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Treblinka/Poland

Introducing Treblinka

In a peaceful clearing, hidden deep in the Mazovian pine forest, stands a granite monolith; around it is a field of 17,000 jagged, upright stones, many engraved with the name of a town or village. Beneath the grass, mingled with the sand, lie the ashes of some 800,000 human beings.

Treblinka, the site of the Nazis’ second-largest extermination camp after Auschwitz, is another name that will forever be associated with the horror of the Holocaust. Between July 1942 and August 1943, on average more than 2000 people a day, mostly Jews, were gassed in the camp’s massive gas chambers and their bodies burnt on huge, open-air cremation pyres.

Following an insurrection by the inmates in August 1943, the extermination camp was completely demolished and the area ploughed over and abandoned. The site of the camp is now the Museum of Fighting & Martyrdom (Muzeum Walki i Męczeństwa; 025 781 1658; admission incl museum 2zł; 24hr). Access is by a short road that branches off the Małkinia–Sokołów Podlaski road and leads to a car park and a kiosk (9am-7pm Apr-Oct, 9am-4pm Nov-Mar) that provides information and sells guidebooks. Across from the kiosk, the ground floor of a white building houses a small museum (9am-7pm) with factual yet chilling explanations of the camp (for example, gas chambers could hold up to 5000 people at one time) and a handful of the personal belongings of prisoners found at the site.

It’s a 10-minute walk from the car park to the site of the Treblinka II extermination camp, alongside a symbolic railway representing the now-vanished line that brought the cattle trucks full of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. The huge granite monument, 200m east of the ramp, stands on the site where the gas chambers were located. Around it is a vast symbolic cemetery in the form of a forest of granite stones representing the towns and villages where the camp’s victims came from. Unlike Auschwitz, nothing remains of the extermination camp, but the labels on the plan showing the original layout speak volumes: ‘Building for Sorting Gold and Valuables’; ‘Storehouse for Victims’ Property (Disguised as Train Station)’; ‘Barracks Where Women Undressed, Surrendered Valuables and Had Heads Shaven’; ‘Approach to Gas Chambers’.

A further 20-minute walk leads to another clearing and the site of Treblinka I, a penal labour camp that was set up before Treblinka II, where remains of the camp, including the concrete foundations of the demolished barracks, have been preserved.