In November 1941, German authorities established a forced-labor camp, later known as Treblinka I, about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw in occupied Poland. In July 1942, German authorities completed the construction of a killing center, known as Treblinka II. From July 1942 through November 1943, the Germans and their collaborators murdered between 870,000 and 925,000 Jews at Treblinka. The Germans deported Jews to Treblinka from the Warsaw Ghetto and from the Radom, Bialystok, and Lublin Districts, as well as the Theresienstadt concentration camp and the Bulgarian-occupied zones in Greece (Thrace) and Yugoslavia (Macedonia). In addition, Roma (Gypsies) and Christian Poles were killed at Treblinka II.
The site of the Treblinka killing center was heavily wooded. The staff consisted of between 25 and 35 German officials and an auxiliary guard unit of between 90 and 150 men, either Soviet prisoners of war or Ukrainian and Polish civilians. Incoming trains of about 50 or 60 cars first stopped at the nearby Malkinia station. Twenty cars at a time were detached and brought into the killing center. SS and police personnel announced that the deportees had arrived at a transit camp and were to hand over all valuables.
Victims were forced to run naked along a fenced-in path, known as the "tube," to gas chambers deceptively labeled as showers. Once the doors were sealed, an engine outside the building pumped carbon monoxide into the gas chambers, killing those inside. A group of Jewish prisoners selected to remain alive as forced laborers removed the bodies and buried them in mass graves. Camp staff periodically murdered these forced laborers, and replaced them with new arrivals. Arriving prisoners who were too weak to walk to the gas chambers were shot in an area disguised as a hospital.
Beginning in the fall of 1942, camp authorities began to exhume bodies from the mass graves and burn them in order to obliterate the evidence of mass killing. Jewish prisoners were forced to do this grisly work. On August 2, 1943, prisoners seized weapons from the camp armory, but were discovered. Hundreds of prisoners stormed the main gate in an attempt to escape. Many were killed by machine-gun fire. More than 300 prisoners did escape -- though two thirds of them were eventually tracked down and killed. Treblinka I, the forced-labor camp, continued operations until late July 1944. With Soviet troops moving into the area, the camp staff shot the remaining 300-700 Jewish prisoners and dismantled the camp. Soviet troops overran the site of Treblinka during the last week of July 1944.