The Lazarett


lazarett - treblinka170


Treblinka - The Lazarett as drawn by survivor Samuel Willenberg


The Lazarett - German for field hospital - site was the final development of the mass graves that originated during the first phase of the camp's existence. When the mass graves site was reduced it was decided to camouflage the remaining section into a fake field hospital - the so-called Lazarett, as part of the changes made when Christian Wirth and Franz Stangl re-organised the camp, when Dr. Eberl was dismissed in August 1942.

Oskar Strawczynski described the Lazarett in his memoirs, 'Escaping Hell in Treblinka.'

'The ill-famed Lazarett is in the far corner of the square, surrounded by a barbed -wire fence interwoven with greenery. The first to be taken there are those from the transports who cannot make it to the 'bath' on their own: the old, the sick, the crippled, unaccompanied children, as well as the 'guilty' from the camp. The victims are taken into a small room and seated on a long, velvet covered bench. Kapo Kurland talks to them and comforts them. It is his special privilege to do so. He helps them to undress. Naked they pass through a narrow door into the next room, supposedly for a medical examination.

There a German with a machine-gun is waiting, and with one burst puts them all out of their misery. They fall into a huge, fire filled ditch that occupies most of the area. Two of Kurland's helpers try to arrange the piles of corpses so that they burn quickly and completely, in order to make room for the new victims that keep streaming in.' 

Richard Glazar another Treblinka survivor recalled:

'The Lazarett, the 'infirmary' is located at the far end of the sorting site, up against a sandy rampart, a square of about twenty-five meters on a side. Do you remember those mazes where we used to play as children? A similar entrance leads you into the camp - a narrow, crooked alley, green walls covered with a pine-needle pelt rising high above your heads. A small building with a Red Cross insignia stands at the end of the alley.

There are also red crosses on the armbands of some of the people working there. Finally - here you will find comfort with these compassionate Samaritans. Not until he is inside does the limping old man from the transport catch sight of the corpses in the deep pit and the SS man with the rifle. One single Pille, one small caliber bullet in the back of the neck, and every sick person, every invalid, every person handicapped in any way, anyone who might disrupt the procession to the 'bath' will be liberated from his afflictions.'

Samuel Willenberg in his book 'Surviving Treblinka' described in great detail the horrors of the Lazarett:

'At the edge of the yard, 150 meters away, stood the fence with its intertwined pine branches. An opening in this fence was marked by a Red Cross flag. The foreman ordered me to collect the papers, documents and photographs which had accumulated after the clothes were sorted. Following his instructions, I wrapped the wad of papers in a sheet and strode to the hole in the brown-green fence. Passing through, I walked along a narrow trail between two high fences, camouflaged with branches. Finally I reached a little room camouflaged at every angle; even some some benches along the walls were covered with red velvet rugs. Elderly and crippled men sat on the benches, and an orderly wearing a white apron and a Red Cross armband stood in the middle of the room. He turned to the older people and, with great deference, asked them to undress for a medical examination. His tone of voice kindled a spark of hope and trust in these prisoners, impressions which they shared with one another while undressing with the help of a prisoner nicknamed 'the Cat.' Finally they sat down, withered and shivering with cold.

Noticing my presence, the orderly ordered me to leave at once through a door to the right. As I obeyed, however, I found a wall of shrubbery in my way; to circumvent it, I turned left and climbed to the top of a raised bank of sand. Ahead of me, a bored Ukrainian sentry sat on a little chair, clutching a rifle. Before him, down below, was a deep pit. At its bottom were heaps of corpses which had not yet been consumed by a fire burning under them. I stopped in my tracks, paralysed with terror. The sizzling half-burnt cadavers emitted grinding and crackling sounds. The flames, once having enveloped them, either dissipated into little jets of smoke or reignited into a blaze which forced firewood and corpses into a devil's embrace. Here and there I could make out the torsos of men and women, or little children. The smell of burning flesh reached my nose and prompted a flow of tears.

