The Hell of Treblinka

By Vasily Semyonovich Grossman (1905–1964)
Translation from
The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays, by Vasily Grossman, Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, and Olga Mukovnikova


To the East of Warsaw, along the Western Bug, lie sands and swamps, and thick evergreen and deciduous forests. These places are gloomy and deserted; there are few villages. Travelers try to avoid the narrow roads, where walking is difficult and cartwheels sink up to the axle in the deep sand.

Here, on the branch line to Siedlce, stands the remote station of Treblinka. It is a little over sixty kilometers from Warsaw and not far from the junction station of Małkinia, where the lines from Warsaw, Białystok, Siedlce, and Łomza all meet.

Many of those who were brought to Treblinka in 1942 may have had reason to pass this way in peaceful times. Gazing abstractedly at the dull landscape—pines, sand, sand and more pines, heather and dry shrubs, dismal station buildings and the intersections of tracks—bored passengers may have let their gaze settle for a moment on a single-track line running from the station into the middle of the dense pine forest around it. This spur led to a quarry where gravel was extracted for industrial and municipal construction projects.

This quarry is about four kilometers from the station, in a stretch of wilderness surrounded on all sides by pine forest. The soil here is poor and barren, and the peasants do not cultivate it. And so the wilderness has remained wilderness. The ground is partly covered by moss, with thin pines here and there. Now and then a jackdaw flies by, or a brightly colored crested hoopoe. This miserable wilderness was the place chosen by some official, and approved by SS Reichsführer Himmler, for the construction of a vast executioner’s block—an executioner’s block such as the human race has never seen, from the time of primitive barbarism to our own cruel days. An executioner’s block, probably, such as the entire universe has never seen. This was the site of the SS’s main killing ground, which surpassed those of Sobibor, Majdanek, Bełzec, and Auschwitz.

There were two camps at Treblinka: Treblinka I, a penal camp for prisoners of various nationalities, chiefly Poles; and Treblinka II, the Jewish camp.

Treblinka I, a labor or penal camp, was located next to the quarry, not far from the edge of the forest. It was an ordinary camp, one of the hundreds and thousands of such camps that the Gestapo established in the occupied territories of Eastern Europe. It appeared in 1941. Many different traits of the German character, distorted by the terrible mirror of Hitler’s regime, find expression in this camp. Thus the delirious ravings occasioned by fever are an ugly, distorted reflection of what the patient thought and felt before he was ill. Thus the acts and thoughts of a madman are a distorted reflection of the acts and thoughts of a normal person. Thus a criminal commits an act of violence; his hammer blow to the bridge of his victim’s nose requires not only a subhuman cold-bloodedness but also the keen eye and firm grip of an experienced foundry worker.

Thrift, precision, calculation, and pedantic cleanliness are qualities common to many Germans, and they are not bad qualities in themselves. They yield valuable results when applied to agriculture or industry. Hitler’s regime, however, harnessed these qualities for a crime against humanity. In this Polish labor camp the SS acted as if they were doing something no more out of the ordinary than growing cauliflowers or potatoes.

The camp was laid out in neat uniform rectangles; the barracks were built in straight rows; birch trees lined the sand-covered paths. Asters and dahlias grew in the fertilized soil. There were concrete ponds for the ducks and geese; there were small pools, with convenient steps, where the staff could do their laundry. There were services for the German personnel: an excellent bakery, a barber, a garage, a gasoline pump with a glass ball on top, stores. The Majdanek camp outside Lublin was organized along the same principles—as were dozens of other labor camps in eastern Poland where the SS and the Gestapo intended to settle in for a long time; there were the same little gardens, the same drinking fountains, the same concrete roads. Efficiency, precise calculation, a pedantic concern for order, a love of detailed charts and schedules—all these German qualities were reflected in the layout and organization of these camps.

People were sent to the labor camp for various periods of time, sometimes as little as four to six months. There were Poles who had infringed the laws of the General Government—usually this was a matter of minor infringements, since the penalty for major infringements was immediate death. A slip of the tongue, a word overheard on the street, a failure to make some delivery, someone else’s random denunciation, a refusal to hand over a cart or a horse to a German, a young girl being so bold as to refuse the advances of a member of the SS, the merest unproven hint of suspicion of being involved in some act of sabotage at a factory, these were the offenses that brought thousands of Polish workers, peasants, and intellectuals—the old and the young, mothers, men, and young girls—to this penal camp. Altogether, about fifty thousand people passed through its gates. Jews ended up in this camp only if they were unusually skilled craftsmen: bakers, cobblers, cabinetmakers, stonemasons, tailors. There were all kinds of workshops in the camp, including a substantial furniture workshop that supplied the headquarters of German armies with tables, straight-backed chairs, and armchairs.

Treblinka I existed from the autumn of 1941 until July 23, 1944. By the time it had been fully destroyed, the prisoners could already hear the distant rumble of Soviet artillery. Early in the morning of July 23, the SS men and the Wachmänner fortified themselves with a stiff schnapps and set to work to wipe out every last trace of the camp. By nightfall all the prisoners had been killed and buried. Max Levit, a Warsaw carpenter, managed to survive; he lay wounded beneath the corpses of his comrades until it grew dark, and then he crawled off into the forest. He told us how, as he lay in the pit, he heard thirty boys from the camp singing “Broad Is My Motherland!” just before they were shot. He heard one of the boys shout, “Stalin will avenge us!” He told us how the redheaded Leib—one of the most popular of the prisoners and the leader of this group of boys—fell down on top of him after the first volley, raised his head a little, and called out, “Panie Wachman, you didn’t kill me. Shoot again, please! Shoot again!”

It is now possible to describe the regimen of this labor camp in some detail; we have testimonies from dozens of Polish men and women who escaped or were released at one time or another. We know about work in the quarry; we know how those who failed to fulfill their work quota were thrown over the edge of a cliff into an abyss below. We know about the daily food ration: 170 to 200 grams of bread and half a liter of some slop that passed for soup. We know about the deaths from starvation, about the hunger-swollen wretches who were taken outside the camp in wheelbarrows and shot. We know about the wild orgies; we know how the Germans raped young women and shot them immediately afterward. We know how people were thrown from a window six meters high. We know that a group of drunken Germans would sometimes take ten or fifteen prisoners from a barrack at night and calmly demonstrate different killing methods on them, shooting them in the heart, the back of the neck, the eyes, the mouth, and the temple. We know the names of the SS men in the camp; we know their characters and idiosyncrasies. We know that the head of the camp was a Dutch German named van Euppen, an insatiable murderer and sexual pervert with a passion for good horses and fast riding. We know about a huge young man named Stumpfe who broke out into uncontrollable laughter every time he murdered a prisoner or when one was executed in his presence. He was known as “Laughing Death.” The last person to hear him laugh was Max Levit, on July 23 of this year, when thirty boys were shot on Stumpfe’s orders and Levit was lying at the bottom of the pit. We know about Svidersky, a one-eyed German from Odessa who was known as “Master Hammer” because of his supreme expertise in “cold murder”—that is, killing without firearms. It took him only a few minutes—with no weapon but a hammer—to kill fifteen children, aged eight to thirteen, who had been declared unfit for work. We know about Preifi, a skinny SS man who looked like a Gypsy and whose nickname was “the Old One.” He was sullen and taciturn. He would relieve his melancholy by sitting on the camp rubbish dump and waiting for a prisoner to sneak up in search of potato peelings; he would then shoot the prisoner in the mouth, having forced him or her to hold their mouth open.

We know the names of the professional killers Schwarz and Ledeke. They used to amuse themselves by shooting at prisoners returning from work in the twilight. They killed twenty, thirty, or forty every evening.

None of these beings was in any way human. Their distorted brains, hearts, and souls, their words, acts, and habits were like a caricature—a terrible caricature of the qualities, thoughts, feelings, habits, and acts of normal Germans. The orderliness of the camp; the documentation of the murders; the love of monstrous practical jokes that recall the jokes of drunken German students; the sentimental songs that the guards sang in unison amid pools of blood; the speeches they were constantly delivering to their victims; the exhortations and pious sayings printed neatly on special pieces of paper—all these monstrous dragons and reptiles were the progeny of traditional German chauvinism. They had sprung from arrogance, conceit, and egotism, from a pedantic obsession with one’s own little nest, from a steely indifference to the fate of everything living, from a ferocious, blind conviction that German science, German music, poetry, language, lawns, toilets, skies, beer, and homes were the finest in the entire universe. These people’s vices and crimes were born of the vices of the German national character, and of the German State.

Such was life in this camp, which was like a lesser Majdanek, and one might have thought that nothing in the world could be more terrible. But those who lived in Treblinka I knew very well that there was indeed something more terrible—a hundred times more terrible—than this camp. In May 1942, three kilometers away from the labor camp, the Germans had begun the construction of a Jewish camp, a camp that was, in effect, one vast executioner’s block. Construction proceeded rapidly, with more than a thousand workers involved. Nothing in this camp was adapted for life; everything was adapted for death. Himmler intended the existence of this camp to remain a profound secret; not a single person was to leave it alive. And not a single person—not even a field marshal—was allowed near it. Anyone who happened to come within a kilometer of the camp was shot without warning. German planes were forbidden to fly over the area. The victims brought by train along the spur from Treblinka village did not know what lay in wait for them until the very last moment. The guards who had accompanied the prisoners during the journey were not allowed into the camp; they were not allowed even to cross its outer perimeter. When the trains arrived, SS men took over from the previous guards. The trains, which were usually made up of sixty freight wagons, were divided into three sections while they were still in the forest, and the locomotive would push twenty wagons at a time up to the camp platform. The locomotive always pushed from behind and stopped by the perimeter fence, and so neither the driver nor the fireman ever crossed the camp boundary. When the wagons had been unloaded, the SS Unteroffizier on duty would signal for the next twenty wagons, which would be waiting two hundred meters down the line. When all sixty wagons had been fully unloaded, the camp Kommandantur would phone the station to say they were ready for the next transport. The empty train then went on to the quarry, where the wagons were loaded with gravel before returning to Treblinka and then on to Małkinia.

