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TREBLINKA
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow III, Esquire
*Click images below to view larger versions.
TREBLINKA
Wansee Villa, site of Wansee Conference, January 1942
TREBLINKA
Simon Wiesenthal
TREBLINKA
Memorial Stones in different languages - Treblinka
    This week, seventy years ago, the extermination camp at Treblinka became fully operational. The camp was located 62 miles northeast of Warsaw near the village of Malkilnia Górna. There had been a forced labor camp in operation there for a little over a year. That has come to be referred to as Treblinka I. The extermination camp is referred to as Treblinka II. Before the extermination camp ceased operation, on October 19, 1943, nearly one million human beings were destroyed.
    Treblinka II was an integral part of Aktion Reinhard, named for SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. In January 1942, Heydrich had presided over what would come to be known as the "Wansee Conference." Wansee is an exclusive suburb of Berlin. It was at that Conference that the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Problem" was determined. The Conference is chillingly recreated in, and is the subject of, the 2001 HBO movie "Conspiracy." In it, 2011 Academy Award nominee Kenneth Branaugh portrays Heydrich - for which he won an Emmy - and Stanley Tucci plays his faithful assistant, Adolf Eichmann.
    Several months prior to the "Wansee Conference," Heydrich had been appointed Deputy Reichsprotektor of the Protektorat of Bohemia and Moravia. He was "deputy" in name only. He relocated to Prague to, "...strengthen policy, carry out countermeasures against resistence...," and to keep up production of war materiel that was, "...extremely important to the German war effort." The new Deputy Reichsprotektor moved with his family into the Panenské BøeÏany Castle. Every morning, the Deputy Reichsprotektor would be chauffeured in a Mercedes 320 convertible, with the top down, from his castle to his office in Prague. In June 1942 he was assassinated on his way to the office.
    The staffing of Treblinka II was as follows: 20 - 25 SS in command of 80 - 120 guards from Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia, many of whom had been Soviet POWs. Below them were the "Sonderkomandos." These were Jews who did the, really, dirty work. They numbered about 700 - 800.
    Sonderkomandos were divided into groups, or squads, whose duties were unloading the trains, carrying the luggage and cleaning the wagons, undressing the passengers, taking their clothes to the storage areas, searching the prisoners, pulling gold out of the teeth of the dead, transporting the dead from the gas chamber to the furnaces, sifting through the ashes of the dead, grinding up recognizable parts, burying the remains in pits and camp maintenance. Work as a Sonderkomando only guaranteed one some extra time.
    By Wednesday, July 29, 1942, 51,950 Jews had arrived at Treblinka from the Warsaw ghetto. On August 5, 1942, 30,000 arrived from the Jewish Ghetto in the Polish city of Radom. On August 19th, Jews from Warsaw and several other cities arrived. In addition to the 845,000 Polish Jews who perished there, 4,000 Greek Jews, 7,000 Slovakian Jews, 7,000 Macedonian Jews and 2800 Jews from Salonika were murdered in Treblinka.
    The camp’s first commandant was Austrian Dr. Irmfried Eberl, who was a psychiatrist, and was the only medical doctor to serve as a commandant of an extermination camp. However, he was incompetent for the position and after a month was relieved of his command. In January 1948, he was arrested, but hung himself on February 16th before his trial could begin.
    Dr. Eberl was replaced, on August 28, 1942 by fellow Austrian, Franz Stangl, who assumed his post on September 1, 1942 and, " . . . proved to be a highly efficient and dedicated organizer of mass murder, even receiving an official commendation as the ‘best camp commander in Poland.’" Under his supervision, new and larger gas chambers became operational in early autumn of 1942, which were capable of killing 3,000 people in two hours, with a maximum of 22,000 in a 24-hour period.
    Once Stangl had arrived, gotten the new gas chambers operational and streamlined the operation, the following procedures were observed: the victims would be pulled from the train, separated by sex and ordered to strip naked, even in the winter where temperatures were often -5 degrees Fahrenheit; the women had all of their hair cut before going into the gas chamber; men were always gassed first, while the women and children waited outside the gas chamber. Those awaiting their fate could hear the sounds from inside. The gas was carbon-monoxide generated by the diesel engines of Red Army tanks. An entire trainload of people could be killed in a matter of 2 - 3 hours. The bodies were then taken to the cremation pits where 800 - 1,000 were burned at the same time. The pits operated 24 hours a day.
    Treblinka II ceased operations as a result of a revolt of the prisoners on August 2. Several guards were killed and about 1500 prisoners escaped, although few survived the war. Following the escape, the buildings were sprayed with kerosene and set ablaze.
    After the prisoner rebellion, and the camp closed, Stangl was transferred to Trieste where he was involved in the campaign against Yugoslav partisans and local Jews. Although briefly imprisoned by the Americans in Lens, Austria in 1947, he was able to make his way to Italy the following year. From there, with the help of Vatican connections, he traveled to Syria, where he was joined by his wife and family and lived for three years before moving to Brazil, where he eventually found work at the Volkswagen plant in Sáo Bernardo Do Campo, which today has a population of 800,000. Although not using an assumed name, he would not be apprehended until Simon Wiesenthal located him and had him arrested by Brazilian police on February 28, 1967. He was extradited to West Germany where he was tried, in Dusseldorf, for the deaths of around 900,000. In his defense, he said, "My conscious is clear. I was simply doing my duty." He was found guilty on October 22, 1970, and since the death penalty had been abolished in West Germany, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, where he died on June 28, 1971.
    There had been a prior trial, five years earlier, when some of the other administrators of the camp were tried. One was acquitted. Four were sentenced to life imprisonment and five received lesser prison terms.

NEXT WEEK: THE SEARCH FOR OIL

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. Mr. Wimbrow can be contacted at wimbrowlaw@gmail.com. <wimbrowlaw@beachin.net>

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