Ziel Treblinka / "Final Destination Treblinka"
By Stephen Potyondi
As part of the greater Nazi effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe, the Treblinka concentration camp was second only the the more famous Auschwitz-Birkenau in terms of deadliness. With thousands of cattle cars stocked to the gills with Polish Jews converging on it day after day for months on end, its facilities orchestrated the annihilation of at least 800,000 of them, and quite likely more. All this we know from what remains of eyewitness testimony and physical evidence despite Nazi efforts to destroy both, and most especially train schedules whose 'final destination' declarations take on a macabre connotation with the understanding of what really occurred at the end of the line.
Before continuing, it must be noted that this paper is not intended to be an exhaustive exegesis of Treblinka. I have written it to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that Treblinka was an extermination camp devoted to the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews within the framework of the Final Solution. Any shortcomings of detail, therefore, must needs be remedied by reference to other treatises.
Massive and systematic executions at the Treblinka camp fell under the aegis of Aktion Reinhard (alternatively Einsatz Reinhard and Aktion Reinhardt), a facet of the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" (Endlösung der Judenfrage) devoted to physically exterminating the Jews of the Generalgouvernement of former Poland. A brief treatment is therefore in order. Its principal organiser and commander was Odilo Globocnik, a ranking member of the Schutzstaffel from 1 September 1934 onward and a recurring name in this history.
On 9 November 1939, Heinrich Himmler, both overseer of the newly annexed Polish territories and director of the Final Solution, appointed Globocnik to the position of SS and police chief for the Lublin district (SS- und Polizeiführer für den Distrikt Lublin). Globocnik demonstrated very early that he was a fervent supporter of Himmler's "General plan for the East" (Generalplan Ost) to resettle the Lublin area with volksdeutsche [ethnic German] immigrants and to extirpate its Jews to that end. So much so that on 17 July 1941, he was appointed as Plenipotentiary for the Construction of SS and Police Strongpoints in the new Eastern Area (Der Beauftragte des Reichsführers-SS für die Errichtung der SS- und Polizeistützpunkte im neuen Ostraum). His zeal is attested to by his contemporaries, including Jakob Sporrenberg, Globocnik's successor as Lublin SSPF after the former's departure for Trieste in 1943, among others.1 Rudolf Höß, kommandant of Auschwitz, wrote in his Krakow jail cell that Globocnik had concocted:
fantastic plans of bases stretching all the way to the Urals .... He didn't see any difficulties here and rejected all criticism with a superior sweep of the hand. Insofar as he did not need them for labour at "his" bases, he wanted to liquidate the Jews in these areas on the spot.2
At the same time, Himmler appointed Hauptsturmführer Hans Höfle as Globocnik's Chief of Operations in charge of organisation and manpower, an essential player in the upcoming Aktion Reinhard(t) programme.3 Globocnik was also given a staff of a few hundred men to aid him in his work, many of whom came from the T4 euthanasia programme at the behest of Dr. Viktor Brack, Oberführer in the SS.
