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The Treblinka death camp was opened by the Nazis in occupied Poland northeast of Warsaw on this date in 1942, in an expansion of a slave labor camp. In the course of sixteen months of operation, some 900,000 Jews, as well as a few thousand Romanis, were gassed at the death camp, making it second only to Auschwitz in its role in the Holocaust. Treblinka’s gassing operation ceased following a revolt by some 700 Sonderkommandos (corpse handlers) in August, 1943, which killed several SS guards and enabled the escape of some 200 prisoners. The camp was then dismantled and plowed over in anticipation of the Red Army’s advance. Treblinka was one of three extermination camps set up by the Nazis during “Operation Reinhard,” their effort to increase the pace of genocide beyond that achieved by the Einsatzgruppen, mobile shooting squads. Treblinka was disguised as a deportation camp, with fake train schedules, a fake train-station clock, a fake ticket window, and other signs used to deceive passengers up until the last moment.
“The priest [formerly Jewish] suddenly came and we ran together, everyone was trying to escape. I had a machine gun. The priest ran beside me and then he got a bullet in the leg. He fell. He asked me to kill him.... I showed him one thing: ‘Look back at the extermination camp where your wife and child were killed,’ and I shot him in the head.” —Samuel Willenberg, Treblinka survivor