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World War II began in Europe on September 1,1939, with Germany's invasion of Poland. Nazi policy against the Jews, limited to the isolation and forced immigration of German Jews, now took a new and furious turn.

On July 31, 1941, Marshal Hermann Goering authorized SS Gruppenfuehrer and Chief of the German Security Forces, Reinhard Heydrich, to finalize preparations for the exterminations:

"...I hereby commission you to carry out all necessary preparation with regard to organizational, substantiative and financial viewpoints for a total solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe. Insofar as the competencies of other central organizations are hereby affected, these are to be involved."

January 20, 1942, SS Gruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich called a meeting to confirm his plan to key officials. This meeting is now known as the "Wannsee Conference", named for the Berlin suburb where it was held. The only purpose of this meeting was to organize and coordinate various governmental agencies to carry out the "Final Solution to the Jewish Problem". The Conference made genocide a fact for the rest of occupied Europe.

Soon that same year, under a secret code name "Operation Reinhard" three death camps were build in rapid succession: Belzec completed in March, Sobibor built in April, Treblinka in July.

Under the supervision of SS General Odillo Globocnik and staffed by personnel from the euthanasia program in Germany (killing of deformed, mentally retarded Germans in gassing installations) discontinued in Germany due to the outcry of the church, these camps began a vast extermination program which did not end until Polish Jewry had virtually ceased to exist.

In each one of these camps hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed. Despite this, these names except Treblinka where most of Warsaw Jews were killed, are not as well known as those of other camps like Auschwitz or Dachau, despite the fact that in the "Operation Reinhard" camps more Jews were killed than in Auschwitz. The reason is simple. They were top-secret installations and in the few recovered documents were referred to as "Durchgangslagers" (transit camps). They were dismantled and all signs of their existence were removed long before the Allies arrived. 

Martin Borman's Letter 
Relaying the order from Adolf Hitler barring public reference to the Final Solution. 

English translation of Martin Borman's Letter 
Relaying the order from Adolf Hitler barring public reference to the Final Solution. 

Detail map of occupied Poland. 

Deporation of Jews to Sobibor. 

Location of the "Operation Reinhard" installations in occupied Poland. 

Chain of command - Operation Reinhard, 1942-1943.



The Sobibor camp was located three miles from the Bug River in a sparsely populated area in the eastern part of occupied Poland, near the village of Sobibor, between the cities of Chelm and Wlodawa. The initial 30 acres of camp territory was later expanded to 145 acres.

Camp security was crucial to the death camp. At Sobibor it included an excellent lighting system in and around the camp which had an independent electric aggregate, multiple barbed wire fences intertwined with young pine branches to conceal the interior. Besides the main observation tower in the middle of the camp, a series of smaller guard towers surrounded Sobibor. Added to the security was a 15 meter-wide minefield around the perimeter.

The interior of the camp was divided into five main sections: "Vorlager" or garrison area and four inner sections called Lagers: II, III, IV and I. Separately partitioned with barbed wire fence these were, in essence, cages within cages. A brief description reveals both their relationship to one another and their separate functions. 

Click to Enlarge Details (30K)

The GARRISON AREA included the main entrance gates, the extension rail from the main outside depot and the railway platform where the victims were taken off the trains. The Commander's villa "Swallows' Nest" stood opposite the platform and was flanked on the right by the guardhouse and on the left by the armory. The SS villa known as "The Happy Flea", as well as additional SS quarters, garage, mess hall and other buildings were built nearby. The barracks of the Ukrainian guards' were located just to the north, opposite the fence.

LAGER I was built directly west and behind the garrison area. It was made escape proof by extra barbed wire fences and a deep trench filled with water. The only opening was a gate leading into the garrison area. This Lager was the living barracks for Jewish prisoners and included a prisoner's kitchen. Each prisoner was given approximately twelve square feet of sleeping space. The women prisoners slept in a separate barrack.

Jews employed in Lager I provided services for the Nazi staff: tailors and shoemakers, shops for carpentry, mechanical and other maintenance needs. After work, the Jewish prisoners from throughout the camp (except Lager III) were assembled in Lager I for roll call and night lock-ups. 

LAGER II was a larger section and included a variety of essential "services" for both the killing process and the everyday operation of the camp. Worked by 400 prisoners, including women, Lager II contained the warehouses used for storing the articles taken from the dead victims, including hair, clothes, food, gold and all other valuables. This Lager also housed the main administration office.

It was at Lager II that the Jews were "greeted" and prepared for their death. Here they undressed, women's hair was shorn, clothing searched and sorted and documents destroyed in the nearby incinerator. The victim's final steps were taken on a sandy pathway 164 yards long and about 10 feet wide framed by barbwire. Cynically called "Himmelfahrtstrasse" (Heavenly Way), it led directly to the gas chambers.

LAGER III was where the victims met their end. Located in the northwestern part of the camp, there were only two ways to enter the camp from Lager II. The camp staff and personnel entered through a small nondescript gate. The entrance for the victims was also the place of their earthly exit; it descended immediately into the gas chambers decorated with flowers and a Star of David. The structures there included (besides the gas chamber and the open-air crematorium) a special cage like enclosure for the 150 Jewish prisoners working there.

The camp was constantly rebuilt and expanded. The chambers, no longer large enough to handle the large waves of victims, were demolished in August, 1942 and a new massive building with about twice the number of gassing units was built. A long corridor two yards wide led to the gas chambers with the inscription "Bathhouse". These new gas chambers were 4.40 yards by 4.40 yards and 2.42 yards high. The victims entered the gas chambers trough small doors; they exited through large swinging doors that led to 32 inch-high ramps, making it easier to unload their bodies. Tightly packed, one chamber held 450-500 people. The engine that generated the deadly carbon monoxide was in a small shed adjacent to the gas chambers.

The Nazi staff was sent from the discontinued (due to the outcry of the church) Euthanasia program in Germany. It included the first commander of Sobibor, SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Franz Stangl, who later in August,1942 was replaced with SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Franz Reichleitner and a group of 30 non-commissioned officers of which about half was always rotating on special leave. A force of about 120 Ukrainians were always on guard duty.

The Jewish prisoners accounted for a total of close to 650 men, including about 100 women and 150 prisoners separated in Lager III. 



The SS contracted the "fare" for transporting the Jews to their death with the German railroad authorities: children up to 10 years of age traveled half the regular fare and those under 4 years old traveled free with their parents. The SS paid for their transportation from the funds robed from their victims.

From the end of July to the beginning of October,1942 the railroad was on repair and alternative forms of transports were found: trucks, horse drawn wagons, even forcing the Jews from local villages and towns to came by foot. Later the railroad transport resumed bringing Jews from Holland, France, the Soviet Union and other countries.

In the Hagen court proceedings against former Sobibor Nazis, Professor Wolfgang Scheffler, who served as an expert, estimated the total figure of murdered Jews at a minimum of 250,000.

Sketches by Josef Rychter (on scraps of newspapers) 
Only his name is known. He risked his life to record the Nazi crimes around Sobibor. 


The proceedings of the extermination followed two scripts: for Polish Jews already aware of Sobibor's true function, their treatment from arrival to their death in the gas chambers was cruel, accompanied by shots, killing on the spot for the slightest resistance, beating and terror.

The foreign Jews not aware of their fate were threatened with deceptive care, even politeness, until the doors of the gas chamber.

The following description of the fate of a typical Dutch transport of 2,500 Jews will help you understand how millions could be killed so easily.

Excerpts from Thomas Blatt's diary describe the arrival of a Dutch transport:

"...The arriving passenger train stopped outside the camp at the small, obscure station amidst a wild forest. Inside, every available seat was taken.

Soon eight to ten cars were detached from the rest and pushed onto a sidetrack leading into the camp. The Germans and the Ukrainian guards were posted around the platform and waiting (1). At the Nazis' signal, people were ordered to alight.

After leaving the heavy luggage behind on the train platform, a column of about 500 people started towards a long barrack (31) with large gates on opposite ends. Attached to the right side of the barrack were smaller barracks (32). When they entered they were ordered to leave any handbags they still carried. The moment the barrack was empty, prisoners called "pakettentragers" (package carriers) opened doors to the adjoining barracks (32), and quickly transferred all the handbags to be sorted. The purses were emptied onto tables and the contents were thrown in the proper containers: money with money, brushes with brushes, lipsticks with lipsticks, etc. Finally, documents, pictures and other papers were taken in blankets to the incinerator.

While this was happening, the victims were led to a yard with an overhanging roof (33). There SS Scharfuehrer Herman Mitchell in a quiet, convincing voice, welcomed the Jews. He sympathetically apologized for the inconvenience of the trip and the difficulty in extending them a roof and a bed to relax in right away. First he explained, because of strict sanitary conditions, they must shower and be disinfected. Later, he assured them the able-bodied would work, get paid and live with their families until the war was won. The soothing speech of the well-mannered SS man had its effect. 

The women and children brought in first, undressed and proceeded through the narrow alley between barbed wire fencing towards three connected barracks 100 meters away (45 ). There a group of prisoners, ironically called "friseurs" (barbers) by the Nazis, were waiting to cut their hair. It was done quickly with a few nervous clips of the scissors. The young girls, visibly ashamed, sometimes begged the "barbers" not to cut too short. They were certain a shower would follow. A German stood in the middle of the room with a whip in his hand, supervising and making sure the "barbers" would not speak to the victims. It was not necessary. The poor victims would not have believed them anyway. Now robbed of all their possessions, even their hair, the Nazis prepared to take their lives. The gas chambers were only four yards away. And soon they walked innocently to its open gates to be brutally packed into the gassing units (51).

SS Bauer and a Ukrainian named Emil started the engine (52) and soon a horrifying mass scream could be heard. At first it was very loud and spontaneous. About five minutes later it gradually subsided until finally a contrasting silence took over.

The next ten cars of people, by this time, were on route to the yard for the speech and surely heard the cries. But mixed with the roar of the engine and muffled by the thick walls of the gas chamber, it sounded from distance like thunder. Only the prisoners, their hearts frozen in terror, knew the truth.

Before piling the bodies on the pyres (55), the gold teeth were pulled by the "dentist" and other body cavities were searched for more possessions, all with restless speed.

Now, the victims dead, the prisoners finished sorting out the clothing. First, they removed the Star of David and checked every fold for hidden valuables. Then they packed them in lots of ten tying with string and stored them in huge warehouses (44) to be sent later. Simultaneously, the hills of private documents, diplomas, pictures, etc. were being burned in a specially built incinerator (46), removing the last traces of their existence. Thus, the destruction of a transport of Jews was completed. The people killed, the goods stored, the documents destroyed... as if, IT NEVER WAS." 

The Murderers

Documented proof exists that at various times, all the men listed below were at Sobibor for some length of time. Approximately 100 Germans and about 200 Ukrainian guards worked in Sobibor during its eighteen months of existence. Other than the commander and his deputy, all Germans were non-commissioned officers, but were always superior in rank to any of the Ukrainian guards. Their function in the camp varied. Some had specific assignments such as setting up the gas chambers and crematoria; other rotated from other Operation Reinhard camps. And there were some, like Frenzel, who were at Sobibor from the beginning to its end. At any given time the German personnel amounted to about 30 men, of whom approximately one half was always on rotating vacations.

Having the spoils of their victims at their disposal, the Sobibor Nazis lived in the utmost comfort, supplementing military rations with foodstuffs stolen from the murdered Jews. The best tailors, cobblers, culinary experts, dentists and mechanics were kept as laborers who used their talents to make life easier for the Germans assigned to the "wilds" of Poland. Some even put in orders to the mechanics shop for bicycles made from converted baby carriages, for their children in Germany. Some enriched themselves by stealing valuables, even gold teeth pulled from the victims bodies.

Safe from the front line duty, the non-commissioned officers received an average monthly pay of 58 Reichsmark and close to ten times this amount in bonuses of 18 Reichsmark a day; a total of about 600 Reichsmark. Future incentives took the form of three weeks vacation every three months.

Most of these Germans, all fairly young, were family men. Some, like Frenzel, claimed even to be religious. Their job did not require them to be great managers; the barrel of a gun was persuasive enough.











At the Nuremberg Trials, the stories of the death camps were little known. The prosecution accused criminals mostly on the basis of the atrocities at Auschwitz and other well-known Nazi camps where the evidence and witnesses were relatively easy to obtain. As for Sobibor, witnesses had dispersed and the criminals were unknown to the authorities.

In May, 1945 former Sobibor staff member SS Nowak was recognized in East Germany by a former Sobibor inmate, Meir Ziss. Nowak was arrested by Soviet authorities. SS Hubert Gomerski, another Nazi from Sobibor, was also arrested. Then Johann Klier was arrested, but as a person who felt compassion for the Jews and secretly tried to help them, he was soon released. 

One of the worst murderers, Erich Bauer, the chief of the gas chambers, was found fortuitously. He was recognized on the streets of Berlin by survivors. On September 1, l951 he was sentenced to death and then, after abolition of the death penalty in Germany, to life in prison.

On September 6, 1965, the German court in Hagen initiated the proceedings against thirteen former Sobibor Nazis, accusing them of crimes against humanity. On December 20, l966, the following sentences were handed out: 

1. Frenzel, Karl, carpenter; arrested in 1962. Accused of personally killing 42 Jews and helping to murder approximately 250,000 Jews. Found guilty of personally killing 6 Jews and of helping to murder approximately 150,000 Jews. Sentenced to life in prison.

2. Bolender, Kurt, hotel porter; arrested in 1961. Accused of personally killing approximately 360 Jews and of helping to murder approximately 86,000 Jews. Committed suicide in prison before sentencing.

3. Wolf, Franz, warehouse clerk; arrested in 1964. Accused of personally killing one Jew and helping to murder 115,000 Jews. Found guilty of having assisted in the murder of at least 39,000 Jews. Sentenced to eight years in prison.

4. Ittner, Alfred, laborer; accused of helping to kill approximately 57,000 Jews. Found guilty of having assisted in the murder of approximately 68,000 Jews. Sentenced to four years in prison.

5. Dubois, Werner, mechanic; accused of helping to kill approximately 43,000 Jews. Found guilty of having assisted in the murder of at least 15,000 Jews. Sentenced to three years in prison.

6. Fuchs, Erich, truck driver; accused of helping to kill approximately 3,600 Jews. Guilty of assisting in the murder of at least 79,000 Jews. Sentenced to four years in prison.

7. Lachman, Erich, mason; accused of helping to kill approximately 150,000 Jews; freed.

8. Shutt, Hans, salesman; accused of helping to kill approximately 86,000 Jews; freed.

9. Unverhau, Heinrich, male nurse; accused of helping to kill approximately 72,000 Jews; freed.

10. Juhrs, Robert, porter and janitor; accused of helping to kill approximately 30 Jews; freed.

11. Zierke, Ernest, saw mill worker; accused of helping to kill approximately 30 Jews; freed.

12. Lambert, Erwin, tile layer; accused of helping to kill an unknown number of Jews; freed.

Thus, most of the Nazis were freed in a relatively short time; their citizenship rights were revoked only for the duration of the prison sentence.

The most notorious of the executioners, SS Stangl, was arrested in Brazil and extradited to Germany. On July 22, l970 the Dusseldorf Court sentenced him to life in prison for complicity in the murder of 900,000 people. He died in prison of a heart attack.





The Ukrainian collaborators also went into hiding after the war. Only a few were ever caught. Some even made it to the United States and other western countries where they were received in the disguise of anti-Communists and displaced persons.

One of them named Ivan Demjanjuk was a guard in Sobibor who was discovered living peacefully as a retired auto worker in the Cleveland suburb of Seven Hills. In February, 1986 he was extradited to stand trial in Israel as "Ivan the Terrible" who ran the gas chambers at Treblinka. It was never proved that Demjanjuk was indeed Ivan and the Israeli court was forced to release him. However, it duly noted that there was conclusive proof that Demjanjuk was a guard in Sobibor.

Some guards were tried in the Soviet Union: B. Bielakow, M. Matwiejenko, J. Nikifor, W. Podienka, F. Tichonowski and J. Zajcew were found guilty and executed for their part in the Sobibor crimes. In April, l963 at a court in Kiev where Sasha Pechersky was the chief prosecution witness, ten former Ukrainian guards were found guilty and executed and one was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. In a third trial in Kiev held in June, 1965 another three former Ukrainian guards of Belzec and Sobibor were sentenced to death.



October 14, 1943 was a warm, sunny day and nothing disrupted the routine. Only a very small group knew that this was to be the fateful day. The Nazis in the camp went about their business as usual. At precisely 4:00 P.M., the stage was set. Everything now depended on the nerves of the attackers, their faith in themselves and luck.

Acting commander SS Untersturmfuehrer Niemann rode up on his horse and entered the tailor shop. Mundek was ready, holding the new uniform. The German without suspicion, unhooked his belt with its pistol in the holster and causally threw it on the table.

As tailors have done for ages, he patted and turned Niemann at his will. Finally he told him to stand still while he marked the alterations with a crayon. Then the blow fell. The Nazi dropped like a fallen tree, his head split. Shubayev rushed to Sasha's quarters and delivered the first pistol. They embraced. Now, there was no turning back.

At 4:l5, Oberscharfuehrer Graetschus, the German in charge of the Ukrainian guards, arrived at the cobblers' shop to pick up his order. While Yitzhak held the Nazi's leg in a firm grip, pretending to pull the boots, Arcady Wajspaper and Siemion Rosenfeld slipped out from the back room and split the skull of the Nazi with the ax. Then his deputy, the Ukrainian Klatt, entered, calling his boss to the telephone. He too was attacked and killed. 

In Lager II, Toivi (Thomas Blatt) standing at attention was informing a SS Untersturmfuehrer that a new leather coat, exactly his size had been set aside for him in the warehouse. The German took the bait and went without hesitation in the direction of the warehouse.

Meanwhile, in one of the many partitions of the warehouse, a few conspirators were stocking packets against the wall, each containing ten articles of clothing. At the side lay the bait: a shiny, black leather coat. Wolf entered. "Attention!", barked Bunio. The prisoners froze. "Help the Herr Unterscharfuehrer with the coat!", ordered the Kapo. An inmate fetched the coat and held it for the German. The Nazi put his arm into the sleeves and in a split second the scenario changed. Held as if in a straight jacket, he could not move his arms. A strike of the ax by Cybulski and he fell. The executions in Lager II had begun: the trap was waiting for the next Nazi.

The conspirators went out to summon other Nazis and when the miners' carts with food rations were en route to Lager III, SS Unterscharfuehrer Valaster, the driver, was flagged down and told that Wolf urgently needed him. He left to be killed.

Another team readied for a new attack on SS Oberscharfuehrer Beckman. The prisoner Pozycki knocked at his office door asking permission to enter for some job clarification. Permission granted, they entered. Immediately, Pozycki immobilized him by a headlock and he was knifed to death. In the adjoining room, SS Scharfuehrer Valaster's body was lying on the floor.

Unexpectedly, SS Unterscharfuehrer Walter Ryba had wandered into the car garage in the garrison area where he was killed.

From the main tower in the center of Lager II came the sound of a bugle announcing the end of the day's work. As groups returned to the main square in Lager I, the marching songs in Yiddish, German, Polish, Dutch, Ukrainian and Russian echoed far beyond the barbed wires of the Sobibor forest.

Everything appeared like any other day. In Lager I, a mass of prisoners unaware of what was about to happen stood in line for their "coffee" and bread as they did every day. Their life or death would be determined in a matter of minutes.

At that moment, SS Frederick Gaulich entered the area. The prisoner Leitman immediately asked him to come to the newly built barrack because of some problem with the bunks. The moment Gaulich entered the barrack his fate was sealed; he was killed with an ax.

The first dead German was discovered. Returning from Chelm, SS Bauer, drove to the garment warehouse with two prisoners, Jakob Biskubicz and David. While unloading cases of vodka from the truck, one guard looked into the office and noticed a dead German.

Jakob Biskubicz describes how this discovery initiated the third phase of the revolt:

"A Ukrainian came running and called to Bauer, 'A German is dead!' Bauer did not immediately understand what he meant. But David also who heard him, started to run in the direction of Lager I. Bauer ran after him and shot at him twice. I remained alone."

Sasha, heard the gunfire and understood that something bad had happened. On Sasha's orders, Pozycki blew his whistle for roll call. Although it was fifteen minutes early, the Kapo's authority was never disputed and the prisoners began to gather.

Now the news spread like a wildfire. Some Jews were returning to their barracks where they pulled out their white prayer shawls from their hiding places and came out assembling near the kitchen reciting "Kaddish"; the prayer for the dead, for themselves.

Sasha, jumping up on a table, made a short speech in Russian, his native language. His voice was clear and loud so that everybody could hear, but also composed and slow. He told the prisoners that most of the Germans in the camp had been killed. There was no turning back. A terrible war was ravaging the world and each prisoner was part of that struggle. He promised that dead or alive, they would be avenged and so would the tragedy of all humanity. He repeated twice that those prisoners who, by some miracle survive, should forever be a witness to this crime. He ended with a call: "Forward Comrades! Death for the fascist!!!"

The prisoners from various countries, speaking diverse languages, understood. From the midst of the assembled Jews a single, strange and impatient voice was heard: "FORWARD! HURRAH! HURRAH!" In a flash, the entire camp burst with the defiant call.

Thomas Blatt recounted: "The remaining Germans: Bauer, Richter, Frenzel, Wendland and some guards with machine guns, who had initially been in shock, now effectively blocked the main gate. People were killed and the front line Jews mostly unarmed fell back, then a new wave of determined fighters pushed again forward towards in a suicidal thrust.

Someone was trying to cut an opening in the fence with a shovel. Within minutes, more Jews arrived. Not waiting in line to go through the opening under the hail of fire, they climbed the fence. Though we had planned to touch the mines off with bricks and wood, we did not do it. We couldn't wait; we preferred sudden death to a moment more in that hell.

Corpses were everywhere. The noise of rifles, exploding mines, grenades and the chatter of machine guns assaulted the ears. The Nazis shot from a distance while in our hands were only primitive knives and hatchets.

We ran through the exploded mine field holes, jumped over a single wire marking the end of the mine fields and we were outside the camp. Now to make it to the woods ahead of us. It was so close. I fell several times, each time thinking I was hit. And each time I got up and ran further...100 yards...50 yards... 20 more yards...and the forest at last. Behind us, blood and ashes. In the grayness of the approaching evening, the towers' machine guns shot their last victims." 


A quietness lay over Sobibor. The few Germans still alive, Erich Bauer, Karl Frenzel, Willy Wendland, Rechwald and Siegfried Wolf assessed the situation. The guards assembled, but many of their comrades were now gone. On those parts of the fences that remained standing and on the ground now torn by the explosions, bodies were lying scattered about.

Taken by surprise, the Germans were unable to comprehend the situation. Was this revolt accomplished by the wretched Jews alone or was it a planned military action with the help of outside partisans? They were in a panic. The camp telephone was not functioning and Frenzel called the nearby base of the Border Police and the SS Mounted Unit in Chelm from the village train station. He also sent a chaotic message to the Security Police headquarters in Lublin asking for immediate reinforcement to save the lives of the remaining Nazis: "Jews revolted ...Some escaped ...Some SS officers, noncoms, foreign guards dead. ...Some Jews still in camp. ...Send help."

The Commander of SS and Police forces in Lublin, Lieutenant General Jakob Sporrenberg, immediately informed General Frederick Krüeger in Krakow, the Commander of all SS and Police forces in occupied Poland of the Sobibor uprising and the Nazi casualties. His cable to them follows: 

"October 14, 1943, at about 17:00 hours, a revolt of Jews in the SS camp Sobibor, 40 km north of Chelm. They overpowered the guards, seized the armory and after a shutout with the camp garrison, escaped in an unknown direction. Nine SS killed. One SS wounded. One SS missing. Two guards of non-German nationality shot to death.

Approximately 300 Jews escaped. The remainder were shot to death or are now in the camp. Military Police and armed forces were immediately notified and took over the security of the camp at about l:00 hours (1:00AM, October 15). The area south and southwest of Sobibor is now being searched by police and armed forces."

General Hilmar Moser, wasted no time in ordering Major Hans Wagner, commander of the 689 Werhmacht Security Battalion in Chelm, to quell the uprising and capture those who had escaped by every necessary measure.

Help arrived quickly in the form of a small Border Patrol unit of seven men under the command of SS Untersturmfuehrer Adalbert Benda. Late that night Major Eggert of the Security Police and Captain Erich Wullbrandt, an officer in the Security Police decorated with the highest German military honors, arrived.

SS Untersturmfuehrer Benda reported: "...During the mopping up of the camp itself, our men had to use arms because the prisoners resisted arrest. A great number of prisoners were shot: 159 prisoners were treated as ordered. All the men of the Einsatzkommando were equal to their task."

The next order of business was the pursuit. 

For the Jews who had escaped, the next few weeks were terrifying. They were hunted by over 100 regular soldiers, 100 mounted police and 150 Ukrainians and SS soldiers. On October 16 and 17 the second and Third Squadron of Mounted SS and Police added five hundred more men to the manhunt. This force was formidable enough; but one must add to it the auxiliary units, regional police units and local collaboration, aided by two Luftwaffe observation aircraft, to comprehend the odds against these Jews.

The bridges across the Bug river were guarded and traps were set on the crossroads. Circling in the forest, some Jews inadvertently returned to the camp area where they were spotted and caught.

The search was finally officially halted on October 2, but the escapees continued to be captured individually or in groups and cables were sent regularly to Krakow as each of the escapees were caught.

The Security Zone Bug (Dragnet Daily Report) report pictured here reads:

"In the period from October 17 - 19, 1943 Jews who escaped from Sobibor on October 14, were apprehended in the area of Sobibor and Rozanka, fifty two kilometers north of Chelm. The military police killed forty-four more Jews and fifteen Jews were taken into custody. Seized: one rifle, one pistol, one hand-grenade."

"October 21, 1943 Sawin, fifteen kilometers north of Chelm, Wehrmacht posts in Sawin apprehended six Jews from Sobibor. One Jew was shot death attempting to escape."

"Security zone Bug:
"October 28, 1943, o 540, in the area of Sawin, one Jew from Sobibor was shot in an escape attempt by Wehrmacht post 27."

"October 29. 43, in the municipality of Wyryki, o 489, the military police apprehended two escapees from Sobibor. They were executed. 

The Jewish Side: Original number of prisonsers at the time of the revolt 550    • Not able or willing to escape, including 30 in Lager I (150)    • Killed in combat and mine fields (80) Number of prisoners to initially escape Sobibor 320    • Captured in dragnet and executed (170) Number of prisonsers to successfully escape Sobibor 150    • Killed fighting Germans as partisans or in the army (5)    • Killed in hiding, mostly by hostile native elements (92) Number of revolt survivors to be liberated by the Allies 53 * Additionally, 9 Jews survived from earlier individual escapes,
  which makes a total of Sobibor survivors: 62   The Nazi Side: Germans and Ukrainian guards on duty at the time of the revolt 137 Germans killed including 2 Volksdeutsche guard leaders 12 Germans wounded 1 Ukrainians guard killed 8 Ukrainian guards wounded 12 Ukrainian guards not accounted for...(Fled for fear of German reprisals) 28

Word of the escape first got to the outside world through an October 25 cable send by the Polish underground (AK) to their government-in-exile in London: "In an heroic fight with the Germans the Jews destroyed their place of torment".

This was the first and only case in which so many Nazis were killed by prisoners in a single action, in one day, during the Second World War. Bauer recalled in his post-war testimony:

"...I transported seven coffins to the city of Chelm...The rest of the coffins came with the train to Chelm. Those I transported from the railroad station to the City Hall. In all, twenty-one or twenty-three persons were killed."

Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoes notes in his memoirs that "The Jews (of Sobibor) were able, by force, to achieve a major breakout, during which almost all the German personnel were wiped out...".

The uprising in Sobibor represented one of the most heroic pages in the anti-fascist resistance in World War II, as well as in Holocaust history as a whole. It was unique in its plan and execution and in successfully eliminating most of the SS staff in the camp.

As a result, the camp was closed. The area was plowed under and a Ukrainian Guard settled at the site.

On another level, the Sobibor Uprising had more far reaching and tragic repercussions. On October 19, 1943 the Sobibor Revolt was discussed extensively at a meeting held in Governor General Hans Frank's mansion in Krakow. In attendance were the Chiefs of the Security Service and Police in the Generalgouvernement. Citing Sobibor as an example of danger they decided to accelerate the liquidation of the remaining Jews in camps in Lublin area. Himmler immediately ordered SS General Friedrich Krueger to carry out this policy.

Twenty days after the revolt, on November 3, 1943, under the code-name Erntefest (Harvest Festival), the liquidation began. The results were staggering: 10,000 Jews were killed at Trawniki, 18,000 at Majdanek and an additional 15,000 in other camps; a total of 43,000 killed in six days. 


The odds were stacked against the escapees. It is estimated that about one-third of the escapees survived the liberation. The general conditions it occupied, provided formidable obstacles. The situation of a Jewish escapee stood in sharp contrast to that of a Christian escapee. The latter could simply mingle with the rest of the population and be safe. Not so the Jew.

At the end of 1943, there were no Jewish communities to which the hunted could return. The Jewish hamlets and small towns, once vibrant with Jewish life, were now empty. In addition, harboring a Jew meant certain death to the person or family brave enough to do so. For the Jews, Sobibor had meant certain death; the Polish countryside or city raised the odds for survival only slightly.

Stories of treachery by the indigenous population were common. Berl Freiberg tells what occurred to a large group of survivors after the escape:

"On the third day we were sitting, binding our wounds, when we saw an armed Gentile suddenly come out into the clearing... He came near us and began speaking. He questioned us and decided to take us to his group. Then he asked us if we were hungry and said he would bring back some food.

He left and came back with a whole gang of armed villagers and gave us some bread. We were sitting around and eating and they asked us if we had guns, or gold. They told us to hand over our guns. That's is how it's done, they told us; later they'd return the weapons. Though we knew we shouldn't, we gave up the few light weapons we had... They started shooting at us point-blank. We were trapped! We had nothing to return fire with and it ended in tragedy. We came out of Sobibor to be gunned down by the likes of these..."

Fifteen year old Berl managed to get away.

Only days after the revolt, Shlomo Szmajzner and a group of twenty one escapees were unexpectedly surrounded in the forest by supposedly friendly partisans. Shlomo's rifle was taken, they were robbed and most were murdered. During the shooting, Shlomo fell and pretended to be dead. An excerpt from his writing portrays his story:

"One of the Poles who seemed to be their leader, ordered us to raise our hands for him to inspect us. What happened next was actual looting. Those who still had some gold or valuables lost everything. ...Then I realized we had fallen in the hands of hostile guerrillas. At the same time, I said to myself, ''we are done for!" The first shot came. Quick as lightning I threw myself to the ground, while the salvo was intensified. While I lay there pretending I was dead, the bandits left, since they thought their atrocious task was ended. When I realized that only silence was around me, I slowly raised my head and saw that there was no one else in sight. To my immense surprise, I noticed that both Majer and Jankel, the old tailor, had done the same. The others were all dead. ...It had to be a miracle, my being still alive, since the shots had been fired point blank.

Terribly frightened, we left this sinister place immediately, now that there were only three of us. Leon and the other boys were already in Eternity. They had survived the German tyranny and not even Sobibor had finished them off. However, they had met death at the hands of their Polish countrymen..."

Even those escapees lucky enough to find shelter with the Poles often found themselves in grave danger as this entry from Thomas Blatt's diary reveals:

"...One day Bojarski appeared in our hiding place, saying: "The Germans are looking for partisans in our area; they are searching in all the farms close to the woods. I'm afraid they will search mine as well and so I'm going to put you for in a more secure shelter a few days.'' Later, in the night we were led behind the barn to a patio-like roofed storage area. Close by, I noticed a two-wheel cart. In it lay a large object, round and gray. He held us each by the armpits and lowered us into the ground through a narrow hole dug in the earth. We asked for the kerosene lamp so that we could arrange ourselves in our new quarters. He gave it to us without a word and closed the opening by tightly pushing in straw. I looked around. We were in a small dugout, about four-and-a-half feet long, three feet wide and three feet high. Along the "ceiling" there was a strong pine pole and across it some smaller pine poles covered with straw and branches. On top of it must have been soil. The small, round entrance in the corner of the roof was now jam-packed with straw.

While wondering where the air vent must be, we heard footsteps above, then the sound of something heavy being rolled. In a moment, an object fell with a great thud over our heads and the main pole began to crack slowly in the center to form a "V".

Szmul immediately supported the pine pole with his shoulders so that the ceiling would not collapse upon us, while I tried to push the straw away from the opening in order to call the farmer. It was impossible. I began to pull out big clumps of straw, and found that something else was blocking the entry! "What's wrong?", Szmul cried out. "It's blocked! It's blocked!", I gasped. The kerosene lamp began to flicker and waver and finally went out. We could not panic, I told myself...we mustn't panic. I tried to light it again. The match lit for a few seconds and went off. "Why the hell doesn't it burn?", my mind screamed. The answer came instantly: there was not enough air. We couldn't see each other in the dark. Panicky and struggling to breathe, perspiration poured down my forehead into my eyes.

It was very dark and cramped. Without oxygen we were exhausted, close to fainting and trembling with fear. Finally, with superhuman effort, Fredek managed slightly to move the heavy object blocking the entry hole, shifting it a little towards the crack of the bent ceiling. A stream of fresh air quickly revived us all, and we squeezed out. As we stood there, it flashed through my mind that there was a change in the surrounding scenery. The two-wheel cart wasn't on the side as before, but partially over our new hiding place. The handles stood high up and the body of the wagon was slanted down to the ground. Next to it on the now broken roof was a huge millstone. We didn't try to figure out what it was all about. Fredek went immediately to inform Bojarski of the accident. In a minute he was back. "Bojarski's getting dressed and will be right out." And, grinning, he added, "You know, when he saw me coming towards him, for a second he stared at me like I was a ghost. Then he clasped his head and yelled, "How did you get out?" We laughed. It still hadn't occurred to us that he had actually tried to bury us alive and that the two-wheel carriage with the millstone was expertly prepared to seal off the entrance and make any escape impossible. It had been the sudden force from the edge of the fallen millstone that had broken the main support of the roof, forming a slide, which made shifting the weight possible. This saved us from death. There was no way we could have been able to move it off had the roof been straight. We watched Bojarski's huge figure advance towards us in the murky night. "Well, boys" he said, "you'll have to return to the old hiding place. We'll think of something else later."

The fatal day on the night of April 23, 1944 we were lying quietly, hungry and resigned, when we heard faint footsteps about the barn. We recognized Bojarski's tread perhaps he was bringing us food. We heard him stop before the board barring the entrance. Fredek stretched out on his belly and edged towards the opening in the straw. We heard the hatch open and the board move. A moment of silence, then a flash and the thunder of a shot.

I heard Kostman scream, the rest was a gurgle and then a mutter. The board was hurled back and now we heard only Fred's hoarse deathly gasp. Szmul and I were sitting against the wall. In his final convulsions Kostman threw himself about, spraying us with his blood. After the initial shock and confusion, we realized that he was dead and it was our turn. Still we felt it was a nightmare, a kind of bad dream, but Fred's body was only too real.

To reach us through the regular opening one had to crawl flat on his stomach, but now we could be too dangerous for the murderers. So they decided to disassemble the hiding place. We heard the straw covering the shelter being pushed away. We knew this was our last moment. Cramped and without weapons, we felt like rats in a trap. Szmul crawled to the other corner where he burrowed into some thick straw. I followed him. We waited. The last straw was removed uncovering the big table--our hiding place. Then the thin layer of straw covering me was removed. "I got him", shouted a young fellow happily. I begged him not to shoot and to spare my life. Holding a lantern, he looked straight into my eyes. I saw his face and the muzzle of his rusty pistol. "Where is the first one?", he asked me. I replied, "He's dead." "And where is the second?" "Next to me." I heard the report of the pistol and felt a sharp, burning bite of the bullet under my jaw. My ears rang. Instinctively and fully conscious, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and slid down. Seconds passed. I felt no pain. I wasn't sure whether I was alive or if this was life after death. I opened one eye slightly. In the dim light, I saw the man who had shot me. He was talking in a low voice with someone. Now I knew I was alive. At the same time I wondered if I should ask him to shoot me again? If he left me, I would only suffer and die later. Or he would bury me alive. But I did not move...