Treblinka was well located; it was possible to bring transports from all four points of the compass: north, south, east, and west. Trains came from the Polish cities of Warsaw, Międzyrzecze, Częstochowa, Siedlce, and Radom; from Łomza, Białystok, Grodno, and other Belorussian cities; from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria; and from Bulgaria and Bessarabia.

Every day for thirteen months the trains brought people to the camp. In each train there were sixty wagons, and a number chalked on the side of each wagon—150, 180, 200—indicated the number of people inside. Railway workers and peasants secretly kept count of these trains. Kazimierz Skarzuński, a sixty-two-year-old peasant from the village of Wólka (the nearest inhabited point to the camp), told me that there were days when as many as six trains went by from Siedlce alone, and that there was barely a day during these thirteen months without at least one train. And the line from Siedlce was only one of the four lines that supplied the camp. Lucjan Żukowa, who was enlisted by the Germans to work on the spur from Treblinka village, said that throughout the time he worked on this line, from June 15, 1942 until August 1943, one to three trains went to the camp each day. There were sixty wagons in each train, and at least 150 people in each wagon. We have collected dozens of similar testimonies. Even if we were to halve the figures provided by these observers, we would still find that around two-and-a-half to three million people were brought to Treblinka during these thirteen months. We shall, however, return to this figure.

The fenced-off area of the camp proper, including the station platform, storerooms for the executed people’s belongings, and other auxiliary premises, is extremely small: 780 by 600 meters. If for a moment one were to entertain the least doubt as to the fate of the millions transported here, if one were to suppose for a moment that the Germans did not murder them immediately after their arrival, then one would have to ask what has happened to them all. There were, after all, enough of them to populate a small state or a large European capital. The area of the camp is so small that, had the new arrivals stayed alive for even a few days, it would have been only a week and a half before there was no more space behind the barbed wire for this tide of people flowing in from Poland, from Belorussia, from the whole of Europe. For thirteen months—396 days—the trains left either empty or loaded with gravel. Not a single person brought by train to Treblinka II ever made the return journey. The terrible question has to be asked: “Cain, where are they? Where are the people you brought here?”

Fascism did not succeed in concealing its greatest crime—but this is not simply because there were thousands of involuntary witnesses to it. It was during the summer of 1942 that Hitler made the decision to exterminate millions of innocent people; the Wehrmacht was enjoying its greatest successes and Hitler was confident that he could act with impunity. We can see now that it was during this year that the Germans carried out their greatest number of murders. Certain that they would escape punishment, the Fascists showed what they were capable of. And had Hitler won, he would have succeeded in covering up every trace of his crimes. He would have forced every witness to keep silent. Even if there had been not just thousands but tens of thousands of witnesses, not one of them would have said a word. And once again one cannot but pay homage to the men who—at a time of universal silence, when a world now so full of the clamor of victory was saying not a word— battled on in Stalingrad, by the steep bank of the Volga, against a German army to the rear of which lay gurgling, smoking rivers of innocent blood. It is the Red Army that stopped Himmler from keeping the secret of Treblinka.

Today the witnesses have spoken; the stones and the earth have cried out aloud. And today, before the eyes of humanity, before the conscience of the whole world, we can walk step by step around each circle of the Hell of Treblinka, in comparison with which Dante’s Hell seems no more than an innocent game on the part of Satan.

Everything written below has been compiled from the accounts of living witnesses; from the testimony of people who worked in Treblinka from the first day of the camp’s existence until August 2, 1943, when the condemned rose up, burned down the camp, and escaped into the forest; from the testimony of Wachmänner who have been taken prisoner and who have confirmed the witnesses’ accounts and often filled in the gaps. I have seen these people myself and have heard their stories, and their written testimonies lie on my desk before me. These many testimonies from a variety of sources are consistent in every detail—from the habits of Barry, the commandant’s dog, to the technology used for the conveyor-belt executioner’s block.

Let us walk through the circles of the Hell of Treblinka.

Who were the people brought here in trainloads? For the main part, Jews. Also some Poles and Gypsies. By the spring of 1942 almost the entire Jewish population of Poland, Germany, and the western regions of Belorussia had been rounded up into ghettoes. Millions of Jewish people—workers, craftsmen, doctors, professors, architects, engineers, teachers, artists, and members of other professions, along with their wives, daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers—had been rounded up into the ghettoes of Warsaw, Radom, Częstochowa, Lublin, Białystok, Grodno, and dozens of smaller towns. In the Warsaw ghetto alone there were around half a million Jews. Confinement to the ghetto was evidently the first, preparatory stage of Hitler’s plan for the extermination of the Jews.

The summer of 1942, the time of Fascism’s greatest military success, was chosen as the time to put into effect the second stage of this plan: physical extermination. We know that Himmler came to Warsaw at this time and issued the necessary orders. Work on the construction of the vast executioner’s block proceeded day and night. By July the first transports were already on their way to Treblinka from Warsaw and Częstochowa. People were told that they were being taken to the Ukraine, to work on farms there; they were allowed to take food and twenty kilograms of luggage. In many cases the Germans forced their victims to buy train tickets for the station of “Ober-Majdan,” a code word for Treblinka. Rumors about Treblinka had quickly spread through the whole of Poland, and so the SS had to stop using the name when they were herding people onto the transports. Nevertheless, people were treated in such a way as to be left with little doubt about what lay in store for them. At least 150 people, but more often 180 to 200, were crowded into each freight wagon. Throughout the journey, which sometimes lasted two or three days, they were given nothing to drink. People’s thirst was so terrible that they would drink their own urine. The guards would offer a mouthful of water for a hundred zloty, but they usually just pocketed the money. People were packed so tightly together that sometimes they only had room to stand. In each wagon, especially during the stifling days of summer, a number of the old or those with weak hearts would die. Since the doors were kept shut throughout the journey, the corpses would begin to decompose, poisoning the air inside. And someone had only to light a match during the night for guards to start shooting through the walls. A barber by the name of Abram Kon states that in his wagon alone five people died as a result of such incidents, and a large number of people were wounded.

The conditions on the trains arriving from Western Europe were very different. The people in these trains had never heard of Treblinka, and they believed until the last minute that they were being taken somewhere to work. The Germans told them charming stories of the pleasures and comforts of the new life awaiting them once they had been resettled. Some trains brought people who were convinced that they were being taken to a neutral country; they had, after all, paid the German authorities large sums of money for the necessary visas.

Once a train arrived in Treblinka bringing citizens of Canada, America, and Australia who had been stranded in Western Europe and Poland when the war broke out. After prolonged negotiations and the payment of huge bribes, they were allowed to travel to neutral countries. All the trains from Western Europe were without guards; they had the usual staff, along with sleeping and dining cars. The passengers brought large trunks and cases, as well as ample supplies of food. When trains stopped at stations, children would run out and ask how much farther it was to Ober-Majdan.

There were a few transports of Gypsies from Bessarabia and elsewhere. There were also a number of transports of young Polish workers and peasants who had taken part in uprisings or joined partisan units.

It is hard to say which is the more terrible: to go to your death in agony, knowing that the end is near, or to be glancing unsuspectingly out of the window of a comfortable coach just as someone from Treblinka village is phoning the camp with details of your recently arrived train and the number of people on it.

In order to maintain until the very end the deception of the Western European passengers, the railhead at the death camp was made up to look like an ordinary railway station. On the platform where a batch of twenty carriages was being unloaded stood what seemed like a station building with a ticket office, a left-luggage office, and a restaurant. There were arrows everywhere, with signs reading TO BIAŁYSTOCK, TO BARANOWICZE, TO WOŁKOWICE, etc. An orchestra played in the station building to greet the new arrivals, and the musicians were well dressed. A station guard in railway uniform collected tickets and let the passengers through onto a large square.

Soon the square would be filled by three to four thousand people, laden with bags and suitcases. Some were supporting the old and the sick. Mothers were holding little children in their arms; older children clung to their parents as they looked around inquisitively. There was something sinister and terrifying about this square that had been trodden by millions of human feet. People’s sharp eyes were quick to notice alarming little signs. Lying here and there on the ground—which had evidently been swept only a few minutes before their arrival—were all kinds of abandoned objects: a bundle of clothing, some open suitcases, a few shaving brushes, some enameled saucepans. How had they got there? And why did the railway line end just beyond the station? Why was there only yellow grass and three-meter-high barbed wire? Where were the lines to Białystok, Siedlce, Warsaw, and Wołkowice? And why was there such an odd smile on the faces of the new guards as they looked at the men adjusting their ties, at the respectable old ladies, at the boys in sailor suits, at the slim young girls still managing to look neat and tidy after the journey, at the young mothers lovingly adjusting the blankets wrapped around babies who were wrinkling their little faces?

All these Wachmänner in black uniforms and SS Unteroffiziere were similar, in their behavior and psychology, to cattle drivers at the entrance to a slaughterhouse. The SS and the Wachmänner did not see the newly arrived transport as being made up of living human beings, and they could not help smiling at the sight of manifestations of embarrassment, love, fear, and concern for the safety of loved ones or possessions. It amused them to see mothers straightening their children’s jackets or scolding them for running a few yards away, to see men wiping their brows with a handkerchief and then lighting a cigarette, to see young girls tidying their hair, looking in pocket mirrors, and anxiously holding down their skirts if there was a gust of wind. They thought it funny that the old men should try to squat down on their little suitcases, that some should be carrying books under their arms, that the sick should moan and groan and have scarves tied around their necks.

