Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pictures From Our Trip to Germany and Poland: Treblinka

Alison and I never made it to Auschwitz as we had planned because on the day of our tour I came down with a bad intestinal bug. We did stop by and spend several hours at Treblinka, the most infamous of the SS death camps. My reasons for wanting to see these locations was two-fold. First, having studied modern German history for most of my adult life, I wanted to see first hand what I have read about in such detail. Second, I needed to ground myself in reality. As you know, I'm developing a new series about OSS officers battling Nazi occultism during World War II. While Nazis make great bad guys in books and movies, I do not want to trivialize the fact that Hitler and the SS attempted, and nearly succeeded, in the genocide of Europe's Jewish and Romani population, carrying out their plan with a ruthlessness and efficiency unparalleled in history.

I debated for awhile whether or not to post the photos of Treblinka, and have opted to do so for the same reason that I visited the site in the first place -- to make certain this period in history is never swept under the rug and forgotten. Sometimes you can not comprehend the true horror of the location until you see it with your own eyes.

One note: The SS leveled Treblinka in August 1944 to prevent it from being discovered by the advancing Red Army. The site was completely plowed under and a farmhouse erected at the location. Unlike many other concentration camps, nothing remained of Treblinka. Today only monuments stand representing the actual camp site.

Treblinka is the most notorious of the SS death camps because it was one of the few camps set up solely for extermination (all the other camps, including Auschwitz, the most infamous concentration camp, were also used as slave labor camps). Between it's dates of operation, from 23 July 1942 to 19 October 1943, Treblinka exterminated over 900,000 men, women, and children, more than any other camp except Auschwitz.

The path of the rail tracks leading to Treblinka's unloading platform, visible in the left center of the photograph.

The platform where the trains unloaded. A fake station was set up here to lull those who arrived into a false sense of security.

Those slated for extermination where led from the platform up this path to two buildings on the right and left where women/children and men, respectively, got undressed and surrendered their valuables. The victims were then led along a path that skirted the perimeter of the compound and through a fence to the gas chamber where they were suffocated with carbon monoxide. The large stone monolith in the center left marks the location where the gas chamber stood.

Once removed from the gas chambers, the bodies were placed in mass graves throughout the compound. Today, stones bearing the name of each city or town in Poland whose Jewish population was murdered at Treblinka mark the locations of where the mass graves were once located. To give you an idea of the enormity of the crime, the monument to the gas chamber is one hundred feet to the left, and the stones extend to within yards of the monolith. The stones also extend another one hundred feet to the right and then curve around (the tip of the mass grave is visible in the center right). On the opposite side of the field is another set of stones that extend back to the monolith. 

In the spring of 1943, fearful of what would happen when the Red Army found the mass graves, the SS began opening them up and destroying the remains in large cremation pits. The pits consisted of railroad tracks laid in grate formation on top of concrete blocks. The corpses were placed on the tracks, doused in gasoline, and set on fire. In this manner, the SS could continue cremating the remains without having to stop their operations. This site marks one such pit, located directly behind the gas chamber.

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