treblinka extermination camp

Only two people in this photo may have survived the war, the boy in the foreground and the SS man holding the MG.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: “Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs”.
An iconic image of World War II. People identified in the picture:
Identity of the boy in the front was not confirmed, but is possibly Artur Dab Siemiatek, Levi Zelinwarger (next to his mother, Chana Zelinwarger) or Tsvi Nussbaum.
Hanka Lamet – small girl on the left
Matylda Lamet Goldfinger – Hanka’s mother next to her (second from the left)
Leo Kartuziński – teenaged boy in the background with white bag on his shoulder
Golda Stavarowski – in the background, first woman from the right, with one hand raised.

Most were transported to the extermination camp Treblinka.

Tsvi Chaim Nussbaum (August 31, 1935 – July 2, 2012) was the only Holocaust survivor in his family, and is considered by some as being the boy in this photo.

Josef Blösche (12 February 1912 – 29 July 1969) was a member of the Nazi Party who served in the SS and SD during World War II. Blösche became known to the world as a symbol of the Nazi cruelty inflicted on people within the Warsaw ghetto because of a famous photograph taken during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which portrays a surrendering little boy (possibly Tsvi C. Nussbaum) in the foreground, and Blösche as the SS man who is facing the boy with an sub-machine gun in hand.

He was finally identified (as in August 1946 he suffered a major accident at work, leaving the side of his face severely deformed) and arrested in January 1967.
Blösche was put on trial in Erfurt in April 1969. He was found guilty, including in participating in the shooting of about 1,000 Jews in 1943. He was sentenced to death, and executed in Leipzig on 29 July 1969.

(Colorised by Mikolaj Kalzmarek from Poland)

Map of the Holocaust in occupied Poland during World War II

Skulls in black squares: extermination camps
Skulls: major massacres; if the massacre was particularly important its name is in red (e.g. Mass-murder of the Jewish Ghetto of Łuck at Gurka Połonka, +25,600 people were executed at point-blank range, men, women and children)
Black squares: major concentration camps; concentration camps include labour camps, prison camps & transit camps.
Stars of David: major Jewish ghettos; they also took a toll of many, many lives.
Purple arrows: major routes towards extermination camps

This map shows all major Nazi German extermination camps (or death camps) in Nazi-occupied Poland, as well as prominent concentration, labour and prison camps, major pre-WWII Polish cities with the new Jewish ghettos set up by Nazi Germany, major deportation routes and major massacre sites. Not all camps and ghettos are shown. Map: Dennis Nilsson 

Extermination camps were designed specifically for the systematic killing of people delivered en masse by the Holocaust trains. They were pure death camps for gassing. The executioners did not expect the prisoners to survive more than a few hours beyond arrival at Belzec, Sobibór, Chełmno and Treblinka (those sent to other extermination camps could have the infrequent “chance” of being selected if able-bodied for slave labour in nearby concentration camps).

At the extermination camps, prisoners arrived by train. They were taken directly from the platforms to a reception area where all their clothes and other possessions were seized by the Nazis to help fund the war. They were then herded naked into the gas chambers. Usually they were told these were showers or delousing chambers, and there were signs outside saying “baths” and “sauna.”

According to Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, bunker 1 held 800 people, and bunker 2 held 1,200. Once the chamber was full, the doors were screwed shut and Zyklon-B was released into the chambers through vents in the side walls. Those inside died within 20 minutes; the speed of death depended on how close the inmate was standing to a gas vent, according to Höss, who estimated that about one-third of the victims died immediately. 

Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw the gassings, testified that: “Shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives.“ When they were removed, if the chamber had been very congested, as they often were, the victims were found half-squatting, their skin colored pink with red and green spots, some foaming at the mouth or bleeding from the ears.

