Study visit of German students to Poland under the slogan “Who was the executioner and who was the victim?” – Treblinka extermination camp


Thursday, June 15, 2023 will certainly be remembered for a long time by the participants of the study visit, i.e. a group of German students and scientists in Warsaw as part of the project “Who was the executioner and who was the victim?”, financed by NIW CRSO under the NEW FIO program.

Since we ended the previous day at Umschlagplatz – the site of deportations to extermination camps – in order to raise awareness of the enormity of the atrocities committed by the Germans during World War II, we planned a trip to Treblinka. Our guide, just like the previous day, was Paweł Szczerkowski.

It is worth recalling here that on July 22, 1942 The liquidation operation in the Warsaw ghetto began. Every day, deportations of 3,000 to 8,000 people were organized from the Umschlagplatz, packed into cattle or freight wagons and taken to Treblinka. The action lasted 46 days, and during this time approximately 250,000 Warsaw Jews traveled this path of death.

Located 90 km east of Warsaw, Treblinka was one of three secret extermination camps established as part of Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Final Solution. More Jews died at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp other than Auschwitz. Its victims included 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto and 2,000 Roma.

During the journey, our guide told the tour participants about Warsaw, paying attention to characteristic points, and also revealed interesting natural facts. Then, to calm down the group and prepare the participants for the visit to the extermination camp, it was time for a detailed introduction to the history of the Holocaust.

In Treblinka, we started our walk from the ramp where trains with future victims arrived and where their selection took place. A cruel and thought-provoking place. Then we took a walk around the camp area marked with a high memorial monument and 17,000 stones. Number 217 contains the names of the towns from which Jews were brought here to be murdered. Eleven of them have the names of the countries from which they were transported engraved, but only one of them shows their name and surname: JANUSZ KORCZAK (HENRYK GOLDSZMIT) AND CHILDREN.

In addition to the station, ramp, field hospital, grates where bodies were burned, pits, gas chambers and barracks, there were also farm barracks and apartments for the Germans, who also set up a zoo (sic!) here, where they kept forest animals and even two peacocks…

There is an exhibition center within the camp, where you can see a model of the camp, found artifacts, and learn exactly how the German death machine worked. Our guests also learned about the history of murderers, such as the camp commandant Franz Stengl, and the history of both the victims and the prisoners who rebelled in August 1943 and survived the war.

Importantly, some German camps have managed to retain at least a similar appearance to this day. The Treblinka camps were completely destroyed, so passing on their memory is an extremely difficult, but also extremely important task. The idea is that this memory will survive even in the rubble and ashes.

A group of our guests – students and scientists – experienced their visit to Treblinka very emotionally. Especially since there were several Jews among them, and Touro University Berlin itself is a Jewish-German-American university. Therefore, the group also needed a longer time to independently explore the area of the former camp and devote themselves to reflection and contemplation… Especially since what caught their eyes the most was the inscription “Never again” carved on one of the stones in several languages.

After the visit to Treblinka, our actions were coherent again. Just as we ended Wednesday at the Umschlagplatz, Thursday ended with another strong accent – a meeting at the headquarters of the Polish Association of Former Prisoners of Concentration and Extermination Camps with a witness to history, Stanisław Zalewski, a former prisoner of the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Mauthausen Gusen I and Gusen II camps.