Treblinka

One of the many information boards, around the enormous site, described the team of SS guards and Ukrainian soldiers as the most brutal human beings you could imagine, but before the war, they had all been just ordinary people like you and me….teachers, post workers, factory hands, farmers, bank managers….. The most shocking message behind all of this is that we all (yes, you and me) have the seeds of such brutality in us. It only takes a particular set of circumstances, a person or group of people, to draw those qualities out, and get us to do things that were formerly beyond our imagination. It is all too scary to even think about it, especially in the uncertain world we live in today.

Because Treblinka had been completely destroyed by the Nazis before the end of the war, there is very little infrastructure of the original camps, so the whole site is now symbolic. You won’t find gas chambers or cremation pits, nor any of the accommodation huts….what you will find is a beautiful pine forest

with information boards helping you recreate the scene for yourself. You will have to walk the kilometres to get to the various locations, but your walk will become a quiet act of contemplation. You are in the presence of a place where nearly one million people were murdered. For me the whole experience was one of being present…..being present in the place, and seeking a connection and understanding.

Recreation of a burial pit

I got there so early that I was the only person on the site for over an hour. I wanted to get in before the excursion buses from Warsaw. With the bike I was able to ride the old cobbled access roads and, had it not been for the historical associations, it would have been a beautiful rocky ride through a forest….but of course, it was so much more than that.

About Frank Burns

My journeys around the world are less about riding a bicycle, and more about what happens when I get off the bicycle. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on September 12, 2019, in Biking the Baltic 2,400km and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. When I was in the Artillery, in Germany, years ago, one of the gun positions was very close to the site of Belsen. The training area is liberally coated with pine forest – very similar to that in your photo. However, whenever I went to that particular gun position, two things struck me. One was the smell. It was different from anywhere else in the huge training area. It wasn’t the stench you get from the roadside as you pass a dead dear or badger. Indeed, I couldn’t really describe it other than it was just there, and a little unpleasant. The second thing I noticed was the lack of birdsong which is weird. As part of a small surveying team, we would turn up at a gun position, or the vicinity before anyone else, often at first light, so the wildlife was little disturbed and normally there was the usual background noise of birds, but at Gun Position 6 that never seemed to be the case – it was earily silent. Maybe it was just all in my head, knowing the history of the place, but I’m convinced it was different from the rest of the training area.

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  2. Fascinating memories, Bob. I know Treblinka was exhumed by the Nazis to destroy the evidence, and they were pretty good at that. But the whole site is being researched by archeologists too, most of it non-invasive….there was a sense as I walked around that history had come to terms with its past..

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  3. What a mystery it is to contemplate ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ ! The fact that you say ‘ we are all capable …the seeds of brutality are within us all…’

    I still like to believe there ‘is another way ‘

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  4. You’re absolutely right Sam…..in the secular world, caring liberal democracy is the way…..we need to beware of this burgeoning so-called ‘populism’….just another word for ‘authoritarianism’…

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