"We have laid this cornerstone." Report from the 79th anniversary of the revolt of Treblinka II death camp prisoners

Written by: Przemysław Batorski
On August 2, 2022, at the museum of the German Nazi extermination camp Treblinka II, we paid tribute to the people murdered in this place and to the participants of the prisoners' revolt of 1943. The ceremony, co-organized by the Jewish Historical Institute, was attended by Ada Willenberg, widow of Samuel Willenberg, who died in 2016 as the last participant of the Treblinka uprising. Present were representatives of state and local authorities, parliament, diplomatic corps, institutions, associations, the Jewish community, the Righteous among the Nations.
79. rocznica powstania w Treblince, fot. Grzegorz Kwolek (ŻIH) (60).jpg

Ada Willenberg. Photo by Grzegorz Kwolek, JHI


Ada Willenberg talked about a modern building with an exhibition, which is to be soon erected on the site of today's Treblinka Museum.

'My husband kept talking and he was right that he would not live to see a cornerstone or a museum building. I said that we cannot erect the building, but we can afford the cornerstone. We went to the stonemason who creates the matzevot and for a small sum we bought the largest stone available so that it would be clearly visible. We have laid this cornerstone. Now is the construction issue.

Photos by Grzegorz Kwolek, JHI


'There were rich Jews who were still the first generation [of the Survivors], but there was no response. After some time, the Polish state has decided that it wants to build a museum on its own. I don't know if I will live to see it. I have to try to live for many more years to witness seeing this building.

'I hope that in three or four years we will celebrate the opening of this building. Here my mother and all my family died. We should all remember this place, at least once a year,' Ada Willenberg said. 'If my Polish language is not what it should be, please take into account that I left Poland 72 years ago. My Polish can be a bit archaic.'

'The place where we are today is the largest cemetery of Polish Jews, several hundred thousand of whom were murdered here. About 2,000 Roma were also killed in the gas chambers, and in the nearby Treblinka I camp, Poles worked in inhuman conditions and died. About 900,000 Jews from Poland were murdered in Treblinka, mainly from Warsaw, Mazovia and Podlasie, as well as from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, then Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Austria and Germany, as well as several thousand people of other nationalities,' said the director of the JHI Monika Krawczyk.

'Today I join you in paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, the greatest crime in the history of mankind. The first railway transport arrived here on July 23, 1942, the day after the start of the "great action" in the Warsaw ghetto. Since then, the Nazi death factory has been working at full capacity for over a year,' wrote the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, in a letter read out by Małgorzata Paprocka, the Secretary of State at the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland.

'Eighty years ago, operation "Reinhardt" began, the aim of which was the total extermination of the Jewish nation. Victims of the German hate machine: women, men, children, died in mass executions, in transports, and in concentration camps. There was no mercy,' wrote the Marshal of the Sejm, Elżbieta Witek, in a letter read out by Christian Młynarek, deputy head of the Chancellery of the Sejm.

'We respect the dignity of the participants of this uprising who, realizing the disproportion of power, decided to defend their dignity to the end, to defend the right to freedom. Even if this decision meant death, it was death on their own terms,' wrote Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in a letter read out by Anna Kaszuba from the Siedlce Provincial Office.

'Yesterday, on similar stones, a ceremony was held in Warsaw's Wola district, at the cemetery of 200,000 Varsovians. Today there are similar stones, the cemetery is even bigger. Here and there a woman comes out and pleads for this place, for this memory. Mrs. Wanda Traczyk-Stawska demanded the construction of a museum pavilion at Wola. For years, Ms Ada Willenberg has been calling for a proper museum to be established here in Treblinka,' said Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm.

'We remember the murdered Jewish people, we remember Polish Jews, our fellow citizens. Let the memory of these dramatic events be an expression of opposition and condemnation of the criminal, genocidal actions, so that the atrocity that happened 80 years ago will never be repeated,' Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka, Deputy Speaker of the Senate, read the resolution of the upper house of parliament adopted on July 20 in 80th anniversary of the great deportation from the Warsaw ghetto.

