- Treblinka was the last of the Aktion Reinhard camps to be constructed. The death camp was located in the northeastern part of the General-Gouvernement near a railway station on the main Warsaw-Bialystok line. The site was in a wooded area and thus naturally concealed. Although construction of the camp began in late May or early June 1942, there already existed nearby a forced labor camp where Polish and Jewish prisoners were made to process raw materials from a gravel pit for border fortifications. The death camp was modeled after that of Sobibor. In fact, personnel who had been involved in the construction of Sobibor were transferred to Treblinka, including technical specialists from the Euthanasia Program. The gas chambers at Treblinka were located in a massive brick building, and the access paths, including the tube (which the guards at Treblinka called the “road to heaven”), were modeled on the tubes in Belzec and Sobibor.During its first stage, there were three gas chambers in operation at Treblinka. The walls of the chambers were covered with white tile, shower heads were installed, and water pipes ran across the ceiling, all constructed in order to give the appearance of “showers. “ In reality the pipes conducted the carbon monoxide gas into the chambers. After the gassing operation, the bodies were thrown into huge ditches located east of the gas chambers.The process that awaited the arrivals at Treblinka was not unlike that at Sobibor. The deportees were ushered out of the freight cars and led through a gate into the camp where men were moved to the right and women and children to the left. As was the case in Sobibor, the prisoners were ordered to undress and tie their clothes into a bundle, leave their valuables with a cashier, and then told that after they showered, they would get back their personal belongings and receive clean clothes. The men, women, and children were subsequently forced to run naked through the tube that led to the gas chambers. During the camp’s first phase, more than 5,000 to 7,000 Jews arrived each day. Then the number of arrivals increased to about 12,000 a day, although thousands were already dead on arrival.Germans with dogs stood along the path to the gas chambers. The dogs had been trained to bite the men’s genitals and the women’s breasts, ripping off pieces of flesh. The Jews were beaten with whips and iron bars so that they would press on to the “showers.” To escape from the blows, the victims ran to the gas chambers as quickly as they could, the stronger ones pushing the weaker aside. The Germans assigned two Ukrainian guards at the doors of the gas chambers, and as soon as the chamber was full, the Ukrainians closed the doors and started the engine. Some 20 to 25 minutes later, an SS officer would check through the window to be sure that everyone had been asphyxiated. Jewish prisoners (Sonderkommandos) were then ordered to remove the corpses.The system, however, did not always work properly. Sometimes the engines that produced the carbon monoxide gas failed, and the victims already inside the gas chamber would be left standing until the engines were repaired. On one occasion, the doors to the gas chambers were opened prematurely and the victims were still alive, so the doors were again closed and the engines restarted. In a fiveweek period between 23 July and 28 August 28 1942, approximately 268,000 Jews were annihilated. Because of frequent breakdowns in the gas chambers, Franz Stangl was transferred to Treblinka from Sobibor to deal with this “embarrassing” problem.The second phase in the killing operations at Treblinka began with Stangl’s appointment as the commandant of the extermination camp and the construction of new and more efficient gas chambers. Ten additional gas chambers were added to the existing three old ones. In addition, Stangl “invented” new methods of subterfuge. In one of the buildings containing the new gas chambers, a dark curtain from a synagogue hung at the entrance to the passage. Its inscription in Hebrew read, “This is the gate through which the righteous may enter.” Above the entrance door was affixed a Star of David. The new gas chambers were able to hold 4,000 people at a time, the old ones only 600. Under Stangl, a more efficient way of burning corpses was undertaken. The incineration of corpses was carried out by placing train rails on blocks of concrete. The corpses were then piled upon these rails. Brushwood was placed under the rails, and the wood was drenched with gasoline. Not only were the most recently gassed corpses burned this way but also those exhumed from the ditches. In early March 1943, after Heinrich Himmler visited the headquarters of Operation Aktion Reinhard, he ordered the dismantlement of Treblinka. Before the camp could be closed, however, the bodies of hundreds of thousands of victims had to be exhumed and incinerated in order to destroy all incriminating evidence. It was at this point, during the final phase of the camp’s existence, that the Jewish prisoners revolted on 2 August 1943. The revolt failed, and the last group of 30 Jewish prisoners was shot in November 1943. The number of Jews who were exterminated in Treblinka is estimated from a low of 700,000 to a high of 900,000.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.
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