I threw the documents as far away as possible and turned around to escape this hell. Just then the old men began toddling up the bank = 3 -4 meters high - in front of me. Stepping hesitantly, they suddenly caught sight of the pit and its contents. Aware that they had stepped into a trap, the miserable souls tried to escape as best as their exhausted condition permitted. As they scattered across the little platform , however, the Ukrainian pumped bullets into their heads and shoved them into the pit. Those who yet lived but were utterly spent were forced to sit at the edge of the pit, where they were shot. Their bodies, oozing blood, were then rolled down the bank into the pit, augmenting its burning load.

Stunned by what I had seen, I climbed up the sand hill and there, behind the wooden fence, noticed a sign bearing the ironically innocuous message - Lazarett- field hospital in German, a device meant to mislead anyone who might resist Treblinka's designs for him there.

Willi Mentz, the Gunman of Treblinka testified at a post-war interrogation, about his activities at the Lazarett: 

'I was then transferred to the so-called hospital area. This so-called hospital was in the Lower Camp in a special zone which was fenced off and protected against onlookers by pine branches. In this area there was a large mass grave. This grave was dug by an excavator and must have been about seven meters deep.

Next to the mass grave there was a small wooden hut which was used by the two members of the Jewish Arbeitskommando who were on duty in the hospital. These Jews wore armbands marked with a red cross. That was Kuttner's idea - he was responsible for the Lower Camp......

There were always some ill, and frail people on the transports. Sometimes there were also wounded people amongst the arrivals, because the transport escorts, SS members, Police, Latvians, sometimes shot people during the journey. These ill, frail and wounded people were brought to the hospital by a special Arbeitskommando. These people would be taken to the hospital area and stood or laid down at the edge of the grave.

When no more ill or wounded were expected it was my job to shoot these people. I did this by shooting them in the neck with a 9-mm pistol.They then collapsed or fell to one side and were carried down into the grave by the two hospital work-Jews. The bodies were sprinkled with chlorinated lime. Later, on Wirth's instructions, they were burnt in the grave itself. The number of people I shot after the transport arrived varied . Sometimes it was two or three but sometimes it was as many as twenty or perhaps even more. There were men and women of all ages and there were also children. When I am asked today how many people I killed this way, I can no longer say precisely.

Samuel Willenberg described how a former journalist Kronenberg who worked for Chwila, a Polish language Zionist daily which was published in Lwow before the war. Kronenberg was ill and had chosen to hide in a mountain of furs in the Sorting Barracks. Kronenberg left his hiding place, just as Miete entered the barracks. Discovering Kronenberg was sick, Miete, as was his custom, led him from the hut across the yard to the Lazarett: Willenberg continues:

'At that moment Galewski burst into the hut, sized up the situation, and shouted at me, 'Katzap' follow him. I grabbed a sheetful of rubbish, added a few bits of paper, hoisted it on my shoulders and raced towards the Lazarett by the back way, avoiding the corridor and the room to which the victims were brought. The route took me along the sandbank as far as the pyre and the heap of corpses. Approaching the heap, I threw on the paper I had brought so as to liven up the flame.

Just then Miete and Kronenberg came through the entrance to the Lazarett. Another prisoner, Kapo Kurland, undressed Kronenberg. Then the naked journalist was shoved to the area above the pit. A Ukrainian guard emerged from the adjacent structure. There they stood: Kronenberg, Kurland and Miete, with the guard behind them. Kronenberg was pushed to the edge of the bank. The Ukrainian loaded his rifle and took aim in the usual manner. Suddenly Kronenberg threw himself at Miete's legs and began to scream in German, 'I want to live! I'll help you. I'll tell you everything! There's an underground here - an underground of a hundred prisoners.'

Miete stopped. Despite his raised pistol, he did not shoot, he simply gazed at Kronenberg, who was clutching his legs with all his might. Realising how serious the situation was , I began laughing and running about like a madman at the base of the heap of corpses. Kurland did the same , tracing a sign on Kronenberg's forehead - a clear hint that the newspaperman had gone mad and should not be taken seriously. The Ukrainian guard, who did not understand German, shot Kronenberg in the head to free Miete of his embrace. Kronenberg's body rolled into the pit, his blood staining the mixture of sand and human ash, that covered the ground, and came to a stop at the foot of the mountain of burning corpses.

