Remembering the Treblinka rebellion

We face the looming prospect of a world without Holocaust survivors.

A memorial to the Treblinka concentration camp. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A memorial to the Treblinka concentration camp. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Dani Dayan. Credit: Yad Vashem.
Dani Dayan

“More than 18 months have passed since we were most brutally parted. I wish that my bundle of memories, soaked in blood and tears, will serve as a perpetual tombstone for you, my dearest, and for our children, parents, brothers, sisters and the millions of men, women and children who were murdered together with you.”

Holocaust survivor and Treblinka escapee Oscar Strawczyński wrote these anguished words in April 1944 following the death of his wife Anka.

Recently, I visited the site of the mass murder at the Treblinka extermination camp to commemorate the 80th anniversary of a valiant revolt by hundreds of brave Jewish fighters who rebelled against their German Nazi murderers and their collaborators. 

Visiting Treblinka helped reaffirm my personal and official commitment to convey the voices of the Holocaust victims and survivors to the world for generations and to uphold the authentic and accurate historical account.

As I stood in reverence to the memory of the six million Jews murdered, I couldn’t help but be moved by the rebels’ sense of Jewish pride and courage. They acted on behalf of those diabolically slaughtered solely because they were Jews.

Eighty years have passed since those Jewish prisoners, condemned to death yet destined for eternal glory, dared to rise up at Treblinka. The memorial there shall forever serve to remind all of humanity of the lives that were extinguished at this factory of death, and of all the Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust. 

We must not allow their identities and fate to fade or be distorted. It is our collective responsibility to preserve the memory of their lives and their suffering with unwavering accuracy and clarity; not only in the historical record but also in the consciousness of the contemporary world.

As we remember the victims, we salute the relatively few non-Jews who bravely risked their lives in attempts to save Jews during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations program honors these courageous individuals. Among them, the Roguszewski family from Łochów, Poland, near Treblinka, who merited this recognition for sheltering Oscar Strawczyński after he escaped from the camp during the Aug. 2, 1943 revolt. Their selfless act not only saved his life but helped preserve his invaluable testimony about the horrors of Treblinka.

This solemn occasion highlights the passage of time since the events of the Holocaust and the poignant reality that the number of eyewitnesses to the atrocities is diminishing with each passing day. Thus, it is increasingly vital for us to take up the responsibility of carrying their legacy forward. 

The survivors—courageous individuals who bore witness to unimaginable horrors—are living bridges to the past, connecting us directly to the darkest chapter in Jewish and human history. However, as the years go by, we are preparing for the day when there will be no survivors left to share their firsthand accounts of the Shoah.

Survivor testimonies and decades of meticulous documentation and research have laid bare the horrifying truth of the Holocaust. Attempts to deny or trivialize these unparalleled crimes of antisemitic hatred—whether state-sanctioned or by malicious individuals—are an affront to the memory of the victims and survivors. Holocaust denial and distortion must be firmly rejected. We can and must counter falsehoods with evidence and irrefutable historical records. This responsibility of remembrance falls not on Jews but on all of humanity.

As we commemorate the Holocaust, we must confront challenging questions with sincerity and transparency. How can we present the most accurate account of what transpired? How can we avoid diminishing the centrality of Jewish Holocaust remembrance? How can we engage the younger generation in this legacy without compromising the accuracy and complexity of history?

The 80th anniversary of the Treblinka rebellion serves as a poignant reminder of our collective duty to honor the memory of those who suffered. Through educational initiatives, remembrance events and the preservation of historical records, we can keep the flame of remembrance alive even in a world without survivors. By empowering the younger generation with knowledge of the Holocaust, we equip them with the tools to become stewards of remembrance and advocates for tolerance and understanding.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust endures and serves as a perpetual reminder of the consequences of antisemitism, hatred and bigotry. 

As we gathered in Treblinka, surrounded by the silence of the fields and forests, I heard the voices of the hundreds of thousands of victims murdered there calling out from the ground. Let us remember and pledge to preserve their legacy for all time.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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