Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Treblinka Death Camp
The Removal of Dr Eberl and the Re-Organisation of the Camp – August 1942
Odilo Globocnik, the SS Police Leader for Lublin, and head of Aktion Reinhard appointed Christian Wirth, the first commandant of Belzec death camp, as Inspector of the Aktion Reinhard death camps at the beginning of August 1942.
Wirth set up his temporary headquarters in two rooms of the Julius Schreck Kaserne on Pierackiego Street in Lublin, which also served as the staff headquarters for Odilo Globocnik, and the headquarters of Aktion Reinhard, whose administrative chief was Herman Julius Hofle.
As his adjutant Wirth took Josef Oberhauser, from Belzec, who was also given responsibility for the control of Ukrainian guard units responsible for security at various workshops in Lublin.
Wirth carried out an initial inspection of Treblinka death camp on the 19 August 1942 have been described by Josef Oberhhauser who accompanied him on this visit:
“In Treblinka everything was in a state of collapse. The camp was overstocked. Outside the camp, a train with deportees was unable to be unloaded as there was simply no more room.
Many corpses of Jews were lying Inside the camp, these corpses were already bloated. Particularly I can remember seeing many corpses in the vicinity of the fence. These people were shot from the guard towers.”
Christian Wirth and Josef Oberhauser went to Warsaw where they held a conference with Odilo Globocnik at the Bruhl Palace and two unidentified men in civilian clothes, who then travelled back with Globocnik, Wirth and Oberhauser to the death camp at Treblinka.
After inspecting the camp Globocnik decided that Dr Eberl should be relieved of his command and that Christian Wirth would remain in the camp to sort out the chaotic mess created by Dr Eberl.
Josef Oberhauser recalled:
“I heard them in Treblinka how Globocnik and Wirth summed up the following; Wirth would remain in Treblinka for the time being. Dr Eberl would be dismissed immediately. In his place Stangl would come to Treblinka from Sobibor as commander, Globocnik said in this conversation that if Dr Eberl were not his fellow countryman, he would arrest him and bring him before an SS and police court.
Globocnik said to the two civilians in uniform that all the transports from Warsaw to Treblinka had to be stopped. Wirth was ordered to enlarge the camp and to report when transports could be dealt with again. I then travelled back to Warsaw with Globocnik and the two gentlemen in civilian clothes. We were then in Warsaw for two or three days. I know that Eberl also showed up there about a day later.
I learned then in Warsaw that Dr Eberl would be sent back to Berlin, and everything would be further controlled from there by the Fuhrer Chancellery.”
Franz Stangl in an interview with Gitta Sereny in 1971 his arrival in Treblinka, during late August 1942:
“I drove there with an SS driver we could smell it kilometres away. The road ran alongside the railway. When we were about fifteen, twenty minutes drive from Treblinka we began to see corpses by the line, first just two or three, then more, as we drove into Treblinka station, there were what looked like hundreds of them – just lying there – they’d obviously been there for days, in the heat.
In the station was a train full of Jews, some dead, some still alive… that too looked as if it had been there for days. Treblinka that day was the most awful thing I saw during all of the Third Reich, it was Dante’s Inferno, it was Dante came to life.
When I entered the camp and got out of the car on the square (the Sortierungsplatz) I stepped knee-deep into money. I didn’t know which way to turn, where to go. I waded in notes, currency, precious stones, jewellery, clothes.
They were everywhere, strewn all over the square. The smell was indescribable, the hundreds no, the thousands of bodies everywhere, decomposing, putrefying. Across the square, in the woods, just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the barbed-wire fence and all around the perimeter of the camp, there were tents and open fires with groups of Ukrainian guards and girls – whores I found out later, from all over the countryside – weaving, drunk, dancing, singing, playing music.”
Stangl testified further about the reception area:
“When I arrived at Treblinka the first time, a large board was located in Reception Square. As I remember, on this board were noted ten clauses. The clauses stressed how the arriving Jews should behave. It is clear that in this written announcement the mission of this camp, in some way, was disguised.
Maybe it related to a resettlement camp. But I know that it alluded to the fact that all have to go to the baths and in the meantime the clothes would be disinfected.
In the framework of the re-organisation, Wirth ordered the signboard removed. In its place, the SS men would verbally announce (to the deportees) the directions which were until then written on the board. These short announcements were translated by the working Jews.”
Wirth left Treblinka and returned to Belzec death camp, bringing with him experienced Germans and Ukrainians, among them Lorenz Hackenholt, Kurt Franz. Kurt Franz described his arrival at the camp:
“It was late summer, or the beginning of autumn 1942, when I came from Belzec to Treblinka. I went by foot from the railway station of Malkinia to Treblinka, when I arrived it was already dark.
Everywhere in the camp there were corpses. I remember that these corpses were already bloated. The corpses were dragged through the camp by working Jews. These working Jews were driven by the guardsmen (Ukrainians) and also by Germans.
I reported to Wirth in the dining room. As I remember, Wirth, Stangl and Oberhauser were there.”
Wirth oversaw the re-organisation of Treblinka, a new and bigger ramp was constructed, a 2 meter wide open air passage (known as The Tube), flanked by high camouflaged fences – was laid from the undressing barracks to the new gas chambers that were also being constructed to increase Treblinka’s killing capacity.
Franz Suchomel testified about Wirth’s role during the re-organisation of the camp:
“I remember that in the time when the whole camp was entirely disorganised, Wirth conducted talks with the German staff, mainly at 11 o’clock in the evening. These talks took place in the presence of Stangl.
