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21 November 1940
In Bernburg (near Magdeburg) a mental home with a capacity of 132 beds was founded in 1875. During late summer of 1940 a section of the complex was leased to the Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Anstaltspflege (Public Welfare Foundation for Mental Nursinghomes), better known as Aktion T4. From then onwards Bernburg mental home was divided into a regular institute and an euthanasia killing site.
The killing started on 21 November 1940 with 25 persons of the mental home at Neuruppin who became the first victims. Neuruppin served as a Zwischenanstalt (Intermediate Home). In Bernburg the extermination procedure was the same as in other euthanasia killing centres:
In Bernburg too the incoming victims were killed at once. Big grey buses entered the wooden garage. Then the victims were allowed to leave the bus. Through a corridor they came to the ground floor. In several rooms they were examined etc. Victims having physically special features, were marked with a red cross on their back, by the doctors. In groups of 60-75 they were ordered downstairs to the cellar, accompanied by "nurses". After gassing, the two gas chamber doors remained closed for one hour, until the room was ventilated. Next to the gas chamber was the dissection room. After gassing the marked victims were sorted out and the doctors performed an autopsy on their corpses. The others were cremated immediately by the "burners".
During the Sonderbehandlung 14f13 (Special Treatment / in Bernburg from 1941 until April 1943) about 5,000 persons were killed in Bernburg, mainly Jews from the concentration camps Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Groß-Rosen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück andSachsenhausen. The buildings, not leased to T4, continued to operate as regular mental institution during the whole period!
Dissecting Table in 1945 Sprinkler in 1945 Because of an order from the WVHA from 27 April 1943 at least the cremation ovens were dismantled, the T4 personnel transferred to Poland (see Aktion Reinhard).
In 1949 the nurse Anna Maria L. (Ludwigsburg archive files La - Le) still saw in the cellar some benches on which the victims waited for "having a shower", the sprinklers in the gas chamber and the dissecting table.
In course of the construction works for the memorial (1988/89) the peephole in the gas chamber wall and the gas chamber door came to light.
In January 1948 the former director Dr Irmfried Eberl was arrested. He evaded trial by committing suicide in February 1948. Some other persons of the Bernburg staff were sentenced after 1948, but most of them have never been brought to justice.
A number of Aktion Reinhard personnel served at Bernburg, these include Rudolf Bär, Johannes Bauch, Max Biala, Helmut Bootz, Werner Borowski, Werner Dubois, Kurt D., Irmfried Eberl, Erwin Fichtner, Herbert Floss, Karl Frenzel, Erich Fuchs, Albert G., Siegfried Graetschus, August Hengst, Gottlieb Hering, Fritz Hirche, Erwin Lambert, Willy Mätzig, Johann Niemann, Josef Oberhauser, Karl Pötzinger, Wenzel Rehwald, Gottfried Schwarz, Fritz Schmidt, Otto Stadie, Franz Stangl and Christian Wirth.
In September 1989, the Bernburg Memorial was inaugurated. Männerhaus 2 Cellar Gas chamber 1996
Aktion "T4" 1940/41
Aktion "T4" 1940/41
Before the decision made in the second halt of 1941 about the "Final solution of the Jewish question", mental patients of Jewish origin - like the majority of mentally and physically disabled people in the German Reich - had become the victims of the first big systematic program of mass murder carried out by the Nazi regime. In the course of the Aktion "T4" (named after the address of the Berlin Euthanasia Headquarters at Tiergartenstraße 4) carried out in 1940/41, Jewish hospital patients were registered, selected, and deported to extermination institutions, and gassed to death with carbon monoxide.
In Austria, where Jews at that time were already ghettoized in special mass housing in Vienna, the Wagner von Jauregg Mental Hospital "Am Steinhof" functioned as a collection place. In the summer of 1940 patients were brought to the Hartheim extermination institution; some of them were brought there via the Niedernhart sanatorium. The monthly report of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Vienna dated July 1940 states that 400 Jews had been deported from "Steinhof." In the course of the year 1940 some reports of deaths and some urns of ashes reached Vienna. Inquiries about the fate of these people were dryly answered with the words "transferred by ministerial order to a hospital that has not been identified." The cause and the place of death were systematically forged in documents relating to the patients deaths and in explanations given to relatives or authorities. Many death certificates relating to deported Jewish psychiatric patients were issued by "the registry office, Chelm, Lublin district", but in actuality they had been fabricated in the Berlin "T4" headquarters, brought to Lublin by a messenger, and mailed from there.
The "14 f 13" programme
From the spring of 1941 the "euthanasia" programme was extended to the concentration camps and executed under the name "Special Treatment 14 f 13", whereby the file mark "f 14" in the camp administration stood for death, and the following number indicated the circumstances of the inmate's death. On the orders of Heinrich Himmler experts of the "T 4"-programme were sent to the concentration camps, to select prisoners incapable of work, who were then murdered in the "euthanasia" institutions (Hartheim, Bernburg, Sonnenstein). These experts often based their decisions on political and racial, rather than "medical" criteria. It was mainly Jewish inmates that were affected by this programme, without consideration being paid to the state of their health. Thus for example, the social scientist Dr. Käthe Leichter was murdered with poison gas in the Bernburg/Saale murder institution.
After Hitler had broken off the Aktion "T4" on August 24, 1941, Jewish patients who were still in hospital were included in the deportation transports of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA.) The transport of the remaining Jewish patients from "Steinhof" by the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung in Vienna took place on August 30 and 31, 1942. The transports in September and October 1942 went to Theresienstadt or Maly Trostinec, where almost all deportees died.
Child euthanasia 1940-1945
In the course of the Nazi child euthanasia from 1940 to 1945 "deformed" children up to three years of age and later up to 17 years of age were murdered in "Kinderfachabteilungen" (special child units), and were also subjected to "medical" research. The murder of at least four Jewish children and youths (between two and fifteen years of age) has been proven to have taken place within the "Am Spiegelgrund" clinic set up within the system of the mental institution "Am Steinhof."
From euthanasia to Holocaust
Euthanasia affected Jews not only as murder of mentally and physically handicapped Jewish people. Euthanasia paved the way to the Holocaust in an organisational, personal and technical ways. After the discontinuation of the Aktion "T4" on August 24, 1941, the staff of the extermination institutions were transferred to the "Aktion Reinhard", the murder of the Jews in the "Generalgouvernment", run by Odilo Globocnik. The methods of killing, particularly the use of poison gas, the construction of fixed gas chambers and the deportation transports to just a few places of extermination, were taken over in a modified fashion. Staff from the Hartheim extermination institution were given important functions in the extermination camps on Polish territory: Like this the head of the Hartheim administration, Captain Christian Wirth became camp commander of Belzec, his deputy Franz Stangl became commander of Sobibor and Treblinka, Franz Reichleitner became commander of Sobibor, and Gustav Wagner the deputy commander of Sobibor. Finally, Dr. Irmfried Eberl, an Austrian doctor who was promoted from director of the euthanasia institutions in Brandenburg/Havel and Bernburg/Saale to be the first commander of Treblinka extermination camp also deserves to be mentioned in this context.
Door to the gas chamber at Schloss Hartheim.
The social scientist, Dr. Käthe Leichter, was born on August 20, 1895, in Vienna). She gained academic and political reputation as member of the Arbeiterkammer, and above account of her research on the life conditions of maids and home workers and through her union activities. As an activist of the Revolutionäre Sozialisten, she was arrested on May 30, 1938, by the Gestapo and transferred to Ravensbrück concentration camp in January 1940. In the course of the Aktion "14 f 13" Leichter was murdered with poison gas in March 1942 in the euthanasia institution Bernburg.
Margarita Singer was born on September 25, 1909, the daughter of the zoologist, Prof. Hans L. Przibram. A patient of "Am Steinhof", she was deported on Oktober 5, 1942, to Maly Trostinec, where she was
Mother - Irma Eckler
Her final letter came in January 1942. The Wannsee Conference of 20th January 1942, the aim of which was to co-ordinate the steps to be taken for the Final Solution, suddenly changed the prisoners' situation.
- "We still had no idea of what was to happen in the first months of 1942: no idea of the National Socialists' plan for extermination. The order came for lists of names of all who were born cripples, all epileptics, bed-wetters, amputees, asthma sufferers and those with lung diseases, and all the mentally ill.
- At the same time, the SS gave the reassuring explanation that these prisoners would be transferred to a camp with lighter work. A medical commision even appeared and inspected the sick. Then, one day, two lorries stood ready to collect the first load. In the evening, Milena reported, horrified, how the seriously ill were dumped onto piles of straw in the lorries; the cruelty with which the suffering were treated. From that moment on, there was no doubt in her mind about the transport's destination...
- One transport after another left the camp, and with gruesome regularity, the clothes of those killed came back. Once the 'hereditary ill' had been exterminated, new lists were made up with the names of all the Jewish prisoners. To Milena and me, this could mean only one thing. But however incredulous it may sound, the Jewish prisoners amongst us, with whom we discussed these lists and on whom we could only look with torn hearts, tried to persuade us that they were surely only going to be taken to another camp. Why to be killed? That would be madness! They were young, strong persons, fit to work! A young, Jewish doctor went with the first transport, and she promised to send a message in the hem of her prison dress telling us of their destination and destiny. We found the note. It read: They have taken us to Dessau. We have to get undressed. Farewell!" [M. Buber-Neumann: Milena - Kafkas Freundin, Frankfurt 1985, S. 259ff]
In the magazine "Die Tat" (The Deed) of 04.03.1950, No.9, there was an essay by Maria Wiedmayer about Olga Benario-Prestes in which there was reference to Block 11, where Irene's mother had been
- "In Ravensbrück, Olga was the block eldest in the Jewish block... she freely confessed to being Jewish, and the Jewish women in Block 11, the 'pure' Jewish block, were much in need of Olga."
All the Jewish women were taken in various transports from Ravensbrück to Bernburg (Bernburg is near Dessau).
"The means of murder in all death camps was the same. The victims were taken to the building with the gas chamber. They were told that they would now be led to the shower room and therefore had to strip naked. The condernned were cautioned to lay their shoes and clothes in an orderly manner so that they could find them after the shower. In the meantime, the clothes would be disinfected. To complete the deception of the victims, there was a sign on the door to the gas chamber with 'To shower room' , whilst the door to the neighbouring room had the sign 'To disinfection' . When the prisoners were in the gas chamber the doors were locked from the outside." [A. Zörner (u.a.): Frauen-KZ Ravensbrück, Frankfurt o.J. (Röderberg), S. 132]
In Bernburg carbon monoxide was used in the gas chambers. It is a colour less and odourless, lethal gas. On inhalation, it combines with haemoglobin and prevents the absorption of oxygen. A small amount, breathed-in, leads to suffocation.
- "That was the terrible death that the women who were deported to Bernburg in spring 1942 also suffered. The first transport was followed by more in the following weeks. The removal of thousands of Jewish girls and women, together with the sick and elderly caused extreme agitation amongst the Ravensbrück prisoners." [A. Zörner (u.a.): Frauen-KZ Ravensbrück, Frankfurt o.J. (Röderberg), S. 132]
From 1940-1941, part of the former state sanatorium and nursing home in Bemburg was one of the six "Euthanasia" centres of the Third Reich, where altogether 70.000 sick and handicapped people were murdered with gas... The NS-"Euthanasia"-crime began in Bernburg in autumn 1940. In October 1940 an advance detachment arrived from the "Euthanasia"-Clinic Brandenburg. The former men's wing was converted a gas chamber disguised as a shower room, a post-mortem room and a crematorium were the prerequisites for the murder of thousands of people. It was a perfect extermination plant. The victims did not stay long - they were killed on the day of arrival. As of August 1941 killing of the sick and handicapped was decentralized, and throughout the Reich in nearly one hundred psychiatric clinics the deaths continued by means of medicinal over-dose and/or the gradual with-drawal of food. At the same time, in three of the "Euthanasia" clinics, another mass murder took place. Under the so-calIed "Special Treatment 14 f 13", racially per- secuted prisoners, and those no longer able to work were killed in the gas chambers. In Bernburg alone, by March 1943 about 5,000 prisoners - almost all Jewish - from Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Groß-Rosen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen concentration camps had been killed.
- "Special Treatment" (Sonderbehandlung) was a term used by the National Socialists to mean the physical extermination of people. "14 f 13" was an internal file reference where "14 f" meant death in a concentration camp, and "13" transportation to an "Euthanasia" clinic. [U. Hoffmann: Todesursache: "Angina" - Zwangssterilisation und "Euthanasie" in der Landes-Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Bernburg, 1996, S. 87]
Grundriß Kellergeschoß "Euthanasie"-Anstalt Bernburg
1 Cellar corridor / 2 Staff common room / 3 Location of Gas cylinders / 4 Window to the gas chamber
5 Gas champer. 60 to 75 people were locked into an area of 13 m2. They died a harrowing death.
6 Two disecting tables stood here at the time of the "Euthanasia"-murders / 7 Mortuary / 8 Crematorium
After 1945, the grandmother tried to get a death certificate for her daughter.
She knew that Irma had been arrested in the summer of 1938, but nothing about her detention in the Fuhlsbüttel, Oranienburg and Lichtenburg camps.
In the Amtsgericht statement of 20th December 1949, it reads:
- "the missing person, being Jewish, was arrested by the Gestapo on 14th June 1939, State Police Station Hamburg, sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and died there on 28th April 1942." (§§ 7 Missing Persons Act)
Was it presumed that she was deported on 14th June 1939 because Ravensbrück was not occupied as a camp until 15th May 1939? Research has shown that she was arrested on 18th July 1938. Also, Irma Eckler did not "die" on 28th April 1942 in Ravensbrück, but, according to what we know, was murdered with the help of gas in Bernburg.
To torment, humiliate and kill innocent people in this most brutal way will always remain incomprehensible.
The picture below, copied from page 90 of Klee and Dreßen, «Gott mit uns.» Der deutsche Vernichtungskrieg im Osten 1939-1945, 1989 Frankfurt a.m., shows a child that was murdered in a gas van, apparently from the same mental hospital as Volodya Goncharov. The child’s first name was Misha.
Bernburg Euthanasia Facility
Memorial to the victims of the "euthanasia" program. According to records kept by the Nazi regime, 9,385 mentally and physically handicapped persons were murdered here between November 21, 1940, and August 24, 1941. Some 5,000 concentration camp prisoners were also sent to the Bernburg euthanasia facility.
HOMOSEXUALS: VICTIMS OF THE NAZI ERA
As part of the Nazis' attempt to purify German society and propagate an "Aryan master race," they condemned homosexuals as "socially aberrant." Soon after taking office on January 30, 1933, Hitler banned all homosexual and lesbian organizations. Brownshirted storm troopers raided the institutions and gathering places of homosexuals. Greatly weakened and driven underground, this subculture had flourished in the relative freedom of the 1920s, in the pubs and cafes of Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Bremen, and other cities.
On May 6,1933, Nazis ransacked the "Institute for Sexual Science" in Berlin; four days later' as part of large public burnings of books viewed as "un-German," thousands of books plundered from the Institute's library were thrown into a huge bonfire. The institute was founded in 1919 by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 -1935). It sponsored research and discussion on marital problems, sexually transmitted diseases, and laws relating to sexual offenses, abortion, and homosexuality. The author of many works, Hirschfeld, himself a homosexual, led efforts for three decades to reform laws criminalizing homosexuality (In 1933 Hirschfeld happened to be in France, where he remained until his death.)
In 1934, a special Gestapo (Secret State Police) division on homosexuals was set up. One of its first acts was to order the police "pink lists" from all over Germany The police had been compiling these lists of suspected homosexual men since 1900. On September 1, 1935, a harsher, amended version of Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, originally framed in 1871, went into effect, punishing a broad range of "lewd and lascivious" behavior between men. In 1936 Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler created a Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion: Special Office (II S), a subdepartment of Executive Department II of the Gestapo. The linking of homosexuality and abortion reflected the Nazi regimes population policies to promote a higher birthrate of its "Aryan" population. On this subject Himmlerspoke in Bad Tölz on February 18, 1937, before a group of high-ranking SS officers on the dangers both homosexuality and abortion posed to the German birthrate.
Under the revised Paragraph 175 and the creation of Special Office II S, the number of prosecutions increased sharply, peaking in the years 1937-1939. Half of all convictions for homosexual activity under the Nazi regime occurred during these years. The police stepped up raids on homosexual meeting places, seized address books of arrested men to find additional suspects, and created networks of informers to compile lists of names and make arrests.
An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexuals in Germany in 1928. Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.
How many of these 5,000 to 15,000 "l7Sers" perished in the concentration camps will probahlii never be known. Historical research to date has been very limited. One leading schblar, Ruediger Lautmann, believes that the death rate for "l7Sers" in the camps may have been as high as sixty percent.
All prisoners of the camps wore marks of various colors and shapes, which allowed guards and camp functionaries to identify them by category. The uniforms of those sentenced as homosexuals bore, various identifying marks, including a large black dot and a large "175" drawn on the back of the jacket. Later a pink triangular patch (rosa Winkel) appeared. Conditions in the camps were generally harsh for all inmates, many of whom died from hunger, disease, exhaustion, exposure to the cold, and brutal treatment. Many survivors have testified that men with pink triangles were often treated particularly severely by guards and inmates alike because of widespread biases against homosexuals. As was true with other prisoner categories, some homosexuals were also victims of cruel medical experiments, including castration. At Buchenwald concentration camp, SS physician Dr. Carl Vaernet performed operations designed to convert men to heterosexuals: the surgical insertion of a capsule which released the male hormone testosterone. Such procedures reflected the desire by Himmler and others to find a medical solution to homosexuality.
The vast majority of homosexual victims were males; lesbians were not subjected to systematic persecution. While lesbian bars were closed, few women are believed to have been arrested. Paragraph 175 did not mention female homosexuality. Lesbianism was seen by many Nazi officials as alien to the nature of the Aryan woman. In some cases, the police arrested lesbians as "asocials" or "prostitutes.:' One woman, Henny Schermann, was arrested in 1940 in Frankfurt and was labeled "licentious Lesbian" on her mug shot; but she was also a "stateless Jew," sufficient cause for deportation. Among the Jewish inmates at Ravensbrück concentration camp selected for extermination, she was gassed in the Bernburg psychiatric hospital, a "euthanasia" killing center in Germany, in 1942.
Homosexuality outside Germany (and incorporated Austria and other annexed territories) was not a subject generally addressed in Nazi ideology or policy; the concern focused on the impact of homosexuality on the strength and birthrate of the Aryan population. During the war years, 1939 to 1945, the Nazis did not generally instigate drives against homosexuality in German-occupied countries.
Consequently, the vast majority of homosexuals arrested under Paragraph 175 were Germans or Austrians. Unlike Jews. men arrested as homosexuals were not systematically deported to Nazi-established ghettos in eastern Europe. Nor were they transported in mass groups of homosexual prisoners to Nazi extermination camps in Poland.
It should be noted that Nazi authorities sometimes used the charge of homosexuality to discredit and undermine their political opponents. Charges of homosexuality among the SA (Storm trooper) leadership figured prominently among justifications for the bloody purge of SA chief Ernst Röhm in June 1934. Nazi leader Hermann Göring used trumped-up accusations of homosexual improprieties to unseat army supreme commander Von Fritsch, an opponent of Hitler's military policy, in early 1938. Finally, a 1935 propaganda campaign and two show trials in 1936 and 1937 alleging rampant homosexuality in the priesthood, attempted to undercut the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, an institution which many Nazi officials considered their most powerful potential enemy.
After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.
Research on Nazi persecution of homosexuals was impeded by the criminalization and social stigmatization of homosexuals in Europe and the United States in the decades following the Holocaust. Most survivors were afraid or ashamed to tell their stories. Recently, especially in Germany, new research findings on these "forgotten victims" have been published, and some survivors have broken their silence to give testimony.
Beyer, Helga (1920–1942)
German-Jewish member of the anti-Nazi resistance. Born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) on May 4, 1920; murdered at the Bernburg hospital near Dessau in February 1942; daughter of Adolf Beyer (a Jewish businessman) and Else Beyer (who was not Jewish); sister of Ursel Beyer (b. 1918).
Joined an anti-Nazi resistance cell (1933); became a member of the German-Jewish youth group Kameraden, resisting Fascism under the sign of the Weisse Möwe (White Gull); for more than three years, worked as a courier in a resistance cell organized by a group of Communist Oppositionists in Breslau; arrested (January 28, 1938), convicted of "preparation for high treason," and sentenced to three and one halfyears imprisonment; though sentence was scheduled to end August 1941, was moved to the women's concentration camp, Ravensbrück; taken to Bernburg near Dessau and killed as part of a group of other female "undesirables" (February 1942).
Many people were persecuted under Nazi rule because of their race, political conviction, religious belief or social behaviour. Among them were: Jews, Jews of mixed descent; so-called "Jew-friends", gentiles who stood up for the rescue of Jews; communists, anti-fascists and other resistance fighters; rebellious juveniles, "anti-social individuals", Gypsies, criminals, homosexuals; the physically and mentally handicapped, forced labourers and prisoners of war.
Gypsy children, victims of medical experiments at Auschwitz
The open and direct terrorising of all these "enemies of the people and the nation" rebounded indirectly on the rest of the population. The Nazis intended that the whole society, both in Germany and in the territories it occupied, would see by their treatment of these "aliens" what would happen to anyone not approved by the system. This terror increased people's accommodation, submission and acceptance of Nazi power.
In September 1939 Hitler authorised a "euthanasia" program to rid Germany of all those people classified as "unworthy to live". This classification initially covered disabled children, but was ultimately extended to Jews and non-Jews who were "cripples", alcoholics, epileptics, pyschopaths, "vagabonds" and sufferers of tuberculosis and cancer. As early as 1933 a "Law for the Avoidance of Genetically Diseased Offspring" had led to the sterilisation of some 360 000 German people, but the 1939 euthanasia program was an actual mandate for murder. The program was named T-4, after the address of its headquarters at Tiergarten 4, Berlin. It was authorised by Hitler on his private letterhead, signed in at the end of October 1939 but predated to September 1 to make it appear a 'wartime measure'.
The first victims of the T-4 program were babies and children suffering from Down Syndrome, hydrocephalus and various physical deformities. 5000 of them were murdered in cold blood by German doctors, many of whom went on to run the killing centres at death camps. The network of euthanasia spanned doctors' surgeries, hospitals, special schools, asylums, health departments, registry offices, universities, research centres and private homes. By 1940 six killing centres stood in readiness, all within Germany and Austria: Grafenak, Brandenburg, Bernburg, Hartheim, Sonnenstein and Hadamar. In these six institutions between 1940 and August 1941, it is documented that 70 273 people were killed. The relatives of victims received officially-forged death certificates, together with letters of 'condolence' and queries regarding instructions for disposal of their ashes. These sparked off mistrust, unrest, enquiries and protests.
Surprised by the level of protest it had provoked, Hitler ended the T-4 program in August 1941, by which time it is believed that some 200 000 people had been killed. For the Nazis the program was a success, as it provided practice killing for their mass murder of the Jews. Experienced staff and tested methods and equipment were simply transferred from the T-4 program to the concentration and extermination camps. When it came to killing Jews, however, there was no significant protest from the German people.
The Nazis' persecution of homosexuals met with wide approval from the German population. Homosexuality had been classified as a criminal act in Germany for hundreds of years and the Nazis took ruthless action against those found 'guilty' of it. They saw homosexuality as a threat to German morality, military strength and the purity and procreation of the Aryan race.
Friedrich Althoff, arrested for alleged
homosexuality in Dusseldorf, Germany, 1939
In 1934 Nazis shot dead their own leader, Ernst Roehm, who was openly gay. A special criminal police force was created to fight homosexuality and in 1943 Himmler issued a secret order to execute all SS and police found to be gay or even guilty of "homosexual intent". From 1935 onwards the slightest sign of homosexual tendencies was punished. Waves of arrests and trials followed and between 1936 and 1939, 42 919 men were sentenced. Between 1941 and 1944 there were another 12 000 indictments and the military police convicted 7000 homosexual soldiers. In total, the number of males convicted of homosexuality is estimated to be 60 000.
As early as 1933 German homosexuals had been offered the alternatives of castration or being sent to a concentration camp. In the camps they were identified by pink triangles and condemned to hard labour. The policy was to separate and try to 're-educate' them, and if this failed, then to kill them. In attempts to 'cure them of their disease', many homosexuals were subjected to horrible pseudo-medical experiments, including chemical injections and operations. It has been estimated that the death rate of homosexuals in the camps was as high as 60%. Homosexual survivors were not compensated after the war, as their behaviour was still largely regarded by German society as perverted and illegal and their suffering therefore 'justified'.
"Poor idiots who were quite happy in their own way" is how Auschwitz camp commander Rudolf Hess described the Jehovah's Witnesses. Their doctrines excluded the recognition of Adolf Hitler's "Fuhrer-State" and allowed only the recognition of the Kingdom of Jehovah. Jehovah's Witnesses saw in Hitler the reincarnation of Satan or the Anti-Christ. Unlike Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses were given the option to avoid persecution by renouncing their faith.