I felt a noose around my feet. They pulled me outside. Evidently, I was in the way of their reaching Szmul. I was put down in the mud. The night was cold. I was nude and it was raining. I opened my eyes and watched in the dark, silhouettes of the men in front of our hiding place. I heard steps and lay down again. A man approached, stopped and said, "Might be better to give him another bullet." I froze, recognizing Bojarski's voice. Someone put his hand over my mouth, I held my breath. At the second, when I though my lungs would burst, he removed his palm. He then felt my fingers in the dark probably looking for rings and said to Bojarski, "Lets not waste a bullet; he is already stiff."

Suddenly I heard a scream from Szmul, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot! I want to live!" There was a shot, then another. Again a scream from Szmul, a last muffled shot, then complete silence...

They returned to and pulled me inside the barn. After more poking and shaking of the hay they left, while one said to the other, "We'll bury them tomorrow; they won't rot until then and we can search more thoroughly in the daylight." When they left I crawled out, and ran to the woods.

Ironically, after surviving the hell of Sobibor, Leon Feldhendler was killed in his home in Lublin, soon after the liberation by anti-Semitic Polish countrymen. Sasha Pechersky spent years in a Soviet prison. They did not believe his story and he was accused of cooperation with the Nazis. He was released when people from abroad were asking about him and his story was verified.


















Karl Frenzel, one of the leading Nazis in Sobibor, was sentenced to life in prison. After serving sixteen and a half years, he was released on appeal due to a technicality. In July, l984 the court in Hagen rejected a defense motion to stop the trial on the grounds that Frenzel was suffering from heart problems. After a stringent medical examination it was ruled that he was fit to be retried.

In l984, I was granted a three hour face-to-face taped interview with the former SS Frenzel, the man who forty years earlier had selected him to live and work at Sobibor and sent his whole family to the gas chambers. The following are selections from the author's article.

The Confrontation with a Murderer

"Do you remember me?"

"Not exactly", he answered. "You were a little boy..."

An innocent enough reply... For one crazy moment I could almost imagine this was not what it really was. We could have been uncle and nephew meeting after so many years, or perhaps father and son. Yes, there were even similarities in us. Except for his receding hairline, double chin and fuller middle, (he was seventy-three and I was fifty-six) there was the same coloring, ruddy complexion, very fair skin, blue eyes, hair once reddish, now graying, and the ample nose, quite remarkably similar in shape. It was quite possible that he did not remember me. What was I to him? But I remember him. I will never forget. I can't forget. Every night my nightmares remind me.

"You are sitting here and drinking your beer. You have a smile on your face. You might be anyone in the neighborhood. But you are not like anyone. You are Karl Frenzel, the SS Oberscharfuehrer. You were the third in command in the death camp Sobibor. You were the Commandant of Lager I. Maybe you don't remember me, but I remember you."

I was trembling as I faced him. "It was a dilemma", I said to him, " but I decided to come. This was the first case, as far as I know, from the World War II literature where the accused talks face-to-face with the victim and I feel it is important."

I told him I put aside the moral implications and my feelings and approached him objectively simply as a researcher.

I knew why I wanted to talk to him. As a man who has dedicated his life to the remembrance of Sobibor and as a serious researcher of Sobibor, I felt there were still some unanswered questions and gaps. As a former senior staff member of a death camp, one of the few still living, he could give me some technical and other important information and facts about the camp and the revolt known only by the SS. I could get the German view of events and solve some puzzling aspects of the camp. But why did he want to talk to me? I asked him outright why he agreed to speak to me. He said he wanted to apologize to me in person. He couldn't do it in the courtroom. "I don't blame you or other witnesses," he said. "And I must honestly say I was sorry for you and all those witnesses... After all those years to have to think back on all those memories and be pressured... they were pressuring and squeezing you in the court...". 

This was putting it mildly. The method of the defense was primarily to discredit the testimony of the witnesses by asking them idiotic questions. In my case for example, "How tall was the tree near the barrack?" or " Was the club with which Frenzel beat your father round or not? How many centimeters?" A stranger in the courtroom would immediately have thought I was the defendant and not the victim.

Now, speaking to him at the same table, privately in a hotel lobby, I was again in moral conflict. In a way, my being there with him could be interpreted as desecrating and insulting the memories of the deceased, making this murderer again a "person", in some manner, even forgiving him. I knew that many of my fellow survivors will point an accusing finger at me. Yet I wanted to talk to him. I knew if I went, I would be sorry and if I didn't, I would be even more sorry. Time will move on. I will be gone, Frenzel will be gone, but what will be written down will go to history. So, I blocked out the feelings.

"I was fifteen years old. I survived because you picked me as a shoe-shine boy. But my father, my mother and my brother and the other 200 Jews from Izbica that you led to the gas chamber, did not."

"This was terrible, very terrible. I can only tell you with tears, he went on quietly, calmly in an even tone, "it isn't only now that it upsets me so terribly. It upset me then... You don't know what went on in us, and you don't understand the circumstances we found ourselves in."

I heard him, but nothing registered emotionally. Functioning on an intellectual level only, my mind simply sought out data and compared what he said with facts. And the facts were: SS Frenzel acted above and beyond "duty". A conscientious and efficient official, he led the incoming transports of Jews to the gas chambers. To the slave-workers, he doled out vicious beatings for slowness and other infractions. Those who became sick, or were caught committing "crimes" such as theft of food, he personally led to the execution site. Was he asking me to understand and feel sorry for his sufferings? I felt no pity, no anger, nothing. In order to interview him I turned off all feelings, just as over forty years ago in Sobibor I did not feel for my gassed parents and brother; if I had, I would have broken down and been killed.

I was the objective reporter now and I wanted to know what he felt in those years. I said, "Frenzel, I would like to know what you felt then...Were you an anti-Semite or did you do what you did because you were ordered to? What I want to know is, did you believe, when you were there, that what you were doing was right?"

There was a pause. I didn't realize the spot I put him in. If he said no, he would be portraying himself as a morally deficient Nazi. If he said yes, he would be portraying himself as a morally deficient human being.

"No", he said quietly and evenly, "but we had our duty to do. For us it was also a very bad time." I made no comment on this comparison, but asked why he joined the Nazi Party. He looked at me dumbfounded, as if it were a silly question, and he replied, "Because there was unemployment!". As if this were self-explanatory. He told me that by chance his first girlfriend was Jewish. They were together for two years, but parted when her father, who was an editor of the Social-Democratic newspaper Vorwarts, found out that he was a member of the Nazi party. In l934, she emigrated to America with her family.

"You were a member of the Nazi Party since 1930", I said. "Why are you now having a change of heart?" "No, I'm not just now," he answered, " I've cursed the Nazis and all their leaders since 1945 for what they have done. Since 1945 I have not been interested any more in politics." I noted that his change occurred when the Germans lost the war, but I said nothing. After the war he lived peacefully like any respectable citizen. After his wife's death he took care of his five children. In l962, he was arrested at his job in Frankfurt where he worked as a stage lighting technician. On his break police officers interrupted his beer drinking and asked him if his name was Frenzel and was he ever in Sobibor? He admitted he was.

We went on. "Frenzel, how many Jews were gassed at Sobibor? They say over half a million. Is that accurate?" He replied, "No. I think no more than l60,000, but the railroad documents show 250,000 and many were brought by trucks, carriages and by foot." I said, "Are you a religious person?" I asked, "Do you attend church?" He responded, "Yes, very often." I then asked, "Did you have any conflict regarding your religious beliefs and political activity?"

"No. We were German Christians, [A Nazi-supported section of the Evangelical Church]. All my children were christened, like myself. My brother studied theology. My wife and myself, not every Sunday because of the children, but every second or third, we always attended church."

"And you have not, as a Christian, any problems with your past? " He answered immediately "I have nothing to hide. I'm sorry that I was in this mess then."

"But in Sobibor you did not think about being sorry," I pressed. He answered, "We didn't know where we were till we arrived. They told us we were going to guard a concentration camp. So I had my duty to do."

"Was the extermination of 250,000 Jews your duty?" He looked straight at me, "I was in jail for over sixteen years and had ample time to think about right and wrong and I came to the conclusion that what happened to the Jews in those times was wrong. All those years, I was dreaming about it...".

I was listening as if from far away. I asked about his family, I knew that he had two brothers. One was studying for the pastorate. How much did they know? "Both of them were killed in the war, but my sister survived," he answered. I asked, "How about your children now. Do they know? And what are they saying?" He replied, "Naturally they wondered about Sobibor. They know it was a crime. They say, 'Father, you were also a part of it' and I explained. But they are with me and don't reject me. They wanted to know everything that happened at Sobibor. I was ordered there. I was not an SS. There were only five SS. The rest were civilians in SS uniforms."

I asked why he didn't ask for a transfer if he wasn't an ardent Nazi. He wanted to, he said. He had begged his brother to try to get him out.

"But the fact is," I said, "there was a case where an SS man simply asked for a transfer and was given it. He wasn't killed." Frenzel didn't answer.

A hotel employee entered the room. He refilled his empty beer glass and left. We had our quiet corner again. I had many questions to ask Frenzel. As a survivor I had often wondered what a Nazi thought of the film "Holocaust". Had he seen it? He shook his head. Did he think any film or documentary could show it the way it was? "No," he said, "the reality was much worse ...it was so terrible that it can not be described."

Suddenly, though I tried to block it out, a scene flashed across my mind: my friend, Leon, being beaten to death, slowly and the horror of being forced to watch his agony. Another scene flashed... Standing, listening to the muffled screams from the gas chambers...and knowing that men, women and children were dying in horrible pain, naked, as I worked sorting their clothing. I tried to keep an interviewer's tone, but my voice trembled.

"Frenzel," I said, "tens of thousands of children were killed at Sobibor and you had children at the time. I've seen pictures of them. When you saw little children, five years, one year, one week old put to death. Did it occur to you, you had children also?" I didn't mean it the way he took it. Defensively, and with just a trace of anger, he said he never killed children, but was accused of it by other witnesses. His voice, until now in a low, even tone with patience and self-control, suddenly took on emotion. "I want you to know," he said and I could feel the resentment in his voice, "there was this little ten year old girl and her mother, and Wagner wanted to take them to the gas chambers and I arranged so they didn't go." There was a pause and his voice trembled slightly. "That's why it's upsetting that I'm accused of killing children." Apparently he didn't consider ordering their deaths as "killing". Someone else did the actual shooting or gassing. As if sensing my feelings, he continued, "I condemn all that happened to the Jews...I can understand that you can never forget, but I can't either. I've dreamed about it all of the sixteen years I spent in prison. Just as you dream about it, I dream about it too." Surely he wasn't comparing his nightmares to mine...or was he saying his conscience was bothering him?

Frenzel was sent to Sobibor from Hadamar, a sanitarium where mentally ill Germans were gassed in the course of the euthanasia program. I mentioned Hadamar and asked how he felt killing Germans. His voice became angry. The tape ran out and so as not to jeopardize the interview, I did not insist on an answer.

I decided to ask less personal questions. Did he remember "Berliner"(Berliner was an Oberkapo, killed by the Jews for cruelty to his fellow prisoners). I asked if it was true that he gave permission to the Jews to kill him. He leaned back in his chair, like an executive, "Yes," he answered confidently, "when I think back hard, it was so. My Kapo from the Bahnhofkommando told me about Berliner, then I think I said 'Butcher him to death', or something similar." His tone was frighteningly casual, as if he were speaking of getting rid of rotten potatoes. In fact, he didn't do it because he was on the prisoners' side, but because he was furious that Berliner went above his head to SS Wagner.

I asked him about Cukerman (given over one hundred lashes, his body was left in a pool of blood). Yes, he remembered, he was the cook. There were five to eight kilos of meat missing, so he gave him a beating. "..Later the meat turned up and Cukerman's son said 'My father did nothing, it was me who had taken the meat.' So I gave them both twenty-five lashes. I want you to know I was always fair. I never punished unless they had done something wrong." I did not comment, but I was thinking he wasn't always so lenient. Another survivor testified in court that Frenzel caught his fifteen year old friend helping himself to a can of sardines and took him to the crematorium where he was shot.

I had another leading question. What had happened to the Dutch Jews? He immediately knew what I meant. Like a superior officer, he answered swiftly and to the point, "A Polish Kapo told me some Dutch Jews were organizing an escape, so I relayed it to Deputy Commandant Niemann and he ordered the seventy-two Jews to be executed." He failed to mention that he alone led them to be killed. And I could not help noting that his voice and bearing were more forceful now and there was a feeling of competence and pride about his work.

"The revolt was well executed, don't you think?" I asked proudly, but if I expected confirmation or praise, there was none. Instead, he asked a question, did I know how long the revolt took? "Fifteen minutes." I said. He agreed. "But, we worked from 3:30 to 5:30," I continued, "the time during which we annihilated your comrades. You reported it, and later Captain Wurbrand arrived and executed all the Jews in the camp. Did you leave anyone alive?" Quickly and defensively he retorted that it was SS General Sporenberg who ordered the executions, not he.

I had more technical questions. Many escapees unwittingly found themselves back near the camp, having run around in circles in the forest. I wanted to know how many were caught. His face lit up. A chance to show his expertise. "Yes, about forty-five and with the 150 Jews remaining in camp, about l95. Then I had the operation (searchin camp) stopped. About seventy were killed in the revolt and in the mine fields surrounding the camp." Then, as an afterthought, looking away he added in a matter-of-fact tone, " I'm happy for every Jew who survived." I didn't comment on this irony. I dropped the subject of the revolt. "You know," I said, "Every year I travel to Sobibor. You can still find today, if you just scrape the earth, burnt bones and hair that had been cut from the women before going to the gas chambers." I wasn't really expecting a response to this and I received none. I think I said it simply because each year as I bend down and pick up a piece of bone, I feel a sense of awe. I pay my respect to those who died. Their bones do not let me forget. They seem to be crying out for justice. And there has been little justice in the finding and prosecuting of Nazi criminals. At least their deaths as Jews should not be denied! (I had in mind the sign at the entrance to Sobibor).

"Frenzel, you know there is a plaque as you enter the camp today and it reads: HERE THE NAZIS KILLED 250,000 RUSSIAN PRISONERS OF WAR, JEWS, POLES AND GYPSIES." Immediately his eyes lit up. Here again, he was an authority on Sobibor. Excitedly and with emphasis he retorted, "Poles were not killed there. Gypsies were not killed there. Russians were not killed there...only Jews, Russian Jews, Polish Jews, Dutch Jews, French Jews."

I was surprised at his strong reaction. I wanted it verified. It was so important. "Only Jews were destroyed in Sobibor, Frenzel?" "Only Jews, only Jews", he answered. I made sure I got it on tape. I could use this verification from a leading Sobibor Nazi to show the responsible officials in Communist Poland their manipulation of the truth.

We were quiet for a moment. Then in a confidential tone, as if between friends, quietly and hesitantly and I believe sincerely, he began, "Herr Blatt, you know, when I see on television and read about Israel, I ask myself how could so many (go to their deaths)...When I see in Israel, proof of their courage, I can't understand how this could happen here...I just can't grasp it."

Suddenly I realized he probably didn't feel hatred for Jews, but contempt that they were weak. I didn't let him go further. My voice trembled, "I think the question you want to ask is, why did the revolt happen so late?" Not waiting for a reply, I continued, "For one thing, the Polish Jews had already been imprisoned in the ghettos for three years and were demoralized. They were weak, members of families who were separated or killed, they were broken in spirit. They were starved, they were ill, and there were the elderly, and women with children. And the Jews from other countries, like Holland, who had not come from ghettos, who knew nothing, and had been tricked. You know how it was...". He did not comment. "Besides, I said, breaking the silence, who could believe it? They simply couldn't believe that Germans could do such a thing. They believed in Humanity. You know...the fake train station, flowers, promising speeches." I paused. Still he said nothing.

After a few moments of silence I asked him once more if he believed in the Nazi racist theory. "I ask that you see me also in another way than in Sobibor," he answered. "I have much on my conscience (and here his voice had a calm strength to it)...many people, not one, but 100,000 people on my conscience...and it's okay with me, you can put it in the American press."

"What do you say," I asked him," when many Germans say it wasn't so, that it never happened?" He answered, "I say it's exactly true, it's not right to say it never happened." I asked further, "So why don't you go to a magazine or newspaper and say openly: 'I'm German, I was there in charge. I worked there, and it's true.'? He said that if he told them the way Jews were murdered, he would be afraid, like the Jew, Kornfeld. (Supposedly Kornfeld, a Sobibor survivor living in Brazil, had refused to testify against SS Wagner, for fear of reprisals against him).

I asked what he thought of neo Nazis today. "Are they strong or weak?" "Very weak and they should be forbidden," he answered. "Well, if they are so weak, why are you afraid to speak out?" I asked. He leaned forward and as if indicating various locations on an imaginary map, he pointed with his finger on the table. "They are here, there and if I go to the press, they have their connections."

We talked for another few hours. I was trying to get more information regarding the interaction between the Nazis in Sobibor and the inner structural organization of the camp which was unknown to the prisoners. I sifted through the past, verifying suspicions and rumors. Surprisingly, I was able to verify facts that were never brought up in court and were necessary for writing the story of Sobibor.

I lit another cigarette and we sat back quietly for a while, facing each other. I heard voices from outside and looked out the window. I saw on the street older women and men of Frenzel's age. I wondered what they were like back then. And those young kids...what will they become?

Our interview was over.

So, repentant as he claims to be, he will not speak out. He is now a free man living at home (under the pretense of illness), even though his appeal was lost on September 12, l985 and he was given a life sentence once more.

I had gained some pertinent information, but was emotionally shattered. I paid a price. I felt and still feel, a sense of guilt and betrayal for doing the interview. My only consolation is the hope that my published work will give some insight, especially to the younger generation, into how and why such an evil was possible and to the depths that hatred and bigotry can lead us. 

The Hero

Sasha's image never left my memory. I remember him standing with me and Szlomo in front of the barbed wires, as another Jew with a ax tried to cut them. Everything was in turmoil, machine guns blasting the area, many fell. He had only a revolver in his hand which was useless against guard in the distant towers. Sasha emerged again, for a short time, as a leader when with a lager group of Jews wandered in the forest.

After the war, when news reached me of his survival I promised myself to meet him someday. After emigrating to the U.S. at the first opportunity I wrote him a letter and received an invitation. This enabled me to get a visa to the Soviet Union. January 20, 1980 I boarded a plain in Los Angeles and the next day I arrived at Rostov.

Sasha and his wife Olga were waiting in the main lounge of the airport. Thirty-seven years I have seen him the last time, but I recognized him immediately. In a second I was in his arms in the customary Russian "bear hug". Despite his age, his posture was straight and energetic. A taxi took us straight to the hotel. (As a foreigner I was not allowed to sleep in a private home.) In the evening he came and invited us for supper in his home. After a short walk, we stoped in front of an older, wooden apartment house. The front door led us through a narrow hall to a room at the right. This was his place. On the other site of the hall, his neighbor was a woman doctor and they shared a communal kitchen and toilet. In two small rooms, he lived with his wife Olga, a very kind woman. The furniture was sparse: a table some chairs. One corner of the room was curtained of by a bed sheet hanging on a string, forming a triangle behind which was a mirror and a shelf with a razor and other toilette necessities.

Alexander Aronowicz Pechersky was born in Kremenchung in 1909, later in 1915 he moved to Rostov on the Don (river) where he studied music and theater. After receiving his diploma, he worked as a cultural director in a string of so-called culture centers where he organized amateur theaters. 

At the start of the Word War II , he was conscripted to the army as a junior commander. In September the same year he was promoted on the front to lieutenant and worked in the battalion and division staffs. A month later, in the area of Wiazma, in October, 1941 he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

In May, 1942 as a result of an unsuccessful escape from the POW camp in Smolensk, he was sent to a punitive camp Borysow. His Jewish heritage discovered, he was transferred on August, 1942 to a SS labor camp in Minsk.

September 18, very early in the still dark morning the SS commandant Waks had a short speech assuring that the people are only being transferred to Germany to work. Three hundred grams of bread was distributed to each person and they were led to the train station. On September, 23, the train arrived at Sobibor. 

Excerpts from an interview with Alexander Aronowicz Pechersky
Leader of the Sobibor revolt
Soviet Union, 1980 Toivi: Were you aware of what happened in Sobibor? Sasha:

In the evening, the same day, I asked a another prisoner about the smog coming out from behind the fence in the opposite site of the camp. He looked at me and told me a matter of fact, the people you came with?, they are leaving Sobibor in the smoke. From him I learned the truth about the death factory, but working in the forest I was removed from direct witnessing of the murder, until... (and here his voice breaks down and tears rolled down his cheeks, the same thing happened a few years later when we meet in Moscow) working in the forest I heard amidst noises a laud cry of a child "Mama" coming from behind a hilltop. I realized that I was working near the gas chambers. I was thinking about my Elotchka, my daughter I left in a village in the Ukraine.

Toivi: Why, do you think you were selected by the conspirators for an organizer of the revolt? Sasha:

I don't know. Maybe because I was still wearing my officers' cap or they noticed my close association with other former soldiers. Most probably, because one of my closest friends from Minsk was a Polish Jew, Leitman Szlomo, a cabinet maker from Warsaw and he someway established contact with the conspiracy, recommending me to Boruch (Leon Feldhendler-T.B.) as a military officer to lead the revolt. At this time a few former POW led by Grisha made plans to escape.

Toivi: Did you believe in success of the revolt? Sasha:

We had no choice. Fighting back give us a chance, a very distant chance but still some hope. Here we were sentenced do die. As a military man, I was aware that a surprise attack is worth a division of solders. If we can maintain secrecy until the last minute of the outbreak, the revolt is 80% accomplished. The biggest danger was deconspiration. Because of it so few prisoners were involved. Nevertheless, I was astonished that so many people initially were able to escape. The smudginess of the operation surprised myself. Now thinking about this I came to a conclusion that the Nazis simple despised us Jews, believed their own indoctrination about the subhumans and treat us like robots not being able for this kind of operation. They were to confident in these believes and this, too, proved their downfall.

Toivi: I had seen you a few times in Sobibor casually talking with Luka, the Dutch girl. In your diaries you mention her quite often. She left a lasting impression on you. Sasha:

Yes, Luka was only 18 years old, very intelligent and smart. Although our meeting was initially arranged by Shloma and I knew her only about two weeks, I will newer forget her. We were not involved like other young people in camp. She was an inspiration for me. In the beginning the communication was difficult, because the language problem. Soon we were able to understand each other without help. I informed her minutes before the escape of the plan. She has given me a shirt. She said, "it's a good luck shirt, put it on right now", and I did. It's now in the museum. I lost her in the turmoil of the revolt and never saw her again.

Toivi: You have written that the attack on the armory was unsuccessful. I have seen documents, testimonies from SS Dubois contrary to your statement. Sasha: Yes I know, could be that another group I was not aware of succeeded in their attack on the armory. (Note) Without question Sasha is considered by me and the rest of the survivors a Hero and all of us agree that if it had not been for him, no Jew would have survived Sobibor. Even so, I had troubling questions to ask. Toivi:

In your memoirs, you summarized your departure from the rest of the escapees with a few sentences. "We realized that it make no sense to continue together in such a large group therefore we divided into small units, each going its own way." You know, Sasha, the faith kept me close to you. After your speech just before the escape I lost you for a while, to meet you by the barbed wires, then lost you again, only to find you in the forest. I was with you until your departure, as was Szlomo, and we remember it differently.

Sasha, don't take this in the wrong way, please, because of you I'm here, alive; because of you, of us have families children and grandchildren instead of finding their end in Sobibor. If you lived in the West, you would be admired by untold thousands.

I just want to know: why didn't you organize a partisan group of us? We were people from hell, determined to fight to the death to revenge then deaths of our people. As we know now, in that same region there were Jewish partisans. Tell me, please, was it necessary to depart "that" way, by subterfuge? To promise that you would come back after a short surveillance and maybe to buy food. We trusted you, you were our hero, nobody else. Why didn't you tell us the truth?

(Note) His eyebrow came together as he gazed at me piercingly. Sasha:

My job was done. You were Polish Jews in your own terrain. I belonged in the Soviet Union and still considered myself a soldier. In my opinion, the chances for survival were better in smaller units. To tell the people straight forward: "we must part" would not have worked. You have seen, they followed every step of mine, we all would perish.

Toivi: I can understand that not telling us the truth was perhaps necessary, otherwise we would not let you go, but why did you take with you all the armed men? Leaving us only one rifle, which one of your men still tried to take it from Szloma by force, backing down only after a great outcry from us. So your men had all the weapons and the rest of us, over 50 people, were left with one rifle. And on top of that, money was collected for your people to buy food for the rest. To us, this was plain dishonesty. Sasha:

Tom, what can I say? You were there. We were only people. The basic instincts came into play. It was still a fight for survival. This is the first time I hear about money collection. It was a turmoil, it was difficult to control everything. I admit, I have seen the imbalance in the distribution of the weaponry, but you must understand, they would rather die then to give up their arms.

(Note) There was nothing more to say on this subject and I directed the conversation to his live in the partisans and the Soviet Union. Toivi: Tell me what happened after you left. Sasha:

With the help of a peasant near the Bug River, we crossed the river on the night of 19-20 and reentered my Motherland, the Soviet Union. Two days later we meet Voroshilov partisans and joined with them in fighting the Germans behind the German lines by sabotaging their transport and annihilating small garrisons. My best friends Cibulsky and Shubayev (Kali-Mali) were killed.

As soon as I could, I rejoined the Red Army. In August, 1944 I was severely wounded in the leg. I received a medal for bravery and returned as a civilian to my old job as a music teacher, but not for long...

Toivi: You were a leader of the most successful Nazi prisoner revolt during World War II. Many people own their lives to you. Did you receive any recognition for your deeds? (Note) At this point he stood up and went to the door leading to the hallway, opened, checked outside and returned without a word. Living myself for a long time under the Communist rule in Poland, I understand his precaution even as he told me that his neighbor across the hallway is a longtime friend, a woman doctor, living in the same household for over twenty years. Sasha:

Yes, after the war, I received an award, he whispered sarcastically, I was thrown into prison for many years. I was considered a traitor because I surrounded to the Germans, even as a wounded solder. After people from abroad kept inquiring about me, I was finally released but, my brother who had been arrested with me, succumbed to a diabetic coma while in prison. I was allowed again to work with the youth on a lover level in the cultural activities. I even was asked and did talk about my experiences in schools, but as far as an official acknowledgment and medal, no such thing for a Jew.

Toivi: Sasha, when historians are writing the history of Sobibor, you as the leader of the revolt are quoted as the fundamental source. Sobibor had a small community of prisoners and in most cases they know each other. In your writing, I found unknown names of kapos and for that matter, a commandant of Sobibor called Berg when in actuality the name of the commander was Reichleitner. Is there any reason for these discrepancies? Sasha:

When I was aware in full, of the of the terrible Sobibor purpose, my mind was occupied first of all to find a way to get out, to stop the working of this machinery. The names of the prisoners and the Sobibor functionaries were of second importance and to be truthful, besides my closest friends from Minsk, I did not remember a single other name. In order to finish my memos I write down some fictional names. But this doesn't change the truth about Sobibor.

Toivi: Last question. Do you feel any resentment, feel any betrayal by the injustice done to you from both sides? Did you seek revenge on the Germans when fighting them with the partisans and the Soviet Army after Sobibor? Sasha:

No, I did not take revenge. I fought for my Motherland as a solder, not as a murderer.

(Note) It was getting late, and as I had been told I had to be back in the hotel by midnight, I said goodbye and left with another bear hug from Sasha.  

My journey initially was only to see a long lost friend, brother, father or whatever you would call a person who did give you a new life. I wanted to see him, to thank him, to know who he really was. In my memory I always have seen him as a strong, tool, military officer. In Rostow, his posture despite over 70 years was still erect, tool and commanded respect, the same time he was soft spoken, polite and sensitive, it did come out in our conversations.


I promised to try to get him a visa to the United States as my guest. The exit permit was refused by the Soviets. In 1987, again I invited him to the premiere of the film "Escape From Sobibor". This time he could receive the visa, but was already to sick to travel. He died in 1990.

New Plaque at Sobibor

New Plaque at Sobibor 


Warsaw, October 14, 1993

To the participants of the fiftieth anniversary of the revolt at Sobibor:

There are places on Polish soil that are symbols of human tragedy and human bestiality, heroism and cruelty. These are the death camps. Built by Hitler's engineers, administered by the Nazi "professionals" - they served only one purpose: total genocide and the annihilation of the Jewish race. Sobibor was such a place. A manmade hell in which fifty years ago the Jews revolted, without the chance of a victory, but not without hope.

A heroic fight ensued, not in the defense of life, but in the hope of a dignified death. In defending the dignity of the 250,000 victims, the majority of whom were Polish citizens, the Jews achieved a moral victory. They saved their dignity, their honor, and in a way, saved humanity. Their deeds cannot be forgotten, especially today when in many places on earth, bigotry, racism and intolerance are springing up again. And, where again, the crime of genocide is being committed.

Sobibor remains as a reminder and a warning. But it also represents the testimony of a people and their dignity, and a triumph for all of humanity.

I pay reverence to the memory of all, Jews from Poland and from all of Europe, who were tortured to death here, on this soil.

Lech Walesa

Translation Of The Letter From President of Poland 
Original in possesion of Thomas Blatt  


Warsaw, October 12, 1993

Mr. Thomas Blatt 
Chairman of the Holocaust Sites Preservation Committee

Honorable Mr. Chairman, Honorable Mr. Wojewodo, Honorable Assembly:

Please accept my sincere words of thanks for the honor of inviting me to the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the revolt in the Sobibor death camp.

Unfortunately, because of urgent matters, I cannot take part in today's events in person. However, I wish to send my homage to the heroes - the victims of Hitler's terror and cruel genocide. The prisoners of Sobibor, the horrible death camp for Jews, took the heroic decision to fight, and in effect, they chose above all a way to die, because they were fully aware that if anyone survived, they would be only a few. In this inhuman world of the totalitarian system of death camps, slavery, and human degradation, in which we saw mainly death, the prisoners of Sobibor have shown how to act and fight heroically, so as to be morally victorious.

The history of Sobibor has also shown us that even in the face of extreme terror and extermination, Hitler's hangmen were not able to kill in the victimized and tormented people the will to fight for freedom, even if the road led to death.

The history of the Holocaust is the most monstrous tragedy of a people's destiny, where the most appaling chapters took place on our soil. It is the duty of all of us - and I do not need to justify deeper - to know more, understand more, and remember those terrible, murderous times and the heroes of those days.

In paying reverence to those who chose the battle call of death in Sobibor death camp, we must remember the prize for the final victory over totalitarianism. We should do everything so as not to allow the emergence of another "inhuman world" and their indescribable crimes.


H. Suchocka

About the Author

About the Site's Author Thomas Blatt is a survivor of Sobibor, the Nazi extermination camp, where he took part in the most successful revolt and escape from any Nazi camp during World War II.

Thomas Blatt is also the author of two book's:

• Sobibor - The Forgotten Revolt • From The Ashes of Sobibor



The story of the revolt was told in the award-winning Chrysler Corporation film special for the year 1987:

• Escape From Sobibor 

Capuchin Order

In 1986, the Capuchin Order, which advertised for contributions to build a chapel and mausoleum to honor the victims, completed construction of a small church on the site of the camp. At the entrance to the church stands a life size wooden carving portraying Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who had died in Auschwitz and was later canonized, behind barbed wires and crematorium chimneys of a Nazi extermination camp. This carving conveyed the unfortunate and erroneous impression that non- Jews, particularly Catholics, were victims of Sobibor. In fact, the only Christians killed in Sobibor were the 10 SS men and about a dozen Ukrainian guards killed by the inmates on the day of the revolt and escape.

In addition, a kindergarten was built on the site and a portion of the camp was converted into a playground, complete with slides, carousels and swings, on the exact spot where thousand of Jews had been tortured and killed. Not only had life been taken from the Jews at Sobibor, but the memory of their very existence was being erased.

In 1987, I became chairman of the Holocaust Sites Preservations Committee, with the goal of preserving not only the site but also the historical integrity of Sobibor. A broad spectrum of Christians and Jews, business leaders, politicians and academia the world over supported these efforts. Seven years later, as a result of intensive negotiations with the Polish government, a new topographical map was officially accepted for Sobibor, designating it as a historical landmark. The kindergarten was closed and the building is now a Sobibor museum.

The most difficult task proved to be correcting the false text of the commemoration plaque. The negotiation continued over three governments administrations. After producing court documents, testimonies of both victims and perpetrators, including SS Frenzel's testimony from my interview with him, an agreement was reached that the plaque should state the truth: that 250,000 Jews were the victims of Sobibor and that the phrase "and about 1,000 Poles" (i.e. Christians) should be added to the plaque.

Now, In the place of the original false plaque, five new, historically accurate plaques were installed by the Holocaust Sites Preservations Committee, founded by the Milken Foundation, the Dutch and German governments. The plaques state clearly and unequivocally in five languages that the victims of Sobibor were Jews.

On the 50th anniversary of the revolt, the Holocaust Sites Preservations Committee and local authorities sponsored a commemoration ceremony at Sobibor. Members of the government attended, and letters from President Walesa and Prime Minister Suchocka were presented. Speakers included Marek Edelman, second in command in the Warsaw ghetto revolt, representatives of the government, military commanders, a rabbi and a Catholic bishop. 

Hill of Ashes


"Thomas Blatt has written remarkable book that tells two stories. The first details the working of the notorious Sobibor extermination camp. The second tells of the revolt at Sobibor. Blatt tells those two stories in measured tones: he neither exaggerates the heroism of the Jewish prisoners nor demonizes their cruel Victimizers. This is a remarkable feat in itself because Blatt was one of the prisoners who had a role in the revolt and who escaped from Sobibor. Most compelling is Thomas Blatt's interview with Karl Frenzel, a Nazi officer at Sobibor, which encapsulates Hanna Arendt's famous phrase 'the banality of evil'."

- Dr. Michael Nutkiewicz, Chief Historian of Shoah 
  Spielberg Foundation in Los Angeles

"Thomas Blatt writes in the preface to this remarkable book. "Witnessing genocide is overwhelming; writing about it is soul shattering. Nor can the reader emerge unscathed from this wrenching account of mans inhumanity to humanity. This account of the killing of 250.000 Jews at the death Sobibor is made even more powerful by the fact that the author is one of a handful of survivors of the revolt. To read this book is to risk having ones soul shattered and ones humanity put in question. No one who reads it ever will be able to forget Sobibor or Thomas Blatt."

- Marilyn J. Harran, Ph.D., Professor of Religion and History 
  Chapman University

"This important and deeply moving book, written by one of the heroes of the legendary 1943 Sobibor uprising, recount one of the greatest escape stories in the annals of human history. Thomas Blatt's powerful and passionate narrative honors the memory of Sobibor's victims. It is a "must" reading."

- Neal M. Sher, Executive Director, American Israel Public 
  Affair Committee; former Director, Office of Special Investigations 
  U.S. Department of Justice

"Thomas Blatt has produced a well documented study of the Sobibor extermination camp where approximately 250,000 Jews were annihilated. This book does much to help us understand the camp and the revolt for which it became famous. Without his sustained and courageous pressure on the Polish government to change the sign at Sobibor, few would know that Jews were the primary victims at the camp."

- Alex Grobman, Ph.D., Director 
  Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust 
  Los Angeles

"Having worked with Tom over a period of several years during the development and production of the film "Escape from Sobibor", I came to deeply respect his passion, attention to detail, and strength of character. As a survivor of the revolt at the Sobibor death camp, hi brought all the qualities and more to his compelling book, Sobibor - The Forgotten Revolt. This is a powerful story of a tragic part of history and a fitting tribute to the many who lost their lives in camp as well as to the courageous men and women of Sobibor who rose in rebellion on October 14, 1943. It is a story never to be forgotten."

- Denis Doty, Producer 
  "Escape from Sobibor"

Solange and Albert Ben-David

The Testimony of Eda Lichtman

Sobibór – Camp of Death and Revolt, Tel Aviv 1979 
Dedicated to the organizers of the revolt at Sobibór and to all those who took part in it 
and to the memory of the hundreds of thousands 
of victims of Sobibór.

This testimony was given at the legal proceedings in Hagen, West Germany and 
completed by Miriam Novitch at the Ghetto Fighters’ House in 1965.

