Anniversaries & holidays

The Treblinka uprising

Czarno-białe zdjęcia przedstawia grupę ciepło ubranych ludzi przed budynkiem dawnego dworca kolejowego w Treblince
fot. Żydowski Instytut Historyczny

On August 2, 1943, a revolt broke out in the extermination camp in Treblinka. Its participants attacked the SS soldiers and the guards and set the camp buildings on fire. They not only wanted to escape, but also to take revenge on the Germans and destroy the Nazi death camp.

The extermination camp in Treblinka became operational on July 23, 1942. After Sobibór and Bełżec, it was the third extermination camp created by the Germans as a part of the “Reinhard” action, which started in 1942 with the purpose of exterminating Jews of Jews of General Government. The camp was located in a forest area, near the Treblinka I penal camp, which was built there a year before. The close proximity of the railway line between Warszawa and Białystok and its branch to Siedlce were important, as it made transporting vast numbers of people easier.

The Jews that were transported here were taken to gas chambers, where they perished in tank fumes. Only few of them were temporarily kept alive. They were ordered to empty wagons and gas chambers, burn or bury bodies and segregate items taken from those who were murdered. The idea for an armed uprising and escape emerged in that group of people.

The conspiracy among the Treblinka prisoners started in the spring of 1943. Marceli Galewski was its leader. Despite receiving authority over the prisoners from the Germans, he gained trust of his fellow prisoners. Prisoners with military experience played an important role in the secret organisation. Among them were Polish Army captain and a doctor - Julian Chorążycki and Czechoslovak Army lieutenant - Želomir Bloch. The conspirators successfully managed to copy a key to the German weapon arsenal which allowed them to enter it and steal rifles and grenades when they were ready. However, most of the prisoners were armed with axes, crowbars, knives and Molotov cocktails.

The preparations did not always go smoothly. The date of the uprising was moved many times due to unforeseen events and accidents. This is how doctor Chorążycki died. The Germans found valuables and money hidden in his living quarters, which the escapees would use to survive. A very strong impulse, which increased the determination of the conspirators and lifted their spirits, were the news about the Warsaw ghetto uprising, which they heard from the Jews deported from Warsaw.

The uprising started on the 2 August, at around 4 pm. During that hot day, a part of the camp staff went by the Bug river to swim in it. It is unknown how many Germans and Ukrainian guards were killed by the prisoners during the uprising. Probably not many. However, the plan to burn the camp down was successful. Only the brick building with gas chambers was left standing. Around 300 prisoners lived to be free. The remaining number out of 850 prisoners perished under the gunfire of the guards. However, most of the escapees were killed during pursuit or after it. Around 90 people survived the war. Among them were Jankiel Wiernik from Warsaw, the author of a detailed report about how Treblinka II functioned (Rok w Treblince; eng: A year in Treblinka), Samuel Willenberg, who described his experience in his work Bunt w Treblince (eng: Riot in Treblinka), and Czech Jew, Richard Glazar, the author of the Stacja Treblinka (eng: Station Treblinka) account.

After the uprising of the prisoners, the Treblinka II extermination camp was liquidated. The last transport of Jews from Białystok was murdered there on August 19, 1943. Later, all buildings were destroyed, the area was ploughed and transformed into a farm, where a former Ukrainian camp guard lived. In almost one year, the Germans murdered over 800 thousand Jews in Treblinka. Most of them were from the districts of Warsaw, Radom and Białystok. Among them were almost 300 thousand prisoners of the Warsaw ghetto.

The uprising in Treblinka was not an isolated incident. Similar uprising efforts were made in other extermination camps - in Sobibór on October 14, 1943 and in Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 October, 1944.