Treblinka

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Treblinka was a Nazi extermination camp in the north east of the General Government area of Poland. The camp was established in the summer of 1942 as part of Operation Reinhard. Under this plan, the Nazis sought to murder all the Jews living in the area known as the General Government.

The site for Treblinka was chosen because it was a sparsely populated area within heavy woodland. This made it very easy for the Nazis to conceal the murders.

There were very few buildings at Treblinka. Living areas for the guards and administrators, administration and reception areas and the gas chambers themselves were all that was necessary. The victims were sent directly to their deaths.

The number of administrators and guards at Treblinka was very small in relation to the number of people they murdered. The camp commandant, his deputy and approximately 30 SS officers (from the German T4 Euthanasia programme) were supported by up to 120 Ukrainian soldiers, who worked as camp guards.

In addition, the Nazis selected Sonderkommando from the Jews who arrived at the camp. They were ordered to carry out manual tasks, which included cleaning out the trains, preparing the victims, sorting the possessions and clothing of the victims and disposing of the dead.

The Sonderkommando were exterminated after a few days or weeks of work. New arrivals would take their place. During March and April 1943 the Nazis ordered the Sonderkommando to dig up and cremate the bodies to attempt to eradicate all evidence of the atrocities.

In just 10 months between the end of July 1942 and April 1943, approximately 876,000 people were murdered at Treblinka. Of these 738,000 were from within the General Government and 107,000 from across the Bialystok district. In addition, 29,000 Jews from Slovakia, Greece, Macedonia, Thrace and Theresienstadt, along with 2,000 Roma were murdered at Treblinka.

Between 23 July and 21 September 1942 alone, around 254,000 Jews were taken from the Warsaw ghetto, along with another 112,000 from the Warsaw area. They were all murdered at Treblinka.

There were several attempts to escape en route to Treblinka. Most failed. There were also attempts to escape the camp itself. One such attempt was planned as the Germans prepared to liquidate the camp. The SS and their Ukrainian collaborators suppressed the uprising and killed most of the 750 Jews who had attempted to escape.

Between March and the end of July 1943, the victims’ bodies were exhumed and burned by the Sonderkommando. The camp buildings were destroyed and the ground ploughed back to farmland. The site was then given to a Ukrainian family.