Published by "Beit Lochamei Hagetaot" The Ghetto Fighters' House Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum, Israel and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House with the assistance of the Hayim and Feigel Frenkel Memorial Fund, Australia

Following the common initiative of Judy Cohen & Ada Holtzman, the testimony was translated 
from Hebrew to English in January 2005 by Ruth Morris, Israel. 

Edited by Ada Holtzman, Israel.

…In Dubienka, which is on the River Bug, they put us up in synagogues. The Jewish Council (Judenrat) sent us food and straw for bedding. Later they housed us in the homes of local families. After that, confinement and forced labor on farms. “Aryan” peasants and foremen grew rich at the expense of the Jewish slaves. And again the same acts of violence as in Mielec a group of Jews in prayer shawls was attacked and taken to one of the hills. There the prayer shawls were ripped off their backs and their prayer books torn from their hands: “Dance in front of us so we can enjoy ourselves!” The Jews did not adapt to the game. “We know them well, such fanatics! It will be a beautiful pyre!” No one returned from the hill alive…

Senior officers visited frequently, in the company of the “black ones” (Ukrainians, known as “Pizaks”). They would swoop down on the ghetto like locusts, plundering anything and everything that we still had, leaving dead and wounded behind them. A few Jewish families are hidden in one of the apartments. They throw a hand grenade into it, children’s decapitated heads, and pools of blood…

And yet again, deportation to Hrubieszów. Again the road is scattered with corpses. Once again, the cruelty of the “black ones” knows no bounds. Children beg: “Master, kill me, leave my father alone!”…

Hrubieszów is surrounded by a barbed wire fence. There are watchtowers at all four corners and armed guards with machine guns. “Down!” they yell. They shoot at the people who are crowded together. A deathly hush prevails. Parents silence their children. The evening gradually draws in. Only when darkness falls are the ghetto inhabitants allowed to bring us bread and water. We spend the night in a filthy barrack. With dawn – on our way. Horse-drawn carts bring us to the railway station; where cars for transporting cattle are waiting for us. “You are going to the Ukraine,” we are told.

The convoy sets out. Very quickly thirst begins to plague us. Every so often the doors are opened and soldiers attack us. They are wearing German army uniforms, but they speak Ukrainian. They grab any valuables from our hands. They lop off fingers complete with rings. “In any case you do not need a thing,” they tell us.

We have lost all sense of time. Have we already arrived in the Ukraine? The locomotive lets out an earsplitting shriek. The train comes to an abrupt stop. We remain halted for a while and then the car sets off again. The doors open. The light blinds us. I read the writing on the sign: “S.S. Sonderkommando Sobibór.”

Facing us are officers and soldiers, on their shoulders or in their hands machine guns ready to shoot. I make out a large St. Bernard dog. “Hey, you over there,” one of the officers shouts, pointing at me, “What you do for a living?” “I’m a qualified kindergarten teacher.” The whole gang burst out laughing. “OK, you can do the washing for us!” They pull me and two other young girls – Bela Sobol and Sarka Kac from Dubienka, out of line. They take us into the camp and put us in a small barrack. In it, in a great mess, are clothes and moldy slices of bread. Who were the barrack’s previous residents, and where are they now?

Of the transport from Hrubieszów, 8,000 souls, three women remained in Sobibór. The only thing left of all the rest is heaps of clothes and shoes. Of those three, I am the only one to have survived.

 The day we arrived in Sobibór two of the camp’s inmates, accompanied by a soldier, brought us two baskets full of dirty clothing: “Everything must be clean within two days”, says the soldier. The clothes are lice-infested. First they must be disinfected with Lysol. The water has to be pumped into heavy wooden buckets.

My first night in the camp. A nightmare. Cries rend the air, jerking me out of my plank-bed. I run to the door and open it slightly. The crack of a whip in my face. A deafening voice yells at me, “If I see you here again, I’ll set my Barry on you!” It turns out that Oberwachmann Lachmann and his dog are out on an inspection patrol, but I only learn about this later.

And what is the meaning of the screams? The Ukrainian guards are raping the young girls before pushing them into the gas chambers.

The latrines are next to the barrack and the stench fills the room. The deportees, who have just arrived and are dying of thirst, call out in entreaty, “Water! water!” Sometimes one or two of them are allowed to fetch water. Michel the Volksdeutscher1) stands next to the well with a bayoneted rifle. He pushes the poor wretches towards the latrines: “Go on, pick it up – with your hands!” he tells them in German. He uses his bayoneted rifle to prod them towards the barbed wire. Malinovski the guardsman is waiting for them there. His face is scarred from smallpox. He straightens his hat, narrows his eyes slightly and aims his rifle at their heads. He never misses his target…

Michel is bullying one of the camp inmates, a boy called Shimon. He forces him to run with a wheelbarrow full of sand. The boy runs, his tongue sticking out like a parched animal. Later Shimon took part in the uprising but was shot during the escape.

One day I took advantage of the slave drivers’ absence. I took a bucket of water and ran towards a group of deportees who had just arrived in the camp. Suddenly I felt as if my neck was being gripped as in a vise, as if someone was strangling me from behind. An SS man called Fritz Rechwald had used the handle of his whip to extricate me from the throng. “Achtung!” he roared at me. “You’re lucky I’m on my own, but if I see you over there again…” It was indeed strictly forbidden to go up to the deportees who had just arrived in the camp.

The laundry was next to the barrack. One day I saw two people carrying a stretcher with a woman on it writhing in labor. A few minutes later, the newborn’s wails were heard. Wagner was next to the new mother. He called Klatt, the Ukrainian guard, over to him. I saw Klatt go into the latrines and throw in a package. They took the mother to Lager III. A few days later the baby’s corpse was found floating in the drainage water…

One day a transport from Vienna arrived. The SS men picked themselves out three beautiful women, singers, and forced them to sing. When they grew tired of the singing, they shot them, executed them. One day three sixteen and seventeen year-old girls were selected from a transport that had arrived from Berlin – Berta, Lena and Ruth. Ruth, a brunette with beautiful eyes, became Paul Johannes Groth’s mistress. Their lives as spoils did not last long. They were soon murdered in cold blood.

And once again a transport arrived from Western Europe. The transport’s origin could be recognized from the deportees’ appearance: they were properly dressed, and did not seem to be starved, unlike the deportees from Poland. They had rucksacks with them, nice suitcases. The Germans carried out their “selection” among them and chose a number of young men who were sent to the labor units in the Lublin district – to Sawin,  Krychów and Osowa.  A few months later they were brought back to the camp in a state of utter exhaustion. Eventually everybody was put to death.

Our hangmen were, Karl August Frenzel, Gustaw Wagner, Hermann Michel. The latter would stand on a table and address the transports on their arrival at the camp. Anton Getzinger, Otto Weiss, Paul Bredow, Karl Steubel, Paul Groth and Hubert Gomerski – they all lived in a villa, which had such a poetic name – “The Swallow’s Nest”.

Müller, Kurt Richter, Johann Klier, Walter Nowak, Wolf Franz and his brother Josef Wolf, Buscher, Siegfried Graetschus, Schütt Hans-Heinz, Josef Vallaster, Unverhau Heibnrich, Erich Bauer – they lived in a house known as “To The Merry Flea”.

Every SS man had his own way of killing people. When a new transport arrived, the whole company would come to the platform. Bredow would stride around among the deportees as if demented, looking for the girls and women and lashing out at them with his whip until the blood ran. Gomerski enjoyed hitting the deportees with a board studded with nails. Paul Groth and Kurt Bolender would take Barry with them. The dog would walk quietly by their side, but when his master turned to one of the people and asked, “So you don’t want to work?” Barry would launch himself at the person, biting the flesh, tearing at it and pulling off chunks of it.

The camp supervisor wore a cape and white gloves. He made his rounds of the camp accompanied by Barry the dog. He would make speeches about the good life awaiting those going to the Ukraine. “The conditions and the food there are better than here,” he would say. “Those who prove that they are hard workers will get special certificates, and then there will be family reunions as well…” We had to be careful not to convey our skepticism about what he was saying by the slightest movement or intimation.

SS Oberscharführer Erich Bauer, commandant of Lager III, used to observe the killing process through a glass window in the roof of the gas chambers. A short, stocky man, he was a known drinker who regularly overindulged. He would threaten us: “I’ll teach you a lesson!” He was never without his machine gun. His very appearance aroused nausea. The other SS men were well turned out and neat even during “work”. Bauer was different: he was always filthy and unkempt, with a stench of alcohol and chlorine emanating from him.

One day he came into the laundry. We were all very wary of him. “Carry on working!” he yelled. We continued with our work. “You’re working on the Sabbath, that makes you all Communists!” – he goaded us. One of the deportees from Sochaczew was bold enough to answer him back: “I’m a religious man,” he said, taking a Jewish prayer book, a siddur, out of his pocket, “but we’re forced to work.” “And what about you!” the German yelled, turning to Saba Zalc, “you work on the Sabbath as well?” The poor woman did not know what to reply. The Sochaczew man answered for her: “Our women aren’t required to pray; they only light the candles on the Sabbath Eve.” “So you light candles, do you?” he continued to badger her. “I used to light, at my home,” Saba replied, taking courage and speaking up. “I hate all observant Jews. All lice-infested,” Bauer stated categorically.

In his room, he had a picture on the wall of himself and a picture of all of his family with the Führer. He also installed a drinks bar and gave orders for eggnog to be prepared for him. One day, when he came back from his “work”, he broke one of the bottles. “You’re going to clean that up for me with your tongue!” he yelled at one of the camp inmates, Berek Brand. Some of the drink collected in the cracks in the floor. The whole of Berek’s face was filthy with blood from the broken glass.

Paul Groth also used to drink to excess. One day he ordered four of the camp inmates to carry him, seated on an easy chair, round the camp. He had great fun setting fire to pieces of paper and dropping them on our heads.

Herbert Floss, another one of the SS men, ordered a pair of boots from the shoemaker’s shop. The shoemaker, Szaul Flajszhakierfrom Kalisz, dared say to him that the nails he had put in the boots were not right and asked him to return them. When Floss put one of his feet on the stool in order for one of the shoemaker’s assistants to shine his boot, he replied, “Nothing that comes in here will ever leave again!” Everybody understood exactly what he meant.

Szaul Sztark was put in charge of the geese. He would fatten them with balls made of flour soaked in water and every day he would take them out to the meadow. If one of the geese did not put on enough meat and fat, the whip would rain down lashes on Szaul Sztark’s back. Now, after a short illness one of the geese died. Szaul paid for this with his life. Frenzel, Wagner, Weiss and Bredow attacked him with their whips. When he managed to extricate himself from their clutches and run down the camp paths, the entire group ran after him, raining merciless blows on his back. “LeiblLeibl, gedenk, nem nekume!” (LeiblLeibl, remember to revenge!”)Szaul Sztark cried out, referring to his son: “Comrades, revenge, revenge!” Those were his last words.

We were tortured by hunger. A boy, thirteen or so, one of the camp inmates, happened to find a tin of sardines. Frenzel was passing by and saw him. “What, a theft  here?” He gathered everybody in the camp around the “criminal,” whom he liquidated by shooting him with his pistol. “That will be the end of anyone who dares to touch anything!” he yelled.

The SS men would pick out artists and painters from the transports and order them to paint pictures for them to decorate the walls of their rooms or the clubhouse. Their commissions included a huge portrait of the Führer, their own likenesses, and enlargements of postcards. On the whole they had a preference for romantic landscapes. They sent some of the pictures to their families in Germany. The painters were ordered to put up various signs: “Hairdressing Salon,” “Clubhouse” (“Casino”). When their work was done, the artists were sent to the gas chambers.

Sadistic “gymnastic exercises” used to give them great pleasure. In the rain, in the snow – “jump like a frog!” “Run quickly!” “lie down on your front!”, “climb!”. They enjoyed lashing us with their whips while we ran. When they tired, they handed us over to Taras, a Ukrainian Wachmann, who was no less cruel than them.

After attempts at escaping, the “gymnastic exercises” became more frequent. At first they would take place once a day, and then twice a day, morning and evening. Scharführer Gomerski took great pleasure in hitting us with a wooden board or a hammer.

Oberscharführer Schultz and Karl Müller would go out with the Commando to cut down trees in the forest. On the way, for fun and gratification, Müller would use his ax to inflict injuries on some of our people. They were bleeding. Then they would have trouble cutting down the trees, and he handed them over to Schultz. Even though the latter was no novice, he shot them with his pistol, never missing his target.

Karl Müller was meticulous in his clothing. “You will bring me my clothes every evening. and make sure that they are properly ironed,” he ordered me. I would bring him his underwear together with Ester Brinberg, or with Saba Zalc. When we entered the room, we would stand to attention. Every evening he would ask us the selfsame question, instantly answering it himself: “What is the most dreadful animal in the world? What, you don’t know? It is the man!”


One day, after the evening roll-call (Appell), Otto Weiss the SS man gave orders for a long wooden chest to be brought to him. He directed one of the camp inmates to don a black silk kaftan and a shtreimel2)and to lie down full length in the chest. Weiss dropped the lid and broke into song, “I’m a Jew with a long snout!” Weiss half-opened the chest lid and ordered the prostate man to salute those who had gathered and repeat his words. Then he continued, “Beloved God, hearken to our song, stop up the Jews’ voices so that mankind will have relief. Amen!”

The SS men sang the song in a chorus. They ordered the Hassid3) to sway back and forth as if praying, and made us say “amen” over and over again. They had such a good time.

One day, they took a Jew who had just arrived from the platform. He had black hair and swarthy skin. The SS immediately dubbed him “der Neger” (the Negro). Wagner ordered him to sing. The fellow improvised in Yiddish, looking at the wonderful pine forest that surrounded the camp:

“Vi lustig ist de unser lebn,
Man tut unz tsu essen gebn,
Vi lustig ist im grynen vald
Vo ich mich ofhalt…”

(How wonderful our life here is,
Here we received food;
How wonderful it is for me in the green forest,
Where I am!)

Wagner liked the song. He instructed us to learn it by heart and to sing it after roll call. This “Negro”, a cobbler from Kalisz, was a really decent fellow, a soul mate to us all. He had left his wife and children behind in Kalisz, and the whole time he hoped that they had managed to survive and that the day would come when he would see them. He devoted himself heart and soul to planning the revolt. I remember that on the night of October 13-14, when we were agreeing among ourselves the final details of the preparations for the revolt, he said, “Let us swear to fight, all of us as one man, so that the young people can savor the taste of freedom.” Then he fell to his knees and kissed the ground. We all kneeled and in our hearts took an oath of allegiance.

He was part of the group that was assigned to attack the armory. While he was handing the guns over to the insurgents, the Volksdeutsche Schreiber shot him. In exchanges of fire, Schreiber himself was shot by Szaul Flajszhakier from Kalisz.

Szaul Flajszhakier was also a hero, a daring and courageous man. Wagner ordered him to administer 25 lashes to a young camp inmate who had been caught stealing butter. He was bold enough to refuse, saying that he did not know how to administer a lashing. At which point Wagner himself delivered the 25 lashes to him in person. He withstood the whipping with fortitude, just counting the blows under his breath, one by one. The young man also received his quota.


One day, during the last months of the winter of 1943, the Germans got worked up and started running around like mice on some sort of drug. The rumor spread round the camp that Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler in person was going to make a visit to Sobibór. All kinds of junk began to build up outside the warehouse: old children’s baby carriages, broken items of kitchenware, thermos flasks and so on. All of this disappeared, and the place was cleaned up with feverish haste. Next came a number of trucks laden with sand, which was dumped and smoothed out, and then long planks were laid on top of the sand. This was intended as an improvised landing strip for the Reichsführer’s private plane.

The day before the visit, a group of young men and women was brought to the camp. They had been selected from one of the transports. The Germans locked everyone in the camp in the barracks under lock and key. The camp commandant and SS officers Johann Niemann, Gustav Franz Wagner and others welcomed the distinguished guest and his entourage and gave them a conducted tour of Lager I and Lager II. Then they went to Lager III. The young inmates were ordered to shave and then were taken to Lager III, to the gas chambers. Himmler and the members of his entourage followed closely the killing and the incineration to ashes of the bodies of those who had been killed. We learned about this from the Ukrainian guard unit.

A lavish reception awaited the guests in the clubhouse. It was my job to bring flowers to the clubhouse to decorate the tables. The wine flowed like water and there was endless heel-clicking accompanied by salutations of “Heil.” The clubhouse was a well-kept place with terraces, flowerbeds, a small barbershop, a bathroom, lavatories, and a sports field. It appeared that the Reichsführer was very pleased with what he saw. We learned shortly afterwards that the camp’s commanding officers had been given promotions.

A brigade of Wehrmacht soldiers came to the camp. They brought a great number of chests and crates with them. All of the camp’s environs were mined. A deep ditch was dug and filled with water, and the barbed wire fence was electrified.

Gustav Wagner supervised the carrying out of the works. He would patrol the camp up and down without a moment’s respite. Once he caught Riwka red-handed. She fell asleep during work. Her punishment: 25 lashes. Riwka was 13.

One day a transport arrived accompanied by a guard unit of officers and soldiers. The soldiers from the guard unit wanted to patrol the camp, but their wish was denied. Categorically forbidden. They returned to their posts and a few days later came back, accompanying another transport. This time they were invited to the clubhouse. There, Niemann, Wagner, Schwarz and their wives welcomed them. They were regaled with a sumptuous repast with drinks in abundance. Next they were shown “how the camp personnel work quietly and calmly.” At the end of the tour of the camp, they were taken to the warehouse and given bottles of perfume and the like as mementoes. When they wanted to pay, Wagner refused to accept anything from them: “Forget it, I’ll take care of things.” Everyone left the warehouse happy.

What did the warehouses not contain? They were full of all good things: clothing, expensive furs, musical instruments, surgical instruments, and shoes in all sizes and of all kinds, and so on and so forth.

The gold and jewelry were kept in the camp commander’s offices, in a specially installed room housing chests and crates as if in a gigantic store, containing gold ingots, bracelets, brooches, etc. One of the camp inmates, as naked as the day he was born, was commanded to sort the spoils under the watchful eye of the SS man Steubel. A German goldsmith would come to check the items, after which everything was sealed in armor-plated black chests and sent straight to Berlin by automobile.

In the barrack housing the camp commander’s offices, there lived Steubel, Schütt, Floss, Becher, Kurt Bolender and Dr. Blaurock, a chemist who “worked” in Lager III.

A large number of purebred horses were housed in the most wonderfully cared for stable.  Inmate Maks, a lad aged about thirteen, was appointed to look after the horses and swat the flies that bothered them. One day Frenzel decided that Maks was not doing his work properly. He gave him a whipping. Becker, Nowak, Groth and Klatt joined in the lashing. The lad started to run, with the Germans in hot pursuit. The chase lasted about half an hour, till Maks fell to the ground, unconscious. He never recovered. For a while he continued to work in the stable, but each time he saw a German he would shake uncontrollably, waving his arms around as if trying to keep something away from his face. At night he would cry like an injured animal. One day he was shot to death.

At first the camp was not mined, and two of the inmates tried to dig a tunnel under the barbed wire fence and escape.

A vigorous investigation was carried out in the morning of all those in the camp. Every tenth person was commanded to step out of line. Each of them received 25 lashes. The Ukrainian “Wachmänner” or guards administered the whippings. With The poor wretches struggled and our hearts bled. Some of them received more than 25 lashes – fifty or even a hundred – because they made a mistake counting the first 25 lashes. Each of them had to count the lashes out loud, and if he made a mistake – the whipping started again. The inmates who were lashed could barely stand up. The guards surrounded them and took them to Lager III. Suddenly the figure of a woman running after them could be seen. This was a young singer who was an inmate of the camp. She did not want to depart from her beloved one. She was carrying their little five-year-old son with her, and shouting at the SS guards, “You loathsome murderers!”

By chance, the SS man Karl Frenzel found out that Libel Flajszer, a boy aged thirteen or so who worked in the clothing shed, had a stammer.

“Hey, you, what is your name?” he would bellow at the boy when he came into the shed. The boy was incapable of answering immediately. Frenzl had his fun. He continued, “What did you have to eat today?” The boy tried to answer him. “Faster, you mangy dog!” the SS man would shriek. He called his comrades to come in as well, enjoying the spectacle greatly. He rewarded Leibl for the pleasure by throwing him from time to time a hard-boiled egg or a sandwich. Leibl Flajszer died in the uprising.

Berek Lichtman, a handsome youth not yet fifteen years old, was brought to Sobibór together with his family but was the only one to survive. Despite the horrors of camp life, he was always calm and serene. At first he worked in the clothing store, then in the kitchen, and finally in the shoemaker’s shop. During the uprising when we killed Josef Vallaster, he helped us to bury the body and hide the traces of blood incredibly quickly. In the attack on the armory, he grabbed a rifle and began shooting at the Wachmänner, to provide cover for a number of the insurgents to escape. He fell in the battle.

Leibl Dreszer, a boy of about 13 years of age, played an important role in preparing the revolt as well as in the actual uprising itself. He had to go to the officers and invite them to come to the workshops at H-hour, in order to try on the clothes and footwear that they had ordered.  First he went to Niemann and reminded him that he was expected in the tailor’s shop. Niemann mounted his white horse and set out for the workshops. Leibl ran after him. After Niemann dismounted, tying his horse up near the door, Leibl undid the reins and took it to the stables. This was because we were expecting a few more “guests” and if the horse had still been outside while its master had disappeared, this would have given rise to suspicions.

Leibl was shot in the forest while escaping.

Some of the camp inmates fell ill, but because it was known that invalids had no right to exist, they would go out to work even when suffering the ravages of typhoid fever or dysentery. Szimon Rabinowicz found a kerosene fuelled cooking stove in the camp together with the fuel for a flame. He also managed to find a little rice that he would cook on the stove and bring to the sick. In this way he really saved their lives. Otto Weiss, an SS man, caught him red-handed bringing the curative dish to his patients. Despite the lashing Szimonreceived, he was not deterred and continued with his old ways. Once Frenzel came into the barrack just as Szimon was putting the pot on the flame. Szimon hastily hid the pot and put his foot on the burning stove in order to extinguish it. For a long time, his foot was covered with serious burns. Nevertheless, he continued to help his brethren in trouble. He played an active role in the revolt, but was shot while escaping.

One day a Ukrainian called Koshvadski brought me the white uniform of his master, Oberwachmann Lachmann, a known drunk, and told me, “I’ll come to pick up the suit tomorrow at five, and it had better be clean by then!” “By five tomorrow,” I answered him, “the uniform won’t be dry!” “How dare you argue with a member of the guard!” he snarled, bringing his stick down on my hand, which swelled up and became distended. But apparently Koshvadski did not think that one blow was enough, and was about to carry on beating me. Icchak held on to his arm with all his strength, saying, “Aren’t you ashamed to hit a woman who works so hard?” The Ukrainian left the barrack. He stopped hitting women.

In Lager I there was a barrack with a sign that said “Infirmary.” It could be seen from the station, and everybody who came through the gates of Sobibór could read the wording on the sign. But the infirmary was intended only for the Germans. There was also a dental clinic in the camp, where for a while Dr. Bresler from P?ock worked, together with two assistants, from Czechoslovakia, Kurt andBerta. The dentist and his assistants put their lives at risk by providing us with medication and treating us in secret.

The sight of the suffering of the children in Sobibór was heartbreaking. From the laundry window I saw a group of camp inmates being driven in the direction of Lager III. Snow covered the path. One boy was walking on his own. His trousers fell down, and he could not catch up with the rest. A dog appeared out of nowhere, approached the boy – but did him no harm. Finally the Ukrainian guard walking at the end of the procession grabbed the child and dragged him toward the others walking to their deaths.

In the transports that arrived in the camp in winter there were also children who were frozen by the cold: Wagner, with a cigarette in his mouth, would pick up their congealed bodies and toss them as if they were birds or dead animals. Sometimes we would hear a wail or crying – not all of them had frozen to death.

The women played an active role in the revolt in Sobibór. I was also one of those who were introduced to its secrets. I knew the general outline of the plan for the revolt: a) To get the SS men to come to the workshops and to kill them there at the designated time; b) To find the armory and distribute the arms to those who knew how to use them; c) To disconnect the electricity supply and the telephone wires; d) To disable the vehicles parked in the camp so they would be unable to use them to pursue the insurgents; d) Previously agreed camp inmates – wearing the uniforms of the SS men to be killed – would lead the commando companies outside the camp (these companies would sometimes pass through the camp’s gates at unconventional times in order to pick mushrooms or grain).

The women who worked in the laundry were assigned the task of stealing as many rifle bullets as possible from the houses where the SS personnel lived. We found rifle bullets in the Germans’ uniform pockets or in their desk drawers. Sarka Kac, Helka Lubartowska,Ester Grynbaum, Zelda Mec, Saba Zalc, I and other women performed our duties. We handed our booty over to the shoemaker’s shop, which had installed a safe hiding place in their barrack for arms and ammunition.

We also had to prepare clean underwear and clothing for the insurgents. Some of those in the camp had to lay their hands on money and valuables that the escapees could use in order to buy food.

On the eve of October 14, Ester wept, “Why did I forsake my family? Why did not I stay with them, in order to die with them? Tomorrow, we will no longer be in this world. The sun will rise and set again, the flowers will bloom and fade – and we won’t be here.” “We have nothing to lose, and what is there that we will miss in the world in which we are living,” Helka Lubartowska cut her short. “There still echoes in my head the sound of weeping of my little brother and sisters that I heard when we were separated on the platform.” And little Rosa from Stanislaw added, “Come what may – tomorrow perhaps we will be free!

Can our lives here be called life?” “Last night I dreamed,” said Ester Torner, “that my mother brought me a live, flapping fish. That’s a good sign!” While Saba Zalc from Lublin complained, “I’ve not had a single good day in my entire life; nothing but hunger, suffering and death.” And Sala from Lwow brought the conversation to an end, saying decisively, “That will do, we’ve done enough talking, we have to get ready for tomorrow.”

The commando companies go out to work. A new day begins on 14 October 1943......

The revolt began at 4 in the afternoon. Niemann the SS officer made a round of the camp on a carriage drawn by two horses; then he rode the white horse to the barrack housing the tailor’s shop, where he was killed. Other SS men who were killed included Greaetschutz, Klatt, Wolf and others.

Swarc who was standing next to the generator, disconnected the power and the telephone line. Then we found out that the large automobiles were missing from the garage; we were sure that a number of the SS men were outside the camp. This was something that we had not anticipated when we planned the revolt.

The young ones in our group distributed clean clothing, money and gold coins to everybody in order to buy food if the uprising succeeded.

Szlomo Szmajzner’s work was fixing the stoves in the Ukrainian guard unit’s barracks. One by one he smuggled rifles out of there, which had been concealed in the stoves’ chimneys. Suddenly Wachmann Reil  appeared on a bicycle, screaming in German, “Where are my rifles?” He was killed by axe blow. The SS man Steubel was shot near the commandant offices. One of the guard unit men rushed to the clubhouse where Frenzel was at the time, yelling, “Ein Deutscher kaputt!” (“A German’s been killed!”). Frenzel grabbed his machine gun and ran to the entrance to the camp. Soldiers in the Ukrainian guard unit began shooting from the watchtowers.

We waited for the signal. In the corner of the room I saw Icchak, holding an iron in one hand and a small siddur (Jewish prayer book) in the other. Sala was the first to burst out of the room. As if in the grip of madness, she yelled, “I want to live! I want to live!”

I began to run as well. I saw Riwka running at my side. A body was lying by the barbed wire fence. It was Mira Sazpira fromSedlishche, her radiant face upturned toward the sky. I covered her head with my kerchief. I took off my coat to avoid getting caught in the barbed wire. I have no idea how I managed to get across the water-filled ditch.

The only thing I remember is Riwka and the girl from Czechoslovakia helping me to cross it. The winding forest path was extremely narrow. How could we possibly run along it? In the twinkling of an eye I was passed by Hinda and IdelRozka PelcAbrahamSarka Kac and others. I ran till I could run no more.

Of all those who took part in the Sobibór revolt, only a few reached a safe haven. Shortly after we had run for our lives, masses of SS men, policemen and gendarmes combed the forest, and any runaway that they found was shot on the spot. It was the partisans who told me later about the terrible revenge that the Nazis took on those still in Sobibór. The Lager IV commando was shot on the spot. Moniek Nusfeld and others who had hidden in the bakery were burned alive, as were Kachna, the seamstress from Berlin, and many other women.

Somehow I managed to stay alive. I wandered through the forest with three other women who had been deported from Holland – Ulla SternCathy and Ruth. Berek and an elderly man who had worked in the shoemaker’s shop joined us. “Let’s hide in the undergrowth,” I said.

It was October, and when night fell the forest became very dark. As twilight fell we would hide. From time to time we heard shouting and shots. At dawn we would set out. A fairly broad path stretched out before us. “I’m going to see whether we can cross here,” saidBerek. Shortly afterward we heard the sound of shooting…

For three days and three nights we wandered the forest, plagued by hunger. We were afraid to approach the villages. We found a few grains that we distributed among us, one by one, after counting them. We even tried eating mushrooms, but were attacked by agonizing stomach cramps. And we still stayed near Sobibór.

Quite often we came across signs saying “SS Sonderkommando” and “Achtung! Unterminiert!” (“Warning! Mines!”). Our legs and feet became swollen with fatigue. We went past an apple tree growing wild but did not dare pick its fruit. On the ground we found a single small apple that had fallen from the tree. We divided it up between us. “Let’s go into a village,” I ruled. “We’re going to die of hunger in the forest.”

Cathy and I entered the village of Zielowekwhile the three others waited in the forest. The first peasant we met threatened us with his whip: “Get out of here! I have a wife and children!” Suddenly a Polish policeman appeared: “You’re definitely from Sobibór. You can’t deny it!” “Shoot us here – but don’t take us to Sobibór!” we begged him. He motioned us to go off to the forest, but he gave us a whole loaf of bread! In return, we gave him two watches.

Some time later a lad brought us a bottle of milk. “The policeman exchanged the watches for vodka and now he’s getting drink in the village,” the lad told us. Both the SS men and the Ukrainian guards used to get drunk in the Zielowek inn. We were alarmed. “If you show us where the partisans are, we’ll give you a beautiful watch as a gift,” we told the boy. He guided us through the forest and we followed him.

We reached the outskirts of one of the villages and there we found another survivor from Sobibór. “Things are quiet here. The Germans don’t come here and the peasants are happy to sell items of food,” he told us. Ruth and the elderly shoemaker remained in the village.Cathy, Ulla Stern and I set off. We wanted to get as far away from Sobibór as possible.  

We wandered around the forest for many days. In our wanderings we met two other survivors from the camp – Lerner and Katyusz. We cooked our meager food together with them and at night slept in piles of hay, shivering and clinging to each other.

One day we saw two men wearing sheepskins. They aimed their rifles at us, but in no time at all they began talking to us in Yiddish. They were partisans, Shewel and Albert. Some of the peasants had told them about the three women wandering around lost in the forest, and they had come looking for us. We now marched along behind them to the partisans’ camp in the forest of Parczew, where we found three more survivors from Sobibór – Tuvia from Belgium, Fedke, a Russian prisoner of war, and Icchak, who would become my husband.

The snow kept falling, interminably. So as to have some warmth and to cook our meals – there were other Jewish families in the forest who had escaped the Germans – we would light a bonfire. Enemy aircraft would fly over the forest, reconnoitering the area: the rising smoke from the bonfire signaled the presence of partisans in the area to them. Then they would rain down bombs on the entire forest, and a few planes would fly low just above the treetops.

The peasants, who would come into the forest ostensibly to gather firewood, tended to indicate our hiding places to the gendarmes. We were constantly vigilant, alert, and ready for anything. What we really wanted to do was to cross the River Bug. A partisan calledLeibusz Zilberstajn told us the most wonderful tales about life in the areas that had been liberated.

One day a large-scale raid of the forest was set in motion. Soldiers, gendarmes, and soldiers from the Vlassov Army combed the forest meticulously, sniping the entire time. My feet, which had swollen up, had not yet recovered and so I was unable to run for my life. I found myself lying in the midst of the corpses of those who had been killed. Suddenly I heard little Masza sobbing her heart out. Her voice gave me courage. I got up, took her hand and we began to walk.

Suddenly we heard the snapping of dry twigs and we stopped. Peasants, it turned out, had come to strip the corpses of their clothing and footwear. We hid for a while, and then continued walking. We were lucky enough to happen on a sack full of onions and potatoes. We ate a few onions. And they gave us back our strength. When darkness fell, we found a few partisans from the group who had survived, including Fajga, the mother of Masza and Icchak.

Another raid – but this time we managed to safely get through the chain of soldiers and policemen combing the forest. We were aiming for the River Bug. We reached it on Christmas 1943. But the snow had suddenly begun to thaw and we had to swim across. “Please, shoot me,” I begged my friends. “I don’t have the strength to move any more, and if I lag behind, I’ll endanger your lives.” But they were not prepared to abandon me and they literally carried me on their shoulders.

Eventually we reached the village of Dubuk, next to which there was a partisans’ camp called Voroshilov. Icchak, a shoemaker by trade, was welcomed there with open arms. The partisans had recently been looking for a good leather worker. We also found some Jews among them, Benc from Domaczow and others.

A number of partisan companies passed through this area – “Diadia Fetia,” “Czarny,” “Wanda Wasilewska,” and in each of them we found Jewish fighters as well. The commander of the “Czarny” company gave me a hand grenade and the commander of the “Wanda Wasilewska” gave me a pistol, as a memento of “the first Polish-speaking female partisan that I found in the forest”.

The Bug area was still too close to Sobibór. Only in Israel did I find peace for myself.


Alexander Pechersky (Sasha) Leader of the Sobibor Revolt


I was born in Kremenchug in 1919, but spent my childhood in Rostov. After I finished my secondary studies I entered a music school. Music and theatre were the most important things in my life. I directed amateur dramatic circles and took a great interest in the arts.

In 1941 I joined the army with the rank of second lieutenant, and was soon promoted to first lieutenant. Taken prisoner in October 1941, I caught typhus, but concealed the disease, fearing to be killed.

In May 1942, I tried to escape with four other prisoners, but we were caught and were sent first to the disciplinary camp of Borysov and then to Minsk. During a medical examination it was discovered that I was Jewish. I was locked up with other Jews in a place nicknamed “the Jewish cellar,” where we spent ten days in complete darkness.

We were allowed 100 grams of bread a day and a jug of water. Then on September 20 1942 we were transferred to the labour camp of Sheroka Street in Minsk, where I lived until my deportation to Sobibor.

The area of the ramp at Sobibor

In September 1943 we were told that Jews would be transferred to Germany, but that families would not be separated. At 4am a silent crowd left Minsk, the men on foot, women and children in trucks.

We gathered at the railway station where a freight train awaited us. Seventy people were crowded into a box-car, and after four days we reached Sobibor. We stopped during the night and were given water. The doors opened, and facing us, was a poster Sonderkommando Sobibor.

Tired and hungry, we left the car. Armed SS officers stood there and Oberscharfuhrer Gomerski shouted “Cabinet makers and carpenters with no families forward.”

Eighty men were led into the camp and locked in a barrack. Older prisoners informed us about Sobibor. We had all fought in the war and suffered in labour camps but we were so horrified about Sobibor that we could not sleep that night.

Shlomo Leitman, a Polish Jew from Sheroka, was lying at my side. “What will become of us?” he asked. I didn’t answer pretending to sleep. I couldn’t get over my reaction and was thinking of Nelly, a little girl who travelled in my boxcar and who was, no doubt, dead already. I thought of my own daughter Elochka.

On September 24, I wrote in my diary: “We are in the camp of Sobibor, we rise at 5.00 am, get a litre of warm water, but no bread, at 5.30 we are counted, at 6.00 we leave for work, in columns of threes, Russian Jews are in front, then Poles, Czech and Dutch.”

A work detail at Sobibor

I remember when the SS man Frenzel ordered us to sing, Cybulski was walking at my side, “What shall we sing?” he asked and I answered, “We only know one song: Yesli Zavtra Voyna.” It was a patriotic Russian song and it gave us hope for freedom.

Soldiers led us to the Nordlager, a new section of the camp. Nine barracks were already built there and others were under construction. Our group was split in two, one part was sent to build, the other to cut wood. On our first day of work, fifteen people got twenty-five lashes each for incompetence.

On September 25, we unloaded coal all day and were given only twenty minutes for lunch. The cook* was unable to feed us all in such a short time. Frenzel was furious and ordered the cook to sit down. Then he whipped him while whistling a marching tune. The soup tasted as though it had been mixed with blood and although we were very hungry, many of us were unable to eat.