Up to twenty thousand people passed through Treblinka every day. Days when only six or seven thousand people passed through the station building were considered quiet. The square would fill with people four or five times each day. And all these thousands, all these tens and hundreds of thousands of people, of frightened, questioning eyes, all these young and old faces, all these dark- and fair-haired beauties, these bald and hunchbacked old men, and these timid adolescents—all were caught up in a single flood, a flood that swallowed up reason, and splendid human science, and maidenly love, and childish wonder, and the coughing of the old, and the human heart.

And the new arrivals trembled as they sensed the strangeness of the look on the faces of the watching Wachmänner—a cool, sated, mocking look, the look of superiority with which a living beast surveys a dead human being.

And once again during these brief moments the people who had come out into the square found themselves noticing all kinds of alarming and incomprehensible trifles.

What lay behind that huge six-meter-high wall covered with blankets and yellowing pine branches? Even the blankets were somehow frightening. Quilted, many-colored, silken or with calico covers, they looked all too similar to the blankets the newcomers had brought with them. How had these blankets got here? Who had brought them? And who were their owners? And why didn’t they need their blankets any longer? And who were these men wearing light-blue armbands? Troubling suspicions came back to mind, frightening rumors that had been passed on in a whisper. But no, no, this was impossible. And the terrible thought was dismissed.

This sense of alarm always lasted a little while, perhaps two or three minutes, until everyone had made their way to the square. There was always a slight delay at this point; there were always cripples, the old, the sick, and the lame, people who could barely move their legs. But soon everybody was present.

An SS Unteroffizier instructs the newcomers in a loud, clear voice to leave their things in the square and make their way to the bathhouse, taking with them only identity documents, valuables, and toiletries. They want to ask all kinds of questions: Should they take their underwear? Is it really all right to undo their bundles? Aren’t all their belongings going to get mixed up? Might they not disappear altogether? But some strange force makes them hurry on in silence, not looking back, not asking questions, toward an opening—an opening in a barbed-wire wall, six meters high, that has been threaded with branches. They walk past antitank hedgehogs, past thickets of barbed wire three times the height of a human being, past an antitank ditch three meters deep, past thin coils of steel wire strewn on the ground to trip a fugitive and catch him like a fly in a spiderweb, past another wall of barbed wire many meters high. And everyone is overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, a sense of doom. There is no way to escape, no way to turn back, no way to fight back: staring down at them from low squat wooden towers are the muzzles of heavy machine guns. Should they call out for help? But all around them are SS men and Wachmänner armed with submachine guns, hand grenades, and pistols. These men are power; they are power itself. Tanks, aircraft, lands, cities and sky, railways, the law, newspapers, radio—everything is in their hands. The whole world is silent, crushed, enslaved by a gang of bandits who have seized all power. London is silent, and so is New York. And only somewhere thousands of kilometers distant, on the banks of the Volga, is the Soviet artillery pounding away, obstinately proclaiming the determination of the Russian people to fight to the death for liberty, calling upon every nation to join in the battle.

Back on the square by the station two hundred workers with light-blue armbands (“the blue squad”) were silently, swiftly, and deftly untying bundles, opening baskets and suitcases, removing straps from bedrolls. The belongings of the new arrivals are being sorted out and appraised. Onto the ground tumble neatly packed darning kits, spools of thread, children’s underwear, shirts, sheets, pullovers, little knives, shaving kits, bundles of letters, photographs, thimbles, scent bottles, mirrors, bonnets, shoes, homemade boots made from quilted blankets (to protect against extreme cold), ladies’ slippers, stockings, lace, pajamas, packs of butter, coffee, tins of cocoa, prayer shawls, candlesticks, books, dry biscuits, violins, children’s toy building blocks. It requires real skill to sort out, in the course of only a few minutes, all these thousands of objects. Everything of value is to be sent to Germany; everything old, shabby, and valueless is to be burned. And God help the unfortunate worker who puts an old wicker suitcase into a pile of leather cases destined for Germany, or who throws a new pair of stockings from Paris, still bearing their factory stamp, onto a heap of worn-out socks. Workers were not given the chance to make more than one mistake. Usually there were forty SS men and sixty Wachmänner “on transport duty,” as they called this first stage of the work: meeting the trains, escorting people out from the “railway station” and into the square, and then supervising the workers with the light-blue armbands as they sorted through the things left behind on the square. These workers often infringed the regulations by slipping into their mouths little pieces of bread, sugar, or sweets that they found. They were, however, allowed to wash their hands and faces with eau de cologne and perfume, given that there was a shortage of water at Treblinka and only Wachmänner and the SS were allowed to wash with it. And while the still-living people who had left all these things were preparing to enter the “bathhouse,” the work of the blue squad was nearing completion. Items of value were already being taken away to the storerooms, while the letters, the yellowed wedding announcements, the photographs of newborn babies, brothers, and brides, all the thousands of little things that were so infinitely precious to their owners yet the merest trash to the masters of Treblinka were being gathered into heaps and taken away to vast pits already containing hundreds of thousands of similar letters, postcards, visiting cards, photographs, and sheets of paper covered in children’s scribbles or children’s first clumsy drawings in crayon. The square was then hurriedly swept and made ready to receive a new contingent of the doomed.

Not always, however, did things go so smoothly. Sometimes, when the prisoners knew where they were being taken, there were rebellions. Skrzeminski, a local peasant, twice saw people smash their way out of trains, knock down the guards, and run for the forest. On both occasions every last person was killed by machine-gun fire. The men had been carrying four children, aged four to six; they were shot too. Another peasant, Marianna Kobus, has described similar attempts at escape. Once, when she was working in the fields, she saw sixty people break out of a train and run toward the forest; all were shot before her eyes.

But the contingent of new arrivals has now reached a second square, inside the inner camp fence. On one side of this square stands a single huge barrack, and there are three more barracks to the right. Two of these are used for storing clothes, the third for storing footwear. Farther on, in the western section of the camp, are barracks for the SS, barracks for the Wachmänner, food stores, and a small farmyard. There are cars, trucks, and an armored vehicle. All in all, this seems like an ordinary camp, like Treblinka I.

In the southeastern corner of the compound is an area fenced off with tree branches; toward the front of this area is a booth bearing the sign LAZARETT. The very old and the decrepit are separated from the crowd waiting for the “bathhouse” and taken on stretchers to this so-called infirmary. A man in a doctor’s white coat, with a Red Cross armband on his left arm, comes out to meet them. Precisely what happened in the Lazarett—how the Germans used their Walther automatic pistols to spare old people from the burden of all possible diseases—I shall describe later.

The main thing in the next stage of processing the new arrivals was to break their will. There was a never-ending sequence of abrupt commands—bellowed out in a manner in which the German army takes pride, a manner that is proof in itself of the Germans being a master race. Simultaneously hard and guttural, the letter r sounded like the crack of a whip.


After this, in the leaden silence, the crowd would hear words that the Scharführer repeated several times a day for month after month: “Men are to remain where they are. Women and children must go to the barracks on the left and undress.”

This, according to the accounts of eyewitnesses, marked the start of heartrending scenes. Love—maternal, conjugal, or filial love—told people that they were seeing one another for the last time. Handshakes, kisses, blessings, tears, brief hurried words into which people put all their love, all their pain, all their tenderness, all their despair...The SS psychiatrists of death knew that all this must be cut short, that these feelings must be stifled at once. The psychiatrists of death knew the simple laws that operate in slaughterhouses all over the world, laws which, in Treblinka, were exploited by brute beasts in order to deal with human beings. This was a critical moment: the moment when daughters were separated from fathers, mothers from sons, grandmothers from grandsons, husbands from wives.

Once again, echoing over the square: “Achtung! Achtung!” Once again people’s minds must be confused with hope; once again the regulations of death must be passed off as the regulations of life. The same voice barks out word after word: “Women and children are to remove their footwear on entering the barrack. Stockings are to be put into shoes. The children’s little stockings into their sandals, boots, and shoes. Be tidy!”

And straight after this: “As you proceed to the bathhouse, take with you your valuables, documents, money, towel, and soap. I repeat...”

Inside the women’s barrack was a hairdresser. The hair of the naked women was cut with clippers; old women had their wigs removed. This had a strange psychological effect: the hairdressers testify that this haircut of death did more than anything to convince the women that they really were going to the bathhouse. Young women would sometimes stroke their heads and say, “It’s uneven here. Please make it smoother.” Most of the women calmed down after their haircut; nearly all of them left the barrack carrying their piece of soap and a folded towel. Some young women wept over the loss of their beautiful plaits.

Why did the Germans shave women’s hair? To deceive them better? No, Germany needed this hair. It was a raw material. I have asked many people what the Germans did with the hair that they removed from the heads of the living departed. Every witness said that the vast heaps of hair—black, red-gold, and fair, straight, curly, and wavy—were first disinfected, then packed into sacks and sent off to Germany. All the witnesses confirmed that the sacks bore German addresses. How was the hair used? No one could answer. There is just one written deposition, from a certain Kohn, to the effect that the hair was used by the navy to fill mattresses and for such things as making hawsers for submarines. Other witnesses claim that the hair was used to pad saddles for the cavalry.

This testimony, in my view, requires further confirmation. In due course, this will be given to humanity by Grossadmiral Raeder, who in 1942 was in charge of the German navy.

The men undressed outside, in the yard. One hundred and fifty to three hundred strong men from the first contingent of the day would be chosen to bury the corpses; they themselves were usually killed the following day. The men had to undress quickly but in an orderly manner, leaving their shoes, socks, underwear, jackets, and trousers in neat piles. These were then sorted out by a second work squad, known as “the reds” because of the red armbands they wore to distinguish them from the squad “ on transport duty.” Items considered worth sending to Germany were taken to the store; first, though, any metal or cloth labels had to be carefully removed from them. All other items were burned or buried in pits.

Everyone was feeling more and more anxious. There was a terrible stench, intermingled with the smell of lime chloride. There were fat and persistent flies—an extraordinary number of them. What were they doing here, among pine trees, on dry well-trodden ground? Everyone was breathing heavily now, shaking and trembling, staring at every little trifle that might give them some understanding, at anything that might lift the curtain of mystery and let them glimpse the fate that awaited them. And what were those gigantic excavators doing, rumbling away in the southern part of the camp?

