Treblinka was one of the three Operation Reinhard camps in Poland. On January 20, 1942 at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, a conference was held to plan “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question” for Europe’s 11 million Jews. Reinhard Heydrich, who was the head of RSHA (Reich Security Main Office), led the conference. The protocols from the conference contained the expression “transportation to the East,” a euphemism that was used to mean the genocidal killing of all the Jews in Europe.
Following the conference, the three Operation Reinhard camps were set up at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor. The first Jews to be deported to Treblinka were from the Warsaw ghetto; the first transport of 6,000 Jews arrived at Treblinka at about 9:30 on 23 July 1942. Between late July and September 1942, the Germans transported more than 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jews were also deported to Treblinka from the ghettos in Lublin and Bialystok. Others were transported to Treblinka from the Theresienstadt ghetto in what is now the Czech Republic. Trains continued to arrive regularly at Treblinka until May 1943, and a few more transports arrived after that date.
The Nazis called the Operation Reinhard camps “transit camps.” Their cover story was that the Jews were being “transported to the East” from these camps, but some of the trains actually traveled WEST to Treblinka.
Did the Nazis slip up and blow their cover story of “evacuation to the east” by sending trains west to Treblinka? O.K., it’s time to get out the maps.
On the web site of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, you can see a map which shows the train routes to the three Operation Reinhard camps here. Another map on the USHMM web site, which you can see here, shows the location of Treblinka and the surrounding ghettos from which the Jews were transported to the camp.
One of the ghettos on the map is Bialystock, which was a city with a large Jewish population. As the map on the USHMM web site clearly shows, Treblinka is southwest of Bialystok. The map shows that Treblinka was in German-occupied Poland, which was called the General Government. Bialystok was in Poland (and still is) but it was not in the General Government. By 1942, the German Army had advanced into the part of Poland that had been occupied by the Soviet Union after the joint invasion of Poland in 1939 by the Germans and the Soviets.
The Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jews was to consolidate the Jews into ghettos near major railroad lines for easy transportation to the death camps, which they referred to as transit camps. One of the main railroad lines in Poland was the Warsaw-Bialystok line. Malkinia Junction near Treblinka was a stop on this line.
The tiny village of Treblinka is located on the railroad line running from Ostrów Mazowiecki to Siedlce. A short distance from Treblinka, at Malkinia Junction, this line intersects the Warsaw-Bialystok line. Trains could reverse directions at the Junction and return to Warsaw, or turn south towards Lublin, which was the headquarters for Operation Reinhard.
When I visited Treblinka in 1998, my tour guide drove me from Warsaw to the camp, a distance of about 60 miles. Shortly after we left Warsaw, I began seeing signs giving the distance to Bialystok. There were no signs giving the directions to Treblinka at that time — I saw nothing but directions to Bialystok all the way to the camp. At that time, I had never heard of Bialystok, but I deduced that it must be an important place, since all roads led to it. I made a mental note that if I ever came back to Poland and wanted to see Treblinka again, I could just rent a car and head towards Bialystok.
The dividing line, between the part of Poland that was occupied by the Germans during World War II and the part that was occupied by the Soviets after the conquest of Poland in 1939, was the Bug river, which connects with the Vistula river. All of the Operation Reinhard camps are very near the Bug river.
As the map on the USHMM web site shows, the territory east of Bialystok is Belarus, which Americas used to call White Russia. Also to the east of Bialystok is the section of Poland that was given to the Soviet Union after the joint conquest of Poland by the Germans and the Soviet Union in September 1939. This part of Poland, which had formerly been occupied by the Russians between 1772 and 1917, was now under the control of Germany. The Nazis claimed that their plan was to send the Jews into this territory.
When railroad lines were built in the 19th century, the width of the tracks was standardized in America and western Europe, but the tracks in Russia and eastern Poland were a different gauge. Bialystok is the end of the line for Western railroad tracks in Poland; this is as far east as trains can go without changing the wheels on the rail cars to fit the tracks in Russia.
In June 1941, the German Army had invaded the Soviet Union. By the time that the Operation Reinhard camps were set up in 1942, German troops had advanced a thousand kilometers into Russia. The plan was to transport the Jews as far as the Bug river and kill them in gas chambers, then claim that they had been “transported to the East.” There was no gas chamber in Bialystok so the Jews in the Bialystok ghetto were transported west to Treblinka in order to kill them.
What else could the Nazis have done at Treblinka? Maybe put a pontoon bridge across the Bug river and send the Jews into the former Soviet territory? But if the plan was to send all the Jews into Russia, why not just send them to the east from Bialystok? Maybe the Nazis didn’t want to send the Bialystok Jews as a separate group, but wanted to keep the Jews together when they were “transported to the East.”
When Germany began offering reparations to the Jews for the Holocaust, there were many Jews who claimed reparations but were rejected because they had come from Russia to Germany after the war. According to the official history of the Holocaust, these people were dead, so they could not claim reparations from Germany.
Now there are ads on TV asking for donations for the Holocaust survivors in Russia. There is no mention of how these survivors got there, but the scene in the ad, that shows the tattoo on the arm of one of the Holocaust survivors in Russia, has recently been deleted from the ad.