This week in Jewish history | Jewish inmates revolt in Treblinka   - World Jewish Congress

This week in Jewish history | Jewish inmates revolt in Treblinka  

This week in Jewish history | Jewish inmates revolt in Treblinka  

On 2 August 1943, some 1,000 Jewish inmates in the Treblinka death camp staged a revolt.

The planning for the uprising began after some inmates became suspicious that the remaining prisoners would soon be exterminated, as they noticed that fewer Jews were being sent to the death camp, and evidence of the extermination of Jews was being burned or shipped out of the camp. The revolt was led by Polish-Jewish physicians Julian Chorazycki and Berek Lacher; Czech-Jewish army officer Zelomir Bloch; and camp "elders" Marceli Galewski, Jankiel Wiernik, and Rudolph Masaryk. 

The operation took place on a Monday, which was usually an uneventful day in the camp as no trains carrying deportees departed Warsaw on that day. While the mission was, by all accounts, highly organized, inmates were compelled to begin the revolt around 30 minutes ahead of schedule after a Nazi guard caught two Jewish prisoners carrying money in anticipation of their escape. As the prisoners were interrogated, another member of the camp underground feared that they would reveal the plan and therefore decided to jumpstart the revolt by killing the guard.  

The insurrectionists set fire to the camp and waged a battle against the guards using grenades, rifles, and handguns that they had seized from the death camp’s storeroom. However, the supply of ammunition quickly decreased, probably due to the disorganization caused by the improvised start of the revolt. Approximately 200 inmates managed to escape from the death camp, of whom 100 survived the intense manhunt in the surrounding forests.  

Two decades later in Jerusalem, Kalman Teigman described his escape while speaking at the trial of Adolf Eichmann: “I simply climbed over the [barbed wire] fence. There had already been people who had escaped that way, and on the fence there were already blankets and boards, and we climbed over on these.” He added, “The Germans chased us on horses and also in cars. Some of those who escaped bore arms. I also ran with a group that possessed a rifle and revolvers. These people returned the Germans’ fire and the Germans withdrew. In this way we managed to reach the forest, which was near this camp.” 

Between 870,000 and 925,000 people— nearly all Jews— were murdered in Treblinka; the great majority were gassed upon arrival. The camp was constructed in November 1941 as one of the main sites for Operation Reinhard. Some two months after the revolt, Nazi Germany shut down the facilities at Treblinka II and proceeded to murder the remaining inmates. The adjacent Treblinka I labor camp was closed in July 1944.