As the executive editor of the book, deputy director of the department of science and education of the Military Historical Society Konstantin Pakhalyuk, told "NI", this publication thematically and logically continues the collections about the Nazi death camps prepared by the Russian Military Historical Society together with the Holocaust Scientific and Educational Center - Sobibor. A look on both sides of the barbed wire” (2019) and “Majdanek. Research. Documentation. Memories "(2020):
- As in previous editions, we tried to present documents and memoirs of former prisoners of the concentration camp that had not previously been published in Russian in Russian, preceded them with a number of research articles that allowed even an unprepared reader to perceive these sources. Undoubtedly, in recent years, both in Russia and in many other countries, interest in the topic of Nazi crimes has been growing. At the same time, many people appeared in the West, as, by the way, in Russia, who deny the Holocaust and do not believe that there was no mass extermination of people in the death camps. Therefore, in part, our goal was to tell on documentary material what the Nazi death camps were.
The book is divided into several parts. The first one combines research on the history of Treblinka. In the second block, the authors included the memoirs of two surviving prisoners of Treblinka. For the first time in Russian, the memoirs of Yankel Wernik , written by him in Polish during the war years, are published. By the way, they went widely among the Polish underground. The authors of the book also gave preference to the memoirs of another Treblinka prisoner, Samuel Willenberg , published in the mid-1980s in Hebrew. They have been translated into many languages of the world.
In the third part - a set of documents on Treblinka, created in 1944 by the Soviet investigative authorities. These sources have never been fully published in Russia before.
The killer was arrested right on the beach
February 1967 Several police jeeps with sirens on and armored vehicles with submachine gunners “flew” onto the city beach of Brazilian Sao Paulo. Soldiers of the Special Police Operations Battalion surrounded a sun lounger in which a middle-aged man with a neat haircut and a glass of cocktail in his hand was lounging. He did not resist, smiling, calmly extended both hands for handcuffs and got into the armored car ...
The largest Brazilian newspaper Correio Popular on the same day said in a special report: “Our valiant police distinguished themselves again - they arrested a respected citizen, 59-year-old Stangl, who arrived 16 years ago from Syria. At the Volkswagen plant, where he works as an engineer, the authorities characterize him as an exceptionally respectable person. Journalists did not yet know that the former SS Hauptsturmführer, commandant of the Nazi death camps Sobibor and Treblinka, Franz Stangl , actually fell into the hands of Interpol .
The investigation established that in just four months of service in Sobibor, 100 thousand Jews were killed by order of Stangl, and in one single day in Treblinka he sent 10 thousand (!) Innocent people to death.
When the charges were brought, the Nazi executioner was indignant: “I agree that I installed gas chambers. But my conscience is clear: I just did my job honestly.”
What is the Treblinka death camp
It so happened that in 1944, the front-line correspondent of Krasnaya Zvezda and writer Vasily Grossman , together with Soviet troops, liberated the area where the Treblinka death camp was once located. In his hot pursuit article, which he called "Treblin Hell," Grossman was the first to reveal the deadly mechanics of Hitler's "Final Solution to the Jewish Question." Until now, when people read this article full of horrors, they involuntarily break out: “This cannot be!”
According to researcher Konstantin Pakhalyuk, Treblinka was created as part of the Reinhard Action, a Nazi plan to exterminate Jews on the territory of the Polish General Government. The plan included two more camps - Sobibor and Belzec. Treblinka was located in the north-eastern part of Poland, four kilometers from the Malkinya station, along the main Warsaw-Bialystok railway. It was a sparsely populated area covered with dense forests.
Next to the Jewish death camp was the Treblinka 1 labor camp. Grossman wrote that it was an ordinary concentration camp for Poles, of which the Germans built hundreds in the occupied eastern lands. In total, about 25 thousand people passed through this camp - Poles and Jews.
There were all kinds of workshops in Treblinka-1, among them a solid furniture workshop that supplied the headquarters of the German army with tables, armchairs, and chairs.
