The labor camp Treblinka I was founded in 1941 in the forests along
the Bug River, to the east of Warsaw on the rail line from Malkinia to
Kosow Lacki. The prisoners were put to work in the gravel pit and the
forest, and on a farm. They were primarily Poles, and also Polish Jews.
During the period when Treblinka was a death camp, the percentage of
Jewish prisoners in the labor camp was higher. The camp's population was
between one and two thousand. The camp commandant was Theo van Eupen.
The German staff numbered about twenty, and was assisted by one hundred
guards, who were for the most part Ukrainian. The camp existed until
July 23, 1944, when the Germans shot the last Jews there, about 550, and
a few dozen Poles. It is estimated that the camp saw a total of about
20,000 prisoners, of which half died or were shot. Despite retaliations,
escapes still took place. An attempt at a larger-scale mass escape
during the armed uprising in 1943 failed. The local Polish population
often helped the escapees. For each successful escape, the commandant
condemned ten or more people to death.
The death camp was founded in the summer of 1942. For the most part,
it was only Jews who were sent there, though some Roma transports also
arrived. It was divided into four parts: the reception area, the
prisoners' barracks, the extermination area and the administration and
residential area. The camp's permanent population numbered up to one
thousand. These people were put to work in the death machine. The
rotation rate in this group was very high. The camp conditions and staff
treatment meant that those who were not killed immediately did not have
very high chances of surviving long. The camp staff numbered 25-30
Germans and Austrians. The first commandant was a medical doctor named
Irmfried Eberl. In August 1942, he was replaced by Franz Stangl, who had
previously headed the death camp at Sobibor. Most of the German staff
belonged to the SS, though some were members of the police. The guards
were generally Ukrainians, and were often recruited among Red Army
prisoners-of-war. Regular transports of people from Warsaw began on July
22, 1942. The Germans sent a quarter of a million Jews to Treblinka
from Warsaw. They also sent them from other ghettos, primarily from the
Generalgouvernement. The Jews from the West bought their own train
tickets. Transports also came from all over occupied and collaborating
Europe- from Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Czech
lands, Slovakia, Belgium and France. In addition to Jews, the Germans
also killed at least 1,000 Roma at Treblinka. The arrival at the ramp
was theatrically arranged. A building in the shape of a railway station
was built, the wounded and elderly were dressed in white frocks with a
red cross on them. The prisoners left their belongings and baggage and
were herded to the changing room and segregated according to sex.
Sometimes the younger and stronger people were selected to work in the
camp. The rest were pushed into the gas chambers and gassed. The
victims' gold teeth were then pulled out and the corpses burned. The
entire process, from the arrival of a transport of between 5,000 and
6,000 people until removal of the corpses, lasted from two to three
In 1943, plans were made for an uprising and mass escape. Zelomir
Bloch headed the Organizational Committee. The uprising broke out on
August 2, 1943. Nearly two hundred people probably managed to escape and
avoid the manhunt that followed. A decision was made quite soon after
the uprising to close the camp and raze it to the ground.
Because no definitive documentation exists, the estimates regarding
how many people may have perished at Treblinka vary greatly. The
calculations are based on documents from the German Reichsbahn that were
stolen by a Polish railwayman named Fraciszek Zabecki, and on estimates
based on ghetto populations. Most historians believe that the number of
victims was somewhere in the range of 800,000 to 900,000. The camp did
not exist long-just over a year.
After the camp was closed, the Germans did everything to remove all
traces of it. Other than a small bunker, the foundations of buildings,
and human ashes in the ground, not much remains of the camp today. After
the war, the communist parliament passed legislation on July 2, 1947,
regarding commemoration of the former camps at Treblinka. In the 1950's,
a monument was erected that is still regarded as one of the finest
monuments of its kind. It was designed by Adam Haupt, Franciszek
Duszenko and Franciszek Strynkiewicz. The entire site is marked with
boulders. Two-meter boulders guard the camp's borders, and there is a
stylized ramp beyond a symbolic gate. In the center of the camp there is
a monument reminiscent of the Wailing Wall, with a crack down the
middle. Alongside it is a place that recalls a crematorium, in the shape
of a pit filled with shapeless basalt. Seventeen thousand stones of
varying heights were erected in a cement foundation, covering 22,000
square meters. The cement covers human ashes. Written on 216 of the
stones are the names of the towns and villages from where Jews were
brought to Treblinka. The only stone with an individual's name on it is
that of Henryk Goldszmit (Janusz Korczak) and his wards. Only
foundations remain of what was once the labor camp. Surrounding it all
are the quiet, beautiful forests along the Bug River.
For years, no efforts were made to develop visitors' services.
Currently, there is nothing except a parking lot and a small kiosk. The
International Auschwitz Council has taken up the problem and has
appealed to the Polish prime minister to begin work on a shelter,
exhibition pavilion and restrooms. The Yad Vashem Institute has promised
to develop the new exhibition.
Treblinka is a tiny village situated far from today's main
transportation routes. Visitors usually arrive by tour bus or by private
cars. The closest train station is in Malkinia, about eight kilometers
from the camp, to the north of the Bug River. Many trains travel between
Malkinia and Warsaw daily. One may also hire a taxi at the train
station in Malkinia.
The bridge over the Bug only handles passenger vehicles. Because of
the heavy bus traffic in this area, cement barricades excluding buses
and trucks have been erected.
One can also travel to by bus to Kosow Lacki, a small town a few
kilometers to the south of Treblinka. The local government of Kosow
Lacki has developed plans for a conference center and hotel that could
serve visitors as well.
The nearest shops, medical services and post office are located in
Malkinia and Kosow Lacki. In case of emergencies, a forester's station
is also located along the road near the camp.
At the entrance there is a small kiosk with various items for sale.
Entering the former camp, one may be asked to make a donation to the
site's maintenance in the form of a cegielka ("little brick"), though
this is not required and is not an entrance fee.
The nearest active synagogue is in Warsaw.