The gas was then pumped out, the bodies were removed (which would take up to four hours), gold fillings in their teeth were extracted with pliers by dentist prisoners, and women’s hair was cut (everything is reusable). The floor of the gas chamber was cleaned, and the walls whitewashed (prisoners dug into the walls and ceiling with their nails). The work was done by the Sonderkommando, which were work units of Jewish prisoners. In crematoria 1 and 2 at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Sonderkommando lived in an attic above the crematoria; in crematoria 3 and 4, they lived inside the gas chambers. When the Sonderkommando had finished with the bodies, the SS conducted spot checks to make sure all the gold had been removed from the victims’ mouths. If a check revealed that gold had been missed, the Sonderkommando prisoner responsible was thrown into the furnace alive as punishment.

At first, the bodies were buried in deep pits and covered with lime, but on the orders of Himmler they were dug up and incinerated atop pyres or in crematoria in order to hide any evidence that people had been murdered.

Historians agree that they were six “main” extermination camps equipped with gas chambers in occupied Poland. Other means of extermination were used elsewhere in Poland and other Nazi-occupied territories (e.g. at the Trostinets extermination camp in Bielorussia, prisoners were shot in the back of the neck and only sporadically killed in gas vans; around 60,000 victims).

Estimated death tolls for Polish gas chambers:

  • Chełmno:  152,000–340,000 (7 survivors identified)
  • Bełżec: 434,508–600,000 (7 survivors identified)
  • Auschwitz II–Birkenau: around 1.1 million
  • Treblinka: 850,000–1.200,000 (150–300 survivors)
  • Sobibór: 200,000–300,000 (around 50 survivors)
  • Majdanek: 78,000–100,000

Auschwitz II–Birkenau and Majdanek were part of larger complexes of concentration and slave labour camps. As such, more Jewish prisoners survived as they could be selected for “work”. Other types of inmates like POWs or gay men were also witnesses of the industrial extermination of Jews. This is why Auschwitz is much more well-known than Treblinka, even if the number of their victims is more or less the same.

“As the Nazi regime developed over the years, the whole structure of decision-making was changed. At first there were laws. Then there were decrees implementing laws. Then a law was made saying, "There shall be no laws.” Then there were orders and directives that were written down, but still published in ministerial gazettes. Then there was government by announcement; orders appeared in newspapers. Then there were the quiet orders, the orders that were not published, that were within the bureaucracy, that were oral. Finally, there were no orders at all. Everybody knew what he had to do.“

— Raul Hilberg, American historian, widely considered to be the world’s preeminent scholar of the Holocaust

A monument honoring Janusz Korczak. After spending many years working as director of an orphanage in Warsaw, he refused freedom and stayed with his orphans when the institution was sent from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp, during the Grossaktion Warsaw of 1942. This is located at the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Poland. (Source)

Residents who were found while eliminating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the 1943 act of Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany’s final effort to transport the remaining Ghetto population to Treblinka extermination camp. The most significant portion of the rebellion took place beginning on 19 April, but ended when the poorly supplied resistance was defeated by the German soldiers. This officially finished their operation to liquidate the Ghetto on 16 May. It was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II

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“German soldiers question Jews after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. In October 1940, the Germans began to concentrate Poland’s population of over 3 million Jews into overcrowded ghettos. In the largest of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, thousands of Jews died due to rampant disease and starvation, even before the Nazis began their massive deportations from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – the first urban mass rebellion against the Nazi occupation of Europe – took place from April 19 until May 16 1943, and began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. It ended when the poorly-armed and supplied resistance was crushed by German troops.”



Jankiel (or Yankel)-Yaakov Wiernik (in Hebrew: יעקב ויירניק; born 1889, Biala Podlaska, Poland; died 1972, Rishon Lezion, Israel) was a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor who was an influential figure in the Treblinka extermination camp uprising of August 1943. Following his escape during the uprising, he published his account of his time in the camp titled: A Year in Treblinka, of his experiences and eyewitness testimony of that death camp where he witnessed the tragic loss of anywhere from 700,000 to 1,400,000 innocent lives. Wiernik also testified in the Ludwig Fischer’s trial in 1947, Eichmann Trial in 1961, and was present at the opening of the Treblinka Memorial in 1964. After World War II, Wiernik immigrated to Sweden and later moved to Israel where he died in 1972 at the age of 83.

