Reconstruction Treblinka: 6.0 - The Living Camp

The living camp housed the German and Ukrainian supervisory and guard force as well as the Jewish slave laborers (the arbeitsjuden). The Jewish prisoners performed all the tasks associated with processing the incoming convoy’s belongings and camp maintenance and construction. The prisoners were housed in a large U- shaped barracks just north of the reception area. This part of the living camp was enclosed by fencing and the prisoners were locked in every night. The area included an “appelplatz”, or roll call square.

The living camp was rigorously segregated from the death camp. The system of compartmentation extended from the visual aspects - earth mounds and pine boughs woven into the security fencing prevented one to see into the death camp - to insulating the Jewish slave labor from their fellow prisoners in the totenlager. The SS and Ukrainian force had their own support facilities - buildings for medical, messing, storage and other purposes. There were also workshops, and a stables. The living camp also held a small work force of polish women who cooked for the SS contingent and had days off as though they worked in an ordinary milieu. (Reference 19, p166) These women required housing. There was even a recreational site consisting of a zoo. The latter was a building built in a central location. It was bordered by a decorative birch fence. It had rustic settees scattered about, and the menagerie included foxes and various birds. There was a dove cote on the zoo building’s roof. All these facilities, at the direction of Commandant Stangl, were subject to decorative improvements by the Jewish slave laborers. Sereny, in her interviews with Stangl quotes him saying that the camp “became really beautiful”, with flower beds colorful paint schemes. (Reference 19, p166)

The primary task in reconstructing Treblinka’s appearance was to locate as many of the buildings as possible which served the uses described above. To this end, the first analysis done was to identify the buildings visible on the air photographs by correlating the aerial images with the corresponding images captured by Franz’s ground based camera. Here, the methods followed the techniques described in Appendix A - Identifying The Kurt Franz Camera . The first stumbling block was to overcome confusion caused by the erroneous identification of the bakery as a Ukrainian settler’s house, A number of accounts of the dissolution of Treblinka state that at the end the gas chambers were pulled down and the bricks used to construct a house for the Ukrainian guard recruited to serve as a farmer and guard. In fact, aerial photography shows conclusively that all but one of the buildings present in May of 1944, when Poland was still under German control, can be seen in Kurt Franz photos taken in 1942 and 1943. The exception is a large wooden building which seems to have been a barn and which was burned down after the Russians overran the region in August 1943.

Figure 6.1 presents a composite of a Franz Album and aerial photo. In the aerial image dated May 1944, only one new building is present, the aforementioned barn. All the other
structures can be positively identified in the ground shot taken in 1943: A is the bakery built in early 1943; B is a well; C, a large, low roofed building, was probably a stables; D is a barracks type building; E is probably a workshop. Both the bakery and the workshop were of masonry construction. The stables, when seen on later aerial photography had been burned down and one can see that it was dug out so that the roof spanned a cellar-like excavation, a building procedure which would make the interior substantially warmer in winter time. Two buildings visible on the ground pictures had been demolished by the time the aerial photo was flown: the zoo and a barracks-type building. The 1944 barn structure was built on nearly the same site as the former zoo. To determine more clearly the state of the Camp before it as razed, additional Kurt Franz and aerial photographs were analyzed in detail. The key to reconstruction was locating where the zoo had been in 1943. This is because Franz took several pictures of and around this structure, including one before the bakery was built. A number of glimpses were afforded of other buildings on these photographs, so that siting the zoo would also allow determining the positioning of other structures. Here again, the methodology used required triangulation as well as recreation of the zoo’s plan and relative dimensions (see Appendix A ). In Figure 16,
the zoo appears as the central structure in the picture. It was constructed on an octagonal plan, with an open. wire screened central portion (Figure 6.3). Eight rafters were extended beyond the roof’s edge and attached to posts to which wire screening was nailed. In Figure 6.2, the Franz photo at the bottom of the figure shows the zoo before the bakery was built. The camera positions in Figures 6.1 and 6.2 are very close. Note the well which appears in both figures. The bakery was not built yet and so one can see two or three barracks type buildings which were hidden before. In Figure 6.2, pictures taken from camera stations B and C served to triangulate the position of the zoo (those pictures are presented in Figure 6.4). The zoo structure is drawn in on the aerial photograph, and one can see that the later barn was built almost atop the earlier building’s site after the camp‘s demolition.

