On 7 October 1945 in Łódź, Judge Z. Łukaszkiewicz, in the presence of Prosecutor J. Maciejewski, interviewed the person named below as an unsworn witness. Having been advised of the criminal liability for giving false testimony, the witness testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Oskar Strawczyński|
|Names of parents||Josef|
|Place of residence||Łódź, Piotrkowska Street 31, flat 4|
On 5 October 1942, I was brought to Treblinka camp in a transport of Jews from the Częstochowa ghetto. The transport consisted of 60 freight cars, each car accommodating around 150 people – men, women, and children. While loading people onto the train at the ramp in Częstochowa, the Germans and the train guards started beating people with whips; I remember an elderly man of around 60 (a well-known lawyer from Łódź, but I don’t remember his name), who had his head smashed with a whip and blood came gushing out. Once the train arrived at Treblinka station, 20 cars were separated from it and another steam locomotive took them to the camp ramp.
When the wagons stopped, the doors were opened and Ukrainians, under German command, all holding whips and guns, started to drive people out of the wagons, yelling terribly and whipping them. They rushed them through a gate into a yard that had barracks on two sides; the other two sides were fenced with wire.
In the yard, the men were immediately told to step aside from the women and children; men were stood to the right, women and children to the left. Next, the men were ordered to strip naked, while the women were rushed to the barrack on the left, where they were to get undressed.
Before the men undressed, the commandant of the camp picked out some 50 young men, mostly craftsmen, myself included. We were taken behind the barrack located on the right side of the yard. Meanwhile, the remaining men, naked, had to run to a yard behind the barrack, carrying the clothes they had taken off. In the meantime, the Ukrainians and Germans had formed two parallel rows, incessantly whipping the naked men running with the clothes.
In the barrack where the women undressed, a couple dozen barbers shaved their heads. Once shaved, the women were immediately sent by the Germans to the so-called Totenalee, i.e. the path leading directly to the gas chambers. Meanwhile, the men had already finished carrying clothes and were also sent to the same path. There, the Ukrainians and Germans had also formed parallel rows, whipping people without respite so that they would hurry up. It needs to be explained that by the path, there was a special house, the sign above which read that there were no currency restrictions in the camp, that all documents, valuables and money were to be deposited, and that these items would be returned after showering.
Let me also explain that valuables and money were already taken away in the yard where people undressed. Any remaining money and documents (people were supposed to hold the documents in their hands) were to be handed over at the aforementioned house.
I also know, having been a laborer in the camp, that the women’s hair, once shaved, was steamed in a special cauldron and then set out to dry, packed in bales and sent in transports, to serve as mattress material.
There were 15 or 20 minutes at most between the arrival of a transport at the camp ramp and the moment people were directed to the path of death. Everything happened so fast that I couldn’t even say goodbye to my wife, mother, and children. The intent was to make people out of breath so they would die faster in the chambers.
As for my subsequent experiences in the camp, I was made to work as a tinsmith and roofer, thanks to which, looking down from a height, I could often watch what was going on in the yard where the gas chambers were.
Let me explain that the camp was essentially divided into two zones. In camp 1 were warehouses, residential barracks for the Germans, Ukrainians and Jewish laborers, the railway ramp, the so-called lazaretto and the yard where people undressed; in camp 2 (which was off-limits to the Jewish laborers from camp 1) were the gas chambers, pits filled with bodies and places where bodies were burnt. There were also barracks there, where some 300 Jewish laborers lived, but they had no contact with camp 1 and the Germans would kill some of them from time to time; scores of them, emaciated, were dying at work, anyway.
As regards the lazaretto in camp 1, let me explain that this was the execution site for the sick, the handicapped and children without guardians. Any laborers who became ill or violated the camp regulations were also murdered there. The lazaretto staff doing manual work consisted of a couple of Jewish workers who wore white armbands with a red cross on their sleeves. The “lazaretto” was a place enclosed with a high fence; inside, it was divided into two unequal parts. The first had benches with plush upholstery, which was supposed to imitate a hospital waiting room. The other part was an execution site. There was a deep pit dug there with a fire burning inside at all times. A victim would be led in, made to sit on the edge of the pit, and shot in the back of the head so that their body would instantly fall into the fire. The killings were carried out by German or Ukrainian camp staff.
When I arrived at the camp, I found a number of laborers there who were part of the group of manual workers before me, and some of them – as I recall – coming from Warsaw, worked there during the initial stages of setting up the camp. These workers said that they had dug pits 10 meters deep and up to 50 meters long, overseen by the Germans. If I remember these accounts correctly, in September 1942, a dredger, and then another two, were brought into the camp. The dredgers were used for digging pits and, during the period when corpses were burnt, to remove corpses from the pits and move them to the burning sites.
From what I was told and from what I saw myself, I know that as regards concealing the crimes, the following was done: in the beginning, corpses were placed in pits in layers, each layer sprinkled with chlorinated lime. Then they started burning the corpses, initially in pits, and later, in the winter of 1942/43, on grates built of iron rails supported on brick foundations, set up inside the pits. Next, ventilators were added, which blew air under the grates.
The burning of fresh corpses and of those removed from the old pits began on a regular basis in the winter of 1943, and by the time I escaped from the camp on 2 August 1943, the vast majority of corpses, I believe, had been burnt.
