The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Organization of the Underground in the Extermination Area
(1 of 2)

The underground in the exterminarion area came into being after Zelo Bloch and Adolf Friedman, who had been among the leaders of the underground in area A, were transferred to the extermination area at the end of March or beginning of April. Both of them were made leaders of work groups that were cremating bodies. Their adjustment to the new situation and the men took some time, and, consequently, the organization of the underground and the preparations for the uprising began only toward the end of May/beginning of June 1943. The members of the underground were formed into groups of five with each unit assigned different tasks. As weapons they had to use the work implements they used for opening up the pits and burning the bodies--shovels, pitchforks, and axes. (Rajgrodzki, op. cit., pp. 113-114; testimony of Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 12.)

Contact between the two undergrounds was carried out by Jacob Wiernik, a carpenter who was kept in the extermination area, but, because of his professional expertise, was brought to work in the other part of the camp as well. As he moved between the two parts of the camp, he was able to transmit information and instructions between the two groups. (Wiernik, op. cit., p. 45.)

As the underground in Camp A was larger and had more of a chance to obtain weapons, the members of the underground in the extermination area understood that the chance their activity would succeed depended on cooperation with the larger underground and, accordingly, they accepted its authority.

In July 1943 the work of burning the bodies was nearing completion. In that period a few transports arrived with about 2,000 Gypsies and about 1,000 Jews, but they did not alter the decisive fact--the function of the place as an extermination camp was coming to an end. The SS even had a party to celebrate the completion of their mission. All that reinforced the feeling that the time for the uprising must be moved up. In the second half of July the prisoners in the extermination area relayed repeated demands to the leaders of the underground in area A that they start the revolt without any further delay. But all they received in response were assuasive assurances. At this point the people in the extermination area decided to pass on an ultimatum, accompanied by a threat, that if the Underground in Camp A would not fix an immediate date for the revolt, the extermination area underground would launch the rebellion on its own. (Rajgrodzki, op. cit., p. 114; Wiernik, op. cit., pp. 51-52; testimony of Tajgman, op. cit., p. 19; testimony of Abraham Goldfarb, YVA, 0-3/1846)

The Revolt Plan

Pressed by the extermination area underground, the "organizing committee" in Camp A decided to carry out the uprising on August 2, 1943. Word to that effect was transmitted to the extermination area underground by Wiernik. (Wiernik, op. cit., pp. 56-58)

At that time there were about 850 Jews in Treblinka, one-third in the extermination area. Several factors were considered in fixing the precise hour for beginning the revolt. The uprising plan, which was based on obtaining arms from the camp arms store, had to take place during the daytime, when the SS people were not in their quarters. The distribution of the arms to the various groups and deployment near the targets of attack could be done more easily during the daytime under the guise of routine work in the camp. On the other hand, it was important to begin the uprising near dusk, so that escape could take place under cover of darkness, thus hampering the German pursuers. Another factor was the time it would take to organize the escape of all the prisoners in the camp--in addition to the fighters--for it was certain that in reprisal, the Germans would murder all the remaining prisoners. All of these considerations resulted in 16:30 being set as the hour for the insurrection. The plan for the revolt was as follows:

Stage A From 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, the guard towers.
3 Quiet elimination of Germans entering workshops and work sites.
Stage BBeginning 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 Ukrainians' quarters, seize their weapons and lock them up under guard in the barracks.
4Set 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 beginning Stage B was to be a grenade explosion.

The plan for the extermination area contained the following stages:

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' weapons.
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.

On Sunday, August 1, in the late hours of the evening, the "organizing committee" in Camp A held its final meeting. At the meeting it was decided that the uprising would definitely take place on the following day. (Shmuel Rajzman, "Hitkomemut be-Mahane ha-Hashmada Treblinka," 'Kehillat Wengrow--Sefer Zikkaron', 1961, pp. 66-68)

The Insurrection -- August 2, 1943

The final decision on the uprising was conveyed to the other members of the underground on the eve of the revolt and in the early hours of the morning. The underground members who worked in rhe workshops prepared weapons--knives, axes and the like. Until noon work went on as usual. In spite of the secrecy, however, word of the revolt had reached other prisoners. The men prepared extra clothing and money and valuables that would be useful once they were outside the camp. As it happened, on the afternoon of that same day a group of four SS men and sixteen Ukrainians, headed by Kurt Franz, left the camp to go bathing in the Bug River, which was just a few kilometers away. This coincidence helped weaken the force guarding the carnp. At 13:00 hours the "camp elder," as usual, inspected the noon roll-call, after which the men dispersed to their places of work, but this time with certain changes--the combat groups and commanders went to work places in accord with the tasks assigned them for the insurrection. The mission of the group in the potato storage, which worked near the SS headquarters, was to attack the headquarters with grenades. (Marian Platkiewicz, "Mered ba-Gehnom -- Parshiyot Zeva'a u-Gevura be-Mahane ha-Hashmada Treblinka," 'Plock -- Toledot Kehilla Atikat Yomin be-Polin', Tel Aviv, 1967, p. 549. Testimony of Tajgman, op. cit., p. 14; testimony of Wolf Schneidmann, YVA, 0-3/560, p. 4)

[ Previous | Index | Next ] [an error occurred while processing this directive]