Next, though, came another procedure. The naked people had to stand in line at a “ticket window” to hand over their documents and valuables. And again they heard that terrible, hypnotizing voice: “Achtung! Achtung!” The penalty for concealing valuables is death. “Achtung! Achtung!”

The Scharführer sat in a small wooden booth. Other SS men and Wachmänner stood nearby. On the ground were a number of wooden boxes into which they threw valuables. One was for paper money; one was for coins; a third was for watches, rings, earrings, and brooches with precious stones and bracelets. Documents were just thrown on the ground, since no one had any use for the documents of the living dead who, within an hour, would be lying crushed in a pit. Gold and valuables, however, were carefully sorted; dozens of jewelers were engaged in ascertaining the quality of the metal, the value of the stones, the clarity of the diamonds.

Astonishingly, the brute beasts were able to make use of everything. Leather, paper, cloth—everything of use to man was of use to these beasts. It was only the most precious valuable in the world—human life—that theytrampled beneath their boots. Powerful minds, honorable souls, glorious childish eyes, sweet faces of old women, proudly beautiful girlish heads that nature had toiled age after age to fashion—all this, in a vast silent flood, was condemned to the abyss of nonbeing. A few seconds was enough to destroy what nature and the world had slowly shaped in life’s vast and tortuous creative process.

This booth with its small “ticket window” was a turning point. It marked the end of the process of torture by deception, the end of the lie that held people in a trance of ignorance, in a fever that hurled them between hope and despair, between visions of life and visions of death. This torture by deception aided the SS men in their work; it was an essential feature of the conveyor-belt executioner’s block. Now, however, the final act had begun; the process of plundering the living dead was nearly completed, and the Germans changed their style of behavior. They tore off rings and broke women’s fingers; earlobes were ripped off along with earrings.

At this point a new principle had to be implemented if the conveyor-belt executioner’s block was to continue to function smoothly. The word “Achtung” was replaced by the hissing sounds of “ Schneller! Schneller! Schneller! Faster! Faster! Faster! Faster into nonexistence!”

We know from the cruel reality of recent years that a naked man immediately loses his powers of resistance. He ceases to struggle. Having lost his clothes, he loses his instinct of self-preservation and starts to accept whatever happens to him as his inevitable fate. Someone with an unquenchable thirst for life becomes passive and apathetic. Nevertheless, to make doubly sure that there were no mishaps, the SS found a way to stun their victims during this last stage of the conveyor belt’s work, to reduce them to a state of complete psychic paralysis.

How did they achieve this?

Through a sudden recourse to pointless, alogical brutality. The naked people—people who had lost everything but who obstinately persisted in remaining human, a thousand times more so than the creatures around them wearing the uniforms of the German army—were still breathing, still looking, still thinking; their hearts were still beating. All of a sudden their towels and pieces of soap were knocked out of their hands. They were lined up in rows of five.

“Händer hoch! Marsch! Schneller! Schneller!”

They were then marched down a straight alley, 120 meters long and two meters wide, bordered by flowers and fir trees. This led to the place of execution. There was barbed wire on either side of the alley, which was lined by SS men and Wachmänner standing shoulder to shoulder, the former in gray uniforms, the latter in black. The path was sprinkled with white sand, and those who were walking in front with their hands in the air could see on this loose sand the fresh imprint of bare feet: the small footprints of women, the tiny footprints of children, the heavy footprints of the old. This faint trace in the sand was all that remained of the thousands of people who had not long ago passed this way, who had walked down this path just as the present contingent of four thousand people was now walking down it, just as another contingent of thousands, already waiting on the railway spur in the forest, would walk down it in two hours’ time. Those whose footprints could be seen on the sand had walked down this path just as people had walked down it the day before, just as people had walked down it ten days before, just as people would walk down it the next day and in fifty days’ time, just as people walked down it throughout the thirteen months of the existence of the Hell that was Treblinka.

The Germans referred to this alley as “The Road of No Return.” A smirking, grimacing creature by the name of Suchomel used to shout out, deliberately garbling the German words: “Children, children, schneller, schneller, the water’s getting cold in the bathhouse! Schneller, children, schneller!” This creature would then burst out laughing; he would squat down and dance about. Hands above their heads, the people walked on in silence between the two rows of guards, who beat them with sticks, submachine-gun butts, and rubber truncheons. The children had to run to keep up with the adults. Everyone who witnessed this last sorrowful procession has commented on the savagery of one particular member of the SS: Sepp. This creature specialized in the killing of children. Evidently endowed with unusual strength, it would suddenly snatch a child out of the crowd, swing him or her about like a cudgel, and then either smash their head against the ground or simply tear them in half.

When I first heard about this creature—supposedly human, supposedly born of a woman—I could not believe the unthinkable things I was told. But when I heard these stories repeated by eyewitnesses, when I realized that these witnesses saw them as mere details, entirely in keeping with everything else about the hellish regime of Treblinka, then I came to believe that what I had heard was true.

Sepp’s actions were necessary. They helped to reduce people to a state of psychic shock. They were an expression of the senseless cruelty that crushed both will and consciousness. He was a useful, necessary screw in the vast machine of the Fascist State.

What should appall us is not that nature gives birth to such monsters—there are, after all, any number of monsters in the physical world. There are Cyclops, and creatures with two heads, and there are corresponding psychic monstrosities and perversions. What is appalling is that creatures which should have been isolated and studied as psychiatric phenomena were allowed to live active lives, to be active citizens of a particular State. Their diseased ideology, their pathological psyches, their extraordinary crimes are, however, a necessary element of the Fascist State. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of such creatures are pillars of German Fascism, the mainstay and foundation of Hitler’s Germany. Dressed in uniforms and carrying weapons, decorated with imperial orders, these creatures lorded it for years over the peoples of Europe. It is not they that should appall us but the State that summoned them out of their holes, out of their underground darkness—the State that found them useful, necessary, and even irreplaceable in Treblinka near Warsaw, in Majdanek near Lublin, in Bełzec, Sobibor, and Auschwitz, in Babi Yar, in Domanevka and Bogdanovka near Odessa, in Trostyanets near Minsk, in Ponary in Lithuania, and in hundreds of other prisons, labor camps, penal camps, and camps for the destruction of life.

A particular kind of State does not appear out of nowhere. What engenders a particular regime is the material and ideological relations existing among a country’s citizens. It is to these material and ideological relations that we need to devote serious thought; the nature of these relations is what should appall us.

The walk from the “ticket window” to the place of execution took only sixty to seventy seconds. Urged on by blows and deafened by shouts of “Schneller! Schneller!,” the people came out into a third square and, for a moment, stopped in astonishment.

Before them stood a handsome stone building, decorated with wooden fretwork and built in the style of an ancient temple. Five wide concrete steps led up to the low but very wide, massive, beautifully ornate doors. By the entrance there were flowers in large pots. Everything nearby, however, was in chaos; everywhere you looked there were mountains of freshly dug earth. Grinding its steel jaws, a huge excavator was digging up tons of sandy yellow soil, raising a dust cloud that stood between the earth and the sun. The roar of the vast machine, which was digging mass graves from morning till night, mingled with the fierce barks of dozens of Alsatian dogs.

On either side of the house of death ran narrow-gauge tracks along which men in baggy overalls were pushing small self-tipping trolleys.

The wide doors of the house of death slowly opened, and in the entrance appeared two of the assistants to Schmidt, who was in charge of the complex. Both were sadists and maniacs. One, aged about thirty, was tall, with massive shoulders, black hair, and a swarthy, laughing, animated face. The other, slightly younger, was short, with brown hair and pale yellow cheeks, as if he had just taken a strong dose of quinacrine. The names of these men who betrayed humanity, their Motherland, and their oaths of loyalty are known.

The tall man was holding a whip and a piece of heavy gas piping, about a meter long. The other man was holding a saber.

Then the SS men would unleash their well-trained dogs, who would throw themselves into the crowd and tear with their teeth at the naked bodies of the doomed people. At the same time the SS men would beat people with submachine-gun butts, urging on petrified women with wild shouts of “Schneller! Schneller!”

Other assistants to Schmidt were inside the building, driving people through the wide-open doors of the chambers.

At this point Kurt Franz, one of the camp commandants, would appear, leading on a leash his dog, Barry. He had specially trained this dog to leap up at the doomed people and tear out their sexual organs. Franz had done well for himself in the camp, starting as a junior SS Unteroffizier and attaining the fairly high rank of Untersturmführer. This tall, thin, thirty-five-year-old member of the SS was not only a gifted organizer who adored his work and could not imagine any better life for himself than his life at Treblinka, where nothing escaped his tireless vigilance; he was also something of a theoretician. He loved to explain the true significance of his work. Really, only one thing was missing during these last terrible moments by the doors of the chambers: the pope himself, and Mr. Brailsford, and other such humane defenders of Hitlerism should have put in an appearance, in the capacity, it goes without saying, of spectators. Then they would have learned new arguments with which to enrich their humanitarian preachings, books, and articles. And while he was about it, the pope, who kept so reverently silent while Himmler was settling accounts with the human race, could have worked out how many batches his staff would have constituted, how long it would have taken the Treblinka SS to process the entire staff of his Vatican.

Great is the power of true humanity. Humanity does not die until man dies. And when we see a brief but terrifying period of history, a period during which beasts triumph over human beings, the man being killed by the beast retains to his last breath his strength of spirit, clarity of thought, and passionate love. And the beast that triumphantly kills the man remains a beast. This immortality of spiritual strength is a somber martyrdom—the triumph of a dying man over a living beast. It was this, during the darkest days of 1942, that brought about the beginning of reason’s victory over bestial madness, the victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, of the forces of progress over the forces of reaction. A terrible dawn over a field of blood and tears, over an ocean of suffering—a dawn breaking amid the cries of dying mothers and infants, amid the death rattles of the aged.

