In Treblinka the small minority of inmates who had been spared from the gas chambers knew that their days were numbered. They knew that their lives were worthless to the Germans and that they could be killed at any moment at the whim of any of the guards. But they also could guess that the work of the camp would soon be winding down, and that then the Germans would have no further use for them. So they had nothing to lose from making an escape attempt, even though the risks were high.
They only had a few weapons hidden away. The revolt depended upon a few individuals using these to kill some of the guards and take their weapons. Only by all acting together could they hope to overwhelm the guards and break out. Yet the more people who knew about the attempt in advance, the riskier the scheme. To avoid betrayals most of those involved only had a limited knowledge of the plans and what they were expected to do at the appointed time. Chil Rajchman was one of the minority in the know – and one of an even smaller number who lived to tell the tale:
Everything is ready. Our excitement is running high, but so is our fear that the murderers might find out something and shoot us.
We fall out for the midday meal. The latest news from Camp 1 is that everything is ready. Our only concern is that something might happen once again to spoil our plans. We have seen to it that at every point, such as the ovens, there will still be people at work so that we will not be shut up in the barracks, we claim that the fires need attention, that they are not burning well.
In the kitchen we supposedly haven’t drawn enough water so we have to send several people back to get more. These are in fact three good soldiers. Their task, the moment the revolt begins, will be to cut the throats of the Ukrainian guards and seize their weapons.
The midday rations are being distributed. We are all hungry, as always, but none of us is able to eat anything. No-one asks for seconds of soup. Dozens of comrades do not touch the food.
Afterwards all of us go back to work filled with happiness. We say to one another: “Ha-yom, ha-yom!”(Hebrew: The Day, the Day!) The work goes quickly. The murderers are pleased that the work is humming along. We avoid speaking to one another so that no-one will notice anything. Our tools are hidden in the appropriate places.
Our comrade Adolf using various pretexts, tries to check every position. Despite all our preparations, there are still many among us who have no idea what is supposed to happen. The time passes with extraordinary slowness. The fear that something may go wrong is unbearable.
The clock strikes 3.30.
We hear two gunshots from the direction of Camp 1 – a sign that the revolt has started. A few minutes later we receive the order to quit working. Everyone hurries to his post.
A few seconds after that, flames engulf the gas chambers. They have been set on fire. The Ukrainian standing guard next to the barracks lies on the ground like a stuck pig, blood flowing from him. His weapon is already being used by our comrade Zelo.
Shots are heard from all sides. The Ukrainians, whom our comrades have lured from the watchtowers, lie dead. Two S.S. excavator operators are dead. We head for the barbed wire shouting: – Revolgutsga v Berline! (Russian: Revolution in Berlin!) Several of the Ukrainians become disorientated and put up their hands. Their weapons are taken from them. We cut the wires one after the other. We are already at the third barbed-wire fence.
I am near the barracks. Many comrades have become confused and out of fear are hiding inside. I and several others urge them out, shouting: – Comrades, come out to freedom, faster, faster!
All are now outside. The third fence has been cut. Fifty metres further on there are trestles thickly interwoven with barbed wire. We try to cut these as well. The firing ofthe murderers’ machine guns can be heard now. Some of them have succeeded in getting hold of their weapons.
At the trestles lie many of our comrades who became entangled in the wires and were unable to escape.
I am among the last to go. I am already outside. Next to me is Comrade Kruk, from Plock. He falls into my arms: – Comrade, we are free. We kiss one another. I manage to run a few dozen metres when I see that the murderers are coming after us with machine guns.
An automobile is bearing down on us. On the roof is a machine gun shooting in all directions. Many fall down dead. There are dead bodies at every step. I change direction and run to the left off the road. The car continues along daat Polish road and soon it is ahead ofme. We run in various directions. The murderers pursue us from all sides.
We notice that the peasants working the fields and the shepherds are running away out of fear. Finally, having run about 3 kilometres, we find ourselves in a small woodland. We decide that there is no point in running further and hide in the dense brush.
Franciszek Zabecki worked at the nearby railway station, a member of the Polish underground, he monitored the train movements to the death ‘camp’ from its earliest days. He and his colleagues counted the trains and the number of wagons sent to Treblinka – he believed that no less than 1,200,000 people were killed there. He was one of the few independent witnesses to the revolt and its aftermath.
There is another account of the revolt at the Holocaust Research Project.