Our arrival at the camp made a great impression on the older prisoners: they knew well that the war was going on, but had never seen the men who fought in it. And these newcomers could handle arms!

Karl Frenzel

We were approached by men and women who made us understand that their wish was to get out of hell. I couldn’t speak Yiddish so Shlomo Leitman who was born in Warsaw, acted as interpreter. We could understand some Polish as it resembles Russian.

I wanted to know the topography of Sobibor. Camp Number 1 where we lived, included workshops and kitchens. Camp Number 2 the reception centre of the new arrivals, had storage for the belongings stolen from the prisoners , a corridor led to Camp Number 3 and its gas chambers.

On September 26, twenty-five prisoners were whipped, a young Dutchman tall and lean, was chopping wood, but was not strong enough for the task. The SS guard hit him on the head. Astonished I stopped working. Furious, the guard shouted, “I give you five minutes to chop this wood, if you fail, you will get twenty-five lashes.”

I hit the wood as though it were his head. “You did it in four and a half minutes,” said the Nazi looking at his watch. He offered me a cigarette. “Thanks, I don’t smoke,” I replied.

27 September. We were still working at the Nordlager. At 9 a.m. Kali-Mali, from Sheroka, whose real name was Shubayev, told me, “All the Germans have left, only the Kapo is here, why?”

I answered, “I don’t know, but let us see where we are.” A prisoner informed us, “If they are not here, it means that a convoy has just arrived, look over there at the Camp Number 3.”  We heard a terrible scream from a woman, followed by children wailing, “Mother, mother.” And, as if to add to the horror, the bawling of geese joined the human wailing.

Drawing of the camp layout at Sobibor

A farmyard was established in the camp to enrich the menus of the SS men, and the bawling of the geese covered the shrieks of the victims.

My helplessness at these crimes horrified me, Shlomo Leitman and Boris Cybulski were livid, “Sasha, let us escape, we are only 200 metres from the forest, we can cut the barbed wire with our axes and run,” said Boris. “We must escape all together and soon: winter is near and snow is not our friend,” he added.

On September 28, one week after I arrived at the camp, I knew everything about the hell of Sobibor. Camp Number 4 was on a hill: each section was surrounded with barbed wire and was mined. I was informed of the exact place occupied by the personnel, the guards and the arsenal.

Next day, the 600 prisoners, men and women were taken to the station to unload eight cars of bricks. Each of us was forced to run and fetch eight bricks; the one who failed was whipped twenty-five times. We finished our work in less than an hour and we returned to our commando’s. The reason for the haste, a new convoy was just entering the station.

Our group of eighty men was finally led to Camp Number 4, I was working near Shlomo; another prisoner from Sheroka approached me and whispered, “We have decided to escape; there are only five SS officers, and we can wipe them out. The forest is near.”

Leon Feldhendler

I replied, “Easier said than done, the five guards are not together. When you finish with one, the second shoots at us; and how shall we cross the minefields?  Wait the time is near.”

 At night, Baruch (Leon Feldhendler)** told me, “It is not the first time that we have planned to finish with Sobibor, but very few of us know how to use arms. Lead us, and we shall follow you.” His intelligent face inspired trust and gave me courage. I asked him to form a group of the most reliable prisoners.

On October 7, I gave to Baruch (Feldhendler) my first instructions on how to dig a tunnel. “The carpenters’ workshop is at the end of the camp, five metres from the barbed wire; the net of three rows of barbed wire occupies four metres to fifteen metres; let us add seven metres, the length of the barrack.

We shall start digging under the stove and the tunnel will be no more than thirty-five metres long and eighty centimetres deep, because of the danger of mines. We shall have at least twenty cubic metres of earth to hide, and shall leave that earth under the floorboards. The job must be done only at night.”

We all agreed to start working: the digging of the tunnel would take us fifteen to twenty days. But the plan presented weak spots: between 11pm and 5am six hundred persons had to pass in Indian file the thirty-five meters of the tunnel and run a good distance from the camp in order to avoid the posse of the SS.

SS Man Hubert Gomerski

I said, “I also have other ideas, meanwhile, let us prepare our first arms: seventy well whetted knives or razor blades.” Barauch (Feldhendler) said that the Kapo’s were interested in our plans and could be very helpful, since they walked freely in the camp. I thought that their help was vital, “All right, I accept,” I said.

October 8 1943. A new transport arrived. Janek, the carpenters’ supervisor, needed three prisoners to help him. Shlomo, another prisoner and I were chosen and sent to Camp Number 1. That same evening, Barauch (Feldhendler) brought Shlomo seventy well whetted knives.

October 9: Grisha, who was caught sitting while cleaning wood, got twenty-five lashes. It was a bad day, thirty of our people had been flogged for various transgressions and we were exhausted. In the evening Kali-Mali came to the barracks, out of breath.

He informed me that Grisha and seven of our men were ready to escape and asked us to join them. “Come with us, the site near the barbed wire is badly lit, we will kill the guard with an axe and then we will run to the forest.” We went to find Grisha, and I explained to him that reprisals would be terrible even if his plan succeeded. I had to use threats before I persuaded him to plan only a collective escape. 

October 10: I saw an SS officer with his arm in a sling. I was told that it was Greischutz back from his leave. He had been wounded in a Russian air raid.  Later, Shlomo an I met the Kapo Brzecki*** who knew that we were preparing something. “Take me with you; together we shall accomplish more. I know the end awaits us all,” he said, and he also asked us to include the kapo Geniek. I answered, “Could you kill a Nazi?” He thought for a moment, and replied, “Yes, if it is necessary for our cause.”


  • 1919

Alexander Pechersky~Continued

October 11: That morning, we heard screams followed by shots. We were locked up in the barracks and guards stood around us. The shooting lasted a long time and seemed to be coming from theNordlager. We feared the prisoners had tried to escape before we were ready. Soon we learned the cause of the fusillade, a group of new prisoners already undressed, had revolted and had tried to run in the direction of the barbed wire.

The guards began to shoot and killed many of them instantly. The others were dragged to Camp Number 3. That day, the crematorium burned longer than usual. Huge flames rose up in the grey autumn sky and the camp was lit with strange colours. Helpless and distressed, we looked at the bodies of our brothers and sisters.

October 12: It was a terrible day: eighteen of our friends, many from Sheroka, were sick. Several SS men, under the direction of Frenzel, entered our barrack and asked the patients to follow them. Among them was a young Dutch prisoner with his wife, and the unfortunate man could hardly walk. The woman was running after the group screaming, “Murderers, I know where you are taking my husband. I can’t live without him! Assassins, murderers.” She died with the group.

Shlomo and I ordered a meeting for 9.00 pm, at the carpenters’ workshop. Baurach (Feldhendler) Shlomo, Janek, the tailors Joseph and Jacob, Moniek and others were present. We posted a sentry at the entrance. Moniek went to fetch Brzecki and, when both returned, I asked Brzecki again if he had thought over the consequences of his decision; if the plan failed, he would be the first to die.

He said, “I know it, but we must get rid of the SS officers and this should take one hour, if we could do it in less time, so much the better. For that purpose, we need efficient and determined men, since one moments hesitation would be fatal, and I know some capable people, who can do the job.”

At 3.00 pm Brzecki was to lead three of his men to Camp Number 2 under any pretext that he would find himself. Their task would consist of liquidating the four officers present. Baurach (Feldhendler) would lead the SS men to a place where the prisoners would be waiting, and would prevent anyone from leaving Camp Number 2 once the action had begun.

Allied Decode referring to the revolt at Sobibor

At exactly 4 o’clock, another team would cut the telephone wires from Camp Number 2 to the guards’ quarters. The same team would hide those wires in such a way as to make it impossible to reconnect the telephone on the same day. At the same time, we were to start killing SS officers, they would be invited, one by one, into the workshops where two of our men would execute them. At 4.30 pm everything would be finished.

At the same time Brzecki and Geniek would assemble the prisoners for the usual evening roll call. In front would be the Soviet prisoners who were to take over the arsenal and the rest of us would cover them. Once the arsenal was open, armed men would head the group and kill the guards at the gate. If they resisted we would fight with the arms taken from the officers.

Near the workshops and the officers’ villas was a mesh of barbed wire. There the ground was mined, but less dangerous. Stones were to be thrown in order to destroy the mines.

These were the details of the plan: I added that I had long discussions with Shlomo and I couldn’t think of anything better. I asked everybody to think it over again, and a new meeting was planned for the next day, under the strictest secrecy.

Just before the revolt, an idea occurred to me and I wanted to check if it was right. Having observed the behaviour of the guards for a long time, I knew that every morning each of them got five bullets for his rifle. I also noticed that, with the changing of each guard, the bullets were handed over to the next guard. This meant that the guards who were not on duty had no bullets.

In order to check my findings, I asked Brzecki to find an excuse to send me to the guards’ barracks. On October 13 at 10.00am, the carpentry workshop got an order to send a man to the barracks in order to repair the doors. Janek sent me there and, while I was visiting the rooms, I was glad to see that my idea was correct.

October 14: “On the night of October 13 we distributed knives and hatchets, as well as warm clothes.” I was to remain in the carpentry workshop where, from the window, I could watch what was happening in Camp Number 3. In the next barrack, Shlomo and a team of twenty men were repairing our  beds.

SS funeral for German guards killed in the Sobibor Revolt

 According to our plan, at 4.00 and at 4.15 pm, two SS men were to appear at the tailors’ workshop. At the same time, two officers Greischutz and

Getzinger **** were in another workshop. Frenzel was supervising the building of some cupboards.

Rosenfeld’s job was to kill him. Friedrich Gaulstich would enter the carpentry workshop where Shlomo would be waiting. Other SS officers of Camp Number 2 were to be enticed into different workshops.

Each of us had his task: Shubayev, aged twenty-five, a railway engineer from Rostov, a good and simple buddy, would go to the tailors’ workshop with Moniek.  Cybulski, a thirty-five year old driver, a former truck driver from Donbass, and accompanied by Michael and Bunio. Guided by Brzecki, they were to go to Camp Number 2 to meet Barauch (Feldhendler).

At 2 pmSS Unterscharfuhrer Walter Ryba came to Brzecki, he had a machine gun, and that worried me. That morning Frenzel noticed that Janek was better dressed than usual, but Geniek reassured us. Brzecki had to go to Camp Number 4 with other prisoners in order to stack wood. The guard took his machine gun only because he was the sole supervisor.

Geniek was to lead the four men to Camp Number 2. At first he asked us to postpone it to the next day, but that was impossible. Although the details of our plan were known only to the committee and a small group, the other prisoners felt that something was going to happen and kept asking: “Well, when will it be?”

Simon Mazurkewich

On the eve of October 14th, the older people said prayers, it was Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. ***** Some inmates told them, “Better pray for Sasha to help you.” They answered, “We are praying to God to help Sasha.”

We had another reason for not postponing our plan: On October 14 Gomerski was on vacation. The Lagerfuhrer Frenzel was a bastard but, compared to Gomerski, he seemed a choirboy. “Tomorrow may be too late,” I said to Geniek, “we have to do what we decided, and you must obey.”

At 3.20 pm Geniek came to Cybulski’s barrack with Shlomo and the two others. Two officers were killed by Wajspapier in the shoemakers’ barrack while Jacob was giving them their boots. At 4.15 I heard that Cybulski, Michael and Barauch (Feldhendler) had accomplished their mission at Camp Number 2. At 4pm I had met Luka, the Dutch girl****** and told her, “The officers will soon be dead, be ready to escape.” As she trembled, I added, “What we are doing is the only way to survive, we have no right to give up living, we must avenge ourselves.”

At 4.30 pm, Brzecki returned from Camp Number 4 with the commando and Unterscharfuhrer Gaulstich arrived soon afterwards. Shlomo told him, “We have done the repairs in the barracks, now the workers do not know what to do.” The SS man went in: Shlomo’s hatchet awaited him.

Frenzel didn’t come, and later we learned that SS officer Ryba had been killed in the garage. Now it was vital to leave, Brzecki whistled and prisoners were directed to Camp Number 1 in a disorderly way. This infuriated the guard, a Volksdeutsch from the Volga region, he was killed with an axe.

A new group coming from Camp Number 2, entered Camp Number 1 where prisoners were just learning what was happening. A Ukrainian guard began to shoot, a mighty “Hurrah” was heard. “Forward, Forward shouted the prisoners.

Alexander Pechersky after the war

They were running towards the gate, shooting with rifles, cutting barbed wire with pliers. We crossed a minefield and many lost their lives. My group marched towards the quarter where the SS lived, and several of us were killed. Between the camp and the forest there was an immense clearing and here, too, many fell.

At last, we got to the forest, but Shlomo and Luka were missing. We walked all night in a column, one by one. I was up front, followed by Cybulski, while Arkady brought up the rear. We were all silent, from time to time, a light was visible in the sky.

After walking three kilometres we reached a canal, that was five or six metres wide and quite deep. Suddenly we saw a group of men. Arkady went crawling off to investigate. He found Shubayev and many other friends. Together we built a bridge with tree trunks, and then I learned that Shlomo had been wounded while escaping. Unable to run, he asked to be put to death. Of course nobody listened to him and he stayed behind with other prisoners.

Our group numbered fifty-seven people. After walking another five kilometres, we heard the noise of a train. We were on the edge of a wood, an area of bushes in front of us. Dawn was approaching and we needed a safe place to hide. I knew the Nazis were after us and we thought that a group of trees near a railway wouldn’t attract the attention of our enemy. We decided to remain there during the day, camouflaged by branches.

At dawn, it was raining. Arkady and Cybulski left to explore the terrain on one side, Shubayev and I on the other. We found an abandoned site near the forest. Cybulski and Arkady reached the railway line. Poles were working there, but without a guard. We hid and posted two sentries nearby; these sentries were to be changed every three hours. All day, planes were flying over our heads. We heard the voices of the Polish workers.

At night, we saw two men looking for something, we understood that they were fugitives who had returned from the direction of Bug, “Why haven’t you crossed the river?” I asked. They told us that they had been near a village where they learned that soldiers were sent along the Bug River to check all points.

Toivia Blatt

I asked if they had met Luka, and they assured me that they had seen her in the forest, leaving for Chelm with Polish Jews. We formed a new column, Cybulski and I leading, Arkady and Shubayev in the rear. After five kilometres we reached the forest, but we couldn’t find enough food so we decided to split into small groups, each taking a different direction. My unit included, Shubayev, Cybulski, Arkady, Michael Itzkovich and Simon Mazurkewich.

We set off eastwards, guided by the stars. We walked at night, and hid during the day. Our objective was to cross the Bug River. We approached little villages to beg for food and to ask our way. We were often told, “Prisoners escaped from Sobibor where people are being burned, they are looking for fugitives.”

We reached the village of Stawki, a kilometre and a half from the Bug River. We had spent the day in the forest and, at sunset, three of us entered a hut. A thirty- year old peasant was cutting and gathering tobacco leaves, an old man was near a stove. In a corner, a baby’s cradle was hanging from the ceiling, and a young woman was rocking it. “Good evening, may we come in?”

“Come in, come in,” answered the young man. “Draw the curtains,” said Cybulski. We sat down, everyone was quiet. “Could you tell us where to cross the Bug?” asked Shubayev. “I don’t know,” said the young man. “You must know, you have been living here long enough. We know that there are places where the water is low, and the crossing easy.” I said. “If you are so sure, then go. We know nothing, and we have no right to go near rivers.”

We talked a little longer, and told them that we were escaped war prisoners and wished to return home. At last the young man said, “I shall show you the direction, but I won’t go to the river. Find it yourselves, be careful, it is guarded everywhere since prisoners escaped from a camp where soap is made with human fat. The fugitives are being chased everywhere, even underground. If you are lucky, you will get to the other side. I wish you luck.”

Toivi Blatt and Alexander Pechersky in 1980 speaking on the revolt at Sobibor

“Let’s go before the moon rises.”  “Wait” said the young woman, “take some bread for the way.” We thanked them and the old man blessed us with the sign of the cross. The same night, October 19 we crossed the Bug. On the 22nd, eight days after the uprising, we met a unit of partisans of the Voroshilov detachment.


Testimony of Yacov Gurfein about the Sobibor Transport "Jumpers"

Photo of a German soldier near the bridge at Sanok

Israeli Police, 6th Bureau

Date: 23. 6. 1960

Investigating Officer:  Rosenfeld

Yacov Gurfein

Date of Birth: Born 

Place of Birth:  Sanok, Poland

Profession: Carpenter

Father’s Name:  Abraham Gurfein

I was born in Sanok, Galicia Poland.

In the summer of 1942 they put me and my family, plus forty other people in a work camp of the Schutzpolizei in Dabrowka, near Sanok. The work there consisted of the building of houses and barracks intended for a police school.

In September 1942, the Gestapo suddenly came in and took out five or six children and about twenty adults, among them my father and other relatives, and transferred them to a transit camp in the town of Zaslaw before taking them to the extermination camp at Belzec.

At the same time they killed in the above –named camp about five hundred Jews by shooting and about ten thousand were sent in special transports to Belzec.

I stayed in the work camp until November 1942 and after that they transferred my group (about sixteen people) to the ghetto in Sanok. We stayed there until January 1943, and that same night the Gestapo and police surrounded the ghetto and took me and four hundred men and women and led us on foot to Zaslaw.

On the way they collected another one hundred Jews who worked in the Zaliniski factory constructing railway carriages. They concentrated all of us in Zaslaw – we were about one thousand three hundred people in all.

They held us in a big, locked hall for three nights and two days, without food or water. On 13 January 1943, they took all of us, except twenty who remained behind to collect our personal belongings, and loaded us into railway freight- are wagons which were intended for eight horses or forty men.

We were one hundred and thirty altogether. Before we got in they took all our personal belongings. The train started and after passing Jaroslaw I noticed the direction of the journey was Belzec.

The windows and doors were closed from the outside with planks of wood and barbed-wire. On the way we broke through one of the windows and people stated jumping through it while the train was moving.

I was the seventh to jump and fell down. I hid in a pile of snow. That was about two or three o’clock in the morning. The guards who noticed opened fire and afterwards stopped the train, which was already a few hundred metres ahead.

I was inside a snowdrift for about two hours, when I heard the train was going I got up and walked towards a Polish village. I can’t remember its name, from there I walked to Jaroslaw and took a train to Przemysl.

  -Yacov Gurfein


  • 1921

Leon Feldhendler

Leon Feldhendler (Lejb Feldhendler)

(1910 – 6 April 1945)

Was a Polish-Jewish resistance fighter known for his role in organizing, with Alexander Pechersky, the 1943 prisoner uprising at the Sobibor extermination camp. Prior to his deportation to Sobibor, Feldhendler had been head of the Judenrat (Ger. "Jewish Council") in his village of ?ó?kiewka, Lublin Voivodeship, inGerman-occupied Poland.

The uprising, which took place on October 14, 1943, was detected in its early stages after a guard discovered the body of an SS officer killed by the prisoners. Nevertheless, about 320 Jews managed to make it outside of the camp in the ensuing melee.

Eighty were killed in the escape and immediate aftermath. 170 were soon recaptured and killed, as were all the remaining inhabitants of the camp who had chosen to stay. Some escapees joined the partisans. Of these, ninety died in combat or were killed by local collaborators or anti-Semites. Sixty-two Jews from Sobibor survived the war, including nine who had escaped earlier.

Feldhendler was among those who survived the war, hiding in Lublin until the end of German occupation in July 1944. However, on April 2, 1945, he was shot through the closed door of his flat as he got up to investigate a commotion in an outer room.

Feldhendler and his wife managed to escape through another door and made their way to Lublin's ?w. Wincentego á Paulo hospital, where he underwent surgery but died four days later. According to most of the older publications, Feldhendler was killed by right-wing Polish nationalists, sometimes identified as the Narodowe Si?y Zbrojne, an anti-Communist and anti-Semitic paramilitaryorganization which formed part of the Polish resistance.

However, at least one recent paper, citing the incomplete treatment of the event by earlier historians and the scant documentary record, has called into question this version of events. Feldhendler's killing was one of at least 118 murders of Jews in the Lublin district between the summer of 1944 and the fall of 1946.

Sobibor urpising survivors pictured in 1944. Feldhendler is back row, far right. Leon Feldhendler was shot and killed through the closed door of his flat in 1945.

  • 1910 – 6 April 1945

Alexei Vaitsen,

Alexei Vaitsen, a former Sobibor Nazi extermination camp prisoner, in his home in Ryazan, holds a Russian newspaper carrying a story and photos of John Demjanjuk, January 27, 2010. "I recognize this man," says Vaitsen. "He was a guard at the camp. I remember him 100 percent."

RYAZAN, Russia -- The witness has grown old and sick. He sits propped on pillows while the snow piles up outside. Recovering from a stroke, he languishes in a cramped apartment because his legs are too frail to negotiate five flights of stairs.

His name is Alexei Vaitsen. He is one of the few Jews to survive the torments of the Nazis' Sobibor death camp and the only member of his family who lived to see the end of World War II.

His thoughts these days are hundreds of miles away, in a distant courtroom where the fate of another sick old man is being weighed. John Demjanjuk, who is accused of being a guard at Sobibor, lay on a bed before a judge in Germany at his trial because, he said, he was not well enough to sit upright.

In Munich, where Demjanjuk is on trial, other aged prisoners have climbed into the witness box. They described the sadism of the guards, detailed the terrors of gas chambers and talked about Jews being led obliviously to their deaths. None of them could remember Demjanjuk.

Vaitsen says he can. He doesn't recognize the more recent photographs of the elderly man with white hair. But he swears he remembers the fresh-faced guard in an old snapshot. And after decades of silence, he seems eager to tell anybody who will listen.

"It's him. I know him," Vaitsen, 88, says vehemently. "I'm 100 percent sure."

After all, he says, there were only a few hundred guards, and he spent more than a year living in terror of their whims.

Are his memories as solid as he thinks? If so, does his evidence help anybody? He wants to know whether, in this trial of frail bodies and dying embers of memory, his story is relevant.

Reports of Vaitsen's account filtered out in Europe last week, and German investigators say it is up to the court to decide whether to call him as a witness. The chief investigator, Kurt Schrimm, said he could be brought in at any time. But retired investigator Thomas Walther, who led the effort that resulted in Germany prosecuting Demjanjuk, expressed skepticism that after so many years and so much publicity, Vaitsen could suddenly provide anything new.

Vaitsen and his family say he has lived with his secrets for decades.

"Everything is hidden inside him," said his grandson, 38-year-old Alexander Vaitsen. "He wakes himself up screaming."

There was a time when Nazi hunting carried a sense of glamour and immediacy. For decades, survivors, Israeli agents and man hunters tracked down the former tormentors. They stripped away false names, plucked criminals from balmy exiles and pushed for justice.

Now it is theater of the half-dead. The victims are old and dying; so are the perpetrators. Demjanjuk is 89 and so sick he can stand trial for only 90 minutes at a time.

As for Vaitsen, whose name is also transliterated from Russian as Weizen, he's hardly enjoying a luxurious retirement. Almost immobilized by the recent stroke, he lives on a slim pension; his grandson is a woodworker who collects disability payments. His friend asks visitors from Moscow to bring a food packet -- sausages, cheese and fruit.

Vaitsen can barely move, but he has one specific memory of a particular young guard, a man he is certain was Demjanjuk, leading a group of prisoners into the forest. Were they going to chop wood, to be punished, to undertake some other task? He doesn't know, but that flash of memory is there.

Demjanjuk is old, he says, but so what? Vaitsen is old too. The years have flown. Demjanjuk had a family and earned a living as an autoworker in Ohio. He was sentenced to death in Israel in 1988 after being identified as the camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible" in the Treblinka death camp. But the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction five years later on the basis of new evidence.


Associated PressJohn Demjanjuk sits in a wheelchair while arriving in a courtroom in Munich southern Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010.As for Vaitsen, even his family was unaware of his past.


He was born in Poland to a Jewish family that moved to a town now in western Ukraine.

As a young man, Vaitsen was a sprinter who also played soccer and worked in the local prosecutor's office. After Soviet forces moved in, he was drafted as a border guard for the Red Army.

Vaitsen said his parents and sister were killed in pogroms sparked by the advance of German troops into Ukraine. German soldiers captured him and put him on a train to Sobibor in occupied Poland. Two of his brothers were also imprisoned in the extermination camp.

Most of the prisoners in the camp were Jewish, and almost all were slaughtered in chambers poisoned with tank exhaust. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands are believed to have been killed.

Demjanjuk has been charged as an accessory to 27,900 deaths at Sobibor.

Vaitsen was among the luckier ones. He was given a job in the arrival hall, where prisoners turned over their clothes, had their hair sheared off and were told they were being sent to bathhouses. From 7 in the morning until 7 at night, he sorted through clothes stripped from prisoners, repairing and refashioning them for reuse.

"All I was thinking about was how to get as far away from this hell as possible," Vaitsen said. "My dream was just to kill all the Germans and get away. Every day started with the thought, 'They'll kill me today.' "

Vaitsen had been scraping out survival for a little more than a year when prisoners hatched a plan to kill the top officers and escape. On an October morning in 1943, they made their move. They killed nearly a dozen German officers and a smattering of Ukrainian guards; hundreds of prisoners escaped into the forest.

"For us prisoners, it was a great pleasure to kill the guards," Vaitsen said of the uprising, almost dreamily.

"We never thought we would survive," Vaitsen said. "God chose us and gave us life. For many years after the war, those who survived were asking ourselves how we managed to survive."

After his escape, Vaitsen says, he joined the partisans and fought in the forests of western Ukraine. He eventually made his way to Russia, where he rejoined the Soviet army.

One of his brothers was put to death in Sobibor before the uprising. The other brother in the camp escaped during the uprising, only to be captured by Poles and tortured to death, Vaitsen said.

For decades, he kept his torments private. The Soviet Union was a place where onetime prisoners of war were often sent to the gulag, suspected of treachery.

Vaitsen married what his family calls "an ordinary Russian woman" -- meaning a non-Jew. He stayed in the military until the 1960s and then took a job as supply manager at a local energy company.

Only 20 years ago, and then just bit by bit, did he begin to tell his family the truth. The Soviet Union was slumping toward extinction, and Vaitsen grew bolder.

The anniversary of his birth was not his real birthday, he told his family. It was Oct. 14, he said, the date he escaped from a death camp.

Today, both his wife and son are dead. Vaitsen is entombed in a Soviet-era apartment complex that could be any other, anywhere in Russia: bricks the color of old sand, aged cars calcifying in the cold, chilled staircases haunted by vague smells of garbage and cigarettes.

He had his first stroke three years ago, when he was describing his Holocaust experiences at a conference.

Still, he is thinking about that trial.

"There was so much dirt and so much death," Vaitsen said. "And he was a horrible man."

Moshe Bahir Testimony about Sobibor at the Eichmann Trial 1961

Attorney General: I call Mr Moshe Bahir..........(Selected Extracts)

Moshe Bahir testifying at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in the District Court of Jerusalem.

Presiding Judge: What is your full name?  

Witness: Moshe Bahir – my name was originally Shkalek

Question: You were born in the town of Plock in Poland?

Answer: Yes

Question: You were there until 1941?

Answer: Yes

Question: And there you were deported from Plock?

Answer: Correct

Question: Where to?

Answer: To the Zhodova camp

Question: And from there?

Moshe Bahir - Participant in the Sobibor revolt

Answer: We were there for four days, from there we were deported to Czestochowa

Question: You were there for several months?

Answer: Yes

Presiding Judge: How old are you now?

Answer: I am now thirty-three your honour

Attorney General: You were transferred to Zamosc, and two weeks later to a nearby village called Komarow?

Answer: Yes

Question: You were there until 16 March 1942?

Answer: Either the 16th or 17th

Question: What happened to you on that day?

Answer: It seems to me that it was 17 March. We were taken to the large market place in Komarow. They selected all the men who were employed at places of work that were of value to the Germans. Amongst them was my father who worked at the airport, twelve kilometres from Komarow.

Question: And you too?

Answer: I was not working

Question: But you were also selected?

German barracks at Komarow

Answer: I was in the market place, together with my mother and brother. My father was taken away from the market place. I was left there with my mother and brother and other persons who were older than I.

I could easily have escaped, because we were not so strictly guarded. My father was also standing there, since he had a card indicating that he was an airport worker. He asked me to run away. I told him I wanted to go with my mother. We did not know where we were being sent to. We left the next day for Zamosc and, on the 18 March, we went from Zamosc to Sobibor.

Question: How long did the journey last from Zamosc to Sobibor?

Answer: I reached Sobibor on 20 March 1942, in the afternoon

Question: How many people, approximately, were there on that train?

Answer: I think there were about two thousand five hundred people

Question: What did things look like when you got off the train?

Answer: I remember that before we went in, the first five railway carriages were brought into the camp ahead of us. I was in the second section of the transport. When the first five carriages were brought into the camp, I saw that the people inside the carriages were beginning to say the confessional prayer.

According to Jewish tradition, a person who is critically ill should be urged to confess his sins. If he is unable to compose his own confession, he may recite the customary formula. I did not know what this meant. I also did not know the meaning of the term “the death camp Sobibor.”

Deportation of Jews from Zamosc

I must say that the majority did not know it, my mother also was not sure. But it was only then that I became aware of, or I understood, what was the meaning..

The moment my mother took out her last slice of bread, which she was preserving for the time when my brother or I might faint from hunger, and began to share it out to other children, I said to myself – despite the fact that I was a boy of fourteen and a half – apparently there is no longer any need for her to keep a slice of bread for her own children. This made me understand that we would no longer need to eat. About half an hour later, the remaining carriages, including the one I was in, were brought into the camp.

Question: Now, please tell us, were the doors opened from the outside?

Answer: All the doors of the carriages were opened, German SS men, in green uniforms, were standing there, as well as Ukrainians in black uniforms. While I was still on the train, I heard the word “Aufmachen” (Open –up) and all the carriages were opened up simultaneously. There was terrible shouting. They began taking us to Camp 1.

Question: All of you together?

Answer: The second transport – that is to say, the second section of the transport.

Question: What happened to the women and the children from the train?

Answer: When we entered Camp 1, the women and children were separated to the right and the men to the left. I went along with my mother and brother. My mother held my hand. My mother held my hand from the moment we were about to leave, since the women and children went ahead of the men towards the gas chambers.

Pre war photo of Oberscharfuhrer Gustav Wagner

At the point when I was already at the exit point of Camp 1, together with the women, Oberscharfuhrer Gustav Wagner held me back, he halted me and said, “Du bist ein Mann,” (you are a man) and pushed me towards the men.

They waited for half an hour, fifty of these men were chosen for work, including myself. I should like to point out that there were not many men in this transport – most of them were women and children.

Question: Have you seen your mother and brother since then?

Answer: I have never seen them since. My brother was younger than I was he was twelve and a half.

Attorney General: And they walked towards the gas chambers in Camp 3?

Answer: First of all to Camp 2, where the women took off their clothes, and from there towards Camp 3

Question: What kind of work were you given at Sobibor, Mr Bahir?

Answer: The first job of work I had to do was to clear a hut of pots and all kinds of eating utensils belonging to victims who had preceded us, since there was no place to sleep. There were a number of small huts for artisans. They were from the first transport, from which people had been selected for work. I was in the second transport, from which they kept back men for regular work.

Presiding Judge: You say that they emptied a hut of eating utensils?

Answer: Yes, your Honour, the hut was full of eating utensils, and around the hut there was a pile, three times as large, of eating utensils only, pots which the people had brought to the camp at Sobibor before my arrival.

Attorney General: And you had to clear them away?

Paul Groth

Answer: Yes, and after that we constructed bunks. I also worked, at first in transferring personal belongings from Camp 2 to the train.

Question: What personal belongings were there in Camp 2?

Answer: There was a very high heap. I do not remember its length or dimensions, but it was a very large one. We worked for a month in removing it from Camp 2 to the carriages.

Question: What did this pile contain?

Answer: Only personal belongings of the people who preceded us

Presiding Judge: Clothing 

Answer: I am talking only about clothing. Apart from the large pile at Camp 2, which stretched as far as the Lazarett– close to the Lazarett there were also three huts full of clothes, near the railway station, at a place which was subsequently evacuated and occupied by the Ukrainians.

Question: What was it that you referred to as the Lazarett?

Answer: It was a pit, not far from the camp – five hundred metres away from the camp and from where we were working. When we were running two hundred metres with the bundles, there was a pit, and when someone was injured or had his sexual organs bitten by the dog Barry,Unterscharfuhrer Paul Groth would say to him: “What happened to you, my poor man? You can’t carry on like that. Who did that to you? Come with me to the Lazarett.”

And he went with him, a few minutes later we would hear a shot.

He would accompany tens of workers in this way every day. I am referring to men who were selected for work, for they did not choose men for work every day. They selected them when they needed them for work, if on one day, fifty men were selected for work, the following day they killed eleven men of our group.

Rails outside of Sobibor

This was done by Paul Groth, who led them all to the Lazarett.

Attorney General: Were those who arrived on transports also transferred to the Lazarett?  Those who arrived on the transports – men, women and children – were they also taken to the Lazarett?

Answer: At a later stage, not at the beginning. At a later stage, there were small carts that came right up to the hut, and into these they used to throw the sick people and the aged, together with those who were dead. On the way, it often happened that the dead bodies lay on top of the old persons, and the old ones on the sick. These were sent directly to the Lazarett and not to Camp 3.

Question: To the gas chambers?

Answer: They did not go to the gas chambers, but to the Lazarett

Question: So you were in Sobibor from 20 March 1942, until when?

Answer: Until 14 October 1943, the day of the revolt

Question: Did you also have work to do at the railway station?

Answer: My first job after transferring the personal belongings from Camp 2 was with the Bahnhofkommando (Railway Station Unit)

Question: What was the Bahnhofkommando?

Answer: It was a group of twenty or twenty-five men who helped to remove the bundles belonging to the people who were transferred to the death camp of Sobibor, after the victims had alighted from the wagons, and they cleared the platform, in order that the transport waiting outside would be able to come in.

Later we had a truck on to which we loaded the personal belongings in order to speed up the work, and they used to transfer the belongings to Camp 2 in this manner.

SS men who served at Sobibor & Treblinka

Question: You also had another job – polishing boots?

Answer: Yes. That was additional job. I used to get up an hour and a half before work and for this reason did not have to attend the morning roll call. I used to polish the boots of the officers – I and my friend Joseph Pines.

Question: On one occasion, did Senior German officers arrive at Sobibor when you were polishing boots?

Answer: Yes I remember that.

Question: Please describe it to us

Answer: It was in the month of July 1942. I remember this incident well. I remember that two hours before the arrival of the train, my friend Joseph Pines, and I was called to polish the officer’s boots.

The officers’ quarters were near the platform, at approximately 11.00 or 11.30, two hours after I had been called, I saw a luxury train coming in to Sobibor.

Question: In what way was this a luxury train?

Answer: The victims who arrived in those days were brought in freight cars, and you could see all kinds of belongings hanging out of the cars. This one was a train with passenger carriages.

A group of senior officers alighted from it, and it was headed by Himmler who stood out with his spectacles and long coat. There were eight other officers, one of whom was Eichmann and together with them three civilians.

Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem

Question: How did you know that this was Eichmann?

Answer: Sir, I did not know that it was Eichmann, I also did not know that it was Himmler. On that day, the Jews were not at work, and when I came to the camp, I told my comrades what I had seen, and then I was told that the first officer was Himmler, according to his pictures.


They did not know Eichmann, I did not know it was Eichmann until after I had left the camp. In 1945 I was in Lublin. By the time I was in Lublin, half of Poland had already been liberated in 1944 and I went around all the time with a feeling that I had undergone something which no other Jew had experienced, possibly because I had been a young boy.

I had this feeling and I tried to give vent to my emotions, I tried to unburden my heart to people, one of whom was Dr Emil Sommerstein. He was the only Jew in the first Polish Government which had come from Russia. I came to him and told him; I told him a great deal. And he said to me, “In Lublin there is an Institute of Documentation (The Central Jewish Historical Commission in Lublin whose materials were transferred to Lodz in 1945, and in 1947 became the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw) since you remember these officers so well, perhaps you will be able to identify some of the SS officers in Sobibor.”

I went there and was shown some pictures and, in one of the photographs, I pointed out the men whom I had seen. First of all I pointed to this man – he was the first, Himmler, and I saw one other, there were four men in the picture I saw – and amongst them I pointed to Eichmann.