The labor camp existed from the autumn of 1941 to July 23, 1944. It was liquidated completely when the prisoners heard the dull rumble of Soviet artillery. On July 23, in the morning, the guards and SS men, having drunk schnapps for vigor, began to liquidate the camp. By evening, all the prisoners were killed and buried in the ground. Only the Warsaw carpenter Max Levit managed to escape , who, with bullet wounds, lay under the corpses of his comrades until dark and crawled into the forest. A Jewess , Khenya Trach , also fled from the execution site . Their interrogation protocols are published in the collection
Three kilometers from the labor camp, the Germans in May 1942 began the construction of a Jewish death camp. Construction proceeded at a rapid pace, and more than a thousand Jews and Poles worked on it.
In Treblinka 2, nothing was made for life, everything was meant for death. The existence of this camp was, according to the plan of the Reichsführer SS Himmler, to be in the deepest secret. No one was to leave alive. And no one was allowed to approach this camp. Shooting at random passers-by opened without warning.
The Germans played real theatrical performances. The victims, transported in trains along a special branch of the railway line, did not know about their fate until the last minute.
Trains from Western European countries came to the territory of Treblinka-2 without guards, with the usual servants, these trains included sleeping cars and dining cars. Passengers carried with them voluminous wardrobe trunks and suitcases, food supplies. Passenger children ran out at intermediate stops and asked: will the Ober-Maidan station be coming soon? Few then knew that the Nazis called Treblinka with this conditional name.
For the last deception of people arriving from Europe, the railway siding in the death camp was equipped like a passenger station. On the platform, at which another twenty wagons with suicide bombers were unloaded, there was a station building with ticket offices, luggage storage, and even a station restaurant. Everywhere the Germans placed arrows-pointers: "Landing on Bialystok", "On Baranovichi", "Landing on Volkovysk" ...
By the arrival of the echelon, an orchestra was playing in the station building, all the musicians were well dressed. The porter in the form of a railway employee took the tickets from the passengers and let them out on the square. Three or four thousand people, loaded with sacks and suitcases, supporting the elderly and the sick, came out to line up on a huge platform. Mothers held their children in their arms, older children pressed close to their parents, inquisitively looking around the street.
As Vasily Grossman wrote, the victims "from ordinary" until the last minute also did not know about the fate awaiting them. The “respectable” Germans promised people that they were being taken to Ukraine to work in agriculture. It was allowed to take twenty kilograms of luggage and food with you.
All the way, which sometimes lasted two or three days, the prisoners "from the common people" who traveled in freight cars were not given water by the SS. The suffering from thirst was so great that they drank their own urine. The guards demanded one hundred zlotys for a sip of water and, having received the money, usually did not give water. People rode huddled together, sometimes even standing, and in each car, especially on sweltering summer days, several old people and heart patients died by the end of the journey. If someone lit a match at night, the guards opened fire on the walls of the car.
The trains went to Treblinka for thirteen months. Railway repair worker Lucian Pukhava, mobilized by the Germans to work on a branch line leading from Treblinka to Camp No. 2, said that during his work from June 15, 1942 to August 1943, from one to three trains a day came to the camp daily. There were up to 60 wagons in each train, and at least 150 people in each wagon.
Treblinka II was commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Franz Stangl. At the trial, witnesses said that this monster was seized by involuntary fits of laughter every time he killed one of the prisoners or when an execution was carried out in his presence.
Stengl was subordinate to SS officers and guards - basically, they were prisoners from different countries.
The camp was surrounded by a three-meter-high double barbed wire fence, minefields, and even anti-tank fortifications. It included three zones: residential, reception and destruction zone. The latter - at first was a brick building with three gas chambers. Carbon monoxide was produced by a diesel plant in an outbuilding adjacent to the building. Gas was supplied through pipes disguised as shower distributors.
