Eliau Rosenberg Testimony
I was in Warsaw until 1942, when the first deportations started on the 15th July 1942. I too was transported with my mother and three sisters on the 20th August 1942 – where too we did not know at that moment. 6,000 people went on this transport and the train consisted of 60 wagons, so that means 100 people were in each wagon. The transport went to the notorious death camp Treblinka, as we noticed during the journey. It was a camp approximately 83 kilometres distance from Warsaw, in the middle of a wood. At the start the camp covered an area of about 4 square kilometres and was very isolated. The next village was around 1 kilometre away from the camp -
Although the place to which we went first – it was called Malkinia – was only 80 kilometres away from Warsaw, where we started, the journey lasted 11 hours, because we made a huge detour, probably to hide from the people the place that they were being transported to. As already mentioned, we went first to the village of Malkinia, 2 to 3 kilometres away from the camp of Treblinka, and we were transported in groups of 20 wagons each on a side track to the main camp.
We had barely reached the camp when SS-
Suddenly, they shouted, “Back to the camp at a run!” We started moving and ran as fast as we could, along the way that was shown to us. All that happened without a word from any of us. While we ran into the camp, I noticed mountains of gold and money, which was stacked in a pile, and further on a lot of shoes and clothing in every size. A huge poster was placed on a wall with words like: ‘Attention people of Warsaw – when you arrive you will be taken to a bath, get fresh clothing, then you will be sent to another camp.’
We were chased to a pile of shoes and given the task to sort them out, because the shoes of men, women and children were all mixed, and at the same time, we had to look to see if some of them contained hidden valuable objects. At this moment, I had no idea where the shoes had come from. I had agreed with my mother and my sisters that we would write to the same man in Warsaw, if we became separated, so that he could inform any of us of that, and where we were living. Because of that I asked a man I passed by, where my mother and sisters may be. He made a sign with his hand, to show me, that they were going to their deaths. I could not ask further without being at risk of being shot by a Ukrainian guard who guarded the camp.
We worked from 8 to 12 a.m. then we were chased back into the camp, where we had to queue for food at a kitchen. Most of us were not hungry, since during the morning, we had eaten enough of the food thrown away, of course without the knowledge of the Ukrainians. We wanted only to drink and so queued at a well, which was on the square in front of the kitchen. The well was around 30 meters deep and the smell was incredible. As we learned from the camp inmates, who were already some time in Treblinka, some people had jumped into the well, and their corpses had of course rotted in the water, causing this disgusting smell. Not far away from this place I noticed a hole, perhaps 60 metres long, 7 to 8 metres wide and 4 metres deep, which was half-
Next to our places, barracks were built in which the people, men and women in their own barracks must undress completely. From each of these barracks a small way led away which were then united in the so-
I, too, noticed people going into the ‘bath’ and watched them for a while, looking for people that I knew amongst them. It was a day with oppressive heat, and when some women were calling for water, I tried to reach them with a bowl full of water, to refresh them a bit. Suddenly, I heard a frightful outcry behind me, “He is going to his death!” and at the same time I saw a Ukrainian approaching towards me and I barely escaped a blow to my head. I had no time to ask what was the matter with the whole thing, because we were chased back to work. Again I had to sort out clothing and to look for valuable objects. An acquaintance who was in the camp already for some time, led me to the border of the camp, which was built out of a wall of planted trees, and which was so thick, that nobody could see what was happening outside. He led me to a hidden gap, where we saw a strange picture; we saw 100 completely naked people who walked in a circle, to a destination we could not see. When I gave my comrade a questioning look, he whispered that all the people were going to their deaths. He could not tell me more, since he also did not know more.
On our first day in the camp we had to work until 6 p.m. then we returned to the camp. At this moment no one was left from the transport with which we had arrived, but I did not know where they were taken to, because we were not allowed to speak. Suddenly, when all the workers were assembled, the order was given, “All men line up!” The exact number was not known at this time, since new people arrived constantly and they were sent into the second camp, while many others were shot down.
