had actually taken place in these camps. Painstaking work of forensic archaeologists, and study of personal testimonies, has pieced together our knowledge today of what the site looked like, and how it functioned.
All that remains today of Treblinka II is a museum full of relics, and what has been erected on the site, in remembrance of those who died.
Today there are stones depicting the history of Treblinka. These ‘memorial stones’ are the most powerful monument with 17,000 separate pieces of granite, one for each of the communities that lost Jews in the Holocaust. 216 of them carry inscriptions with names of cities and towns from where Jews were transported.