But most did not, and their refusal provoked sanctions. In April 1933 19 268 Jehovah's Witnesses were living in Germany. Some 10 000 were arrested and of these, 4-5000 were murdered. Their organisation was outlawed, despite the fact that it endorsed a traditional religiously-motivatedantisemitism. Families were broken up; children removed from their parents and handed into the custody of the State. From 1937 adult Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps, where they were identified by purple triangles. In their suffering the Jehovah's Witnesses saw a sign from God; they saw their fate as unmistakable proof of their future salvation. They followed the guards' orders willingly and for this they earned the distrust and condemnation of fellow inmates. More than 1500 Jehovah's Witnesses died in the camps.
Like the Jews, the Roma or Gypsy peoples of Europe had for many centuries experienced the fate of being a hated minority. They were a people without a land, dispersed and almost universally subjected to discrimination and outright rejection. In the initial years of the Nazi regime, Gypsies were herded into fenced camps. In 1936 they were classified as "asocials" and a central German office for "Combatting the Gypsy Menace" was established. The registration of full Gypsies, three-quarter Gypsies, half Gypsies and quarter Gypsies began, with all being photographed and fingerprinted. In 1937 the plan for the extermination of the Gypsies was made clear in this statement by Heinrich Kranz, head of the Institute for the Preservation of Race, Heredity and Health at the University of Giessen: "In the long run, the German people will only be freed from this public nuisance when (the Gypsies') fertility is completely eliminated."
When the Nazis entered Poland in 1939 they began deporting Gypsies "to the East". Thousands were killed by theEinsatzgruppen and 20 000 from 11 countries were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some were killed there immediately and others placed in a special Gypsy camp. Gypsy children were subjected to the horrific pseudo-medical experiments of Dr Josef Mengele. Thousands of Gypsies were incarcerated in the camps of Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mathausen and the women's camp of Ravensbruck. 5000 were sent to Chelmno, where they were gassed. On July 31 1944 the Gypsy camp at Birkenau was liquidated and all its inmates sent to the gas chambers. The exact number of Gypsy victims of the Nazis will never be known, but it is estimated that between 20 and 50% of all European Gypsies were killed.
Soviet Prisoners of War
With Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, their acquisition of Lebensraum ("living space") for Germans began. Inextricably linked with this was their determination to exterminate the "Jewish-Bolshevik" worldview and any proponents of it. Directives were issued authorising the liquidation of all Red Army (and therefore "bolshevik") Commissars. Commissars discovered in the prisoner-of-war camps were removed from the juristiction of the German Army and handed over to the SS to be killed, together with all Soviet soldiers of Jewish origin. Of the 5.7 million Soviet P.O.W.s, only 2.4 million survived the war. An estimated 3.3 million died as a result of mass executions, brutal mistreatment, deliberate starvation and endemic diseases.
The Sobibor Death Camp
The Sobibor Death Camp
The Sobibor death camp was located near the Sobibor village, which was located in the eastern part of the Lublin district of Poland, close to the Chelm – Wlodawa railway line. The camp was 5km away from the Bug River which today forms the border between Poland and the Ukraine.
In 1942 the area around Sobibor was part of the border between the General Government and the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, the terrain was swampy, densely wooded and sparsely populated.
Sobibor was the second death camp to be constructed as part of the Aktion Reinhardprogramme, and was built on similar lines to Belzec, incorporating the lessons learnt from the first death camp to be constructed.
In the early months of 1942 after a reconnaissance visit by a small aircraft that circled over the village, a train arrived at Sobibor, two SS officers disembarked, they were Richard Thomalla, who worked in the SS-ZentralbauleitungZamosc, and Baurath Moser from Chelm. They walked around the station, took measurements and eventually made their way into the forest opposite the railway station.
In March 1942 a new railroad spur was built, which ended at an earthen ramp, the ramp was opposite the station building. The camp fence with interwoven branches was built in a manner which ensured that the railway spur and the ramp were located inside the camp, thus preventing passengers at the station from observing what happened in the camp.
The deportation trains entered the ramp through a gate and disappeared behind the “green wall.” In the station area three larger buildings existed – the station, the forester’s house, and a two-storey post office. There was also a sawmill and several houses for workers.
As construction work progressed, undertaken by 80 Jews from nearby ghettos, such as Wlodawa and Wola Uhruska, the site was inspected by a commission led by SS-HauptsturmfuhrerNeumann, head of the Central Construction Office of the Waffen –SS in Lublin.
Once the Jews had completed the initial construction phase, they were gassed during an experimental gassing. Two or three of them escaped at that time to Wlodawa and informed the Hassidic rabbi there, what was happening in Sobibor.
The rabbi even proclaimed a fasting in memory of the first victims and also as a sign of resistance. Both the escapees and the rabbi were denounced by a Jewish policeman and all of them were executed.
The camp was in the form of a 400 x 600m rectangle, surrounded by a 3m high double barbed-wire fence, partially interwoven with pine branches to prevent observation from the outside. Along the fence and in the corners of the camp were wooden watchtowers.
Each of the four camp areas was individually fenced in: the SS administration area (Vorlager), housing and workshops of the Jewish commando (Camp 1), the reception area (Camp II) and the extermination area (Camp III), in 1943 a munitions supply area (Camp IV) was added.
The ‘Vorlager’ included the ramp, with space for 20 railway cars, as well as the living quarters for the SS staff and Trawnikimanner. Also included was the main gate, on top of the main gate was a wooden sign about 0.60 x 2.40m with the words ‘SS- Sonderkommando Sobibor, painted in Gothic letters. Unlike the death camp at Belzec, the SS men lived inside the camp area.
The Jews from the incoming transports were brought to the ‘reception area’ (Camp II), here they had to go through various procedures prior to their death in the gas chambers: division according to sex, the surrender of the suitcases, the confiscation of possessions and valuables, removal of clothing and the cutting of the women’s hair.
On their way to the gas the naked victims passed various buildings, some warehouse barracks, a second former forester’s house, which was used as the camp’s offices and living quarters for some of the SS men, separated by a high wooden fence, a small agricultural area with stables for horses, cattle, swine and geese and about 250m south of the gas chambers a small wooden Catholic chapel, in the shadow of tall pine trees, which was now the ‘Lazarett’ and high observation tower used by the forester, overlooked the entire area.
The most isolated area in the camp was the extermination area (Camp III) was located in the north-western part of the camp. It contained the gas chambers, mass graves and housing for the Jewish prisoners employed there.
A path 3 to 4m wide and 150m long, ‘Die Schlauch (The Tube) cynically known by the SS in the camp as the ‘Himmelfahrtstrasse (Street to Heaven) led from the reception area to the extermination area. On either side the path was fenced in with barbed –wire, intertwined with pine branches. Through it the naked victims were herded towards the gas chambers. The barber’s barracks, where the hair of the Jewish women was cut off, was built near the end of the tube. The hair was used by the Germans for a number of uses such as mattresses for u-boats, slippers etc.
The three gas chambers were inside a brick building - individual chambers were square shaped, 4 x 4m and had a capacity of 160 – 180 persons. Each gas chamber was entered through a small door, leading from a veranda which ran along the length of the building. After gassing the bodies were removed through a 2 x 2m folding door, opposite to the entrance, and placed on a second veranda.
Outside the building was an annex in which a motor produced the deadly carbon monoxide gas, water pipes conducted the gas to the gas chambers. The mass graves were 50-60m long, 10-15m wide, and 5-7m deep, the sandy walls were constructed obliquely in order to facilitate the burying of corpses.
A narrow gauge railway was constructed from the station led to the burial pits, on which a small train from a local sawmill, pulled tippers, containing the victims who had died en-route to the camp.
While the basic installations were being made ready to exterminate the Jews, the organisation of the SS and Ukrainians was also taking shape. In April 1942 SS-Obersturmfuhrer Franz Paul Stangl was appointed commandant of Sobibor, and he visited Christian Wirth in Belzec death camp, to obtain guidance and experience.
After his return from Belzec, the construction work speeded up, Franz Stangl, an Austrian who had served in the euthanasia programme, at Hartheim, and Bernburg, had as his deputy, another SS man with euthanasia experience, SS-Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Michel, who was replaced a few months later by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Gustav Wagner.
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The initial commander of Camp I was SS-Oberscharfuhrer Otto Weiss, who was replaced by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Karl Frenzel, who had previously supervised the Jewish prisoners in Camp II. SS-Oberscharfuhrer Kurt Bolender served as commander of Camp III from April 1942 until the autumn of 1942, where he was replaced by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Erich Bauer. Alfred Ittner was in charge of the camp administration was later transferred to Camp III.
The Ukrainian guards at Sobibor came from the SS training camp in Trawniki and were led by SS-Scharfuhrer Erich Lachmann, up until the autumn of 1942, when Bolender took over this responsibility. The Trawnikimanner were organised into three platoons, led by Ukrainian volksdeutsche.
In early April 1942 when the camp was nearly completed, further experimental gassings took place, about 250 Jews from Krychow forced labour camp were brought to Sobibor for this purpose.
SS- Unterscharfuhrer Erich Fuchs recalled this time at Sobibor:
“Sometime in the spring of 1942 I received instructions from Wirth to fetch new camp staff from Lublin by lorry, one of these was Erich Bauer, also Stangl and one or two other people. On Wirth’s instructions I left by lorry for Lemberg and collected a gassing engine there which I then took to Sobibor.
The junction where the railroad spur branched off into Sobibor
Upon arriving in Sobibor I discovered a piece of open ground close to the station on which there was a concrete building and several other permanent buildings. The Sonderkommando at Sobibor was led by Thomalla, amongst the SS personnel there were Floss, Bauer, Stangl, Friedl Schwarz, Barbel and others.
We unloaded the motor, it was a heavy Russian petrol engine, presumably a tank or tractor engine, of at least 200HP, carburettor engine, eight-cylinder, water cooled. We put the engine on a concrete plinth and attached a pipe to the exhaust outlet. Then we tried out the engine, at first it did not work. I repaired the ignition and the valve and suddenly the engine started.
The chemist whom I already knew from Belzec went into the gas-chamber with a measuring device in order to measure the gas concentration. After this a test gassing was carried out, I seem to remember that thirty to forty women were gassed in a gas-chamber.
The Jewesses had to undress in a clearing in the wood which had been roofed over, near the gas-chamber. They were herded into the gas-chamber by the above mentioned SS members and Ukrainian volunteers.
When the women had been shut in the gas-chamber I attended to the engine together with Bauer. The engine immediately started ticking over. We both stood next to the engine and switched it up to ‘release exhaust to chamber’ so that the gases were channelled into the chamber.
On the instigation of the chemist I revved up the engine, which meant that no extra gas had to be added later. After about ten minutes the thirty to forty women were dead. The chemist and the SS gave the signal to turn off the engine.
I packed up my tools and saw the bodies being taken away, a small wagon on rails was used to take them away from near the gas-chambers to a stretch of ground some distance away, Sobibor was the only place where a wagon was used.”
In mid-April 1942 the death camp was ready to receive the first transport and probably the first transport came from Rejowice, near Chelm, from where more than 2,000 Jews were deported to Sobibor. This transport from Rejowice arrived at Sobibor on the 7 April 1942, although it is possible that this first transport to Sobibor was from Kazimierz Dolny, via Opole Lubelski. Wartime sources state that people on the transport from Kazimierz threw letters in which they wrote they were deported in the direction of Wlodawa, out of the train.
After these initial gassings, the mass exterminations began in earnest during the first days of May 1942, and the arrival process was that the deportation trains, consisting of approximately 60 wagons stopped at Sobibor station. Then a locomotive pushed 18 to 20 freight cars through the railway gate into the camp. When these had been unloaded, the next part of the train was pushed into the camp.
The train escort and railway workers had to stay outside the fencing, only a specialised team of trusted Reichsbahn employees was allowed to enter the camp. Once inside, the train stopped alongside the ramp and the cars were opened by the Ukrainian guards. Those who were still alive, were ordered to disembark from the wagons onto the ramp, and then SS men and Ukrainians drove the Jews to the ‘Reception Area’ in Camp II.
SS- Oberscharfuhrer Kurt Bolender testified how the extermination process operated:
“Before the Jews undressed, Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Michel made a speech to them. On these occasions, he used to wear a white coat to give the impression he was a physician. Michel announced to the Jews that they would be sent to work.
But before this they would have to take baths and undergo disinfection, so as to prevent the spread of diseases. After undressing, the Jews were taken through the ‘tube,’ by an SS man leading the way, with five or six Ukrainians at the back hastening the Jews along.
After the Jews had entered the gas chambers, the Ukrainians closed the doors, the motor was switched on by the Ukrainian Emil Kostenko and by the German driver Erich Bauer from Berlin. After the gassing, the doors were opened and the corpses were removed by a group of Jewish slave workers.”
After the first few weeks of undressing in the open air square of Camp II, an undressing barrack was erected. Inside this barrack were signs indicating directions ‘To the Cashier,’ and ‘To the Baths.’ The Jews handed over their money and valuables through the window of the cashier’s room. The cashier was SS-Oberscharfuhrer Alfred Ittner, who was the camp accountant, until he was replaced by SS-Scharfuhrer Herbet Floss.
Elderly people, the sick and invalids were told they would receive medical treatment, and they were put in carts, later railway tippers were used, taken to Camp III, directly to open pits, behind the Chapel where they were shot, by a detachment of Ukrainians led by SS- Unterscharfuhrer Paul Bredow.
The slave workers who had to carry out these duties in the extermination process were selected from the transports, a few dozen strong young men and women were spared for a few days, before being murdered. Their ranks were filled by arrivals from new transports.
Some deportees were taken to Camp III, where they had to remove the gassed bodies and bury them in mass graves. Probably from June 1942 the group of prisoners selected to live, among them carpenters, tailors and shoemakers, whilst other prisoners were engaged in collecting and sorting out the victim’s property, which was sent to the Reich.
The 200-300 Jewish prisoners who were kept in the Extermination Area (Camp III) had virtually no contact with those prisoners in the other parts of the camp. Their food was cooked in Camp I and taken by Jewish prisoners to the gate of Camp III.
On the ramp in Sobibor selections were carried out, especially when transports arrived from outside Poland, relatively small numbers of strong men and women were sent to small labour camps located around Sobibor such as Krychow, Osowa, Dorohucza. Julius (Jules) Schelvis who was deported from Westerbork on the 1 June 1943 along with his wife and other members of his family, was selected for labour in Dorohucza, whilst his wife Rachel and other members of family were gassed on arrival.
During the first phase of the killing operations in Sobibor, from the 5 May until the end of July 1942, at least 90,000 – 100,000 Jews perished in Sobibor. These transports mainly came from ghettos or transit camps in the Lublin district, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia, as well as Germany and Austria.
Shlomo Szmajzner described his arrival at the death camp:
“As soon as the wagons were emptied, we were impelled towards a long corridor flanked by two fences made of barbed wire. There were guards all around us, urging us to walk as fast as possible, in spite of the state we were in. At the end of that passage there was an arrogant Nazi officer accompanied by two Ukrainian soldiers holding their truncheons. This corridor was the stage of an unforgettable scene for the sophisticated cruelty, which was practiced there.
The three criminals stood at the end of the corridor, positioned as to form a triangle, with the higher- ranking officer, a little behind the two guards who stood on either side of him. Both of them had a menacing posture, with their fearful truncheons and their vicious faces.
Meanwhile, the mass of Jews was coming by fits and starts and, when they came within reach of the morons they were violently separated – the men to the right and the women to the left, with the beast-like sectarians fiercely wielding their cudgels and hitting everyone pitilessly.
The picture we saw was very painful, with whole families being separated: mothers were separated from their children and husbands in tears: young people were driven away from their parents and siblings: babies were deprived of their mothers love.
As we were being separated according to our sex, we were thrown into a larger yard, located at the end of the corridor. This area could not hold us all and we had to be pushed and pressed to one another until it became totally saturated with people, because about two thousand of us had come in our transport.
The cursed SS were waiting for us at the entrance to the yard, which looked like a football field. They did not intend to waste any time, since they immediately aligned the women into four rows and made them start walking towards a gate, behind which lay the unknown.
As soon as they had disappeared behind the gate, which was noisily shut, the Nazis focused their attention on the men. They put us also in rows of four and we waited for the command to march. This did not come immediately though and we had to stand where we were.
In the commotion generated by the disorderly exit from the train - when no one could understand anything amidst the running and shouting. I had been close to my brother, to my nephew and to my cousin Nojech. From that moment onwards we never separated for a single minute and now we were together. The same did not happen to my father, with whom we lost all contact during the bedlam resulting from the human avalanche which had been hurled out of the wagon.
If we had not been able to find him then, we thought it impossible, now, to try to locate him, since we were all grouped and under the strict surveillance of the Germans
With all the men already in formation, there suddenly appeared a giant German officer, with a disdainful look in his eyes and whom I thought to be the leader there. Actually roaring, he started to select us according to our aptitudes. Thus, the farmers were selected first, then the physically stronger, as well as those who seemed to be most able to resist. Next, the carpenters, the mechanics, the tailors, and then other professionals until all of us had been subdivided into diverse groups according to the most useful professions.
As no goldsmiths were called I was very surprised and daringly left the files of those who had not been called and addressed the officer. When I got close enough to him, without waiting for him to say a word, I tried to be very courteous and clever and told him I was a goldsmith and that my profession had not been included on the list they had called.
The huge German was perplexed, as if he had paid no attention to my words or did not believe I was actually a goldsmith. As soon as I finished talking I took off my back the small tool bag I always carried and showed him its contents, as well as a monogram, I had engraved on my own money wallet.
This small proof of my professional skill was enough to make this brute a little more accessible and believe what I had told him. He finally decided I was to be taken from the files and I took advantage of the opportunity to add that I had three “brothers” who also manufactured jewels and whom I would like to have with me.
He nodded his agreement and my “brothers” joined me. Before he could go on with his work I still found a little courage to tell him that my old father was in that crowd, although I had not been able to find him. The German then said we might be able to find my father next day.
Thus ended that short but profitable dialogue.”
Shlomo Szmajzner was selected by Gustav Wagner, Moshe Bahir described this cruel and most feared member of the Sobibor SS personnel:
“He was a handsome man, tall and blond – a pure Aryan. In civilian life he was, no doubt a well-mannered man; at Sobibor he was a wild beast. His lust to kill knew no bounds.
I saw such terrible scenes that they give me nightmares to this day. He would snatch babies from their mother’s arms and tear them to pieces in his hands. I saw him beat two men to death with a rifle, because they did not carry out his instructions properly, since they did not understand German.
I remember that one night a group of youths aged fifteen or sixteen arrived in the camp. The head of this group was one Abraham. After a long and arduous work day, this young man collapsed on his pallet and fell asleep.
Suddenly Wagner came into our barrack, and Abraham did not hear him call to stand up at once before him. Furious, he pulled Abraham naked off his bed and began to beat him all over his body. When Wagner grew weary of the blows, he took out his revolver and killed him on the spot. This atrocious spectacle was carried out before all of us, including Abraham’s younger brother.”
No history of Sobibor would be complete, without some accounts of the activities of SS- Oberscharfuhrer Karl Frenzel. Selma Engel recalled:
“And also one day, Oberscharführer Karl Frenzel came out. Frenzel was one of the worst SS in the camp and he came to Camp One. He went with his whip, he went in the barrack and everybody in the barrack was sick, had to go out and had to stay in the middle.
I remember so vividly there was a boy from I knew from Assen, from another town, from the Zionist organisation and he was standing there and, they all were standing for a long time in the middle of the camp and they all got shot, right away.”
On 19 July 1942, on the eve of the Great Action concerning the Jews of Warsaw, Himmler visited Sobibor, one of the “Aktion Reinhard” death camps in the Lublin area. On the same tour he also visited the SS Training Camp at Trawniki, where a number of photographs were taken.
At the end of July 1942 the deportations to the Sobibor death camp temporarily ceased because of construction work on the Lublin – Chelm railway line, during the next two months only a few smaller transports from some nearby ghettos arrived at the camp. During August 1942 Commandant Stangl was transferred to the Treblinka death camp, and his place was taken by Franz Karl Reichleitner, a former euthanasia colleague, you had served with Stangl in Hartheim.
In all the three death camps, the initial gas chambers capacity were found to be wanting, and Erwin Herman Lambert, and Lorenz Hackenholt after completing the construction of new gas chambers at Treblinka, went to Sobibor.
Erwin Lambert testified after the war:
“It was sometime in autumn 1942 but I don’t remember exactly when. At that time I was assigned by Wirth to enlarge the gassing structure according to the model of Treblinka.
I went to Sobibor together with Lorenz Hackenholt who was at that time in Treblinka. First of all, I went with Hackenholt to a saw-mill near Warsaw. There, Hackenholt ordered a big consignment of wood for re-construction in Sobibor.
Finally, both of us went to Sobibor, we reported there to the camp commander, Reichleitner. He gave us the exact directives for the construction of the gassing installations. The camp was already in operation, and there was a gassing installation. Probably the old installation was not big enough and reconstruction was necessary.
Today I cannot tell exactly who participated in the reconstruction work, however, I do remember that Jewish prisoners and so-called “Askaris” took part in the work. During the time that building was in progress, no transports with Jews arrived.”
The new gas chamber building had six chambers, three on each side of a corridor that ran through the centre of the structure; now 1,300 people could be gassed at the same time. When the construction work on the railway was completed, transports started arriving again, at the Sobibor death camp.
In early spring 1943, Himmler once again visited the “Aktion Reinhard” Headquarters and the death camps of Sobibor and visited Treblinka.
In anticipation of Himmler’s visit the camps were thoroughly cleansed.
Karl Frenzel (Sobibor) testified at his trial regarding this visit:
"The visit was announced a few days ahead. The leadership of the camp took steps to make order in the camp… I was ordered, together with some Unterführer’s and Ukrainian guards, to take over the outside security of the camp and guarantee Himmler’s personal security. When Himmler visited the gassing installation in Camp III, I guarded the surrounding area.
I remember that afterwards all the Unterführer were assembled in the canteen, and Himmler delivered an address to them…”
In honour of Himmler’s visit a special gassing of several hundred young Jewish girls took place. This is confirmed by the testimony of SS-Oberscharführer Hubert Gomerski who served at Sobibor:
"I remember the visit of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler in Sobibor, I saw Himmler with the whole group going in the direction of Camp III."
Heinrich Himmler found both camps to be relatively idle, and thus gave the order for transports from Netherlands and France to go to Sobibor.
In March 1943 four transports from France brought 4,000 people to Sobibor, virtually all of those transported were murdered, apart from Joseph Duniec. Nineteen transports arrived at Sobibor from the Netherlands between March and July 1943, carrying 34,313 Jews. In the first two transports passenger trains were used, after the 10 March 1943 cattle wagons were used.
Transports from the Netherlands were greeted by the SS with a polite welcome, in order to allay any concerns the deportees may have, at least during the initial reception phase. Once naked and in the ‘tube,’ no more deceptions were required.
Ilana Safran recalled her deportation from the Netherlands:
“Later we were transferred to Westerbork, the gathering place of Dutch Jews, and we remained there for one week, in April 1943 we left for Poland. The journey to Poland was dreadful; the prisoners from western countries believed that they were going to labour camps.
In 1943 the Poles already knew that Sobibor was a death camp and when they arrived they refused to leave the train. When we reached Sobibor, a selection took place, young girls were placed on one side, the others including children, went to the gas chambers. We were given postcards, “Write to your families that you have arrived safely.” I wrote a card to some Dutch friends, it reached its destination and I found it after the war.”
Of course, given the camps destructive nature, almost all of the Dutch Jews were murdered, only 18 out of the 34,313 Jews survived, most having been selected for labour camps on the Sobibor ramp. The SS administration even encouraged the Dutch Jews to send postcards to Holland, saying they had arrived safely in Poland.
On the 5 July 1943 Himmler ordered the addition of a munitions supply area (Camp IV). Bunkers were built and to improve the camp’s security mines were laid
On the 20 July 1943 the so-called ‘Waldkommando’ (Forest Commando), whose job it was to fell trees for expansion, collecting firewood, and branches for camouflaging the barbed-wire fences, revolted, eight prisoners escaped, all the others were shot.
Kalman Wewerik recalled the event:
“One spring day in 1943 about 30 men of the Waldkommando (forest commando) were taken out, under Ukrainian guards, to work. Later that day we saw the Ukrainians herding a much smaller body of Jews back to the camp.
The Jews were bloodied, in bad shape. They were dragging many corpses with them. We were told that two of the Jews, Kof and Podchlebnik, had asked for permission to go to a nearby well and bring back water for their fellow prisoners. This was around mid-day and the men were thirsty. When they got to the well, they attacked the Ukrainian guard accompanying them, took his weapon and ammunition, tossed him into the well, and took off.