'For five months now, Russia seems to be "solving the Ukrainian question"! This arouses our great indignation. Therefore, bowing our heads respectfully to the superhuman heroism of the participants of the Treblinka uprising and paying the highest honor to the innocent victims of the genocide of the German Reich, let us show our solidarity to the contemporary victims of the brutal rape of Russia in Ukraine and the Ukrainians,' wrote Jarosław Sellin, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in a letter read by Radosław Jaśczak from the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

'We are looking at the void where 900,000 Jews were murdered just because they were Jews. An unimaginable crime, an unimaginable event. But we know it really happened. Let's try to imagine half of the capital, the city of Warsaw. Let's try to imagine half the city of Jerusalem. This is where it happened when the whole world was silent,' said Yacov Livne, Israel's Ambassador to Poland.

'We remind and speak aloud to all despots and tyrants, repenting or reviving totalitarian systems that want to take away human dignity in any way, question and crush humanity, deprive people of freedom and the right to decide about their own fate. We shout a firm "no" to all of them!' said Aldona Machnowska-Góra, Deputy Mayor of the Capital City Of Warsaw.

'“We didn't think we would stay alive. The only thing that absorbed us was the thought of destroying the death factory we were in.” These are the words of Samuel Willenberg, one of the participants in the rebellion,' wrote the President of the Institute of National Remembrance, Karol Nawrocki, in a letter read out by Professor Karol Polejowski, Deputy President of the Institute of National Remembrance.

At the end of the ceremony, Rabbi Icchak Chaim Rapoport, representing the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Rabbi Szalom Dow Ber Stambler from the Chabad Lubawicz Polska Foundation and Fr. Dr. Grzegorz Giemza from the Evangelical-Augsburg Church said the prayers. Wreaths were laid and candles were lit.



The Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute

Treblinka Museum. The Nazi German Extermination and Forced Labor Camp (1941-1944)



In 2022, we honor almost 2 million victims of the “Aktion Reinhardt” – the annihilation campaign against Polish Jews, prepared and executed by the Nazi Germany. From March 1942 until the end of the action in November 1943, Germans exterminated Polish Jews as well as Jews from other European countries: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Germany and Austria.

The main extermination sites were camps – Bełżec, Sobibór, Treblinka and Majdanek – in which gas was used for killing. Thousands of Jews were also shot on the streets of ghettos and died of thirst and lack of air in the transports. As a result of the “Aktion Reinhardt,” most of large Jewish communities in occupied Poland ceased to exist.

Every day, Germans murdered around 5,000 to 10,000 people using the exhaust fumes from an engine of a tank in gas chambers in Treblinka. Bodies of the murdered people were buried and burned on large grates to cover up the traces of the atrocities. Clothes and valuables brought by the victims were seized and transported to the Reich. Treblinka is the largest cemetery of Polish Jews and one of the largest cemeteries of Polish citizens. We know only the names of about 45,000 of the 900,000 murdered people.

On August 2, 1943, at around 16:00, Jewish prisoners started a revolt. Of more than 700 prisoners who took part in the fighting, around 200 managed to escape the camp, and about a hundred survived until the end of the war.

The last insurgent from Treblinka was Samuel Willenberg from Częstochowa who died in 2016. Every year, he visited Poland on the anniversary of the revolt and participated in commemorations.


godlo_polski.png [159.74 KB]

Commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the extermination of Jews as part of the German Operation "Reinhardt" is under the Honorary Patronage of President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda

presidentpl_na_niebieskim_2022.jpg [30.06 KB]

MKiDN_kolor-eng_od_11.2021.jpg [187.51 KB]


The project "As if we had never existed" was co-financed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage

Reinhard_80rocznica-EN transparent light.png [106.99 KB]

Przemysław Batorski   redaktor strony internetowej ŻIH