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Section Objectives




Section Objectives






Section Objectives


Britt Lake

Resistance: Treblinka

There were many acts of resistance throughout the existence of the Treblinka concentration camp.  These acts of resistance were not solely spontaneous acts performed by individuals, but many were group efforts.  Some of these acts of resistance were even elaborately planned occurrences. 

What many testimonies agree upon as the first act of resistance was the stabbing and killing of SS Unterscharfuhrer Max Bialas, by Meir Berliner in early September 1942.  Meir Berliner, a Jewish prisoner, had arrived in Treblinka a few days before the stabbing.  That day a new shipment of prisoners had arrived, and it was undecided which group of prisoners was going to be killed - the new group or the old group, so the guards lined up all the prisoners for roll-call.  Suddenly, Meir Berliner jumped out of line, and jumped at Max Balas with a knife, fatally stabbing him. 

There were grave and immediate consequences for Berliner's actions.  The guards opened fire as soon as Berliner jumped out of line, killing him, as well as more than ten other prisoners.  Later, ten more men were taken and shot in front of all the others as punishment for Bialas' death.  The next day another 150 men were removed and also shot. "The lesson learned by the Jewish prisoners who worked in the camp was that the cost of a courageous act like that performed by Berliner was very high - more than 160 Jews were executed in reprisal for the killing of one SS man." 0. 

Another early recorded act of resistance occurred when a girl being led to the gas chamber took a gun from one of the guards, and shot three guards, killing one of them.  The punishment for this girl was torture as well as death. 

All the acts of resistance attempted at Treblinka were not made solely by individuals.  In December 1942 a spontaneous group resistance effort took place.  A new transport of Jews had just arrived in the camp and the guards were ordering them to undress in order to get them into the gas chambers.  The prisoners soon realized what was about to happen to them, and began shouting,

"Don't obey the Germans!  Don't Undress!"  People began grabbing sticks and knives, and attacking any Germans and Ukrainians who were around them.  The guards immediately opened fire, and soon "the square was covered with the corpses of the prisoners."  Any prisoners who were not killed were shoved into the gas chambers.  While about 2,000 Jews were killed, it seems that only three Germans or Ukrainians were injured. l

Although these three incidents did occur, they were not the normal means of resistance.  Most prisoners used less obvious means of resistance.  One common means of resistance was escape.  This was achieved in various ways.  Many prisoners jumped from moving trains on the way to Treblinka, others dug underground tunnels leading to outside of the perimeter of the camp, while still more would hide in railway cars which were leaving the camp. 

Very few escaped prisoners managed to find their way to freedom, and there were stiff penalties for the escape of a prisoner.  Those prisoners caught in an escape attempt were hanged, most of them were also tortured before they were killed.  One testimony tells of a case where two youth caught trying to escape were "hung naked by their feet.  All the Jews in the camp were forced to witness their torture, and only after they were kept hanging from their feet for several hours were they shot to death". 2 

Even if the escapees managed to find their way to a ghetto still in operation, they soon were back in a concentration camp, when their new ghetto was liquidated.  However, many were able to spread the word about what was going on in Treblinka, and more escape attempts were made. However, because of these early escape attempts, security measures at the camp soon became harsher.  Ten Jews working in the camp were shot for every one Jew who escaped, and the fencing around the camp was made stronger. 

Because of the harsher methods of punishment and security, and because snow soon covered the ground making it easy for guards to spot the tracks left by escapees, escape attempts eventually dwindled.  After the last escape attempts ended in failure in December 1942, it became clear that the only realistic way to succeed in escaping was a mass rebellion by means of force, which led to the creation of the underground. 

An underground "organizing committee" was formed in the main part of the camp in order to prepare for the revolt.  This committee was comprised of the SS men's physician Dr.Chorazycki, Zelo Bloch, who was a lieutenant in the Czech army, Zeev Kurland, and others.  A branch of the underground was formed in the extermination area after Zelo Bloch and Adolf Friedman, who was another leader in the "organizing committee", were transferred to the extermination area in around March or April of 1943. 

Early efforts of the underground included gaining guns and other weapons by bribing Ukranian guards.  The prisoners would pay for this service with gold and valuables that they had taken from the remains of the victims of the camp.  This was not very successful, as most of the guards would take the money, without bringing any weapons.  This plan eventually led to the death of Dr. Chorazycki, when  Kurt Franz, the deputy camp commander, discovered Chorazycki carrying money to be used for obtaining weapons. 