When they didn't return with the water, the other Ukrainian guards became suspicious and herded the remaining Jews together, under heavy guard, until the matter would be clarified. These Jews understood what had occurred; they knew that they were finished whatever would happen. When one or two escaped from a group, the whole group was killed. So these desperate Jews took off in all directions, the Ukrainian guards firing at them and pursuing them.
Some of those Jews were said to have successfully escaped. However, those who were caught alive were brought back, tied up (hands and feet), sat down and ordered to look straight ahead while they were savagely clubbed by the Ukrainians.
We were ordered to stand in a semi-circle and to watch the "spectacle"; we were also ordered to laugh loudly during the ordeal of our poor fellow Jews. These unfortunates, however, had the courage to shout out, while they were being tortured. One, a religious Jew, yelled: "The end of the Hitler is coming!" Another shouted: "Shma Yizroel!" Then the Ukrainians shot them all; one unfortunate had to be shot 3 times before he died.
The Ukrainians were foaming at the mouth as they clubbed them. Sobibor was full of those Ukrainians, the henchmen of the SS. For 2 or 3 months after this incident we were tormented and abused even more than usual.”
In July / August 1943 an underground group was formed amongst the Jewish prisoners, under the leadership of Leon Feldhendler, who had been the chairman of the Judenrat in the Zolkiew ghetto.Transports started to arrive from the Reichskommissariat Ostland during September 1943, principally from Lida, Minsk and Vilna. In one of the last transports from Minsk, Jewish soldiers serving in the Red Army were brought to Sobibor from the labour camp in Sheroka Street.
Among the prisoners was Alexsander Pechersky, better known as Sascha, due to his military experience he became the camp’s underground commander, with Feldhendler as his deputy.
Pechersky came up with a simple plan for a mass escape, which involved killing the SS camp staff in a short but sustained burst, and escaping with the onset of darkness. The revolt was planned to occur on the 13 October 1943, but the unexpected arrival of SS troops from the labour camp at Osowa, resulted in a 24 hour delay.
On the 14 October 1943 with Reichleitner, Wagner and Gomerski on leave, the SS garrison were considerably weakened, and now the die was cast. At about 4pm, deputy commandant Johann Niemann visited the tailor’s shop to try on a new uniform. There he was killed by Alexsander Shubayev with a blow from an axe.
Not surprisingly, with such an occurrence, who killed which SS man, when and where is filled with confusion and conflict, whether Johann Niemann or Joself Wolf was the first of the camp staff to be killed.
Yehuda Lerner testified about his part in the uprising:
“My assignment was to liquidate Scharfuhrer Graetschus who was in charge of the Ukrainian guard. I was happy for the opportunity given to me to kill a German.
We had prepared axes which we had sharpened in the smithy. We took up our position an hour earlier. At four o’clock we were sitting in the rooms and waited. According to the plan the first one to arrive was Niemann. He came in time and entered the room where the tailors working for the Germans were sitting.
Five minutes later the German entered that I and my friend awaited, he said that he hoped his winter overcoat was ready. The tailor brought the the coat and started to fit it on him.
It turned out that the German was closer to me than to my friend. I was sitting and sewing a button on a coat for a Ukrainian and the axe was between my legs. I got up, keeping the coat over the axe, approached the SS man from behind and split his head. We put the body beneath the table the tailors were working at.”
The list of Germans killed in the revolt:
SS- Oberscharfuhrer Werner Dubois was also severely wounded in the attack on the armoury, he was hit with an axe and shot in the chest, but he survived the attack.
On the 15 October 1943 the SSPF Lublin advised SS- Brigadefuhrer Wilhelm Gunther his neighbouring SSPF in Luzk, in a radio message that some 700 Jews had broken out the Sobibor camp and would be escaping in Gunther’s direction, and that counter measures should be taken.
At that time Sobibor held about 700 Jews, and not all of them escaped, approximately 300 managed to break out to the forest and taste freedom. In the forest they were hunted by SS, Police and Ukrainians, and most of them lost their lives. In addition to this an unknown number of Jews lost their lives to Polish underground groups, who took their money and then their lives.
Those Jews who remained in the camp during the revolt – mainly the religious and foreign Jews, who did not know the language or the country, were killed on the spot. This also included the prisoners in Camp III, who because of their isolation knew nothing about the revolt.
On the 20 October 1943 five cargo wagons left Treblinka death camp to Sobibor with a few dozen Jews and their Kapo Karl Blau, to dismantle the camp. They had been involved in the dismantling of Treblinka death camp following the revolt, in August 1943.
The work took about a month to complete and when this was accomplished the Jewish workers were murdered in the most brutal fashion. Early in the morning of the 23 November 1943, Gustav Wagner announced the final liquidation.
The Kapo Karl Blau and his wife committed suicide the night before, the thirty remaining Jewish workers were forced to lie down on the cremation site consisting of narrow gauge rails, where they were shot in the back of the neck, in groups of five. Gustav Wagner, and the Ukrainians Bodessa and Kaiser played an active role in the executions which took about one hour.
The bodies were cremated and along with the cremation rails were buried on the grounds of the former Camp III.
The Germans dismantled the incriminating gas chamber installations and other buildings, but a number of former camp facilities were used by the Baudienst (Construction Service) until July 1944, when the Red Army and Polish forces defeated the Germans.
Most of the barracks were not destroyed by the SS, but rather in the immediate post-war period, the ramp for example was used until 1947 for gathering Ukrainians, who were destined for resettlement to the Ukraine, or to the western parts of Poland. While these Ukrainians waited for their trains, sometimes this took one week, they demolished the remaining wooden barracks for fuel or camp fires.
The large forester’s watchtower was not destroyed because this densely wooded area, needed such a tower for observation, in case of fire. The watch tower collapsed and was removed in 2003. The former commandant’s house, also known as the “Swallows Nest” during the death camps time was also not destroyed, since it originally belonged to the forester’s administration, and was not strictly connected to the mass murder process.
As with the other camps, the precise number of victims may never be known, with the discovery of the telegram from Hofle to SS – Obersturmbannfuhrer Heim in Krakow showed the number of Jews murdered in Sobibor up to the year end of 1942 as 101,370.
Official estimates range from 150,000 to 250,000 but Erich Bauer, known as the Gasmeister recalled after the war:
“I estimate that the number of Jews gassed at Sobibor was about 350,000. In the canteen I once overheard a conversation between Frenzel, Stangl and Wagner. They were discussing the number of victims in the extermination camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor and expressed their regret that Sobibor ‘came last’ in the competition.”
The Sobibor Trial
On 6 September 1965 the German court in Hagen initiated criminal proceedings against twelve former SS men, accusing them of crimes against humanity.
On 20 December 1966, the following sentences were handed out:
Karl Frenzel - Carpenter.
Arrested in 1962, accused of killing 42 Jews and participating in the murder of approximately 250,000 Jews. Found guilty of personally killing 6 Jews and of participation in the mass murder of approximately 150,000 Jews. Sentenced to life imprisonment.
Franz Wolf - Warehouse clerk.
Arrested in 1964, accused in 1964, accused of personally killing one Jew and participating in the mass murder of 115,000 Jews. Found guilty of participation in the mass murder of at least 39,000 Jews. Sentenced to eight years in prison .
Alfred Ittner - Labourer
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 57,000 Jews. He was found guilty of participation of the murder of approximately 68,000 Jews. Sentenced to four years in prison.
Werner Dubois - German railroad employee and mechanic.
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 43,000 Jews He was found guilty of participation in the murder of at 15,000 Jews. Sentenced to three years in prison.
Erich Fuchs - Truck driver
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 3,600 Jews Guilty of participation in the murder of at least 79,000 Jews. Sentenced to four years in prison
Erich Lachmann - Mason
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 150,000 Jews. Acquitted.
Heinz – Hans Schutt - Salesman,
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 86,000 Jews. Acquitted.
Heinrich Unverhau - Male Nurse and professional musician.
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 72,000 Jews. Acquitted.
Robert Juhrs - Porter – Janitor.
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 30 Jews. Acquitted.
Ernst Zierke - Sawmill worker.
Accused of participating in the mass murder of approximately 30 Jews. Acquitted.
Erwin Lambert - Ceramic Tile salesman
Accused of participating in the mass murder of an unknown number of Jews. Acquitted.
Kurt Bolender - Hotel porter
Arrested in 1961, accused of personally killing approximately 360 Jews and of participation in the mass murder of approximately 86,000 Jews. Bolender committed suicide in prison before sentencing.
Earlier several key SS officers who had served at Sobibor were tried, such as SS-Oberscarfuhrer Hubert Gomerski, who was arrested but acquitted in a 1947 euthanasia trial. When his participation in the crimes committed at Sobibor were proven, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on 25 August 1950.
SS- Untersturmfuhrer Johann Klier was arrested, but based on the testimony of Sobibor survivors, that Klier was a person who felt compassion for the Jews and secretly tried to help them, he was released.
In the 1965/66 trials the accused claimed that once assigned to serve in a death camp, there was no way out, citing the statement made by Christian Wirth, to the personnel at Sobibor, “if you do not like it here, you can leave, but under the earth, not over it. However, Klier who asked to be transferred from Sobibor was not killed but allowed to leave.
One of the worst murderers in Sobibor was SS-Oberscharfuhrer Erich Bauer, the gas chamber “meister”, was recognised on the streets of Berlin, by survivor Samuel Lerner. On 8 May 1950 Bauer was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life in prison, as the death penalty had been abolished.
Bauer died in the Tegel prison in Berlin 1n 1980.
Werner Dubois admitted during the trial his guilty part in the extermination of the Jews, his court testimony at Hagen read:
“It is clear to me that in the extermination camp, murder was committed. What I have done was only to assist in the murder. If I were to be found guilty it would be justified, murder is murder. We are all guilty."
"The camp had a chain of command and if one link in the chain were to refuse to co-operate then the whole system would collapse. We did not have the courage to disobey orders.”
Franz Stangl the first commander of Sobibor, was tried for his activity at Treblinka, but Sobibor was excluded for administrative purposes.
A few of the Ukrainian guards who served at Sobibor were brought to trial in the Soviet Union, such as:
They were found guilty and executed for their crimes.
In April 1963, at a court in Kiev where Sasha Pechersky was the chief prosecution witness, ten former Ukrainian guards were found guilty and executed and one of those tried was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. A third trial was held in Kiev in June 1965, where three former death camp guards from Sobibor and Belzec were executed by firing squad.
In 1961 a first memorial was built, today a fine memorial and small museum and a church stands on the site of the former Lazarett,and five plaques, stating that 250,000 Jews were the victims of Sobibor.
The unloading ramp was used until 1960 but all railway traffic ceased in 1999, the Sobibor station now stands idle.
The following list shows details of the people who were deported to Sobibor death camp, and were either murdered or survived. The list is not a list of names, but names where generally some details are known, albeit brief.
Sobibor Death Camp
A limited list of full names, with no biographical details, only will follow in due course
Bahnhofkommando – Squad that was responsible for the transports that arrived by train
Judenrat – Jewish Council – a form of self-government, but in essence the sole agency with which the Germans would deal with.
Kapo – From the Italian capo meaning chief. A prisoner chosen by the Germans to supervise other prisoners.
Putzers – Young Jewish boys who waited on the Germans, cleaning uniforms and polishing their boots.
Waldkommando – Forest Clearing and Cutting Working group
Alphabetical Listing of Sobibor Survivors and Victims
Lotte and Henny Adler
Born 8 February 1925 / 23 July 1930 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Father Hermann murdered in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, spring 1938.
Henny and her sister Lotte went with their cousin Edith to Holland where they lived in the Jewish Orphanage in Leyden. Edith obtains a visa to emigrate to the USA, and settles in America.
The girls cannot leave because of the German occupation and they are both taken to Westerbork on 17 March 1943, when the orphanage is “cleared”.
The girls were deported from Westerbork on 23 March 1943 to Sobibor and both perished on 26 March 1943
Sophie Adler - Heyman
Born on 31 December 1882 in Ahrweiler- Germany. Before the war she lived in Kassel. In 1938 she emigrated to Holland and settled in Amsterdam. She lived as a widow there, no acquaintances known.
On 18 May 1943 she was deported from Holland to Sobibor where she perished three days later.
Born 1 December 1908 in Chelm. Deported from Chem at the end of October or beginning of November 1942. Worked in the Banhofskommando. Escaped in the revolt and after hiding in the forest returned to Chelm.
After hiding in Chelm, him and another Sobibor escapee, Pawroznik hid in the countryside. l Both of them were liberated, by the Soviet army in 1944.
After the war settled in Israel.
Born 24 April 1880 in Fritzlar – Germany. She lived in Kassel Germany, from where she was deported to Sobibor on 1 June 1942.
Born on 8 December 1893 nee Lazarus, in Appenheim Germany. Saleswoman in Kassel from where she was deported to Sobibor on 1 June 1942.
Lina Bacharach (in Dutch registers known as: Bachrach)
Born on the 4 December 1872 nee Schwarzenberger, in Heilbronn Germany. Until 1938 she lived in Kassel from where she emigrated to Amsterdam Holland.
On 23 March 1943 she was deported from Westerbork to Sobibor where she perished on 26 March 1943.
Born 19 July 1927 in Plock – Poland as Szklarek. Deported from Zamosc on 24 May 1942. Worked in the Banhofskommando and at cutting hair.
Escaped in the revolt. After the war settled in Israel.
He was born in Kalisz. Deported from a ghetto in the Lublin district, together with his brother Maks. He was the youngest Kapo in the camp, 16 – 17 years-old, but he never beat any prisoner.
Therefore Kapo Guwerner vexed him. He was beaten very often by the SS-men. One summer night in 1943 Gustav Wagner started to beat him in the barrack. Bajrach thinking that it was Kapo Guwerner, started to defend himself.
Wagner took him to Camp III and shot him at the gate.
The younger brother of Abram, also called “Fips”. In the camp he worked in the stable. He was killed in the uprising in October 1943
Born 16 May 1909 in Lwov. Deported from the transit camp in Drancy, France to Sobibor on 25 March 1943. He survived the war and settled in Belgium.
Born 25 November 1929 in Izbica, Lublin District Poland. Also referred to as Fiszel. Deported from Izbica to Sobibor in January 1943. Worked in the Sorting barracks, the barbers and the Bahnhofkommando.
Escaped during the revolt. After the war settled in New York, USA.
Born 6 December 1912, the brother of Philip. Deported from Izbica on 28 April 1943. Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943. Survived the holocaust and settled in Israel.
Born 17 March 1926 in Hrubieszow Poland. Deported from Hrubieszow in June 1942. He worked in Camp II burning paper and unwanted clothes, and he also worked for the Banhofskommando.
On the day of the revolt he was repairing the gate of Camp I. Scharfuhrer Bauer ordered him and another prisoner to unload a truck carrying provisions and alcohol.
Just then a Ukrainian alerted Bauer that a German was dead and the other prisoner ran off and Bauer chased after him. Biskubicz hid in a warehouse, reached Camp IV when it was dark, and escaped by jumping from a watchtower into the forest.
Fought with the partisans in the forest and after the war settled in Israel. Died in March 2002 in Ramat Gan Israel.
Thomas Toivi Blatt
Born 15 April 1927 in Izbica, Lublin district Poland. Deported from Izbica in a lorry to Sobibor with his parents and brother on 28 April 1943. Worked as a Putzer, sorting clothes, and burning books and documents.
Escaped during the revolt. Has written a number of books about Sobibor, From the Ashes of Sobibor and Sobibor The Forgotten Revolt (Only the Shadows Remain).
Emigrated to the USA, he has now returned to Poland.
A seventeen- year old boy from Izbica, but no relation to Thomas Toivi Blatt. In July 1943, Leon escaped from the Waldkommando, but was recaptured by the Border Police.
Brought back to Sobibor, SS- Oberscharfuhrer Frenzel ordered him to be beaten to death by whipping. A fellow prisoner named “Radio” beat him to death in the Courtyard of Lager II.
An Austrian Oberkapo from Treblinka, he was transferred to Sobibor in November 1943 with his wife Adele, to help dismantle the camp at Sobibor, following the uprising in October 1943.
He committed suicide with his wife, just prior to them being liquidated. Franz Suchomel testified during the Sobibor trial that their bodies were still dressed when they were burnt in Camp III.
Born on 31 July 1873 nee Wertheimer, in Regensburg Germany. Before the war she emigrated to Amsterdam, Holland. A widow. Last known address Linnaeusparkweg 38 II.
On 13 March 1943 she was deported from Westerbork to Sobibor.
Born on 12 December 1893 in Krnov / former Jagerndorf Sudetenland; at that time part of Austria-Hungary, from 1918 Czechoslavakia, in 1938 annexed by the German Reich.
Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942.
Escaped in the revolt in October 1943. Survived the war.
David and Gretha (Gitele) Borzykowski
David was born on 13 February 1892 in Janow, Gretha nee Stroz on 18 April 1895 in Czestochowa, both Poland. Moved to Holland and settled in Amsterdam after the First World War. David was an upholsterer by profession. Last address: Nieuwe Kerkstraat 103 III.
Their daughter Rachel married Jules Schelvis on 18 December 1940. That same day daughter Hella married Ab Stodel. Deported to Westerbork on 26 May 1943, and subsequently sent to Sobibor on 1 June 1943, they were killed, together with their children Rachel, Hella (Chaja) and Herman (* 30 October 1927) on arrival on 4 June 1943.
Perished at Sobibor according to witness Eda Lichtman.
Sister of Eda Lichtman’s husband. She was deported from Wieliczka together with her parents Susel and Leon Weissberg in early 1943.
Dr. Szulim Bresler
A dentist from Kolo, Poland. Was deported to Sobibor together with his son Jozek. Attended to SS- Oberscharführer Werner Dubois after the revolt, went with Dubois to the hospital in Chelm.
According to Chaim Engel, Bresler was shot by Oberscharführer Karl Frenzel.
He was executed as a result of the Waldkommando escape in July 1943.
Van Broek family
Elizabeth van Broek nee Benedictus (* 23 Februari 1899 in Rotterdam), daughters Lina (* 22 June 1922 in Surabaya, Dutch East-Indies, now Indonesia) and Henriette Elisabeth (* 8 May 1924 in Rotterdam) and son Henry (* 10 March 1926 in Rotterdam) were murdered in Sobibor on 21 May 1943.
A Kapo, approximately 26 years of age, who worked in the Bahnhofkommando and the Waldkommando. He betrayed the planned breakout by the Dutch Jews to Frenzel. Joined the conspiracy.
Elias Alex Cohen
Born 27 September 1905
He was deported from Westerbork on 17 March 1943 to Sobibor where he was selected on the ramp, as an SS man asked for doctors and nurses to volunteer. He was sent to Lublin.
He survived the war. Writer of several books on the Holocaust among which “The nineteen trains to Sobibor”
Born on 15 April 1893 in Kurow Poland. Deported to Sobibor together with his wife his family during May 1942 from Nalenczow. A cook he was brutally whipped by Frenzel on 25 September 1943 in front of the kitchen, for not serving food quickly enough.
He escaped during the revolt and settled in the USA after the war.
Aged 13 the son of Herszel Cukierman, who arrived in Sobibor with his family during May 1942. Worked with his father in the kitchen and the SS canteen, and as a putzer.
After the war settled in Germany, he died on 15 June 1963.
Also spelt as Boris Tsibulsky in some accounts
In pre-war days he was a miner from Donbas, and he dug an escape tunnel in Sobibor at the beginning of October 1943, but on 8 and 9 October, heavy rains flooded the tunnel, and another escape plan had to be considered.
A leading participant in the revolt on 14 October 1943, he killed SS- Unterscharfuhrer Josef Wolf. Cybulski escaped from the camp but died as a partisan fighting the Germans.
Kapo in charge of the Putzers. Member of the underground, participated in the revolt. Probably killed in the revolt.
Julius Jonas and Bella Dalberg
Julius was born on 21 May 1882 in Essentlo, Bella nee Nuszbaum on 28 January 1883 in Hersfeld, Germany. He was a member of the Jewish Community Council in Kassel until 1933 and redactor of the “Jüdische Wochenzeitung für Kassel und Waldeck” in which he published many articles about the Jewish history of Kassel and surroundings.
In September 1933 Julius was arrested and spent two weeks in the Breitenau Concentration Camp, near Frankfurt, after he was released they emigrated to Holland, settling in Amsterdam, where he ran a Judaica shop until 1940.
On 23 July 1943 they were deported together from Westerbork to Sobibor.
Max van Dam
Born 19 March 1910 in Winterswijk Holland. A well –known Dutch painter, -winner of the Prix de Rome 1938,- who was hidden by his friend Professor Hemelrijk. Caught by the Germans while attempting to flee to Switzerland, he was interned at Drancy and later deported to Sobibor where he was killed on 20 September 1943. Made portraits of SS men both in Drancy and in Sobibor.
Mozes (Maurits) and Rachel van Dam
Mozes van Dam (* 5 January 1903) and Rachel nee Leons (* 4 June 1907) were both from Rotterdam. Their daughter Emma Rosette was born in The Hague on 23 June 1937. They lived in Voorburg, Laan van Nieuw Oosteinde 275. Mozes worked as a wholesale dealer.
In the spring of 1943 they were interned in camp Vught. Little Emma and her mother were sent to Westerbork on 6 June 1943, on the infamous children’s transport. They were subsequently deported to Sobibor where they perished on 11 June 1943. Father Mozes shared their fate a month later, on 16 July 1943.
Emmy and Ruth Danneberg
Mother, born on 15 November 1877 in Aurich, and daughter, born 3 March 1910 in Kassel, both Germany. Until 1942 they lived in Kassel from where they were deported on 1 June 1942 to Sobibor.
Born on 6 April 1925 in Stettin, Germany, as it was then. Daughter of Willy Deen (born 3-3-1891 in Tilburg, Holland) and Käthe Deen nee Wolff (born 20-5-1894 in Nuremburg, Germany). Sister of Klaus Gottfried Albert (born 22-6-1928 in Stettin).
She was deported with her family from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 16 July 1943. Helga wrote a brief diary during the last month of her internment in the camp at Vught, which will be published in 2007.
Born on 24 November 1906 nee Polak. Dutch gold medal winner of the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Together with her six-year old daughter Eva she was killed in Sobibor on 23 July 1943.
Also spelt Drescher in some reports, with Josef as the first name. A putzer in the camp, 13 years old on the day of the uprising (14 October 1943).
Took Niemann’s horse from the tailors shop, where Niemann was killed. Escaped from Sobibor but subsequent fate unknown.
Aron and Rosa Drücker
Married couple, born on 11 May 1876 resp. 1 January 1886. Deported on 27 April 1942 from Vienna to Wlodawa and from there to Sobibor
Born 21 December 1912 in Kiev, but went to school in Rowno Poland. Emigrated in 1932 to France. Deported from Drancy to Majdanek concentration camp, but there was no room, so he was sent to Sobibor.
Escaped after the war he settled in Israel. He died of a heart attack on 1 December 1965 in Haifa Israel, one day before he was due to leave for Germany to testify at the Sobibor trial in Hagen, Germany.
Leo (Leib) and Martha Ehrenfreund
Leo, born in Przemysl Poland on 2 March 1895, and Martha, nee Rosenstein, born 24 November 1893, emigrated to Amsterdam from Berlin, where daughter Herta was born in 1911.
Both were deported from Westerbork to Sobibor and killed there on 21 May 1943. Herta had perished in Auschwitz on 24 September 1942.
Alice and Hugo Elbert
Both were deported from Slovakia to Sobibor in 1942 where they both perished.
Born on 19 June 1881 nee Weinstein in Eisenach, Germany. She lived in Kassel from where she was deported to Sobibor on 1 June 1942.
Born on 15 September 1880 nee Pohly in Gottingen Germany. She lived in Kassel from where she was deported to Sobibor on 1 June 1942
Phillipp and Blanka Eltbogen
Born on 20 November resp. 10 October 1891. Deported with their daughters Katherina (* 10-5-1922) and Gertrude (* 14-9-1925) from Vienna to Opole Lubelskie and from there to Sobibor in May 1942.
Isabella Wilhelmina van Embden
Born 5 January 1880 in Nijmegen Holland, nee Jacobs. Last address Park Leeuwenbergh 17 in Leidschendam. Was married to Hijman van Embden who died in July 1940 in Voorburg, Holland. The couple had one son, Joshua who managed to escape to England.
Isabella went into hiding but was arrested, brought to Westerbork and eventually deported to Sobibor where she perished on 2 July 1943.
Born on 10 January 1916 in Brudzew Poland. Deported to Sobibor from Lublin on 6 November 1942. Worked in the sorting barracks, the Bahnhofkommando and the barbers.
During the revolt he stabbed to death SS- Oberscharführer Beckmann and SS- Scharführer Steffl. He escaped from the camp with his girlfriend Selma Wijnberg.
After the war they married and settled first in Israel, and then later in the USA. Chaim died on 4 July 2003 in New Haven USA.