As we lined up, suddenly a man of around 25 years jumped out of the rows and hit an SS-
Immediately, the camp erupted with a huge commotion and we were chased with maximum speed to a large square. Some who could not run fast enough were trampled to the ground by others who were forced to run by the SS, who hit them with their rifle butts. SS-
Then ‘Lalka’ selected ten men and killed them in front of the camp inmates that had been gathered, by shooting them in the eyes. The corpses were left lying on the square. We had to walk into the barracks, which were locked during the night. There were no beds in the barracks, only sand was scattered, and the people lay down on it, tired and dirty, as they were. This day was the day before Yom Kippur and some pious Jews started to pray and cry. While I was falling into a deep dreamless sleep, I still heard their muttering prayers. This was my first day in Treblinka.
Normally, the morning roll-
This situation lasted until half an hour before 10 a.m. then suddenly the whole of the SS-
While I again sorted out clothing a SS-
The first thing we noticed was a building which was made out of crude bricks, which had more or less the appearance of a tall barn. This was the gas chambers, in which un-
There was a small window on the ceiling which was closed airtight and could not be opened – through that window the man who regulated the flow of gas looked. There was also a shower on the ceiling which was not connected with a water pipe. Since it was very dark in the chambers, no one could see the few tubes on the walls which had a diameter of around 5 centimeters through which the gas – it was the exhaust fumes of a single diesel engine – was transported into the room: 400 people were forced in one room. Since they could not move, because of the lack of space, it was impossible that they could fall down or show some kind of resistance.
The Ukrainians were interested in chasing as many people as possible into the gas chambers in one round, since in that case they needed less gas and the victims suffocated more quickly. Normally the gas was piped into the chamber for 20 minutes, and then they waited an additional quarter of an hour until the last ‘death rattle’ of the dying could not be heard any longer.
The already mentioned ‘Tube’ which led to the chambers, was flanked by trees to the right and left, so that nobody could see from the outside, what happened on the narrow path. There was a small hut on the way to the ‘bath’ in which an SS-
After the people were forced into the chambers, so that no-
Ivan was the only Ukrainian who was allowed to visit the nearby village without special approval, where he got alcohol and food. He had an aide called Nikolai, who caused a lot of misery too.
Since you could not see through the window in the roof of the gas chamber, if the people inside were already dead, during every gassing two Germans stood at the rear doors which could only be seen from the outside and waited until they could not hear any noise from inside. Then the rear doors were opened and the bodies of the gassed people removed. Since we were standing relatively near to the rear doors the smoke inside after the rear doors were opened intoxicated some of us for a short time, whilst some others nearly lost consciousness in horror when they saw the scene inside the chamber. But blows from the SS-
The corpses of the murdered people looked horrible. The bodies were swollen a lot, the skin grey-
Now it was our task to carry the dead on wooden stretchers, at a run, to a hole, which was around 120 metres long, 15 metres wide and 6 metres deep, which already contained tens of thousands of corpses, when I arrived in the death camp. The normal load for two men, using a stretcher, was a dead adult. If the dead was especially light or a child, then we had to carry two. If someone did not do it in this way and this was noticed by one of the SS-
On our way to the gas chambers we had to pass through a row of SS-
There were ‘dentists’ standing at a distance of around 10 metres each behind the ramp, which led from the rear doors out of the gas chambers, and they had the task to knock out gold teeth or dental bridges from the corpses with a small hammer. The teeth were thrown into a bowl of water that had been provided. When the bowl was full, the gold was sorted in lots and sent to the first camp.
If a transport arrived we must do this work from four o’clock in the morning to twelve o’clock in the night, in most cases without a break, pushed on by the blows of the Ukrainians and the SS. Many broke down, mainly elderly people, but if they did not want to share the fate of those they carried, they had to pull themselves together and carry on. If an especially large transport arrived, the whole crew had to turn out and participate in the work, even those who didn’t have to carry the corpses constantly, since there were not enough stretchers we often had to carry the dead on our shoulders, which was of course, twice as exhausting, to the hole, which was at this time 300 metres away from the chambers. Later additional holes were dug; we walked in the same way as with the wooden stretchers. If our work was finished we must walk back to our barracks where we were locked in overnight.