He said: “Don’t think that Himmler was the only one who dealt with the Jewish question, there were others as well; there was also Heydrich, there was someone else called Eichmann – he was responsible for the transports to all the extermination camps.” Then I got to know that that man was called Eichmann, until then I did not know, nor did anyone else know, that he was Eichmann.

Dr. Emil Sommerstein

Question: That man that you saw in July 1942 – did you see him again in Sobibor?

Answer: I saw him for the second time in 1943 – roughly in the month of February, but then it was not a train that arrived – then the officers arrived by plane – we also knew that.

I was then working in the German officers’ casino. I worked there for eight months, starting the day after the first visit, for on the day after that first visit, the two Jewish girls who worked in the German casino were killed, and in their stead I was chosen to work there, together with my friend, Joseph Pines. From that day, I worked in the casino until March 1943, about one month after the second visit of Himmler, and his colleagues.  

Question: Is this Joseph Pines still alive?

Answer: He was killed during the revolt

Question: In the casino you were engaged in cleaning, cooking and sewing?

Answer: Yes, I was engaged in cleaning, cooking and serving. I also had a special uniform and I used to change it twice daily, and I also took a shower before serving.

Question: On the day the plane arrived, did the Jews go out to work?

Answer: No. Again, they did not go out to work. We prepared special food and I remember they ate horse-flesh - that was something “special”.

Presiding Judge: Was this prepared for the officers?

Judge Benjamin Halevi

Answer: No, for the Jews, a festive meal, on that day – the day of Himmler’s second visit – the Jews did not go out to work.

Judge Halevi: On the second occasion was it without Himmler?

Answer: Himmler was there also.

Question: Exactly the same officers? 

Answer: Not exactly the same officers. On the first occasion I saw Himmler, Eichmann, the three civilians were not present on the second occasion. They were escorted on the second occasion by officers armed with guns. I did not notice any guards on the first visit. This was apparently Himmler’s personal guard.

Presiding Judge: How much time elapsed between the two visits?

Answer: About seven months, from July 1942 to February 1943

Question: Did these officers, Himmler and the others, go into the casino?

Answer: On the first occasion, they did not enter the casino

Question: And when you worked in the casino?

Franz Reichleitner (center)

Answer: On the day of that visit, when he had already returned from Camp 3. He visited only Camp 3, accompanied by Franz Reichleitner, who was the camp commander at that time

Question: Where did you see them?

Answer: My immediate superior in the casino Paul Bredow, heard from Oberscharfuhrer* Beckmann who had returned from Camp 3, that the visitors were soon coming back from there.

He was not even aware that the plane had already landed, as soon as he heard this he sent me hurriedly to the camp with my friend, Joseph Pines. When I arrived there, the gate was locked, and by the time the Ukrainian guard opened the gate they had already come quite near, two or three metres away, and then I recognised them.

Attorney General: Mr Bahir, at what intervals did the transports arrive at Sobibor – roughly as far as you are able to remember? Did a train arrive every day?

Answer: I remember certain periods. I remember a period when there were fewer trains, during the first period, when I was selected for work, fewer transports arrived – two transports came daily, perhaps there had been an instruction not to send so many.

Paul Bredow

Question: I am not asking you about instructions. My question is: What did you see? Who arrived?

Answer: Later on, there was a time when many transports arrived – two each day, sometimes three. One at night, which had to wait until morning, and two more during the day. There were several such periods. The peak period which I can remember was from May to July, August 1942.

The second period was from October 1942 to the beginning of January 1943, when there were again many transports, two and sometimes three, daily.

Question: May I have exhibit T/1294 the photograph which the previous witness identified?

Can you identify the man in the picture?

Answer: Yes. He was called “Hauptmann” – I remember him well, he was the first commandant before Franz Reichleitner.

Question: What was his name?

Eichmann listens to testimony against him at his trial

Answer: I don’t remember his name exactly – Waran or Wirren. ** They called him Hauptmann, he was always riding on horseback with a long cape in the direction of Camp 3. Wiron, or something like that, I don’t remember his name.

Dr Servatius:  Witness, you said you recognised Eichmann in a photograph that was shown to you in Lublin. In which office was that? Perhaps it would be possible to obtain the photograph some time today?

Answer: Certainly. I saw the picture at the Institute of Documentation in Lublin and a second time about one and a half or nearly two years afterwards. A book was published in Poland in three languages. The title of the book was We Shall Never Forget – both in English and French. It consists of photographs only, and amongst them there is one on which I recognised Eichmann.


Christian Wirth

WIRTH, Christian SS-Sturmbannführer SS-Number: 345 464 
24/11/1885 - 26/05/1944 

Inspector of all Aktion Reinhard death camps and in charge of DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke) at Lublin Airfield. 


Born in Oberbalzheim, Württemberg. After leaving school he trained as a carpenter, after WW1 as a builder. Served in the army from 1905 until 1910. Policeman since 1910. During WW1 in the army again, since 1917 in the military police. After WW1 to the Stuttgart Kripo, became a Kriminal Kommissar by 1939. NSDAP 1931 (no. 420.383), SA 1933, SS 1939. 
In October 1939 to Grafeneck euthanasia centre.

Then in Brandenburg, Hadamar (chief of registry office) and Hartheim (head clerk and chief of police until Summer 1941). 
In mid-1940, Wirth was appointed as a kind of roving director or inspector of all euthanasia institutions throughout the ThirdReich. At the Brandenburg euthanasia centre, he experimented in developing gas chambers for gassing the physically and mentally disabled. 


After the official cessation of the euthanasia programme (September 1941) he was ordered to join the staff of SS- und Polizeiführer im Distrikt Lublin Odilo Globocnik.

The experience gained by Wirth in the euthanasia institutions, his enthusiasm for National Socialism, as well as his innate cruelty were all put to use when he assumed command of Belzec and later was appointed inspector of the Aktion Reinhard death camps. Not only was he the inspector of the death camps and, in this capacity, the actual commander, but also it was he who developed the entire system of the extermination machine in these camps.

It was Wirth who introduced the regime of terror and death in the Aktion Reinhard camps and influenced the daily life and sufferings of the Jewish prisoners there more than any other commander. Because of his cruelty he became known as "Christian the Terrible" by his subordinates. The killing system, as developed by Wirth, enabled the murder of tens of thousands of Jews every day in the three death camps under his jurisdiction. 

Wirth according to Suchomel: "if only someone had had the courage to kill Christian Wirth - then Aktion Reinhard would have collapsed. Berlin would not have found another man with such energy for evil and nastiness." (Tregenza, p.7) 

Wirth was posted to Trieste (Italy) in September 1943 and commanded the SS-Einsatzkommando R, which was composed of former Aktion Reinhard members. On 26 May 1944 partisans killed Wirth near Trieste. His grave (no 716) is marked by a great cross in the German Military Cemetery at Costermano, near Verona (Italy). 

  • 24/11/1885 - 26/05/1944

Richard Thomalla

The Sobibor Camp 'Architect'

THOMALLA, Richard SS-Hauptsturmführer 
23/10/1903 - 12/05/1945 

Born in Annahof. Member of NSDAP (no. 1.238.872) and SS (no. 41206). No further details known. 

SERVICE AT BELZEC, SOBIBOR AND TREBLINKA:  "Architect" of all three Aktion Reinhard death camps and their temporary commander. 

Richard Thomalla was the "architect" of Belzec. On 1 November 1941 the construction of Belzec started. It ended in March 1942. At first Polish workers were used, later they were replaced by Jews from the surrounding ghettos. 

FATE:  Thomalla was executed by NKWD (Russian Secret Service) in Jicin, Czechoslovakia on 12 May 1945.

  • 23/10/1903 - 12/05/1945


STANGL, Franz SS-Hauptsturmführer, NSDAP-number: 6.370.447, SS-Number: 296.569 
26/03/1908 - 28//06/1971 

Belonged to the Waffen-SS
He was born in Altmünster, Austria. Profession: first a master weaver changing his career to become a detective in 1931 (political division). In November 1940 deputy head of office at the euthanasia centre Hartheim, successor of Reichleitner and Wirth. In Hartheim he served as policeman and registrar. Later sent to euthanasia centre Bernburg. 

He was the first commander of Sobibor from March 1942 until September 1942. He had very little direct contact with the people sent to their death or with the Jewish prisoners. He was seen only on rare occasions. When transferred to Treblinka his command post was taken over by Reichleitner

At Treblinka from September 1942 until August 1943. 
He received an official commendation as the "best camp commander in Poland". After the Treblinka revolt he was posted and stationed in northern Italy. For a short time at the concentration camp San Sabba. Mainly served as commander ofEinsatz R II in the areas of Fiume and Udine, where he was engaged in actions against partisans and local Jews.
Stangl (middle) in custody after being extradited At the end of the war he fled to Austria, where he was interned by US Forces because of his SS membership. Since late summer 1947 imprisoned in Linz. Accused of having killed mental patients at Hartheim. In May 1948 he escaped from prison and made his way to Rome / Italy. There he got help by bishop Alois Hudal who made it possible for him to get a Red Cross passport and money for his flight to Syria. There he got a job as engineer in Damascus. 
In 1951 he migrated to Brazil where he met his family. In Sao Paulo he worked in the Volkswagen factory. It was not until the mid-1960's that Simon Wiesenthal learned of Stangl's whereabouts. For a total of $7,000 ("one cent for every Jew killed") the informant agreed to divulge Stangl's address and was arrested in Brazil, 1967 and was extradited to the West German authorities. At his first hearing at the West German court, Stangl declared that while it was true that he had been the commander at Treblinka; he had had nothing to do with the killing of Jews. His task, he said, had been solely to supervise the collection and shipment of valuables brought into the camp by the victims. The individual responsible for the killings had been WirthStangl was the only commander of an extermination camp who had been brought to trial. He was tried in the Second Treblinka Trial (1970) in Düsseldorf, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison a few months after the end of the trial on 28 June 1971, of a heart attack. 

  • 26/03/1908 - 28//06/1971

BARBL, Heinrich

BARBL, Heinrich SS-Rottenführer (BDC) 
03/03/1900 - ?/?/? 

Born in Sarleinsbach (Austria). Metalworker. Member of NSDAP and SS. Served at the euthanasia killing centresGrafeneck and Hartheim, preparing metal discs for the urns with the names of the deceased. He took the ash from a big heap. Therefore the relatives received urns with the right name but the wrong contents (Hartheim). 

Here he also installed the gas pipes for the gas chambers. According to testimony of Bauer he was constantly drunk. 

Came to the East in 1942. Served in Sobibor during the construction phase. Installed the gas pipes for the gas chambers in Camp III together with Fuchs. According to his own admission he was only three months in Sobibor. He called himself "Hausklempner" (house plumber) in Belzec and Sobibor

Accused in the Sobibor Trial in Hagen on 6 September 1965. No further details known.

  • 03/03/1900

BAUCH, Ernst

BAUCH, Ernst SS-Unterscharführer 
30/04/1911 - 04/12/1942 

Born in Berlin. Served at Bernburg and Sonnenstein. 

According to evidence of Frenzel and Ittner he served at Sobibor. 

Committed suicide in Berlin in 1942. His funeral was attended by Frenzel.

  • 30/04/1911 - 04/12/1942

BAUER, Hermann Erich

BAUER, Hermann Erich SS-Oberscharführer 
26/03/1900 - 04/02/1980 

Born in Berlin. Tram conductor. Member of SA and SS. T4 driver. Early 1942 ordered to Treblinka and Sobibor. According to Sobibor survivor Philip Bialowitz: the name Bauer reminded him of death. 

Introduced by Fuchs in operating the gassing motor. He called himself "gas master of Sobibor". In the last phase when no more transports came through he was the lorry driver of the camp. He confirmed after the revolt, the deaths of a number of SS-men: "I transported eight coffins to Cholm (Chelm). The rest went by train". 

In 1946 he worked in Berlin, clearing the ruins. There he was recognised in the street by an ex-Sobibor prisoner, Samuel Leer who informed the police. He was arrested and sentenced to death on 8 May 1950 in Berlin-Moabit for his behaviour in Sobibor. After capital punishment was outlawed, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1971. He died in the Berlin-Tegel prison. 

  • 26/03/1900 - 04/02/1980


BECKMANN, Rudolf SS-Oberscharführer 
20/02/? - 14/10/1943 

Born in Osnabrück. NSDAP member (NSDAP No. 305 721) and SS-man. Served perhaps in Hartheim. 

He was in charge of the sorting commando in Camp II where he was also in supervision of the horses. He also managed the administration in the Forsthaus (forester's house) where he was killed during the revolt. 

Killed during the revolt in the ForsthausBauer testified that he brought his corpse to Lublin.


  • 20/02/? - 14/10/1943

BOLENDER, Heinz Kurt

BOLENDER, Heinz Kurt SS-Oberscharführer 
21/05/1912 - 10/10/1966 

Born in Duisburg. "Burner" at Sonnenstein. Served at Brandenburg, Hartheim and Hadamar too. Member of NSDAP and SS. 

Arrived on 22 April 1942 at Sobibor together with Stangl, Frenzel, Gomerski and others. He testified: "I was during my service in Sobibor constantly in Camp III and was there among others also supervisor of the Jewish working command. It is correct that Jews were gassed there. I sorted the Arbeitshäftlinge (working prisoners) into groups. After the gassings took place, a group of them had to empty the gas chambers. Another group took the corpses to the mass graves." 

In July 1942 he was arrested for perjury during his divorce case. He was punished by an SS-court in Krakow on 19 December 1942 and sent to the SS-penal camp Matzkau near Gdansk. Shortly after the revolt in Sobibor he was called back to help dismantling the camp. 
After Sobibor he was ordered to DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke) in Lublin. 
For his services he was awarded the Iron Cross second class on 18 January 1945. 

Sent to Italy. After the war his wife declared him as dead. As he had a number of criminal offences to his name, he found it better to disappear off the records. He lived under the false name "Heinz Brenner", the name he went by at Hartheim. The justice department came to know of him and arrested him in May 1961. 

Instead of a notorious mass murderer he professed to be a "fighter against partisans in the Lublin area". 

During his trial he constantly maintained that there were no sick and cripple people executed in Sobibor - only when he was cross examined he admitted that everything was true. 
During the first Hagen trial, he committed suicide shortly before his judgement was pronounced.

  • 21/05/1912 - 10/10/1966


BREDOW, Paul SS-Unterscharführer 
?/?/1902 - ?/12/1945 

Belonged to police detachment. Apparently from Silesia. Profession: Male nurse. Served at Grafeneck and Hartheim. 

Came to Sobibor with the first group of T4 men together with Stangl. He was a real killer and was known amongst the prisoners as a bully who did not hesitate to mistreat them. During the arrival of transports he waited upon the invalids, whom he, directly after arrival on the ramp, took to the chapel. Here they were executed by him and a platoon of Ukrainians at the Lazarett, of which he was in charge and where his "hobby", fully approved of by Wirth, was "target-shooting". He had set himself a daily quota: shooting fifty Jews a day with his pistol. 
Served here until spring 1943. 

Served at San Sabba, Trieste in Italy. Was killed in an accident in Göttingen.

  • 1902 - ?/12/1945

DUBOIS, Werner Karl

DUBOIS, Werner Karl 
26/02/1913 - ?/?/1973 

Born in Wuppertal. Brought up by his grandmother. Eight years elementary school. Worked as joiner, brushmaker, printer and on a farm. Member of SA since July 1933, NSDAP and SS since January 1937 (SS-Totenkopfverband Brandenburg). Driver at SS-Gruppenkommando Oranienburg. Driver and guard at the concentration camp Sachsenhausen.  
In August 1939 to T4. Bus driver in Brandenburg and Grafeneck. "Burner" and bus driver in Bernburg (from early 1941 until mid 1941) and Hadamar. As "burner" he also transported corpses and urns. 
In late 1941 OT (Organisation Todt) in Russia as driver for wounded soldiers in Wjasma. 
In early April 1942 he was ordered to Lublin for service in Aktion ReinhardSERVICE AT BELZEC: 
In Belzec from April 1942 until April 1943. There he worked as a truckdriver and supervised the Jewish special command at the gas chambers. He gave detailed evidence of how he killed six people in this camp - even remembering after 28 years that he used a 9mm Belgian FN-pistol. He also supervised the arrival of transports. In one instance, he shot 6 incapacitated Jews on Wirth's order, and threw them into the ditch. 
Early June 1943, after the liquidation of Belzec, he was transferred to Sobibor. 

Here he supervised the Waldkommando, served at the ramp and the Lazarett. A fellow SS-man typified him as aDraufgänger (daredevil), who stopped at nothing and nobody and was always shooting a lot. He was responsible for the supervision of the Waldkommando in the forest, when five of the Arbeitshäftlinge managed to escape. 
During the revolt he was heavily wounded at the armoury by axe blows, a knife attack and a shot in the lungs. He had to be treated at the hospital in Chelm Lubelski. 

September 1943 ordered to Italy (BDC), to fight against partisans and to serve in "Aktion R". 
In May 1945 he was arrested by US troops. Released in December 1947. Until his final arrest he worked as locksmith. 
Notwithstanding the fact that he murdered six Jews, he was acquitted at the Belzec Trial (1963 - 64) in München. However in the Sobibor trial (Hagen 1966) he was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment due to his involvement in the murder of at least 15,000 people in Sobibor. 
He died in Münster.

  • 26/02/1913~1973

FLOSS, Herbert

FLOSS, Herbert SS-Scharführer 
25/08/1912 - 22/10/1943 

Affiliation to squad or detachment unknown. Became member of NSDAP in 1930, SA in 1931 and SS in 1935. 
Born in Reinholdshain. Attended extended elementary school. Trained in textile dyeing, he could not secure a position and consequently worked in several other jobs. 
Since 1 April 1935 he served in the "2. Totenkopfsturmbann 'Elbe'" as SS-Scharführer
Served at Bernburg. 

Floss was not on the permanent staff of Belzec. He was there only to start the cremations. After Belzec he was ordered to Sobibor. 

Floss was to make a name for himself as the Aktion Reinhard cremation expert in which capacity he served at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. 
Floss according to Heinrich Matthes, the commander of Camp II in Treblinka: "At that time SS-Oberscharführer orHauptscharführer (Herbert) Floss, who, as I assume, was previously in another extermination camp, arrived. He was in charge of the arrangements for cremating the corpses. The cremation took place in such a way that railway lines and concrete blocks were placed together. The corpses were piled on these rails. Brushwood was put under the rails. The wood was doused with petrol. In that way not only the newly accumulated corpses were cremated, but also those taken out from the graves." (Arad, p. 173) 
He is also described in the following way: "The burning of corpses received the proper incentive only after an instructor had come down from Auschwitz." The specialists in this new profession were businesslike, practical and conscientious. The instructor in incineration at Treblinka was nicknamed by the Jews as Tadellos (perfect); that was his favourite expression. "Thank God, now the fire's perfect," he used to say when, with the help of gasoline and the bodies of the fatter females, the pile of corpses finally burst into flames. (Donat, p.38) 
By the end of July 1943, the Jewish "death brigade" in Camp II, supervised by SS man Floss, had cremated about 700,000 corpses. (Tregenza, p.57) 

Died in 1943, killed by Ukrainian guards in Zawadowka near Chelm.

  • 25/08/1912 - 22/10/1943


FRENZEL, Karl SS-Oberscharführer 
20/08/1911 - ?/?/? 

Born in Zehdenick / Havel. Extended elementary school from 1918 - 1926 in Oranienburg. Education as carpenter. Member of NSDAP (no. 334948) and SA since 1 August 1930. Became SA man and worked from October 1933 until 1935 in an ammunition factory in Grüneberg. Due to his fervent belief in Nazism he received, from Hitler in person, a dagger of honour. He described it as "his greatest experience". When in 1939 they were looking for exceptional reliable party members, he volunteered spontaneously for a Sondereinsatz (special command). Therefore in the first week of January 1940 he joined T4. 
He was ordered to Grafeneck as guard and worked in the laundry. Then served for a short time at Bernburg as construction worker. In Hadamar he converted the cellars of the hospital into gas chambers, whereupon on its completion he became a "disinfector", or as he called himself, the "Brenner" (burner). Here he carried out the gassing of people and the burning of the corpses. 
Then he was ordered to Berlin and then to Lublin where he received the rank of SS-Oberscharführer from Globocnik. On 28 April 1942 he set off on foot to Sobibor. 

He wanted to act in front of his SS-comrades and superiors as a shining example and was proud of the fact that he became known as one of the most important and brutal men in Sobibor. This he did by a personal reign of terror, by the most brutal acts of punishment, killing and ordering to kill the Jews. 
After a while when he had leadership of Camp I and the Bahnhofskommando (station command), he -next to Wagner- was responsible for the selection of new arrivals. 
During Wagner's absence, he was responsible for whom was to be sent to the gas chambers and whom was to work for a while.  
He accidentally avoided being killed when he was in the shower when most of the other SS men were eliminated in the beginning of the revolt. Because commander Reichleitner was not in the camp during the revolt, Frenzel had to take command of the chaotic camp after the revolt. 

After Sobibor he was sent to Italy. There he served as member of Einsatz R in Trieste and Fiume. Arrested by US troops in a POW camp near Munich. Released late November 1945. Worked at a film studio in Göttingen. Imprisoned on 22 March 1962. Sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial in Hagen in 1966. That judgement was confirmed on 4 October 1985. Because of his bad state of health he was released and still alive in 1996 at an old peoples home near Hannover. 

  • 20/08/1911

FUCHS, Erich (Fritz Erhard)

FUCHS, Erich (Fritz Erhard) SS-Unterscharführer 
09/04/1902 - 25/07/1980 

Born in Berlin. Elementary school education. Since May 1933 or 1934 member of NSDAP and SA, later member of the SS. 
Profession: skilled motor mechanic and automotive foreman. Before the war (1939), he was a driver in Berlin. Paid the NSDAP fee only a few times (no money) and received no membership book. ` 
In 1940 or summer 1941 drafted to T4. Worked as Dr Eberl's driver in the gassing centres Brandenburg and Bernburg, and was, as he expressed it himself, "an interested spectator" at the gassing of 50 mental patients. 
Was driver of a lorry, fetching food for the staff, for a short time. In March / April 1942 he was sent "to the East". 

In Belzec he installed gassing systems, worked as a truckdriver, in the motor pool and transported material to the campsite. He was two times in Belzec: From early 1942 until May (?) 1942, and from November 1942 until December 1942. 

In April / May 1942 he, as chief technician of T4, picked up a Russian petrol driven tank motor in Lwow (together withStangl and Bauer), which he installed together with Bauer at the gas chambers of Sobibor. 

In July 1942 he was sent by Wirth to Treblinka, to install another gassing engine. 
Fuchs testified about himself at the Hagen Trial: "Subsequently I went to Treblinka. In this extermination camp I installed a generator which supplied electric light for the barracks. The work in Treblinka took me about three to four busy months. During my stay there transports of Jews who were gassed were coming in daily"(Arad, p. 43). 

In December 1942 he managed to arrange dismissal from T4. From early 1943 he worked for the German oil companyOstland-Öl-Vertriebsgesellschaft in Riga. In February 1945 he became a soldier and member of the Waffen-SS, where he served in a tank transport unit. In March 1945 he was wounded during a bombing raid. For two months held as POW by the Russians, subsequently as a POW by US Forces in Western Germany. Employed by the British Army as a driver/mechanic in Bergen Belsen. Dismissed in 1946. Until 1962 he worked as assistant worker, locksmith, and truck inspector at the "TÜv" in Koblenz. Since 8 April 1963 he was in custody. 
The Schwurgericht am Landgericht Hagen sentenced him to four years imprisonment on 20 December 1966 for being an accessory to the murder of at least 79,000 people. He died in Koblenz.

  • 09/04/1902 - 25/07/1980


GETZINGER, Anton SS-Oberscharführer 
24/11/1910 - ?/10/1943 

Born in Oeblarn / Austria. Described by his Ortsgruppenleiter as "a fanatical Nationalsozialist and fighter for the ideas of our Führer Adolf Hitler". Served at Hartheim. 

One of the supervisors at Camp III. 

Killed some weeks before the revolt in the camp's Nordlager (northern camp), where Russian ammunition was stacked, by a hand grenade which he ignited himself by mistake. According to Gomerski, who was present, "he wanted to test a machine gun and took two or three hand grenades with him. We wanted to knock a pole in the ground, broke the hand grenade on top of it, and threw it away. Toni knocked it and was blown apart". In order to cover up this shame, an official NSDAP report of 9 December 1944 stated that he was murdered by bandits in Serbia and it was thus registered as "killed in action".

  • 24/11/1910 - ?/10/1943


GOMERSKI, Hubert SS-Unterscharführer 
11/11/1911 - ?/?/? 

Born in Schweinheim (near Aschaffenburg). Lathe operator. Served at the Hadamar euthanasia killing centre. 

Came to Sobibor end of April 1942 together with the first group of T4-men and stayed there until a few days before the revolt, which he missed due to being on leave. 
After he initially was in charge of a group of Ukrainians, he together with Bolender and Valasta supervised Camp III. During incoming transports on the ramp he selected the sick and invalids and took them to the place of execution. He made a point of it to place a bottle on the head of an inmate and shot him with a carbine in the head instead. 
He was regarded next to Wagner and Frenzel as very dangerous. He was also very stupid, however due to his performance in Sobibor he was promoted Christmas 1942 to SS-Unterscharführer

Shortly before his arrest on 23 August 1949 he attested before the Landgericht Frankfurt/Main, after survivor Klier was able to turn him in, "I can only declare that to me a place with this name (Sobibor), is unknown to me". 
Sentenced to life imprisonment on 25 August 1950 on account of the murder of an undisclosed number of people. 
Appeal and second trial in 1972. Released because of bad health. Witnessed in the Frenzel trial 1983, apparently in good health. 

  • 11/11/1911


GRAETSCHUS, Siegfried SS-Oberscharführer 
09/06/1916 - 14/10/1943 

Born in Tilsit (East Prussia). Eight classes extended elementary school. Profession: farmer. 1939/40 to T4. Member of NSDAP since 1936 and SS (1935). Served at the Bernburg office. 

After a short time at Treblinka he was ordered to Sobibor in August 1942. There he became the successor to Lachmannwho was in charge of the Ukrainian guards. He was all over the camp wherever there was something to do, as well as present in camp III, to check if all was according to his instructions.He was promoted Untersturmführer

Killed during the Sobibor revolt.

  • 09/06/1916 - 14/10/1943

GROTH, Paul Johannes

GROTH, Paul Johannes SS-Unterscharführer 
21/01/1918 - ?/?/? 

Born in Zoppot near Danzig. Served at Hartheim. 

No details known. Wirth kept transferring him because his drunken behaviour periodically upset the extermination process (Tregenza). 

For the first months he supervised the sorting of clothes at Camp II and he regularly came to Camp III as well. Survivors called him one of the worst sadists. Witness Margulies: "Every day he killed someone!". He had an affair with a Jewish girl. 

In order to obtain a widows pension, declared dead by his wife in 1951. In 1962 he was still missing. No further details known.

  • 21/01/1918


HACKENHOLT, Lorenz SS-Hauptscharführer 
25/06/1914 - 31/12/1945 declared to be dead at the instigation of his wife.


Hackenholt before he became member of the T4 organisation. 
Member of NSDAP and SS (1934). Driver at Sonnenstein. Also served at Grafeneck. Affiliation to squad or detachment unknown. 

One of Wirth's favourites, he helped to build and operate the gas chambers at Belzec. Assisted in building gas chambers at Sobibor. The plans for the new gas chamber at Treblinka were drawn up by Hackenholt who was then at Belzec, but he also assisted in laying the gas pipes for the Treblinka gas chambers. (Tregenza, p.5) 

Hackenholt as remembered by Suchomel: "At Treblinka, the Ukrainians at first had led their usual wild and drunken way of life at the camp, but were brought to heel by Wirth, Oberhauser and Hackenholt with an iron hand, that is, whips and punishments." (Tregenza, p.42) 

Was promoted SS-Hauptscharführer in September 1943, no doubt due to his zealous work at the extermination camps. 
At Belzec the gas chambers were referred to as the "Stiftung Hackenholt" (Hackenholt Foundation), above which there was a Star of David similar to Treblinka. (Klee, p.242) 


Member no. 1727962. Born: 25 June 1914. Town: Gelsenkirchen. Profession: Driver. Joined: 1 April 1933. 

Photo: Yad Vashem
Served in Italy. Almost certainly survived the war in the Allgäu area around Memmingen-Kempten in the German-Austrian border region (Tregenza). Was spotted by his brother, driving a cart, but has never been brought to trial. No further details known. 


  • 25/06/1914 - 31/12/1945


HIRTREITER, Josef SS-Scharführer 
01/02/1909 - 27/11/1978 (Also nicknamed: "Sepp") 

Hirtreiter was born in Bruchsal. After extended elementary school he learned locksmith but didn't pass the final examination. Later he worked as unskilled worker, construction worker and bricklayer. On 1 August 1932 he became member of the NSDAP and SA. 
In October 1940 he was ordered to the Hadamar euthanasia centre where he worked in the kitchen and the office (according to his testimony). In summer 1942 he had to join the army. After four weeks back to Hadamar. Then he was ordered to Berlin where Wirth finally transferred him to Lublin. There he became SS-Unterscharführer and was ordered to Treblinka. 

Stationed at Treblinka from October 1942 till October 1943. Mainly duties in Camp II. 
The survivors of Treblinka vividly recalled him for his beastly manner: "In the centre of the roll-call square, a gallows was built and all the prisoners were gathered around it. The commander gave a short speech on the punishment of the escapees, and two boys who were caught trying to escape, were hung naked by their feet while they were still alive and repeatedly beaten The boys called out to the prisoners: 'Jews, escape, because death awaits you also. Pay no attention to the fact that meanwhile you have something to eat. Our fate today is your fate tomorrow'. The Germans whipped their swinging bodies for about half an hour, until the two youngsters were shot by SS-Scharführer Josef Hirtreiter." (Arad, p.262) 

In October 1943 he was ordered to Italy where he had to join an anti-partisan police unit. After the war he was arrested in July 1946, and accused of having served at the euthanasia centre Hadamar. 
He was the first of the Treblinka hangmen to be brought to trial and tried in Frankfurt / Main. On 3 March 1951 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Among the crimes he was found guilty of were killing many young children aged one to two, during the unloading of the transports, by seizing them by the feet and smashing their heads against the boxcars. 
Because of illness Hirtreiter was released from prison in 1977. He spent his last 6 months in an old peoples home in Frankfurt/M.

  • 01/02/1909 - 27/11/1978

HÖDL, Franz

HÖDL, Franz SS-Scharführer SS-Number: 302 133 
01/08/1905 - ?/?/? 

Born in 1905 in Aschach near Linz (Austria). Member of SA (1933), NSDAP (1938) and SS (1938). Profession: Driver. Chief of Gekrat squadron, drove the Gekrat buses at Hartheim euthanasia centre from April 1939 to January 1942. Thereafter drafted to a OT (Organisation Todt) unit in Russia (1941/42) for transportations of wounded soldiers. Then trained at Trawniki. Driver of Globocnik in Lublin. 

Came to Sobibor in October 1942 where he operated the gassing motor at Camp III. Also served as driver ofReichleitner's and Stangl's car. Remained for two weeks at the camp after the revolt and helped with the liquidation. 
A SS comrade said of him: "He excelled in an outstanding way". 
Together with Reichleitner ordered to Italy. There he witnessed how Reichleitner was shot in his car.

  • 01/08/1905

HORN, Otto

HORN, Otto SS-Unterscharführer 
14/12/1903 - ?/?/? 

Became member of the NSDAP in 1937. Born in Obergrauschwitz near Leipzig. Profession: male nurse. Attended until 14, the extended elementary school after which for four years he worked on a farm. At 18 he became a miner in Börte. 
Worked in a psychological clinic at Arnsdorf serving two years apprenticeship as nurse with an examination. Then he served for two years at the psychological clinic in Leipzig / Dösen*. Afterwards he was until 1939 again in Arnsdorf. 
In 1939 he became soldier attached to a medical battalion serving in Dresden, afterwards to Poland also as a medic, November 1939 stationed at Geldern and then to France. In August 1941 he was released from the Wehrmacht, whereupon he was ordered to Sonnenstein where he served as male nurse (at this time he already was member of T4). 

In September 1942 to Trawniki and after two weeks training there, sent in October to Treblinka where he belonged to the permanent staff. He supervised the Grubenkommando (piling up the corpses, covering them with sand and chloric lime) in the extermination area, at the mass graves and at the incinerator where the corpses of the victims were cremated later. Horn had the reputation in Treblinka of being a decent man who never hurt anyone, and this was in fact confirmed by a number of survivors. 
He testified the following during the Demjanjuk trial: 
Q. Mr. Horn, what kind of place was Treblinka? 
A. It was a camp - an extermination camp. 
Q. What if anything happened when you first arrived at Treblinka? 
A. People were exterminated there, were gassed. 

No details known. 

He left Treblinka after the uprising in September 1943 and went on an extended holiday at Arnsdorf with a simulated illness. He was then posted in January 1944 to Trieste where he refused to work and sent back to the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt in Arnsdorf. After 14 days in Arnsdorf (in December 1944) he was ordered to the Landesschützenbataillon in Plauen possibly as a punitive measure. At the closing of the war he was in the Czech Republic where the Russians made him a POW. 
In the First Treblinka Trial (1965), he was released. 
* Dösen is a part of Leipzig

  • 14/12/1903

ITTNER, Alfred

ITTNER, Alfred SS-Oberscharführer 
13/01/1907 - 03/11/1976 

Born in Kulmbach. Became member of the NSDAP (number 30805) already in 1926. 
Member of SA in 1936. Served at the T4 office in Berlin (Tiergartenstraße 4) as bookkeeper and driver. 

Came to Sobibor on 28 April 1942. During the first five weeks he was in charge of the office.The Jews had to hand over their valuables as they passed by a counter next to the Forsthaus in Camp II, on their way to the gas chambers. Later he supervised the extracting of gold teeth in Camp III, digging the pits and carrying bodies to the mass graves. He managed to terminate his service in Sobibor somehow, and end of June 1942 he could return to T4 in Berlin.  
After the war he declared: "I have seen for myself that the invalids and sick were shot at the edge of the pits in Camp III. At these executions I turned my face sideways and therefore cannot remember who the executioners were. It was there more than a 'Schweinerei' (crying shame)". 

In the 1966 Hagen Trial he was sentenced to four years imprisonment for his part in the murder of an unknown but at least 68,000 people. He died in Kulmbach.

  • 13/01/1907 - 03/11/1976

JÜHRS, Robert

JÜHRS, Robert SS-Unterscharführer 
17/10/1911 - ?/?/? 

Born in Frankfurt/Main. Elementary school education (8 years). Member of NSDAP since 1930. SA membership from 1930 until 1935. SS man. Profession: Painter. Worked as labourer, caretaker, usher at the Frankfurt Opera and office clerk at the "Winterhilfswerk". 
Joined T4 in June 1941. The same month he was sent to Hadamar where he was employed as male nurse, painter and clerk until late 1941. 

In Belzec from June 1942 until February/March 1943. He served throughout the camp as a guard, at the ramp and at the "Lazarett". According to his statement (interrogation on 18 December 1969 in Frankfurt/Main) he was in Sobibor from 1 November - early December 1943, with the same function. In the meantime he served at the Dorohucza labour camp near Trawniki, probably from March - November 1943. In Sobibor he helped dismantling the camp and killing the last Jews there. 

Ordered to Italy in December 1943. Arrested by US troops on 11 May 1945 in Kufstein. Released on 3 August 1945. Arrested again in Frankfurt/M., and imprisoned at Dachau internment camp until November 1946. Arrested again in 1947, for 8 weeks. Then he worked as civil servant, businessman, newspaper driver, hotel janitor, and house superintendent until 1960. 
Acquitted at the Belzec Trial in Munich and the Sobibor Trial. 

  • 17/10/1911

KLIER, Johann

KLIER, Johann SS-Unterscharführer 
15/07/1901 - 18/02/1955 

Born in Stadtsteinach. Afrer extended elementary school he became master baker in 1931. In 1933 he became member of NSDAP and SA. 
From 1934 - 1940 he worked at the Heddernheimer Copper Works Factory. In 1940 he was ordered to Hadamar where he worked as construction worker and in the cellar, at the heating system. 