Born 15 May 1922 nee Wijnberg, in Groningen, Holland. Deported on 9 April 1943 from Westerbork to Sobibor. Worked in the sorting barracks and the Waldkommando.
She escaped from the camp during the revolt in October 1943 with Chaim Engel. She later married him, and emigrated to Israel and then the USA.
Escaped from the camp during the revolt in October 1943.
Leon (Lajbl) Feldhendler (Jules Schelvis: Felhendler)
Born in 1910 in Zolkiewka Poland. Pseudonym: Boruch. Former flour-mill owner, the son of a Rabbi and former head of the Judenrat of Zolkiewka.
He arrived in Sobibor in early 1943 and worked in the Bahnhofkommando. One of the chief planners of the revolt, he escaped and eventually settled in Lublin.
He was murdered in Lublin by a member of the Polish underground. His account of Sobibor was published in Polish in 1946.
Born 1884 in Vienna, Austria. A journalist from 1912 and a founder member of “Vereinigung Sozialkritischer Schriftsteller“ (Union of social-critical writers) which the Nazis classified as illegal from 1934.
Her works, among which the successful novel “Mother’s Body”, were banned by the Nazis in 1938. On 14 June 1942 she was deported from Vienna to Sobibor where she perished.
Born 2 September 1924 in Siedlce Poland. Deported to Sobibor on 20 December 1942 from the labour camp Staw- Nowosiulki by horse drawn wagon.
She worked at sewing socks, the laundry and sorting ammunition in Camp IV. She escaped during the revolt, married in Wetzlar, Germany under a false name (Wojciszyn) and settled in Australia on 3 August 1949. Later Zielinski by marriage.
Born 25 November 1924 in Lublin, Poland. Deported to Sobibor on 20 December 1942 from the labour camp Staw-Nowosiulki by horse drawn wagon.
Worked in the sorting barracks and the garden. Escaped to the forest after the revolt, Hella fought with the partisans, and later joined the Red Army.
After the war settled in Israel, died there in December 1988.
Born in Kalisz Poland. Deported from a ghetto in the Lublin district. Chief of the shoemakers workshop. Nicknamed “Negro” because of his tanned appearance.
He wrote a camp song for Wagner which the Jews had to sing. He did not survive the revolt in October 1943, but killed Volksdeutscher Klaus Schreiber during the revolt.
Thirteen- year old boy taunted by Frenzel, for his stammering. Died in the revolt
Also known as Dov in some accounts. Born on 15 May 1927 in Warsaw. Deported to Sobibor from Krasnystaw on 15 May 1942. He dug ditches for garbage, later worked as a Putzer with the Ulrainians, and as a barber.
He escaped during the revolt. His memoirs were delivered in Lodz on 25 July 1945 by Bluma Wasser, but later he corrected himself on several points. After the war settled in Israel.
Deported from Wlodawa, managed to escape in 1942 from the gas chambers by hiding in bushes, and returned to Wlodawa, to warn them of the truth about Sobibor.
Born 9 September 1908 in Butzbach Germany. Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942.
Jakob Salomon and Liebe Rachela Friedmann
Jakob was born in Rzeszow on 28 April 1894, Liebe nee Sonnenberg, in Lancut also in Poland on 9 January 1898. They emigrated to Germany and got six children. Later they moved to Amsterdam. Last known address Amstel 107 III.
Deported to Sobibor where they perished on 21-5-1943, together with son Moritz (* 13-5- 1930). Two weeks earlier son Emil (* 21-9-1925), and on 14 May son Benno (* 22-6-1921) and daughter Toni (* 18-8-1923) were also killed in Sobibor. Two children survived the war.
Koenraad Huib Gezang
Born on 29 January 1942 in The Hague, Holland. He was deported to Sobibor together with other Jewish children from the Amsterdam children’s home “De Creche”, opposite to the “Joodsche Schouwburg”. Children under 12, after being rounded up, were taken to “De Creche”.
On 16 October 1942 an 8 months old boy with no specific marks was exposed in front of the house Duinwijckweg 1 in Bloemendaal, 25 km west of Amsterdam. According to the Dutch law the child was registered Van Duinwijck as his 'family'-name, and after Hector
Malot's novel it was given Remi as first name. Foundlings in those days were supposed to be Jewish and so was Remi, after Lodewijk Strak, NSB- and SS member and alderman of Amsterdam, stated the child had Jewish ears. Remi was taken to "De Chrèche", opposite to the "Joodsche Schouwburg", where all Jewish children under 12 were taken after being rounded up. Because of all attention the baby received there, it was not possible for Dutch underground members to smuggle him out and into hiding. Remi was deported to Westerbork and from there to Sobibor, where he perished on 21 May 1943.
After the war it became known that his real name had been Koenraad Huib Gezang, born in The Hague, on 29 January 1942. His mother, Florence Gezang nee Goudeket, had also perished in Sobibor, on 9 April 1943, six weeks before her son."
Spoke openly about the possibility of revolt, was betrayed and killed by the Germans, according to Moshe Bahir.
Katty (Catharina, Kitty) Gokkes
Born 1 September 1923 in The Hague. Her mother Sophie nee Hekster (* 29-11-1898) and brothers Simon (* 19-11-1927) and Isaac (* 24-12-1934) were on the children’s transport from camp Vught to Westerbork and subsequently deported to Sobibor, where they perished on 11 June 1943.
Katty escaped during the revolt, fought in the forest as a partisan. Died of typhus on 20 September 1944.
Born on 15 March 1920 in Piaski, Poland. Deported with Kurt Thomas on 6 November 1942. He painted plaques and the suitcase labels of the SS men.
Escaped during the revolt and joined a partisan unit.
Born on 29 November 1901 in Nuremburg, Germany. On 4 April 1942 she was deported from Munich to the Piaski transit ghetto. Several months later she was deported to Sobibor.
Born 1 March 1884 in Odessa, Ukraine, Czarist Russia. Ethnologist. Deported on 14 June 1942 from Vienna to Sobibor.
Born 8 May 1880 in Berlin, Germany. Member of Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942.
He was deported from Hrubieszow, Poland. He was appointed a Kapo in the camp. He was cruel towards the prisoners. Denounced by Kapo “Berliner” and executed with the other Kapos in the summer of 1943.
Mozes Richard and Philip Max Hakker
Father (* 31-1-1894) and son (* 30-9-1920) from Rotterdam, last known address Oosteinde 301 Voorburg, Holland. Mozes Richard Hakker tried to escape to Switzerland with his wife, son and daughter. They were betrayed in Nancy, France. Via camp Rivesaltes they were interned at camp Gurs. They got some protection from the Dutch consulate in Lyon but in February 1943, the family was caught by the Vichy police. The women were set free. The men were deported via transit camp Drancy to Sobibor, where they perished on 9 March 1943.
A war diary and some postcards sent by Mozes Richard Hakker are kept at the Historical Museum of Rotterdam “Schielandhuis”.
Samuel and Berta Hamburger
Samuel was born on 26 February 1869 in Colmberg, Germany. Before the war he emigrated to Holland together with the family with which he had lived in Nuremburg.
On 11 May 1943 he was deported to Sobibor from the Westerbork camp and he perished on 14 May 1943. Berta was born on 29 October 1873, nee Schlachter, in Braunsbach, Germany.
She was deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor and she perished on 23 July 1943
Born on 24 December 1901 in The Hague, Holland. Bookkeeper who lived in Oud-Beijerland near Rotterdam, with wife and two children who all three survived the war.
Deported from Westerbork to Sobibor where he perished on 16 July 1943.
Escaped during the revolt.
Elly Louise Herschel
Born 8 September 1924 in Zwolle, the Netherlands. Early 1941 she lived in Amsterdam with her parents, Nathan Herschel (* Genemuiden,
16 January 1894) and Reintje Herschel nee Anholt (* Zwolle, 24 August 1893), and her sister Betsy Estella (* Zwolle, 11 September 1921); last known address Volkerakstraat 28. They were deported to Westerbork and from there to Sobibor, but not together. Elly and Betsy were on the train that left on 6 April. Betsy was gassed on arrival, Elly was selected for work in the laundry.
On 23 May 1943 Elly wrote a postcard from Sobibor (which she called "Arbeitslager Wlodawa") to her parents, believed to be still alive in transit camp Westerbork. But in fact Elly's parents had also been deported to Sobibor, on 4 May 1943. Both had perished on arrival on 7 May 1943, no more than a few hundred yards away from their daughter. The postcard was sent to Westerbork, not as was usual to the Jewish Council in Amsterdam, probably via the 'Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland', Berlin-Charlottenburg, Kantstraße 158.
Elly was mentioned in the testimonies of Sobibor survivors Selma Engel-Wijnberg and Ursula Stern (Ilona Safran). She was killed probably during or shortly after the uprising. The official date of her death, 31 October 1943, was registered for administrative reasons."
Born in 1925 in Zolkiewka, Poland. Deported from Chelm to Sobibor. Worked in the Sorting barracks, the Banhofskommando and the Waldkommando.
He escaped during the revolt, and after the war settled in Israel.
Born on 26 October 1900 in Vienna, Austria. Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942
Escaped during the revolt.
Born on 10 April 1910 in Kiev, Ukraine, Czarist Russia. At the outbreak of the Second World War lived in Gorzkow near Izbica Lubelski.
Deported to Sobibor in November 1942 but he escaped. In April 1943 deported once again from Trawniki to Sobibor. He worked in the kitchen and then the Waldkommando where he escaped a second time on 20 July 1943.
After the war settled in the USA.
Escaped during the revolt, and was in the forest with Alexander Pechersky
A former Dutch naval officer who arrived in Sobibor on 21 May 1943. Some testimonies state Jacobs was a journalist who had fought in the International Brigade in Spain.
Jacobs was encouraged into Underground activity by Leon Feldhendler, and in August 1943 a plan was developed, with assistance by Ukrainian guards to obtain weapons from the camp arms shed.
The escape was betrayed by a Ukrainian, and despite enduring severe beatings and torture, Jacobs refused to implicate any other prisoner.
Seventy- two Jews, including Jacobs, were executed in Camp III on Wagner’s instructions. Although several people by the name of Joseph Jacobs are known to have been killed in Sobibor, there is no hard evidence for this statement in Dutch Holocaust statistics.
Born on 5 October 1904 nee Friedmann, in Tarnow Poland. She came to the Netherlands from Palestine probably in 1929. She was caught by the Nazis despite hiding in Amsterdam, and taken to Westerbork.
She was subsequently deported to Sobibor where she perished on 23 July 1943.
Born on 12 October 1907 in Merzig, Saarland. He fled Germany in 1935 with all his family (parents, brothers, sisters, wife, and baby girl). He was married to Thea Liselotte Salomon.
A part of the family first gathered in Alençon before some fled to the “Free Zone”. Some survived the Holocaust, but most of them perished in Auschwitz- Birkenau.
Edgar Kahn was arrested in Lavelanet in the French Pyrenees around 20 February 1943, triggered by the killing of two Luftwaffe officers in Paris on 13 February 1943.
He was imprisoned in the transit camp at Gurs. On 26 February 1943 – the day his daughter was born in Lavelanet, hidden in the attic of the local convent by sisters, who protected his wife and her daughters until the end of the war – he was taken to Drancy, the transit camp in the suburbs of Paris.
He was deported to Sobibor on Convoy Number 50 on 4 March 1943.
Heintje Clara van de Kar
Born 15 September 1915 in Amsterdam. Sister of Celina Leeda-Van de Kar. She was murdered in Sobibor on 28 May 1943
Jacob and Betje van de Kar
Jacob was born 11 August 1889 in Amsterdam, Holland, as the son of Jacob van de Kar and Esther Cohen Rodrigues. Betje was born 23 February 1883 nee Wurms, in Amsterdam, Holland, as the daughter of Barend Wurms and Sara Lap.
Both perished in Sobibor on 28 May 1943. Their sons Philip and Mozes died in concentration camp Mauthausen. Philip in September 1941, his brother one year later.
Vrouwtje van de Kar
Born 6 January 1916 in Amsterdam, nee Wittenburg. She lived with husband David, a labourer, and their sons Marcus (* 31-8-1939) and Mozes (* 25-4-1941) in the Lange Houtstraat, near the Waterlooplein in the old Jewish quarter of the city.
Though not as a family of four. While still pregnant the house is attacked by Dutch nazis and German soldiers early in the turbulent month of February 1941. Husband David is among the victims of the violent round up at the Jonas Daniël Meyerplein on the 22th, cause of the February strike 3 days later. He is sent to transit camp Schoorl and from there to KZ Buchenwald; he dies in Mauthausen in July 1941.
Vrouwtje and her little boys are deported to Westerbork and from there to Sobibor, where they are gassed on arrival on 7 May 1943.
A girl from Dubienka, deported to Sobibor together with Eda Lichtman and Bella (Bajle) Sobol in June 1942. They were deported from Hrubieszow in a transport of 7000 people, and Serka Katz worked at cleaning the living quarters of the SS.
She escaped from the camp but probably perished in the forest.
Born on 29 August 1914 in Berlin, Germany. Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942
Born 15 February 1897 in Amsterdam. He was one of two gymnastics coaches for the Netherlands’ women’s team at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, the first time women’s gymnastics was included in the Olympic program.
A popular coach he helped lead the Dutch team to the gold medal as they amassed 316.75 points. Killed in Sobibor on 2 July 1943 together with his wife Kaatje (* 29-8-1895) and their 14-year old daughter Elisabeth (* 14-10-1928).
His son Leendert (* 15-1-1923) was killed in Auschwitz- Birkenau the following year. Kleerekoper was killed together with Helena Kloot, one of his gymnasts.
Born 1 August 1903 in Amsterdam, nee Nordheim. Dutch gold medal winner of the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Hairdresser by profession, as was her husband Abraham (* 28-7-1902).
Together with him and her daughter Rebecca (* 12-4-1933) she was deported to Sobibor. They were all killed on 2 July 1943
Born 25 July 1910 in Lodz. Deported to Sobibor in May 1942 from Wisocka. He worked in the sorting barracks, the kitchen and the Waldkommando.
After the war he settled in Australia. He died on 19 January 1986 in Melbourne.
Born in Bilgoraj, Poland. Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943, with Szlomo Podchlebnik whilst obtaining water to drink at the nearby village of Zlobek, after killing the Ukrainian guard.
Josef Kopf was murdered in August 1944 by his Polish “friends”. He had left his belongings with them for safekeeping.
Born 15 May 1923 in Izbica Lubelskie, Poland. Deported to Sobibor from Izbica on 28 April 1943. Worked in the Waldkommando and escaped on 20 July 1943
Emigrated to Italy and then settled in Brasil.
From Krakow. A tall handsome young man aged twenty-one who escaped during the revolt and found refuge in the forest. Killed on 23 April 1944 by the farmer Bojarski, who was sheltering Fred, Thomas Toivi Blatt , Szmul Wajcen.
Born on 17 July 1884 in Witzenhausen near Kassel, Germany. Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942
Member of the underground, appointed by Pechersky to act as a security team to safeguard the meetings in the women’s barrack.
Celina Leeda – Van de Kar
Born on 11 May 1904 in Amsterdam, Holland. Wife of Aäron Leeda who was murdered in Auschwitz on 13 November 1942, sister of Heintje Clara van de Kar.
She perished in Sobibor on 20 March 1943, together with her children Jacob (* 12-3-1930), Mozes (* 28-4-1932), Bertha (* 11-3-1934), Sophia (* 7-8-1936) and Rebecca (* 7-6-1938).
A Polish Jew who had been deported to Sobibor from the SS Labour camp on Sheroka Street in Minsk. A carpenter by profession, a leading member of the Underground in Sobibor, he killed SS- Unterscharfuhrer Friedrich Gaulstich in a newly built barrack, near the carpentry workshop, during the uprising.
He was however, subsequently wounded during the escape from the camp and after running about 3km his strength gave way, and he begged to be shot.
Born in Zolkiewka, Poland. Deported to Sobibor on 23 April 1943. Escaped during the revolt. After the war settled in Israel
Born 1 October 1922 in Zolkiewka, Poland. Deported to Sobibor in May 1942. Looked after the horses and chickens. Escaped from the camp during the revolt.
Recognized former SS- Oberscharführer Erich Bauer in Berlin and Bauer was arrested.
Born 22 July 1926 in Warsaw. Deported from Warsaw to Smolensk where he worked for the Organisation Todt for ten months building an airfield.
He escaped but was recaptured and sent to the Minsk ghetto, and then onto an SS Labour Camp on Sheroka Street. Deported from this camp to Sobibor, he worked as a carpenter.
During the revolt Lerner killed SS – Oberscharführer Graetschus and the Volksdeutscher Ivan Klatt. Survived the war fighting as a partisan in the forest.
Emigrated to Israel, and took part in the Claude Lanzmann’s film about the Sobibor revolt, “Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures”.
Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943
Fifteen -years old he worked first in the laundry, then in the kitchen and finally in the shoemakers barracks. Hid Vallester’s body after he was killed during the revolt.
He died during the revolt shooting at guards to cover those escaping.
Born 1 January 1915, nee Fiszer in Jaroslav Poland. Deported to Sobibor in the middle of June 1942. Worked in the Laundry and in the Sorting barracks.
Escaped during the revolt and after the war settled in Israel.
Born 10 December 1908 in Zolkiewka, Poland. Deported to Sobibor on 15 May 1942. Worked in the shoemakers shop. Fought as a partisan and subsequently joined the Polish army
Married Eda whom he met in Sobibor and after the war settled in Israel. Itzhak died in 1992 in Israel.
Young woman who escaped from the death camp area in Sobibor on 25/26 December 1942, with two Ukrainians guards, and three other prisoners.
They sought refuge in a farm near the village of Olchowiec, but were betrayed, and killed by members of the Polish Police. Fanny and Jacob Liebschutz
Fanny and Jacob Liebschutz were deported to Sobibor in 1942.
Was put in charge of a battle-team whose task was to cut the barbed wire fence near the camp commandant’s house. Escaped from the camp and survived the war.
Hugo and Else Löwenstein
Hugo was born 4 September 1894 in Enger/ Westphalia , Germany. Else was born 11 August 1893 nee Goldbach, in Herford, Germany. They had two children Emmi Renate (* 7-2-1925 in Herford, Germany) and Hans.
The family emigrated to Holland in 1934 where they settled on Merwedeplein 13 III, the same square where Anne Frank lived. Hans went to the USA in 1939.
Hugo, Else and Emmi were all deported to Sobibor where they perished on 9 June 1943.
Luka was a German Jewess who was deported from Holland who arrived in Sobibor with her father and was assigned to look after the rabbits.
She was the “ girlfriend” cover, for Sasha Pechersky’s meetings with Leon Feldhendler. She was probably killed in the revolt
Born on 18 June 1892 in Amsterdam. Lived on Herengracht 64, together with four elder sisters. Stockbroker. None of the Lutomirski’s survived the war. Isidor’s sister Martha (* 17-6-1883) was gassed in Sobibor on 13 March 1943. The others died in Auschwitz. He himself perished in Sobibor on 9 April 1943.
Isaac Maarsen was born on 27 February 1892 in Amsterdam. A brilliant student at the Dutch-Israelite Rabbinical School of Amsterdam and appointed rabbi in his native city in 1919, he married Jeannette Boekdrukker (Born Amsterdam, 28 November 1895). They had three daughters, Rosina (Born Amsterdam, 11 November 1923), Henriette (Born Amsterdam, 31 August 1925) and Suzanna (Born The Hague, 9 February 1928). Maarsen was appointed Chief Rabbi of The Hague, the second largest Jewish community in Holland, in 1925. He was an influential leader, especially in his resistance to Jewish assimilation and liberal "reform". After Rosina was ordered for forced labour (and killed in Auschwitz in January 1943), the other members of the family were deported via Westerbork to Sobibor, where they perished on 23 July 1943.
Escaped from Sobibor in the very early days of the camps history.
Mozes and Jettje Manheim
Mozes was born 3 June 1882 in Rotterdam. A draughtsman, he married Jettje Froukje Cohen, born 6 January 1889 in Opsterland. Both lived in the town of Amersfoort, Jacob Catslaan 35. They had one son who survived the war.
Mozes and Jettje were deported to Westerbork and from there to Sobibor, where they perished on 16 July 1943.
Born 25 January 1921 in Zyrardow, Poland. Worked at one of the Belzec Labour camps in 1940 in Belzec, building the border defence line between the General Governement and the Soviet Union.
Deported on the 24 May 1942 to Sobibor from Zamosc. Worked in the Bahnhofkommando, the kitchen and in the sorting barracks. Escaped from the camp during the revolt.
After the war emigrated to Israel.
Born 17 July 1919 in Karlsruhe, Germany. She was the youngest of three children. Her father was arrested and murdered by the Nazis, for anti-Nazi activities.
In April 1934 she and her mother emigrated to France. In 1941 her sister obtained tickets for a ship to the USA, but Eva could not sail as she was nine months pregnant.
She gave birth in Marseille, her son survived the war as she gave him to a Jewish children’s home in Limoges, and after the war he settled in Israel.
She was arrested by the Germans in January 1943 and deported to Sobibor where she perished.
Escaped from the camp in the early days of the camps history in 1942.
Escaped from Sobibor during the October 1943 uprising. In the forest departed with Alexander Pechersky’s group before they crossed the Bug River.
Born 7 January 1910 in Kolo, Poland. In 1937 married Hella Podchlebnik, Schlomo’s sister. Deported to Sobibor from Izbica in April or May 1942.
Worked in the sorting barracks and the tailors workshop making caps
Escaped in the revolt. Settled in Australia, died in Melbourne in 1984
Escaped during the October 1943 revolt
Born 1 May 1925 nee Kelberman in Siedliszcze, Poland. Deported from a labour camp at Staw to Sobibor on 22 December 1942, together with her cousin Regina Feldman and Estera Raab. She worked in the tailor’s shop.
Worked in the group that constructed Camp IV. Escaped from the camp during the October 1943 revolt. After the war settled in the USA.
Herman Jacob Minekenhoff
Born 10 February 1895 in Amsterdam. Journalist who lived in the village of Naarden, between Amsterdam and Hilversum in Holland. Deported from Westerbork to Sobibor and perished on 23 July 1943.
Was appointed the conductor of the camp choir in Sobibor was promoted to the rank of kapo. Foreman of the putzers. Member of the underground.- encouraged the inclusion of Kapos in the revolt planning and execution - killed during the uprising.
Rabbi Mendel Morgensztern
The last Rabbi in the Wlodawa Jewish Community. Member of the Hassidic dynasty from Kock. Deported in the summer of 1942 during the so-called “Children’s Action” when only children were deported to Sobibor.
Rabbi Morgensztern voluntarily went with the children to their death in Sobibor.
Mundek worked in the tailors shop and stabbed Niemann’s dead body calling out the names of his wife and children killed in Sobibor. He was gagged and placed in a closet.
A Polish Jew who worked in the Camp’s bakery. During the uprising he was killed in the Bakery.
52 year old German Jew from Berlin, hence the nickname “Berliner”. A luggage sorter. Betrayed the Kapos who were planning to escape during the first part of September 1943.
Appointed the Head Kapo. Cruel and mocking, even the SS copied his manner. Berliner was attacked by a number of prisoners, led by Kapo’s Poczcki, Bunio and others and beaten with a whip, almost to death.
“Berliner” was poisoned by the prisoners with the tacit approval of Frenzel.
Abraham and Richard Nol
Abraham, born 2 November 1919 in Uitgeest, and Richard, born 8 November 1920 in Amsterdam were cousins. Abraham worked as a bookkeeper, Richard was a commercial artist making drawings from models. His mother was a patient in the Jewish asylum “Het Apeldoornse Bos”.
Abraham and Richard were arrested on 18 May 1942 in IJmuiden during an attempted escape by fishing boat to England. After 12 months in prisons in Holland, -Scheveningen, Haaren, Utrecht,- they were sent to Westerbork camp and from there deported to Sobibor on 18 May 1943. They perished on 21 May 1943.
Kathe Liselotte Norden
Born 16 January 1919 nee Haendel, in Wollin, Germany. Daughter of Georg and Rosy Haendel. Married to Karel Norden. Member of the Deventer Hachshara pioneers.
Deported from Amsterdam, Holland, to Sobibor where she perished on 9 July 1943
Jacob (Jaap) Nunes Vaz
Born 20 September 1906 in Amsterdam, Holland. Member of the independent socialist party. He worked as a journalist for the underground newspaper “het Parool” and was arrested by the Gestapo on 25 October 1942 in the town of Wageningen. Imprisoned in Scheveningen.
He was deported from Westerbork transit camp to Sobibor and perished there on 13 March 1943
Born on 21 February 1913 in Amsterdam, Holland. Son of David and Rosa Parijs. A chemist by profession.
He was deported to Sobibor where he shared the fate as his parents, who died on 28 May and 28 March 1943. Samuel perished on 4 June 1943.
Alexander (Sasha) Pechersky
Born on 22 February 1909 in Kremenchuk, Czarist Russia. Born into a middle class Jewish family – in 1915 his family moved to Rostov on Don, where he later studied music and theatre.