The cells inside the building were connected by a corridor. In each of them there was another door through which the corpses were removed - they were thrown into trenches, which were dug at a distance of 180 meters from the building.
Later, 10 more were added to the three gas chambers. And for those who were too weak to reach the chamber on their own, they set up a "infirmary" - a fenced area where the Red Cross flag fluttered. All those who were brought there, the guards put on the edge of a huge ditch, at the bottom of which a fire was burning, and immediately shot.
One of the main entertainments of the Germans was the violence and abuse of young beautiful women and girls, who were selected from each batch of the doomed. The next morning, the rapists themselves took the "beloved" under the elbow to the gas chamber.
In the spring of 1943, on the orders of Himmler, all the bodies of the previously killed were dug up and burned, and the newly killed were no longer buried, but immediately burned.
In just a year, the Germans killed in Treblinka-2 more than 800 thousand Jews and several thousand Gypsies brought to Poland from various European countries.
An uprising doomed to die
Why did the Germans need to create death camps? And how are they different from concentration camps?
Historian Konstantin Pakhalyuk answered “NO” to this question:
- Death camps in the territory of occupied Poland were created on the orders of Himmler as part of Operation Reichard for the "final solution of the Jewish question." These are Belzec, located in the Lublin region, in the north-eastern part of Poland, Sobibor, in the south-east of Poland, and Treblinka. These three camps took over in 1942 the bulk of the exterminated Jews in Europe. Partly as a death camp, Majdanek worked. In parallel, there were two more death camps that were not part of Operation Reinhard - Chelmno and Auschwitz-2 Birkenau.
The death camp and the concentration camp are different "machines" for killing. A concentration camp is, first of all, a place of economic exploitation of people. Destruction by hard labor! This does not mean that there were no deaths in concentration camps. There could also be gas chambers there to get rid of exhausted and sick prisoners or wounded and tortured Soviet prisoners of war. Even more people could die in concentration camps than in death camps. For example, Mauthausen outnumbers Majdanek in terms of the number of victims. But still, in absolute terms, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, as well as Chełmno, lead all such institutions.
Death camps are a kind of extermination centers where people were brought, assuring them that, after sanitizing, they would be dressed, fed and given work. In fact, they were sent to the gas chambers...
At the same time, I emphasize that there were no crematoria in Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka. Jews were killed with gas, and the bodies were burned on fires in the open air. The ovens, however, worked flawlessly at Majdanek and Auschwitz.
There are documents that show that in Treblinka in the first months of its existence, corpses were buried, but there was a monstrous smell of decaying bodies. Then the practical Germans decided to continue to burn the remains of their victims.
It is known that Belzec, for example, successfully operated from March to December 1942. In such a short period of time, at least 440 thousand Jews were killed there, and then the camp was closed for one simple reason - there was no longer a place to bury.
- And what about Treblinka?
- More than 800,000 Jews passed through Treblinka-2 during the period from July 23, 1942 to the end of August 1943. At first it was the main place of mass extermination of Jews. Then the "palm tree" gradually passed to Auschwitz.
- Why did the Nazis focus on certain areas of Poland?
- The Germans approached this purely logistically. In pre-war Poland in 1939, there were about 3 million Jews. It was expensive to take them to the chopping block to the other end of Europe. The Nazis decided to destroy the Polish Jews right on the spot. And the vast occupied territories of the Soviet Union were at their side.
- How many Jews who were taken from the occupied territories of the Soviet Union died in Treblinka-2?
- There are no exact data. However, it is known that many Jews who were taken from the western regions of Belarus died in Treblinka.
- The death camp in Treblinka is an "impregnable fortress" and it is impossible to escape from this hell. But after all there was an uprising of prisoners?
- When we talk about the rebellious prisoners in Treblinka or Sobibor, we must understand that we are talking about those people who were left by the Nazis to serve the camps. Because the death camp is also a place where the dead are robbed. After all, clothes remained from people, gold dental crowns, diamonds sewn into the floor of the jacket. Always at each death camp, a working team of 500-600 people was left for a while, which was engaged in the analysis of these things in order to send them to Germany.