The beasts and the beasts’ philosophy seemed to portend the sunset of Europe, the sunset of the world, but the red was not the red of a sunset, it was the red blood of humanity—a humanity that was dying yet achieving victory through its death. People remained people. They did not accept the morality and laws of Fascism. They fought it in all ways they could; they fought it by dying as human beings.

To hear how the living dead of Treblinka preserved until the last moment not only the image and likeness of human beings but also the souls of human beings is to be shaken to one’s very core; it is to be unable to find sleep or any peace of mind. We heard stories of women trying to save their sons and thus accomplishing feats of hopeless bravery. We heard of women trying to hide their little babies in heaps of blankets and trying to shield them with their own bodies. Nobody knows, and nobody ever will know, the names of these mothers. We heard of ten-year-old girls comforting their sobbing parents with divine wisdom; we heard of a young boy shouting out by the entrance to the gas chamber, “Don’t cry, Mama—the Russians will avenge us!” Nobody knows, and nobody ever will know, what these children were called. We heard about dozens of doomed people, fighting alone against a band of SS men armed with machine guns and hand grenades—and dying on their feet, their breasts riddled with bullets. We heard about a young man stabbing an SS officer, about a youth who had taken part in the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and who by some miracle managed to hide a hand grenade from the Germans; already naked, he threw it into a group of executioners. We heard about a battle that lasted all through the night between a group of the doomed and units of SS and Wachmänner. All night long there were shots and explosions—and when the sun rose the next morning, the whole square was covered with the fighters’ bodies. Beside each lay a weapon: a knife, a razor, a stake torn from a fence. However long the earth lasts, we will never know the names of the fallen. We heard about a tall young woman who, on “The Road of No Return,” tore a carbine from the hands of a Wachmann and fought back against dozens of SS. Two of the beasts were killed in this struggle, and a third had his hand shattered. He returned to Treblinka with only one arm. She was subjected to terrible tortures and to a terrible execution. No one knows her name; no one can honor it.

Yet is that really so? Hitlerism took from these people their homes and their lives; it wanted to erase their names from the world’s memory. But all of them—the mothers who tried to shield their children with their own bodies, the children who wiped away the tears in their fathers’ eyes, those who fought with knives and flung hand grenades, and the naked young woman who, like a goddess from a Greek myth, fought alone against dozens—all these people, though they are no longer among the living, have preserved forever the very finest name of all, a name that no pack of Hitlers and Himmlers has been able to trample into the ground, the name: Human Being. The epitaph History will write for them is: “Here Lies a Human Being.”

The inhabitants of Wólka, the nearest village to the camp, say that there were occasions when they could not endure the screams of the women being killed. They would all disappear deep into the forest—anything not to hear those screams that penetrated wooden walls, that pierced the earth and the sky. Sometimes the screams would suddenly fall silent, only to break out again equally suddenly, as all-penetrating as before, piercing bones, boring through skulls and souls...And this was repeated three or four times a day.

I questioned one of the executioners whom we had taken prisoner. He explained that the women began to scream when the dogs were set on them and the entire contingent of doomed people was being driven into the house of death: “They could see death. Besides, it was very crowded in there, and the dogs were tearing at them, and they were being badly beaten by the Wachmänner.”

The sudden silence was when the doors of the gas chamber were closed. And the screams began again when a new contingent was brought there. This was repeated three, four, sometimes five times each day. After all, the Treblinka executioner’s block was no ordinary executioner’s block. It was a conveyor-belt executioner’s block; it was run according to the same principles as any other large-scale modern industrial enterprise.

Like any other industrial enterprise, Treblinka grew gradually, developing and acquiring new production areas; it was not always as I have described it above. In the beginning there were three small gas chambers. While these were still under construction, a number of transports arrived, and the people they brought were murdered with “cold” weapons: axes, hammers, and clubs. The Germans did not want to use guns, since this would have revealed the true purpose of Treblinka to the surrounding population. The first three concrete chambers were relatively small, five meters by five meters and 190 centimeters high. Each chamber had two doors: one through which the living were admitted, one through which the corpses of the gassed were dragged out. The second door was very wide, about two and a half meters. The three chambers stood side by side on a single foundation.

These three chambers lacked capacity; they could not generate the conveyor-belt power required by Berlin.

The construction of a larger building was begun straightaway. The officials in charge of Treblinka took pride and joy in the fact that, in terms of power, handling capacity, and production floor space, this would far surpass the other SS death factories: Majdanek, Sobibor, and Bełzec.

Seven hundred prisoners worked for five weeks on the construction of the new death facility. When the work was in full swing, an engineer arrived from Germany with a team of workers and began to install the equipment. The new gas chambers, ten in all, were symmetrically located on either side of a broad concrete corridor. Each chamber—like the three earlier chambers—had two doors: one from the corridor, for the admission of the living, the other in the opposite wall, so that the corpses of the gassed could be dragged out. These doors opened onto special platforms on either side of the building. Alongside these platforms were narrow-gauge tracks. The corpses were thrown out onto the platforms, loaded onto trolleys, and then taken away to the mass graves that the vast excavators were digging day and night. The floor of each chamber sloped down from the central corridor toward the platform outside, and this greatly facilitated the work of unloading the chambers. In the earlier chambers the unloading methods had been primitive—the corpses had been carried out on stretchers or dragged out with the help of straps. Each new gas chamber was seven meters by eight meters. The floor area of the ten new chambers totaled 560 square meters. Including the three old chambers, which went on being used for smaller contingents, there was thus a total death-producing area of 635 square meters. From four hundred to six hundred people were loaded into each gas chamber; working at full capacity, the ten new chambers were therefore able to destroy four thousand to six thousand lives at once. The chambers of the Treblinka Hell were loaded at least two or three times a day (there were days when they were loaded six times). A conservative estimate indicates that a twice-daily operation of the new gas chambers alone would have meant the death of ten thousand people a day, three hundred thousand a month. Treblinka was functioning every day for thirteen months on end. But even if we allow ninety days for stoppages and repairs, and for delays on the railway, this still leaves us with ten months of uninterrupted operation. If the average number of deaths a month was three hundred thousand, then the number of deaths in ten months would have been three million. Once again we have come to the same figure: three million—the figure we arrived at before through a deliberately low estimate of the number of people brought to Treblinka by train. We will return to this figure a third time.

The death process in the gas chambers took from ten to twenty-five minutes. When the new chambers were first put into operation and the executioners were still determining how best to administer the gas and which poisons to use, the victims sometimes remained alive for two to three hours, undergoing terrible agony. During the very first days there were serious problems with the delivery and exhaust systems, and the victims were in torment for anything up to nine or ten hours. Various means were employed to effect death. One was to force into the chambers the exhaust fumes from the engine, taken from a heavy tank, that was used to generate electricity for the camp. Such fumes contain two to three percent of carbon monoxide, which combines with the hemoglobin in the blood to form a stable compound known as carboxyhemoglobin. Carboxyhemoglobin is far more stable than the compound of oxygen and hemoglobin that is formed in the alveoli during the respiratory process. Within fifteen minutes all the hemoglobin in the blood has combined with carbon monoxide, and breathing ceases to have any real effect. A person is gasping for air, but no oxygen reaches their organism and they begin to suffocate; the heart races frenziedly, driving blood into the lungs, but this blood, poisoned as it is with carbon monoxide, is unable to absorb any oxygen. Breathing becomes hoarse and labored, and consciousness dims. People show all the agonizing symptoms of suffocation, and they die just as if they were being strangled.

A second method, and the one most generally employed at Treblinka, was the use of special pumps to remove the air from the chambers. As with the first method, death resulted from oxygen deprivation. A third method, employed less often, was the use of steam. This too brought about death from oxygen deprivation, since the steam had the effect of expelling the air from the chambers. Various poisons were also employed, but only on an experimental basis; it was the first and second of these methods that were employed for murder on an industrial scale.

The conveyor belt of Treblinka functioned in such a way that beasts were able methodically to deprive human beings of everything to which they have been entitled, since the beginning of time, by the holy law of life.

First people were robbed of their freedom, their home, and their Motherland; they were transported to a nameless wilderness in the forest. Then, on the square by the station, they were robbed of their belongings, of their personal letters, and of photographs of their loved ones. After going through the fence, a man was robbed of his mother, his wife, and his child. After he had been stripped naked, his papers were thrown onto a fire; he had been robbed of his name. He was driven into a corridor with a low stone ceiling; now he had been robbed of the sky, the stars, the wind, and the sun.

Then came the last act of the human tragedy—a human being was now in the last circle of the Hell that was Treblinka.

The door of the concrete chamber slammed shut. The door was secured by every possible kind of fastening: by locks, by hooks, by a massive bolt. It was not a door that could be broken down.

Can we find within us the strength to imagine what the people in these chambers felt, what they experienced during their last minutes of life? All we know is that they cannot speak now...Covered by a last clammy mortal sweat, packed so tight that their bones cracked and their crushed rib cages were barely able to breathe, they stood pressed against one another; they stood as if they were a single human being. Someone, perhaps some wise old man, makes the effort to say, “Patience now—this is the end.” Someone shouts out some terrible curse. A holy curse—surely this curse must be fulfilled? With a superhuman effort a mother tries to make a little more space for her child: may her child’s dying breaths be eased, however infinitesimally, by a last act of maternal care. A young woman, her tongue going numb, asks, “Why am I being suffocated? Why can’t I love and have children?” Heads spin. Throats choke. What are the pictures now passing before people’s glassy dying eyes? Pictures of childhood? Of the happy days of peace? Of the last terrible journey? Of the mocking face of the SS man in that first square by the station: “Ah, so that’s why he was laughing...” Consciousness dims. It is the moment of the last agony...No, what happened in that chamber cannot be imagined. The dead bodies stand there, gradually turning cold. It was the children, according to witnesses, who kept on breathing for longest. After twenty to twenty-five minutes Schmidt’s assistants would glance through the peepholes. It was time to open the second doors, the doors to the platforms. Urged on by shouting SS men, prisoners in overalls set about unloading the chambers. Because of the sloping floor, many of the bodies simply tumbled out of their own accord. People who carried out this task have told me that the faces of the dead were very yellow and that around seventy percent of them were bleeding slightly from the nose and mouth; physiologists, no doubt, can explain this.

