The heinous plans of the Nazis seemed too horrible to be credible. Who could imagine “civilized” men conceiving of Operation Reinhard, a plan to oversee the building of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka (II)*, camps whose sole purpose was mass murder? At these camps, the only prisoners who were kept alive were those who worked in the death camp operations.

Treblinka began operating in July 1942, when trains full of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto arrived. The Jews were immediately prepared for the gas chambers. To maintain calm, the twisted commandant created the veneer of a regular train station, giving the prisoners a sense of false hope.

Noticing that the frequency of the transports of Jewish victims was slowing down and aware of the rumors that the Allies were winning, an “Organizing Committee” of Jewish prisoners was formed to plan a mass escape from the camp. Some of members of the committee had military backgrounds, while others had positions of access (such as Zev Kurland, a kapo at the camp’s hospital). In April 1943, one of the leaders of the committee, Dr. Julian Chorazycki (who was a former Polish Army officer), was caught with money intended to buy weapons. After Dr. Chorazycki poisoned himself, rather than risk torture and confession, the Committee focused on finding weapons within the camp. They made a spare key to the weapons’ storeroom.

On August 2, 1943, the Organizing Committee led an uprising at Treblinka. They attacked the guards and set fire to several buildings. The Committee fought valiantly so that prisoners could escape. While several hundred managed to leave the camp, sadly fewer than 100 actually survived.

The damage caused by the uprising only delayed Treblinka operations for a few days. However, since the Germans were losing the war they wished to erase all evidence of their nefarious deeds. They began dismantling Treblinka in October 1943. By January, nothing remained except a “farmhouse” in which a Ukrainian guard pretended to farm while keeping away anyone who tried to learn the truth.

*Treblinka I was a small work camp that was already in existence.