Wirth gave detailed instructions as to the liquidation of the transports and to the incorporation of the Jewish working commandos in this process. His instructions were detailed.
For example, they described how to open the doors of the freight cars, the disembarking of the Jews, the passage through the “tube” to the upper part of the camp. Wirth personally gave an order that when the Jews were taking off their shoes they had to tie them together.
Wirth’s instructions were carried out even after he left Treblinka.”
Suchomel also described how Wirth disposed of the enormous amount of corpses in Treblinka, left by Dr Eberl’s incompetence:
“He (Wirth) really did work at it. Colleagues who were up there told me this. Using leather straps pulled under the arms, the corpses were dragged to the pits and got rid of. In front of the gas chambers he had put a large amount of chloride of lime – a thin layer of this was first thrown over the corpses, and then a thick layer of sand.
After getting rid of this trouble, Wirth installed Matthes as chief of Camp II, as far as I know – and I lived with Matthes – against his will, with further threats he also made Matthes toe the line.”
The construction of the new and enlarged gas chambers, in Camp II was undertaken during late August and September 1942. Erwin Lambert the gas chamber construction expert was summoned to Treblinka by Wirth, Lambert testified in 1961:
“There I laid the foundations for the bigger gas chambers. To my work brigade there belonged Jewish prisoners and Ukrainians. By Ukrainians I mean guards. They were employed as builders, ie, as carpenters.”
Yankiel Wiernik described the construction of the gas chambers:
“The new construction job between Camp No1 and Camp No 2, on which I had been working, was completed in a very short time. It turned out that we were building ten additional gas chambers, more spacious than the old ones, 7 by 7 metres or about 50 square metres.
The building was laid out according to the corridor system with five chambers on each side of the corridor. Each chamber had two doors, one door leading into the corridor, through which the victims were admitted. The other door facing the camp, were used for the removal of the corpses. The construction of both doors was the same as that of the doors in the old chambers.
The building when viewed from Camp No 1 showed five wide concrete steps with bowls of flowers on either side. Next came a long corridor. There was a Star of David on top of the roof facing the camp, so that the building looked like an old-fashioned synagogue.”
The new gassing building at Treblinka was modelled on the so-called Stiftung Hackenholt at Belzec, in the gas chamber doors there were special observation slits through which the SS and Ukrainians could see into the chambers. Franz Suchomel claimed the doors came from captured Russian bunkers in Bialystok.
The entrance to the corridor was covered by a dark red Jewish ceremonial curtain taken from a synagogue, on it were the words in Hebrew; “This is the Gateway to God, Righteous men will pass through it.”
The engine room with two engines, SS –man Gustav Munzberger, who served in the Totenlager, stated that the gas pipes which conducted the exhaust fumes from the two engines to the chambers were laid by a Jewish work-brigade supervised by Lambert and Hackenholt.
Yankiel Wiernik described the conditions of building the new facilities:
“The work of building the new chambers lasted five weeks. To us it seemed like an eternity. The work went on from sunrise to sunset, under the whips and rifle butts.
One of the guards, Woronikow beat and maltreated us mercilessly. Every day a few workers were murdered. While our physical distress was far beyond normal human concepts, it was our morale that suffered even more.
Every day new transports arrived, the deportees were ordered to strip, and then were taken to the three old gas chambers. The way to the chambers passed near the construction site. Several of us discovered their children, wives, or relatives among the victims. If anyone was moved by his anguish to run to his family, they shot him on the spot.
Thus we built the death chambers for ourselves and our brothers.”
Franz Suchomel recalled what happened in the northern part of Treblinka camp:
“Wirth had excavators digging long, deep pits. The excavated earth was used as a rampart to obstruct the view of these pits. At the bottom of the pit he stacked the thousands of corpses which were lying around the camp, covered them with chloride of lime, and closed the pits.”
The earth rampart – camouflaged with turf – served to hide the gas chambers from view and now the camp was divided in two, from this point the larger part of the camp, which comprised of the work camp, the living quarters for the Jews and the German and Ukrainian personnel was referred to as Camp 1 or the Lower Camp, while the extermination area became known as Camp 2 or the Upper Camp.
Before the new gassing facilities were completed, the deportations were resumed. Wirth had re-organised the camp and modelled along the lines of Belzec and with things in place, the camp was ready to receive transports, they resumed on the 3 September 1942, with a transport from the Warsaw ghetto, on the ramp at Treblinka waiting to greet them were Christian Wirth, Franz Stangl amongst the SS and Ukrainian camp staff.
Belzec, Sobibor,Treblinka by Yitzhak Arad, published by Indiana University Press, 1987.
Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, published by Pantheon Books New York 1985.
The Death Camp Treblinka, by Alexander Donat, published by the Holocaust Library New York 1979.
Into that Darkness, by Gitta Sereny, published by Pimlico 1974.
Christian Wirth – Inspekteur Der SS- Sonderkommando Aktion Reinhard by Michael Tregenza.
Irmfried Eberl Euthanasie –Arzt und Kommandant von Treblinka by Michael Grabner
Holocaust Historical Society
Private Sources / Testimonies
Unpublished memoirs – Oscar Strawczynski.
Statement by Pavel Leleko
Robin O'Neil "Action Reinhard Chain of Command"
Copyright Chris Webb and Victor Smart 2009 H.E.A.R.T