In Figure 6.4, one can see aspects that were mentioned above. Namely the decorative birch fence, settees and tables also constructed out of white birch. Several barracks buildings can be seen, particularly from Station C. These belonged to the Ukrainian guard force. The ladder placed against the roof was a serendipitous find and was used for rough scaling of the building. Noteworthy in the ground photographs are the number of trees, ranging from small saplings to mature specimens. In particular, there are two towering pines just in front and just behind the zoo. These would have been ideal for precise triangulation, but they are gone from the aerial pictures. This is an indication that the ground pictures were taken in the fall of 1942. During the spring and summer of 1943, Stangl had the Jewish work force clear much of the remaining woods in the living camp area. It is also possible that during the uprising in August of 1943, the fires set by the prisoners damaged the trees so that they were felled as a part of the effort to erase signs of the camp’s existence. This would account for the lack of tree cover around the zoo and nearby by the time the aerial photography was flown in 1944. SCRIPT>

Having determined the location of the zoo, it was possible to also position to varying degrees of accuracy, all the surrounding buildings visible in the pictures containing the zoo. Some sites of other structures were identified from the aerial imagery alone. The functions of the building sites identified was based on available accounts. For example the SS barracks is shown on all maps of Treblinka as situated between the rail siding and the Kurt Seidel Street. Therefore, finding a building scar in this area on the aerial photography permitted assigning this identity to the vanished building, as was done in Figure 6.5.
On the other hand, the objective truth of the aerial imagery clashes with much of the layouts in the same maps, because the way the maps show building orientations and relative positions do not jibe with the way traces of many structures show on the aerial photos. So some sites, as clearly expressed as the one noted as unidentified in the Figure 6.5, remain moot. That site may have functioned either as a textile store, quarters for the Ukrainian and Polish women, or something else. A further illustration of the difficulties is the case of Stangl’s house. All maps show the Commandant’s quarters as located on the east side of Kurt Seidel Street, next to the entrance. The building indicated as this feature is on the west side of the street and well back from the entrance. It is the only building in the camp with a pyramidal roof. This feature, in conjunction with its location are the tip off to its identity. The German elite’s quarters could be expected to be clustered together. The other groups: the slave workers, the Ukrainians, and the Polish female contingent were segregated to the east of Seidel Street.

Jewish Workforce Barracks

The large barracks that housed the Jewish slave labor force was “U” shaped. It was situated to the south of the rest of the living camp, and north of the reception area. It was fenced. During the mass revolt in August of 1943, it was probably burned down. The May 1944 aerial photographs evince only subtle signs of the remains of this big building. In figure 6.6,
annotation A and B refer to outlines made by a slight darkening tone. In the middle image, the arrows point to marks which are probably scrapes left after the removal of the burnt debris. In Figure 6.7 a ground view shows the area after the Soviet Army occupation. The picture was taken in late 1944 looking to the southwest. The debris is the personal possessions of the barracks prisoners. The small pine trees can be seen in the aerial photos at the bottom of the frames. The trash strewn about lay between the barracks as annotated in Figure 6.6 (right hand-most picture) and the trees below them. In the middle distance, along the fence line and behind the right hand cluster of pines, is the gate through which the trains carried the convoys. Another photograph taken at the same time is found in Figure 6.8. A portion of the ground occupied by the barracks is just to the right of the shed-roofed building. Of interest is the fencing still in place (arrows on the inset). The direction of the angled overhangs point in the direction the fence was intended to secure, that is the barracks and the appelplatz. Just on the other side of this fence line one can see the mostly obscured service which led to the barracks road. This is enough information to permit one to reconstruct the fence line around the worker’s compound. However, this fence must have been erected after the Franz photographs of 1942-43, since it does not appear in the foreground of Figures 6.1 or 6.2.

The Stone Tower

Among the many puzzles of Treblinka is the stone tower which is captured on another Kurt Franz snapshot. This structure appears in Figure 6.9 while apparently in the final stages of construction. In the foreground is Kurt Seidel Street. The tower’s function may have been to remedy a weakness in the camp’s security. There was no guard tower overlooking the north western side. The tower may have been intended to plug this gap, while at the same time keeping the workforce busy. The moorish appearance of the
structure may be the result of Stangl’s decorative instincts. Like many of the images from the album, a close examination yields unexpected bonuses: in this picture one can see the security fenceline, the rail line, and the cross beams of the spanishhorse antitank barrier. In Figure 6.10, an enlargement of the snapshot appears above the aerial photograph. On the latter, the approximate location of the camera station and of the coverage of the ground shot has been plotted. The men in the photograph are all Jewish prisoners. The hand drawn cart next to the tower is probably the same one which can be seen in Figure 6.2's ground picture of the zoo.

Living Camp Summary

Figures 6.11 and 6.12 are a graphic summation of the findings. Figure 6.11 was flown in September of 1944 and Figure 6.12 in May of that same year.
The annotations are keyed to Table 1. In the figure, the dark colored buildings represent those structures in which there a low confidence in either their placement or their identity. The two Ukrainian barracks are so noted because they were only glimpsed in the Kurt Franz snapshots, and there are no remains of their footprints on the aerial photography. The other two structures (number 16), are expressed as scars on the September aerial coverage. They appear to have had shallow foundation excavations.



Last modified: November, 2004
Copyright © 2003 Charles A. Bay. All rights reserved.
Technical/administrative contact: