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Revolt in Treblinka and the Liquidation of the Camp

by Stanislaw Kon

Last Update 11 August 2005

Stanislaw-Shulem Kon was born in 1909 in Praszka, near Lodz, in which city he resided in 1939. As a Polish soldier he fought during the September 1939 Polish campaign. He returned to Lodz and from there in March 1940, together with his wife and child, he moved to Czestochowa where he lived until 1 October 1942.
During the “Action” in the Czestochowa Ghetto at that time, Kon and his family were deported to Treblinka. In the death camp his wife and child were killed. He was selected to work in the camp at sorting the clothing of murdered Jews.

Stanislaw Kon was one of the survivors from Treblinka who gave detailed testimony about the revolt in the death camp. His testimony was one of the first to be gathered in 1944 in liberated Lublin.
In 1945, long fragments of his memoirs were published in the Jewish newspaper “Dos Naje Lebn” (“The New Life”):

The thought of revenge which burned in us – witnesses to most horrible and most cold-hearted Nazi criminal methods – grew every day and started to assume tangible form, especially when 50-years old Dr Chorazycki from Warsaw joined in the idea of resistance. Chorazycki worked in the camp as a “medical advisor”, a person necessary to the Germans to play out the comedy which comprised the fictitious examination of the Jews before they were led to the gas chambers. He was a quiet and self-possessed man. In his white smock, with an armband bearing a Red Cross, he gave the impression that all of this was of no concern to him. But in his Jewish heart burned the hot desire for revenge.

After an entire day of horrible experiences, four initiators of the uprising gathered together on their wooden beds for a discussion about plans, mainly those concerning weapons and explosive materials. They were: Chorazycki, Cpt. Zielo, a Jewish officer of the Czechoslovak army, Kurland from Warsaw, and Lubling from Silesia.
When the first steps had already been taken, the Committee was enlarged by four further people: Leon Huberman, an artisan from Warsaw, Zalcberg, a furrier from Kielce, Markus, a 22 year-old man from Warsaw and the Warsaw agronomist Sydowicz.

Efforts began to obtain weapons from two sources; from outside, and from within the camp by stealing guns from German or Ukrainian SS men. We became interested in the camp’s armoury, which was situated between other of the camp’s buildings. Only Germans were allowed there and it was not possible to gain access. We tried to use different ways. We planned to dig a tunnel, but this was not possible because it could have been discovered by Hitler’s bandits, who guarded us very thoroughly. We decided to make extra keys for the armoury. This was also not possible for so long as we did not have access to the doors of the armoury. For this reason we had to wait for a suitable opportunity and then act very quickly. The lock was broken in the door to armoury and the Germans had to order the Jewish locksmith to repair it. They were so careful that they took the complete doors to the workshop. The locksmith diverted the guard’s attention for a moment and made a wax copy of key. Several days later the Committee received the key, which to us was like the most holy thing. We waited for the best moment.

Chorazycki decided to buy weapons outside the camp. Having made contact with a Ukrainian guard who was very well paid, he decided to buy pistols. There were several successful transactions. An accident finished further dealings, as well as the life of Chorazycki.
One day Chorazycki had prepared a larger amount of money for the Ukrainian when the deputy commandant of the camp, SS man Franz suddenly arrived, a bandit who was known throughout the camp as a sadist. He discovered the banknotes in Chorazycki’s smock.
“You have money!” – screamed the SS man. This meant that Franz believed that Chorazycki wanted to escape from the camp. Chorazycki immediately attacked Franz and tried to cut Franz’s throat with a surgical knife. But Franz succeeded in reaching the window and called for help. Chorazycki, knowing the kind of torments that awaited him and how great was the danger for the resistance group, drank a large dose of poison of the kind that all the conspirators possessed.
The arriving SS men tried to keep Chorazycki alive because they wanted to torture him, but with no result. So perished the initiator of the uprising but his death did not stop our work.

If Chorazycki was the initiator of the uprising, Cpt. Zielo was the chief organiser. The presence of this army specialist contributed to the realization of this difficult and complicated task. In the black moments of despair, when many people lost all hope of the uprising, he never ceased to call on us for further efforts. He was the soul of the uprising and even when he was moved to another group of workers, all plans and projects were still sent to him for acceptance, however great the risk. In place of Chorazycki, eng. Gralewski from Lodz was chosen, who put his whole his soul into the idea. He was also very self-possessed, which was a considerable virtue.

For different reasons the date of the uprising was changed several times. While Chorazycki was still alive, the first date of April 1943 was chosen. Later, many transports from the Warsaw Ghetto arrived in Treblinka and from the Jews we learned about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Germans treated them with exceptional brutality. Many wagons were loaded with the bodies of fighters from the ghetto who refused to go on the transport whilst still alive. The last deportees from the Warsaw Ghetto were not people who were already resigned and passive. In place of tears they armed themselves with grenades and explosive materials. From them we also received some weapons. The leadership decided that this was the moment that was best for the uprising to begin.

