Warsaw

Treblinka

21 Nov 2016

For the overwhelming majority of Warsaw’s wartime Jews their journey was destined to end in one place, a hitherto unknown village called Treblinka. Set 100 kilometres north east of Warsaw this small rural community would find itself unwittingly thrust into the eye of the Holocaust, its name forever etched in mankind’s roll of shame.

Split into two separate sections, Treblinka I and Treblinka II, Treblinka I was originally established in the summer of 1941 and functioned as a Polish slave labour camp. Treblinka II, the death camp, opened the following year, receiving its first human cargo on July 22, 1942. It was designed for the sole purpose of murder, a function it fulfilled well. Measuring 400 by 600 metres and surrounded with barbed wire fences and watchtowers, the camp was carefully blended into the heavily wooded landscape in an effort to mask its existence. Consisting of a barracks, an armoury and storage areas, the camp also had a fenced off living area housing 1,000 Jews employed to clear bodies, hammer out teeth and shave hair. It was also home to the reception area, where cattle wagons loaded with Jews would screech to a halt. Built to resemble a legitimate train station, it was decorated with clocks, timetables, posters and even an infirmary replete with a Red Cross banner. In actual fact the infirmary was no more than a sinister façade to an execution pit, used to murder prisoners too weak to march to the gas chambers.

Having been stripped naked, arrivals at Treblinka I were then herded up the tube, a fenced off path leading to the ‘shower block’. It was here that prisoners were ushered into gas chambers disguised as bathhouses. Carbon monoxide would then be piped through showerheads, taking as long as half an hour to asphyxiate those locked inside. At the height of the killing process up to 20 railway carriages could be processed within a period of one to two hours. At first bodies were simply buried in mass graves but by 1943, in an attempt to conceal all traces of genocide, corpses were cremated on massive pyres.

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