After receiving his diploma, he worked as a director in a string of so-called cultural centres, where he organised amateur theatre. He married and had a daughter Elochka, who survived the holocaust by hiding in a Ukrainian village.
In October 1941 Sasha was conscripted into the Soviet army as a junior commander. In the area of Viazma he was taken prisoner by the Germans.
In May 1942 Sasha and four other prisoners attempted to escape but they were captured. They were sent to a penal camp in Borisov, where it was discovered he was a Jew, and was thus sent to a labour camp run by the SS on Sheroka Street Minsk.
In this camp he met, and became friendly with a Polish Jew carpenter, called Shlomo Leitman. They were deported from Minsk and arrived in Sobibor on 23 September 1943.
Pechersky because of his military experience, along with Leon Feldhendler planned and executed the longed for uprising in Sobibor. After escaping from the camp, and hiding in the forest, Pechersky and his men who had arrived in the transports from Minsk, separated from the other prisoners who had survived the revolt.
Pechersky and his group succeeded in crossing the Bug River on the night of 19/20 October 1943 and three days later they met with Soviet partisans in the area of Brest Litovsk and joined up with them to fight the Germans. After the liberation Sasha returned to the Ukraine where he was re-united with his daughter.
He was arrested during Stalin’s reign of terror, and was imprisoned, but was released when the truth about his escape from Sobibor became known.
Sasha died in January 1990 in Rostov on Don.
In June 1943 Josel Pelc, a carpenter from Tyszowice successfully escaped in the middle of night by cutting the barbed wire fences and evading the guards and mines.
Escaped in the revolt on 14 October 1943
Aged fifteen years old worked with Moshe Bahir in the German casino -Killed during the revolt.
Escaped from Sobibor and departed with Sasha Pechersky’s group that crossed the Bug River.
From Kolo, a cousin of Szlomo Podchlebnik. A Foreman of the Waldkommando who attempted to escape on 20 July 1943. Captured he was executed but just before he was shot he shouted towards the Germans “ Remember there will come a time and we will be avenged”.
Born 15 February 1907 in Kolo. Arrived in Sobibor on 28 April 1943 with his wife and two children from Izbica Lubelskie. Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943 , with Josef Kopf whilst obtaining water to drink at the nearby village of Zlobek, after killing the Ukrainian guard.
After the war settled in the USA.
A Dutch Jewess from The Hague. Deported to Sobibor on 13 March 1943 on the same transport as Mirjam Penha – Blits. She was selected on the ramp together with 32 women and 12 men.
After several hours she was deported to Lublin. Cato Polak survived the war and returned to Holland.
Mandel and Rozalia Polisecki
Mandel was born in 1895 in Kamionka. He was head of the Judenrat in Piaski. His wife Rozalia (date and place of birth unknown) was vice–president of the “Help Committee for Refugees and Poor People” in Piaski.
Their daughter Mania (* 8-11-1919) worked as a waitress in the Volksküche in the Piaski ghetto. They were all deported to Sobibor in July 1942
A Kapo in Camp II occasionally in the Waldkommando.
Born in Liubomil in 1911. Worked in a labour camp in Chelm. Deported to Sobibor in February 1943. A carpenter he worked in Camp I. Escaped from the camp during the October 1943 revolt
Born 8 October 1909 in Lubomel, Poland. Deported to Sobibor on 14 March 1943 from Chelm. Escaped during the revolt and after the war emigrated to Israel
The younger brother of Kapo Szymon Pozycki. Herz carried out the murder of SS-Oberscharführer Beckmann.
A Kapo aged approximately 35. He played a leading role in the attack on Oberkapo Berliner. Pozycki became one of the key participants in the revolt.
He was killed during the revolt
The father of Kapo Szymon Pozycki. He escaped from Sobibor during the revolt.
Born 23 June 1874 in Deventer, Holland. Lived in Bussum, no acquaintances known. Deported to Sobibor where he perished on 9 July 1943.
Born 11 June 1922 nee Terner in Chelm, Poland. Deported to Sobibor from the labour camp at Staw on 22 December 1942, on a horse wagon transport, together with Zelda Kelberman and Regina Feldman.
Worked in the knitting barrack near the tailor’s shop and in the sorting barracks. Escaped during the October 1943 revolt, and was wounded but survived.
Recognised Erich Bauer in Berlin with Samuel Lerer in 1949. After the war settled in the USA
Who worked in the kitchen gave the prisoners who were sick with typhus extra food, luckily SS – Oberscharführer Frenzel who almost discovered this act of mercy, did not do so.
Did not survive the revolt.
Born 14 May 1886 in Munich, Germany. Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942
He was deported from Lvov. Appointed as a Kapo he was involved in the attempted escape by the Kapos in early September 1943. Together with the other Kapos’s including Guwerner he was denounced by Kapo “Berliner” and executed.
Born in 1922 in the Soviet Union. Soviet Prisoner of War. Arrived in Sobibor on 23 September 1943. Part of the underground, he was tasked with killing SS- Oberscharfuhrer Frenzel in the carpentry shop, but Frenzel did not keep the appointment.
Escaped from the camp, hid in the forest till he was liberated, and joined the Red Army, twice wounded he was involved in the fighting for Berlin. On the ruins of Hitler’s Chancellery he carved on the wall this inscription with his bayonet – Baranowicze – Sobibor – Berlin.
In the 1980’s left Russia and settled in Israel.
Born 1925 in Wlodawa. Deported to Sobibor from Wlodawa on 1 May 1943. Selected by Frenzel along with his brother to work. His brother was killed during the revolt.
A bricklayer by profession and he worked on building a mess, a bakery and the construction of an arsenal, as well as in the Sorting barracks and on the ramp.
Escaped during the revolt, recaptured by Schupos, he was taken to Adampole, but he escaped to the Parczew forest. After the war settled in Israel.
Nephew of Stanislaw Szmajzner. Deported from Opole Lubelskie with Szmajzner, and selected to work as a jeweller. Did not survive the revolt.
Born in Lodz. In 1942/43 he was in the Osowa work camp, which was near Sobibor. Deported to Sobibor in the autumn of 1943 along with other prisoners.
At Osowa he was a friend of inmate Stefan Ostapiuk from Osowa.
Born 28 August 1926 nee Ursula Stern in Essen, Germany. Her family emigrated to Holland when the Nazis came to power. Arrested by the Germans she was sent to the camp at Vught, and later to Westerbork.
Deported from Westerbork transit camp on 6 April 1943 to Sobibor. Worked in the sorting barracks, the Waldkommando, and in Camp IV sorting munitions.
Escaped to the forest with Katty Gokkes, where she joined the partisans. After the war settled in Israel. Died in 1985 in Ashdod Israel.
From Lublin. Worked in the sorting barracks. Did not survive the revolt.
Born 12 September 1891 in Augsburg, Germany. Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942.
Born 7 January 1921 in Amsterdam. Printer by profession. Married Rachel Borzykowski on 18 December 1941. Deported from Westerbork 1 June 1943 together with his wife Rachel and her family.
Selected in the Sobibor reception area together with 80 other young men to work as a peat-cutter at the Dorohucza labour camp, a subcamp of Trawniki. His wife and her family were gassed on arrival.
From Dorohucza he was sent to Lublin (labour camp Alter Flugplatz) and later to the Radom ghetto to work in a printing office. When the Radom ghetto was liquidated he came to Auschwitz concentration camp where he was selected to work at a forced labour camp in the south-western part of Germany. Eventually he was liberated by French allied forces.
He survived the war and in 1986 published his memoirs in a Dutch language book “Binnen de Poorten”. After studying juridical archives he also wrote a book on “Extermination Camp Sobibor”. An English version of this book will be published in 2007.
Born in Amsterdam nee Borzykowski on 2 March 1923. Married Jules Schelvis on 18 December 1941. Deported from Westerbork on 1 June 1943 together with her husband Jules and her family.
Gassed on arrival with her whole family, apart from Jules.
Born 16 January 1884 in Sorgenloch, near Mainz Germany. Member of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported to Sobibor in November 1942
Born in Amsterdam on 25 May 1917, caught by the Germans and interned in the Westerbork transit camp. Deported to Sobibor where he perished on 9 July 1943.
Levi was born 30 March 1859 in Raesfeld, Germany. Before the war they emigrated to Holland. He lived in Hilversum with his daughters Friederike and Hedwig, and with Hedwig’s husband and daughter Juliana.
Levi was deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 25 May 1943, where he perished three days later.
Born 9 April 1869 nee Rosenbaum, in Borken, Germany. Before the war she emigrated to Holland. She was deported from Westerbork transit camp to Sobibor on 30 April 1943.
A German Jew, who worked as an electrician, although some sources state he was from Czechoslovakia. He put the camps generator out of action, during the revolt.
He escaped from the camp to the forest.
Jacob Moritz Seligman
Born 25 July 1884 in Hamburg. Deported in March 1943 from Westerbork to Sobibor where he perished on 5-21-1943.
Escaped during the revolt in October 1943.
Escaped during the revolt in October 1943.
From Vienna. Woman Capo in charge of the knitters
Also known as Kali- Mali. Soviet Prisoner of War from Baku. Member of the underground. Took part in the killing of SS- Untersturmfuhrer Niemann
Escaped from the camp and with Pechersky and joined the Voroshilov partisans where he was killed fighting the Germans.
Sixteen years old at the time of the uprising, also known by his Yiddish nickname Jossel. Protected by Kurt Thomas in the camp infirmary. Thomas and Siegel met while escaping from the camp, but as far as we know Jossel did not survive.
Born 17 December 1904 in Amsterdam. Son of Azor Smeer and Sara Smeer, nee Cohen. Accused of communist propaganda and sabotage he was arrested by the Germans and imprisoned in Scheveningen prison. Deported to Westerbork camp.
On 25 May 1943 deported from Westerbork to Sobibor where he perished on 28 May 1943.
Escaped from Sobibor during the revolt in October 1943. Survived the war.
A young woman from Dubienka. Deported to Sobibor together with Eda Lichtman in June 1942. She worked together with Eda Lichtman in the laundry.
Probably killed in the revolt.
40 year old Jew from Holland who was appointed Kapo. Was not considered completely reliable. He may have been Siegfried Spitz from Vienna, * 23 April 1902, probably killed after the revolt.
Li van Staden
Female assistant to Max Van Dam, who painted portraits of the SS.
Born in Zolkiewka
Deported to Sobibor in the same transport as Leon Feldhendler. In charge of the geese was killed when one goose died.
Abraham and Hella (Chaja) Stodel
Abraham (Ab) was born 2 July 1920 in Amsterdam. Leather worker by profession. Hella was born 6 August 1921 in Amsterdam, nee Borzykowski. She was the daughter of David and Gretha Borzykowski. Hella and Ab got married on 18 December 1941, on the same day her sister Rachel married Jules Schelvis.
Ab’s parents, Levie Stodel (* 14-12-1882) and Esther Stodel nee Vischschraper (* 12-1-1888) were gassed in Sobibor on 13 March 1943. Ab and Hella were rounded up together with the Borzykowski family on 26 May 1943. They were deported to Westerbork and all sent to Sobibor on June 1st.
After the arrival at Sobibor on 4 June 1943, in the reception area, Ab and his brother-in-law Jules Schelvis were selected to work in the Dorohucza labour camp, in the Sobibor reception area.
Hella was sent immediately to the gas chambers, together with her parents, her brother and her sister. Ab perished in Dorohucza, probably in November 1943 during the Aktion Erntefest.
Also known in the Camp as “Moses the Governor”. From Hrubesziow. Was the Head Kapo – aged 22 years old. Betrayed by Kapo “ Berliner” in September 1943, for an alleged escape attempt, and executed with most of the other Kapos in Camp III.
Born 25 March 1870. Deported on 27 April 1942 from Vienna, Austria to Wlodawa. Taken from Wlodawa to Sobibor where he perished.
Josef and Posel Szmajzner
Parents of Stanislaw Szmajzner. Lived in Pulawy. Deported from Opole to Sobibor, arrived in Sobibor on 12 May 1942. Gassed on his arrival with his daughter Ryrka, who was married.
Brother of Stanislaw Szmajzner arrived in Sobibor on 12 May 1942. Deported with him from Opole Lubelski. He was selected together with Stanislaw Szmajzner, Nojech Szmajzner and Jankiel Rotter.
They worked in the camp as jewellers. He did not survive the revolt.
From Wolwonice. Cousin of Stanislaw Szmajzner. Deported to Sobibor from Opole Lubelski on 12 May 1942. He worked in the camp as a jeweller.
He did not survive the revolt.
Born 13 March 1927 in Pulawy, Poland. Deported to Sobibor on 12 May 1942 from Opole Lubelski with his family. Selected to live with his brother and cousin, Stanislaw a goldsmith made rings and jewellery for the Nazis.
Gustav Wagner later appointed him Chief of the Machine Shop. Joined the underground and was responsible for stealing weapons and as he repaired stoves in the Ukrainian living quarters, was able to achieve this brave feat.
He participated fully in the revolt, and escaped from the camp. After the war he settled in Brasil, and wrote a book about his experiences in Sobibor called “Inferno in Sobibor” in 1968.
He identified former SS- Oberscharfuhrer Gustav Wagner, who had escaped justice and had also settled in Brasil, in May 1978. He committed suicide on 3 March 1989 in Goiania Brasil.
She was deported to Sobibor from Siedliszcze. Eda Lichtman described her as a beautiful young woman. She was killed during the revolt.
Sylvia Sztycer was born on New Year’s Day 1940, in a hospital in Voorburg Holland. She lived in the Hague together with her father Max, mother Ilse, elder brother Sem and baby brother Ruben.
Early in 1943 the family were interned in the Camp at Vught. Mother and children were sent on the infamous Children’s Transport, 6 June 1943 to Wwesterbork Camp.
On the 13 July 1943 Sylvia together with her mother and brothers were deported to Sobibor where they were gassed on 16 July 1943. Sylvia’s father survived the war.
Escaped from Sobibor during the revolt.
Born 1917 in Minsk, Soviet Union. Deported to Sobibor from Minsk on 15 September 1943. Worked as a roofer. Member of the underground, and was charged with cutting the barbed wire by the Commandant’s house.
Escaped from the camp and survived the war.
Born 27 January 1925 in Leipzig, Germany. In 1938 he emigrated to Holland where he became involved in Zionist activity (Youth Aliyah pavilion “Loosdrechtse Rade”). Went into hiding but was arrested by the Gestapo.
On 27 April 1943 he was deported from Holland to Sobibor where he perished 3 days later.
Born 20 August 1904 in The Hague, Holland, nee Simons. Won a gold medal for the Dutch gymnastic team in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.
Together with her daughter Sonja (* 9-3-1918) and son Leon ( 28-2-1940), both born in Utrecht, she was killed in Sobibor on 20 March 1943.
Kurt Max Thomas (Ticho)
Born 11 April 1914 in Brünn in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, later the city was named Brno, Czechoslovakia. Deported from Terezin (Theresienstadt) to Trawniki, and then the ghetto at Piaski.
On 6 November 1942 deported from Piaski to Sobibor. Worked in the sorting barracks and later as a medical orderly
He escaped from the camp during the revolt. Girlfriend Minny Cats, born in Haarlem Holland on 6 March 1920, perished on the day of the uprising, 14 October 1943. Emigrated to the USA in 1948.
Israel (Srulke) Trager
Was born in Chelm in 1906, he escaped from Sobibor during the revolt, and died in Tel-Aviv in 1969. He is survived by his son; Moti Trager who lives in Israel.
Menno and Ansje (Annie) Troostwijk
Menno was born on 13 April 1909 in Zwolle, Holland. Ansje was born on 29 September 1917 in Amsterdam, Holland, nee Hijmans. Menno worked as a sales supervisor.
Deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 10 March 1943, where Menno was murdered on the 13th. She was selected on the Sobibor ramp to work in the labour camp in Trawniki.
She died at the Trawniki camp from tuberculosis.
A Kapo 17 years old was transferred with his group from Camp II to Camp III when they were transferring disinfectants to the death camp area, and inadvertently saw inside Camp III.
Leni (Magdalena) Valk
Born 28 September 1933 in Goch, Germany. Daughter of Walter and Erna Valk. She was sent by her parents to family in Leeuwarden, Holland, where lived Isaak Valk (* 4-9-1889 in Embden, Germany) and Herta Valk nee Hoffmann (* 11-6-1898 in Jever, Germany), together with Herta’s parents. The latter were deported to Auschwitz in October 1942. Isaak, Herta and Leni werd deported to Sobibor and perished on 21 May 1943.
Jonas and Catharina Veffer
Jonas Veffer, a diamond worker, was born 20 October 1893 in Amsterdam. His wife Catharina Veffer nee Stuiver was also born in Amsterdam on 14 March 1895. They lived on Tugelaweg, in the quarter of the city known as the Transvaal area, where many Jews had settled after the slum clearance in the old Jewish quarter in the 1920s.
They had two daughters, Carla and Lotty. In spring 1943 they were interned in Camp Vught. Because Carla was under 16, she and her parents had to leave the camp with the children;s transport, early June, to Westerbork. They were subsequently deported to Sobibor, where they perished on 11 June 1943. Lotty stayed in Vught and survived the war.
Born 4 December 1895 in Rotterdam. His wife Sophia Viool nee Soesman (* 28-1-1895) was killed in Sobibor on 23 April 1943. Raphaël, a baker in the camp, and his daughters Betje (* 25-4-1924) and Judik (* 4-5-1926), were spared from being executed following the alleged escape plot. They eventually perished in or after the uprising.
Mozes and Sophia Vromen
Mozes Vromen (* 6-7-1897 in Lochem, Holland) and his wife Sophia nee Van Dam (* 24-10- 1898 in Dordrecht, Holland) lived in ‘s-Hertogenbosch where their daughters Marie (* 15-10- 1926) and Josephine (* 19-12-1929) were born.
Later they lived in Voorburg, Kon. Wilhelminalaan 30 (re-named Admiraal De Ruijterlaan in 1942) from where they were interned in Camp Vught, in spring 1943. Josepnine was on the children’s transport in early June to Westerbork.
Mother and daughter Marie perished in Sobibor on 11 June, father and Josephine shared their fate on 16 July 1943.
Born 3 February 1928 in Berlin, Germany. Son of Isack Wahrhaftig and Bella ( nee Schiff). Lived in Hilversum, Holland. Deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor where he perished on 23 July 1943.
Born 30 May 1922 in Grigoriw Soviet Union. Deported from Ternopol to Sobibor in June 1942. Worked in the Sorting barracks. Was put in charge of a battle team marching back from work, and to raid the armoury.
Escaped during the revolt, survived the war.
Arkady Moishejwicz Wajspapier
Born in 1921. Served in the Red Army. Seriously wounded in the battle for Kiev. Imprisoned in a concentration camp in Minsk. Deported to Sobibor on 22 September 1943
Worked on building barracks in Camp IV. In the revolt took part in the killing of SS- Scharführer Graetschus and the Volksdeutsher Ivan Klatt. He escaped during the revolt and went with Sasha Pechersky group across the River Bug
He survived the war.
Escaped from Sobibor during the revolt of October 1943.
Yczy Moshe Waks
A relative of Toivi Blatt also from Izbica. Following the escape by the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943, Yczy Waks was selected by SS- Oberscharführer Frenzel, because he had his leg bandaged.
His seventeen – year old son could only look on helplessly.
Deported from Izbica to Sobibor at the beginning of 1943. Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943.
Born 6 February 1900 in Ochtrup near Gronau, Germany. Before the war he emigrated to Amsterdam, Holland. He was deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 7 May 1943.
Father –in-law of Eda Lichtman. Doctor in Wieliczka, deported from there together with his wife Susel to Sobibor. He arrived in Sobibor wearing his doctors clothes.
Eda saw him for the last time on his way to Camp III.
Mother-in–law of Eda Lichtman. She was deported from Wieliczka near Krakow to Sobibor in early 1943. Eda saw her being led to Camp III.
Jozef (Joop) Wins
Deported from Westerbork to Sobibor on 14 May 1943. He was selected on the ramp and sent to the labour camp at Dorohucza, a sub-camp of Trawniki.
He survived the war.
Born 25 June 1906 in Chelm. Deported to Sobibor in the autumn of 1942. Worked as a Zimmermann. Escaped during the revolt. Wrote a book – To Sobibor and Back : An Eyewitness Account.
After the war settled in Canada.
Born 23 July 1932 in Amsterdam. She was the youngest of a family who lived at the Zwanenburgwal, near Warerlooplein, in the old Jewish quarter of the city.
She and her mother Henderika Wurms nee Neeter (* 15-3-1894 in Groningen), were on the children’s transport from camp Vught to Westerbork in early June 1943, and from there to Sobibor, where they perished on 11 June 1943.
Born 15 November 1927 in Lublin. Deported to Sobibor in May / June 1942.
Worked in the Sorting barracks, a hair cutter and later he burned the documents of the murdered Jews. He escaped during the October 1943 revolt.
Naatje de Zoete
Born 28 July 1872 in Arnhem, Holland, nee De Zoete. Last known address (from June 1941): Westvlietweg 76 Leidschendam. In that house also lived her son Hendrik Eduard, his wife Sophie Polak and their children Mirjam Rachel, Judith Ruth and Hadassah. The family survived the war and returned to Rotterdam, where they had lived several years before the war.
Only grandma Naatje was killed in Sobibor on 16 July 1943.
Sobibor "Remember Me" Gallery
Abraham and Hella Stodel
Jules and Rachel Schelvis
Van de Kar
Documents Related to the Sobibor Death Camp
click document title for full image
Source - USHMM - Files of SSPF Lublin
Source - Yad Vashem
* Note Incorrect date of death - 14/10/43 was the date of the revolt.
Source - National Archives - Kew
click document title for full image
Source - RN London
Other Death Camps
(Concentration camps other than the killing centres of Belzec, Sobibor & Treblinka)
The Nazis built their order on the bedrock of an enormous and highly complex concentration and destruction system. These camps were an essential part of the Nazis' systematic oppression and mass murder of Jews, political adversaries, and others considered socially and racially undesirable.
There were concentration camps, forced labor camps, extermination or death camps, transit camps, and prisoner-of-war camps. The living conditions of all camps were brutal.
After 1939 with the beginning of the 2nd World War, concentration camps increasingly became places where the enemies of the Nazis were killed, enslaved, starved, and tortured. During the War concentration camps for “undesirables” spread throughout Europe.
New camps were created near large concentrations of what the Nazi's considered a undesirable population groups, specifically large communities of Jewish, Polish,Communists or Gypsies.
Most camps were located in the area of General Government in occupied Poland for a simple logistical reason: millions of Jews lived in Poland. It also allowed the Nazis to transport the German Jews outside of the German main territory
There were 11 Concentration Camps
* Many sub-camps existed as offshoots to these main 11 Concentration Camps
There were 4 main Killing Centres
There were 2 Labour / Extermination Camps
There were 2 Reception and Holding Centres
By the time the Nazis were at the peak of their power the system consisted of killing centres, extermination/ concentration camps, labour camps, concentration camps, penal settlements, Jewish Camps, resettlement camps for Poles, camps for foreign workers, Prisoners of War and in the ghettos, both during their existence, and after the vast majority of the Jews had been murdered.
The two largest groups of prisoners in the camps, both numbering in the millions, were Jews and the Soviet prisoners of war . Large numbers of Roma/Gypsies, Poles, political prisoners, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic clergy, the mentally and physically handicapped as well as common criminals.
In addition, a small number of Western Allied POWs were sent to concentration camps for various reasons. Western Allied POWs who were Jews, or whom the Nazis believed to be Jewish, were usually sent to ordinary POW camps; however, a small number were sent to concentration camps under anti-Semitic policies.
The killing centres of Aktion Reinhard – Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, are covered in separate detailed chapters, the other camps we are going to cover on these pages, are the three extermination/ labour camps, Chelmno, Auschwitz/ Birkenau, and Majdanek (KZ Lublin).
The Concentration Camps will be covered, as will the numerous Labour Camps, such as Poniatowa, Trawniki, Budzyn, Plaszow, and Gesiowka, that the Nazis established in Poland during their reign of terror during the years 1939 – 1945.
Also some transit camps such as Westerbork, Vught and Drancy, and Sans Sabba will also be covered in other sections
Chelmno Death Camp
Chelmno Death Camp
The death camp in the village of Chelmno in the Kolo County in central Poland became operational on 8 December 1941. The name given by the German occupation authorities to Chelmno was Kulmhof.
The entire Jewish population from the Warthegau was to be exterminated there by means of poisonous gases. The Wartheland, a territory incorporated into the Third Reich, included both the Wielkopolska and the Lodz Provinces.
The reasons for choosing the village of Chelmno as a site for an extermination camp included – its location by the road connecting the town of Kolo The town was called Warthbrücken during the occupation, an important regional centre, with a Jewish population of approximately 2300 people. Kolo station played an integral part in the history of Chelmno, as it was on the main line between Lodz and Poznan.
