'Can you be wrong about the whole city?'. The 80th anniversary of the revolt in the Treblinka II extermination camp

Written by: Natasza Majewska
On August 2, 2023, ceremonies were held to commemorate the Treblinka II extermination camp victims on the 80th anniversary of the camp's prisoners' revolt. Among the guests were Ada "Krysia" Willenberg, Holocaust Survivor, wife of Samuel Willenberg, a participant in the Treblinka uprising, Israeli Ambassador Yacov Livne, Dani Dayan, director of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, as well as Holocaust Survivors, Righteous Among the Nations and representatives of the highest state and local government, diplomatic corps, cultural institutions, clergy and Jewish organizations from Poland and abroad.

fot. Andrzej Stawiński


The celebration of the 80th anniversary of the revolt in the Treblinka II extermination camp gathered several hundred people. We would like to thank everyone who was with us at the Treblinka Museum and those watching the event coverage. We would like to thank the partners of the event, the Treblinka Museum. The Nazi German Extermination and Forced Labour Camp (1941-1944) and the World Jewish Congress, we would like to thank the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda for honorary patronage of the event.

Before the start of the official ceremony, Dariusz Lipowski, Deputy Director of the Jewish Historical Institute, together with a delegation from Treblinka Museum. The Nazi German Extermination and Forced Labour Camp (1941-1944) laid wreaths at the execution site next to the Treblinka II penal labour camp.

The main ceremony began with an opening of the exhibition of Samuel Willenberg's sculptures depicting scenes from the extermination camp. Then the gathered people went to the Monument to the Victims of the Death Camp in Treblinka.

“It was a heroic struggle of a handful of doomed people against the loss of human dignity. Of the dignity of people who have already been stripped of everything, of all their wealth and health. They were malnourished, hungry and exhausted, yet they put up a heroic fight. The horror of this place touches us. Historians are not sure whether 800,000 or 900,000 people died here. And I ask myself: how can you be wrong about a hundred thousand human lives? 100,000 human beings are like such cities as Płock or Elbląg. Can you be wrong about the whole city? Of course, this is not a complaint against historians, but the fact that we do not know the names of these people. They were destroyed along with the memory of them. We call it a double crime,” said the director of the Jewish Historical Institute, Monika Krawczyk.

“Thank you to everyone who came here. It is known that it is not a great pleasure to be in this place, to partly experience what those who were here experienced. My husband recalled that he cursed every moment that he was still alive, because it was better to die in the camps. I am grateful to all those who remember and who try to ensure that the memory of those who died here is not forgotten,” said Ada Willenberg.

“I share my pained reflection with you who have come to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the uprising in the German extermination camp in Treblinka. Today I bow my head in tribute to the Jews – our neighbours and fellow citizens – victims of the Nazi genocide. I think with the greatest reverence of those who, despite inhuman suffering and terror, undertook an unequal fight against the torturers”, wrote the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda in a letter read by Piotr Ćwik, Deputy Head of the Chancellery of the President.

“A group of fighters, heroes who have always believed in freedom and that there is another way out, decided to get out of this hell and simply destroy this extermination camp. The revolt they started was not only a cry of despair but also of hope that it might be possible to save the memory, that some would survive and tell about what had happened here. Because the memory of this place – and yet everything has been done to make the memory of this place perish – is very, very important”, said the Deputy Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska.

“It would seem that if this terrible story has already happened once, it cannot happen again. Nothing could be more wrong. The genocide in Rwanda, the massacre in Srebrenica, the genocide of the Uyghurs and finally the massacre in Bucha, where I was personally and I will never forget the enormity of evil I saw there. The Treblinka camp has become synonymous with evil born of contempt for other people, racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Therefore, we must not remain indifferent to any signs of aggression, racist or xenophobic attacks, but also to any acts of discrimination,” said the Deputy Marshal of the Senate of the Republic of Poland Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka.

“Our duty today is to remember those events, our duty is to ensure that this memory is passed on to future generations. There are also young people here with us, it is the duty of all of us,” said the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, prof. Piotr Wawrzyk.