Early August 1942 to Sobibor. Chief of the bakery and supervisor at the sorting barrack where the victim's shoes were kept. He estimated the amount of shoe pairs at 45,000. The inmates regarded him as one of the more humane in nature. Stayed in Sobibor until a few days before the revolt. During the revolt he was on leave. He was in Sobibor until the camp was closed, then ordered to Italy, probably San Sabba KZ in Trieste. 

From 5 May until 15 June 1945 he was POW in Italy. Interned from December 1945 until February 1949. 
His trial took place in Frankfurt/Main. On 25 August 1950 he was acquitted.

  • 15/07/1901 - 18/02/1955


KONRAD, Fritz SS-Scharführer 
21/09/1914 - 14/10/1943 

Born in Gudellen. Served at Sonnenstein and Grafeneck as male nurse. 

Came to Sobibor in March 1943. He supervised workers in the sorting barracks and served at Camp III too. 

Killed during the revolt. Survivor Zelda Metz testified that he was killed by a cobbler. 

  • 21/09/1914 - 14/10/1943


LACHMANN, Erich SS-Scharführer 
06/11/1909 - 23/01/1972 

Born in Liegnitz. Police man. No more details known. 

In September 1941 he was ordered to Trawniki for training Ukrainian volunteers. Since August 1942 he supervised the Ukrainian guards in Sobibor for several months. Bauer sketched him as "a boozer and somebody who stole like the ravens". Survivors Margulies and Lichman witnessed how he raped young girls. When Reichleitner took up command, he sent him back to Trawniki because he was unsuitable for the service at the camp. From there he deserted with a girlfriend. He is quoted as saying: "I had nothing against the Jews. I regarded them as all other people. My suits I previously bought from a Jew, Max Süssmann, who had a textile firm in Liegnitz". 

In the Hagen Trial he was acquitted in 1966. The judge characterized him as mentally less gifted. He died in Wegscheid.

  • 06/11/1909 - 23/01/1972

LAMBERT, Erwin Hermann

LAMBERT, Erwin Hermann SS-Unterscharführer 
07/12/1909 - ?/?/? 

Born in Schildow (Kreis Niederbarnim, near Berlin). Affiliation to squad or detachment unknown. Member of NSDAP since 1933, appointed as Blockleiter. Profession: Mason foreman in Berlin. January 1940 to Gemeinnützige Stiftung für Anstaltspflege* his first assignment being the renovation of the T4 villa. Installed the gas chambers at the euthanasia institutes Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Bernburg and Hadamar. In June 1942 ordered to Lublin for bricklaying assignments. There he received his SS uniform. 

He was called the "flying architect of T4" because he also made construction works at T4. From Treblinka to Attersee for renovations assignments, back to Treblinka again after that worked at Dohorucza, Poniatowa and finally ordered to Sobibor October 1942 (arrived at Sobibor at the end of September 1942 only for three weeks in connection with the installation of new gas chambers (BDC)). Back to Berlin and then to Trieste. 
Photographed demolishing a factory chimney at Malkinia. The bricks were used to build the larger new gas chambers at Treblinka, in the autumn of 1942. 

He finally was also posted to Trieste. 
In the First Treblinka Trial (1965), he was sentenced to four years in prison. Three years imprisonment at the Sobibor trial in Hagen in 1966 (BDC).

  • 07/12/1909

LUDWIG, Karl Emil

LUDWIG, Karl Emil SS-Scharführer 
23/05/1906 - ?/?/1963 

Affiliation to squad or detachment unknown. 
Profession: driver. Initially he was the chauffeur of Reichsleiter Bormann
Driver for T4 headquarters. 

He was at Camp III until the beginning of 1943 when he was sent to Treblinka. He was also numerous times in charge of the Waldkommando. Outside the camp he single-handedly shot at Jews. 

Assigned to guard duties in Camp II. He treated Jewish prisoners humanely. It was said that he also helped people escape from Ossowa. 
Ludwig as remembered by prisoner Joe Siedlecki: "There was one SS, if I saw him today, if there was anything he needed, I'd give it to him; Karl Ludwig. He was a good good man. The number of times he brought me things, the number of times he helped me, the number of people he probably saved, I can hardly tell you. I don't know where he is now, but I wish I did." (Sereny, p.188) 

Ludwig as remembered by prisoner Richard Glazar: "The casually elegant, still slim Master Sergeant Karl Ludwig, a bright sort in his middle years, no more spent than average, has come out of the death camp on a brief foray to our Kirmes, our Christmas market, to get a share of the riches as long there are still riches to be had." (Glazar, p.92)  In Italy
Ludwig on leave at Sobibor, as remembered by Theresa Stangl (Franz Stangl's wife); "And then he suddenly said, 'Fürchterlich - dreadful, it is just dreadful, you have no idea how dreadful it is.' I asked him 'What is dreadful?' 'Don't you know?' he asked. 'Don't you know what is being done out there?'- 'No,' I said, 'What?'- 'The Jews,' he answered. 'The Jews are being done away with.'- 'Done away with?' I asked. 'How ? What do you mean ?' - 'With gas,' he said. 'Fantastic numbers of them.' He went on about how awful it was and then he said, in that same maudlin way he had, 'But we are doing it for our Führer. For him we sacrifice ourselves to do this - we obey his orders.' And then he said, too, 'can you imagine what would happen if the Jews ever got hold of us?'" (Sereny, p.136) 

Served in Italy. He was among those from the euthanasia programme who remained alive at the end of the war. Acquitted at his trial, due to the testimonies by Jewish witnesses. 

Photo: GFH

  • 23/05/1906 - ?/?/1963

MATTHES, Heinrich Arthur

MATTHES, Heinrich Arthur SS-Scharführer 
11/01/1902 - ?/?/? 

Belonged to SS squad. Joined the SA in 1934 and the NSDAP in 1937. 
At Sonnenstein Born in Wermsdorf (Kreis Leipzig). He attended extended elementary school and became a tailor. In 1924 did his apprenticeship as male nurse and educator and did his examinations at the mental home Sonnenstein near Dresden. At the psychological clinic in Arnsdorf (near Dresden) he served as male nurse and educator. In 1930 as educator and welfare worker to a institute in Bräunsdorf (near Freiburg / Sachsen). In October 1933 back to Arnsdorf. SA member since 1934 (finally SA-Sturmmann). In 1939 ordered to the Wehrmacht (infantry) where he served as soldier in Poland and France until September 1941. His last rank was Obergefreiter. Released from the Wehrmacht, ordered to the KdF (Kanzlei des Führers) where he was ordered to the T4 organization. A short time in the photo section of T4. In winter 1941/42, as member of OT (Organisation Todt), sent to Russia, where he served as male nurse in the Minsk and Smolensk area. In February/March 1942 he returned from Russia and served again in the same photo section at T4. 

In August 1942 to Lublin, where he was drafted into the SS and got the rank of SS-Scharführer whereupon he was dispatched to Aktion Reinhard. To Treblinka in August 1942. Here he was appointed chief officer commanding Camp II and the gas chambers as well as killer at the Lazarett where the Ukrainians called him "doctor". He shot a prisoner, Ilik Weintraub because, while transferring bodies from the gas chambers to the pits, Weintraub Matthes as remembered by Suchomel: "Wirth installed Matthes as chief of Camp II, as far as I know - and I lived with Matthes - against his will. With further threats he also made Matthes toe the line." (Tregenza, p.7) 
Matthes as remembered by Jerzy Rajgrodzki, a prisoner in the extermination area: "He used to beat the prisoners with a completely expressionless, apathetic look on his face, as if the beatings were part of his daily routine. He always saw to it that the roll-call area would always be extremely clean. One of the prisoners had to rake the sand in the square all day long, and he had to do it with Prussian exactness." (Arad, p.194) 
He was posted at Treblinka until September 1943. 

From Treblinka he was posted to Sobibor until the Christmas holidays, afterwards to Berlin. 

In 1944 from Berlin to Trieste as policeman (rank: Oberwachtmeister); served in that region until end of war. 
In the First Treblinka Trial (1965) he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

  • 11/01/1902


MÄTZIG, Willy SS-Oberscharführer 
06/08/1910 - ?/?/? 

Belonged to Waffen-SS squad. 
Born in Berg (Oberlausitz). First profession: glasscutter. In October 1933 member of Allgemeine SS, with the rank of SS-Unterscharführer. In July 1939, for three months in infantry unit in Freistadt, Schlesien. Early January 1940 posted to SS infantry in Linz. He contracted septic bone marrow and consequently was medically suspended and ordered to Berlin. Member of T4 since February / March 1940. Served as guard at the euthanasia institute Brandenburg for one year. 1941 to Bernburg as guard again and administration assistant. In Summer / autumn 1942 from Bernburg to the East. 

No details known. 

November 1943 to Treblinka where he was book-keeper/accountant. With the orderly StadieMätzig was one of Stangl's two senior administrative assistants, their office being in Stangl's quarters. Mätzig was part of the squad, which received prisoners with clubs and whips on platform when deportations arrived. After the Jews disembarked, Stadie or Mätzigwould have a short word with them. They were told something to the effect that "they were a resettlement transport, that they would be given a bath and that they would receive new clothes. They were also instructed to maintain quiet and discipline. They would continue their journey the following day". 

Stangl relates to Sereny in the book "Into that Darkness": 
"I tried other ways to get them food too. You know the Poles had ration books which allowed them an egg a week, so much fat, so much meat. Well, it occurred to me that if everybody in Poland had the right to ration tickets - if that was the law then our work-Jews were in Poland too and also had the right to ration tickets. So I told Mützig the book-keeper to go to the town council and request a thousand ration books for our worker-Jews. 'What happened?' He laughed. Well, in the surprise of the moment they gave him a thousand rations for that week. But afterwards the Poles - the town council - complained to somebody at HQ and I was hauled over the coals for it. Still it was a good try and we did get something out of it; they had a thousand eggs that week. 'Oh yes, certainly,' said SuchomelMätzig got out of the Polish authorities what he could; he was a decent bloke. He got the Jews cereal and marmalade - that I remember clearly. A thousand eggs? Well, I don't know anything about that - but it's possible." (Sereny, p.168) 

Since the end of 1943 until end of war in Trieste. No more details known.

  • 06/08/1910

MENTZ, Willi

MENTZ, Willi SS-Unterscharführer 
30/04/1904 - ?/?/? 

Belonged to police detachment. Joined the NSDAP in 1932. 
Born in Schönhagen (Kreis Bromberg). Profession: unskilled worker in sawmill and passed master milkman's examination. In 1940 took care of cows and pigs at Grafeneck euthanasia centre and from 1941 to early summer 1942 worked in the gardens of Hadamar. 

From June-July 1942 until November 1943 posted at Treblinka. 
He was assigned first to Camp II and then to Camp I as chief of the Landwirtschaftskommando (Agricultural Command).Mentz was also assigned by Wirth to supervise the Lazarett. The victims, seated or lying together were facing the mass grave and so were forced to watch the corpses smouldering in the pit before they themselves were shot. 
Mentz testified how Wirth personally demonstrated the correct technique to him: "He himself demonstrated it to me, and in my presence shot several Jews. Then, under his supervision, I had to kill even more Jews by shooting them in the neck. This method was then adhered to." (Tregenza, p. 8)  
In time, Mentz came to terms with his new task at the Lazarett and became a much-feared figure among the Jewish work-brigades; Wearing a white doctor's smock he was to shoot thousands of helpless Jews in the way approved by Wirth, and push their bodies into the flames at the bottom of the pit. To the prisoners of Treblinka, Mentz became known as "Frankenstein". (Tregenza, p. 8) 
He, apart from Kurt Franz, was the only member of the SS garrison who knew how to ride and exercised the horses of Treblinka daily. 
Mentz as remembered by Glazar: "Somehow always unkempt and dishevelled, Willi Mentz, with a black moustache under his nose, is subordinate to Miete in civilian as well as in military life, although he too is a sergeant. In real life he is a dairy farmer, and here he is marksman second class. He is responsible for the routine shootings that take place in the 'Infirmary' as the transports arrive. He shoots and shoots, and keeps shooting, sometimes moving on to the next target even when the previous shot had not found its mark and a sentient victim simply slipped into the fires. Messy work." (Glazar, p. 47) 

In December 1943 he spent a short time at Sobibor. 

After Sobibor he served in Italy taking part in the final action of Aktion R (persecution of Jews and partisans). After 1945 worked again as a master milkman. In the First Treblinka Trial (1965), he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The verdict stated: "... because shooting was the activity he was normally engaged in, the Jews simply called him the 'Gunman'". How many people Mentz killed in the Lazarett in the method described could never be clearly established. The only thing that is certain is that the number of Jews from the transports he killed single-handedly runs into thousands and that over and above these he liquidated some hundreds of worker-Jews.

  • 30/04/1904

MICHEL, Hermann

MICHEL, Hermann SS-Oberscharführer 
10/11/1901 - ?/?/? 

Born in Holzheim (probably on 17/03/1909 in Ruhla or on 23/041912 in Passau). Probably senior male nurse in Buch (Berlin). As T4 man he served at Grafeneck and Hartheim. 

In 1942 he was approximately 30 years old. From the beginning until autumn 1942 he welcomed the victims with a short speech. Wearing a white overcoat to look like a doctor, he convincingly told the Jews they have arrived at a labour camp. In order for hygienic conditions they had to be disinfected and had to take a shower. 
No further details known about his use in Treblinka. 

Detained by the US Army at Bad Aiblingen (Bavaria) but released on 19 April 1946. Cashed a certificate of credit for $191.60 on 15 January 1948, and disappeared. Believed to have been living in Egypt in the 1950s (BDC). 

  • 10/11/1901


NOVAK (NOWAK?), Anton SS-Scharführer 
12/05/1912 - 14/10/1943 

Born in Janow. Member of NSDAP and SS. Male nurse at Sonnenstein euthanasia centre. 

Together with Bauer he supervised the work in the "Haircutters Barrack". Sometimes he supervised the Waldkommando. According to survivor Estera Raab he was small of posture with black hair. "Many times we saw him going to Camp III. He smelled after corpses". 

Killed during the revolt (confirmed by Bauer on 13 September 1960 in Berlin). 

  • 12/05/1912 - 14/10/1943


PÖTZINGER, Karl SS-Scharführer 
?/?/1908 - ?/?/1944 

Belonged to police detachment. Apparently from Leipzig. At outbreak of war he was a SA-Scharführer. Posted to Brandenburg and Bernburg euthanasia centres (incinerated bodies). 

After serving at the euthanasia centres he was posted to Treblinka and Sobibor. Was in charge of the cremation in Camp II (Treblinka). 
Glazar relates: "... one of the SS, a man called Poltzinger who worked up at Camp II, came to our shop and asked which were 'Karel and Richard', and when we said it was us, he said he'd brought a message from Zhelo: he was OK and would we like to send a message back to him. We always thought the SS up there were better than ours, probably because, after all, they had to live through the same unspeakable horrors as, the slaves up there." (Sereny, p.11) 

Pötzinger was killed in 1944, during an allied air attack. Buried in the German Military Cemetery at Costermano, near Verona, Italy. 

  • ?/?/1908 - ?/?/1944

REHWALD, Wenzel (Fritz?

REHWALD, Wenzel (Fritz?) SS-Unterscharführer, SS-Number: 321 745 

Bricklayer. Member of SS. Served at Sonnenstein as "burner", at Bernburg, Hadamar and Hartheim too. 

Since end of December 1942 chief of the women's undressing barrack. Supervised the construction of barracks. During the revolt he kept prisoners under armed guard. 

No details known.


RICHTER, Kurt SS-Scharführer 
?/?/1914 - 13/08/1944 

Affiliation to squad or detachment unknown. 
Profession: Butcher, also driver at Sonnenstein. Served at Hartheim too. 

Early 1943 to Treblinka, assigned as cook. After having served at Treblinka, as cook at Sobibor. 

Served in Italy, killed by partisans and buried at the German cemetery in Costermano. 

  • 1914 - 13/08/1944

ROST, Paul

ROST, Paul SS-Untersturmführer, SS-Number: 382 366 
12/06/1904 - 21/03/1984 

Born in Deutschenbora (Saxony). After extended elementary school, learned butcher. 1925 to Dresden police. 1937 member of NSDAP. On 21 May 1940 ordered to Sonnenstein, where he served as chief of police squad and transportation command. Served at Hartheim too. 
On 1 December 1940 joined the SS. Early 1942 ordered to Lublin. 
His comrades described him as undisciplined as he had an extramarital affair with a teacher in Warsaw. 

In March 1942 to Sobibor. As Meister der Schutzpolizei he was one of the first to be reported for duty in the camp, initially as acting commander. After him it was Floss and Niemann. He had to secretively spy on the other SS camp staff. In charge of Camp II with the sorting procedures. 

Since May 1943 at Treblinka. 

In December 1943 ordered to Trieste (Italy). On 9 November 1944 he was promoted to second lieutenant of the police and received the Kriegsverdienstkreuz Zweiter Klasse mit Schwertern
After the war for a short time in a US POW camp, then returned to his family in Dresden. Imprisoned by the Soviet Military Authority until summer 1946, then released. Worked unmolested in Dresden until his death.

  • 12/06/1904 - 21/03/1984


SCHIFFNER, Karl SS-Unterscharführer, SS-Number: 321 225 
04/07/1901 - ?/?/? 

Affiliation to squad or detachment unknown. Was member of NSDAP and SA. 
Born in Weißkirchlitz under the name of "Kresadlo". Attended extended elementary school and later public school in Weißkirchlitz. Did his three years apprenticeship as carpenter and at the same time at trade school. Served during 1921-1923 in the Czech Army. Married in 1928. Member of the Sudetendeutsche Partei, when in the Czech Republic. Became member of the SA after the Czech Republic was occupied. Changed from SA to SS "because the black uniforms looked better". Received the Ehrenwinkel (chevron of honour) because of his membership in the Sudetendeutsche Partei. Successfully changed his name from Kresadlo to Schiffner in 1941. Until 1942 at Sonnenstein as carpenter after which closure he was posted to Tiergartenstraße 4 (T4) for repairs, thereafter to Lublin. 

From Lublin he was posted to Treblinka where he was issued with the SS uniform, first without rank but later as SS-Unterscharführer. In charge of the camp joinery and building team. 
During June/July 1943 he and a group of twelve Ukrainians under his command went to Belzec after that camps liquidation, to build a farmhouse there for Ukrainian families. 
Also served at Sobibor. 

From Belzec to Trieste, served there in a police unit against partisans until the end of the war. Retreated to Kärnten (Austria) where he was disarmed by the British and made a POW in the camp Usbach. Released in October 1945, went to Salzburg. No further details known. 

  • 04/07/1901

SCHÜTT, Hans-Heinz

SCHÜTT, Hans-Heinz SS-Scharführer 
06/04/1908 - ?/?/? 

Born in Dummersdorf. In 1938 he became SS-Sturmbannverwaltungsführer (chief of a SS-Sturmbann office). Served as chief of the offices at the euthanasia centres Grafeneck and Hadamar. 

According to his own admittance he was in Sobibor from 28 April until August 1942. Served at Camp II as paymaster. Also collected valuables behind a counter there, from the victims on their way to the gas chambers. Worked on the ramp and in Camp III where he was responsible for the cleanliness of the barracks of the Jewish Sonderkommando
"On the question why I was present on the ramp during the transports, I declare that it was out of curiosity. I wanted to confirm myself of the cruelty of the 'Endlösung' and report my impressions to Berlin in order to be relieved. In no case I was actively involved in Sobibor. Mostly I had an aversion to the rough manner in which the Ukrainians went about. They were exceptionally cruel". 
He lived outside the camp in Chelm; was in Sobibor until August 1942. 

For some unclear reason he was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. Near the end of the war, Schütt was sent to the Eastern Front. Survived the war. On trial in 1962. 

  • 06/04/1908


SUCHOMEL, Franz SS-Unterscharführer 
03/12/1907 - ?/?/? 

Belonged to SS squad. 
Born in Krumau (today in the Czech Republic). Profession: tailor. He worked from 1940-42 in the T4 euthanasia programme (photographic section) in Berlin and Hadamar. 

Ordered to Treblinka together with Hirthreiter, Post, Löffler, Sydow, Matthes and two men from Frankfurt/Main. He worked in Treblinka from 20 August 1942 until late October 1943. 
His first duty was at the "Station", then as supervisor in the women undressing barrack leading the victims to the "Tube". Later in charge of the Goldjuden and the tailor shop. When Eichmann and Globocnik were coming to Treblinka for inspection, Suchomel had to report to them about the Goldjuden
Suchomel, who, by comparison to some, was relatively decent: Richard Glazar: "That doesn't mean Suchomel didn't beat us; all of them beat us." 
Suchomel recollects when he arrived the first time in Treblinka: "So Stadie, the sarge, showed us the camps from end to end. Just as we went by, they were opening the gas-chamber doors, and people fell out like potatoes. Naturally, that horrified and appalled us. We went back and sat down on our suitcases and cried like old women. Each day one hundred Jews were chosen to drag the corpses to the mass graves. In the evening the Ukrainians drove those Jews into the gas chambers or shot them. Every day!" (Excerpt - "Shoah") 
Suchomel as remembered by Richard Glazar: "In a show of patriotic sentiment toward the few 'hard-working boys from Bohemia' who had somehow landed among the 'pack from Poland', Sergeant Suchomel, during the peacetime thirties, a tailor and member of a German-speaking minority in Bohemian Krummau, and here the jovial head of the Gold Jew Commando has soup and oranges sent to Zelo from the German mess. Look here, an orange-a genuine orange with a soft peel, no hint of rot, still emitting scents of the wondrous outside world." (Glazar, p.79) 

In late October 1943 he was ordered to Sobibor. 

After Sobibor to Trieste, Italy. Captured by US troops, arrested as POW, in August 1945 released. Since 1949 he lived in Altötting (Bayern) where he was arrested on 11 July 1963. 
In the First Treblinka Trial 1965 he was sentenced to six years in prison. Released in 1969.

  • 03/12/1907

TAUSCHER, Friedrich (Fritz (BDC))

TAUSCHER, Friedrich (Fritz (BDC)) SS-Oberscharführer 
20/05/1903 - ?/?/1965 

Detective officer.Worked as supervisor at the registry office of Sonnenstein. Member of NSDAP and SS. Also served atBrandenburg and Hartheim. Then ordered to Poland. 

In Trawniki he became instructor in corpse cremation. From October 1942 until March 1943 deputy commander in Belzec. SS-Oberscharführer in 1943. In charge of cremation of bodies and dismantling of the camp until March 1943. According to statement of Jührs and Zierke he was the last commander of the forced labour camp Dorohucza. In November 1943 for 14 days in Sobibor for winding up the camp. 
In April 1943 he was transferred to KZ Budzyn where according to witnesses he took pot-shots at Jews for amusement (BDC). 

In 1944 he served in Italy. 1965: Suicide in prison.

  • 20/05/1903 - ?/?/1965

UNVERHAU, Heinrich

UNVERHAU, Heinrich SS-Unterscharführer 

Born in Vienenburg (Harz). 8 years elementary school in Fellstedt. April 1925 plumber's apprentice, after an accident he lost the sight in his right eye. Then he worked as musician and from 1934 - January 1940 as male nurse. NSDAP since 1937.   Duty bound to T4, where he worked as male nurse from January 1940 - early 1942 at the Hadamar and Grafeneck euthanasia centres. There he escorted victims to the gas chambers, injected sedatives, ventilated the gas chambers and dealt with the disposal of the bodies and property. 
In winter of 1941/42 to Russia. There he served in an OT (Organisation Todt) transportation unit for wounded soldiers in Wjasma. 

Came to Belzec in June 1942. There he supervised the undressing barrack and was responsible for delivery of all clothes to the storage room in the locomotive shed. 
In November 1942 to Sobibor. Supervised the workers at the undressing place in Camp II. Served in the sorting barracks and the Waldkommando. Remained in Sobibor until March 1943. 

In December 1943 he was sent to Italy to fight agains partisans. On 15 March 1944 he was released from T4, and on 27 April 1944 he was drafted into the Wehrmacht
POW in 1945, released from internment on 9 September 1945. He returned to Frellstedt, and worked as musician. Arrested on 16 March 1949 because of his involvement in T4. After having been in remand prison for 16 months he was declared not guilty. Since 1952 he worked again as male nurse at the county hospital in Königslutter. 
Acquitted in the Grafeneck (1948), Belzec (1963 - 64) and Sobibor (1965) trials. He was the only SS man who, immediately after the war, spoke voluntarily about his involvement in Aktion Reinhard.

WOLF, Franz

WOLF, Franz SS-Unterscharführer 

Born in Krummau (Czechoslovakia). Brother of Josef Wolf (see below). After his education as forester he worked in his father's photo shop until 1939. From 28 August 1939 soldier in the Reichswehr (Infantry Regiment 130), served as courier in France and Poland. In January 1940 ordered to the KdF in Berlin, sent to T4, and finally to the T4 killing centre Hadamar. There he had to take photos of the victims. In autumn 1941 to T4 in Berlin where he continued to work as photographer. From summer 1942 - spring 1943 as photographer in the mental home Heidelberg. In March 1943 ordered to Lublin. 

Since beginning March 1943, he was together with his brother Josef in the camp. Served mainly at the sorting barracks. He also was around the women's undressing barracks and sometimes supervisor of the Waldkommando. It cannot be ascertained if he was merely present at the execution of the Jews of the Waldkommando or if he executed them himself. The Jews feared his whip and that everything they said to him would be told to Frenzel. He was submissive to his superiors but acted in a cynical-sarcastic way towards those who were below him.  
Two or three days after the Sobibor revolt he was on convalescent leave for 14 days, then back to Sobibor for a few days until he was ordered to Italy. There he had to register Jewish property, and fought against partisans occasionally. 

In course of the German retreat from Italy he went to Austria where he was captured by US troops. POW in the camp in Weiden. After his release he worked for the US Army as photographer until May 1946. 
In the 1966 Hagen Trial he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment due to his involvement in the murder of at least 39,000 people. 

  • 09/04/1907

ZIRKE, Ernst

ZIRKE, Ernst SS-Unterscharführer 
16/05/1905 - ?/?/? 

8 years elementary school education. Left school at the age of 13. Worked as woodcutter and blacksmith. Male nurse since 1934. Worked as male nurse at the "Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Neuruppin". NSDAP and SA since 1930. T4 since December 1939. Driver at Grafeneck, Hadamar and Sonnenstein. Ordered from the mental home in Eichberg toOrganisation Todt in Russia. Early 1942 back to Eichberg. 

In June 1942 ordered to Belzec. Served at the ramp and undressing barrack. Responsible for the camp forge. Also took part in the execution of the last group of Jewish workers. 
When Belzec closed down, he was transferred to Dorohucza labour camp near Trawniki. When that camp closed he stayed on with Jührs to supervise the dismantling of the buildings. 

In autumn 1943 ordered to Sobibor to complete the dismantling of the camp and to shoot the last remaining Jews. 

Ordered to San Sabba, Italy. After end of war arrested in a POW camp. Rearrested on 31 January 1963. Acquitted at the Belzec Trial in Munich (1964) and Sobibor Trial in Hagen (1965). Released for health reasons.

  • 16/05/1905



SS Scharführer Erich Bauer testified after the war, that he transported seven coffins to the city of Chelm. The rest of the coffins went to Chelm by train. Those he transported from the railroad station to the city hall. 
In all twenty one to twenty three guards were killed during the revolt. 
The killing of so many Germans and escape of prisoners, bearers of the state secret concerning the death camp at Sobibor, warranted urgent notification to Berlin. A high ranking delegation from Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin arrived to attend the funeral on 17 October 1943. The Nazis killed in the revolt were buried in Chelm with full military honours. (T. Blatt: Sobibor - The Forgotten Revolt)

ADLER, Sophie

ADLER, Sophie 
Born on 31 December 1882 in Ahrweiler (Germany). Before the war she lived in Kassel. In 1938 she emigrated to Amsterdam. In 1943 she was deported from Holland to Sobibor. 

  • 31 December 1882~

ALSTER, Shlomo

ALSTER, Shlomo
Escaped in the revolt and survived. 

Born on 1 December 1908 in Chelm.

In November 1942 he was brought from Chelm to Sobibor where he worked mainly as a carpenter building barracks. He was part of the Bahnhofskommando several times. He witnessed Gomerski to be the most cruel German. Emigrated to Israel in 1946 where he lives in Rechovot. 

  • 1 December 1908~


BACHARACH, Friederike 
Born on 24 April 1880 in Fritzlar (Germany). She lived in Kassel from where she was deported to Sobibor on 1 June 1942. 
Source: "Namen und Schicksale der Juden Kassels. Ein Gedenkbuch". Kassel, 1986.

BACHARACH nee Lazarus, Klara 
Born on 8 December 1893 in Appenheim (Germany). Saleswoman in Kassel from where she was deported to Sobibor on 1 June 1942. 
Source: "Namen und Schicksale der Juden Kassels. Ein Gedenkbuch". Kassel, 1986.

BACHARACH nee Schwarzenberg, Lina
Born on 4 December 1872 in Heilbronn (Germany). Until 1938 she lived in Kassel from where she emigrated to Holland. In 1943 she was deported to Sobibor from Westerbork camp. 
Source: "Namen und Schicksale der Juden Kassels. Ein Gedenkbuch". Kassel, 1986.

BAHIR, Moshe

BAHIR, Moshe (original name Szklarek.

Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998. 

Born on 19 July 1927 in Plock. Deported from Komarov and Zamosc to Sobibor on 14 May 1942. For three months he worked in theBahnhofskommando, in the food storage and as hair cutter. He survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Israel.

  • 19 July 1927~



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 never beat any people.

Therefore Kapo "Guwerner" vexed him. He was beaten very often by SS men. 
One summer night in 1943 Gustav Wagner started to beat him in the barrack. Bajrach, thinking that it was "Guwerner", started to defence himself. Wagner brought him to Camp III and shot him at the gate. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291


Also called "Fips". The younger brother of Abram. In the camp he worked in the stable. He did not survive the uprising. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291

BARDACH, Antonius
Survived the Holocaust. 

Born on 16 May 1909 in Lemberg (then Poland, now L'viv, Ukraine). Came with the 53th French convoy to Sobibor, that had left Drancy with 1,000 persons on 25 March 1943. Survived together with his fellow on the same transport Duniec. Emigrated to Belgium. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 16 May 1909~

BIALOWICZ, Philip (Fiszel)

BIALOWICZ, Philip (Fiszel) 
Born in Izbica, deported from there. Survived the Holocaust. 

Born 25 November 1929 in Izbica. Thirteen years old, he was transported in January 1943 on a lorry from his native town to Sobibor. Selected for forced labour together with 45 others. Worked in the sorting barracks and the grocery shop, where he had to search for money als jewelry, hidden in loafs of bread and other subjects. Also worked for a short time as women’s hair cutter before they went into the gas chambers. Only once a member of the Bahnhofskommando. Emigrated to the USA. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 25 November 1929~


Deported from Izbica. Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943. 

Born on 6 December 1912. Was deported from Izbica to Sobibor on 28 April 1943, three months after his brother Philip. Emigrated to Israel. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 6 December 1912

BISKUBICZ, Jakub / Jacub

BISKUBICZ, Jakub / Jacub 
Born in Hrubieszow on 17 March 1926.

Deported to Sobibor in May 1942. Member of the Bahnhofskommando for 8 months. He escaped together with a prisoner called David during the uprising via Lager IV, where there were no guards left at that time. They met SS-Scharführer Bauer, who sat in a lorry filled with bottles. 

Bauer shot David, and Jakub ran to Camp IV where he hid. At night he cut the barbed wire with a knife and escaped to the forest. After weeks in the forest he joined a partisan group. He survived the Holocaust. 
Source: E.A. Cohen, “De negentien treinen naar Sobibor”, Elsevier ed., Amsterdam 1979. 

Was on a transport together with his family and 2,000 others from his native village. Worked at first at the burning of useless clothing and papers, later as a carpenter, and got the order from Wagner to spread the ashes of burned victims over the camp’s vegetables garden. Emigrated to Israel in 1949. 

Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 17 March 1926

BLAU, Karl

BLAU, Karl
After the Sobibor uprising he was transferred with a group of other Jewish prisoners from Treblinka (where he was Oberkapo) to Sobibor.

There he worked together with his wife in the kitchen. 
Shortly before the execution of these last prisoners from Treblinka, Blau went to Franz Suchomel and asked him if it was true that all prisoners should be killed. Suchomel said yes. That same day Blau, his wife and a couple of Jewish doctors from Treblinka comitted suicide in a barrack.

Suchomel told (during the Sobibor trial) that only their bodies were still dressed when they were burned in Camp III. 
- Statement of Franz Suchomel, ZStL, 208 AR-Z 251/1958, The Sobibor Trial -


The husband of Mirjam Penha-Blits. Deported with his wife to Sobibor on 13 March 1943 from Westerbork.

He was selected on the ramp in Sobibor however his wife didin't see it. From Sobibor he was sent to a work camp in the surroundings. From there he sent a last message to his sister in Holland. He did not survive. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibór. Metropol-Berlin 1998.


Born on 13 February 1892 in Janow, Poland, moved to Amsterdam after WW1, upholsterer. Father-in-law of survivor Jules Schelvis. Deported to Westerbork on 26 May 1943, to Sobibor on 1 June 1943. Killed on arrival on 4 June 1943.

BORZYKOWSKI nee Stroz, Gretha (Gitla) 
Born on 18 April 1895 in Czestochowa, Poland, married to David Borzykowski. Mother-in-law of survivor Jules Schelvis. Deported to Westerbork on 26 May 1943, to Sobibor on 1 June1943. Killed on arrival on 4 June 1943.

Born on 30 October 1927 in Amsterdam. Son of David and Gretha. Brother-in-law of survivor Jules Schelvis. Deported to Westerbork on 26 May 1943, to Sobibor on 1 June 1943. Killed on arrival on 4 June 1943. 
Source: Jules SchelvisBinnen de poorten, De Bataafsche Leeuw, Amsterdam, 7th edition 2003; In Memoriam Book NIOD Amsterdam.


BRAND, Berek 
Perished at Sobibor, according to witness Eda Lichtman.

BRAND, Hanka 
Sister of Eda Lichtman`s husband. She was deported from Wieliczka together with her parents, Susel and Leon Weissberg in early 1943.


VAN BRUCK family

A mother with son and two daughters. They were deported from Holland and the whole family was selected for work in the camp.

Mother van Bruck worked in the taylor workshop, her daughters segregated the clothes of the murdered people. The son transported the suitcases on the narrow gauge railway into the camp.

One day the son was brought to Camp III and never returned. He probably had to work there as member of the Sonderkommando. Nobody of the prisoners informed his mother and after several hours she realized herself what has happend to her son. The whole family was killed in Sobibor. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291


COHEN, Alex 
He was deported from Westerbork on 17 March 1943 to Sobibor where he was selected on the ramp. In his testimony is an information that an SS man asked for medical doctors and nurses during the selection. 35 - 40 men of the group (mostly doctors and nurses) were sent from Sobibor to Lublin. He survived the war. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibór. Metropol-Berlin 1998.

CUKERMAN, Josef / Hersz / Herschel

CUKERMAN, Josef / Hersz / Herschel 

A cook who lived in Kurow when the war broke out. Deported to Opole. Via Naleczow to Sobibor. Selected along with his son Joseph to work as cooks in the kitchen. 

Brutally whipped by Frenzel on 25 September 1943 in front of the kitchen, for not serving the food quick enough. Member of the battle team which was in charge of cutting the barbed wire fence near the camp commander's house. He and his son fled the camp during the revolt. His son joined the partisans, he hid in the forest. Both survived the Holocaust and moved to the USA. 

Born on 15 April 1893. A gardener by profession before he was deported to Sobibor. Because of his excellent memory he could identify most of the SS men from their photos. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 15 April 1893

DALBERG nee Nussbaum, Bella

DALBERG nee Nussbaum, Bella 
Born on 28 January 1883 in Hersfeld (Germany). Until 1933 she lived in Kassel from where she emigrated with her husband Julius to Amsterdam. On 23 July 1943 she was deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor, together with her husband. 
Source: "Namen und Schicksale der Juden Kassels. Ein Gedenkbuch". Kassel, 1986.