Deportees arrived fromLodz and other places in the Warthegau in closed cattle wagons. Here they were transferred to the narrow gauge railway for the trip to Powercie, and then by truck or foot onto Chelmno.
Another reason for choosing Chelmno was its proximity to a forest and to an abandoned palace on the edge of the village just 150 meters off the road.
Thus the access to the palace was convenient, and at the same time the distance from the road was far enough to avoid unwanted outsiders. The palace was renovated and adapted to receive the intended victims. The church near the palace was transformed into a point for the concentration of victims before they were directed into the camp. The granary and several other buildings were also part of the death camp.
The Ner River flowed by the church, although it was not very deep, it posed a serious obstacle for potential runaways and made it easier for the guards to isolate the camp.
The village of Powiercie, eight kilometres from Chelmno, is linked to Kolo by a narrow- gauge railway. Thus the Nazis could transport their victims by trucks, as well as by rail.
The palace in Chelmno was one of two extermination facilities. The second one was located in the clearings in the Rzuchow Forest, four kilometres from the palace. The bodies of the murdered Jews were buried in mass graves in three clearings, referred to as the Forest Camp (Waldlager) Later at this location the Germans built crematories in order to obliterate the evidence of their crimes.
For the purpose of mass killing specially adapted trucks were deployed. Such trucks had been previously used by the Einsatzgruppen, who carried out mass killings in Russia. The vehicles were reinforced to carry heavy loads and equipped with tightly sealed doors. The exhaust pipe was redirected to a vent in the middle of the truck, which would fill the rear compartment completely with gas. The camp at Chelmno had three such vehicles at its disposal.
In the beginning of November 1941 two groups of Nazis arrived in Chelmno, they formed the personnel of the Chelmno death camp. The first small group consisted of 15 people – members of the Sicherheitspolizei. These were SS-men earlier employed in the centre of mass extermination of the ill and handicapped in Dzialdowo, Warminsko- Mazurskie Province. About 25,000 people suffering from tuberculosis, mainly Poles were executed there as part of Hitler’s “Euthanasia Program” The other group consisted of about 100 people – members of the Schutzpolizei from the battalion stationed in Lodz.
Both groups formed the personnel of the camp called the “Sonderkommando Kulmhof”. SS- Haupsturmfuhrer Herbert Lange, the commander of the group of the Sicherheitspolizei, became the commandant of the camp. Because of this fact, the name “Sonderkommando Lange” often appears in some German documents. After a few months Lange was transferred from Chelmno and his post was filled by SS-Hauptsturmführer Hans Bothmann, SS-Obersturmführer Herbert Otto became the second in command.
All the commanding posts were held by the SS-men from the Sicherheitspolizei. A group of gendarmes from the Schutzpolizei was divided into three sub-units called commandos. These were the transport commando, the palace commando, and the forest commando. The first of these sub- units was responsible for escorting the deported prisoners from the railway station in the village of Powiercie, as well as guarding those brought directly to Chelmno. The palace commando kept guard of the victims already in the grounds of the palace. The forest commando was responsible for sentry duty around the camp grounds in the Rzuchow Forest, burning and burying the corpses, as well as obliterating the traces of the crimes committed there. A group of eight Polish prisoners from the Fort VII in Poznan was assigned to assist the camp personnel. Their names were Lech Jaskolski, Marian Libelt, Henryk Maliczak, Henryk Mania, Franciszek Piekarski, Stanislaw Polubinski, Kajetan Skrzypczynski, Stanislaw Szymanski.
The Chelmno death camp was under the direct command of SS- Gruppenführer Wilhelm Koppe, the SS and Police Leader in the Warthegau, who was under the direct command of Heinrich Himmler, but Koppe in many cases acted in co-operation with Artur Greiser theGauleiter of the Warthegau.
On 8 December 1941 the first victims were brought to Chelmno death camp. These were Jews from the nearby ghetto in Kolo, The previous day all the residents of the Kolo Ghetto were ordered to assemble in front of the Jewish Council building (Judenrat) which was located next to the local synagogue. They were told they would be transported to different places in order to work in the fields and construct a railway. They were allowed to take hand baggage only.
The Jews from Kolo had already experienced brutal deportations to the forced labour camps. When they assembled in front of the Jewish Council building they thought the worst thing that could happen to them was another deportation to a forced labour camp. They were aware of the consequences of being deported during a severe winter, yet they could not predict the horrors awaiting them. That day 800 Jews from Kolo in groups of dozens were transported in trucks to Chelmno. None of the 800 Jews survived.
The Jews from Kolo led to the trucks had no idea of the final destination of their journey. Neither could they imagine what was going to happen to them in a few hours time. They must have been confused when after a short drive the trucks came to a halt in front of the closed gate leading to Chelmno palace. A German guard opened the gate, let the trucks in, and the gate was closed again. Since then, there was no way out. The fate of the Jews had already been sealed.
In the courtyard everybody was ordered to get off the trucks with their hand baggage. The SS-men in the courtyard did not show any signs of brutality. On the contrary, the commandant Lange spoke to the newcomers in a comforting manner. They were told that they would be assigned to work in a labour camp in Austria. Before, the long journey, however they had to wash themselves in the bathhouse and their clothes had to be disinfected. After the reassuring speech the Jews were ordered to leave their baggage in the courtyard and go into a heated hall on the ground floor of the palace.
There, all the personal belongings were collected in the baskets carried by Polish prisoners. In order to keep up appearances, the belongings were numbered and the numbers were written down in a notebook, next to the names of the owners. Even at this stage, the SS-men were still succeeding in misleading their victims.
From the hall the Jews in groups of 35 –40 were led through a staircase to a corridor at the end of which there was a door to two linked rooms. There, the people were told to undress. Armed SS-men made sure the orders were carried out properly. The naked Jews were then led through a brightly –lit corridor, on whose walls were the inscriptions “To the bath-house”.
The same inscriptions could be found along the staircase leading to a brightly-lit basement.
However, the next stages happened much faster. Armed members of the Schutzpolizei began to rush the people brutally in the direction of the back entrance of the palace.
There was a wooden ramp guarded by a two metre –high fence. The rushed Jews started to sense the danger, they could not however realise, what kind of danger it was. Whoever attempted to stop before the ramp was violently pushed into it by the armed Germans. Those already on the ramp quickly moved towards the bottom of it. It was impossible to withdraw or even pause for a second.
The ramp led to a vehicle – a gas van with the back door opened. The victims were thus moving along the ramp straight to the inside of the gas-van. The moment the last of the group of 35 –40 victims stepped into the vehicle, the German soldiers locked the hermetic door.
Then the driver connected the exhaust pipe with a vent in the floor of the gas chamber. After the engine had been started, the exhaust gases spread quickly within the chamber suffocating the people locked inside.
The driver then took the suffocated victims to the forest camp (Waldlager) where the corpses were buried in the graves prepared in advance. The drivers were usually SS-NCO’s Walter Burmeister and Gustav Laabs.
The personnel of the Chelmno death camp applied the procedure on a daily basis from 8 December 1941 to spring 1943, with hardly any intervals.
Having murdered the Jewish people from Kolo, the German authorities went on with the extermination of all the Jews from nearby locations such as Dabie, Nowiny Brdowskie, Klodawa and Izbica Kujawska. They too perished in Chelmno.
Between 5 January and 12 January 1942 about 4,300 Gypsies were transported to Chelmno and murdered. They belonged to the Lalleri tribe and came from Austria.
In the first days of November 1941 they had already been deported to Lodz and imprisoned in the Gypsy camp consisting of a few blocks within the ghetto. The camp was guarded by the gendarmes from the 132nd Schutzpolizei battalion and commanded by Eugen Jansen.
After a short time many of the Gypsies died of hunger and extremely poor sanitary conditions. The survivors were to be exterminated in Chelmno. They were brought in groups and murdered in the same manner as the Jews from the nearby towns. None of them remained alive.
The next community to be murdered were the residents of the Lodz Ghetto.
Deportations to the Chelmno death camp began on 16 January 1942 and lasted, with short intervals, until 15 May 1942. During this period 55,000 people were deported from Lodz Ghetto and murdered in Chelmno.
The exceptional character of the deportations during this period was marked by the fact that they were carried out on the basis of lists of names prepared by the Jewish Council, whose Chairman was Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. The deportations were carried out under false pretence of deportations to the forced labour camps. Any protests against the orders of the German authorities would lead to the liquidation of the ghetto, according to Rumkowski.
Deportations of the Jews from Lodz Ghetto were carried out simultaneously with the liquidations of the ghettos in smaller towns of the Warthegau. However, after the first wave of the liquidations the German authorities decided to keep part of the Jewish communities in live in order to use them for forced labour.
Brutal deportations now included a selection process – choosing the fit and healthy ones for forced labour. Those not selected for work were transported to Chelmno and murdered there.
The people selected from the adjacent ghetto numbered 18,500 who were transferred to the Lodz Ghetto. Hans Biebow the German Chief of the Ghetto Administration played a major part in the selection process.
By the end of summer 1942 all the ghettos in the Warthegau apart from Lodz Ghetto, had been liquidated.
Among the victims brought to Chelmno the Germans from time to time selected groups of 30 young and strong men. They were used to form the so-called labour commando (Arbeitskommando) after being separated from the rest, who were put to death in the gas-vans.
The fate of the members of the labour commando was to appear the most unfortunate of all.
Their legs were shackled in order to prevent them from escaping. At night they were locked in a guarded cellar. After some time they were executed by a firing squad and replaced with newcomers.
Some of them were employed as craftsmen providing services for the Chelmno camp personnel as well as maintenance work and collecting clothes left by the murdered victims.
The fate of the others was much more tragic. Every day they were driven to the Forest Camp (Waldlager) in the Rzuchow forest. Tortured by the SS-men, they were forced to pull the dead bodies out of the gas-vans and bury them in mass graves.
Whilst there is no idea of how many unsuccessful escape attempts there were, it is known that only four people managed to escape from the death camp at Chelmno. One of the four men was called Szlamek Bajler, also known as Yakov Grojanowski, who left the camp on 19 January 1942, after two weeks of forced labour as a grave- digger. He managed to reach the Warsaw Ghetto and made contacts with the Jewish Underground, and his written account of Chelmno death camp, is preserved in the Underground archives of the Warsaw Ghetto known as the Ringelblum Archives.
Other escapees from Chelmno were Michal Podchlebnik, from Kolo who escaped and hid in Rzeszow till the end of the war, and Mordechai Zurawski from Wloclawek and Simon Srebrnik from Lodz, who both escaped from the Granary on 17 January 1945.
Having liquidated all the Jewish communities in the Warthegau apart from Lodz, the German authorities decided to decrease the size of the Lodz Ghetto even more, they ordered the deportation of the children, the old and those who were ill, or in hospital.
Between 5 September and 12 September 1942, no one was allowed to leave their houses, the infamous Gehsperre Aktion. Units of the German police searched the ghetto thoroughly apartment by apartment. Children, the old and ill were loaded into trucks with extreme brutality. Those who opposed were killed on the spot. The selected were taken to Chelmno and slain there. Almost 20,000 residents of the Lodz Ghetto were added to the Chelmno death camp toll.
Deportations to Chelmno death camp were accompanied by the confiscation of all personal property, which was transported to a storehouse in Pabiance, which they were distributed among the German community who had resettled in the Warthegau.
In March 1943 a decision was made to close down the Chelmno death camp, and on 7 April 1943 the Germans blew up the palace, along with a transport of Jews infected with typhus.
The Germans who were afraid of being infected, ordered the Jews up to the first storey of the palace, whilst dynamite was placed in the basement, and the building was blown up.
On 11 April 1943 the German personnel left Chelmno. After a month off, they were sent to Yugoslavia to form the SS-Division “Prinz Eugen”, whose role was to fight partisans.
However, before the personnel left the camp, a party was organised by Athur Greiser, Gauleiter of Wartheland, in the “Riga” restaurant in Kolo (Warthbrücken) during March 1943. Greiser was the host and the main speaker at the party.
Gas Van of the type used at Chelmno
The party attended by a large number of local German dignitaries, and marked the occasion of ending the camps activity, and Greiser wrote to Heinrich Himmler – RFSS, on 19 March 1943, praising the men of “Sonderkommando Kulmhof” and offering them the use of his private estate during their leave.
Greiser visited Chelmno death camp personally to thank the Commando on their work, as did Hoess the Commandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, who visited Chelmno in September 1942 to witness the extermination process, and the disposal of corpses. Adolf Eichmann also visited Chelmno in the autumn of 1942, and he reported his findings to Gruppenführer Müller.
In the spring of 1944 the German authorities decided to liquidate the Lodz Ghetto – at that time the last ghetto in the occupied Polish territories. The remaining 80,000 of its residents were to be exterminated over the coming months.
To achieve this the forest camp was reactivated and the “Bothmann –kommando” was recalled from Yugoslavia. Hans Bothmann was appointed Commandant and SS-Hauptscharführer Walter Piller was appointed Deputy Commandant.
Two barracks built within the forest camp took over the functions of the destroyed palace. Those from Lodz to be executed were first brought to Kolo by train then by narrow gauge railroad to Chelmno station, or by trucks direct to Chelmno. They were held in the church next to the palace, which also housed Bothmann’s car.
From the church the victims were taken to the forest camp in lorries. They were taken to the front of one of the barracks built by theSonderkommando, each of which consisted of two rooms, one for men and another for women, which had pegs and shelves for hanging clothes. The building was surrounded with a wooden fence. The Jews were ordered to line up in front of the barracks. In the forest there were only two barracks, which were about 20 meters long and about 10 meters wide.
In order to make the camp look like a larger temporary camp, the barracks were equipped with signs reading barracks numbers, and the gate had a sign that read “ To the Bathhouse”, while on the wall inside the barracks was a sign that read “To the Doctor”.
In addition on both doors there were signs that read “Dressing Room” for men and women respectively.
After 25-30 Jews got out the trucks and everyone was lined up in front of the barracks according to gender, the Jews were told they would have to work for Germany. They would go to cities such as Leipzig, Cologne etc.
To avoid complications and to speed up the undressing, they were further informed that they would be living in newly built barracks, and as much as possible with their entire families, but first they had to be deloused.
To make them undress quickly, they were also told that the transports would leave that very day and they should hurry up. Valuables were to be placed on the shelves above the pegs, while bread, tobacco and matches and lighters were to be wrapped in handkerchiefs or small bags and placed separately, because the filthy clothes had to be cleaned chemically and any valuables left in the pockets would have been burnt.
When everyone had stripped naked, first the women, followed immediately by the men, had to go through a door with a sign “To the Bathhouse”.
Behind the door there was a passage about 20-25 meters long and a meter and a half wide, enclosed with a fence made of wooden planks. The passage turned at a hard right angle and led to a ramp. Near the ramp was an enclosed gas-van, which the Jews had to enter.
When 70 –90 people were inside the vehicle, the doors were closed and the loaded truck headed for the furnace located 200 meters away. While travelling Laabs the driver left the vent open so that the exhaust gases passed into the sealed compartment and killed the people inside in about six minutes. The furnaces were built by SS- Hauptscharführer Runge, with the help of Jewish workers from the Lodz Ghetto, he supervised one whilst Lenz was responsible for the other one.
The furnace was described in testimony given by former prisoner Mordechai Zurawski in 1945:
“In the forest there were two identical crematoriums. The tops of the crematoria were at the ground level (they formed a pit). The furnaces were four meters deep, six meters wide, and ten meters long. The sides of the furnace gradually narrowed towards the bottom and in the place where they reached the grate. The width was approximately one meter and the length one and half meters.
The grate was made of the rails from a narrow –gauge railroad track, the side was made from chamotte brick and concrete. Under the grate, there was an ash pit linked with another pit to ensure the proper flow of air to the furnace. A layer of wood was set on fire, on which dead bodies were placed. The corpses had to be arranged in such a way that they did not touch one another. In the lowest lever there were twelve people. Their bodies were then covered with another layer of chipped wood and another layer of corpses. In this way the furnace could hold up to 100 bodies at a time. As the corpses burnt down, the free space created at the top was filled with another layer of bodies and wood.
The corpses burnt quickly, they turned to ash in more or less fifteen minutes. The ash was then removed from the ash pit with pokers of a special type. These were long iron poles with a forty- centimetre –long iron plate at the end.
Removing the ash was a difficult and hazardous job. No one could keep on with it longer than two or three days, after which the worker was unable to continue and was killed.
The bones and ashes were packed in sacks made of blankets brought by the Jews on transports. But first the bones had to be crushed with wooden stamps on a special cement foundation.
The sacks were driven out of the forest at night to Zawadka Mill and thrown into the River Warta. .
One of the furnaces was destroyed by August 1944 whilst the other furnace was destroyed in January 1945”
The end of the SS-Sonderkommando came on the 17 January 1945, one night on the orders of Bothmann the whole unit was woken up and had to assemble. There they learnt from Bothmann that the Red Army had occupied Lodz, and the unit had to be dissolved immediately.
Mordechai Zurawski testified:
“On the night of 17 January 1945 , the doors to the room in the Granary where about 20 Jews slept were opened; the rest slept upstairs above this room. Two SS –men entered, Lenz and Haase, shining their electric flashlights, and they ordered us to leave in fives. After the first five went out, we heard five shots, we were sure they were killed and so when another five were called, nobody wanted to go. So the SS-men forced them out, and again we heard five shots. I was supposed to go with the third group of five, that’s when I grabbed a knife that I had hidden and I knocked the flashlight out of Lenz’s hand. I started running away waving the knife to the right to the left. The closest SS-man hit me on my left leg with the butt of a gun, but I kept on running. They started shooting at me from all sides, I was shot in the right leg, but finally managed to get away. After I ran for about three kilometers, I noticed the building we lived in was on fire. Apparently the SS-men set it on fire. I also heard single shots – they shot at those jumping out of the flames, which I learnt about later”.
Walter Piller testified:
“So the prison remained in the palace courtyard in Chelmno with 40-45 Jewish workers. First the lower cell was opened to shoot those 20-25 Jews in front of the prison building. Every few minutes Lenz led five Jews outside at a time – then Bothmann, Lenz and I killed them with a shot to the back of the head.
-While the third group was coming out of the prison, one of the Jews escaped – he was a cook and all I know is that his first name is Maks (Mordechai Maks Zurawski).Despite the chase taken up by Bothmann, an SS-member and four officers of the reserve forces, Maks managed to escape. In the guardhouse I informed all the gendarmerie posts, via telephone about the search, but he was not caught.
Before Bothmann and the five other men started the chase, he ordered me to take care of the rest of the labour unit with a shot to the back of the head. Lenz brought out the remaining five from the lower cell. They were killed by Lenz and myself.
But there were still the 20 craftsmen left in the upper cell. Without my order, Lenz took a certainWachtmeister Schupo to the upper cell so that five Jews could be removed and shot in the same way as with the lower cell.
As soon as Lenz opened the cell door, four Jews threw themselves at him and pulled him into the cell. Then they took his pistol away and opened fire at two Wachtmeisters standing by the door.
The door on the ground floor was locked only after Bothmann had returned from the unsuccessful search for the escapee and had given the order to do so.
After Bothmann, Hafele and I called out several times for them to release Lenz and leave the cell in groups of five, the answer was the firing of the pistol taken away from Lenz. Then one of the Jews called out that Lenz had hung himself.
We could not check it out because the prisoners set fire to the prison and the flames were coming out of the roof. The fire spread twice as fast, because above the upper cell, wood was being dried to run the cars.
Bothmann decided to let the prison burn down completely, despite the fact that Lenz was still inside. Judging by the fire, Lenz was no longer alive. The killed Jews lying in front of the prison were also carried into the burning building and abandoned to the flames”.
In the morning of 18 January 1945 when the fire was slowly dying out, Bothmann instructed Piller and Gorlich to open a metal cabinet standing in one of the rooms and to burn all the secret documents kept there. The documents were burnt and the ash spread over open fields.
The SS-Sonderkommando made its way to Kolo, where the police unit was left with the local gendarmerie, whilst the remainder went to Poznan via Konin.
It is impossible to establish the precise number of victims murdered at Chelmno, but the German mayor of Kolo, Becht, informed his doctor Leo Brat, that until spring 1943 about 250,000 Jewish people were murdered.
Bothmann told Karl May, a forestry official, in the summer of 1942 during a visit to the Waldlager, that about 250,000 people had been buried there and another 100,000 would be buried soon.
However, the monument at the site of the former death camp, says 180,000 Jews were murdered here, 160,000 Polish Jews, and 20,000 Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Luxemburg and 4300 Gypsies.
The Commanders of Sonderkommando Kulmhof
The Commanders of Sonderkommando Kulmhof
SS – Hauptsturmführer
Born in Menzlin, Pomerania on 29 September 1909. He studied law, but failed to obtain a degree and he joined the NSDAP on 1 May 1932, with the party number 1159 583. He then enlisted in the SA (Sturmabteilung) three months later and the following year on 1 March 1933 he joined the SS, and his SS Number was 93501.
In 1938 he was promoted to the rank of SS-Untersturmführer and in August 1939 he went to Frankfurt – on – Oder the assembly point for Einsatzgruppe Vl, commanded by SS-Oberführer Erich Naumann, prior to the invasion of Poland. On 12 September 1939 Einsatzgruppe Vl was stationed in Poznan (Posen), in the Warthegau. A Sonderkommando ( special command) of the above unit was formed under Lange’s leadership. He received orders from Arthur Greiser, the Gauleiter, to create a concentration camp in Poznan.
The KZ Posen was established at Fort Vll (Fort Colomb) one of the bastions belonging to the huge Prussian built fortifications that encircle Poznan. Lange was only the Commandant of Fort Vll for only a short time, his role being to select the site, recruit the camp staff, and admit the first prisoners. Immediately Lange was involved as the head of “Sonderkommando Lange” , which was responsible for carrying out a series of “Euthanasia Aktions”, in the Wielkopolska region, using mobile gas vans, and shootings.
His accomplishments in the “Euthanasia Aktion” in Poland was highly regarded and as a result of this he was promoted to SS-Obersturmführer.
Later Lange was responsible for mass killing activity in the Konin region, but officially from the end of November 1940 to late 1941 he was head of the Economic Crimes department of the Criminal Police. Lange was the first Commandant of Chelmno which received its first transport in November 1941.
In February 1942 he was ordered to serve in the Reich Main Security Office, where he served under Artur Nebe, as a Criminal Investigator (Kriminalrat) and in 1944, he assisted in catching the conspirators of the attempt on Hitler’s life in July 1944. For his work on this he was promoted to SS- Sturmbannführer.
Lange was killed in action during the Battle of Berlin in 1945
SS – Hauptsturmführer and Kriminalrat
Born in Dittmarschen (Holstein) on 11 November 1911, He stood 187 centimeters tall, thin blond hair, characteristic high- pitched voice, blue eyes.
Commanded Chelmno death camp from March 1942 to April 1943 and after the unit was dissolved in mid- April 1943, served in the “Prinz Eugen” division, until he was recalled in 1944 to become Commandant of Chelmno death camp for the second time. Bothmann was a brutal figure personally killing 300-400 people during his time at Chelmno.
When the commando was ceased Bothmann reported to the Poznan Gestapo, where he served as a liaison officer of the security police to Heinrich Himmler in Walcz
Bothmann hanged himself in a British internment camp at Heide, April 1946.
Lower Ranking SS and Police who served in the Chelmno Death Camp
Bartel, Wachtmeister - No further details known
Blench, Wachtmeister - No further details known
Bock, Heinrich. - Acquitted in the 1965 Bonn trial. No further details known
Boge, Wachtmeister -The Hauptmann of the Polish Worker squad Photographed with the Kommando in the courtyard of the palace. No further details known
Bollman, Unterwachtmeister -No further details known
Burmeister, Walter, -SS – Scharführer and Kriminalangestellter
Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Aged about 39, married 168 centimeters tall, born near the town of Swinoujscie by the Baltic Sea, dark hair, false top and bottom teeth. In the unit he was responsible for sorting confiscated valuables, as well as distributing vodka, and cigarettes among officers. He stood in for the canteen manager when absent, he also stood in for the driver. Sentenced to 13 years imprisonment as accessory to the murder of more than 150,000 people.
Burstinger , Erwin, SS – Scharführer and Kriminalangestellter Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Aged about 38, 170 centimeters tall, thin dark hair, married born somewhere in Austria. He belonged to the SS- Sonderkommando Bothmann as of 1942. After the unit had been liquidated in 1943, he was transferred to the secret field police in the Balkans. While in the Sonderkommando, he was the transport manager, responsible for all the vehicles. Moreover, together with Polizeimeister Lenz, he advised Bothmann on special issues. Burstinger stood in for the drivers when they were ill.
Daniel, Oberwachtmeister -No further details known
Gielow, Hermann, SS – Hauptscharführer Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Driver, 170 centimeters tall, married, thin dark hair, aged about 48, born and lived in Berlin. He was transferred as a driver from the Wetterkommando Legath to the SS-Sonderkommando Bothmann. He drove a truck and transported Jews from Chelmno to the Waldlager.