In 1941, I received an oral order to discontinue the euthanasia programme. I received this order either from Bouhler or from Dr (Karl) Brandt [Himmler's adjutant]. In order to reserve the personnel relieved of these duties and to have the opportunity of starting a new euthanasia programme after the war, Bouhler requested, I think after a conference with Himmler, that I send these personnel to Lublin and put them at the disposal of SS-Brigadeführer Globocnik. I then had the impression that these people were to be used in the extensive Jewish labour camps run by Globocnik[sic]. Later, however, at the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943, I found out that they were used to assist in the mass extermination of the Jews, which was by then already common knowledge in the higher Party circles.4
Although most of these men were discharged from their T4 positions on 24 August 1941, they were hastily summoned back by an emergency recall two weeks later to serve Globocnik's purposes.5 Among them was Christian Wirth, heretofore inspector of the T4 programme, who, in turn, became inspector of the Aktion Reinhard(t) operation in August 1942. Future Lager-Kommandants Franz Stangl and Kurt Franz were also among the conscripted. Himmler's designation of men familiar with the methods and technologies of gas chamber execution6 for a mass killing operation can hardly have been coincidental and was intended to facilitate the Aktion by staffing it with experienced officers
It was at some point very soon after this, in either the late summer or autumn of 1941 that the order to begin Aktion Reinhard(t) was received. No official document containing such an order has ever been recovered; however, its inception may be inferred circumstantially. Höß writes in his memoirs that in the summer of 1941 he personally received an order from Himmler to "prepare a site for mass extermination"7 because "[t]he existing extermination camps in the East are not in a position to carry out the large Aktionen which are anticipated. I have therefore earmarked Auschwitz for this purpose.8" Although either the wording or the date of this statement isn't accurate as there were no extermination camps in 1941, it is unimaginable that Globocnik was not likewise informed of the decision regarding the Aktionen being prepared for. Furthermore, during his trial, SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Adolf Eichmann, head of the department for Jewish Affairs in the Gestapo from 1941 to 1945, submitted that Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Central Security Office, or RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) in charge of "carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question"9 informed him two or three months prior to Operation Barbarossa (22 June 1941) that Hitler had ordered the physical annihilation of the Jews.10 Later, Heydrich told Eichmann "to drive to Globocnik. The Reichsführer has already given him corresponding orders. Look, see how far he has gone with this project."11 Belzec, earliest of the Aktion Reinhard(t) death camps, was in experimental operation by November or December of 1941 and the first use of gassing vans is attested to from 8 December.12 The order, therefore, must have appeared sometime before this. A diary entry by Reich Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels on 27 March 1942 illustrates all the implications of the Aktion.
Beginning with Lublin, the Jews in the General Government are now being evacuated eastward. The procedure is a pretty barbaric one and not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews. On the whole it can be said that about 60 per cent of them will have to be liquidated whereas only about 40 per cent can be used for forced labor.
The former Gauleiter of Vienna whom Goebbels mentions as being the head of the operation is no other than Odilo Globocnik, the man whom Himmler put in charge of Aktion Reinhard(t) - Globocnik had been Gauleiter of Vienna until 1939. Deportations to Belzec extermination camp had begun on 17 March 1942, ten days before this entry was written.
To move forward to the Treblinka death camp. There were two and a half million Jews in Poland at the end of 1941,14 far more than could have been killed using the firing squad tactics of the Einsatzgruppen15 or recently experimented-with gas vans16. As Governor Hans Frank stated in a remark to a session of the GG government on 16 December 1941, "We cannot shoot these 3.5 million [sic] Jews, we cannot poison them. Yet we'll be able to take measures to destroy them that will somehow result in success."17 The answer was found in stationary execution camps designed to kill en masse using gas chambers. Dieter Wisliceny, Hauptsturmführer-SS and subordinate of Adolf Eichmann from 1940 to 1944 "as expert for AMT IV A 4 in Slovakia dealing solely with the Jewish question,"18 elucidated in 1946: "According to Eichmann's own statements to me, Globocnik was the first to employ gas chambers for mass extermination." 19
Among these first employments was Treblinka-II, a concentration camp built between May and July of 1942 in the north-eastern part of the Generalgouvernement, in a remote and sequestered location ten kilometres from Malkinia Gorna, a railway junction on the main Warsaw-Bialystok line.20 Of all the Aktion Reinhard(t) camps, Treblinka was the most streamlined and sophisticated as it drew on experience gleaned from the operation of its predecessors.
In apprehension of Treblinka's completion, Victor Brack - who had supplied the T4 labour for the earlier Aktion Reinhard(t) projects, including Belzec and Chelmno - wrote to Himmler regarding additional personnel being prepared for accelerated operations due to to begin in late July on account of the anticipated purging of the Warsaw ghetto.
The sum of Brack's "own experience" at the time amounted to taking charge of and running the T4 operations for two years, euthanizing approximately 70,000 mentally and physically handicapped persons with poison gas, which tells us why he considered speed and secrecy to be of the essence.22 Just one month prior to writing this letter, Brack had visited Globocnik in Lublin to discuss plans for the Final Solution:
At the beginning of May 1942 SS-Oberführer Brack from the Führer's Chancellery suddenly came to Lublin. With Globocnik, he discussed resuming the extermination of the Jews. Globocnik said that he had too few people to carry out this programme. Brack stated that the euthanasia programme had stopped and that the people from the T4 world from now on would be detailed to him on a regular basis so that the decisions taken at the Wannsee conference could be implemented.23
Given his knowledge about Aktion Reinhard(t) at the time, therefore, Brack's request that 2-3 million Jews be "preserved" from Globocnik's "special mission" for the sake of slave labour is a casual suggestion that only the other 7-8 million be killed in the extermination camps.24 Finally, Treblinka was declared "ready for operation" on 11 July 1942 in a communiqué sent from its first commandant Dr. Irmfried Eberl to Dr. Heinz Auerswald, Nazi Commissioner for the Warsaw Ghetto.
Dr. med. Irmfried Eberl
Contrary to the wording of the message, the 'work camp Treblinka,' or T-I, had been completed in 1941, a year earlier. The new camp, T-II, was built a short distance from the original.26 Its dimensions were approximately 600m x 400m according to the Düsseldorf County Court which tried many of the perpetrators involved,27 giving it an area of 240,000 square meters which was divided into three sections of more or less equal size:
i) The Wohnlager or Living Camp;
features among others sworn to be "absolutely correct" by Lager-Kommandant Franz Stangl at his trial in 1970.28 The extermination area was generally referred to as the 'upper camp' and the rest as the 'lower camp.'
According to eyewitnesses and camp personnel, the living camp, composing the 'left' or northernmost portion of Treblinka contained barracks for the Totenkopf-SS guards and Ukrainian Trawniki who operated the facilities, along with storehouses, infirmaries, a kitchen, utility shops (carpenter, tailor, etc.) and the like. The receiving camp (SW portion) consisted of a counterfeit train station and sorting square (Transportplatz) where shipments of Jews were first admitted to the camp. It also contained a small area in the south-eastern corner called the Lazarett where invalids and Jews otherwise unable to be herded into the gas chambers were shot instead.29 Finally, the 'upper' death camp (SE quadrant) contained the gas chambers and burial pits. All these sections were hidden from one another by tree branches woven through barbed wire fences.30 Unlike other camps, there were no permanent, large-scale residence facilities for Jewish arrivals; they were told that they were at a transit camp and were killed almost immediately after admittance.31 Soon after the camp's inauguration, it was discovered that it had insufficient capacities to kill the number of Jews arriving from the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere every day. At the end of August or beginning of September, therefore, the decision was taken to build a new set of gas chambers just north-west of the old ones.32
At nearly the same time as the camp's opening - a week later - each man involved was made to sign non-disclosure forms by Globocnik's second in command, Höfle, swearing them to absolute secrecy about the project even after its termination.
July 18, 1942
This constitutes a second official instance of activities surrounding Treblinka and Aktion Reinhard(t) being classified top secret, with others to come. The reasons for doing so could not be clearer: on 19 July 1942, the very next day, Heinrich Himmler ordered the completion of the Final Solution in the Generalgouvernement.34
I herewith order that the resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the Government-General be carried out and completed by December 31, 1942.
Three days later, the "Great Resettlement Action" (Große Umsiedlungsaktion) of the Warsaw Ghetto began, under the auspices of SS- und Polizeiführer Warschau Ferdinand v. Sammern-Frankenegg, Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes in Warschau, Dr Ludwig Hahn and - most significantly - now SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle who acted as representative of Odilo Globocnik, head of Aktion Reinhard(t).35 It entailed massive deportations of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, but not for resettlement to the Russian east. A letter sent on 28 July from State Secretary of the Reich Transport Ministry Ganzenmüller to the then chief of Himmler's staff, SS-Obergruppenführer Wolff tells us where the transports were really going.