During the first three months of my stay, every night between ten and twenty people committed suicide by hanging every night, because they thought they could no longer bear this horrible life and the constant uncertainty. The people normally stepped onto a bench, fixed their leather straps, with a sling onto a cross-
There were many pious Jews in the camp and strangely enough the Germans showed no interest in disturbing these people during their prayers, on the contrary they even made it possible to run a kosher kitchen. One of the SS-
The camp staff of Camp I and Camp II in Treblinka consisted of circa 30 German SS-
Alongside the arriving transports, there were two of 70 gypsies each. While during a transport of 5-
I remember an incident which happened shortly after. In March 1943, a transport of people from Grodno arrived, and most of the transport knew what was in store for them. Around 30 young people from this transport decided to escape. They tore up the ‘Tube’ and spread into the whole camp. Of course they were chased instantly and the guards shot at them furiously. Ten men were shot; the remaining twenty were captured by the SS. They were forced into the gas chambers, but to punish them, they were not gassed. Instead of that chloride of lime was thrown into the chamber, which decomposed very slowly. It took a full day until you could hear their coughing no longer.
A short time after new gas chambers were built with the capacity up to 12,000 people. To spare gas, the chambers were built very low, so taller people could only stand inside if they bent down. Sometimes it happened in the larger chambers, where the gas mainly poured to the ceiling, that a few children stayed alive . The children were taken to the hole and mercilessly shot by the guards. It happened often that the German on watch duty was too lazy to draw his pistol; he called a Ukrainian guard and ordered him to shoot the Jews.
In the summer of 1943, it happened once that one of the men who had to carry the corpses, identified his cousin, a girl of fifteen years, who was still alive, when the gas chamber was opened. The girl was completely quiet; she knew very well what awaited her. The corpse-
During the time I stayed in Treblinka isolated attempted escapes happened but in most cases they failed. In November 1942, a mass attempt to escape was organised. In our barracks, in which 250 men slept on large plank beds, 12 of the healthy men and 2 who were sick, started to tear open the ground in a corner by digging a ditch. From this ditch a tunnel was dug out to the fences of the camp, which were around 5 metres away. The plan was at first made by a small group and executed without the knowledge of the others, but later all the inhabitants of the barrack knew about it and planned to use this chance too.
It was planned to leave at 12 o’clock in the night. Just on that day the first snow fell. I slept just above the tunnel, without knowing anything about the whole thing. I was asked to change my place and later I figured out why. 12 o’clock and all were freed and the first people went into the tunnel. The rest of us prepared to follow, then we heard shots from the outside and presumed that something had gone wrong. Later we heard that the coat of one of the fugitives, a man called Mechele was caught by the barbed wire. The sound of breaking free the coat revealed the fugitives to a Ukrainian who was nearby and he fired a shot towards them, which alerted the whole camp.
The five people who had fled the camp were able to escape for the moment. We hurried to return to our beds and pretended to be sleeping. A short time after, a roll-
At 9 o’clock on the next day, the patrol returned with four of the fugitives, who had been loaded on a cart. One was dead; the three others had been mistreated badly and were heavily bound by their hands and legs. The living and the dead were laid from the cart onto the snow and two Ukrainians were ordered to guard them. After the Germans left, the Ukrainians allowed us to bring water to the bound people, and during that they told us the story of their escape and arrest.
They had managed to reach the nearby village. They had planned to buy a cart there and to leave the surrounding area of the camp, disguised as peasants on it. When they reached the village they were able to get a cart and so they decided to spend the night there. They bought some spirits and since they were no longer used to drinking, as a result of this long abstinence in the camp, they all became a little bit drunk. They went to a barn to sleep. They were found there by the Germans, who had simply followed their tracks in the snow. When the Germans arrived at the barn, the Jews tried to escape a second time, but only one was able to do so, the others were hunted down by the Germans. One, who fought very hard, was shot, one called Mechele also fought hard for his life and pulled a German platoon-
The two others surrendered without a fight, so they were all brought back to the camp and laid onto the snow. Then the German’s who were afraid they might die before their execution, ordered that they should be brought to the gas chambers, and to lay them on the ground. Then a roll-
At the beginning of 1943, the SS-
It happened quite often that the corpses did not burn well, especially those recently deceased, and we had to pour petrol over them. Jews with hay forks stood besides the fires and they threw down parts of the bodies which fell down into the fire. Once it happened that a mother with three children, their number was three, survived during a gassing. They were brought outside and the Scharführer who was on guard duty prepared to shoot the woman, but the children did not want to allow this and screamed that he should kill them before their mother. It was a horrible sight, even for us, who were used to horrible things, had tears in our eyes. Even some of the guards nearly showed something like human emotions. The Scharführer was standing there indecisive and did not know what to do. Instinctively, he fired his gun and hit first the woman, then her children. They were thrown into the fire immediately.
