Treblinka: Esther's Letter

The following is a letter from Esther to the rest of her family just before the Treblinka Uprising.

August 1, 1943

Dear Family,

I shall die in the morning, but you must know of my fate, so I have stolen some paper to write to you. I will leave it in the care of Kristopher, whom I believe has the best chance of surviving, in hopes that he may endure and give it to you.

Since I was separated from the rest of you at Auschwitz in June, I have spent my days at Treblinka. I was again forced into those terrible cattle cars, and traveled along the Warsaw-Bialystok rail line to the Malkinia station, which was proclaimed in huge letters. SS guards forced us to march four kilometers (2.5 miles) to the camp, which is 400 by 460 meters. There we experienced the same processes used to separate us when we arrived at Auschwitz. I, thankfully, was picked because my of experience at Auschwitz to be a part of the permanent labor force.

I was taken to the living area, where the German and Ukrainian workers sleep and where the camp offices, clinic, storerooms, and workshops are located. We Jews live in a separate barracks notated by its own fence. We cannot, I suppose, be treated like the other workers, for we are inferior.

I used to work operating the gas chambers located in the upper camp. The upper camp is 200 by 250 meters. It is terrible to see the innocent new arrivals believing they’re taking a shower! If I tell the truth, I will be shot, so I just stand there with my head down. The people’s screams as they suffocate from poison and gas pumped into the "showers" and their cries for help haunt me at night.

Other jobs we permanent workers had are construction crews, auxiliary help and laundry (which is for 50 lucky women), and waiting on the German and Ukrainian staff. The main work we do here is to extract materials to be used in assembly of fortifications along the German-Soviet border. Thankfully, I arrived at Treblinka after September 1942, when camp commanders decided it would be beneficial to have a “permanent “ labor force instead of constantly replacing workers every two weeks.

The staff here, whom will shoot me in the morning, consists of 20-30 SS, as well as 90-120 Ukrainians who act as guards and security personnel. The Ukrainians were my bosses at the gas chambers.

I have had very little to do of late, since the crematorium has been shut down. I was told that in March of this year, Heinrich Himmler visited Treblinka and immediately after an order was given to burn the bodies of victims since the Allies were advancing. Mass graves were dug up and the bodies burnt in huge bonfires dubbed “the roasts” when I came here. The huge bonfires disrupted my sleep the first night and the stench was terrible, but I have since grown to accept this. The burning continued until July, when no more inmates were admitted and the camp was closed. It has been rumored that we will all be exterminated this autumn since the Nazis have no use for us.

Elizabeth will be proud of her old mother as she reads this. I have joined the Resistance! We are planning an uprising for tomorrow, August 2. The main organizer of this uprising is Jacob Wiernik. He is a carpenter who lives with me in the extermination area, but works as a carpenter in the living area, so he provides communication between the resistances in different parts of the camp.

In the middle of July, we in the extermination area knew our function was coming to an end. The SS officers even had a wild party to celebrate the end and success of their work. We repeatedly asked Resistance leaders in Camp A to begin the rebellion, but they only gave us abstract reassurance. So we then told Camp A Resistance that if they would not give us a date, we would launch the revolt ourselves!

Camp A heeded our demands. The date for the uprising is set for tomorrow. It is doubtful that I shall not perish, so Kristopher, who knows more hiding places than I could imagine, has agreed to take letters from everyone in hopes that he may survive.

We in the exterminaton area, which is about 1/3 of the 850 Jews in Treblinka, do not know the entire plan for the uprising, but here is our part, or Stage B:
At a grenade explosion, we will leave our barracks, where we usually congregate after work.
Then, we attack SS men and Ukrainian guards near our barracks and seize their weapons.
Next, we take control of the guard tower where a Ukrainian armed with a machine gun is always stationed.
Lastly, we will take control of the entire extermination area, burn it, and meet the others from Camp A, after which we shall make a joint escape.

I know, however, there shall be many deaths, and I will probably be one of them. I want you to know I died fighting and bravely, with full dignity, giving my life for other prisoners.

All my love,

P.S. If anyone should find this letter, find Abraham Rosen, Greta Rosen, Elizabeth Rosen, Rachel Rosen, Peter Rosen, or Sarah Rosen.