“Criminals deprived of elementary humanity must be opposed to the innocent victims they dehumanize. On the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the uprising in the Treblinka extermination camp, it is necessary to recall the steadfast attitude of those who decided to actively oppose evil and fight for dignity and freedom,” wrote the Minister of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Gliński in a letter read by Dr Piotr Szpanowski, director of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

“How much courage and determination it took to oppose the armed Germans, being practically defenceless. How much desire for life and freedom was needed to decide on such a desperate step,” said Karol Polejowski, deputy president of the Institute of National Remembrance.

“We can and should view complex facts and questions regarding our past and our present as opportunities that in the end strengthen us as individuals, communities and nations. How to present the most accurate account possible of what transpired here? How to avoid blurring the Jewish centrality of Shoah remembrance? How to engage young people, regarding the legacy of Treblinka, the Shoah, and World War II without compromising accuracy and complexity? Only truthful answers will ensure that in another 80 years of remembrance of Treblinka, remembrance at Treblinka will endure and will continue to inspire and make us better human beings,” said Dani Dayan, director of the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.

"It's hard to talk, but you have to talk. Treblinka was created by Nazi Germany as a kind of black hole. An extermination camp where all Jews were to die and be forgotten. But today we are standing here, remembering the Treblinka uprising, remembering the heroes who fought against absolute evil. They fought with their bare hands for freedom and life - said the Ambassador of the State of Israel Yacov Livne.

“It is not easy to speak here as a representative of Germany, and even today it’s hard to find the right words to describe the monstrous crime committed by our ancestors here in Poland. Today at the 80t anniversary of the uprising in the Treblinka extermination camp I bow my head in deep sorrow and humility for all the victims”, Minister Plenipotentiary at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Robert Rhode, began his speech.

“Among the thirty cultural institutions organized by the local government of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship, this one is a special institution. It is the place of extermination of many Mazovians, inhabitants of this land, our brothers and sisters. If you look at the inscriptions on these stones, you will see that there is actually no town or city in Mazovia whose name is not shown here,” said the Marshal of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship, Adam Struzik.

“This is, of course, an extraordinary place for Warsaw and the history of Warsaw. Over 300,000 Varsovians, residents of our city, ended their lives here. It is, in a sense, the Warsaw cemetery, the DNA of Warsaw. It should not be forgotten, but remember – it may not be enough. Let's remember, but also react, let's look around us with attention and mindfulness, so that the slogan «never again» will not remain just a slogan,” said Aldona Machnowska-Góra, Deputy Mayor of the Capital City of Warsaw.

“Today is Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, one of the two most festive days of the Jewish calendar.  Today, seven days after Tisha B’Av, we figuratively “get up” from ‘shiva’, as we focus on moving on and rebuilding, just as our courageous survivors taught us by example after the Holocaust.  In fact, our Sages teach that before creating the world in which we live, G-d first created many other worlds and destroyed them all, which teaches that the proper response to destruction – even the destruction of an entire world – is to channel our energy and efforts into rebuilding anew,” said Rabbi Meyer May, the Executive Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museums of Tolerance

The official part ended with an interreligious prayer in the intention of the victims.

“Every day, every day, the clatter of clogs, every day, on hard, hostile pavement. Marching in a row, the clatter of feet, a continuous march, our parade of dull legs. Our march is coming and our fate is cursed, the world of the living is alien to us, and the crematorium pyre is our end” – sang the Kameleon Choir of the District Mokotów directed by Katarzyna M. Boniecka. "Song of the Treblinka death camp" (Lid fun toyt-lager Treblinka) was probably written by the Austrian composer Konrad Mann, a former Treblinka prisoner. Dr Agnieszka Żółkiewska writes about the unusual, mysterious history of this song on our website.

At the end of the ceremony, a ceremonial laying of wreaths at the monument took place.

Thank you for commemorating the victims of the Treblinka extermination camp together.



Natasza Majewska