There was a group of Jews in the camp that acted as servants for the Germans, cleaning their apartments etc. They were the only Jews who had access to every area of the camp. Often they were also close to the armoury. The leadership had the idea to use them. They received an order to procure 100 grenades on the day of the uprising. They did it.
Huberman, who worked in the German laundry, Markus, a cleaner of shoes, and 17-years old Jacek from Hungary, smuggled some grenades from the armoury. Especially praiseworthy were the efforts of 14-years Zalcberg, son of a furrier from Kielce. He gathered uniforms, officially for pressing. In the uniforms he hid the grenades. Unfortunately, the grenades were without detonators and we had to change the date of uprising at the last moment.

In the meantime new activists joined our group. Dr. Leichert from Wegrow was selected by the Germans from a new transport and replaced Chorazycki. The second was Rudolf Masaryk, a close relative of the President of Czechoslovakia. He did not want to be separated from his Jewish wife and shared her fate in the transport to Treblinka. Here he was “lucky”; he was assigned to the working groups. Before his eyes his pregnant wife was taken to the gas chamber. Masaryk was one of the most active people. It is also necessary to mention the driver and mechanic from Plock, Rudek, who worked in the German garage. His place of work was a main point for our actions. Also here the weapons were stored.

So passed the months of tension and waiting. We saw before us death at every step, we saw the German brutality. Every day thousands of Jews were led to the gas chambers, naked women and old people. They were driven in long rows to the “Judenstaat”, as the Germans cynically called the building with 12 gas chambers. In the speeches which Untersturmführer Franz gave at every opportunity, he repeated that “if there is still even one Jew in the world, the gas chambers will be working”. Our desire for revenge grew even greater.

At last commandant Gralewski gave the order for the uprising. The date was fixed for 2 August 1942, 5 p.m. The plan was to kill the main hangmen, disarm the guard, cut the telephone line, and to set on fire and destroy all of the buildings of the factory of death. We also planned to liberate the Poles from the work camp which was located 2 kms away, and together with them to escape to the forests and create a strong partisan group.

On Monday morning the tension in the camp was enormous. The leadership tried to quiet the people. Duties were assigned so that all of the camp works should be conducted as normal. At the last moment an extra 60 people were initiated into the plan. This group comprised the exact fighting organization and was divided into three platoons. At the first signal everyone had to take his place.

At 1 p.m. there is roll call, the last roll call in the camp. We do it normally, as if nothing will happen. When the leader of the working group, Gralewski, informs us that today we will finish our work earlier because Scharführer Reuter is going to Malkinia, to bathe in the River Bug, he tells us discretely how we are also preparing for another “bath” today.

At 2 o’clock the weapons are distributed among us. Young Zalcberg and several other boys are looking for weapon in the barracks. They are successful in smuggling 20 rifles and one machine gun for us. All are gathered in the garage. The most difficult task was to take the grenades from the armoury. SS man Hiller disturbs us at this work but agronomist Sydowicz calls him on the pretext of showing him some flowers. At that same moment, Markus and Zalcberg are taking carpets for cleaning opposite the armoury. The armoury is opened by the copied key. Jacek from Hungary goes to the armoury and with a diamond makes a hole in the window, through which he gives the grenades and ammunition to Jakub Miller from Wlodzimierz Wolynski. These weapons are also gathered in the garage. We are feeling better. It is very difficult is to keep everything secret, so the leader decides that uprising will be one hour earlier.

Punctually at 4 p.m. all groups are informed that they have to go to the garage for weapons, which are distributed by Rudek. A person arriving gives the password “Death”; the countersign is “Life”. The passwords are given feverishly. At the same time the main murderers are attacked, the phone line is cut and the watchtowers set ablaze. Cpt. Zielo attacks two SS men with an axe, and is taking command. Close by the garage stands the armoured car, which has been immobilized by Rudek. Now we are seeking some cover from where it is possible to shoot at the Germans. Sturmführer Kurt Seidel was killed from there, as well as other Nazis. The Sydowicz group captures the armoury. We already have 200 people with weapons. Others attack the Germans with axes and shovels. Commandant Zielo is giving orders and is rousing everybody to fight. Everybody is full of feelings of revenge.
We capture new weapons and machine guns. Rudolf Masaryk is located on the roof and is shooting at the frightened Germans. Among the sound of the shots we hear his voice: “This is for my wife and my child who never saw the world!”

The gas chambers, “bath”, fictitious railway station with the plaques Bialystok-Wolkowysk, “cash-desk”, “waiting-room” etc are set on fire. The army barracks are also ablaze. The flames and the sound of shots alarms the Germans, who are arriving from every side; SS men and Gendarmes from Kosow, soldiers from the neighbouring airfield, and even a special unit of SS from Warsaw. It is a regular battle. Cpt. Zielo is running from one group to another among the flames and is rousing everyone to the fight. He gives short, soldierly orders until he is killed by Nazi bullets.

It is night. The fight has already lasted 6 hours. The Germans have received help and our numbers are fewer and fewer. There is a lack of ammunition. Our duty is done. We destroyed the camp and the murderers are dead. We killed 200 German and Ukrainian fascists. We received the order to escape to the forest. Most of the “fighters” were killed. Many Germans were also killed. From among us only a few survived.

Jewish Historical Institute, Testimonies by Survivors, Testimony by Stanislaw Kon: Uprising in death camp Treblinka

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