He mentioned shortly after his arrival, during a roll-
Since the foreman had the task to count the corpses and to pass on the number to the chief-
At this time thirteen girls were brought into the camp, six of them worked in the laundry, three in the kitchen, where until now only one adolescent had worked, one was taken by the camp doctor, as his ‘assistant’ and the others were divided among the different Kapo’s for ‘private’ use. The Germans also allowed every Kapo to ‘visit’ the girls between 6 and 10 o’clock in the evening.
In March or April 1943, a Czech Jew called Zelo came into our camp, who was before the war a Czech officer. Before he had come to us, he had worked as a foreman in the first camp. With him came a Polish Jew, called Adolf, who had been in Palestine, and in addition had served in the French Foreign Legion. These two brought to us the message that in the first camp, an uprising was being prepared. Later the two became foremen in our camp too, and they started to also prepare the people in our camp for a mass riot. Through workers who had to clean the ‘Tube’ a connection was established to the first camp. Every night the organisation of the uprising was discussed in the barracks. Nearly all the camps-
As the day for the uprising on 2nd August 1943 was determined, we were all organised in groups of five men each, with one leader. Every group had a special task, which was either to overpower and kill a certain SS-
Around 15 SS-
Others had the task to cut the wires which were drawn around the camp and to take possession of all the weapons and ammunition. It was planned, as already mentioned, that both camps should strike the signal of exploding hand grenades at four o’clock p.m. The whole action could only last half an hour. After that time, this meant from half pas four until nine o’clock in the evening, the telephones should be manned by those inmates who spoke German very well, to pass on orders to the next camp, so as not to arouse suspicion among the SS-
It was oppressively hot at this time and because of the heat and the revolting stench of the many already rotting corpses, the work continued from 3 o’clock in the morning until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, after which we were locked in our barracks, so that it would be impossible to carry out the uprising at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. For this purpose one of the organizers of the uprising instructed us not to burn all the corpses during our working shift, but to let them lay near to the fire. This task was fulfilled; also we had to endure horrible blows from the Kapo’s.
After all of us were in the barracks, the man, who had given us the task, went to the SS-
At half past three in the afternoon all of us were preparing for the uprising, this meant the people were packing their personal belongings, so far as they had any. After this was done, all of us lay down and pretended to sleep. There was complete silence in the whole camp. The nerves were so tight they were nearly frayed; all were waiting for the signal for the uprising.
So the time passed until a quarter before 4 o’clock. Suddenly in the silence we heard a shot and shortly after that the explosion of a hand grenade from the first camp. We did not know what we should do at the beginning, since it was a quarter of an hour before the agreed time. Then one of the water-
An incredible chaos broke out; the people rushed out of the barrack and in the beginning did not know what to do, since the leaders of the uprising were not in sight at this moment. The Ukrainian who was standing at the well tried to shoot, but he was not able to do so, since before he could he disappeared into the well. After that some people rushed into the barracks of the Ukrainian guards, where among others ‘Ivan ‘ also was sleeping and they beat to death the Ukrainians with shovels. They worked on the night shift and because of that were especially tired, so they did not wake up quickly enough. Other people just armed with shovels and pitchforks went to other Germans and Ukrainians who were still stationed in the camp and overpowered them after a short scuffle.
All that happened in a very short time, while you could hear constant shooting from the first camp. It was not planned to kill all the camp guards in simple ways, but at that moment there was such chaos, that the people no longer knew what they should do. After that was done all the people rushed to the camp borders, which were fenced with wire-
From the second camp, the so-
As it later emerged the wrong signal was given out because, the head of the first camp, an SS-
Factual Report 24 December 1947, Ghetto Fighters House, Israel 3526/4491
Translation by Marc Bartuschka and Chris Webb
© Holocaust Historical Society 2015