The committee eventually came up with a plan to remove weapons from the camp arms store to use in their uprising.  A Jewish locksmith forced to repair the lock on the arms store managed to make an extra key for the underground committee. 

The first attempt to use the new key was at the end of April 1943.  A group of Jewish prisoners removed two cases of grenades from the storeroom, while they were assigned to clean and polish the German's boots in the SS quarters, which surrounded the arms store.  However, they soon realized that the detonators were missing, and returned the grenades to the storeroom.  This led to a postponement of the uprising, but in July 1943, a final plan began to formulate. 

The plan was set to take place on August 2, 1943 at 16:30.  The schedule for the rebellion was set as follows: 

1)  Removal of the arms from the arms store and their transfer to the combat groups' assembly points. 
2)  Deployment of the combat groups near the targets of attack - the camp headquarters, the quarters of the SS and of the Ukrainians, and the guard towers. 
3)  Quiet elimination of Germans entering workshops and work sites. 

1)  Attack the camp headquarters and SS people in various places. 
2)  Cut telephone lines and open fire on the guard towers, forcing the guards to abandon their positions. 
3)  Break into the Ukranians' quarters, seize their weapons and lock them up under guard in the barracks. 
4)  Set the camp afire and destroy it. 
5)  Arm with additional weapons taken from the SS and the Ukrainians. 
6)  Link up with the extermination area people. 

The signal for the beginning of Stage B was to be a grenade explosion. 

The plan for the extermination area was: 
1)  Prisoners leave the barracks where they were kept in the afternoon hours after work. 
2)  Attack the SS men and Ukrainian guards near the barracks and seize their weapons. 
3)  Prisoners burst into the guard room and seize the guards' weapons. 
4)  Take over the guard tower where a Ukrainian guard armed with a machine gun was stationed. 
5)  Take control of the entire extermination area, destroy it and link up with the people of the lower camp for a joint escape. 


The day that the plan was to be carried out, work went on as usual.  Coincidentally, Kurt Franz, along with four SS men and sixteen Ukrainians, left Treblinka to go bathing in the Bug River.  The absence of these guards weakened the security in the camp. 

>At 14:00 the prisoners began the removal and distribution of arms.  For the next hour and a half everything went well.  At 15:30 an SS officer, Kurt Kuttner, had noticed unusual activity going on.    He found money on one Jew, who he promptly began to beat.  The underground committee began to worry that Kuttner would inform the other camp guards, so decided to start their insurrection early and Kuttner was shot immediately. 

The shot that signaled Kuttner's death, also signaled the beginning of the revolt.  A large fuel tank was set on fire, which spread to the surrounding buildings.  The prisoners' quarters and warehouses were also set on fire.  Shots and grenades exploded all over the camp.  The Jews began to run through the fences to freedom. 

Once the extermination camp heard the shot and explosions from the lower camp they, too, sprung into action.  While the members of the underground were fighting, the rest of the Jews tried to escape through the fences, while dodging bullets from the guard towers. 

Of the 850 prisoners in the camp at the time of the revolt, about half were killed while trying to escape.  Most of the other half of the prisoners who managed to make it out of the perimeter of the fence, were caught either by German security forces, or by local inhabitants who, after taking their money, would turn the escapees over to the Germans.  About one hundred of the prisoners made to attempts at escape.  Approximately 60 - 70 of the prisoners who escaped managed to survive the war. 


Works Cited 

McVay, Kenneth.  "The Nizkor Project; Acts of Resistance
and the Organization of the  Revolt in Treblinka (1 of 2)." 
[Online] Available
25 February 1999. 

McVay, Kenneth.  "The Nizkor Project; Organization of the Underground in the  Extermination Area (1 of 2)."  [Online] Available
yvs-camps-03-00.html, 25 February 1999. 

"Testimonies of Treblinka SS-Men."  [Online] Available
treblinkatest.html, 25 February 1999. 

Works Consulted 

McVay, Kenneth.  "The Nizkor Project; Acts of Resistance and the Organization of the Revolt in Treblinka (2 of 2)."  [Online]
Available hweb/orgs/israeli/
yad-vashem/yvs-camps-02-01.html, 25 February 1999. 

"Resistance: Treblinka." [Online] Available data/text/treblinka.html,
22 February 1999. 

"Treblinka." [Online] Available 
treblinka/index.html, 19 February 1999.