This document tells us the following:
i) People were being taken to Treblinka at a rate of 5,000 per day beginning 22 July 1942;
ii) Treblinka was the final destination of these transports
A glimpse of their fates can be gleaned from a posterior document, the Stroop Report of 1943. It is relevant insofar as its references to "T-II" (Treblinka death camp) tell us that Jews were sent there to be "destroyed," i.e. killed.
24 May 1943
By the end of a two and a half month-long period, Stroop placed the number of Jews sent to Treblinka for extermination at over 310,000.
It soon became clear that not all dangers had been banished by confining the Jews to one district. Security considerations necessitated that Jews be completely removed from the city of Warsaw. The first large removal occurred during the period from 22 July to 3 October 1942, when 310,322 Jews were removed. In January 1943, another resettlement operation was carried out, which encompassed a total of 6,500 Jews.38
District governor Dr. Ludwig Fischer reported that 400,000 Jews had been deported from the city and its environs during the same period of time.39 This was not all, however, as contemporary train records indicate that additional shipments of Jews from Lublin, Radom and Bialystok carrying nearly 900,000 individuals (total, including Warsaw deportations) were being sent to Treblinka as well, until they ended on 19 August 1943 (coinciding with the uprising).40 These shipment records also usefully demonstrate that Treblinka was not a transit camp for 'resettlement to the east' as the language of Nazi correspondence implied, since Jews were, beginning 19 August, actively being sent from the east (backwards, from Bialystok!) westward there to die on the very railway which was supposedly being used to 'evacuate' them to the Soviet Union. Moreover, the Oberfeldkommandant of the Lwow ghetto made it clear in spring of 1942 that Jews were being transported westward from Galicia to the Lublin district and not the other way around.
Within the Jewish population of Lemberg a noticeable unrest has spread in regard to a deportation action that has begun, through which some 30,000 elderly and other unemployed Jews shall be seized and allegedly transferred to a territory near Lublin. To what extent this evacuation can be equated with a decimation remains to be seen.41
Their fate was also made abundantly clear by the same:
The resettlement actions continue undiminished. The Jews are informed of their fate. Indicative is the statement of a member of the Lwow Jewish council: We all carry our death certificates in our pocket--only the date of death is not yet filled out.42
The Jews could hardly have been unaware of what awaited them. In spite of their precautions, these murder operations were not always as discreet as the Nazi high command would have liked. According to one of the weekly reports of the Lwow propaganda division
The resettlement of the Jews (which partly assumes forms not worthy of a cultured people) directly provokes comparison of the methods of the Gestapo with those of the GPU. The railway wagons are said to be in such a bad state that it is impossible to prevent Jews from breaking out. The result is that at wayside stations there occur wild shootings and regular man-hunts. It is also reported that corpses of shot Jews lie on the streets for days. Although the Reich Germans, as well as the foreign population, are convinced of the necessity of liquidating all Jews, it would still be more appropriate to carry this out in a manner that causes less sensation and offence.43
To dispel any lingering doubts, a work report from German Military Police operating in Bulgaria unequivocally puts paid to the lie of resettlement by unambiguously naming Treblinka as the final destination of Jewish transports. That geriatrics and infants numbered among them also makes it impossible that they were sent there for labour purposes.
An ancillary document intercepted by the British decoding service at Bletchley Park, the so-called Höfle memorandum, corroborates the increased death tolls.