SS – Sturmscharführer and Kriminal- Sekretär Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Served in the Gestapo in Poznan, and earlier in Inowroclaw, as an administrative official. 162 centimeters tall, married, born in the Sudetenland, stocky figure. His responsibility in the SS- Sonderkommando Bothmann , in 1942 and 1944, was the safekeeping of confiscated valuables, such as gold, precious stones, rings, banknotes, coins and other items, and transporting them at regular intervals to the ghetto authorities. He also paid the soldiers and gave them food stamps entitling them to receive certain food rations. Gorlich was wounded in the fighting for Poznan.
Hafele, Alois SS – Sturmscharführer and Polizei- Leutnant Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. He was with the SS-Sonderkommando Bothmann in 1944 when the unit was visited by Gauleiter Greiser and a party delegation. Hafele was about 50 years old, married, had partly grey, parted hair, lived in Kassel. He supervised and provided goods to the Jews forming the Jewish unit. He had gold front teeth and spoke with a Swabian accent. Just like Kretschmer, he went by truck from Poznan to Frankfurt –on – Oder.
Hannes, Oberwachtmeister -No further details known
Heider, Polizeimeister -No further details known
Heinl, Karl, Sentenced to 7 years imprisonment at the 1965 Bonn trial, for assisting the murder of Jews at Chelmno.
Hensen, Friedrich Polizeiwachtmeister Hensen was born on 29 November 1920 in Hagen Westfalen, married with two children. In July 1942 he was assigned to the SS- Sonderkommando Chelmno and was employed there till December 1944. Captured by the British in Hagen on 15 April 1945, he provided a detailed statement on 13 July 1945.
Heukelbach, Wilhelm Sentenced to 13 months 2 weeks in prison for having assisted with murder at Chelmno.
Bruno, Israel Oberwachtmeister Born in Lodz, to Lukiusz and Linda Koenig. Before the war he worked as a dyer in the “Leber & Lewandowski company. He signed the Volksliste in 1940 and started working for the Hilfspolizei in 1941. in 1943 he was drafted into the gendarmerie as Wachtmeister. In July or August 1944 he was transferred to SS- Sonderkommando Bothmann at Chelmno, where he took part in escorting transports to the Waldlager. He left Chelmno in January 1945 and went to Poznan with other members of theSonderkommando.
Karzer, Mois Oberwachtmeister -No Further details known
Kretschmer, Erich SS- Scharführer and Kriminalangestellter Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Aged about 40, born in Saxony. 172 centimers tall, with a gold tooth, in 1942 he belonged to the SS-Sonderkommando Bothmann. He was responsible for transporting Jews to the narrow gauge railway in Chelmno. He also transported Jews in trucks from Chelmno (the church) to the forest. Kretschmer went from Chelmno to Poznan in a truck with all the luggage of the SS- Sonderkommando, and from Poznan went to Frankfurt – on – Oder.
Kraus, Oskar Oberwachtmeister - No further details known
Laabs, Gustav SS- Hauptscharführer and Kriminalangestellter Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Aged about 40, married, blond parted hair, born and lived in Szczecin, also belonged to the SS- Sonderkommando Bothmann in 1942. He was responsible for driving the gas-van from the barracks to the furnace. He left Chelmno in a truck for Poznan, and then onto Frankfurt- on -Oder.
Lenz, WiIli Polizeimeister From Silesia. Lenz was in charge of the Waldlager, a very brutal killer. Lenz was killed on the night of 17 January 1945, as he entered the Granary, to remove the Jews in group of fives. Lenz was overpowered and dragged into the Granary. The Jews inside called out that Lenz had hung himself, but more than likely they killed him. The Granary was set on fire, with Lenz inside.
Loscheck, Freidrich Polizeiwachtmeister -No further details known
Malzmuller , Theodor Polizeiwachtmeister Served in Police Guard Battalion XXl in Lodz, and then at SS-SonderkommandoKulmhof. - No further details known
Meier, Kurt Polizeiwachtmeister -No further details known
Michalski, Paul Polizeiwachtmeister -No further details known
Mobus, Kurt Polizeiwachtmeister In 1941 Schutzpolizei, in the Police Battalion in Lodz, and in 1942 transferred to SS-Sonderkommando Bothmann. In 1965 sentenced to 8 years imprisonment as accessory to the murder of at least 100,000 people.
Ostermeier, Josef Polizeiwachtmeister - No further details known
Piller, Walter Polizeiwachtmeister Born on 14 December 1902 in Berlin- Spandau (Falkensee) as the son of a foreman – who died in 1942, Albert Piller. From the age of 6 –14 he attended a primary school in Spandau, from he was expelled in the final year. During the three years that followed he mastered the trade of a turner in an artillery workshop in Spandau.
After losing his job, he applied for job in the Berlin police department. He was accepted and graduated from the police academy in Brandenburg- on – Havel Piller was accepted into the Gestapo as a criminal officer, and at the end of 1937 he worked in the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin.
On 20 August 1939, Piller was assigned to Einsatzkommando 11 of the Security Police, and after serving at Modlin Fortress, he was transferred to Poznan, and then onto Inowroclaw, where he was given a permanent position, and his family moved from Berlin to Inowroclaw.
At the end of 1943 Piller was transferred to the Lodz Gestapo office, and he served in the Sonderkommando Legath, and when that unit was dissolved in the middle of 1944. This unit was employed in obliterating the evidence of mass murder in the forests in the vicinity of Poznan.
Piller was transferred to SS-Sonderkommando Bothmann at Chelmno, after first attending a course for SS Leaders in Bad Rabka, near Cracow, which he did not complete. Bothmann appointed Piller as his deputy, until the Sonderkommando was dissolved in January 1945. He was responsible for the barracks at the Waldlager, and various administrative tasks such as leave, and ensuring the Jewish working commando in the palace courtyard.
Plate, Albert SS- Hauptscharfuhrer and Kriminalsekretar Deputy Commandant to Bothmann. Born on 31December 1903 in Baut- Rustringen. Died on 4 October 1944 in Yugoslavia.
Raudzus, Freidrich Polizeiwachtmeister - No further details known
Reissner, Sepp Polizeiwachtmeister - No further details known
Reiblinger, Anton Polizeiwachtmeister -No further details known
Richter, Herbert SS – Hauptscharführer Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Aged about 37, married, dark slightly grey hair. 172 centimeters tall, long face, he had his own house in Poznan. His job was sorting confiscated clothes and valuables, as well as standing in for the drivers of the gas-vans. He was probably wounded in the battle for the Citadel in Poznan.
Rombach, Erich Polizeiwachtmeister - No further details known
Ross, Wachtmeister -No further details known
Runge, Johannes SS- Hauptscharführer and Kriminalangestellter Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Aged about 40, married, 176 centimeters tall, thick, dark blond hair, characteristic low forehead, used to live in Poznan. He built the crematoria in theWaldlager, and was in charge of one of the crematoria. He was last seen with Herman Gielow in the combat unit under the command of Hauptmann Kohler after fighting in the Hugger Brewery in Poznan.
Ruvernich, Wachtmeister -No further details known
Schefler, Wilhelm Wachtmeister -No further details known
Schmidt, Erwin SS- Hauptscharführer and former Oberwachtmeister Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. Aged about 35, married, 180 centimeters tall, thick dark-blond hair, born in the Sudetenland, lived for a while in Lodz, had a gold front tooth. Managed the canteen, and supplied the unit with goods. He was a Hauptscharfuhrer in the Waffen-SS in the Balkans, and as of 1942 he was a member of SS-Sonderkommando Bothmann. He was wounded in the fighting for Grollman’s Fort and apparently he was killed during the fighting for the Citadel in Poznan.
Schneider, (first name unknown) Oberwachtmeister -No further details known
Schonbeck, Heinz Polizeiwachtmeister - No further details known
Schulte, Wilhelm Sentenced to 13 months 2 weeks in prison for assisting in the murder of Jews at Chelmno death camp at the Bonn trial in 1965.
Seidenglanz, Stefan SS- Hauptscharführer and former Oberwachtmeister Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. A driver and a member of the NSKK (Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrer Kommando) – National Socialists Drivers Corps, in the resettlement headquarters in Lodz. About 170 centimeters tall, married, born near Vienna, he belonged to the SS-Sonderkommando Bothmann in 1942. He spoke with a Viennese dialect – he had the same duties as Gielow and Thiele.
Sliwke, (first name unknown) Wachtmeister -No further details known
Steinke, Alexander Acquitted of war crimes at the Chelmno death camp, at the Bonn Trial in 1965.
Thiele, Ernst SS- Hauptscharführer Based on testimony by Walter Piller in 1945. A driver aged about 48, 175 centimeters tall, married, born in Berlin, lived in Inowroclaw, thin, dark-blond, parted hair, had the same duties as Gielow. Later he transported chopped wood to the cremation sites, as well as food to the Waldlager, and took away the ashes to be disposed of in the Warta River.
Zimmermann, (first name unknown) Wachtmeister -No further details known
"Szlamek Bajler recounts his time at Chelmno"
Szlamek Bajler was a young Jew from the village of Izbica Kujawska, north of Kolo (German: Warthbrücken) and Chelmno (German: Kulmhof), in the annexed "Warthegau". Bajler was arrested in a round-up in Izbica in early January 1942, and forced to work in the Chelmno “Waldlager.”
He witnessed the destruction of most of the 1,600 Jews of his native village, included his own family, about a week later. Five days after the massacre Bajler escaped from the Waldlager. He managed to get to the Warsaw Ghetto where he told his story to Emanuel Ringelblum who urged him to write it down. Bajler did so under the pseudonym Yakov Grojanowski.
It should be noted that there is much confusion about his correct name, some sources claim it was Szlojme Fajner. We have used the name Bajler throughout this account, and in other places on the website.
This is an extract of his account, as contained in the Ringelblum archive:
Bajler and his 28 fellow prisoners were taken in a truck, firstly in the direction of Kolo, it then took the road to Chelmno death camp. In Chelmno the truck waited on the road for about half an hour, then it drove into the palace grounds:
Tuesday, 6 January 1942:
“We arrived at 12:30 p.m. We were pushed out of the lorry. From here onwards we were in the hands of black-uniformed SS men, all of them high-ranking Reich Germans. We were ordered to hand over all our money and valuables. After this fifteen men were selected, I among them, and taken down to the cellar rooms of the Schloss (castle).
We fifteen were confined in one room, the remaining fourteen in another. Down in the cellar it was pitch dark. Some Ethnic Germans on the domestic staff provided us with straw. Later a lantern was brought. At around eight in the evening we received unsweetened black coffee and nothing else. We were all in a depressed mood.
One could only think of the worst, some were close to tears. We kissed and took leave of each other. It was unimaginably cold and we lay down close together. We spent the whole night without shutting our eyes. We only talked about the deportation of Jews, particularly from Kolo and Dabie. The way it looked, we had no prospect of ever getting out again."
Wednesday, 7 January 1942:
"At seven in the morning, the gendarme on duty knocked and ordered us to get up. It took half an hour till they brought us black coffee and bread from our provisions. We drew some meagre consolation from this and told each other there was a God in heaven; we would, after all, be going to work.
At about 8:30 we were led into the courtyard. Six of us had to go into the second cellar room to bring out two corpses. The dead were from Klodawa, and had hanged themselves. They were conscript grave-diggers. Their corpses were thrown on a lorry.
We met the other fourteen enforced grave-diggers from Izbica. As soon as we came out of the cellar we were surrounded by twelve gendarmes and Gestapo men with machine guns. We got on the lorry. Our escorts were six gendarmes with machine guns.
Behind us came another vehicle with 10 gendarmes and two civilians. We drove in the direction of Kolo for about 7 km’s till turning left into the forest; after half a kilometre we halted at a clear path. We were ordered to get down and line up in double file.
An SS man ordered us to fall in with our shovels, dressed, despite the frost, only in shoes, underwear, trousers and shirts. Our coats, hats, gloves, etc., had to remain in a pile on the ground. The two civilians took all the shovels and pick-axes down from the lorry. Eight of us who weren’t handed any tools had to take down the corpses.
Already on our way into the forest we saw about fourteen men, enforced grave-diggers from Klodawa, who had arrived before us. The eight men
without tools carried the two corpses to the ditch and threw them in. We didn’t have to wait long before the next lorry arrived with fresh victims.
It was specially constructed. It looked like a normal large lorry, in grey paint, with two hermetically closed rear doors. The inner walls were of steel metal. There weren’t any seats. The floor was covered by a wooden grating, as in public baths, with straw mats on top. Between the driver’s cab and the rear part were two peepholes. With a torch one could observe through these peepholes if the victims were already dead.
Under the wooden grating were two tubes about 15 cm’s thick which came out of the cab. The tubes had small openings from which gas poured out. The gas generator was in the cab, where the same driver sat all the time. He wore a uniform of the SS death’s head units and was about forty years old. There were two such vans.
When the lorries approached we had to stand at a distance of 5 m from the ditch. The leader of the guard detail was a high-ranking SS man, an absolute sadist and murderer. He ordered that eight men were to open the doors of the lorry. The smell of gas that met us was overpowering. The victims were gypsies from Lodz. Strewn about the van were all their belongings: accordions, violins, bedding, watches and other valuables.
After the doors had been open for five minutes orders were screamed at us, ‘Here! You Jews! Get in there and turn everything out!’ The work didn’t progress quickly enough. The SS leader fetched his whip and screamed, ‘The devil, I’ll give you a hand straight away!’ He hit out in all directions on people’s heads, ears and so on, till they collapsed. Three of the eight who couldn’t get up again were shot on the spot. When the others saw this they clambered back on their feet and continued the work with their last reserves of energy.”
Bajler mentions a fat man Giter from Bydgoszcz, who was unable to keep up with the speed of the work. He was flogged cruelly by the SS leader (‘Big Whip’) and shot in the ditch.
“The corpses were thrown one on top of another, like rubbish on a heap. We got hold of them by the feet and the hair. At the edge of the ditch stood two men who threw in the bodies. In the ditch stood an additional two men who packed them in head to feet, facing downwards. If any space was left, a child was pushed in. Every batch comprised 180 - 200 corpses.
For every three vanloads twenty men were used to cover up the corpses. At first this had to be done twice, later up to three times, because nine vans arrived (that is nine times sixty corpses).
At exactly 12 noon we had to put our shovels down and to climb out of the ditch. We were surrounded by guards all the time. We even had to excrete on the spot. We went to the spot where our belongings were. We had to sit on them close together. We were given cold bitter coffee and a frozen piece of bread. That was our lunch. That’s how we sat half an hour. Afterwards we had to line up, were counted and led back to work.
What did the dead look like? They weren’t burnt or black; their faces were unchanged. Nearly all the dead were soiled with excrement. At about five o’clock we stopped work. The eight men who had worked with the corpses had to lie on top of them face downwards. An SS man with a machine gun shot at their heads.
We dressed quickly and took the shovels with us. We were counted and escorted to the lorry by gendarmes and SS men. We had to put the shovels away. Then we were counted again and pushed into the lorry. The journey to the Schloss took about 15 minutes. We travelled together with the men from Klodawa and talked very quietly together, so the gendarmes sitting at the back shouldn’t hear us.
It turned out that there were many more rooms in the Schloss. We numbered twenty in our room, with fifteen more in the adjacent one. There weren’t any other enforced grave diggers. As soon as we came into the cold and black cellar we threw ourselves down on the straw and cried about everything that had befallen us.”
With Bajler in that cellar were a 15 year-old boy named Monik Halter, 40 year-old Meir Pitrowski and 55 year-old Gershon Praschker, all from Izbica Kujawska. The latter invited his fellow prisoners to say the prayer of confession and penitence before death.
“It was a very depressing sight. The sergeant-major knocked at the door, shouting ‘Quiet, you Jews or I shoot!’ We continued the prayer softly with choking voices. At 7:30 in the evening they brought us a pot of thin kohlrabi soup. We couldn’t swallow anything for crying and pain. It was very cold and we had no covers at all.
One of us exclaimed ‘Who knows who among us will be missing tomorrow.’ We pressed close together and lapsed into exhausted fitful sleep haunted by terrible dreams. We slept for about four hours. Then we ran about the room freezing cold and debating the fate that was in store for us.”
Thursday, 8 January 1942:
"The day starts in more or less similar fashion to yesterday, although high ranking SS men came to visit. Their identity is not mentioned, but they were driving in a limousine. The identity of one of the ‘eight’ who worked with the corpses is known: 19 year-old Mechel Wiltschinski from Izbica. Together with his fellows he was shot in the ditch at the end of the working day."
About the killing inside the gas vans this day:
“Two hours later the first lorry arrived full of Gypsies. I state with one hundred per cent certainty that the executions had taken place in the forest. In the normal course of events the gas vans used to stop about one hundred metres from the mass graves. In two instances the gas vans, which were filled with Jews, stopped twenty metres from the ditch. This happened once on this Thursday, the other time on Wednesday the 14th.”
There were also more details about the gas vans themselves:
“Our comrades from among the ‘eight’ told us there was an apparatus with buttons in the driver’s cab. From this apparatus two tubes led into the van. The driver (there were two execution gas vans, and two drivers – always the same) pressed a button and got out of the van.
At the same moment frightful screaming, shouting and banging against the sides of the van could be heard. That lasted for about fifteen minutes. Then the driver re-boarded the van and shone an electric torch into the back to see if the people were already dead. Then he drove the van to a distance of five metres from the ditch.”
About the dead bodies Bajler added to his previous comment:
“They were still warm and looked asleep. Their cheeks weren’t pale; they still had a natural skin colour.” There were 9 transports to be buried, of which 7 comprised Gypsies and the last two Jewish victims.
Back in the cellar, the Jews were ordered by the guards to sing. Meir Pitrowski and Jehuda Jakubowicz, from Wloclawek, begged Bajler to stand up and sing. So he did:
“’Friends and honourable people, get up and sing after me; first we shall cover our heads.’ I began to sing ‘Hear! O Israel, the eternal one is our God, the eternal one is unique’. Those assembled repeated each verse in depressed tones. Then I continued: ‘Praised be his name and the splendour of his realm for even and ever’, which the others repeated after me three times.
The gendarme insisted that we go on. I said ‘Friends and honourable people, we shall now sing the Hatikvah.’ And we sang the anthem with our heads covered. It sounded like a prayer. After this the gendarme left and bolted the door with three locks. Later that evening the prisoners had to sing again. They had to repeat ‘We thank Adolf Hitler for everything’.
By five in the morning everybody was awake because of the cold. We had a conversation. Getzel Chrzastowski, a member of the Bund, and Eisenstab, both from Klodawa (Eisenstab owned a furriers in Klodawa), had lost their belief in God because he didn’t concern himself with injustice and suffering. In contrast others, myself included, remained firm in our belief and said, like Mosche Asch (a worthy man from Izbica), that the time of the Messiah was at hand.”
Friday, 9 January 1942:
"The bottom of the ditch was about 1.5 metres wide, the top five metres and its depth was five metres. The mass graves extended a long way. If a tree stood in the way it was felled. Among the ‘eight’ today were Abraham Zalinski, 32 years old, Zalman Jakubowski, 55, and the earlier mentioned Gershon Praschker, all from Izbica. They were killed as usual.
On arrival back at the at the courtyard of Schloss Kulmhof we were disagreeably surprised to see a new transport. They were probably a new batch of grave-diggers: sixteen men from Izbica and sixteen from Bugaj. Among those from Izbica were 1. Moshe Lesek, 40 years old, 2. Avigdor Palanski, 20 years old, 3. Steier, 35 years old, 4. Knoll, 45 years old, 5. Izchak Preiss, 45 years old, 6. Jehuda Lutzinski, 51 years old, 7. Kalman Radzewski, 32 years old, 8. Menachem Archijowski, 40 years old. Among those from Bugaj was my friend and comrade Haim Reuben Izbizki, 35 years old.
Twenty of the old grave-diggers, together with five new ones, were driven into another room in the cellar. This room was somewhat smaller than the previous one. There we found bedding, underwear, trousers, suits as well as food-stuffs (bread, dripping, and sugar). These items belonged to the new grave-diggers.
We heard voices from the adjacent room. I banged at the wall and shouted at a spot where a missing brick let the air through. I asked if H.R. Izbizki was in the room. He came to the wall. I asked if at least his mother and sister had escaped. The guard interrupted our conversation.
Afterwards the new arrivals gave us some political news. They said the Russians had already retaken Smolensk and Kiev, and were making their way towards us. We wished they would with God’s assistance come and destroy this terrible place." Seven to eight transports were buried this day, at first Gypsies as yesterday but the last two containing Jewish victims.
“They were younger and older people with suitcases and rucksacks. On their clothes a Jewish star was affixed front and back. We assumed they were diseased camp inmates whom the Nazis wanted to get rid of in this manner. They were buried with their belongings. These events shook us to the core because up until then we had hoped that Jews in the camps would survive these terrible times.”
Saturday, 10 January 1942:
“At about eleven o’clock the first van loaded with victims arrived. Jewish victims were treated in this way: the Jewish men, women and children were in their underwear. After they had been tossed out of the van, two Germans in plain clothes stepped up to them to make a thorough check if anything had been hidden. If they saw a necklace round a throat they tore it off. They wrenched rings from fingers, and pulled gold teeth out of mouths.
They even examined anuses (and, in the case of women, genitals). The entire examination was done most brutally.” All the victims were from Klodawa. “Eisenstab told us he had no further reason for living since his wife and 15 year-old only daughter had just been buried. But his fellows restrained him from asking the Germans to shoot him. Today seven transports arrived."
Sunday, 11 January 1942:
“We were told we wouldn’t have to work because it was Sunday. After the morning prayer and the prayer for the dead we remained in our paradisiacal cellar. We didn’t recite the prayer of penitence. We again talked about ourselves, politics and God. Everybody wanted to hold out until liberation.”
Monday, 12 January 1942:
“At 7 a.m. they brought us coffee and bread. Some of the men from Izbica (who had lately lived in Kutno) drank up all the coffee. The others got very annoyed and said we were already facing death and had to behave with dignity.
At 8:30 we were already at work. At 9:30 the first gas van appeared. Among the ‘eight’ were Aharon Rosenthal, Schlomo Babiacki and Schmuel Bibedgal, all of them aged between fifty and sixty.” Only the five oldest of the ‘eight’ would be shot at the end of the day.
“On this day we were absolutely slave-driven. They wouldn’t even wait till the gas smell had evaporated.” Nine vans arrived, each of sixty Jews from Klodawa, 500 people from Klodawa in all. “My friend Getzel Chrzastowski screamed terribly for a moment when he recognized his 14 year-old son, who had just been thrown into the ditch. We had to stop him, too, from begging the Germans to shoot him. We argued it was necessary to survive this suffering, so we might revenge ourselves later and pay the Germans back."
Back in the cellar from the adjacent room came the message that “the Germans had captured an escaped Jew from Klodawa. Next morning they told us the following details: the captured escaper, Mahmens Goldmann, had told them in detail how the Jews were driven into the gas vans. When they arrived at the Schloss they were at first treated most politely. An elderly German, around sixty, with a long pipe in his mouth, helped the mothers to lift the children from the lorry. He carried babies so that the mothers could alight more easily and helped dotards to reach the Schloss.
The unfortunate ones were deeply moved by his gentle and mild manner. They were led into a warm room which was heated by two stoves. The floor was covered with wooden gratings as in a bath-house. The elderly German and the SS officer spoke to them in this room. They assured them they would be taken to the Lodz Ghetto. There they were expected to work and be productive. The women would look after the household, the children would go to school, and so on. In order to get there, however, they had to undergo delousing.
For that purpose the needed to undress down to their underwear. Their clothes would be passed through hot steam. Valuables and documents should be tied up in a bundle, and handed over for safe keeping. Whoever had kept banknotes, or had sewn them into their clothes, should take them out without fail, otherwise they would get damaged in the steam oven. Moreover they would all have to take a bath.
The elderly German politely requested those present to take a bath and opened a door from which 15 - 20 steps led down. It was terribly cold there. Asked about the cold, the German said gently they should walk a bit further: it would get warmer. They walked along a lengthy corridor to some steps leading to a ramp. The gas van had driven up to the ramp.
The polite behaviour ended abruptly and they were all driven into the van with malicious screams. The Jews realised immediately they were facing death. They screamed, crying the prayer ‘Hear! O Israel’.
At the exit of the warm room was a small chamber in which Goldmann hid. After he had spent 24 hours there in the icy cold and was already quite stiff, he decided to look for his clothes and to save himself. He was caught and pushed in among the grave-diggers.”
Tuesday, 13 January 1942:
The next morning, at the Waldlager, Goldmann was ordered to lie in the ditch and was shot. “On this day the transports were brimful – roughly ninety corpses in each van. On this day the Jewish community at Bugemin was liquidated.” Also “we buried approximately eight hundred Jews from Bugaj.
