Jewish resistance existed even in the extermination camps although the chances of success appeared minimal. On 2 August 1943, the few hundred Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in Treblinka extermination camp, either burning corpses or sorting the possessions of the victims, revolted. One of the key figures in the revolt was Rudolf Masarek from Prague. His fate was recalled by another Czech Jew, Richard Glazar.

Rudi was a sort of ‘golden youth’. You know what I mean? His had been the world of sports-cars, tennis, country-house weekends, summers on the Riviera. He was a half-Jew; there really was no reason for him to be there. Except that in 1938, after the Austrian Anschluss, he had fallen in love with a girl from Vienna who was Jewish... When she (though not he) was ordered to Theresienstadt, he went with her. And when she (not he) was ordered to Treblinka, he came with her there too. She was killed immediately. Rudi was an officer, a lieutenant in the Czech army, and he was later of decisive importance in the planning and execution of the revolt.

No one at all could have got out of Treblinka if it hadn’t been for the real heroes: those who, having lost their wives and children there, elected to fight it out so as to give the others a chance… tall blond Rudi… of all the men in Treblinka would have had the best chance of getting away; he looked more German than the most ‘Aryan’ of the SS; he was better looking than their most carefully selected elite soldiers. He had his mother in Czechoslovakia and could have gone back eventually, to a life of ease and plenty. He had come to Treblinka deliberately, because he loved someone more than himself. He died, deliberately, for us.

Around 400 of the approximately 850 inmates of Treblinka were able to able to escape although 200 were soon caught and shot. Up to 60 survived to the end of the war. In October 1943 there was a similar revolt in Sobibór extermination camp whilst the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau rebelled in October 1944 and blew up one of the crematoria.

Photo: Rudolf Masarek; Yad Vashem

Testimony: interview in Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder (André Deutsch, 1973)