13/15. OLQ de OMQ 1005 83 234 250
This document tells us that 713,555 Jews from the Polish General Government arrived at "T" (Treblinka) until 31 December 1942, Himmler's deadline for the "total cleansing" of the Generalgouvernement. It also tells us where one of the key figures in the report of Himmler's statistician Richard Korherr came from. The Korherr report, prepared at Himmler's request, were actually two, a "long" one for Himmler and a "short" one for Hitler himself, meant to give a comprehensive account of the Holocaust to its directors.46 A translation yields the following passage:
"4. Transportation of Jews from the
The "camps in the Warthegau" was Chelmno and the "camps in the General Government" were the aforementioned Aktion Reinhard(t) camps Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka and the Lublin-Majdanek camp, the latter obviously because it was considered more practical to send Jews from Lublin to Majdanek as soon as that camp had extermination facilities instead of sending them to far-away Belzec or Sobibor. The figure of 1,274,166 Jews mentioned in that report is evidently the figure from the above quoted Höfle memorandum, which means that Korherr's figure is broken down as follows:
On 9 April 1943, Himmler wrote to the heads of the Gestapo and Sicherheitsdienst that he found Korherr's report "excellent for camouflage purposes," and forbade its dissemination.48 In the original version of the report, Korherr used the term Sonderbehandlung, i.e. "special treatment", with regard to the Jews mentioned in this section of his report. This term, which was a bureaucratic euphemism for killing commonly used in the context of the Final Solution,49 must have become too worn and thus transparent by the time Korherr submitted his report to Himmler, for which reason Himmler's adjutant Karl Brandt, in a letter dated 10 April 1943 required Korherr to refrain from using the term Sonderbehandlung and to phrase the quoted paragraph as it was finally worded.
The Reichsführer SS
A final document, though it gives no exact indications of numbers, is illustrative when it comes to giving an idea of just how many Jews were being killed. It is the remark of the Wehrmacht commander of Ostrow recorded in the first war diary of the General Quartermaster of the Military Commander in the Generalgouvernement on 24 October 1942.
It reads: "OK Ostrow reports that the Jews in Treblinka are not sufficiently buried and therefore an unbearable smell of corpses befouls the air."51
Ostrow, it is significant to point out, was 20 kilometres from Treblinka.
More than 800,000 Jews (and likely far more as many train records are incomplete or lack head counts) were shipped to Treblinka in the space of a year for 'special treatment'; 'evacuation'; 'liquidation'; 'resettlement'; murder; with only a handful ever seen again. Such creative language had long been used to attempt to disguise killing operations of Jews in the east, most notably by the Einsatzgruppen but also by the Gendarmerie.52 In this light, a decision arrived at in Lublin on 17 October 1941 by Hans Frank and Odilo Globocnik among others helps us place the birth of the extermination programme, guessed at above.
All Jews, with the exception of indispensable craftsmen and the like, are to be evacuated from Lublin. Initially, 1,000 Jews will be transferred across the Bug River. Responsibility for this is placed in the hands of the SSPF. The Stadthauptmann will select the Jews to be evacuated.53
The term 'transferred across the Bug River' was a watchword in use from before the German invasion of Russia and hence anachronistic at the time (territory across the Bug being Soviet in 1939/40), its meaning therefore not intended literally, especially in the context of the Jewish extermination plans which were already being adumbrated.54
As SS-Sergeant and camp guard Franz Suchomel put it, "Treblinka was a primitive but efficient production line of death. Understand? Primitive, yes. But it worked well, that production line of death."55 We know that Jews were being sent to their deaths, but the question of how remains. Much allusion has been made up to this point to use the use of gas chambers. Eichmann, in a paper he submitted for his defence entitled "Götzen," wrote that "Globocnik had established gassing camps at Treblinka and Belzec upon instruction from Himmler and Krüger."56 Reference to the testimony of those present best describes what was occurring inside the camp all the while.
