Hundreds of death camp victims’ personal belongings handed over on anniversary of International Holocaust Day
Hundreds of objects belonging to victims of Treblinka have been handed over to the former camp’s memorial museum.
Among the objects are fragments of clothing and shoes, buttons, buckles, a shoe with a visible sign of the Warsaw manufacturer RYGAWAR, a medal, a signet ring and false teeth.
Utensils found at the site from that period were also be donated, including spoons, pocketknives, combs, dishes, Polish coins from the 1930s, tin and enamelled dishes and mugs.
Among the most evocative items are the metal badge of a Jewish ghetto police officer from the ghetto in Falenica near Warsaw.
The 2016 items are evidence collected as part of an Institute of National Remembrance investigation into the murder of prisoners at the Treblinka Penal Forced Labour Camp, which lies a couple of kilometres from the better-known extermination camp where the Germans murdered around 900,000 Jews.
The penal labour camp was set up in 1941 to imprison and murder Poles and Jews, who were forced to work in a huge gravel pit at the site.
The items were found at the execution site, where the Germans shot and buried inmates as well as prisoners transported there for death sentences to be carried out from Pawiak prison in Warsaw and other Gestapo prisons in the area.
In 2019, Institute of National Remembrance prosecutors made a sweep of the execution site as part of an investigation into the crimes.
IPN prosecutors believe that there is little chance of establishing the murdered person's identity because the Germans did not keep systematic records of Jewish auxiliary formations.
Another find is a spoon with a hole made by a bullet of a bayonet at the moment of its owner’s death.
A further category of items include weapons and ammunition from Mausers or M42 machine guns.
Prosecutor Marek Rabiega said: “We also found the camp dog tags made from bullet casings. The prisoners would put paper or cloth with their details inside. Unfortunately, the contents could not survive to our times.”
The execution site was initially the labour camp’s burial site for prisoners who died from exhaustion or who were executed for committing what were known as ‘camp infringements’.
The site was later used as a convenient place to carry out death sentences on prisoners brought from SS jails in Sokołów Podlaski and Warsaw. Local Roma and Sinto were also killed there.
The exact number of people killed there is unknown. Some estimates put the total number of prisoners at the camp at around 20,000, with at least half that number 10,000 dying there or murdered by German overseers or Ukrainian guards.
The investigation at the site was carried out in 2019 by the IPN’s Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation at the camp.
Over 8000 square metres of the former penal labour camp were examined.
The work was carried out by archaeologists, geneticists, criminologists, anthropologists and forensics experts.
Special equipment was used to reveal the execution site, including deep-penetration geo-radar and metal detectors. It was the first such complex investigation of the site since its operation in 1941-44.
In addition to personal items, the bodies of 53 of the labour camp’s victims were found at the execution site. The bodies of seven guards were also found buried nearby.
The investigation revealed that the prisoners were either killed with blows by blunt objects or by bullets.
Testimony from survivors after the war spoke of a sadistic SS officer, Franz Schwarz, who would line up prisoners at the wood chopping station and murder them with mallet or pickaxe blows to the head.
Andrzej Pozorski prosecutor and head of the Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation said: “Executions at the camp were carried out until the lasts days of its functioning in the summer of 1944.”
At the handover today to mark the 77th anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, IPN chief Dr Karol Nawrocki said that the objects “are not just evidence of the crimes committed by the Germans but also evidence of victory over amnesia.”
He described the Treblinka camps as "symbols of German barbarism" and "the largest cemetery of Polish citizens of various nationalities in history.”