Treblinka was an extermination camp, built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. Together with the camps at Bełżec and Sobibor, the camp operated as part of Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Final Solution, so called in memory of Reinhard Heydrich, a high-ranking German SS and police official during the Nazi era and one of the main architects of the Holocaust.
Treblinka operated between 23 July 1942 and 19 October 1943 and during this time, it is estimated that 870,000 people were murdered there. More Jews were killed at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp apart from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Treblinka was divided into three parts and was a highly efficient death factory. One part of the camp was for the use of staff and housed workshops, another part was set aside as a reception area for prisoners and the third part was the extermination area.
A narrow alley known as the ‘pipe’ connected the reception area with the extermination area allowing for quick transportation of prisoners to the gas chambers. The extermination area also contained mass graves and woodpiles for the cremation of prisoners.
Unlike other extermination camps, prisoners at Treblinka were murdered almost immediately upon arrival at the camp. There was no tattooing, no huts, no wooden bunks and no forced labour. People went straight to the gas chambers as soon as they alighted from their transport.
Initially, there were three gas chambers at Treblinka with the capacity to asphyxiate 300-500 people per hour. Ten much bigger gas chambers were added in September 1942 increasing the capacity to between 1000-2000 people per hour.
Prisoners arrived in the village of Treblinka by transport trains, each with forty to fifty trucks carrying 6,000 to 7,000 people. From there, they were transported to the camp 4km away by convoys of trucks. On arrival at the camp, men were separated from the women and children and were forced to strip naked.
They were then driven down the, ‘pipe’ into the, ‘bath house’ where they died of gas poisoning within about 15 minutes.
The bodies were initially buried in mass graves but later were cremated on the orders of Heinrich Himmler who was already thinking about how to cover up the genocide. This was also required of the victims that had already been buried, and so the mass graves had to be opened and the bodies burned. The remains and the ash were thrown back into the graves.
The clothes and items left by the victims in the deportation barracks before the ‘shower’ were sorted. Gradually, bankers and goldsmiths were selected from the transports and formed into a commando called the Goldjuden – Gold Jews. Their job was to collect and classify any valuables, which were then vigorously traded by Germans, Ukrainians and the local population.
The first transports to Treblinka came from the Warsaw ghetto. Between the 23rd of July and the 21st of August 1942, a total of 254,000 Jews from Warsaw and 112,000 from other parts of the Warsaw region were murdered here.