Testimony of Treblinka's kommandant, SS-Unterscharführer Franz Stangl, who replaced Eberl in September 1942:
Michel [the sergeant-major of the camp] told me later that Wirth suddenly appeared, looked around on the gas chambers on which they were still working, and said: 'right, we'll try it out right now with those twenty-five working Jews. Get them up here'. They marched our twenty-five Jews up there and just pushed them in and gassed them. Michel said Wirth behaved like a lunatic, hitting at his own staff with his whip to drive them on...57
Testimony of SS-Unterscharführer Willi Mentz, stationed at Treblinka from July 1942 to November 1943 and assigned by Christian Wirth to supervise the Lazarett:
When I came to Treblinka the camp commandant was a doctor named Dr. Eberl. He was very ambitious. It was said that he ordered more transports than could be "processed" in the camp. That meant that trains had to wait outside the camp because the occupants of the previous transport had not yet all been killed. At the time it was very hot and as a result of the long wait inside the transport trains in the intense heat many people died. At the time whole mountains of bodies lay on the platform. The Hauptsturmführer Christian Wirth came to Treblinka and kicked up a terrific row. And then one day Dr. Eberl was no longer there...
Testimony of SS Oberscharführer Heinrich Matthes, chief officer commanding T-II and of the gas chambers:
During the entire time I was in Treblinka, I served in the upper camp. The upper camp was that part of Treblinka with the gas chambers, where the Jews were killed and their corpses laid in large pits and later burned.
The testimony of Auschwitz camp Kommandant Rudolf Höß on 1 April 1946 in Nuremberg is also instructive:
Q Didn't you visit any of the three existing extermination camps?
Höß confirms the capacity estimates of the new gas chambers built in the middle of 1942 made by Willi Mentz as being 200. Given six chambers (there were possibly ten, according to some witnesses), 1,200 people could have been gassed at a time. Assuming, therefore, Matthes' estimate of thirty minutes for each operation, to execute a trainload of 5000 would have taken just over two hours, certainly a little longer when removal of the bodies and cleaning up are considered, but nothing that would take anything approaching a whole day. 800,000 Jews could have easily been killed in 160 days at this rate (the date for the statistic of 713,555 listed in the Höfle memorandum is 31 December, 163 days from the commencement of arrivals), leaving enough time to gas a further 1,235,000 before arrivals slowed drastically in August of 1943, should they have been shipped there. Other estimates place the capacity of the chambers at 300 each and the duration of the gassing at 15 minutes, which would increase the efficiency of the killing operation even more.61 Obviously, the killing capacity of Treblinka is beyond questioning. Even if the demands on the Treblinka staff and their facilities had been more than doubled, the trains would have continued running on time.
A significant portion of witness testimony about the murders converges on the point of collection of Jewish valuables both before and after gassing. Unlike other extermination centres, Aktion Reinhard(t) camps did not report to Heydrich's RSHA but rather to the Economics and Administration Office or WVHA (Wirtschafts und Verwaltungshauptamt). On 15 June 1941, in anticipation of the imminent Operation Barbarossa, the "Nürnberger Gesetze" (Racial Laws) became valid in the eastern occupied territories, article two of which stated:
As millions of Jews were being killed, the WVHA took an interest in such affairs with regard to their economic aspect, that being 'confiscation of property' from murdered persons. An undated report by Odilo Globocnik conveying the value and volume of valuables accrued during these seizures gives an idea of their extent.
All economic aspects of Aktion Reinhard(t) fell under the auspices of the Chief of the WVHA, SS Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl. According to the USMT II, "[o]n 4 July 1944, Pohl, in a communication to the Main Office chiefs, announced the names of officers responsible for the property seized in several areas, and stated: 'As a matter of principle, it has to be kept in mind that the entire Jewish property is to be incorporated into the Reich property.'"64 In his affidavit of 2 April 1947, Pohl explained that he was working under the direction of Himmler and directly over Globocnik to manage the economic aspects of Aktion Reinhard(t)65. He went on to declare that he was completely aware of where the valuables were coming from and of what activities they were a result.