The moment came when there were fewer trains to Treblinka. Rumors reached the prisoners that things were going badly for the Germans on the Eastern Front, especially after Stalingrad, and the Russians were advancing. The particularly smart ones decided that the Germans would eventually get rid of them as witnesses. When people had no hope of surviving, they decided to take a chance and organize a massive "breakthrough" to freedom. Moreover, there was nothing to lose. Realizing the inevitability of the denouement, the prisoners of Treblinka decided to raise an uprising. At the same time, they realized that their chances of success were practically zero. However, an underground was formed in the death camp.
Engineer Galevsky, doctor Yulian Horonzhitsky, sorter Adolf Freidman and former officer of the Czechoslovak army Zhelomir Bloch and some others played a key role in the group of conspirators . According to one version, the prisoners were able to make copies of the keys to the Treblinka armory.
Here is what Samuel Willenberg , one of the few prisoners of Treblinka, who survived the riot and waited until the end of the war, said:
“We were naive. Terribly naive. Everyone thought that with a couple of stolen rifles we would organize a riot, we would be like soldiers, and cheers ... The power of fantasy is great, but reality was cruel. From that warehouse we had some grenades and rifles. The first shots were fired on the second of August at about four o'clock in the morning. There was a strong explosion. To think that we will all run away into the forest. The Germans began firing from their watchtowers and quickly brought the situation under control. The first ones to run away were shot dead. Some prisoners did not join the rebellion at all. The elders, those over 40, did not fight. They knew that they could not jump over the barriers around the camp. But we still tried. And through the wire, barricades and dead bodies of friends, we fled from the camp. Then through the railroad tracks and on, quickly and thoughtlessly. During the escape, I felt that something hit me in the leg. The boot filled with blood, but I rushed on.
The SS men organized a search for the escaped prisoners, those caught were destroyed on the spot. Local residents, frightened by the events, fearing for their lives, handed over the Jews to the soldiers. Nevertheless, about 80 former prisoners of Treblinka survived until the end of the war.
Interestingly, two and a half months later, on October 14, 1943, an uprising took place in Sobibor, organized by the Soviet prisoner of war from Rostov Alexander Pechersky . And there the same thing was repeated as in Treblinka - people half-dead from hunger managed to cope with the SS men, heavy from innocent blood.
- What happened to the Treblinka camp after the August 2 uprising?
- Treblinka-2 took a few more echelons of the doomed, and then ceased to exist. The Germans destroyed the unfinished barracks by the rebels, blew up stoves and gas chambers, covered huge ditches with earth, dismantled stone buildings and railroad tracks, and removed the barbed wire fence. The entire territory of the camp was plowed up and sown with lupins. So the Nazis tried to hide their crimes.
- In Grossman's essay about Treblinka, there is a mention that guards from Ukraine were worse than the Germans in the death camps. Is it so?
- In historiography, especially foreign, it is often stated that Germans and Ukrainians killed prisoners in death camps. But it is not so. In the town of Travniki near Lublin, the Nazis created a guard training school (SS training camp), where cadets from among former prisoners of war and collaborators from the occupied territories were trained. Therefore, they were called Vakhman-Travnikovites. 4.5 thousand people passed through this school, which was the supplier of guards to German concentration camps and death camps. Among them were, according to documents, many Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians, as well as Volksdeutsche, Poles, Balts. Since the Ukrainians were the majority, the idea was entrenched that everyone came from this ethnic group.
"NI" express their gratitude to Ilya Altman, co-chairman of the Holocaust Research and Education Center, director of the International Research and Education Center for the History of the Holocaust and Genocides of the Russian State Humanitarian University, as well as Leonid Terushkin, head of the Archival Department of the Holocaust Center and Roman Zhigun, researcher of the Archival Department of and assistance in the preparation of this material.