We buried nine transports; after work, five of the men who had unloaded the corpses were shot. When in our cellar Michael Worbleznik burst into tears; he had lost his wife, two children and his parents. The question how one could escape in order to warn the whole Jewish population” was intensively discussed, not solved that night."
Wednesday, 14 January 1942:
Immediately after breakfast Krzewacki from Klodawa hanged himself, with the help of Getzel Chrzatowski. Gershon Swietoplawski, Krzewacki’s colleague in digging, followed him into death. The corpses remained in the cellar for a few days.
Between the victims of this day, Jews from Izbica, was also a German civilian, one of the cooks at the Schloss. He had tried to catch a Jew who had managed to steal something from the kitchen. Following the thief, he had entered the van. “At the very moment the doors had clanged shut. His shouting and knocking had been ignored. Some of us thought he had been deliberately poisoned so that no witness of this killing should remain alive.
On this day one of the vans drove in error right up to the ditch. We heard the muted cries for help and knocking at the door of the tortured victims. At the end of the day six men of the ‘eight’ were shot.”
Thursday, 15 January 1942:
“On this occasion we rode in a bus. Monik Halter called across to me the windows of the vehicle could be easily opened with a hook. The thought of escape had lodged in my brain all the time. At 8 a.m. we were already at the place of work. At ten o’clock the first victims arrived, again from Izbica. Till noon we dispatched four overloaded transports. One van waited in line after the next.
At midday I received the sad news that my brother and parents had just been buried. I tried to get closer to the corpses to take a last look at my nearest and dearest. Once I had a clod of frozen earth tossed at me, thrown by the benign German with the pipe. The second time 'Big Whip' shot at me. I don’t know if the shot missed me deliberately, or by accident. One thing is certain: I remained alive. I suppressed my anguish and concentrated on working fast so as to forget my dreadful situation for five minutes.
I remained lonely as a piece of stone. Out of my entire family, which comprised sixty people, I am the only one who survived. Towards evening, as we helped to cover the corpses, I put my shovel down.
Michael Podklebnik followed my example and we said the prayer of the mourners together. Before leaving the ditch five of the ‘eight’ were shot. At seven in the evening we were taken back home. All those who hailed from Izbica were in absolute despair. We had realised that we should never see our relatives again. I was quite beside myself and indifferent to everything.
In the next room, we had learnt, were eighteen grave-diggers from Lodz. We heard through the wall that Rumkowski (the elder of the Jewish Council at Lodz) had ordered the deportation of 750 families from Lodz.”
Friday, 16 January 1942:
The 750 families from Lodz had arrived by train at Kolo, where they had been lodged in a synagogue. This Friday “the victims came from Lodz. Some of them looked starved and showed signs of having been beaten and injured; one could gauge the degree of famine in Lodz. We felt great pity when we saw how they had hungered for a long time merely to perish in such a cruel manner. The corpses hardly weighed anything. Where previously three transports were put in layers one on top of the other now there was room for four.
In the afternoon ‘Big Whip’ again drank a bottle of schnapps; afterwards he began to deal murderous blows with his whip. On Friday they started to pour chloride on the graves because of the stench caused by the many corpses.”
Eight transports were buried. At the end of the day seven of the ‘eight’ were shot.
Saturday, 17 January 1942:
“We buried seven overloaded transports. We had finished the work at five o’clock when a car suddenly appeared with the order to shoot sixteen men. This was obviously punishment for the escape of Abraham Rois. (He had run away at 10 o’clock on Friday night.) Sixteen men were selected. They had to lie down in groups of eight, face downwards, on top of the corpses, and were shot through the head with machine guns.”
Sunday, 18 January 1942:
“We learned at breakfast that we would have to go to work. At eight o’clock we were already at the place of work. Twenty new pick-axes and shovels were taken down from the lorry. We now realised that ‘production’, far from coming to an end, was on the increase.
Because it was Sunday not all the gendarmes were on duty. We consumed our lunch in the grave. They probably wanted to make sure that we didn’t attack any of them. We didn’t even attempt to hurl ourselves upon our executioners. The guns levelled at us filled us with too much fear.
On this day no one was shot at the end of work.
After the evening prayer we decided to run away, no matter what the cost. I asked Kalman Radzewski to give me a few marks because I didn’t have a single Pfennig. He gave me 50 marks which he had sewn into his clothing. The escape of Rois was an example that had made a deep impression on me because he got out through a cellar window.”
Monday, 19 January 1942:
“We again boarded the bus in the morning. I let all the others get on in front of me and was the last one aboard. The gendarme sat in front. On this day no SS men rode behind us. To my right was a window which could be opened easily. During the ride I opened the window. When fresh cold air streamed in I caught fright and quickly shut the window again.
My comrades, among them Monik Halter in particular, encouraged me, however. after I made a decision I softly asked my comrades to stand up so the draught of cold air shouldn’t reach the gendarmes. I quickly pulled the window pane out of its frame, pushed my legs out and turned around. I held on to the door with my hands and pressed my feet against the hinges. I told my colleagues they should put the window pane back immediately after I had jumped. I then jumped at once.
When I hit the ground I rolled for a bit and scraped the skin off my hands. The only thing that mattered to me was not to break a leg. I turned round to see if they had noticed anything on the bus but it continued its journey. I lost no time but ran as fast as I could across fields and woods. After an hour I stood before the farm of a Polish peasant. I went inside and greeted him in the Polish manner: ‘Blessed be Jesus Christ'.
While I warmed myself I asked cautiously about the distance to Chelmno. It was only 3 km’s. I also received a piece of bread which I put in my pocket. As I was about to go the peasant asked me if I was a Jew – which I absolutely denied. I asked him why he suspected me, and he told me they were gassing Jews and Gypsies at Chelmno. I took my leave with the Polish greeting and went away.”
Around 2 p.m. Bajler reached the town of Grabow which had a Jewish community. He was taken by them for an Ethnic German because he didn’t wear a star. He looked rough, having had no opportunity in Chelmno to wash and shave. He went to the rabbi, who asked who he was:
“’Rabbi, I am a Jew from the nether world!’ He looked at me as if I was mad. I told him: ‘Rabbi, don’t think I am crazed and have lost my reason. I am a Jew from the nether world. They are killing the whole nation Israel. I myself have buried a whole town of Jews, my parents, brothers and the entire family. I have remained lonely as a piece of stone.’ I cried during the conversation.
The rabbi asked: ‘Where are they being killed?’ I said: ‘Rabbi, in Chelmno. They are gassed in the forest and buried in mass graves.’ His domestic (the rabbi was a widower) brought me a bowl of water for my swollen eyes. I washed my hands. The injury on my right hand began to hurt. When my story made the rounds many Jews came, to whom I told all the details. They all wept. We ate bread and butter; I was given tea to drink and said the blessing.”
The rabbi, Jakub Szulman, realizing Bajler’s story was the truth, wrote a letter to his relatives in Lodz:
"My dearest ones,
I had not yet replied to your letters since I had not known exactly what was being discussed. Now, to our great misfortune, we know everything. An eyewitness who by chance was able to escape from hell has been to see me... I learned everything from him.
The place where everyone is being put to death is called Chelmno, not far from Dabie; people are kept in the nearby forest of Lochow. People are killed in one of two ways: either by shooting or by poison gas. This is what happened to the towns of Dabie, Izbica Kujawska, and others.
Recently, thousands of Gypsies have been brought there from the so-called Gypsy Camp in Lodz and the same is done to them. Do not think that a madman is writing; unfortunately, it is the cruel and tragic truth (Good God!).
O man, throw off your rags, sprinkle your head with ashes, or run through the streets and dance in madness...I am so wearied by the sufferings of Israel, my pen can write no more. My heart is breaking. But perhaps the Almighty will take pity and save the 'last remnants of our People'.
Help us, O Creator of the World!"
Maly Trostinets is a village in Eastern Belorussia some 12 kilometres East of Minsk, where the Nazis established a camp. The site chosen was a former collective farm. Russian prisoners of war and Jews were forced to build the barracks for the six hundred slave labourers and their guards.
The camp initially held Soviet prisoners of war that were captured after the German advance on the Soviet Union, which began on June 22, 1941, known as Operation Barbarossa. But it became a Vernichtungslager, or an extermination camp, on May 10, 1942, when the first transport of Jews arrived there, from Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Austria, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
However, the primary purpose of the extermination camp was the eradication of the Jewish population of Minsk and the surrounding areas, such as the adjacent village of Bolshoi Trostinets. Jews were killed by means of mobile gas chambers between the 28 July 1942 and 31 July 1942, and subsequently on the 21 October 1943.
However, many were even killed before reaching the camp, as they were brought to the nearby Blagovshchina and Shashkovka Forests, where they were shot in the back of the neck. Most of the victims were lined up in front of large pits and shot. Tractors then flattened the pits out. The prisoners in the camp were forced to sort through the victims’ possessions and maintain the camp.
The killing routine at Maly Trostinets:
Beginning on the 10 May 1942 and continuing every Tuesday and Friday Jews were brought to Minsk from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Austria, Germany and driven by truck towards Maly Trostinets. Some of the trucks were gas vans, and after they had been gassed a sonderkommando took them out of the gas vans and threw them into deep pits.
One such transport destined for Maly Trostinets was from Theresienstadt in Bohemia Moravia. On the 4 August 1942 a train with a thousand Jews left the Theresienstadt camp. Six days later it reached Maly Trostinets where it stopped in open country.
Forty “experts” were removed from the train at Minsk. The remaining 960 deportees were ordered out of the train and into vans for the next stage of their journey, and were driven off towards the Blagovschchina forest. The vans were gas vans, once they reached the forest the doors were unlocked and the bodies of the gassed deportees were thrown into open graves.
Of a thousand Jews sent from Theresienstadt to Maly Trostinets in a further deportation on the 25 August 1942 only twenty-two of the younger men were taken to work at an SS farm. The rest entered the gas vans and were murdered.
Of the twenty-two men sent to the SS farm, only two survived the hard labour and brutal treatment of their overseers and escaped in May 1943 to join the partisans. One was killed fighting the Germans and one survived the war, but his name is not known.
On the 23 September 1942 2,004 Jews were deported from Theresienstadt, to Maly Trostinets, there were no survivors. Three days later on the 26 September a further two thousand were deported fromTheresienstadt and this was repeated and another two thousand were sent to Maly Trostinets.
Like before there were no survivors and among the dead were Albert Lob from Worms, his wife Katherine and their twenty-four year old son Ernst.
Also killed was Sussel Spatz born in the Austro-Hungarian town of Nowy-Sacz in 1864, whose husband Peter was arrested by the Nazis after the Reichs- Kristallnacht in 1938, incarcerated in Buchenwald then Dachau concentration camps, and who died in 1940 in Dachau.
It was estimated that there were sixty-five thousand bodies buried at Maly Trostinets including those of the Jews killed in the final Action in Minsk. The inmates of the camp were employed in sorting the victim’s possessions or in maintaining the camp, from time to time they were subjected to selections particularly during 1943.
The killing process was conducted as follows: most of the victims were lined up in front of pits, 50 meters long and 3 metres deep and shot to death. After the executions the pits containing the victims were levelled by tractors. The operation was conducted by a unit of thirty to one hundred SS men commanded by an officer named Rider.
In the autumn of 1943 the Germans began to obliterate the traces of the mass murder by cremating the bodies in nearby Blagovshchina forest. There a team of former Red Army soldiers now prisoners-of-war were employed at sifting the ashes in search of gold.
During June 1944 as the Red Army approached, the Germans killed most of the remaining inmates and on the 28 June 1944 the Germans burned the camp to the ground.
That day the camp guards, from Latvia, the Ukraine, Belo-Russia, Hungary and Rumania were replaced by a special SS detachment, all Germans commanded by German SS officers.
This detachment locked all the surviving prisoners, Russian civilians, Jews from the Minsk ghetto and Viennese Jews who had survived in the camp so far, into the barracks and then set fire to them.
All those who were able to flee from the blazing buildings were shot. About twenty former TheresienstadtJews managed to escape the fire and bullets and to hide in the forest until the arrival of the Red Army forces six days later.
As the Soviet army approached in June 1944, the Germans killed most of the remaining prisoners. On June 30 the Germans completely destroyed the camp. When the Soviets arrived on July 3, they found a few Jews who had escaped
These Jews were taken to Moscow by their liberators and were incarcerated for two years in a camp in Siberia before being released in 1946.
Deportation of Psychiatric Patients to Auschwitz- Birkenau
The Apeldoornse Bos was a Jewish psychiatric institution, amid the forests near Apeldoorn, Jews were treated for psychiatric disorders using modern methods from 1909 onwards.
The Apeldoornse Bos expanded rapidly and by 1938 the institution had 900 patients, including seventy-four mentally retarded and wayward children at the Paedagogium Achisomog.
The evacuation from the Jewish mental hospital in Apeldoorn, in Holland on the 21 January 1943 remains one of the most horrible chapters in the dark history of the holocaust.
Dr Jacob Presser recounts the terrible scenes:
They were escorted into the lorries with pushes and blows, men, women and children, most of them inadequately clad for the cold winter night. As one eyewitness later recalled;
“I saw them place a row of patients, many of them older women on mattresses at the bottom of one lorry, and then load another load of human bodies on top of them. So crammed were these lorries that the Germans had a hard job to put up the tailboards.”
From the very start, the patients were thrown together indiscriminately, children with dangerous lunatics, imbeciles with those who were not fit to be moved. The lorries sped to the station, the station-master at Apeldoorn who stood by the train throughout, provided more eyewitness particulars. At first everything went smoothly.
The earliest arrivals, mainly young men, went quietly into the freight wagons at the front of the train, forty in each, when the station-master opened the ventilators, the Germans immediately closed them again.
At first, men and women were put into separate freight cars, but later they were all mixed together. As the night wore on, the more seriously ill were brought into the station. Some wore straight-jackets and they entered the wagons and then lent helplessly against the wall of the wagons.
The report mentions the harrowing case of a young girl in a straight-jacket:
“I remember the case of a girl of twenty to twenty-five, whose arms were pinioned in this way, but who otherwise was stark naked. When I remarked on this to the guards, they told me this patient had refused to put on clothes, so what could they do but take her along as she was.
Blinded by the light that was flashed in her face, the girl ran, fell on her face and could not, of course, use her arms to break the fall. She crashed down with a thud, but luckily escaped without serious injury. In no time she was up again and unconcernedly entered the wagon.”
In general, the station master stated, “the loading was done without great violence. The ghastly thing was that when the wagons had to be closed, the patients refused to take their fingers away. They simply would not listen to us and in the end the Germans lost patience. The result was a brutal and inhuman spectacle.”
Early the next morning Hauptsturmfuhrer Ferdinand Aus der Funten who directed Eichmann’s branch office in Amsterdam, responsible for the deportations of Jews from Holland, called for volunteers among the nurses to accompany the train.
Some twenty came forward, Aus der Funten selected another thirty, the “volunteers” travelled in a separate wagon, at the back of the train. All of the nurses were offered the choice of returning home immediately after the journey, or working in a really modern mental home.
The transport reached the Auschwitz-Birkenau on the 24 January 1943, with 921 Jewish patients, including children and medical personnel. After a selection 16 men and 36 women were admitted into the camp, the remaining 869 people are murdered in the gas chambers.
Rudolf Vrba, a prisoner, who later escaped from Birkenau, recalled this particular transport:
“In some of the trucks nearly half the occupants were dead or dying, more than I have ever seen. Many obviously had been dead for several days, for the bodies were decomposing and the stench of disintegrating flesh gushed from the open doors.
This, however, was no novelty to me. What appalled me was the state of the living. Some were drooling, imbecile, live people with dead minds. Some were raving, tearing at their neighbours, even at their own flesh.
Some were naked, though the cold was petrifying; and above everything, above the moans of the dying or the despairing, the cries of pain, of fear, the sound of wild, frightening, lunatic laughter rose and fell.
Yet amidst all this bedlam, there was one spark of splendid, unselfish sanity. Moving among the insane were nurses, young girls, their uniforms torn and grimy, but their faces calm and their hands never idle. Their medicine bags were still over their shoulders and they had to fight to keep their feet, but all the time they were working, soothing, bandaging, giving an injection here, an aspirin there.
Not one showed the slightest trace of panic.” “Get them out!” roared the SS-men, “Get them out, you bastards.”
A naked girl about twenty with red hair and a superb figure suddenly leaped from a wagon and lay squirming, laughing at my feet. A nurse flung me a heavy Dutch blanket and I tried to put it round her, but she would not get up. With another prisoner, a Slovak called Fogel, I managed to roll her into the blanket.
“Get them to the lorries!” roared the SS. “Straight to the lorries! Get on with it for Christ’s sake!”
Somehow Fogel and I broke into a lumbering run, for this beautiful girl was heavy. The motion pleased her and she began clapping her hands like a child. An SS club slashed across my shoulders and the blanket slipped from my numbed fingers.
“Get on you swine! Drag her.”
I joined Fogel at the other end of the blanket and we dragged her, bumping her over the frozen earth for five hundred yards. Somehow she clung to the blanket, not laughing now, but crying, as the hard ground thumped her naked flesh through the thick wool.
“Pitch her in! Get her on the lorries!”
The SS men were frantic for here was something they could not understand. Something that knew no order, no discipline, no obedience, no fear of violence or death.
We pitched her in somehow, then ran back for another crazy, pathetic bundle. Hundreds of them were out of the wagons now, herded by the prisoners who were herded by the SS, and everywhere the nurses, still working.
One nurse walked slowly with an old, frail man, talking to him quietly, as if they were out in the hospital grounds. Another half-carried a screaming girl. They fought to bring order out of chaos, using medicines and blankets, gentleness and quiet heroism, instead of guns or sticks or snarling dogs.
Then suddenly it was all over. The last abject victims had been slung into one of the overloaded lorries. We stood there, painting in the chill January air.”
Rudolf Vrba confirmed the fate of the nurses:
The nurses were not allowed to return home, or work in a modern mental hospital, because the SS doctor making the selection decided the nurses would share the same fate as their patients.
The nurses were loaded onto the lorries and roared off, swaying towards the gas chambers, not a single nurse or patient survived.
The Women’s Concentration Camp in Moringen
Moringen is a small town situated at the Solling, in the rural district of Northeim near Göttingen. In the center of the town stand the buildings of the present-day District Hospital.
Since 1732 the grounds were used for different purposes: first as an orphans’ home, then from 1838 as a ”Police Correctional House” (work house) (12); from 1885 it went under the name ”Provincial Workhouse”; from April through November 1933 as a so-called ‘early’ concentration camp (13) with a protective custody section for women; from 1933 to 1938 as a women’s concentration camp; from 1940 until 1945 as a so-called ”protective custody youth camp” (14); in 1944 the workhouse was closed (until then the concentration camp and workhouse existed in parallel in the building sectors); after 1945 the barracks of the ”protective custody juvenile camp” and the remaining parts of the building were used as a camp for Polish ”Displaced Persons” and, from 1948 on as a workhouse of the land again.
In all, about 4,300 persons were deported to the Moringen concentration camps. For many, the concentration camps in Moringen were a ”Way of the Cross,” a way that could mean death and extermination. Regarding the juvenile concentration camp, it can be assumed that approximately 10 percent of the concentration camp inmates in Moringen alone died as a consequence of inhumane housing conditions.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian, a pastor, a spiritual writer, a musician, and an author of fiction and poetry. The integrity of his Christian faith and life, and the international appeal of his writings, have received broad recognition and admiration, all of which has led to a consensus that he is one of the theologians of his time whose theological reflections might lead future generations of Christians into creating a new more spiritual and responsible millennium.
Feb. 4, 1906--Dietrich and twin sister Sabine born in Breslau, Germany; the sixth child of Karl and Paula Bo
Bonnhoeffer; his father a prominent professor of psychiatry and neurology; his mother one of the few women of her generation to obtain a university degree.
Began theological study at Tubingen University; studied under such prominent theologians as Adolf von Harnack, Hans Lietzmann, and Reinhold Seeberg
Visited Rome with brother Klaus; began to formulate ideas on church and community
Dissertation Sanctorum Communio under Reinhold Seeberg accepted and published; traveled to Barcelona, Spain and pastored to German expatriates
1929-1930--Served as a curate for a German congregation in Barcelona
Awarded Sloane Fellowship which allowed him to attend Union Theological Seminary in New York; began lifelong friendships with Erwin Sutz (from Switzerland), Jean Lasserre (from France), and Paul Lehmann (from the United States); another of the friends at the Seminary was a young African American theology student from Alabama, Frank Fisher, who invited Bonhoeffer to visit church services in Harlem; Bonhoeffer spent much of his time in Harlem, teaching and interacting with the congregation; on returning to Germany, he took phonograph records of the same spirituals he heard in Harlem; traveled to Cuba and Mexico
Aug. 1, 1931--
Becomes lecturer in Theology at the University of Berlin; invited to lecture at the University of Berlin; in thee two years in Berlin, Bonhoeffer attended a number of ecumenical conferences and at one met the Christian theologian Rev. George Bell from England
1931-- Appointed youth secretary of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches
November 1931--Ordination at St. Matthias Church, Berlin
1931-1932--Presented the lectures that were published as Creation and Fall
January 1933--Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany and later took control as dictator; he ordered the arrest and execution of several of the people who helped him gain power and further intensified persecution of Jews
Bonhoeffer's essay "The Church and the Jewish Question," was the first to address the new problems the church faced under the Nazi dictatorship; his defense of the Jews was marked by Christian supersessionism ï¿½ the Christian belief that Christianity had superseded Judaism, in history and in the eyes of God; the real question, he argued, was how the church would judge and respond to the Nazi state's actions against the Jews; essay completed in the days following the April 1, 1933, boycott of Jewish businesses; some scholars believe Bonhoeffer was influenced on this issue by his close friendship at Union Seminary with his African American colleague, Frank Fisher, and his direct observation of Fisher's experiences under racism
Many Protestants welcomed the rise of Nazism; a group called the Deutsche Christen ("German Christians") became the voice of Nazi ideology within the Evangelical Church, even advocating the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible; the Deutsche Christians cited the state Aryan laws that barred all "non-Aryans" from the civil service, they also proposed a church "Aryan paragraph" to prevent "non-Aryans" from becoming ministers or religious teachers; the Deutsche Christen claimed that Jews, as a "separate race," could not become members of an "Aryan" German church even through baptism ï¿½ a clear repudiation of the validity of Gospel teachings
Bonhoeffer published final lecture courses at Berlin as Christ the Center--along with a seminar taught on the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel
Help to organize the Pastors' Emergency League; after which he assumed the pastorate of the German Evangelical Church, Sydenham, and the Reformed Church of St. Paul in London; during sojourn in England, he became a close friend and confidant of the influential Anglican Bishop, George Bell
Fall 1933--The Deutsche Christen gained control of many Protestant church governments throughout Germany; their policy of excluding those with "Jewish blood" from the ministry was approved, September 1933, by the national church synod at Wittenberg.
-The anti-Nazi Confessing Church was organized Barmen, Germany; Bonhoeffer bitterly opposed the Aryan paragraph, arguing that its ratification surrendered Christian precepts to political ideology; if "non-Aryans" were banned from the ministry, he argued, then their colleagues should resign in solidarity, even if this meant the establishment of a new church ï¿½ a "confessing" church that would remain free of Nazi influence.
1934--Became a member of the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work
Apr. 26, 1935--
Establishes underground seminary for the anti-Nazi Confessing Church at Zingst by the Baltic Sea, which in June moves to Finkenwalde in Pomerania
Aug. 5, 1936--Forbidden to lecture at the University of Berlin
1937--Finkenwalde Seminary closed by Gestapo; 27 former Finkenwalde students imprisoned; out of the experiences at Finkenwalde emerged his two well-known books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, as well as his lesser known writings on pastoral ministry such as Spiritual Care; continued to prepare pastors in the Confessing Church all the way to 1939
Feb. 1938--Makes first contact with conspirators in connection with political resistance against Hitler
Jun. 2, 1939--Leaves for New York City
Jul. 27, 1939--Returns to Germany and joins the political resistance
Mar. 27, 1941--Forbidden to print or publish
Sep. 1941--Becomes part of Jewish rescue action (Operation 7)
Jan. 1943--At age 36 engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer
Apr. 5, 1943--At age 37 arrested and taken to Tegel Prison, Berlin; Dohnanyi and Dietrich's sister, Christine, also arrested
Feb. 7, 1945--Moved to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp
Apr. 1945--Discovery of Admiral Canaris' diary; Hitler orders annihilation of the Canaris group which includes Bonhoeffer
Apr. 9, 1945--.
Bonhoeffer (age 39)
Hanged at Flossenburg; Dohnanyi killed at the Sachsenhausen Camp; one of four members of his immediate family to die at the hands of the Nazi regime for their participation in the small Protestant resistance movement--two sons (Dietrich and Klaus) and two sons-in-law (Hans von Dohnanyi and Rudiger Schleicher).
The letters he wrote during these final two years of his life were posthumously published by his student and friend, Eberhard Bethge, as Letters and Papers from Prison.