It was never doubted that this loot was taken from Jews exterminated in the concentration camps. * * * As I learned in 1943, gold teeth and crowns of inmates of concentration camps were broken out of their mouths after liquidation. This gold was melted down and delivered to the Reich Bank. * * * When I received all the vouchers, setting out the economic assets received, I realized the extent of the operation. I realized that the greatest part of the textile goods listed in these reports had been taken from people who had been violently put to death and that the purpose of the operation had been the extermination of the Jews."66
In addition, "[i]n his interrogation of 13 June 1946 (NO-728, Pros. E. 693), Pohl was confronted by Kaltenbrunner's testimony before the International Military Tribunal that, 'there were only a handful of people in the WVHA who had any control or knew anything about concentration camps,' to which Pohl commented: 'Well, that is complete nonsense. I described to you how these were handled in the WVHA. As for instance, in the case of the use of textiles and turning in of valuables, and also from Gluecks and Loerner right on down to the last little clerk, must have known what went on in the concentration camps, and it is complete nonsense for him to speak of just a handful of men.'" 67
Particularly illuminating is a report Pohl made to Himmler on 6 February 1943 containing a detailed list of items seized. Among them were 221 train cars' worth of appropriated clothing sent to the Office for Germanisation, useless to the dead but otherwise essential to any who would have actually been transported to the east, i.e. none.
[...]2. Office for Germanization [VoMi]
Pohl apologised for the unexpectedly low numbers(!) and excused himself in the following way: "In this connection special consideration must be given to the fact that the delivery of rags is very high. As a result, the amount of usable old garments, especially men's clothing, is naturally diminished. It has therefore not been possible to satisfy the demand for men's clothing to its full."69 Aside from demonstrating the sheer enormity of the Aktion, Pohl's reports also shed light on just how lucrative the extermination camp system was for the Nazi state. Another economic bulletin from Globocnik to Himmler from December 1943, seemingly anterior to the one above, lists Aktion Reinhard(t) revenues of approximately 178,000,000 Reichsmarks, where "minimum values are assumed, so that the total value probably reaches twice as much..." .70 One year, the overwhelming wealth of watches and fountain pens seized from dead inmates, along with the spirit of Christmas, prompted Pohl to request that several hundred of each should be distributed to each SS division as well as thousands to the submarine service.71 Himmler approved of the plan and suggested that another 15,000 women's watches be given to volksdeutsche entering the Greater Reich from Russia at the time.72 Over and above simply (and tragically) financing their own deaths, then, Jews were inadvertently swelling the coffers of the Third Reich. The executions were more than paying for themselves, which does much to explain why they continued despite the resources they claimed which might have otherwise gone toward the prosecution of the war in the east.
By this time, it was well-known in Allied government circles that the Germans were mass-murdering Jews in the camps, prompting initiatives to conceal and eradicate all traces of the Final Solution in Poland.73 Aktion 1005 was the result, a Sonderkommando effort to exhume and cremate the contents of the mass graves in the east headed by SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel. Another motivating concern was the health hazard posed by such extensive extermination operations, especially that of the "insufficiently buried" Jews at Treblinka whose stench must have been intolerable. Consequently, following a visit by Heinrich Himmler to Treblinka in February or March of 1943, the decision was made to cremate the bodies that had been buried.74 "At Treblinka there were no crematoria with furnaces, but there was a primitive arrangement of grates made from rails placed on supports of reinforced concrete, which could hold 2,500 corpses. Mechanical excavators were used for digging the pits and later for the exhumation of the corpses."75
In December 1959, at the time of his arrest, a photo album entitled Schöne Zeiten was discovered by west-German investigators in the flat of Kurt Franz, assistant commandant of Treblinka. The album shows numerous photos of Treblinka, such as of a brick tower, of the bakery, of the menagerie and zoological garden and of the commandant of Treblinka, Franz Stangl.76 Comparison with an aerial photo and the maps drawn by survivors of Treblinka and Stangl and with eyewitness descriptions indicates that the pictures to follow are showing the extermination site.77 The following is a photograph of one of the Menck & Hambrock type "Mb" excavators used during this operation, the buildings and trees in the background corresponding best to a picture taken from the 'concealed burial pit' towards the old gas chambers in a north-westerly direction with either the water pump shelter or the guard house slightly obscuring the view.78 Note also the two men in the bottom, left-hand corner carrying a stretcher between them.
