The “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” had been in the hearts and minds of the Third Reich’s leadership for some time, but it wasn’t until Germany’s initial success in its war with Russia that the plan moved to the hands and feet. With large tracts of land in Poland and the Soviet Union now under German control, and millions of Jews (and other “undesirables”) living in those territories, this most grisly of operations shifted into high gear.
Make no mistake, there were hundreds of prison, slave labor, and concentration camps scattered all throughout the Occupied Territories, many of which offered appalling conditions to those held there. Thousands and thousands of people died in places with pretty familiar names, like Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Mauthausen.
But there were only six camps where death was the product, and all were located in eastern Poland. Two of those, Auschwitz (the most famous) and Madjanek, were a combination of death camp and labor camp. The remaining four were Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmo, and Treblinka, and they were built strictly to kill large numbers of people.
Treblinka opened on July 23, 1942. As it had the closest proximity to Warsaw’s large Jewish population, most of its victims came from the Ghetto there. Treblinka was comprised of two complexes, one that housed the gas chambers and crematoriums, and a second that housed the slave laborers that worked the camp, barracks for the guards, and the camp administration, and an “infirmary” (where wounded slave laborers would go to receive treatment…a bullet in the head).
The tally of Treblinka’s victims is difficult to nail down. Estimates are set at around 900,000, but guards have testified to even higher numbers…1-1.4 million. And depending on which numbers from Auschwitz are used, Treblinka may have been the most profilic killer in the Final Solution’s arsenal. The numbers are more terrifying in light of the fact that this camp was in operation for little more than a year. In August of 1943, workers in the camp revolted and destroyed some parts of the camp. A few escaped. With most of the Polish Jews now murdered and reduced to ashes, and with the camp damaged, and with Germany’s fortunes turning in Russia, the decision was made to close and remove all traces of the camp.
Recommended Reading: Treblinka – I just recently added this book to my collection, but I read it in college…twice. Though pretty graphic, it provides a remarkable insight into life in this Hell-like environment.
NOTE: I’m off for a couple days of vacation in Seattle. I’ll be back on Saturday afternoon. There are a couple interesting topics on my spreadsheet for upcoming days, so if an Internet connection presents itself, I’ll try to keep up.