Following the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the annihilation the Jews of Europe (an action that had been decided upon the previous year) proceeded apace. Aktion Reinhard, named for Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Security Main Office, was the operation designed to kill and plunder the more than 2,000,000 Jews living in what the Nazis called the General Government, which comprises most of present-day Poland. Bełżec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were constructed to achieve this end. These camps, which operated from mid-1942 through 1943 before being destroyed by the Nazi’s, were killing centers rather than concentration camps. The vast majority of those sent there were Jews who were murdered within hours of their arrival by carbon monoxide gas. From 1942 to 1943 more than 800,000 persons were murdered at Treblinka.
One of the most moving of the Holocaust memorial sites today, Treblinka sits in a heavily wooded rural area about 90 minutes by car from Warsaw. A cobblestone path leads one into the woods, with stone markers providing basic information along the way. As one nears the central area of the site, the railway memorial marks the path of the transports that brought their unsuspecting victims to the fake rail station disguised to look like a typical stop on the line. At the end of the path a large field opens to the left. Dominating the field is the massive stone monument dedicated to the residents of the Warsaw ghetto. The Warsaw monument stands in a sea of more than 15,000 jagged, stones representing the communities destroyed here. One of the stones commemorates Janusz Korczak and his orphans.