  • 28 January 1883~



Born on 21 May 1882 in Essentho (Germany). He was member of the Jewish Community's Council in Kassel until 1933 and redactor of the "Jüdische Wochenzeitung für Kassel, Hessen und Waldeck" in which he published many articles about the Jewish history of Kassel and surroundings.

In September 1933 he was arrested and spent two weeks in the KZ Breitenau near Guxhagen. After release he emigrated together with his wife Bella to Amsterdam where he ran a Judaica shop until 1940. On 23 July 1943 he was deported together with his wife from Westerbork camp to Sobibor. 
Source: "Namen und Schicksale der Juden Kassels. Ein Gedenkbuch". Kassel, 1986.

  • Essentho (Germany)
  • 21 May 1882


A Dutch painter. He had to paint pictures of SS men and their families. 

Former winner of the Prix de Rome. Was brought to Sobibor from France on convoy 53. Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998. 

Born on 19 March 1910 in Winterswijk, NL. Killed on 20 September 1943. 

  • 19 March 1910~ 20 September 1943


Born on 3 March 1910 in Kassel.

She was the daughter of Emmy Danneberg. On 1 June 1942 she was deported together with her mother from Kassel to Sobibor. 
Source: "Namen und Schicksale der Juden Kassels. Ein Gedenkbuch". Kassel, 1986.

  • 3 March 1910~

DEEN, Helga

DEEN, Helga
Born on 6 April 1925 in Szczecin (Stettin). Daughter of Käthe and Willy Deen. She was deported together with her family from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 16 July 1943.

  • 6 April 1925


DEEN nee Wolff, Käthe 
Born on 20 May 1894 in Nürnberg from where she emigrated to Holland before the war. Wife of Willy Deen. She was deported together with her family from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 16 July 1943.

DEEN, Klaus Gottfried A.
Born on 22 June 1928 in Szczecin (Stettin). Son of Käthe and Willy Deen. He was deported together with his family from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 16 July 1943.

DEEN, Willy
Born on 3 March 1891 in Tilburg. Husband of Käthe Deen, née Wolff. He was deported together with his family from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 16 July 1943.

DRESDEN nee Polak, Anna

DRESDEN nee Polak, Anna 
Born on 24 November 1906. Dutch gold medalist of the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Together with her six-year old daughter Eva she was killed in Sobibor on 23 July 1943. Her husband, Barend, was killed in Auschwitz in 1944. 
Source: USHMM and In Memoriam Book NIOD Amsterdam

  • 24 November 1906.


DRESZER, Leibel 

A "Putzer" in the camp. 13 years old on 14 October 1943, the day the uprising took place. He decided to take Niemann’s horse to the stable after the SS Ustuf had entered the taylor’s barrack (where his killing meant the beginning of the uprising) because a horse left outside might have caused suspicion. Dreszer was killed later that day. 
Source: E.A. Cohen, “De negentien treinen naar Sobibor”, Elsevier ed., Amsterdam 1979.


Born on 11 May 1876. Deported on 27 April 1942 with his wife Rosa from Vienna to Wlodawa and from there to Sobibor.

Born on 1 January 1886. Deported on 27 April 1942 with her husband Aron from Vienna to Wlodawa and from there to Sobibor.

DUNIEC / DUNIETZ, Josef / Joseph

DUNIEC / DUNIETZ, Josef / Joseph 
Born in Kiev in 1912. He left Rivne (Rowno) to study chemistry at the university of Caen (France). On 13 February 1943 he was arrested and sent to Drancy for a month. Then deported to Sobibor in transport no. 53. Arrival at Sobibor on 29 / 30 March 1943. Foreman in the sorting area. 
After the revolt he lived in the forest. He survived the Holocaust but died of a heart attack one day before he left for Germany, to testify at the Sobibor trial in Hagen. 

Born 21 December 1912. Died 1 December 1963 in Haifa. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 21 December 1912~1 December 1963


Born in Przemysl (Poland) on 2 March 1895. Together with his wife Martha he emigrated from Germany to Holland. Both were deported to Sobibor in 1943. 
Source and photo: GFH

  • Przemysl (Poland)
  • 2 March 1895

ELBERT, Alice and Hugo

ELBERT, Alice and Hugo 
Deported from Slovakia to Sobibor in 1942. There they perished.

ELIAS nee Pohly, Julie

ELIAS nee Pohly, Julie
Born on 15 September 1880 in Göttingen. She lived in Kassel from where she was deported to Sobibor on 1 June 1942. 
Source: "Namen und Schicksale der Juden Kassels. Ein Gedenkbuch". Kassel, 1986.

  • 15 September 1880

ELTBOGEN, Philipp, Gertrude and Blanka

ELTBOGEN, Philipp, Gertrude and Blanka
Born on 20 November 1891, Gertrude on 14 September 1925, Blanka on 10 October 1891. Deported on 15 February 1941 together with Katherina from Vienna to Opole Lubelskie. From there to Sobibor in May 1942.

ELTBOGEN, Katherina
Born on 10 May 1922. Daughter of Blanka and Philipp. Deported on 15 February 1941 together with her parents and sister from Vienna to Opole Lubelskie. From there to Sobibor in May 1942.

ENGEL, Chaim

ENGEL, Chaim
Born in 1916 in Brudzew, Poland. 1921 the family moved to Lodz. Later he worked in his uncle's textile factory. 
In 1939, during the German attack on Poland, he was taken as a POW because he served in the Polish army. Sent to Germany for forced labour until March 1940. 
Back in Poland he was deported to Sobibor in the summer of 1942. He relates: 
"In October 1943 a small group of prisoners revolted. I stabbed our overseer to death. With each jab I cried, "This is for my father, for my mother, for all the Jews you killed." 
The knife slipped, cutting me, covering me with blood. Chaos took over; many prisoners ran out the main gate. Some stepped on mines. Some gave up and didn't run at all. I grabbed my girlfriend and we ran into the woods." 
There he hid together with his girlfriend, Selma. After the war they married and immigrated in the USA in 1957. 
See his sketch of the camp on the "map page". 
Chaim Engel died on 4 July 2003 in New Haven, USA. 
Source: USHMM. 

Born on 10 January 1916. After the escape from Sobibor he was liberated by the Red Army near Chelm: 23 June 1944. Travelled with Selma Wijnberg via Odessa and Marseille to the Netherlands and emigrated via Israel to the USA. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 10 January 1916~4 July 2003

ENGEL, Selma, née Wijnberg

ENGEL, Selma
Selma Engel, née Wijnberg, was born 1922 in Groningen, Netherlands. In 1943 she was caught by the Germans and deported to Sobibor. She was selected for work in the camp and was able to survive. 
After the war she went to the USA, together with her husband. 
Source: USHMM 

Original forename: Saartje. Born 15 May 1922 in Groningen, Holland. The train that took her and 2,019 others to Sobibor, left Westerbork on 9 April 1943. Worked mainly at the sorting barracks, sometimes Waldkommando
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • Groningen, Holland
  • 15 May 1922~


Born in 1884 in Vienna. Since 1912 she was a journalist. Founder member of "Vereinigung sozialkritischer Schriftsteller" (illegal since 1934). Her works were banned by the Nazis in 1938. 
On 14th June 1942 deported to Sobibor, where she perished.

FELDMAN, Regina (Rywka)

FELDMAN, Regina (Rywka) 
Survived the Holocaust. 
Born on 2 September 1924 in Siedliszcze. Came to Sobibor on 22 December 1942, from labour camp Staw (like Ester Raab-Terner). Worked in the ironing rooms, the laudery and the sewing shop. Also cleaned ammunition. After the uprising she ended up in Frankfurt/Main where she worked as a nannie, under the name of Wojciszyn. Married to Zielinski on 24 December 1945, still using her cover name, in Wetzlar. Emigrated to Australia on 3 August 1949. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 2 September 1924~

FLAJSZHAKIER (Fleischhacker), Shaul

FLAJSZHAKIER (Fleischhacker), Shaul 

Born in Kalisz and deported from a ghetto in the Lublin district.

Chief of the shoemaker workshop in the camp. He refused to beat other prisoners and was therefore beaten by Wagner. When the transports from Vienna arrived he tried to inform the Austrian Jews that they were brought to a death camp. They did not believe him and said he is crazy. Flajszhakier wrote a song for Wagner which the Jews had to sing. He did not survive the uprising. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291

FREIBERG, Dov / Berl / Berek

FREIBERG, Dov / Berl / Berek 

He lived in Lodz when the war broke out. Moved to Warsaw. In January 1941 he moved to Turbin near Lublin, where he stayed until May 1942. 
Deported to Zolkiewka, then to Sobibor, where he arrived on 15 May 1942. 
He witnessed the arrival of transports from Bialystok General District to Treblinka.

He recalled: 
"There were transports, like those from the eastern areas, which were very strongly guarded by SS men and Ukrainians. In these trains there was no one car left undamaged.

Each freight car looked like a battlefield and inside were more dead and wounded than living peo­ple. Some of the people were nude and white from the chlorine powder... These people resisted, they refused to undress, they attacked the Germans with their fists... Many were shot and many went to the gas chambers dressed. We worked late in the night to clean the area from the dead and wounded..." (Arad, p134) 

He survived the revolt. 
You can find Freiberg's extensive testimony at Eichmann's trial at www.nizkor.org/ 

Born 15 May 1927 in Warsaw.

Bluma Wasser wrote about his life in Sobibor on 25 July 1945, in Lodz, but this story was never authorized and later Freiberg detached himself from the story on several issues. Emigrated to Israel. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 15 May 1927~

GOLDFARB, Mordechai (Moshe)

GOLDFARB, Mordechai (Moshe) 
Deported from Piaski. Survived the Holocaust. Wrote a report after the war. 

Born 15 March 1920 in Piaski near Lublin, died 8 June 1984 in Haifa. Came together with Kurt Thomas on 6 November 1942 to Sobibor. Painter, made the leaflets on the suitcases of SS men who went on holiday. Went into hiding with partisans after the uprising, together with Lerner
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 15 March 1920~8 June 1984


Born on 29 November 1901 in Nürnberg (Germany). On 4 April 1942 she was deported from Munich to the Piaski transit ghetto (Lublin district). Several months later she was deported to Sobibor. 
Source: JewishGen

Perished at Sobibor, according to witness Joseph Zukerman.

HAMME, Marcus - Max

HAMME, Marcus - Max 
Born on 24 December 1901 in Den Haag (Holland). Deported from Amsterdam to Sobibor where he perished on 16 July 1943. 
Source: Yad Vashem

  • 24 December 1901~16 July 1943


Born on 29 January 1942 in Amsterdam (Holland). He was deported to Sobibor on 21 May together with other Jewish children from the Amsterdam orphanage De Creche. 
Source and photo: GFH

  • 29 January 1942

JOURGRAU nee Friedmann, Lea

JOURGRAU nee Friedmann, Lea 
Born in Tarnow, Poland (Galizia), on 5 October 1904. She came to the Netherlands from Palestine probably in 1929. She was caught by the Nazis, although she hid somewhere in Amsterdam. Deported to the Dutch assembly camp Westerbork, and from there deported to Sobibor. There she was murdered on 23 July 1943. 
Source: Lea's daughter Ruth Lavie-Jourgrau, Israel

  • Tarnow, Poland
  • 5 October 1904~23 July 1943

KAHN, Edgar

KAHN, Edgar 
Edgar Kahn was born on 12 October 1907 in Merzig, Saarland (Sarre). He fled his country in 1935 with all his family (parents, brothers, sisters, wife and baby girl). He was married to Thea Liselotte Salomon, still alive in 2006. A part of the family first gathered in Alençon (French Normandy) 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 (French Pyrenees) some time 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 Gurs. On 26 February 1943 (the day when 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 brought to the Drancy transit camp, from where he was finally deported to Sobibor in Convoy no. 50 on 4 March 1943. 
Source: Grandson of Edgar Kahn

  • Merzig, Saarland
  • 12 October 1907~

KATZ, Serka

KATZ, Serka 

A girl from Dubienka, deported to Sobibor together with Eda Lichtman and Bajla Sobol in June 1942. They were selected from the big transport from Hrubieszow county. Serka Katz had to clean the houses of the SS men from where she often smuggled food into the camp. She escaped from the camp during the uprising but her further fate is not known. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291



Born on 15 February 1897. 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, Kleepekoper helped lead the Dutch team to the gold medal as they scored 316.75 total points.

Killed in Sobibor on 2 July 1943, together with his wife Kaatje, and their 14-year old daughter Elisabeth. His son, Leendert, was killed in Auschwitz the following year. Kleerekoper was killed together with Lea Kloot-Nordheim, one of his gymnasts. 
Source: "Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame", by Joseph Seigman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)

  • 15 February 1897~2 July 1943,

KLOOT nee Nordheim, Helena

KLOOT nee Nordheim, Helena 
Born on 1 August 1903. Dutch gold medalist of the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Together with her husband and her ten-year old daughter Rebecca she was killed in Sobibor on 2 July 1943. 
Source: USHMM and In Memoriam Book NIOD Amsterdam

  • 1 August 1903~2 July 1943

KOHN, Abraham

KOHN, Abraham 
Survived the Holocaust. 

Born on 25 July 1910 in Lodz/Piontek, died 19 January 1986 in Melbourne Australia.

Was transported to Sobibor in May 1942 from Wisocka, together with several hundreds of Jews. Worked in the sorting barracks in the kitchen and in the Waldkommando. Told the representative of a German court in 1977 that 19 Germans / Hiwis had been killed during the Sobibor unrising.

He refused however to testify in the 1983 trial against Frenzel because he had not received any Wiedergutmachung (financial compensation). 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • Melbourne Australia
  • 25 July 1910~19 January 1986

KOPF, Josef

KOPF, Josef 
He came from Zamosc. Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943. Murdered by Poles in August 1944. 

Born in Bilgora. Came as one of the first prosoners to Sobibor. He and Szlomo Podchlebnik killed a guard on 27 July 1943 as the forced labourers of the Waldkommando came through the village of Zlobek to get themselves water. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • August 1944



Born 15 May 1923 in Izbica. Was deported together with Thomas Blatt from his native town to Sobibor on 28 April 1943.

Worked at the Waldkommando for a long time. He stated that on 27 July 1943, when five forced labourers escaped from the Waldkommando, not he but his uncle Abraham Wang was on duty. Honigmann and Wang himself state they escaped together with Kornfeld. Emigrated in 1949 to Italy and from there to Brazil. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 15 May 1923~


LEITMAN, Szlomo 

Polish Jew from Warsaw. A Carpenter who had been taken from the Minsk Ghetto to the SS labour camp at Sheroka Street in Minsk. A close friend of Pechersky who was brought to Sobibor in the same transport. 

It was Leitman who came up with the idea of building a tunnel from the carpenters shop. The digging started in early October 1943. Because of heavy rain on 8 and 9 October the tunnel was flooded, and the idea of escaping through a tunnel was abandoned. 

He killed Unterscharführer Friedrich Gaulstich in the carpenter’s barrack on the day of the uprising, on 14 October 1943. Wounded during the revolt, managed to escape to the woods before his strength ran out. 
Source: E.A. Cohen, “De negentien treinen naar Sobibor”, Elsevier ed., Amsterdam 1979.

LEJST, Chaim

LEJST, Chaim 
Born in Zolkiewka. Sent to the Belzec labour camp, living together with the imprisoned gypsies. Following an order to leave Suche-Lipie in May 1942, he escaped and made his way to Izbica from which he was deported to Sobibor. 

Ordered by Wagner to grow vegetables and flowers. During the revolt he acted as a liaison agent between Camps I and II, as his job as a gardener enabled freedom of movement. He survived the Holocaust.

LERER, Samuel

LERER, Samuel 
Survived the Holocaust. 
Born on 1 October 1922 in Zolkiewka. Came to Sobibor in May 1942. Took care of the SS men’s horses, and of chicken and ducks. Lived in Berlin after the war, where thanks to him SS man Bauer was arrested. Later emigrated to the USA. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • Born on 1 October 1922~

LERNER, Yehuda

LERNER, Yehuda 
Born in Warsaw, in a family of six. Taken from the Umschlagplatz to a camp in Smolensk, building an airfield. He escaped from this camp but was arrested and taken to the Minsk Ghetto where he was imprisoned at the Sheroka Street labour camp. Then deported via Chelm to Sobibor. 
He killed, together with Arkady VajspapirSS-Oberscharführer Graetschus. He escaped from Sobibor and joined the "Yehiel" Jewish partisan brigade. He survived the Holocaust and made a film ("Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures") with Claude Lanzmann which recounts the part he played in the revolt. 

Born on 22 July 1926. Emigrated from Germany to Israel in 1949. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 22 July 1926

de LEVI, Elka

de LEVI, Elka 
Dutch gold medalist of the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. She was the only Jewess of the gold medal team who survived the Holocaust. 
Source: USHMM


Deported from Mielec (her husband was killed in Mielec) via Dubienka and Hrubieszow to Sobibor. At Sobibor she worked in the laundry. She survived the Holocaust. 

Born 1 January 1915 in Jaroslaw as Eda Fischer. She was as a mother to the young girls who had to work in the barracks. Witnessed for the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, for Yad Vashem and at the Eichmann trial. Emigrated with her later husband Yitzhak to Israel in 1950. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • Jaroslaw
  • 1 January 1915~

LICHTMAN, Yitzhak / Itzhak

LICHTMAN, Yitzhak / Itzhak 
He lived in Zolkiewa, 80 km from Lublin. On 22 May 1942 all Jews had to walk from Zolkiewa to Krasnystaw station where they were loaded into cattle cars bound to Sobibor. 
At Sobibor he worked in the shoemakers barrack and participated in the killing of SS-Scharführer Vallaster. He survived the revolt and lived in the forest until liberation of the area. 

Born on 10 December 1908, died 1992 in Israel. After the uprising he joined the Polish army. Emigrated to Israel together with Eda, who became his wife later. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibór”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • Israel
  • 10 December 1908~ 1992

LIEBSCHÜTZ, Fanny and Jacob

LIEBSCHÜTZ, Fanny and Jacob 
The photo shows Fanny and Jacob together with their son Werner. He survived the Holocaust because his parents could send him to the USA. Fanny and Jacob were deported to Sobibor in 1942.


LÖWENSTEIN nee Goldbach, Else 
Born on 11 August 1893 in Herford, wife of Hugo Löwenstein. She had two children: Emmi and Hans. Together with her husband and her daughter she perished in Sobibor. 
Source: Angelika Tiemann, Germany.

Born on 7 February 1925 in Herford, daughter of Else and Hugo Löwenstein. Together with her mother and father she perished in Sobibor.
Source: Angelika Tiemann, Germany.

Born on 12 September 1920 in Herford. Together with his mother Else, his father Hugo and his sister Emmi Renate he emigrated to the Netherlands in 1934. In December 1939 his parents could send the 14 years old boy to the USA, where he survived the Holocaust. He was spared dying in a gas chamber at Sobibor. 
Source: Angelika Tiemann, Germany.

Born on 4 September 1894 in Enger/Westfalia (Germany), married with Else Löwenstein
In 1934 he and his family emigrated to the Netherlands where they were arrested by the Nazis and finally deported to Sobibor. Together with his wife Else and his daughter Emmi he perished in Sobibor. 
Source: Angelika Tiemann, Germany.



Born on 25 December 1921 in Zyrardow. When the war broke out he lived in Warsaw. Brought to Zamosc by his mother. There he and his brother were arrested and deported to the labour camp in Janowice. 
In Sobibor he worked on the Bahnhofskommando, cleaning carriages, and the kitchen. He escaped together with Hela Weiss during the revolt. He survived the Holocaust. 
Source: E.A. Cohen, “De negentien treinen naar Sobibor”, Elsevier ed., Amsterdam 1979. 

Schelvis states his date of birth on 25 January 1921. Died in Israel in 1984. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 25 December 1921~

MARUM, Eva-Brigitte

MARUM, Eva-Brigitte 
Born 17 July 1919 in Karlsruhe, Germany. She was the youngest of three children. Her father was arrested and killed by the Nazis because he was an active anti-Nazi. 
In April 1934 she and her mother emigrated to France. In 1941 her sister obtained ship tickets to the USA but she could not get on board because she was nine months pregnant. She gave birth in Marseille. Her son survived the Holocaust and the war because she was forced to give him to a Jewish children home in Limoges. She was caught by the Germans in January 1943 and deported to Sobibor where she perished. Her son was taken to Palestine. 
Source: USHMM

  • Karlsruhe, Germany
  • 17 July 1919~

MENCHE, Yechaskel

MENCHE, Yechaskel 

Born in Kolo near Lodz. Deported to Izbica in December 1940. Then to Sobibor in 1942, together with 20 relatives, in a convoy of 6,000 people. In Sobibor he was selected as tailor. Together with Lerner he was charged with killing Graetschus and Klatt which they achieved. 
He escaped through the barbed wire, and over the ditches he reached the forest. He survived the Holocaust. 

Born 7 January 1910. Died in Melbourne in 1984. He had married Szlomo Podchlebnik’s sister Hella in 1937. After the war he was paid to state to have been imprisoned at KZ Groß-Rosen, because he believed to be the only Sobibor survivor, so that nobody would be able to testify on his behalf. Emigrated to Australia in 1949. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • Melbourne,Australia
  • Born 7 January 1910~1984

METZ, Zelda

METZ, Zelda 
Born on 1 May 1925 in Siedliszcze-Nowosiolki. Deported to Staw where she and her family worked in a labour camp. From Staw she was deported to Sobibor by cart on 20 December 1942. Selected by Wagner to knit pullovers and socks for the SS. In summer of 1943 she worked on the construction of barracks and bunkers in Camp IV. She escaped during the revolt, hid with peasants and obtained false documents proving that she was Aryan. Until the liberation she lived in Lviv. After the war she wrote a report. Married to Kelbermann.

  • Siedliszcze-Nowosiolki
  • 1 May 1925~

NAFTANIAL, Herbert ("Berliner")

NAFTANIAL, Herbert ("Berliner") 

German Jew who was employed as a luggage sorter, who betrayed Oberkapo Moshe Sturm to the Nazis, and who was promoted in his place in the summer of 1943. 

More commonly known as "Berliner", as he came from Berlin. His cruelty and compliance with the Nazis was infamous within the camp. He hounded the prisoners with the words "are you tired? Can I help you in anyway?" 

Even the Nazis copied his mocking tones. 
He was secretly attacked by Kapo Pozycki, Bunio, and an unknown Dutch Kapo, and beaten so badly, that he could not get out of bed, in the Kapos' block. 
Frenzel ordered "Berliner" to be finished off, as "Berliner" had gone over his head to betray the Kapo's escape to Gustav Wagner, and he was poisoned and taken to Camp III.

NOL, Abraham

NOL, Abraham 
Born on 2 November 1919 in Uitgeest (Netherlands). His last known address was Linnaeuskade 14, Amsterdam. 
Arrested on 18 May 1942 during an attempted escape by a fishing boat to England. After 12 months in prison in Holland, he was sent to Westerbork camp (Netherlands) and from there to Sobibor. He is believed to have arrived at Sobibor on 18 May 1943 and perished there on 21 May 1943. 
His mother, sister and aunt died in Auschwitz. 
Source: Joe Nol, September 2003.

  • Netherlands
  • 2 November 1919~ 21 May 1943

NOL, Richard

NOL, Richard 

Born on 8 November 1920. Cousin of Abraham Nol.

He tried to escape from Holland over the Channel, together with Abraham Nol. The attempt was not successful. They were captured on the water and arrested on 18 May 1942 by the Germans. Like Abraham Nol, he was imprisoned in Holland, and eventually sent to Westerbork and then on to Poland, but there is uncertainty about whether he went at the same time as Abraham, or later in November 1943, and whether he came to Sobibor or another camp. 
Source: Joe Nol, September 2003. 
According to In Memoriam Book NIOD Amsterdam (Mozes) Richard Nol perished in Sobibor on 21 May 1943.

  • 8 November 1920~

NORDEN nee Haendel, Käthe Liselotte

NORDEN nee Haendel, Käthe Liselotte
Born on 16 January 1919 in Wollin (Germany). Daughter of Georg Haendel and Rosy, neé Schlesinger. Wife of Karel Norden. Deported from Amsterdam to Sobibor, where she perished on 9 July 1943. 
Source: Yad Vashem

  • 16 January 1919~9 July 1943


Born on 20 September 1906 in Holland. He was resistance operative. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, deported to Sobibor via Westerbork transit camp in Holland in March 1943. 
Source and photo: GFH

  • Holland
  • 20 September 1906~

PARIJS, Samuel

PARIJS, Samuel 
Born on 21 February 1913 in Amsterdam. Son of David Parijs and Rosa, neé Vieyra. Chemist. Deported to Sobibor, where he perished on 4 June 1943. 
Source: Yad Vashem 
Both his parents also perished in Sobibor, respectively on 28 May and 28 March 1943. 
Source: In Memoriam Book NIOD Amsterdam

  • Amsterdam
  • 21 February 1913~4 June 1943

PENHA-Blitz, Mirjam

PENHA-Blitz, Mirjam
She was deported in the same transport in which Cato Polak was, on 13 March 1943 from Westerbork. She remembered that during the selection on the ramp in Sobibor she could hear music from loudspeakers. During the selection she lost her husband and a sister. She was deported back to Lublin and survived the war. After the war she gave her statement in Holland. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibor. Metropol-Berlin 1998


Foreman from Kolo. Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943. 

Born on 15 February 1907 in Kolo.

Came to Sobibor on 28 April 1943, together with wife, two children and 270 other people from Izbica. Brother-in-law of Chaskiel MencheSchelvis states his escape was on 27 July. Emigrated to the USA where he lives under the surname of Paull
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 15 February 1907~


POLAK, Cato 
Dutch Jew from Den Haag. Deported to Sobibor on 13 March 1943.

She was selected on the ramp in Sobibor together with 32 women and 12 men. After several hours she was deported from Sobibor to Lublin (or to KL Majdanek; or to the "Flugplatz" camp).

She observed the selection on the ramp in Sobibor: Old people and invalides were loaded on the wagons of the narrow gauge railway, mothers had to stay with the children. They were taken "to the bath". SS men looked for the young men and women, also for medical doctors

The selected people were sent back with the same train to Lublin, together with the luggage of the people who were deported from Westerbork to Sobibor. Cato Polak survived and gave the statement about her fate after the war in Holland. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibor. Metropol-Berlin 1998


Born in 1895 in Kamionka. Chief of the Judenrat in Piaski. Deported together with his wife Rozalia to Sobibor in July 1942.

Born on 8 November 1919. Waitress in the "Volksküche" in the Piaski ghetto. Deported together with her parents Rozalia and Mandel to Sobibor in July 1942.

Vice-president of the "Help Committee for Refugees and Poor People" in Piaski. Deported together with her husband Mandel to Sobibor in July 1942.

PRINZ, Eduard

PRINZ, Eduard
Born on 23 June 1874 in Deventer (Holland). Deported to Sobibor where he perished probably on 6 July 1943. 
Source: Yad Vashem

  • 23 June 1874~6 July 1943

RAAB, Ester

RAAB, Ester 
. Wrote a report after the war. 

Born on 11 June 1922 in Chelm. Came to Sobibor on 22 December 1942 from forced labour camp Staw, together with 800 other people, by lorry. Worked in the ironing room, the sorting barracks and as a cleaning woman at the ramp. Got injured during the revolt but survived nevertheless. Emigrated to the USA. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 11 June 1922~


Born in Wlodawa, 8 km from Sobibor. Deported to Sobibor on 1 May 1943. Selected by Frenzel to live, working on various construction jobs as bricklayer, e.g. construction of the arsenal. 
After the revolt arrested by members of the Schupo and taken to Adampole from where he escaped and joined the Yehiel partisans. He survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel. 

Born in 1925. Came to Sobibor together with his brother, who was also in the Arbeitskommando, but did not survive the revolt. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 1925

SAFRAN, Ilana (Ursula Stern-Buchheim)

SAFRAN, Ilana (Ursula Stern-Buchheim) 
German Jew from Essen who moved to the Netherlands, together with her parents (who were killed in Auschwitz). Via Amstelveen, Vught, and Westerbork she was deported to Sobibor in April 1943. During the revolt she could escape, together with Katty Gokkes. They escaped to the forest and joined the partisans. She survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel. 

Born on 28 August 1928 in Essen, died in 1985 in Ashdod, Israel. Worked at the sorting barracks, also at theWaldkommando and in Camp 4, cleaning ammunition. After the uprising, having joined the partisans, she was a member of a civil militia in Lublin. Lived in Holland for some time before her emigration to Israel. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 28 August 1928


Deported from Westerbork on 1 June 1943, together with his wife Rachel and her family. During the selection on Sobibor's ramp he lost his wife and her family. The same day he was sent to the Trawniki work camp. Together with him 81 young men were selected, being able to work. Afterwards he was sent to Dorohucza forced labour camp (subcamp of Trawniki). Finally he was deported to the Radom ghetto, from where he was sent to Auschwitz. He survived the war and in 1986 he published his memoirs in Dutch language.  Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibór, Metropol-Berlin 1998.  
J. Schelvis: Binnen de poorten. De Baafsche Leeuw Amsterdam, 7th ed. 2003. 
The photo shows Jules and his wife Rachel (nee Borzykowski) on their wedding on 18 December 1941. 
Photo: GFH

SCHELVIS nee Borzykowski, Rachel

SCHELVIS nee Borzykowski, Rachel 
Born in Amsterdam on 2 March 1923 from Polish parents. Wife of Jules Schelvis. Deported from Westerbork to Sobibor on 1 June 1943. During the selection on Sobibor's ramp she was sent to the gas chambers, together with her parents, sister and brother, and other women from this transport. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibór. Metropol-Berlin 1998. 
J. Schelvis: Binnen de poorten. De Baafsche Leeuw Amsterdam, 7th ed. 2003. 
During his imprisonments in various camps Jules Schelvis has always kept a small mirror on whose backside a photo of his wife was mounted. Unfortunately he lost the mirror when he was finally freed. Today a replica is exhibited at the Westerbork Memorial, created by Mr. Schelvis.

  • 2 March 1923~1943


He and his wife were caught by the Germans in the Netherlands and deported to Westerbork concentration camp. From there they were deported to Sobibor. They perished on 9 July 1943. 
Source: USHMM

  • 9 July 1943

SCHULZ, Anna and Emil

SCHULZ, Anna and Emil 

Anna Schulz was born on 16 August 1890 in Bingen, Germany.

Emil Schulz was born on 9 February 1879 in Mannheim, Germany. Both moved to the Netherlands and were deported from Westerbork to Sobibor on 4 May 1943. They were killed on 7 May 1943. 
Source: Helen Murphy (grand-daughter) and A. Lebowitz, Communications Director of the Jewish Labor Committee www.jewishlabor.org 
25 East 21st Street, New York, NY 10010

  • Bingen, Germany
  • 7 May 1943


Born on 30 March 1859 in Raesfeld (Germany). Before the war he emigrated to Holland. Deported together with his wife Mathilde from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 28 May 1943. 
Source: JewishGen

SCHWARZ nee Rosenbaum, Mathilde 
Born on 9 April 1869 in Germany. Before the war she emigrated to Holland with her husband Levi. Together with him she was deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 28 May 1943. 
Source: JewishGen

Electrician in the camp.

SHUBAYEV, Aleksander

SHUBAYEV, Aleksander 
Soviet Jewish POW from Minsk. Friend of Sasha Pechersky. Warned him of fellow Soviet POW Grisha's planned escape on 9 October 1943. This attack was foiled, in order not to foil the planned mass escape. 
Shubayev was better known as "Kalimali", and he hailed from Baku. He was one of the chief planners of the revolt. He killed the deputy camp commander Niemann in the tailors shop by an axe blow to the head. He survived the revolt but was killed by Germans whilst fighting in the Voroshilov partisan unit.

SMEER, Jacob

SMEER, Jacob 
Born on 17 December 1904 in Amsterdam. Son of Azor Smeer and Dirkje, neé Oosterhof. Via a prison in Scheveningen and Westerbork camp he was deported to Sobibor, where he perished on 28 May 1943. 
Source: Yad Vashem

  • 17 December 1904~ 28 May 1943

STODEL, Abraham

STODEL, Abraham 
Born in Amsterdam on 2 July 1920. Deported from Westerbork on 1 June 1943 to Sobibor, together with his wife Hella and 3,002 other Jews. He perished in the labour camp Dorohucza on 30 November 1943. 
The photo shows Abraham and his wife Hella (nee Borzykowski) on their wedding on 18 December 1941. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Binnen de poorten, De Bataafsche Leeuw Amsterdam 2003 
Source and Photo: GFH

  • 2 July 1920~30 November 1943

STODEL nee Borzykowski, Hella (Chaja)

STODEL nee Borzykowski, Hella (Chaja) 
Born in Amsterdam on 6 August 1921. The wife of Abraham Stodel. Deported from Westerbork to Sobibor on 1 June 1943. During the selection on Sobibor's ramp she was sent to the gas chambers, together with her parents, her brother and her sister. 
The photo shows Hella on her wedding on 18 December 1941. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Binnen de poorten, De Bataafsche Leeuw Amsterdam 2003 
Photo: GFH

  • 6 August 1921~1943


Father of Stanislaw Szmajzner, deeply religious, who owned stores. Wholesaler of fruit, chiefly strawberries to Germany. He lived in Pulawy, then within the ghetto at Opole. 
Deported from Opole on 11 May 1942 to Naleczow, on foot. From there he was brought to Sobibor where he arrived on 12 May 1942. He was murdered together with other members of his family.

Brother of Stanislaw Szmajzner, deported with him from Opole Lubelskie on 12 May 1942. He was selected together with Stanislaw Szmajzner, Noach Szmajzner and Jankiel Rotter. They worked in the camp as jewellers. His fate is not known. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291

Cousin of Stanislaw Szmajzner. Deported to Sobibor from Opole Lubelskie on 12 May 1942. He worked in the camp as jeweller. His fate is not known. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291

Mother of Stanislaw Szmajzner, deeply religious, who divided her time between the household and helping Josel in the family business. She lived in Pulawy, then within the ghetto at Opole. 
Deported from Opole on 11 May 1942 to Naleczow, on foot. From there she was brought to Sobibor where she arrived on 12 May 1942. She was murdered together with other members of her family.

Older sister of Stanislaw Szmajzner. She married Josef who worked in the family business. She lived in Pulawy, then within the ghetto at Opole. 
Deported from Opole on 11 May 1942 to Naleczow, on foot. From there she was brought to Sobibor where she arrived on 12 May 1942. She was murdered together with other members of her family.

SZMAJZNER, Stanislaw (Shlomo) 
Goldsmith / tinsmith. Survived and wrote a book. 

Born on 13 March 1927 in Pulawy, died 3 March 1989 in Goiania, Brazil. Came to Sobibor on 12 May 1942 with 2,000 people from Opole. Part of the gold he used to make ornaments for the SS, came from victims’ teeth. Eventually he became a maintenance worker which gave him access to all parts of the camp, except camp 3. He was in the uprising committee. Emigrated to Brazil in 1947, where he wrote the book “Inferno em Sobibor. A tragédia de um adolescente judeu”, Rio de Janeiro 1968, in Portuguese. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998.

  • 13 March 1927~3 March 1989


She was deported to Sobibor from Siedliszcze. Eda Lichtman wrote about her that she was a beautiful young woman. She was killed during the uprising. 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291


SZTARK, Szoel 
A good friend of Leo

n Feldhendler. He was born in Zolkiewka like Feldhendler and was deported to Sobibor together with him. In the camp he was responsible for the geese. He was killed because one goose was sick. When Wagner, Bredow and Weiss brought him to Camp III he shouted to Feldhendler in Yiddish: "Leibl, gedenk nem nekume! (Leibl, remember to revenge me!). 
Source: Eda Lichtman memoirs - Yad Vashem Archives, 03/1291


Member of the battle team which was in charge of cutting the barbed wire fence near the camp commander's house. He survived the revolt and joined the partisans. 

Born 1917 in Minsk. Came to Sobibor together with Petchersky and the Soviet POWs. Worked as a carpenter. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 1917

THEMANS nee Simons, Judikje

THEMANS nee Simons, Judikje 
Born on 20 August 1904. Dutch gold medalist of the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Together with her daughter Sonja and son Leon she was killed in Sobibor on 20 March 1943. 
Source: USHMM and In Memoriam Book NIOD, Amsterdam

  • 20 August 1904~ 20 March 1943


Deported from Terezin (Theresienstadt) to Piaski transit ghetto and from there in November 1942 to Sobibor. Survived the Holocaust. Wrote a report after the war. 