SS men examined the bodies, talking to one another as they did so. If anyone turned out to be still alive, if anyone groaned or stirred, they were finished off with a pistol shot. Then a team of men armed with dental pliers would extract all the platinum and gold teeth from the mouths of the murdered people waiting to be loaded onto the trolleys. The teeth were then sorted according to value, packed into boxes, and sent off to Germany. Had the SS found it in any way more convenient or advantageous to extract people’s teeth while they were still alive, they would, of course, have done this without hesitation, just as they removed women’s hair while they were still alive. But it was evidently easier and more convenient to extract people’s teeth when they were dead.

The corpses were then loaded on the trolleys and pushed along the narrow-gauge tracks toward long grave pits. There they were laid out in rows, packed closely together. The huge pit was not filled in; it was still waiting. In the meantime, as soon as the work of unloading the chambers had begun, the Scharführer “on transport duty” would have received a short order by telephone. The Scharführer would then blow his whistle—a signal to the engine driver—and another twenty wagons would slowly be brought up to the platform of a make-believe railway station called Ober-Majdan. Another three or four thousand people carrying suitcases, bundles, and bags of food would get out and walk to the station square. Mothers were holding little children in their arms; elder children clung to their parents as they looked intently around. There was something sinister and terrifying about this square that had been trodden by millions of feet. And why did the railway line end just beyond the station? Why was there only yellow grass and three-meter-high barbed wire?

The processing of the new contingent was carefully timed; they set out along “The Road of No Return” just as the last corpses from the gas chambers were being taken toward the grave pits. The pit had not been filled in; it was still waiting.

A little later, the Scharführer would blow his whistle again—and another twenty wagons would slowly be brought up to the station platform. More thousands of people carrying suitcases, bundles, and bags of food would get out and walk to the station square and look around. There was something sinister and terrifying about this square that had been trodden by millions of feet.

And the camp commandant, sitting in his office amid heaps of papers and charts, would telephone the station in Treblinka village—and another sixty-car train escorted by SS men with submachine guns and automatic rifles would pull heavily out of a siding and crawl along a single track between rows of pines.

The vast excavators worked day and night, digging vast new pits, pits that were many hundreds of meters long and many dark meters deep. And the pits were waiting. Waiting—though not for long.


As the winter of 1942–43 was drawing to an end, Himmler came to Treblinka, along with a group of important Gestapo officials. Himmler’s party flew to a landing strip in the area and was then taken in two cars to the camp, which they entered by the main gate. Most of the visitors were in army uniform; some—perhaps the various scientific experts—seemed like civilians, in fur coats and hats. Himmler inspected the camp in person, and one of the people who saw him has told us that the minister of death walked up to a huge grave pit and, for a long time, stared silently into it. His retinue waited at a respectful distance as Heinrich Himmler contemplated the colossal grave, already half full of corpses. Treblinka was the most important of all the factories in Himmler’s empire. Later that same day the SS Reichsführer flew back. Before leaving Treblinka, he issued an order that dumbfounded the three members of the camp command: Hauptsturmführer Baron von Pfein, his deputy Karol, and Captain Franz Stangl. They were to start work immediately on digging up the corpses and burning every last one of them; the ashes and cinders were to be removed from the camps and scattered over fields and roads. Since there were already millions of corpses in the ground, this would be an extraordinarily complex and difficult task. In addition, the newly gassed were to be burned at once, instead of being buried.

What was the reason for Himmler’s visit and his personal categorical order? The answer is very simple: the Red Army had just defeated the Germans at Stalingrad. This must have been a terrifying blow for the Germans. Within a matter of days men in Berlin were, for the first time, showing concern about being held to account, about possible retribution, about the revenge to which they might be subjected; within a matter of days Himmler had flown to Treblinka and issued urgent orders calculated to hide the traces of crimes committed within sixty kilometers of Warsaw. Himmler’s orders were an echo, a direct repercussion of the mighty blow that the Red Army had just struck against the Germans, far away on the Volga.

At first there was real difficulty with the process of cremation; the corpses would not burn. There was, admittedly, an attempt to use the women’s bodies, which burned better, to help burn the men’s bodies. And the Germans tried dousing the bodies with gasoline and fuel oil, but this was expensive and turned out to make only a slight difference. There seemed to be no way around this problem, but then a thickset man of about fifty arrived from Germany, a member of the SS and a master of his trade. Hitler’s regime, after all, had the capacity to produce experts of all kinds: experts in the use of a hammer to murder small children, expert stranglers, expert designers of gas chambers, experts in the scientifically planned destruction of large cities in the course of a single day. The regime was also able to find an expert in the exhumation and cremation of millions of human corpses.

And so, under this man’s direction, furnaces were constructed. Furnaces of a special kind, since neither the furnaces at Majdanek nor those of any of the largest crematoria in the world would have been able to burn so vast a number of corpses in so short a time.

The excavator dug a pit 250 to 300 meters long, 20 to 25 meters wide, and 6 meters deep. Three rows of evenly spaced reinforced-concrete pillars, 100 to 120 centimeters in height, served as a support for giant steel beams that ran the entire length of the pit. Rails about five to seven centimeters apart were then laid across these beams. All this constituted a gigantic grill. A new narrow-gauge track was laid from the burial pits to the grill pit. Two more grill pits of the same dimensions were constructed soon afterward; each took 3,500 to 4,000 corpses at once.

Another giant excavator arrived, followed soon by a third. The work continued day and night. People who took part in the work of burning the corpses say that these grill pits were like giant volcanoes. The heat seared the workers’ faces. Flames erupted eight or ten meters into the air. Pillars of thick black greasy smoke reached up into the sky and stood there, heavy and motionless. At night, people from villages thirty or forty kilometers away could see these flames curling above the pine forest that surrounded the camp. The smell of burned human flesh filled the whole area. If there was a wind, and if it blew in the direction of the labor camp three kilometers away, the people there almost suffocated from the stench. More than eight hundred prisoners—more than the number of workers employed in the furnaces of even the largest iron and steel plants—were engaged in the work of burning the bodies. This monstrous workshop operated day and night for eight months, without interruption, yet it still could not cope with the millions of human bodies. Trains were, of course, delivering new contingents to the gas chambers all the time, which added to the work of the grill pits.

Transports sometimes arrived from Bulgaria. These were a particular joy to the SS and the Wachmänner, since the Bulgarian Jews, who had been hoodwinked both by the Germans and by the Fascist Bulgarian government of the time, had no idea of the fate that awaited them and brought with them large quantities of valuables and plenty of tasty food, including white bread. Then there were transports from Grodno and Białystok, and—after the uprising—from the Warsaw ghetto. There was a transport of rebels from other parts of Poland—peasants, workers, and soldiers. There was a contingent of Bessarabian Gypsies: around two hundred men, with eight hundred women and children. They had come on foot, a string of horses and carts trailing behind them. They too had been hoodwinked; they were escorted by only two guards—and even these guards had no idea that they were leading these people to their death. I have been told that the Gypsy women clapped their hands in delight when they saw the handsome exterior of the gas chamber, and that they had no inkling until the very last minute of what lay in store for them. This greatly amused the Germans.

The SS singled out for particular torment those who had participated in the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. The women and children were taken not to the gas chambers but to where the corpses were being burned. Mothers crazed with horror were forced to lead their children onto the red-hot grid where thousands of dead bodies were writhing in the flames and smoke, where corpses tossed and turned as if they had come back to life again, where the bellies of women who had been pregnant burst from the heat and babies killed before birth were burning in open wombs. Such a spectacle was enough to rob the most hardened man of his reason, but its effect—as the Germans well knew—was a hundred times greater on a mother struggling to keep her children from seeing it. The children clung to their mothers and shrieked, “Mama, what are they going to do to us? Are they going to burn us?” Not even Dante, in his Hell, saw scenes like this.

After amusing themselves for a while with this spectacle, the Germans burned the children.

It is infinitely painful to read this. The reader must believe me when I say that it is equally hard to write it. “Why write about it then?” someone may well ask. “Why recall such things?”

It is the writer’s duty to tell the terrible truth, and it is a reader’s civic duty to learn this truth. To turn away, to close one’s eyes and walk past is to insult the memory of those who have perished. Only those who have learned the whole truth can ever understand against what kind of monster our great and holy Red Army has entered into mortal combat.

The SS had begun to feel bored in Treblinka. The procession of the doomed to the gas chambers had ceased to excite them. It had become routine. When the cremation of the corpses began, the SS men spent hours by the grill pits; this new sight amused them. The expert who had just come from Germany used to stroll around between the grill pits from morning till night, always animated and talkative. People say they never saw him frown or even look serious; he was always smiling. When the corpses were thrown down onto the bars of the grill, he would repeat: “Innocent, innocent.” This was his favorite word.

Sometimes the SS organized a kind of picnic by the grill pits; they would sit upwind from them, drink wine, eat, and watch the flames. The “infirmary” was also reequipped. During the first months the sick and the aged had been taken to a space screened off by branches—and murdered there by a so-called doctor. Their bodies had then been carried on stretchers to the mass graves. Now a round pit was dug. Around this pit, as if the infirmary were a stadium, was a circle of low benches, all so close to the edge that anyone sitting on them was almost dangling over the pit. On the bottom of the pit was a grill, and on it corpses were burning. After being carried into the “infirmary,” sick and decrepit old people were taken by “nurses” to these benches and made to sit facing the bonfire of human bodies. After enjoying this sight for a while, the Nazi barbarians shot the old people in the back, or in the backs of their gray heads. Dead or wounded, the old people fell into the bonfire.