A prisoner emerged from behind the fence, which enclosed the Lazarett. He was Kurland's aide. His face was unshaven, he was dirty and sooty, and he reeked of smoke from charred corpses. Sliding down from the raised area, he shouted at me, 'Katzap wait.' Having reached the base of the pyre, he called, 'Katzap, take him by the legs.'

I grasped Kronenberg's naked legs, and the other prisoner his hands. Thus we lay his body among the others. Just then Miete's voice, spitting out orders reached us from above. We were to lay the still-warm corpse atop the pyramid of human bodies. Tongues of fire immediately enveloped it and danced round it. I came down from the pile, stumbling to solid ground on a path of entangled, caked bodies.

As I shook the sheet in which I had brought the papers and started to leave, a prisoner named Kott pursued me, shouting, Katzap wait. Step into the building.' There he took out a small soot-stained pot of thick, recently cooked soup.

Kalman Teigman described how a Ukrainian guard murdered people at the Lazarett:

You would walk in there and see the fire burning. Human bodies burning. A Ukrainian guard was sitting there, playing the flute, as if he were a shepherd. And when they brought people in, he would shoot them.

Nikolai Malagon, a Ukrainian Trawniki-manner who served at Treblinka testified in interrogation which took place on March 18, 1978, about the Lazarett:

'The principal worker in the 'infirmary' was a man with the last name of Rebeka (Fyodor Ryabeka); he looked like a Jew. This was the man who exterminated in the 'infirmary' the citizens who were ailing and could not walk without help. Rebeka sometimes boasted that he worked so hard that the barrel of his sub-machine gun became red-hot.

Pinhas Epstein testified at the John Demjanuk trial in Jerusalem during September 1986 about the Lazarett:

'Soon after arriving at Treblinka, Epstein was ordered to accompany an old woman to the Lazarett. As far as he knew, a Lazarett was an infirmary. But not at Treblinka. When he arrived at the so-called Lazarett, he found a pit . In it were two live babies. And then an SS man told us to go up to this woman and put her in the pit, he testified, and once she was in the pit, he shot her, and the woman fell out of our hands. In the pit there was a fire - not a flame, it was a sort of ... how shall I describe it ? .... this smouldering fire, and these babies were on top of this fire. The weeping, the crying of these babies, is ringing in my ears to this day.

Another Treblinka survivor, Joe Siedlicki was very nearly murdered in the Laarett on his birthday, told the author Gitta Sereny in her book, 'Into The Darkness:

On my birthday, I remember, I was going to have a bit of a party and I managed to buy some ham off a Ukrainian and the Germans found it. They lined us up and asked whose it was.... nobody budged.... but then one of my pals said it was his. So I said no, it was mine. They marched us off to the Lazarett and told us to undress. Only shortly before, we had taken a friend of mine who was very ill there -to be killed; nobody went there for any other reason. But when we were carrying him, on the stretcher, he asked me and I told him that no, we weren't taking him to the Lazarett - he was going to the Revier- the sick room.

Anyway, when we pushed in there ourselves, Hansbert, this friend, was still burning in the pit. And then they began to shoot our group. One, then the next, the third, the fourth - I was fifth and last, and by that time I was lying on top of the others(he must have fallen forward) waiting to be shot. I turned around, looked up and said, 'Hurry Up, why don't you shoot for God's sake.' And then, whoever it was.... I think it was Miete who had come.... said for me to get up and get dressed. Well, they must have liked me - otherwise they would have killed me too. It was probably Miete who had originally picked him out for work, in which case he was possibly now seeing him to some extent as his protege.


Sources

Peter Laponder, Re-Constructing Treblinka, Unpublished Work 2000

Richard Glazar, Trap with a Green Fence, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois 1995

Oscar Strawczynski, Escaping Hell in Treblinka, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2007 

Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1989

G. Sereny, Into That Darkness, Pimlico, London 1974

W. Dressen, E.Klee, V.Reiss, Those Were the Days, published   by Hamish Hamilton, London 1991

Chris Webb and Michal Chocolaty, The Treblinka Death Camp, Ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart 2021

Tom Teicholz, Ivan The Terrible, Macdonald, London 1990

Drawing: Samuel Willenberg

Holocaust Historical Society May 16, 2021