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October 6, 2011

Was Treblinka really a transit camp?

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:02 am

Treblinka was one of the three Operation Reinhard camps that were set up following the Wannsee Conference in which the Nazis planned “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”  The Nazis claimed that the Operation Reinhard camps were transit camps from which the Jews would be “transported to the East.”  The Jews claim that Treblinka was strictly an extermination camp where the Jews were immediately gassed upon arrival.  (At the Nuremberg IMT, the Soviets claimed that the Jews were steamed to death in steam chambers at Treblinka.)

Original sign at Treblinka Photo Credit: Yad Vashem

My post today is in response to Eric Hunt, who has been doing some excellent research which you can read on his website here.  He has discovered that famous Holocaust survivor Irene Zisblatt was originally sent to Treblinka before she was transferred to Auschwitz.

I have been re-reading Norman Finkelstein’s book, The Holocaust Industry, in which he mentions that his father was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and that he was a prisoner at Auschwitz.

Jews in Warsaw ghetto were gathered at the Umschlagplatz

The Jews who were sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka were transported, from the infamous Umschlagplatz, in trains 60 cars long, with 100 Jews crammed into each boxcar. The trains stopped at the Malkinia Junction, a Y junction near the village of Treblinka, where 20 cars would be detached from the train and backed into the camp via a spur line. After the passengers were unloaded at a platform beside the tracks, the train would return to the Junction and get the next 20 cars. Leaving Treblinka on the return trip, the trains turned south, taking the clothing to the disinfection chambers at the Majdanek camp in Lublin.  Did the trains also take some of the Warsaw Jews south to Majdanek and Auschwitz?

The spot where the train station at Treblinka once stood

The photograph above shows a stone platform that is supposed to resemble the platform where the Jews got off the trains. When the camp was in operation, there was a real train platform in this spot and behind it was a storehouse, disguised as a train depot, which was used to store the clothing and other items which the victims had brought with them to the camp.

According to a pamphlet which I purchased at the Treblinka Visitor’s Center in 1998, a storehouse at the camp was “disguised as a train station.” The pamphlet explained that the fake station was built to fool the Jews into thinking that they had arrived at a transit camp, from where they were going to be “transported to the East.”

Jews from many different countries, including German-occupied Greece, Bulgarian-occupied Greece, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, were sent to Treblinka.  But for what purpose?  Why not just shoot them in the countries where they lived?  Why have a conference to plan the extermination of the Jews?  Shouldn’t this have been kept secret?

Regarding the fake train station at Treblinka, Samuel Rajzman (a Treblinka survivor) testified as follows at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal:

At first there were no signboards whatsoever at the station, but a few months later the commander of the camp, one Kurt Franz, built a first-class railroad station with signboards. The barracks where the clothing was stored had signs reading “restaurant,” “ticket office,” “telegraph,” “telephone,” and so forth. There were even train schedules for the departure and the arrival of trains to and from Grodno, Suwalki, Vienna, and Berlin.

According to Rajzman’s testimony at Nuremberg, “When Treblinka became very well known, they hung up a huge sign with the inscription Obermaidanek.” (Obermaidanek means Upper Majdanek.) Maidanek was the German name for Majdanek, which was a “death camp” on the outskirts of Lublin, the headquarters of the Operation Reinhard camps. Rajzman explained that “the persons who arrived in transports soon found out that it was not a fashionable station, but that it was a place of death” and for this reason, the sign was intended to calm the victims.

Was the Obermaidanek sign really meant to be an explanation for why the Jews living in the vicinity of Lublin were sent to Treblinka instead of being sent to the Majdanek camp?  Was this sign really there, or did Rajzman make this up?

Memorial in the spot where the Umschlagplatz once stood

The photo above shows a memorial which has been built in Warsaw on ul. Stawki at the spot where the Umschlagplatz once stood, at the northern boundary of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Umschlagplatz was where the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had to assemble to board the trains which transported them to the death camp at Treblinka, beginning in July 1942.

The Nazis established Jewish Ghettos in all the major Jewish population centers of Poland; this was part of their systematic plan to exterminate (ausrotten) all the Jews in Europe.  The Ghettos were intended as a transitional measure. The next stage of the plan was the liquidation of the Ghettos and “transportation to the East.”

On July 22, 1942 the Warsaw Ghetto was surrounded by Ukrainian and Latvian soldiers in German SS uniforms, as the liquidation of the Ghetto began in response to an order given by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler that “the resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the General Government is to be carried out and completed by December 31.” The General Government was the central portion of the former country of Poland that was occupied by the Germans between 1939 and 1944.

Large stone at Treblinka in honor of the Jews from Warsaw

The largest stone in the symbolic cemetery at Treblinka is the one for Warsaw, from where the largest number of Jews were transported to the camp. According to historian Martin Gilbert, 265,000 Jews from Warsaw were deported to Treblinka. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum puts the number from Warsaw at 300,000. In 1940 the Jewish population of Warsaw and the surrounding area, about 400,000 people, were first crowded into the walled ghetto, then later sent to Treblinka, beginning in July 1942.