Jankiel Wiernik was a janitor and carpenter living in Warsaw, Poland before his time in Treblinka. He was a member of the “self defence” of the “Bund” movement from 1904. When World War II began, he was 50 years old.

Jankiel Wiernik published Rok w Treblince (A Year in Treblinka) in 1944 as a clandestine booklet printed through the efforts of Jewish National Committee, Bund (underground organisations of the remnants of Polish Jews) and Polish Council to Aid Jews Żegota by means of an underground printer organized by Ferdynand Arczyński. The circulation is estimated by Władysław Bartoszewski as 2000 copies. It was sent through Polish underground channels to London, translated into English and Yiddish and printed in USA by American Representation of the General Jewish Workers Union of Poland. It was printed in Palestine by the “Histadrut in December 1944, translated into Hebrew by Icchak Cukierman. The book recounts his experiences in the Treblinka concentration camp between 1942 and 1943.

Wiernik was transported to Treblinka on August 23, 1942 from Warsaw Ghetto. On his arrival, Wiernik was selected to work rather than be immediately killed. Wiernik’s first job required him to drag corpses from the gas chambers to mass graves. Wienik was traumatized by his experiences, writing ‘It often happened that an arm or a leg fell off when we tied straps around them in order to drag the bodies away.’ However, he was also encouraged by the occasional scenes of brave resistance to his captors. In chapter 8, he describes seeing a naked woman escape the clutches of the guards and leap over a ten foot high barbed wire fence unscathed. When accosted by a Ukrainian guard on the other side, she wrestled his machine gun out of his grasp and shot several guards before being killed herself.

When Wiernik’s profession as a carpenter was discovered, he was put to work constructing various camp structures including additional gas chambers. Given his skills, Wiernik was not subjected to the same treatment others were and he no longer had to handle dead bodies. Wiernik attributes his survival to his work building structures needed in the camp. Given the shortage of skilled construction workers, Wiernik moved between the two divisions of the camp frequently. As a result, Wiernik became an important figure, communicating between the camps when the revolt was being planned.

Wiernik escaped Treblinka during the revolt of the prisoners on August 2, 1943, having killed a camp guard with an axe after being shot by the guard and the bullet being stopped by his clothing. After escaping Treblinka, Wiernik arrived in Warsaw hiding in freight train. He hid in Warsaw, secreted initially by the Polish family of Krzywoszewski, his former employers, who got for him false Kennkarte document by the name of Kowalczyk, and then by a woman named Bukowska. Next, Wiernik assumed the name of Jan Smarzyński. He made contact with members of Jewish underground working in the 'aryan’ part of Warsaw and was recognised by them as a valuable eyewitness of the extermination procedures in Treblinka. He was persuaded in late 1943 to write A Year in Treblinka in spite of his initial reluctance (Wiernik had little education and was not a skilled writer). He continued to live in Warsaw (Wiernik’s 'aryan’ appearance allowed him to move relatively freely) and fought there in 1944 in Warsaw Uprising in the Armia Ludowa. After the end of World War II, Wiernik initially remained in Poland (in 1947 he testified in the trial of Ludwig Fischer), then immigrated to Sweden and afterwards to the newly founded state of Israel. In the 1950s, Wiernik built a model of the Treblinka camp which is displayed in the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum in Israel. In 1961 Wiernik testified in the Eichmann trial in Israel.

Wiernik experienced the after-effects of his experience. His feeling of guilt can be seen in chapter one of A Year in Treblinka. "I sacrificed all those nearest and dearest to me. I myself took them to the place of execution. I built their death chambers for them.” He stated that he had nightmares and had trouble sleeping. Apparently, the horrors he had experienced in Treblinka had caused him to suffer from survivor syndrome, a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. (via)