German humor has never been highly valued; we have all heard people speak of it as heavy-handed. But who on earth could have imagined the humor, the jokes, the entertainments of the SS at Treblinka? They organized football matches between teams of the doomed, they made the doomed play tag, they organized a choir of the doomed. A small zoo was set up near the Germans’ sleeping quarters. Innocent beasts from the forest—wolves and foxes—were kept in cages, while the vilest and cruelest predators ever seen on earth walked about in freedom, sat down for a rest on little benches made of birch wood, and listened to music. Someone even wrote a special anthem for the doomed, which included the words:

Für uns giebt heute nur Treblinka,

Das unser Schiksal ist...

A few minutes before their death, wounded, bleeding people were forced to learn idiotic, sentimental German songs and sing them in unison:

...Ich brach das Blumelein

Und schenkte es dem Schönste

Geliebte Mädelein...

The chief commandant selected a few children from one contingent. He killed their parents, dressed the children up in fine clothes, gave them lots of sweets, and played with them. A few days later, when he had had enough of this amusement, he gave orders for them to be killed.

The Germans posted one old man in a prayer shawl and phylacteries next to the outhouse and ordered him not to allow people to stay inside for more than three minutes. An alarm clock was hung from his chest. The Germans would look at his prayer shawl and laugh. Sometimes the Germans would force elderly Jewish men to recite prayers or to arrange funerals for those who had been murdered, observing all the traditional rites. They would even have to go and fetch gravestones—but after a while they were made to open the graves, dig up the bodies, and destroy the gravestones.

One of the main entertainments was to rape and torment the beautiful young women whom the SS selected from each contingent. In the morning the rapists would personally accompany them to the gas chambers. Thus the SS—the bulwark of Hitler’s regime and the pride of Fascist Germany—entertained themselves at Treblinka.

It needs to be emphasized that these creatures were far from being mere robots that mechanically carried out the wishes of their superiors. Every witness attests to their shared love of philosophizing. The SS loved to deliver speeches to the doomed; they loved to discuss what was happening at Treblinka and its profound significance for the future. They were all deeply and sincerely convinced that what they were doing was right and necessary. They explained at length how their race was superior to all other races; they delivered tirades about German blood, the German character, and the mission of the German race. These beliefs have been expounded in books by Hitler and Rosenberg, in pamphlets and articles by Goebbels.

After they had finished work for the day, and after amusements such as those described above, they would sleep the sleep of the just, not disturbed by dreams or nightmares. They were not tormented by conscience, if only because not one of them possessed a conscience. They did gymnastics, drank milk every morning, and generally took good care of their health. They showed no less concern with regard to their living conditions and personal comforts, surrounding their living quarters with tidy gardens, sumptuous flower beds, and summerhouses. Several times a year they went on leave to Germany, since their bosses considered work in this “factory” detrimental to health and were determined to look after their workers. Back at home they walked about with their heads held high. If they said nothing about their work, this was not because they were ashamed of it but simply because, well disciplined as they were, they did not dare to violate their solemn pledge of silence. And when, in the evening, they went arm in arm with their wives to the cinema and burst into loud laughter, stamping their hobnailed boots on the floor, it would have been hard to tell them apart from the most ordinary man in the street. Nevertheless, they were beasts—vile beasts, SS beasts.

The summer of 1943 was exceptionally hot. For weeks on end there was no rain, no clouds, and no wind. The work of burning the corpses was in full swing. Day and night for six months the grill pits had been blazing, but only a little more than half of the corpses had been burned.

The moral and physical torment began to tell on the prisoners charged with this task; every day fifteen to twenty prisoners committed suicide. Many sought death by deliberately infringing the regulations.

“To get a bullet was a luxury,” I heard from a baker by the name of Kosow, who had escaped from the camp. In Treblinka, evidently, it was far more terrible to be doomed to live than to be doomed to die.

Cinders and ashes were taken outside the camp grounds. Peasants from the village of Wólka were ordered to load them on their carts and scatter them along the road leading from the death camp to the labor camp. Child prisoners with spades then spread the ashes more evenly. Sometimes these children found melted gold coins or dental crowns. The ashes made the road black, like a mourning ribbon, and so the children were known as “the children from the black road.” Car wheels make a peculiar swishing sound on this road, and, when I was taken along it, I kept hearing a sad whisper from beneath the wheels, like a timid complaint.

This black mourning-ribbon of ashes, lying between woods and fields, from the death camp to the labor camp, was like a tragic symbol of the terrible fate uniting the nations that had fallen beneath the ax of Hitler’s Germany.

The peasants began carting out the cinders and ashes in the spring of 1943, and they continued until the summer of 1944. Each day twenty carts made from six to eight trips; during each trip they scattered 120 to 130 kilos of ash.

“Treblinka”—the song that eight hundred people were made to sing while they cremated corpses—included words exhorting the prisoners to humility and obedience; their reward would be “a little, little happiness, that would flash by in a single moment.” Astonishingly, there really was one happy day in the living Hell of Treblinka. The Germans, however, were mistaken: what brought the condemned this gift was not humility and obedience. On the contrary, this happy day dawned thanks to insane audacity—thanks to the insane audacity of people who had nothing to lose. All were expecting to die, and every day of their life was a day of suffering and torment. All had witnessed terrible crimes, and the Germans would have spared none of them; the gas chambers awaited them all. Most, in fact, were sent to the gas chambers after only a few days of work and were replaced by people from new contingents. Only a few dozen people lived for weeks and months, rather than for days and hours; these were skilled workers, carpenters, and stonemasons, and the bakers, tailors, and barbers who ministered to the Germans’ everyday needs. These people created an organizing committee for an uprising. It was, of course, only the already condemned, only people possessed by an all-consuming hatred and a fierce thirst for revenge, who could have conceived such an insane plan. They did not want to escape until they had destroyed Treblinka. And they destroyed it. Weapons—axes, knives, and truncheons—began to appear in the prisoners’ barracks. The risk they incurred, the price they paid to obtain each ax or knife, is hard to imagine. What cunning and skill, what astonishing patience, were required to hide these things in the barracks! Stocks of gasoline were laid in—to douse the camp buildings and set them ablaze. How did the conspirators achieve this? How did gasoline disappear, as if it had evaporated, from the camp stores? How indeed? Through superhuman effort—through great mental ingenuity, through determination and a terrifying audacity. A large tunnel was dug beneath the ammunition store. Audacity worked miracles; standing beside the conspirators was the God of courage. They took twenty hand grenades, a machine gun, rifles, and pistols and hid them in secret places. Every detail in their complex plan was carefully worked out. Each group of five had its specific assignment. Each mathematically precise assignment called for insane daring. One group was to storm the watchtowers, where the Wachmänner sat with their machine guns. A second group was to attack the sentries who patrolled the paths between the various camp squares. A third group was to attack the armored vehicles. A fourth was to cut the telephone lines. A fifth was to seize control of the barracks. A sixth would cut passages through the barbed wire. A seventh was to lay bridges across the antitank ditches. An eighth was to pour gasoline on the camp buildings and set them on fire. A ninth group would destroy whatever else could be destroyed.

There were even arrangements to provide the escapees with money. There was one moment, however, when the Warsaw doctor who was collecting this money nearly ruined the whole plan. A Scharführer noticed a wad of banknotes sticking out of his pocket; the doctor had only just collected the notes and had been about to hide them away. The Scharführer pretended not to have seen anything and reported the matter to Kurt Franz. Something extraordinary was clearly going on—what use, after all, was money to a man condemned to death?—and Franz immediately went off to interrogate the doctor. He began the interrogation with calm confidence; there may well, after all, have been no more skilled torturer in the world. And there was certainly no one at all in the world—Franz believed—who could withstand the tortures he practiced. But the Warsaw doctor outwitted the SS captain. He took poison. One of the participants in the uprising told me that never before in Treblinka had such efforts been made to save a man’s life. Evidently Franz sensed that the doctor would be slipping away with an important secret. But the German poison did its job, and the secret remained a secret.

Toward the end of June it turned suffocatingly hot. When graves were opened, steam billowed up from them as if from gigantic boilers. The heat of the grills—together with the monstrous stench—was killing even the workers who were moving the corpses; they were dropping dead onto the bars of the grills. Billions of overfed flies were crawling along the ground and buzzing about in the air. The last hundred thousand corpses were now being burned.

The uprising was planned for August 2. It began with a revolver shot. The banner of success fluttered over the holy cause. New flames soared into the sky—not the heavy flames and grease-laden smoke of burning corpses but bright wild flames of life. The camp buildings were ablaze, and to the rebels it seemed that a second sun was burning over Treblinka, that the sun had rent its body in two in celebration of the triumph of freedom and honor.

Shots rang out; machine-gun fire crackled from the watchtowers that the rebels had captured. Hand grenades rang out as triumphantly as if they were the bells of truth. The air shook from crashes and detonations; buildings collapsed; the buzzing of corpse flies was drowned out by the whistle of bullets. In the pure, clear air flashed axes red with blood. On August 2 the evil blood of the SS flowed onto the ground of the Hell that was Treblinka, and a radiant blue sky celebrated the moment of revenge. And a story as old as the world was repeated once more: creatures who had behaved as if they were representatives of a higher race; creatures who had shouted “Achtung! Mützen ab!” to make people take off their hats; creatures who had bellowed, in their masterful voices “Alle r-r-r-raus unter-r-r-r!” to compel the inhabitants of Warsaw to leave their homes and walk to their deaths—these conquering beings, so confident of their own might when it had been a matter of slaughtering millions of women and children, turned out to be despicable, cringing reptiles as soon as it came to a life-and-death struggle. They begged for mercy. They lost their heads. They ran this way and that way like rats. They forgot about Treblinka’s diabolically contrived defense system. They forgot about their all-annihilating firepower. They forgot their own weapons. But need I say more? Need anyone be in the least surprised by these things?