I don’t know what they did with the ashes. From the stories of Hersz Jabłkowski, who was a smith and came from Stoczek Węgrowski, I know what the gas chambers looked like. Jabłkowski had worked on the gas chambers and later he was in our group for a while (let me explain that Jabłkowski was brought into the camp early, in May 1942, and at that time the camp was not properly organized, so he could visit camp 1 even though he was building chambers in camp 2).
His accounts indicate that on a high concrete foundation there were concrete chambers, whose sides were around three meters long, square, partly tiled. During the construction, showers were fixed to the ceiling but they were not connected to water pipes, and Jabłkowski said that when he was working there he had asked a German supervisor why theshowers were not connected to piping. The German replied that they would be connected later. Jabłkowski was employed building four gas chambers located in a single building.
The building was entered by steps in the said foundation. The corridor inside had little doors leading to each chamber. The doors were so narrow that only a single person could squeeze through. This was to prevent anyone from turning back because the wave of the people behind and the narrowness of the entrance made it impossible. On the outside, each chamber had a huge hatch that could be lifted up, through which the corpses fell out. The floor was also tiled and fell away towards the hatch. The purpose was twofold: to make the corpses fall out and the blood leak out more easily.
I don’t know how exactly people were killed in the gas chambers. In my opinion, it was done by pumping out the air or pumping in exhaust fumes from an engine. I don’t suspect that poisonous gas was used.
The corpses that fell out of the chambers were then carried by the Jewish laborers to pits or burning sites.
From Jabłkowski’s account, I know that mass transports of Jews started to arrive at Treblinka on the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’av. This holiday is in July. I don’t remember the exact date of this holiday in July 1942. From this holiday until the end of November or the beginning of December, on average three transports, 60 cars each, were exterminated daily at the Treblinka camp.
I said three transports on average, because there were days when four came, and sometimes two, but the latter scenario didn’t happen too often. In any case, over the course of this period exterminations continued without interruption.
If I am not mistaken, the final transport of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto arrived in Treblinka in May 1943. From the beginning of December until May 1943, transports did arrive but less frequently, and I cannot specify their number.
Until the beginning of December 1942, there had been transports of Jews from the General Government, Czechoslovakia and Germany; in November 1942, transports started to arrive from areas east of the Bug river, as well as from Białystok, Grodno and nearby areas.
In April 1943, a few transports of Jews from Macedonia arrived. I remember it well because the camp warehouses, usually filled with clothes, shoes and other Jewish belongings, had already been emptied. The Jews from Macedonia who, I believe, came in six or seven transports of 40 cars each, brought so many belongings with them the camp warehouses filled up again. These Jews travelled in passenger coaches and even had designated freight cars for their luggage.
In general, Jews brought in from abroad were transported in good conditions, and I suspect that this was to prevent them from figuring out where they were going. They were allowed to take plenty of belongings. I remember that dentists from Germany even brought dentist’s chairs with them.
I don’t know if Jews from other European countries were brought in, but I know that my brother, soon after he arrived in the camp, found some English documents while sorting old clothes.
Any documents, photographs or evidence that could point to the victims’ nationality was systematically destroyed. To that end, there was fire burning by the lazaretto at all times, where the documents and photographs were burnt. If a document or photograph was found on a worker, the penalty was death. If the workers sorting victims’ clothes (which were later sent to Germany) left any traces on them indicating that they had belonged to a Jew, they were also punished with death. In particular, the spots where the stars had been sewn on were to be cut out along with the fabric, if this was the only way of getting rid of the traces left by the badge.
With regard to the Jewish workers in the camp, they were divided into a number of groups: the blue group (wearing blue armbands on their sleeves) worked on the ramp. They were tasked with cleaning the wagons and the ramp so that no traces would be visible to the next transport; the red group (wearing red armbands on their sleeves) worked in the yard where people undressed. Their task was to clean up after the group sent to the chambers so that the next group wouldn’t see any traces. Both groups were 30- or 40-strong, supervised by a Jewish kapo.
The workers proper had yellow patches on their trousers to stand out from the crowd of victims. They worked in shops as craftsmen and as manual laborers.
The German and Ukrainian camp staff treated the workers cruelly. For minor misdemeanors, people were whipped unconscious, hanged by the legs, plunged in barrels with water or made to stand naked outside in the freezing cold. Those who collapsed physically were exterminated in the lazaretto.
A German by the name of Franz, an SS Untersturmführer, was characterized by deeds of especial cruelty. We nicknamed him “the Doll” because he was handsome, young, tall, had a round face and strutted as he walked. He typically walked around with a dog called Bari. The dog was trained so that on hearing the command Mensch nehm den Hund, he would leap on the laborer and maul him with his teeth; such a person often had to be finished off in the lazaretto.
I also recall a German by the name of Matte, Scharführer SS. He was a deputy of the camp supplies director. He was calm and never lost his cool. Whenever he saw someone taken ill, he would calmly ask: “What is wrong with you?,” and if someone said he was ill, Matte took him to the lazaretto, where the man would be murdered.
Let me also add that the aforementioned Franz was a zealous member of the Nazi Party in the camp. He probably came from around Dresden.
Another German I remember was called Kuttner, Hauptsturmführer SS, the camp supplies director, formerly a gendarme, who killed a lot of laborers and was himself probably killed in the uprising on 2 August 1943.
As regards the Ukrainians, I don’t remember their names. They enjoyed the same freedom when it came to the treatment of laborers as the Germans did.
As I already said, I escaped on 2 August 1943 during the uprising that we organized in the camp.
The report was read out, after which it was signed by the witness on every page.