Reconstruction of Treblinka: Geography of the Locale(Continued)

Another view (Figure 5) looking to the southwest shows the rail spur as it turned away from the main line and headed to the Treblinka camps. As can be seen, the area around Treblinka is generally flat. The soil is mostly sandy loam, with pine forests over much of the region. Marshy areas of the Bug River and of its tributaries are to the north and west. In the Treblinka death camp, a dense forest existed at the time the camp was erected in 1942. Part of this forest was felled and used in the camp's construction. Further cutting occurred in 1943 to provide fuel and, perhaps, for the burning of corpses. By 1944, the forest within the camp boundaries was reduced to a remnant, with many openings in the forest canopy. In Figure 6,
a comparison of the site between 1940 and 1944 is presented. It should be noted that the 1940 aerial photography was of very poor quality - the future camp site was covered on the extreme edge of the frame at a very small scale. Moreover, the print was damaged with emulsion peeled off the paper backing and cracks across the image. Nevertheless, one can easily map out the forest boundaries and by superimposition, determine the area of cleared trees.

From Figure 6, the area cleared of trees was determined. The 1944 coverage was warped to match the earlier photograph. The two photographs were then formed into a composite, as shown in Figure 7.

An adjustment of the relative tones then allowed the discrimination of the dark toned forested areas that had disappeared between 1940 and 1944. It can be appreciated that more than half of the Treblinka's 53 acres [21 hectares] were cut. Close stereoscopic inspection of the best quality coverage flown in 1944 revealed that even the parts which remained in 1944 had been severely thinned. By May 1944, the Treblinka extermination site was mostly a leveled sandy track. Small areas of thinned pines and birches occupied the north central portion. Two masonry buildings - remnants from the site's past - remained near the road and the railroad that led to the punishment camp. A long narrow patch of newly seeded land grew lush along the eastern boundary. This may have been the lupines, reported in postwar Polish and German testimony that were planted as a part of the sanitization of the camp.

Odilo Globocnik, who was in charge of Aktion Reinhard wrote to Himmler on November 4, 1943: "On October 10, 1943: I concluded Operation Reinhard which I had conducted in the General Government and have liquidated all camps." By late 1944, little remained to indicate the terrible tragedy that had transpired. The camp is easy to miss on the aerial photographs. On the ground some fencing was left, as well as the burned shells of two masonry buildings. Two brick buildings and several wooden structures had been converted into a farmstead tended by a Ukrainian farmer, a former guard of the camp recruited to as a sort of security guardian. At the time the Red Army overran the area, all the remaining buildings were burnt, leaving only the shells of the brick structures. Local Polish farmers then proceeded to dig up the grounds in a frantic search for gold and other valuables suspected to have been buried by the Jewish victims. Parts of the Totenlager became a moonscape of overturned soil, littered with scraps of barbed wire and fragments of bone (Figure 8).

In 1959 Martin Gilbert and a Polish friend drove by car to Malkinia Junction. They could not cross the Bug River Bridge. It had been destroyed in 1944 and not rebuilt. A peasant was hailed who ferried them across and then carried them by horse cart to the camp. Gilbert describes the trip: "From Treblinka village we proceeded for another mile or two, along the line of an abandoned railway through a forest of tall trees. Finally we reached an enormous clearing, bounded on all sides by dense woodland. Darkness was falling, and with it, the chill of night and a cold dew. I stepped down from the cart on to the sandy soil: a soil that was gray rather than brown. Driven by I know not what impulse, I ran my hand through that soil, again and again. The earth beneath my feet was coarse and sharp: filled with the fragments of human bone." (Reference 10, p17)