The Eyewitness Account of Stanislaw Kon and Treblinka Death Camp Uprising – 2 August 1943

The symbolic “remains” of the railroad in Treblinka, 2002. Credit: Chris Webb.

This August 2019 CARR blogpost follows the account of Stanislaw-Shulem Kon who was born in 1909 in Praszka, near Lodz, a city in which he resided until 1939. As a Polish soldier he fought during the September 1939 Polish campaign. He returned to Lodz and from there in March 1940, together with his wife and one child, he moved to Czestochowa where he lived until 1 October 1942.

During the “Action” in the Czestochowa Ghetto at that time, Kon and his family were deported to Treblinka. In the death camp, his wife and one child were killed. Subsequently, he was selected to sort the clothes or murdered Jews in the camp.

After Soviet liberation in late 1943, Stanislaw Kon became one of the survivors from Treblinka who gave detailed testimony about the revolt in the death camp. His testimony is notable as it was one of the first to be gathered in 1944 in liberated Lublin.

In 1945, long fragments of his memoirs were published in the Jewish newspaper “Dos Naje Lebn” (“The New Life”).

Here begins his eyewitness account of the Treblinka Death Camp uprising on 2 August 1943:

“For different reasons the date of the uprising was changed several times. While Chorazycki was still alive, the first date of April 1943 was chosen. Later, many transports from the Warsaw Ghetto arrived in Treblinka and from the Jews we learned about the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Germans treated them with exceptional brutality. Many wagons were loaded with the bodies of fighters from the ghetto who refused to go on the transport whilst still alive. The last deportees from the Warsaw Ghetto were not people who were already resigned and passive. In place of tears they armed themselves with grenades and explosive materials. From them we also received some weapons. The leadership decided that this was the moment that was best for the uprising to begin.

There was a group of Jews in the camp that acted as servants for the Germans, cleaning their apartments etc. They were the only Jews who had access to every area of the camp. Often they were also close to the armoury. The leadership had the idea to use them. They received an order to procure 100 grenades on the day of the uprising. They did it.

Haberman, who worked in the German laundry, Markus, a cleaner of shoes, and 17-years old Jacek from Hungary, smuggled some grenades from the armoury. Especially praiseworthy were the efforts of 14-years Salzberg, son of a furrier from Kielce. He gathered uniforms, officially for pressing. In the uniforms he hid the grenades. Unfortunately, the grenades were without detonators and we had to change the date of uprising at the last moment.

In the meantime new activists joined our group. Dr. Leichert from Wegrow was selected by the Germans from a new transport and replaced Chorazycki. The second was Rudolf Masaryk. He did not want to be separated from his Jewish wife and shared her fate in the transport to Treblinka. Here he was “lucky”; he was assigned to the working groups. Before his eyes his pregnant wife was taken to the gas chamber. Masaryk was one of the most active people. It is also necessary to mention the driver and mechanic from Plock, Rudek, who worked in the German garage. His place of work was a main point for our actions. Also here the weapons were stored.

So passed the months of tension and waiting. We saw before us death at every step, we saw the German brutality. Every day thousands of Jews were led to the gas chambers, naked women and old people. They were driven in long rows to the “Judenstaat”, as the Germans cynically called the building with 12 gas chambers. In the speeches which Untersturmführer Franz gave at every opportunity, he repeated that “if there is still even one Jew in the world, the gas chambers will be working”. Our desire for revenge grew even greater.

At last commandant Galewski gave the order for the uprising. The date was fixed for 2 August 1943, 5 p.m. The plan was to kill the main hangmen, disarm the guard, cut the telephone line, and to set on fire and destroy all of the buildings of the factory of death. We also planned to liberate the Poles from the work camp which was located 2 kms away, and together with them to escape to the forests and create a strong partisan group.

On Monday morning the tension in the camp was enormous. The leadership tried to quiet the people. Duties were assigned so that all of the camp works should be conducted as normal. At the last moment an extra 60 people were initiated into the plan. This group comprised the exact fighting organization and was divided into three platoons. At the first signal everyone had to take his place.

At 1 p.m. there is roll call, the last roll call in the camp. We do it normally, as if nothing will happen. When the leader of the working group, Galewski, informs us that today we will finish our work earlier because Scharführer Reuter is going to Malkinia, to bathe in the River Bug, he tells us discretely how we are also preparing for another “bath” today.

At 2 o’clock the weapons are distributed among us. Young Zalcberg and several other boys are looking for weapon in the barracks. They are successful in smuggling 20 rifles and one machine gun for us. All are gathered in the garage. The most difficult task was to take the grenades from the armoury. SS man Hiller disturbs us at this work but agronomist Sydowicz calls him on the pretext of showing him some flowers. At that same moment, Markus and Zalcberg are taking carpets for cleaning opposite the armoury. The armoury is opened by the copied key. Jacek from Hungary goes to the armoury and with a diamond makes a hole in the window, through which he gives the grenades and ammunition to Jakub Miller from Wlodzimierz Wolynski. These weapons are also gathered in the garage. We are feeling better. It is very difficult is to keep everything secret, so the leader decides that uprising will be one hour earlier.

Punctually at 4 p.m. all groups are informed that they have to go to the garage for weapons, which are distributed by Rudek. A person arriving gives the password “Death”; the countersign is “Life”. The passwords are given feverishly. At the same time the main murderers are attacked, the phone line is cut and the watchtowers set ablaze. Cpt. Zielo attacks two SS men with an axe, and is taking command. Close by the garage stands the armoured car, which has been immobilized by Rudek. Now we are seeking some cover from where it is possible to shoot at the Germans. Sturmführer Kurt Seidel was killed from there, as well as other Nazis. The Sydowicz group captures the armoury. We already have 200 people with weapons. Others attack the Germans with axes and shovels. Commandant Zielo is giving orders and is rousing everybody to fight. Everybody is full of feelings of revenge.

We capture new weapons and machine guns. Rudolf Masaryk is located on the roof and is shooting at the frightened Germans. Among the sound of the shots we hear his voice: “This is for my wife and my child who never saw the world!”

The gas chambers, “bath”, fictitious railway station with the plaques Bialystok-Wolkowysk, “cash-desk”, “waiting-room” etc are set on fire. The army barracks are also ablaze. The flames and the sound of shots alarms the Germans, who are arriving from every side; SS men and Gendarmes from Kosow, soldiers from the neighbouring airfield, and even a special unit of SS from Warsaw. It is a regular battle. Cpt. Zielo is running from one group to another among the flames and is rousing everyone to the fight. He gives short, soldierly orders until he is killed by Nazi bullets.

It is night. The fight has already lasted 6 hours. The Germans have received help and our numbers are fewer and fewer. There is a lack of ammunition. Our duty is done. We destroyed the camp and the murderers are dead. We killed 200 German and Ukrainian fascists*. We received the order to escape to the forest. Most of the “fighters” were killed. Many Germans were also killed*. From among us only a few survived.”

*This is incorrect, no Germans were killed, in the uprising, only Fritz Kuttner was wounded

Mr Chris Webb is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Founder of the Holocaust Historical Society. His profile can be found here.

© Chris Webb. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

Reference:

Jewish Historical Institute, Testimonies by Survivors, Testimony by Stanislaw Kon: Uprising in death camp Treblinka