Two and a half months later, on October 14, 1943, there was an uprising in the Sobibor death factory; it was organized by a Soviet prisoner of war, a political commissar from Rostov by the name of Sashko Pechersky. The same thing happened as in Treblinka: people half dead from hunger managed to get the better of several hundred SS beasts who were bloated from the blood of the innocent. With the help of crude axes that they themselves had forged in the camp smithies, the rebels overpowered their executioners. Many of the rebels had no weapon except sand. Pechersky had told them to fill their pockets with fine sand and throw it in the guards’ eyes. But need we be surprised by any of this?

As Treblinka blazed and the rebels, saying a silent farewell to the ashes of their fellows, were escaping through the barbed wire, SS and police units were rushed in from all directions to track them down. Hundreds of police dogs were sent after them. Airplanes were summoned. There was fighting in the forests, fighting in the marshes—and few of those who took part in the uprising are still alive. But what does that matter? They died fighting,with guns in their hands.

After August 2, Treblinka ceased to exist. The Germans burned the remaining corpses, dismantled the stone buildings, removed the barbed wire, and torched the wooden barracks not already burned down by the rebels. Part of the equipment of the house of death was blown up; part was taken away by train. The grills were destroyed, the excavators taken away, the vast pits filled in with earth. The station building was razed; last of all, the track was dismantled and the crossties removed. Lupines were sown on the site of the camp, and a settler by the name of Streben built himself a little house there. Now this house has gone; it too was burned down. What were the Germans trying to do? To hide the traces of the murder of millions in the Hell that was Treblinka? Did they really imagine this to be possible? Can silence be imposed on thousands of people who have witnessed transports bringing the condemned from every corner of Europe to a place of conveyor-belt execution? Did the Germans really think that they could hide the dead, the heavy flames, and the smoke that hung in the sky for eight months, visible day and night to the inhabitants of dozens of villages and hamlets? Did they really think that they could force the peasants of Wólka to forget the screams of the women and children—those terrible screams that continued for thirteen months and that ring in their ears to this day? Can the memory of such screams be torn from the heart? Did they really think they could force silence upon the peasants who for a whole year had been transporting human ash from the camp and scattering it on the roads?

Did they really think they could silence the still-living witnesses who had seen the Treblinka executioner’s block in operation from its first days until August 2, 1943, the last day of its existence? Witnesses whose descriptions of each SS man and each of the Wachmänner precisely corroborate one another? Witnesses whose step by step, hour by hour accounts of life in Treblinka have made it possible to create a kind of Treblinka diary? It is no longer possible to shout “Mützen ab!” at these witnesses; it is no longer possible to lead them into a gas chamber. And Himmler no longer has any power over his minions. Their heads bowed, their trembling fingers tugging nervously at the hems of their jackets, their voices dull and expressionless, Himmler’s minions are now telling the story of their crimes—a story so unreal that it seems like the product of insanity and delirium. A Soviet officer, wearing the green ribbon of the Defense of Stalingrad medal, takes down page after page of the murderers’ testimonies. At the door stands a sentry, wearing the same green Stalingrad ribbon on his chest. His lips are pressed tight together and there is a stern look on his gaunt weather-beaten face. This face is the face of justice—the people’s justice. And is it not a remarkable symbol that one of the victorious armies from Stalingrad should have come to Treblinka, near Warsaw? It was not without reason that Himmler began to panic in February 1943; it was not without reason that he flew to Treblinka and gave orders for the construction of the grill pits followed by the obliteration of all traces of the camp. It was not without reason—but it was to no avail. The defenders of Stalingrad have now reached Treblinka; from the Volga to the Vistula turned out to be no distance at all. And now the very earth of Treblinka refuses to be an accomplice to the crimes the monsters committed. It is casting up the bones and belongings of those who were murdered; it is casting up everything that Hitler’s people tried to bury within it.


We arrived in Treblinka in early September 1944, thirteen months after the day of the uprising. For thirteen months from July 1942 the executioner’s block had been at work—and for thirteen months from August 1943, the Germans had been trying to obliterate every trace of this work.

It is quiet. The tops of the pine trees on either side of the railway line are barely stirring. It is these pines, this sand, this old tree stump that millions of human eyes saw as their freight wagons came slowly up to the platform. With true German neatness, whitewashed stones have been laid along the borders of the black road. The ashes and crushed cinders swish softly. We enter the camp. We tread the earth of Treblinka. The lupine pods split open at the least touch; they split with a faint ping and millions of tiny peas scatter over the earth. The sounds of the falling peas and the bursting pods come together to form a single soft, sad melody. It is as if a funeral knell—a barely audible, sad, broad, peaceful tolling—is being carried to us from the very depths of the earth. And, rich and swollen as if saturated with flax oil, the earth sways beneath our feet—earth of Treblinka, bottomless earth, earth as unsteady as the sea. This wilderness behind a barbed-wire fence has swallowed more human lives than all the earth’s oceans and seas have swallowed since the birth of mankind.

The earth is casting up fragments of bone, teeth, sheets of paper, clothes, things of all kinds. The earth does not want to keep secrets.

And from the earth’s unhealing wounds, from this earth that is splitting apart, things are escaping of their own accord. Here they are: the half-rotted shirts of those who were murdered, their trousers and shoes, their cigarette cases that have turned green, along with little cogwheels from watches, penknives, shaving brushes, candlesticks, a child’s shoes with red pompoms, embroidered towels from the Ukraine, lace underwear, scissors, thimbles, corsets, and bandages. Out of another fissure in the earth have escaped heaps of utensils: frying pans, aluminum mugs, cups, pots and pans of all sizes, jars, little dishes, children’s plastic mugs. In yet another place—as if all that the Germans had buried was being pushed up out of the swollen, bottomless earth, as if someone’s hand were pushing it all out into the light of day: half-rotted Soviet passports, notebooks with Bulgarian writing, photographs of children from Warsaw and Vienna, letters penciled in a childish scrawl, a small volume of poetry, a yellowed sheet of paper on which someone had copied a prayer, ration cards from Germany...And everywhere there are hundreds of perfume bottles of all shapes and sizes—green, pink, blue...And over all this reigns a terrible smell of decay, a smell that neither fire, nor sun, nor rain, nor snow, nor wind have been able to overcome. And thousands of little forest flies are crawling about over all these half-rotted bits and pieces, over all these papers and photographs.

We walk on over the swaying, bottomless earth of Treblinka and suddenly come to a stop. Thick wavy hair, gleaming like burnished copper, the delicate lovely hair of a young woman, trampled into the ground; and beside it, some equally fine blond hair; and then some heavy black plaits on the bright sand; and then more and more...Evidently these are the contents of a sack, just a single sack that somehow got left behind. Yes, it is all true. The last hope, the last wild hope that it was all just a terrible dream, has gone. And the lupine pods keep popping open, and the tiny peas keep pattering down—and this really does all sound like a funeral knell rung by countless little bells from under the earth. And it feels as if your heart must come to a stop now, gripped by more sorrow, more grief, more anguish than any human being can endure...

Scholars, sociologists, criminologists, psychiatrists, and philosophers—everyone is asking how all this can have happened. How indeed? Was it something organic? Was it a matter of heredity, upbringing, environment, or external conditions? Was it a matter of historical fate, or the criminality of the German leaders? Somehow the embryonic traits of a racial theory that sounded simply comic when expounded by the second-rate charlatan professors or pathetic provincial theoreticians of nineteenth-century Germany—the contempt in which the German philistine held “Russian pigs,” “Polish cattle,” “Jews reeking of garlic,” “debauched Frenchmen,” “English shopkeepers,” “hypocritical Greeks,” and “Czech blockheads”; all the nonsense about the superiority of the Germans to every other race on earth, all the cheap nonsense that seemed so comical, such an easy target for journalists and humorists—all this, in the course of only a few years, ceased to seem merely infantile and was transformed into a threat to mankind. It became a deadly threat to human life and freedom and a source of unparalleled crime, bloodshed, and suffering. There is much now to think about, much that we must try to understand.

Wars like the present war are terrible indeed. A vast amount of innocent blood has been spilled by the Germans. But it is not enough now to speak about Germany’s responsibility for what has happened. Today we need to speak about the responsibility of every nation in the world; we need to speak about the responsibility of every nation and every citizen for the future.

Every man and woman today is duty-bound to his or her conscience, to his or her son and to his or her mother, to their motherland and to humanity as a whole to devote all the powers of their heart and mind to answering these questions: What is it that has given birth to racism? What can be done to prevent Nazism from ever rising again, either on this side or on the far side of the ocean? What can be done to make sure that Hitlerism is never, never in all eternity resurrected?

What led Hitler and his followers to construct Majdanek, Sobibor, Bełzec, Auschwitz, and Treblinka is the imperialist idea of exceptionalism—of racial, national, and every other kind of exceptionalism.

We must remember that Fascism and racism will emerge from this war not only with the bitterness of defeat but also with sweet memories of the ease with which it is possible to commit mass murder. It has turned out that it is really not so very difficult to kill entire nations. Ten small chambers—hardly enough space, if properly furnished, to stable a hundred horses—ten such chambers turned out to be enough to kill three million people.

Killing turned out to be supremely easy—it does not entail any uncommon expenditure.

It is possible to build five hundred such chambers in only a few days. This is no more difficult than constructing a five-story building.

It is possible to demonstrate with nothing more than a pencil that any large construction company with experience in the use of reinforced concrete can, in the course of six months and with a properly organized labor force, construct more than enough chambers to gas the entire population of the earth.

This must be unflinchingly borne in mind by everyone who truly values honor, freedom, and the life of all nations, the life of humanity.