Once the industrial machinery was no longer needed for exhuming bodies and demolition of the camp, it was sent away, having no other purpose to fulfil. "In the waybills for the wagons sent from Treblinka at the time of the final 'liquidation' of the camp three excavators are mentioned. One of them was dispatched from Treblinka on June 29, 1943, to the firm of Adam Lamczak, Berlin-Neukölln, Willy Waltherstrasse 30-3 Tr."80 The gravel quarry at T-I, it should be noted, continued operating well into 1944.
United States Reconnaissance air photographs reveal that by 15 May 1944 (and long before then), physical traces of the camp were all but eradicated.81 Odilo Globocnik wrote to Himmler on November 4, 1943: "On October 10, 1943: I concluded Operation Reinhard which I had conducted in the General Government and have liquidated all camps."82 Upon their arrival in 1945, the Soviets found a lunar wasteland of recent excavations by scavengers complementing other scars in the landscape left by the obliteration of the camp's building foundations. Most tellingly, they found among the upturned soil, alongside clothing and personal articles, innumerable human remains83.
In November of 1945, Poland sent its Central Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes to investigate the remains of the camp. Commission member Rachel Auerbach reported that:
in the north-eastern part [of the Totenlager, presumably], over a surface covering about 2 ha. (5 acres), there are large quantities of ashes mixed with sand, among which are numerous human bones, often with the remains of decomposing tissues.
In 1959, Third Reich historian Martin Gilbert visited the camp and came away with this recollection: "From Treblinka village we proceeded for another mile or two, along the line of an abandoned railway through a forest of tall trees. Finally we reached an enormous clearing, bounded on all sides by dense woodland. Darkness was falling, and with it, the chill of night and a cold dew. I stepped down from the cart on to the sandy soil: a soil that was gray rather than brown. Driven by I know not what impulse, I ran my hand through that soil, again and again. The earth beneath my feet was coarse and sharp: filled with the fragments of human bone."85 All present in the vicinity, even fifteen years after the fact, discovered literal heaps of sinister evidence pointing to what had occurred there.
If there is a dearth of primary documents surrounding an operation of such magnitude, it is because of assiduous efforts by Odilo Globocnik and others to cover their tracks: "[w]ith regard to the complete final accounts of 'Operation Reinhard' I must add that all vouchers should be destroyed as soon as possible, as has been done in the case of all other documents pertaining to this operation."86 Anything that he or Himmler might have missed was combed over by subsequent Nazi officials: "All files, particularly the secret ones, are to be destroyed completely. The secret files about ... the installations and deterring work in the concentration camps must be destroyed at all costs. Also, the extermination of some families, etc. These files must under no circumstances fall into the hands of the enemy, since after all they were secret orders by the Führer."87 That the few we have left survived at all can only be attributed to bureaucratic confusion in the face of imminent collapse before the inexorable march of the Red Army. Likewise, our paucity of eyewitness testimonial can be attributed to the fact that the vast majority of those who witnessed the exterminations were also killed by them. If the hundreds of thousands of Jews supposedly resettled to the east really had been sent to Russia, we would today have no end of confessions to that effect. As it stands, the fragmentary evidence we hold before us, though incomplete, paints an undeniable picture of a ruthless industrial slaughterhouse performing its task with heartless efficiency in broad strokes. Confronted with this bleakness, I am reminded of my Shelly:
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
An unfair testament to the countless who lost their lives, but perhaps the dead find solace in the downfall of their own Ozymandias.
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Stephen Potyondi is an undergraduate student of history at the University of Alberta.
Copyright © 2006 Stephen Potyondi. All rights reserved.