THE OPERATION Operation Reinhard was the code name given by Nazi officials for the extermination of Jews in the Generalgouvernment, marking the beginning of extermination camps. The operation was named after Reinhard Heydrich (see picture on right), the coordinator to the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, because he was responsible of all matters pertaining to the deportation, imprisonment, and extermination of Jews. The three Operation Reinhard killing centers were Sobibor, Belzec, and Treblinka.
TREBLINKA EXTERMINATION CAMP Treblinka was split into two camps: Treblinka I was a labor camp, and Treblinka II was the extermination camp. While Treblinka I housed the 700 Jews performing the manual labor (which consisted of the work concerning the killing process and tending to the German and Ukrainian staff) Treblinka II housed three gas chambers, until it expanded and three more were constructed. (see picture bottom left) The camp was initially supervised by SS Obersturmfuhrer Imfried Eberl until SS Obersturmfuhrer Franz Stangl replaced him in August 1942 and was run by Germans, Urkranians, and Jewish prisoners. Since its construction in 1942, Jews were brought from all over the Generalgouvernment to Treblinka. The first Jews in Treblinka began with the evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto (see picture bottom right).
CONSTRUCTION AND EXTERMINATION Located 62 miles away from Warsaw, Treblinka I was constructed in 1941, where are majority of both Polish and Jewish prisoners worked in a nearby gravel pit. Then, in 1942, Treblinka II was built a mile away from Treblinka I, on a small hill. By that time, Belzec and Sobibor had already been constructed and were in operation. Treblinka was divided in three parts (the reception area, the housing area, and the extermination area) and was surrounded by watchtowers and barbed fences and trees, to block any view into the camp from the outside. The entire camp was 1,312 by 1,968 feet. Once the deportees arrived, the men were separated from the women and children and they entered two large barracks, where they were asked to undress. There, women, children, and many men were pushed into a path known as “The Tube” which led to the gas chamber entrance, which were labeled as “showers.” They were then killed with carbon monoxide and initially buried, until they were just burnt in large trenches.
SOCIAL LIFE Artur Gold (see picture on left) was a talented musician and conductor, well-known in the Warsaw Ghetto for playing at the Nowoczesna restaurant. In 1942, when he was deported to Treblinka, the Nazi officials recognized him and ordered him to form an orchestra with two other prisoners. The trio of musicians then played pre-war tunes each morning and evening, during roll-call. The Nazis were pleased that they had created this orchestra in the death camp, and knew how depressed it made the prisoners to listen to the trio play songs of the past. Also during the evening roll calls were boxing matches. While Artur Gold’s orchestra (which eventually was composed of ten prisoners) played the Treblinka anthem he had composed (see lyrics bottom right), the sick were taken from the prisoners and ordered to engage in sports activities. Later on, during the last few months of Treblinka, professional boxers were ordered to fight amongst each other.
DISEASE, EPIDEMICS, AND SUICIDE The hygienic conditions in Treblinka until the beginning of 1943 were the worst out of the three camps: there were no showers, the water was rationed, and there were lice and bedbugs, due to the overcrowded barracks. At first, sick prisoners were immediately killed. However, Treblinka then let fifteen Jews a day stay at their barracks and not work for the day, and infirmaries were built in the barracks. This did not exist at Sobibor or Belzec. During the winter of 1942-1943, an epidemic of typhus, characterized by bright spots and a high fever, broke out and all those victims of it were immediately killed. To commit suicide, the prisoners would hang themselves with their belts to the roof of the barracks. However, suicides were later prevented at Treblinka because Nazis did not like Jews taking their own fate into their hands and decide when they wanted to die.
ESCAPE AND RESISTANCE In 1943, Nazi Germany was starting to lose many battles, which strengthened anti-Nazi resistance. News of these defeats eventually reached Treblinka. The prisoners knew that the Nazis would soon kill everyone in the camp as well as all evidence that the camp even existed. Thus the “Organizing Committee,” (see picture below) an underground resistance composed of prisoners from both Treblinka I and Treblinka II, was created to plan an uprising and mass escape. Finally, on August 2nd, 1943, the Committee launched its revolt: the resistance leaders broke into the weaponry and set buildings on fire while the prisoners broke through the barbed wire and escaped Treblinka. Out of the 300 prisoners, only about 100 survived.
TERMINATION OF OPERATION REINHARD Treblinka was terminated in the fall of 1943, as Allied forced got closer to the camps, after having murdered a minimum of 800,000 individuals. Orders were given to destroy the camp so that there would be no remaining traces of its existence. Compared to Auschwitz, where historians believe 1,290,000 victims were killed, Treblinka’s numbers are not as horrifying. However, it still had more deaths than Belzec ( 400,000 ) and Sobibor ( 250,000 ), and will be remembered as one of the most important extermination camps during World War II.