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This Month in Holocaust History – Alfred Lerner Fellows – August 2020

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This Month in Holocaust History - August

Train station near the Treblinka killing center. This photo was found in an album belonging to camp commandant Kurt Franz. Poland, 1942-1943. (Photo courtesy of USHMM.)

Uprising at Treblinka

In the autumn of 1939, the SS initiated Aktion Reinhard, a plan to build three specially designed concentration camps – Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor – to facilitate the killing of Jews in Poland.  In July 1942, the SS opened the final Reinhard camp, Treblinka II, one mile from the labor camp of Treblinka I, which housed non-Jewish prisoners.  Between late July 1942 and February 1943, the Germans deported roughly 265,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto, 346,000 Jews from the Radom District, 110,000 Jews from the Bialystok District, and 33,300 Jews from the Lublin District to Treblinka II for immediate death.

On August 2, 1943, 750 prisoners who were kept alive to facilitate the operations of the camp revolted against the SS.  News of resistance and Nazi defeats in Africa had made its way to the camp, but it was the fear of the SS liquidating the workers at the end of operations that led to the formation of the “Organizing Committee.” Dedicated to resistance and escape, the Committee was made up of both Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners.

A detailed plan was laid out for the day of the uprising, but early on, a shot was fired which alerted the SS. Fierce fighting broke out, which resulted in the deaths of roughly half of those who tried to burn the camp and escape. This number included most of the Committee members, who stayed within the fences to protect those prisoners who tried to flee. Many of those who made it out of the camp were recaptured and killed. Only 60-70 of the prisoners who escaped from Treblinka survived until the end of the war.

Jewish resistance, highlighted by the uprising at Treblinka, is an important aspect of teaching the Holocaust. Like the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and the rebellion at Sobibor, the events of August 2, 1943, show that Jews were able to defy their persecutors in many ways across Europe. The resolve, strength, and coordination exhibited in the acts of Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners of Treblinka serve as an example of the resistance that existed in various forms, even in the most terrible circumstances.

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