ARC Main Page Treblinka Camp History Treblinka Uprising

Revolt in Treblinka and the Liquidation of the Camp

by Oscar Strawczynski

Last Update 23 October 2005

... The earlier committee is now strengthened by Engineer Galewski and the Kapo of the “Court Jews”, Maniek, a young lad of about twenty but quite, energetic, and quick thinking. A few other young and energetic people joined in. Chaim Tik was excluded from the committee because of his somewhat reluctant and conservative attitude. The meetings were mostly held in our workshop. The conspiracy was kept as strictly as was possible in Treblinka, where so many people were packed together in so small a space. Still the work of the committee was kept secret from the masses until the last moment. A detailed plan of action was worked out. All the participating members were divided into groups of five, each with a group leader. Each group had its place of operation and its specific task. The entire action would take place quietly and consist of sudden and unexpected attacks on the Germans.

Before the beginning of the action the armoury, would have been emptied, the weapons secretly brought to the sorting square, distributed and hidden. At the start of the action each group of five, with their leader, would leave the workshop separately and go to the empty German barracks, take the weapons found there and then take their positions. To all outward appearances, camp work would proceed normally lest the Germans discover that something was brewing. If a German wandered into a barracks workshop, or into some other position he would be quietly killed on the spot by the group assigned to that location, as would the next one to come along.

The real revolt would start after a large number of Germans had been eliminated in this way. The Administration office would then be attacked, the Germans killed, the telephone lines cut. The oil and gasoline barrels would be emptied and the camp set afire. The groups which were supposed to be watching the Ukrainian barracks from their hiding places, would then enter the barracks, disarm the Ukrainians and lock them up in the storehouse under guard. At the same time the watchtowers would be fired on, and the guards forced to leave them.

According to Kurland’s plan, we would also station machine guns at the gate leading to the [Polish] work camp Treblinka, two kilometres away, stop the incoming train, disarm the Germans and guards, and free the workers. At the end we would all march out of the camp in an organized formation. It was understood that the inhabitants of Camp 2 would be informed and obviously, at the time of the action, there would be no more division between Camps 1 and 2. That was what was supposed to happen, according to plan. The reality was altogether different.

Before noon on 2 August the armoury was emptied this time down to the last piece of equipment. The construction brigade loaded the weapons on their wagons, beneath piles of mortar and bricks, and brought them to the sorting square to be distributed. The work in the shops again goes on intensively. Knives, axes, anything that can be used is hastily prepared. The tension is great. The camp work however appears to proceed as usual.

The revolt was set to start at 5 p.m. At that time we of the workshops were supposed to go to the German barracks, pick up our weapons and take our positions. At about 4 o’clock, Küttner comes into our courtyard. The block elder, standing at the door of Barrack 2, calls Küttner in and they remain there for some time. We are all sure that information is being leaked about the revolt. What are we to do? How do you handle the situation? Salcberg, a committee member, comes running into our workshop terribly upset. In his opinion we have to finish Küttner off right away before it is too late. This eventuality had not been foreseen in the plan. We cannot attack Küttner unexpectedly now; we do not even have weapons. Therefore one of the men runs to the square, where the weapons are already being distributed. Meanwhile Küttner leaves the barracks and goes off in the direction of the storehouse located in the Ghetto, at the roll call square.

I did not notice Küttner being unusually careful on leaving the barracks. I also did not see a revolver in his hand. He did not look around and went straight ahead, unperturbed. It is therefore possible that Kuba did not spill any information about the revolt, or perhaps Küttner simply did not believe that the Jews were capable of such a thing. In any case, as he is approaching the storehouse, Wolowanczyk, probably already equipped with a machine gun, comes running from the square, and a few shots are heard, one after another.
Wolowanczyk was a notorious figure in the Warsaw underworld. He was tall and blond, around twenty years old, very strong, energetic, and extremely tough. I once witnessed Franz dealing with him. As usual he started boxing with him. Wolowanczyk however was so nimble that he managed to avoid every punch. Franz became very angry, grabbed him by the lapel and tried with all his strength to punch him in the head. The boy flung himself to the ground and Franz missed his punch, lost his footing and also landed flat on the ground. Franz’s rage then had no limits. He pelted him with stones and bricks, threw the boy to the ground, and kicked and beat him mercilessly. I was watching the scene from the roof and was convinced that Wolowanczyk had been murdered. But no, he stood up, gave himself a shake and walked off to work as though nothing had happened.

The first shots heard from the entrance square were the signal for the beginning of the revolt. Shortly afterwards we heard terrible sounds of cannon fire and several explosions from the big square. The entire stretch of camp which contained the German barracks, the food storehouses, the bakery, and the shack containing the barrels of oil and gasoline, was now engulfed by a huge fire. The flames reached and blocked our gate. Our whole plan of action was wiped out. The people in our courtyard - around three hundred - are overcome by panic. No groups of five, no leaders - everyone now strives, at any cost, to escape from the blocked courtyard. A large crowd gathers in the locksmith’s and carpenter’s shops. We break the iron bars in the windows and jump out. With pliers and axes we cut the barbed wire, and break down the fences of the Ghetto and the barriers farther on. The tightly packed mass of people runs in the direction of Camp 2. We pass through a small gate. There, in Camp 2, everything is in flames. There is no time to look around. I pay attention to only one thing: not to lose my brother in the crowd. I see people jumping through the flames towards an opening in the fence. Zygmunt and I do the same and find ourselves in an open space. We must overcome one more obstacle - the thickly tangled barbed wire. We run on with the crowd. At one point the wires have been trampled by so many feet that we scramble through without great difficulty. I notice a Ukrainian shooting from a distance at the running crowd. Maniele falls - a fine, decent women. She was in Treblinka with her husband Chaim, nicknamed “Malpe” (monkey). Chaim runs on, wringing his hands and crying: “Maniele is killed!”

Running through practically all of Camps 1 and 2, we never saw another guard - neither German nor Ukrainian. Most probably they all ran off and hid right at the beginning of the revolt. There were normally about forty Germans and about one hundred and fifty guards working in both camps (for them it was actually only one camp - the division was just for the inmates). One third of the Germans were usually on leave. It was very rare that everyone was there at the same time. As well, Franz himself was quite often absent for a few days, for administrative reasons. The day of the revolt was carefully chosen so that some of Germans were away on leave and Franz, whom we feared most as the most daring and dangerous of them all, was also absent.

Once outside of the camp, the mass of people broke apart into smaller groups, running off in different directions. There are about twelve of us running eastwards. We run for a long time, straining to the limits of our endurance. We cut across a village, railway tracks, fields, and swamps. Finally, exhausted and breathless, we find a ditch sheltered on both sides by thick shrubbery. We lie down and wait for dusk to fall. In the distance we hear single shots and the humming of car engines.

© ARC 2005