Reconstruction of Treblinka: The Receiving Camp

The receiving camp (see Figure 7.1) consisted of a rectangular area of approximately 300 by 750 feet covering a little more than 8 acres. In the figure, the annotations are keyed as follows:

1 - The ramp and rail siding
2 - Sorting and storage barracks
3 - The sorting yard and Lazarette
4 - The undressing barracks

These features are discussed at greater length in the sections below.

The Ramp and the Rail Siding

The rail siding bringing the convoys defined the western boundary of the receiving camp. The siding ran in a shallow excavation which had been created by a leveling cut. The sandy soil from the cut was mounded up alongside and was revealed in the aerial photograph by the shadow it casts (see Figure 7.2). The branch spur line, alongside of which the siding was positioned, ran along the eastern side of the embankment. The top inset shows the gate through which the convoys entered. The photograph was taken in 1945 or 1946. The mounded soil shows in the background. The siding rails had been removed, and grass had reestablished itself by the time the picture as taken . The inset at the bottom shows that the branch running to the Treblinka I camp was bounded on either side by embankments. In this lower inset, the siding into the receiving camp lay just over the right hand mound.

Figure 7.3 provides a cross section keyed to a photo. The earth removed from cut made for the siding, had been piled up along the west side of the depression. Stereo examination of the aerial photography was invaluable in determining the position and structure of this feature. This analytical study showed that the cut was sharp sided on the ramp side - indicating that some sort of bulwark had been built in order to retain the sandy soil. It is of interest that this reconstruction of the ramp area is confirmed by a drawing made by the survivor Willemberg. In his book (reference 22), Willemberg included a pair of sketches he made from memory of the receiving site. Willemberg’s sketch has been redrawn in part to highlight the features confirmed in the aerial photographic interpretation, and is presented in Figure 7.4. Note that Willemberg showed the siding running in a cut and the debarkation ramp as a level platform alongside it (the drawing gives no information about the ramp. It is unknown if it was simply packed earth, or if it was a boardwalk). The long mound of fill dirt is also depicted as running between the siding and the main branch line, with a security fence aligned along the top of the mound. The fence and the embankments could still be seen after the liquidation of the camp (see Figure 7.2).

The Sorting Barracks and the Sorting plaza

The people in the convoys stepped out onto the ramp running almost the entire length of the Receiving Camp. Ranged alongside the ramp were three large warehouses in which the belongings and clothing of the murdered members of the convoys was sorted, bundled and prepared for shipment to Germany. The largest building was about15 by 75 meters. These dimensions are based on the traces of the structure found on the aerial imagery indicated in Figure 7.5 . The faint outline required contrast stretching and spatial filtering to be seen. In 1943, this building was painted and disguised as a railroad station. Nearly abutting the south end of this barracks were two other buildings. Traces of them are absent on the aerial photography but their existence is known from the drawings made by Willemberg (Figure 7.6) in which the buildings are depicted as shed-like structures with cupolas running the length of their roofs. Willenberg wrote that they were:

”.........known as the “Pferdestall or ‘stable’. This was actually a pair of abutting huts without a dividing wall, and it served as a giant storeroom. The stalls of the former stable were still in place, as were a few of the posts to which the beasts had been tied.” (Reference 22, p82)

The way Willenberg drew these buildings exactly resembles the barracks at Auschwitz, which were prefabricated. and installed there after the invasion of the Soviet Union. (www.remember.org/then-and-now/tn02.html) . It appears that these same structures were imported into Auschwitz after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The appearance of the stables can be seen in the background of Figure 7.7 - a famous picture taken as a part of the so called Auschwitz .Album (see http://www.yadvashem.org). The buildings at Auschwitz were scaled from Aerial photography and were found to be about 54 by 15 meters. These dimensions are in accord with Willemberg‘s drawing, and when plotted and positioned on the aerial photo (Figure 7.1), fit well just behind the large sorting barracks.

In the center of the receiving complex, just to the east of the sorting and storage buildings, was a large open area, called the Sortierungsplatz, or sorting yard. Clothing and other articles taken from each convoy’s victims was piled here and the sorting process begun by teams of Jewish prisoners.

Figure 7.8 presents an aerial photograph annotated with the traces of the grounds used for sorting. This interpretation of the photography was based in part on Willemberg’s graphic depictions. The fence line seen running diagonally just to the east of the three storage buildings was the result of the discovery on the aerial images of its faint races. It is shown in Figure 7.9. According to Willemberg, this fence was heavily camouflaged with cut pine branches. The Belzec study showed that this practice often left clear signs when viewed from the air, probably due to the shedding of needles and branches during its lifetime or after the razing of the camps (see Figure 7.10). The discovery of the interior fencing clarified the significance of the light toned, trapezoidal area just to the east of the large storage and sorting barracks: It was the sorting yard. This light area is connected to the middle of the northern large storage building by a pathway over which the Jewish prisoners carried clothing and other items.

The Lazarette

In the south east corner of the receiving camp, just south of the sorting yard there was a site, called the Lazarette (see earlier Figure 7.1). This was where dead arrivals or individuals too debilitated to walk through the tube were taken to be shot and their bodies burned. It also served as the place of execution for the worker Jews who had become sick or were had violated some SS stricture. A camouflaged board fence surrounded a pit in which a fire burned. A red cross indicating some sort of field hospital disguised the nature of this place from persons removed from a convoy (to the Jews in the work force, the nature of the Lazarette was only too well known).

The primary concern of the SS and their Ukrainian underlings was to process each convoy as quickly as possible. During the peak period of the Treblinka murder cycle, several convoys a day arrived. No delays or backups in the flood of humanity could be brooked. The weak and dead were removed from the rail cars and taken to the Lazarette by members of the resident Jewish workforce. There, the living were killed by the SS and their Ukrainian underlings and all the bodies dumped into a pit which burned constantly.

The Undressing Barracks

In the ariving convoys, those capable of being ambulatory were directed or driven to the undressing barracks where they were required to remove their clothing. The women hair was cut off and then they were forced into the tube leading to the gas chambers with their children. The men followed. The garments the victims had just worn, or carried in their luggage went to the sorting square and to the sorting barracks to be processed for shipment back to Germany.

The so called men’s and women’s undressing barracks were two large buildings In the north end of the receiving camp. The woman’s barracks was the north-most one and its rear opened to the tube leading to the gas chambers. Children accompanied their mothers and their hair was shorn here before they were killed.

Figure 7.11 shows the results of contrast stretching and spatial filtering to bring out the very faint signs of the undressing barracks buildings. In the left hand frame of Figure 7.11, the men’s barracks footprint shows as a slightly darker tone than the surrounds, with faint and blurry lineations making its outline. The women’s building is even more faint, and would not be noticeable but for having been discovered on the frame on the right first, where the women’s barracks appears as a lighter tone, again with a very subtle rectilinear outline. The right hand frame presents this women's barracks rotated 180 degrees and with a slightly different spatial filter applied (the traces are so subtle that seeing them often requires this sort of processing and viewing stratagems). The pattern of the traces of the women’s undressing barracks are probably due to grass growing slightly higher around the periphery before it was pulled down. If this inference is true, it indicates it was not burned in the August 2, 1943 uprising. The more diffuse smudgy clues associated with the men’s undressing barracks points to its being destroyed by fire.

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Last modified: November, 2004
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