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
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
"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.
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
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
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:
STAGE A - 14:00 TO 16:30 - ACQUISITION OF
ARMS AND DEPLOYMENT
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
STAGE B - begin at 16:30 - SEIZING CONTROL
OF THE CAMP AND DESTROYING IT
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'
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.
STAGE C - ORGANIZED DEPARTURE TO THE FORESTS
BY ALL PRISONERS." 3
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
McVay, Kenneth. "The
Nizkor Project; Acts of Resistance
and the Organization of the Revolt in Treblinka (1 of 2)."
[Online] Available http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/hweb
25 February 1999.
McVay, Kenneth. "The
Nizkor Project; Organization of the Underground in the Extermination
Area (1 of 2)." [Online] Available http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/
yvs-camps-03-00.html, 25 February 1999.
"Testimonies of Treblinka
SS-Men." [Online] Available
treblinkatest.html, 25 February 1999.
McVay, Kenneth. "The Nizkor
Project; Acts of Resistance and the Organization of the Revolt in
Treblinka (2 of 2)." [Online]
Available http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/ hweb/orgs/israeli/
yad-vashem/yvs-camps-02-01.html, 25 February 1999.
[Online] Available http://library.advanced.org/10294/ data/text/treblinka.html,
22 February 1999.
"Treblinka." [Online] Available
treblinka/index.html, 19 February 1999.