On July 20, 1942, the Judenrat (Jewish leaders) were ordered by the Nazis to prepare for the resettlement (Aussiedlung) of the “non-productive elements” to the East. The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were to report voluntarily to the Umschlagplatz (collection point) at the corner of Stawki and Dzika streets, near a railroad siding for the Ostbahn (Eastern Railroad), on which they would be “transported to the East” on crowded freight cars.

Original box cars used for transporting Jews

According to Raul Hilberg in his book, The Destruction of the European Jews: “As soon as the order was posted, a mad rush started for working cards. Many forgings took place and in the ghetto, everyone from top to bottom was frantic.” A similar scene is depicted in the movie, Schindler’s List, when a Jewish professor in Krakow suddenly becomes an experienced metal worker with forged papers, aged by tea stains.

The chairman of the Warsaw Jewish Council, Adam Czerniakow, was ordered by the Nazis to deliver 6,000 Jews per day, seven days a week, to the Umschlagplatz for deportation to Treblinka. A day later, the number was increased to 7,000 per day. Rather than cooperate with the Nazis, Czerniakow committed suicide on July 23rd, the first day that Jews were assembled ready for deportation.

On this blog, you can read about a survivor of Treblinka, Isadore Helfing.

Here is a quote about how he managed to survive the Treblinka death camp where the Jews were gassed upon arrival:

Describe what it was like when they opened the doors. What you saw and how you felt and what you did?

The minute they opened up the door, I was facing right about two storeys dead people right in front of it laying there. These were the people that came before dead right in the trains, in those uh trains, and they pushed them out because they did, they didn’t have time to haul away because another train came in, and that’s what it was, that I saw.

And what did you do?

What I did, I saw it, we’re going all, that’s it, and I see boys dragging dead bodies to the grave you know, and I jumped right in and start dragging those bodies just like I was one of them.

And we’re pulling it to the graves. And uh so this was about three or four o’clock and you know and then the night rolls around and I could not join them, so I hide, I was hiding myself between the bodies there, so.

And then in the morning, I did start doing the same thing, but I see in that they count fifty people dragging those bodies in this particular time, and two or three were killed, they, they shoot them because they couldn’t uh drag those bodies, got sick and so on.

So I joined right into the group, and I became one of the people. So like in the morning they came you know, and they count out the people, how many people there were right among the people there. If somebody is missing so they were looking what’s happened you know, maybe he escaped or something.

So you actually broke into ……

Broken right into the… to the crew, like I am one of it. Everybody was wearing the same, the same clothes, like they were, when they came in.

Trains continued to arrive regularly at Treblinka until May 1943, and a few more transports arrived after that date.

On October 19, 1943, Odilo Globocnik wrote to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler: “I have completed Aktion Reinhard and have dissolved all the camps.”

In an article published on August 8, 1943, the New York Times referred to a headline in a London newspaper which read: “2,000,000 Murders by Nazis Charged. Polish Paper in London says Jews Are Exterminated in Treblinka Death House.” The subtitle read : “According to report, steam is used to kill men, women and children at a place in the woods.” The London newspaper story was based upon an article published on August 7th in the magazine Polish Labor Fights, which contained information from a Polish report on November 15, 1942.

More news about the killing of the Jews at the Treblinka camp came from Vasily Grossman, a Jewish war correspondent who was traveling with the Soviet Red Army. In November 1944, Grossman published an article entitled “The Hell of Treblinka,” which was later quoted at the Nuremberg IMT. Grossman had interviewed 40 survivors of the Treblinka uprising and he had talked to some of the local farmers. The camp had been completely razed to the ground; there was nothing left for Grossman to see, “only graves and death.” The Jews had all been killed, according to Grossman.

Proof that Treblinka was an extermination camp is contained in a 16-page secret document, that was submitted by Nazi statistician Dr. Richard Korherr to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler on March 27, 1943. Reichsführer-SS Himmler was a five-star general and the leader of the SS; he was responsible for all the Nazi concentration camps, which were administered by the SS. This report on “The Final Solution of the European Jewish Problem,” compiled at Himmler’s request, stated that of the 1,449,692 Jews deported from the Eastern provinces, 1,274,366 had been subjected to Sonderbehandlung at camps in the General Government.  The term Sonderbehandlung, sometimes abbreviated SB, is believed to have been used by the Nazis to mean death in the gas chamber; the English translation is “special treatment.”

On April 1, 1943, Himmler had the report prepared for submission to Hitler; the words “Sonderbehandlung at Camps in the General Government” were changed to “Transport of Jews from the Eastern Provinces to the Russian East, Processed through the Camps in the General Government.”

The terms “evacuation” and “transportation to the East” are believed to be Nazi code words for sending the Jews to death camps where they were murdered in the gas chambers. The words “resettled” and “liquidated,” when used to refer to the Jews, are believed to be euphemisms which mean killed in the gas chambers.

The term “die Endlösung der Judenfrage” was written by Hermann Goering in a letter to Reinhard Heydrich on July 31, 1941. Translated into English as “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” this is believed to be a euphemism which was used by the Nazis to mean the genocide of the Jews in Europe. However, at the Nuremberg IMT, Goering testified that the term meant the “Total solution to the Jewish question” which he said was a euphemism for the evacuation of the Jews to the East.

March 25, 2011

the trains that traveled WEST to Treblinka

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:01 am

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.

17,000 stones in Treblinka cemetery

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.