July 23, 1942: Treblinka extermination camp opens.

Treblinka was one of six Nazi extermination camps constructed in Poland during World War II, and the last to open. Unlike the numerous concentration camps built throughout German-occupied territories during this time, extermination camps, as their name suggests, were not built for holding but to carry out the systematic mass murder of millions of people. Essentially a killing factory (disguised as an operational railway station), Treblinka held no prisoners and put no laborers to work. The camps at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor were specifically created to implement the countrywide plan codenamed Operation Reinhard (conducted between October 1941 and November 1943), the first deadly step of the Third Reich’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. This phase targeted primarily Jews living within the borders of the General Government. 

On June 22, 1942, the mass deportation of Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto under the direction of the Schutzstaffel began, continuing until Yom Kippur of that year nearly a month later; in all, between 250,000 and 300,000 people were shipped to Treblinka - thousands per day, stuffed into railway trains - and gassed to death with carbon monoxide exhaust fumes (as opposed to Zyklon B cyanide, which was used in Auschwitz and elsewhere). By the time the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out in armed resistance to continued deportations, approximately 50,000 people still lived there. After the uprising, the majority of these people were either killed or sent to Treblinka, the remainder of their neighborhoods razed. By the time of the camp’s dissolution in 1944, between 800,000 and 1 million people had entered its gates. 

Franz Stangl, SS commandant of Sobibor and later Treblinka, was quoted as saying (on the nature of his work):

To tell the truth, one did become used to it… they were cargo. I think it started the day I first saw the Totenlager in Treblinka. I remember Wirth standing there, next to the pits full of black-blue corpses. It had nothing to do with humanity — it could not have. It was a mass. A mass of rotting flesh. Wirth said ‘What shall we do with this garbage?’ I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo…. I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. 

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