“The Organizing Committee," A Resistance Organization in Treblinka, Begins Their Revolt, 1943
On This Day in Jewish History, August 2, 1943
After over one year of planning a potential uprising, Jewish forced-laborers of Treblinka extermination camp began to revolt. In early 1943, Jewish inmates officially organized a resistance group, known as The Organizing Committee. Fearing that they would be killed once the camp operations were complete and the Germans began retreating from Poland, inmates came together to fight for their lives and humanity.
Inspired by the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Treblinka revolt is lesser known, but just as impactful. Though the conspirators were not part of those who conspired in the Warsaw Ghetto, they were connected in their hope and resistance activities. That being said, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was planned as part of a response to the mass transports and murders at Treblinka. The revolt in Treblinka began with planning and accumulating weapons. Julian Chorazycki, a Jewish doctor who helped run the infirmary for SS officers at Treblinka, was a leader in The Organizing Committee and the plans to revolt. However, he was caught with stolen money that he planned to use towards the purchase of weapons. Rather than give up names of fellow resistance members, he swallowed poison and died.
Berek Lajher, a Jewish doctor and former Polish Army officer, took over Chorazycki’s position in the infirmary and became the leader of the revolt. Because they could not risk getting weapons from the outside, they used the imprint of a key to the camp arsenal. On August 2, the gas chambers were not operating and the revolt was underway. Using nearby construction as a cover, the resistance fighters stole 20 grenades, 20 rifles and a few handguns from the arsenal. Soon after, a German guard discovered 2 conspirators carrying money that they had planned to use once they escaped the camp. The guard began to strip and beat up the conspirators, and seeing this happen, another prisoner shot the guard. Thinking that the signal had been fired, the resistance fighters sprang to action across the camp. A man assigned to spread disinfectant around the camp used a hose to douse a large portion of the camp with gasoline, and much of Treblinka burst into flames. The fire quickly engulfed the camp, blowing up the arsenal and consuming almost everything except for the gas chambers. In the uproar that ensued, 300 prisoners managed to escape the camp.
Most members of The Organizing Committee died during the revolt, but not without killing about 40 SS guards. Escapees hid in the forests that surrounded the camp and nursed their wounds as they were hunted down by Nazis. Only about 70 of the 300 people who escaped during the uprising survived the war. Those who did not make it out of the camp during the revolt were made to dismantle it, before being shot by SS guards. The last living survivor of Treblinka, Samuel Willenberg, passed away in 2016. In testimonies, he recalled watching the camp burn from the forests and yelled “Hell has been burnt!” Because there were so few survivors from Treblinka, most of the information about the camp has been through first hand accounts, meaning that the survivors had to relive the horrors countless times. May the memories of those who endured Treblinka be a blessing and a reminder to never forget.