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The Rise and Fall of Treblinka

Updated on July 4, 2020
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The Rise and Fall of Treblinka and One Man's journey through it all.

Introduction To Treblinka

During World War II there were approximately 1,200 concentration camps or working camps in occupied German territories. One camp in particular that many people are not aware of was Treblinka, located in Poland. Treblinka was an extermination camp that was established in 1941. Treblinka was known for the genocide of the prisoners who had the unfortunate fate of being sent there. During the years of operation there were small breakouts and during these breakouts two men were able to escape and survive, they were Samuel Willenberg and Kalman Tagiman. Samuel Willenberg was nineteen years old when he was sent to Treblinka. Looking at how Treblinka was formed, discuss how Samuel Willenberg was sent there and his story on how he got there, and lastly discussing how Treblinka was destroyed by the end of the war, by looking at these individual details it will help give a better history of what actually happened to Samuel and others like him.

Treblinka, Poland (1941)

Treblinka, the extermination camp, was established in 1941 and was meant as a working camp for prisoners sent to these camps by the Nazi party. Treblinka was the last stop for many people who were sent there. Over the three years the camp operated between 870,000-925,000 people were killed in Treblinka II. When they first created Treblinka it’s main purpose was to be a forced labor camp and was located north about 50 miles from the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. During World War II they expanded what was originally Treblinka I and added Treblinka II for the sole purpose of exterminating Jewish people and other prisoners that were sent to Treblinka. From the PBS article titled “Treblinka,” the Article states “Opening for operation on July 23, 1942, as the evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto began, the upper camp would house the machinery that would exterminate some 265,00 Jews of Warsaw,” (PBS) thus proving just on a small scale the numbers that was sent to Treblinka. The article continues to go on and say how Treblinka was a very well kept secret of the Germans. Treblinka’s formation was intentionally for labor and that is how the camp started with Treblinka I. The prisoners that arrived in Treblinka I were forced to work and helped build and create Treblinka II. Treblinka II was where they had the fire pits for the bodies as well as the gas chambers. The death camp or extermination camp was like many of the other camps that many people have heard of, such as Auschwitz and Sobibor. The camp was set up to help keep up the lie that the Nazi Party was only relocating the Jewish people instead of the harsh reality that they were trying to exterminate a whole population of people. In the article “An Interview with Samuel and Ada Willenberg” by Sheryl Ochayon she writes “Treblinka was the most lethal extermination camp of Operation Reinhard, where approximately 870,000 Jews were murdered during the thirteen month that the camp was in operation, from July, 1942 through August, 194,.” (Ochayon) With that being said the history of Treblinka is so much bigger than the little bit of information that is given here. Treblinka is expansive and was proven to be the most fascinating camp that not too many people know about. One of the major events that occurred here was the breakout that occurred in August of 1943. One of the many people who was sent there was named Samuel Willenberg and through all his trials and everything he went through he was able to escape and make it out of Treblinka.


Samuel Willenberg Visiting Treblinka

Samuel Willenberg

Samuel Willenberg was nineteen years old when he was sent to Treblinka on the train from Opatow. Samuel had a mother and father and two sisters during the time of the war. After Germany invaded Poland Samuel and his family went into hiding from the Nazi soldiers that were evacuating the Jewish people to the different Nazi work camps for what they told the Jewish people was a relocation to different land. While hiding from soldiers in 1941 Samuel’s sisters “were arrested in Czestochowa,” (Ochayon) and were sent to a forced labor camp. Samuel Willenberg after being sent to Treblinka spent about ten months there. He participated in the August 2, 1943 revolt which led to many of the prisoners that were held in Treblinka to escape. Because Samuel was able to escape from Treblinka he was able to return back to his home and join the Polish Army to help fight for his people and fight to get Germany out of occupied Poland. After Treblinka was disbanded and the war was over Samuel was able to share his story and his light of what happened to him in a way so many people thought was special. One of the things he did was he became an artist like his father. He became one of the first Holocaust artist and to use what he had seen in his time in Treblinka as a way to spread the mistreatment and to show how it was like living in such horrible conditions. “Samuel has created a series of fifteen sculptures that are scenes from Treblinka. They have been displayed in Germany, in Poland and in Israel.” (Ochayon) These different pieces of art have helped a community of people learn what happened to Samuel and others that were in similar and worse conditions than him. Samuel was able to create this art and use it to deal with his own issues he had from being imprisoned but was also able to use his art as an opportunity to spread what had happened to him and to use this for an example for future generations to come. Samuel’s art is a reminder of the past and to remind us how hatred can lead the world blind and lead people down paths that should never be traveled. Samuel Willenberg died February 19, 2016 at the age of 93. Samuel Willenberg and another man named Kalman Taigman are believed to be the only two main survivors of Treblinka.


Dismantlement of Treblinka

Treblinka II was dismantled in August of 1943 but Treblinka II remained operating until months later in July of 1944. The Germans were trying to forcibly and horribly murder as many Jewish prisoners as they could before they were forced to shut down by the opposing armies. During this time of dismantlement and chaos the German soldiers were doing everything that they could to get rid of the Jewish prisoners that were still in the camp after the dismantlement of Treblinka I. In the article Treblinka from the Holocaust Encyclopedia it quotes that “the Germans killed between 870,000 and 925,00 Jews at the killing center,” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) because of this mass murder it had to be done quickly and efficiently. The German Nazi’s were able to kill that many people in a span of thirteen months and that was the death toll of only one of the many extermination or forced labor camps that the German army had in other occupied countries. The reason why so many people are unaware of Treblinka is because it was a well kept secret of the German Nazi’s. After the camp was dismantled because of the rough problems it was having, the German government decided to tear it all down and move the prisoners they hadn’t killed yet to other camps or killed them instantly. Treblinka I and Treblinka II were wiped off the map and was forgotten for a long time but it was brought back to life when people such as Samuel Willenberg and Kalman Taigman shared their stories and showed what really happened in Treblinka and how Treblinka impacted World War II. Today after Treblinka’s dismantlement in the forties there is now a monument and gravesite for all the victims lost during the camps reign of terror for it the thirteen months it was in operation. No one will ever forget what happened at Treblinka ever again.


Conclusions of Treblinka and What We Learned

While all the extermination camps were tragic and horrific, Treblinka was one of the worst of an awful legacy. The camp not only destroyed lives but changed a whole country's perspectives and views of others. Through the tragic loss of so many lives history was made, because of Treblinka a whole new generation is able to learn not only about genocide as a whole but how someone who has gone through the worst of the worst and was still able to be successful and have a decent life. Now that Treblinka is a historic site it is not only dedicated to the lives that were lost but also is a dedication to the new minds that come and learn about the horrible things that happened at Treblinka and make it so that something like this never happens again. Treblinka as a whole and World War II was something that could have easily not have happened but it did. Even though Treblinka happened only 71 short years ago it is still prevalent in modern time behaviors and still can teach young people today about the tragedies that happened and how they can be avoided and prevented. Because of Treblinka we learn from the past and look forward to a future where things like supremacy will not be a problem.

Resources

  1. "Treblinka." PBS. PBS. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.

  2. Ochayon, Sheryl. "The International School for Holocaust Studies." Samuel and Ada Willenberg. Web. Feb. 2016.

  3. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Treblinka." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.

Youtube Video: "Treblinka: National Socialist Murder Camp of 850,000. Former Soviet Citizen Meets 1 of 2 Survivors." YouTube. YouTube, 23 July 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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