Born on 11 April 1914 in Brno. The report he wrote for the Dutch Red Cross after the war was dedicated to his Dutch friend Minny Cats, a woman he had known in the death camp. He had the trial started against Gomerski and Klier and emigrated to the USA in 1948. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 11 April 1914~


TREGER, Chaim 
Born in Chelm. Deported to Sobibor on 22 May 1942. He worked at building the bakery. After the revolt he hid in the forest and eventually joined a partisan group. He survived the Holocaust, married a survivor from Auschwitz, and moved to Israel. He died in 1969. 

Schelvis mentions him by the name of Trager. Born on 5 March 1906, died 1 August 1969 in Tel Aviv. As a brick layer, he says he took part on the building of a chimney in camp 3 and could see everything that happened there. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 5 March 1906~1 August 1969


Born on 29 September 1917 in Amsterdam. Deported to Sobibor from Westerbork on 13 March 1943. She was selected on the Sobibor ramp. Sent to Trawniki work camp where she died. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibór. Metropol-Berlin 1998

Born on 13 April 1909. Husband of Ansje, deported to Sobibor from Westerbork on 10 March 1943. He was murdered in Sobibor three days later. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibor. Metropol-Berlin 1998



Soviet Jewish POW, a friend of Sasha Pechersky. A miner from Donbas who started digging the tunnel which was abandoned later. He killed SS-Unterscharführer Josef Wolf in the warehouse in Camp II, and other SS men. Killed after the revolt by Germans whilst fighting in the Voroshilov partisan unit. 
See also under Cybulski. It's perhaps the same person.

VALK, Leni (Magdalena)

VALK, Leni (Magdalena) 
Born on 28 September 1933 in Goch (Germany). Daughter of Walter and Erna Valk. Probably sent by her parents to Leeuwarden (Holland). Deported to Sobibor on 18 May 1943, where she perished three days later. 
Source: Yad Vashem, R. Kuwalek, and In Memoriam Book NIOD, Amsterdam

  • 28 September 1933~1943


VAN DE KAR nee Wurms, Betje 
Born on 23 February 1883 in Amsterdam. Wife of Jacob van de Kar. Daughter of Barend Wurms andSara LapShe perished in Sobibor on 28 May 1943. 
Source: Earnest Cotton, USA, and In Memoriam Book NIOD, Amsterdam

VAN DE KAR, Heintje Clara 
Born on 15 September 1915 in Amsterdam. Sister of Selena van de Kar. She perished in Sobibor on 28 May 1943. 
Source: Earnest Cotton, USA

VAN DE KAR, Jacob 
Born on 11 August 1880 in Amsterdam. Husband of Betje van de Kar, nee Wurms. Son of Jacob van de Kar and Ester Cohen-RodriguesHe perished in Sobibor on 28 May 1943. 
Source: Earnest Cotton, USA, and In Memoriam Book NIOD, Amsterdam

Born in 1904 in Amsterdam. Sister of Heintje Clara. She perished in Sobibor on 20 March 1943. 
Source: Earnest Cotton, USA, and In Memoriam Book NIOD, Amsterdam

WAJCEN / VAITSEN, Alexy / Alexi

WAJCEN / VAITSEN, Alexy / Alexi 
One of the leaders of the revolt. In charge of the attack on the armoury. Survived the Holocaust. 

Born on 30 May 1922 in Grigoriv. Came to Sobibor in June 1942 on a transport from Ternopol. Worked in the sorting barracks. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 30 May 1922~


Jewish Soviet POW, a friend of Sasha Pechersky. He killed SS-Oberscharführer Graetschus with an axe in the shoemakers barrack during the revolt. He survived the Holocaust. 

Arkadij Mosheyewicz Wajspapir was born in 1921. He joined the Red Army but got injured on 15 September 1941. He was hospitalized in the Kiev region where his Jewish identity was unveiled. After his recovery he was I,prisoned in a KZ in Minsk. Came to Sobibor on 22 September 1943, together with the Soviet POWs from Minsk. During the uprising he also killed Klatt, together with Yehuda Lerner
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998. 
Photo: http://www.vaadua.org/Hadasot/Had120/03.htm

  • 1921

WANG, Abram

WANG, Abram 
Escaped from the Waldkommando on 20 July 1943. 

Born on 2 January 1921 in Izbica, died in 1978 in Rehovot, Israel. Schelvis states his escape from the Waldkommando was on 27 July, when 5 forced labourers escaped. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 2 January 1921~ 1978


Born on 6 February 1900 in Gronau (Germany). Before the war he emigrated to Holland. He was deported from Westerbork camp to Sobibor on 7 May 1943. 
Source: JewishGen

  • 6 February 1900 ~

WEISS nee Felenbaum, Hela

WEISS nee Felenbaum, Hela 

Deported from Lublin to the camp in Staw, then in carts via Wlodawa to Sobibor. In Sobibor she was selected to knit socks for the SS, and iron the shirts of the SS men. She survived the revolt and joined the partisans, winning a Red Star medal for courage. 

Born on 25 November 1924 in Lublin, died in December 1988 in Gedera, Israel. Came to Sobibor from Siedliszcze on a horse car on 20 December 1942. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998

  • 25 November 1924~December 1988

WINS, Jozef (Joop)

WINS, Jozef (Joop) 
Deported from Westerbork to Sobibor on 14 May 1943. He was selected on the ramp and sent to the labour camp Dorohucza near Lublin. In his memoirs he mentioned that after the arrival in Sobibor he could not realize that it is a death camp because it looked so friendly and nice. He did not know what happened to the people who were deported together with him. He survived the war. 
Source: J. Schelvis: Vernichtungslager Sobibór. Metropol-Berlin 1998. 
J. Schelvis: Binnen de poorten, De Bataafsche Leeuw Amsterdam, 7th ed. 2003


ZISS, Berl
Survived the Holocaust.

ZISS, Meir 
Survived the Holocaust. 

Born 15 November 1927 in Lublin. Came to Sobibor in May or June 1942, where he worked in the sorting barracks and as a women’s hair cutter. Later had to burn documents, brought in by victims. Lived in Venezuela between 1956 and 1961, then emigrated to Israel. 
Source: Jules Schelvis - “Vernichtungslager Sobibor”, Metropol Verlag Berlin, 1998


October 14, 1943 A group of survivors of the Sobibor death camp who took part in the revolt in Sobibor on October 14, 1943.

Alex Cohen

"life has become worthless to me"

Op 17 March 1943 Alex Cohen, aged 37, from Groningen, his wife and their child were put on a transport from Westerbork to Sobibor. The train reached its final destination three days later. It was the dead of night, and ‘the first thing we heard was loud screaming by the Huns,’ Alex Cohen stated in 1947.

The men were immediately separated from the women and children. The camp SS called out they needed workers and Cohen volunteered as a metal worker. He and the other selected men were herded back onto the train and transported to the Lublin-Majdanek camp.

In the meantime the other prisoners had been led into Sobibor. Sick and disabled prisoners had already been hauled onto tippers and taken on a narrow gauge railway straight into the so-called Lager III. Nobody on the transport knew that this separate section of the camp housed the gas chambers and the execution area. Here the tippers were unloaded and the victims were shot; their bodies were thrown into a huge burial pit.

The other prisoners were herded into the gas chambers. ‘If I had known what was going on in the camp’, said Cohen, ‘I would have tried to stay there and I would not have come back, because my wife and child were killed there. My family was almost completely wiped out, so life has become worthless to me. I used to be so happy.’

In 1943 mainly Jewish and non-Jewish Poles were taken to Lublin-Majdanek, but there were also many Jews from Czechoslovakia and Slovenia.

Due to the extremely primitive conditions in the camp, where the prisoners worked very hard on the land, many died from malnutrition and exhaustion. Prisoners were often beaten and random executions took place regularly. Moreover, when Cohen arrived at the camp, gas chambers had been in operation for some time; here prisoners from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands who were judged unfit to work were killed.

A total of at least 200,000 people were murdered here, including some 70,000 Jews. The enormous camp complex was divided into six sections (Felder), enclosed by a barbed wire fence. ‘Most prisoners who entered in Feld IV and V, went through to the gas chamber. This is where, among others, the transports from Warsaw that were gassed arrived’, according to Cohen.

"I will not let the Hun destroy me"
In Majdanek Cohen had the good fortune of being assigned to the kitchen, so he could supplement his meagre rations. Others were less fortunate and unable to summon sufficient mental resilience. Where Cohen kept telling himself: ‘I will not let the Hun destroy me’, he saw others waste away. One Dutch boy could no longer endure life in the camp.

‘When we arrived and after the so-called physical examination by the doctor, I had told him “Damn, you’re muscular”, but after about six weeks he was already finished, he couldn’t find the courage to resist anymore, contracted typhoid fever and swollen feet and after that he was gone very quickly.’ The men from Cohen’s Arbeitskommando sometimes got their hands on valuable items from the newly arrived transports. One time Cohen managed to obtain a watch, which he swapped for butter with the barber.

After three months Cohen was transferred to the Skarzysko-Kamienna labour camp, southwest of Lublin. By pure coincidence he did not have to work in the section of the camp where prisoners had to fill grenades with the highly poisonous explosive trotyl.

To be able to continue working the slave labourers had been fed lots of milk and eggs as antidote, but the newly arrived Dutchmen were barely fed at all ‘and after three months all of the Dutchmen were gone’. Even the ‘strongest men couldn’t take it because of the effects of the poison.’

In the camp Cohen worked on a machine and he also had to dig pits that the dead were thrown into. Later he contracted dysentery and he heard fellow-prisoners say: ‘Der Holländer geht kaputt.’ But the sick Cohen recovered. ‘I ate practically nothing for two weeks and I sold my soup and black bread and bought white bread in return, and I also did almost no work. That’s how I got through it.’

"If you found a potato in your soup you were lucky"
As in all camps the prisoners were left mainly to their own devices when it came to survival. In Majdanek in particular the food supply was poor and everyone ached for something extra to eat. ‘If you found a potato in your soup you were lucky.

I mostly had just one piece of bread, and even this was often stolen from me. When I slept,’ explained Cohen, ‘I would put the bread inside my coat and my coat under my head, but the next morning it was still often gone!’ To get more food Cohen had already swapped his pants for a lesser quality pair. This bought him extra soup every day.

When the Red Army advanced from the east in June, Cohen was evacuated to a labour camp near Czestochowa. By then he weighed only forty kilograms and he had reached the point that his environment no longer meant anything to him. Cohen and his group did not have to work in the camp ‘and I didn’t care what the others did, a sign that you were extremely numb, or you would want to know what those people were doing there.’

Driven by hunger Cohen dove into the rubbish bins near the women’s barracks to look for potato peels. He ‘washed them, burned them on the stove and ate them’. After a while Cohen was taken to Buchenwald and from there back to the southeast, where he ended up in Theresienstadt. It was here that he was eventually liberated by the Red Army.

Judith Eliazar and Bertha Ensel

"sometimes we worked until midnight"

On 10 March 1943, 28-year-old hairdresser Judith Eliazar from Rotterdam, and Bertha Ensel from Amsterdam, 18 years old and a needlewoman by profession, were put on a transport from transit camp Westerbork to Sobibor in East Poland. They were there for only a brief period. ‘We were selected; 30 girls and 44 men were removed from the transport,’ both women stated in 1946. They did see how the disabled and elderly in their transport were hauled on to tippers and driven into the camp on a narrow-gauge railway.

The camp SS said that these people were taken to the so-called Lazarett to be nursed and cared for. In reality the tippers drove to a section of the camp called Lager III. This was where the gas chambers were, but there was also a huge pit. The prisoners were told to line up along its edge, and then the camp SS would order the firing squad consisting of Ukrainian guards to shoot them.

Together with the other selected women Judith and Bertha were taken to Lublin-Majdanek. After the war they had this to say about their work and conditions in this concentration camp: ‘We worked there, we built barracks, mended roads, etc. The men and women worked separately and the barracks were also separate, but every night the women were allowed to go the men’s section from about 8 to 9 p.m.

Sometimes we worked until midnight. The SS would be standing behind us with their whips. Occasionally our guards were White Russians from Ukraine. These could be even worse than the Huns. There was a lot of whipping in this camp.’ Majdanek was not only a slave labour camp; since November 1942 gas chambers had been installed where the victims were killed with Zyklon-B.

"we had to burn dead bodies"
After more than six months Judith, Bertha and other women were taken to Milejow to work in the marmalade factory. ‘We weren’t treated badly there,’ both women recounted. But that would not last. Only a few weeks later they were sent on to camp Trawniki, where all the Jews had been shot not long before. And not only there.

On 3 November Himmler had proclaimed Aktion Erntefest and had determined that all Jews in the camps Trawniki, Lublin-Majdanek and several smaller camps had to be killed. A total of approximately 42,000 Jews were murdered. In all likelihood the SS leader had decided on the murder operation for fear of more disturbances in the camps, following the uprising and escape in heavily guarded Sobibor. In early August prisoners in extermination camp Treblinka had also revolted.

Not only women were taken to Milejow from Trawniki, men were also brought there. In the camp ‘we also had to burn dead bodies,’ according to both women. In the summer of 1944 they went back to Lublin, where they worked for about six weeks. Then they and many others were forced to walk to Auschwitz. ‘It took us about 5 days and 4 nights.’

This was the time of the so-called death marches. In addition to the Russian front closing in, the Western allies were also advancing. The commanders of the concentration camps were told that on no account were the prisoners to fall into the hands of the allied forces.

Many prisoners were loaded on to trains or forced to march in the direction of Germany. During the evacuations many exhausted prisoners were shot and killed. During their march Judith and Bertha saw how one Dutch girl and several Polish girls were shot.

In Auschwitz the women worked for several months before they were sent further west to Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Here their paths parted after they had been together the entire time they were in Poland. Bertha was taken to Buchenwald and she eventually returned to the Netherlands by way of Lippstadt, where she had to work in the ammunition factory. Judith was brought home by the allies via the Salzwedel labour camp. 

Sophia Huisman

"we never saw any of these people again"

On 26 February 1943 all patients and staff of the Jewish hospital in Rotterdam were rounded up in a raid by the Sicherheitsdienst and the Dutch WA and taken to Westerbork. Among them was 17-year-old trainee nurse Sophie Huisman.

She was in the transit camp only briefly; on 10 March she and the majority of the patients from the hospital were put on a transport to Sobibor. Upon arrival some thirty young women and a similar number of men were selected for work elsewhere. ‘Camp Sobibor was an extermination camp,’ Sophie stated in 1945. ‘We all believed that the others in the transport of 1,200 were gassed.

We never saw any of these people again.’ And indeed, all the prisoners who were not selected to work in a labour camp were killed almost immediately on arrival. The elderly and disabled were loaded on to tippers and driven to the screened-off Lager III where they were shot by Ukrainian guards. The rest were taken to the same section of the camp to be killed in gas chambers, after being told to leave their luggage and clothes behind.

"he was hanged right in front of us"
Sophie was put on a transport to Lublin together with some other Dutch women, including Cato Polak, the sisters Suze en Surry Polak, Bertha Ensel, Judith Eliazer and Jetje Veterman. Their arrival in the Lublin-Majdanek camp did not bode well. ‘Polish women in striped concentration camp clothes warned us right away that the camp was really bad and that we should hope to be leaving it soon,’ Sophie explained.

Fortunately for her and the other women they were taken away soon after arriving to the nearby labour camp Lublin-Flugplatz. Here they were put to work immediately in the sorting barracks, where the girls had to sort the clothes of the murdered Jews. Later more Dutch nationals arrived in the camp, one of them being singer Jim Kleerekoper.

He often sang for the SS and in return got some extra food. After he was suspected of trying to escape, ‘he was hanged right in front of all of us, after he had been forced to dig his own grave and erect his own gallows’. Sophie witnessed more acts of cruelty, mainly against the male prisoners, who were often beaten until they died of their injuries.

After some time Sophie and the other women took advantage of the opportunity of a transfer to Milejow, where they could work in a marmalade factory. ‘There were thirteen of us Dutch girls, the rest stayed in Lublin; the rest being only five girls.

Of the missing girls six had been gassed because they had been judged too weak in a selection.’ And they were not the only ones who were killed. On 3 and 4 November 1943, shortly after the group of women arrived in Milejow, the SS had shot all Jews in Lublin and in other camps in the vicinity.

Himmler had given the order for the so-called Aktion Erntefest for fear of irregularities in the camps after the prisoners in Treblinka revolted in August, and those in Sobibor in mid-October. Sophie was told about the massacre by non-Jewish Poles who had had a lucky escape.

"we would bake butter biscuits and drank advocaat"
In Milejow the girls slept in the stable. Although the sanitary conditions were far from adequate, they were not treated badly and they had enough food. But because they could not cook the food everything had to be eaten raw and ‘one after the other, we all fell dangerously ill’. After a while Sophie and the others were transported to Trawniki, one of the camps where the Jews had been massacred shortly before. Sophie:

‘The first days we had to sort clothes; inside those clothes we found a lot of money and diamonds; we were supposed to hand these over, but we didn’t give them everything.’ The men had to burn the bodies and ‘judging by the wounds this must have been done in a barbaric way. After eight days this work was completed and they themselves were shot and burned, all 45 of them.’

The women were told to clean up the barracks and they kept finding new bodies, from the big massacre. They traded the gold and diamonds they had found inside the clothing with the Ukrainian guards for extra food.

The camp commander knew that the prisoners lived off contraband and so they did not receive any food. ‘The Poles,’ recounts Sophie, ‘sometimes had ten eggs a day and they ate chicken every day. We would often bake butter biscuits four or five times a week, and we made and drank advocaat.’

The Dutch women stayed in Trawniki until June 1944. They were taken back to Lublin-Majdanek because of the military situation. She thought the camp was neat, but the prisoners were treated cruelly. They were ‘frequently and badly beaten and thrashed,’ Sophie recounts. In the camp they were the only Jews, because the others had been killed in November during Aktion Erntefest.

As the Red Army approached, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were forced to walk to Auschwitz. Sophie estimates that the SS shot at least twenty of them along the way. The final part of the journey was made by train. In Auschwitz-Birkenau the girls were put to work in the Scheisskommando, the detail that had to empty the buckets of faeces on the dung heap outside the camp.

After three months Sophie and a few others from her transport were taken via Celle to Raguhn, where they had to work in an ammunition factory. There was an outbreak of spotted fever here and it killed many. When the American troops closed in from the west, the prisoners were put on transport yet again.

This time, however, they went southeast and they eventually arrived in Czechoslovakia. ‘The journey was awful, by train, half living people and half dead bodies’, Sophie remembers. The transport eventually arrived in Theresienstadt, where she was liberated.

Mirjam Penha-Blits

"we believed war would be over within three months"

On 25 February 1943 in Amsterdam 26-year-old Mirjam Penha-Blits and her husband Eddy were arrested in their bed by the Sicherheitsdienst.

They were told to get dressed as quickly as possible and were given just enough time to prepare some bread. ‘We quickly grabbed some clothes and to my question whether we should bring blankets as well they answered that we were going to perish in Poland anyway,’ Mirjam wrote in her war memoirs in 1947. First she was taken to the SD headquarters in the Euterpestraat, after that she was taken via the Borneokade to Westerbork.

Four days later she was put on a transport to Eastern Europe. Despite the ominous words of the arresting squad the mood in the train compartment – Mirjam’s transport was the last one by passenger train – was not gloomy, ‘as we believed the war would be over within three months’. After a few days the train stopped in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but after standing there for some time the train started moving again towards its destination Sobibor.

"before I knew it I was struck by a whip"
In Sobibor the prisoners were forcibly removed from the train. Mirjam tried to help an elderly gentleman get off the train, ‘but before I knew it I was struck by a whip’. She saw that the guards ‘were Ukrainians with grimy faces, and a skull and the SS symbol on their collars.’ The prisoners were led into the camp and the men and women were separated; it was the last time Mirjam was to see her husband Eddy.

The women and children were then put in an empty barracks and told to line up in rows of five. ‘An Oberscharführer walked past the rows and selected 25 young girls, including me.’ During the selection Mirjam saw the narrow-gauge railway and the tippers on which, as she remembers, ‘all people, men, women and children, some 1500 in total’ were thrown. ‘On the tippers were also the Ukrainians, who laid into the transport with their whips.

There was a lot of moaning and screaming. And then they turned the machine gun on them. We were all broken and did not have a gleam of hope left of ever seeing our husbands again.’ Mirjam and the other women who were selected to work, were taken to a barracks where they had to hand over their jewels and other personal belongings.

Then they were returned to the train and taken to Lublin. In addition to Mirjam the following Dutch women were also part of this transport: Judith Eliazer, Bertha Ensel, Sophie Huisman, Cato Polak, the sisters Suze and Surry Polak, and the sisters Sientje and Jetje Veterman.

After they arrived at Lublin station the women had to proceed to the concentration camp on foot, escorted by SS. Along the way ‘the Polish people called us names and spat in our faces. Our escorts loved this, which only egged the fools on.’ In the camp the women had to sleep on a bare floor without any straw; they were not given any water or food. After several days Mirjam and the other women were sent to camp Lublin-Flugplatz.

This time they were escorted by female helpers of the SS, who turned out to be much worse than the SS men. ‘They pointed out the chimneys of the crematoria and told us we would end up there, but first we would have to work. How I cursed those women, who weren’t embarrassed to get drunk and behave obscenely with the SS guards when we were on work detail.’

"life in the camp is really just one big fight"
In the camp Mirjam worked in the so-called clothes hall, where she had to sort clothing from murdered Jewish prisoners. Initially the Polish Jewesses thought it was odd that the women from Western Europe did not understand Yiddish.

‘And so they considered us Christian women. This caused a lot of trouble for us, and it was the reason for many fights.’ Nevertheless the women also had fun together. Mirjam enjoyed rendering English jazz songs, which was much appreciated and in addition earned her quite some extra bread.

In October 1943 the Germans needed workers for the marmalade factory in Milejow, which was run by the Wehrmacht. Mirjam and the other Dutch girls, who could feel their strength diminishing, were afraid they would not pass the next selections. They reported to the Kapo, who accepted the women’s offer and they were taken to the factory by truck.

The women were lucky. The Catholic Polish women who also worked in the factory later told Mirjam that on 3 and 4 November nearly all the Jews in and around Lublin had been shot by the SS, over 42,000 in all. Only the slave labourers in the weapons industry were spared. Presumably Himmler had decided on this massacre (Aktion Erntefest) in response to the incidents in Treblinka and Sobibor, where the prisoners had revolted. The girls in the marmalade factory knew nothing of these acts of resistance.

They and a group of men were taken to Trawniki, where more than 6,000 Jews had been killed during the SS operation. Here the women had to sort the clothes of the prisoners who had been shot to death, and the men had to burn the bodies. The work ended with ‘the men themselves being shot after two weeks, and us having to burn these men too.’

In May 1944 the camp was evacuated because the Red Army was advancing. Mirjam and the other women were moved to concentration and extermination camp Majdanek, where Jews were no longer being gassed at that time. The camp now predominantly housed prisoners of war, who did forced labour. Mirjam worked as a Kapo in the laundry for the camp SS. The front came closer and closer and Majdanek, too, was evacuated in a hurry. Escorted by Wehrmacht soldiers and SS they now had to march to Auschwitz.

‘Several hundred people dropped out that first night,’ Mirjam recounted, ‘and anyone who stayed down on the side of the road was shot.’ As the Germans were also near exhaustion after walking for a few days, the last part of the death march was by train. In Auschwitz Mirjam found out that solidarity among the prisoners was sometimes hard to find and hate between the fellow-sufferers could be intense. However, this lack of solidarity was no great mystery to her.

‘It is not hard to get along and be pleasant when you are free, but to retain the slightest veneer of civilization in a camp, where things are at their worst, that is not easy. Life in the camp is really just one big fight; you fight for your mouthful of food, you fight not to get sick, to keep the few clothes you have.’

In Auschwitz Mirjam and the other Dutch women from Trawniki worked in the so-called Scheisskommando, that had to collect the faeces from the hospital barracks and dump them on a dung heap outside the camp. Soon Auschwitz was also evacuated and Mirjam and others were moved to Bergen-Belsen. After that she went via Fallersleben to Salzwedel, where she was liberated.

Cato Polak

"we had absolutely no idea"

In the night of 26 February 1943 all patients and staff of the Jewish Hospital in Rotterdam were rounded up during a raid by the Dutch WA (Weerbaarheidsafdeling, similar to the Sturmabteilung of the NSDAP) and theSicherheitsdienst and taken to Westerbork. Among them 22 year-old nurse Cato Polak from The Hague. Her father had been arrested earlier and put on a transport to the east by way of Amersfoort; her mother and brother had gone into hiding.

Hiding was not for Cato and she had gotten a job at the hospital to obtain aSperre, which meant that for the time being she was exempt from deportation. The short time she spent in Westerbork Cato worked as a nurse. On the baby ward at first, later she took care of the disabled. ‘We initially thought,’ Cato recounts in 1947, ‘that we would be allowed to stay in Westerbork a little longer because of the work we were doing.

However, it did not help at all.’ On 10 March she, too, was put on a transport: to Sobibor in Eastern Poland, on one of the last transports in passenger trains. ‘We were given enough food for on the way. We even had a lot left over. We could take anything and in addition were given a package that contained all kinds of things: butter, bread, etc.’

After arriving in Sobibor the people who could walk were directed to an open barracks in the camp, while the elderly people who were not quick enough were thrown from the train. If you could not walk, you would be hauled onto tippers and driven into the camp on a narrow-gauge railway.

Cato and a group of other unmarried girls were selected to work in another camp. Married women were told by the SS to stay with the children. As the selected girls got back onto the train, the Dutch Jews who stayed behind in the camp were killed in Lager III. In this separate section of the camp the elderly and disabled were thrown from the tippers and shot in front of a pit, while the others were killed in the gas chambers.

At that time Cato and the other young women (including Suze and Surry Polak, Sophie Huisman, Bertha Ensel, Judith Eliazer, Mirjam Penha-Blits, Sientje and Jetje Veterman) did not know about this and they giggled on the train about the silliness of lugging suitcases about that eventually had to be left behind in the camp after all, ‘not realizing they wanted to kill us. We had absolutely no idea’, Cato stated two years after the liberation.

"we wore our own clothes"
The final destination of the transport was camp Lublin-Flugplatz, built on the site of the former airfield. Here the clothes of the murdered Jews from the extermination camps were cleaned, sorted and packed to be sent to Germany as part of the Winterhilfe, where they were distributed among families in need. Although Cato had volunteered as a nurse, she was put to work sorting clothes.

‘We had to throw the clothes that were there on different piles and make bundles. The work was not too bad,’ Cato remembered later. Conditions were tolerable. ‘They didn’t cut our hair, so we cut it ourselves to control the lice. Conditions were fairly sanitary in the camp. We bathed at least once a week. The washrooms were adequate. We wore our own clothes that were unmarked. Later we were given a number.’

After sorting clothes for several months, Cato was put to work in the construction of a new camp behind the existing one. ‘We shovelled sand, which was horrible. The Ukrainians were incredibly lazy. It was one field of blood. Many men were beaten to death there. Different things were built there: a laundry, latrines, etc.

This was done by the men. When construction was all done the camp was inaugurated, for which a selection took place among the women. We didn’t know what it was. About 200 women were told to step forward. The Lagerälteste had to select us. He also looked at our eyes. The people with a staring expression, they were no good. If your number was written down, you were in trouble. But we didn’t know that then.’

Cato initially thought that the selected women were to be put to work somewhere else, but she later heard that ‘all the people who were selected from the group went to the gas chambers.’ Only later did it dawn on Cato why the Polish women had screamed. ‘Because we didn’t know anything we were very calm.’ And that was exactly what the camp SS intended to achieve with their policy of secrecy.

"we could sense tension in the air"
In November 1943 Cato applied for work in the marmalade factory in the neighbouring town of Milejow. ‘They asked for about 50 or 60 girls. We volunteered, because we could sense tension in the air.’ Without the girls in the barracks noticing anything, the prisoners had revolted in early August in Treblinka and in mid-October in Sobibor.

To prevent further riots in the camps, Himmler had ordered all the Jews in and around Lublin to be killed. During the so-called Aktion Erntefest, which took place on 3 and 4 November, more than 42,000 people were killed. Those who worked in Milejow, however, were not harmed.

After a short while the girls were transported to Trawniki, where all Jews had also been shot during theAktion. When the girls were ordered to clean up the barracks, they were told by Polish boys who were also working there what had happened in the previous days. ‘They had to clear the bodies and burn them. The people had been shot in trenches.

They had also been ordered to undress those people. In the field were heaps of clothes that we had to check later on,’ reported Cato. Until March 1944 the girls stayed in the camp, permanently terrified. The Lagerführer took pleasure in announcing to the girls time and time again in a threatening tone of voice that is was time for the ‘final roll call!’ Cato managed to survive unhurt and was returned to Lublin in June.

"we worked day and night"
As the Russian front approached, the camp in Lublin was soon evacuated. Escorted by SS and Wehrmacht the hundreds of prisoners were forced to go west, on foot, in the direction of Auschwitz-Birkenau. ‘Everyone was carrying provisions, rolled up in blankets. We all had one tin of meat, 2 large loaves of bread. I threw it away immediately, because it was too heavy,’ Cato recounted later.

The SS and the Wehrmacht did not agree on how to treat the prisoners during the journey. ‘The Wehrmacht treated us much better than the SS. The SS used dogs to hurry us along. The Wehrmacht would sometimes give us water and food.’ After a short stay in Birkenau Cato was taken to Bergen-Belsen where she arrived in November. She did very little in this camp, she just hung around.

There was a severe shortage of food; some days there was no food at all. ‘We went hungry and cold a lot. It was horrible there.’ In February 1945 Cato was put on transport once again. This time the destination was Raguhn, where she worked in the factory for a short period of time. ‘We had to work hard and were given little to eat. We worked day and night.’ In April the air was rife with rumours about an impending liberation by the Americans.

The prisoners were hastily put on transport and taken to Czechoslovakia, where they arrived after a gruelling journey of one week, almost without food, in Theresienstadt. Many prisoners died here of typhoid fever. In May 1945 Cato and the other survivors were liberated by the Red Army.

Surry en Suze Polak

"we only spent a few hours in Sobibor"

On 10 March 1943, in Westerbork, the sisters Surry and Suze Polak from The Hague were put on a transport to Sobibor. ‘We only spent a few hours in Sobibor,’ they stated in 1947. They did see how the people who had difficulty walking were hauled on to tippers and driven into the camp via a narrow-gauge rail. What the Polak sisters did not know at that time was that those tippers were driven to the camp’s Lager III, where the occupants were shot immediately.

The same train on which they had arrived took the Polak sisters and about thirty other women - including Cato Polak, Sophia Huisman, Bertha Ensel, Judith Eliazar and Jetje Veterman - to Lublin-Majdanek concentration camp, where they saw that the men were shackled. After that they went to a Majdanek subcamp in Lipowa, to the so-called Flughafen-Lager. ‘In Flughafen we had to do slave labour. We hauled stones and built barracks.’ They were also put to work sorting clothes and personal possessions of victims.

In late October 1943 they and a group of other Dutch women were taken by automobile to the town of Milejow, where they worked in the marmalade factory. Early November there were rumours about shocking events that had taken place in Lublin and the surrounding area. ‘We knew that something was up, that something bad was happening. We were told to stay inside the barracks all day.

The guard said we were going to be burned. At that time we didn’t know about the gas chambers yet.’ The women in the marmalade factory were lucky, because on 3 November Himmler had announced Aktion Erntefest, and had ordered all the Jews in the camps Trawniki, Lublin-Majdanek and a few smaller camps to be shot.

During the operation a total of more than 42,000 Jews were killed. Himmler had probably decided on the massacre for fear of more irregularities in the camps, after the uprising and escape on 14 October in the heavily guarded Sobibor. Also, in early August the prisoners in extermination camp Treblinka had already revolted.

"had we been able to speak Polish we would have escaped"
Shortly after the massacre Surry and Suze were taken to the camp near Trawniki, together with a group of men and women. ‘The barracks in Trawniki were hermetically sealed when we arrived. The people who had been in the camp had all been shot.’

The girls had to get food, while the men were ordered to burn the bodies, among other things. The slave labourers were told over and over that they themselves would also be shot at the final roll call.

‘When all the bodies were burned, the men were indeed shot.’ Death was the dominant theme of the sisters’ stay in the camp. ‘One morning there were hundreds of German refugees. They were all shot. A few were hiding in the camp. When these people were found and shot, we had to remove them. Occasionally we would find bodies when we emptied out the barracks.’

When the sisters Polak worked in Trawniki, two Polish girls managed to escape from the camp. ‘Had we been able to speak Polish we could have done the same. Now there was no point.’ There was tension between the Dutch and the Polish Jews in the labour camp. The Polish girls ‘called us anti-Semites. We did not know the Jewish language, and therefore we could not be Jews.’ The Dutch girls were also annoyed at the hypocrisy of the Polish Jews, who professed to be very devout.

But ‘we almost never got anything from them. Only if they saw you were on the brink of death, then they might give you something, but if they saw you were doing OK, then they were terribly jealous.’ Suze and Surry also observed that there was a big difference between the Jews from the ghettos and the Jews from the cities. ‘The Jews from Warsaw were very different. Those people were more cultured.’

"we were terribly skinny"
After about seven months the sisters were returned to the concentration and extermination camp Lublin-Majdanek because the Red Army was advancing. Here the Polak sisters worked on the land and in the laundry for a while.

When the Soviet army closed in on this camp also, the crematoria were blown up and the prisoners had to march west to Auschwitz, together with the retreating Wehrmacht soldiers. ‘As we left the camp there were aeroplanes everywhere, flying low. The soldiers walked in the middle, we were on the outside.’ Along the way there was friction between the SS and the Wehrmacht. ‘They argued and they shot at each other’ every two minutes.

During the death march to Auschwitz many prisoners were not spared: ‘many were killed along the way.’ If it had been up to the SS all prisoners would have been killed, but the Wehrmacht successfully opposed the mass murder plan. Eventually the women went to Birkenau, and the men were taken to Auschwitz. ‘We were considered a privileged transport, because we had shielded the Huns.’

On arrival the women were allowed to wash up and they were given plenty of food. Their heads were not shaven, but they were given a number. In the camp Suze and Surry first carried sods, later they were assigned to the Scheisskommando and they had to empty the buckets with faeces. The sight of the gas chambers filled them both with dread.

At night they heard ‘the screams of the people who were carried off’. When the Russian front approached Auschwitz, both sisters were put on transport and imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, further to the west. Here they had to cut wood and haul soup kettles. However, the supply of food was totally insufficient.

‘When we were put on transport again, we had to go into the transport barracks. We all slept on the floor. You would have to get up at least ten times every night. It was very difficult to find your spot again in the dark. We were all terribly skinny and even the slightest touch was incredibly painful, so people were screaming all the time. Many died in Bergen-Belsen, not from being beaten, but from hunger.’

"the German women were scared to death of us"
After some time Suze and Surry were again put on transport, this time to the southeast. ‘We stopped for days. They didn’t know where to take us anymore. On the way we encountered countless transports. There was nothing to eat and we were terribly thirsty. Along the way an awful lot of people died.

You would be lying between people who had died of spotted fever.’ Via Raguhn in the east of Germany the train travelled through Czechoslovakia for days and eventually stopped north of Prague in Theresienstadt. More than 88,000 of the total of over 140,000 mainly Czech and German Jews who had been imprisoned in this so-called Altersghetto, had been taken to death camps when the Polak sisters arrived there.

About 34,000 people died inside the ghetto itself. Both Polak sisters survived and were liberated by the Red Army on 8 May 1945. After the liberation Surry became ill with spotted fever and she was taken to the hospital barracks. The sisters had a low opinion of the Russian nurses. ‘The Russians treated us badly. The Russian nurses, for example, were rude. If you asked for something you wouldn’t get it. They just threw bread at you.

There were doctors who couldn’t even tell the time. If you asked them what time it was, they didn’t know.’ In the former ghetto the period of mild revenge had come for the former prisoners. ‘German women had to do the dirty work. There were no water pipes, only a pump. We made them do everything; we made them run for the smallest things. They were all scared to death of us.’ After Surry had recovered the Polak sisters were taken to the Netherlands by the French army.

Jules Schelvis

Jules Schelvis (Amsterdam 7 January 1921) was put on transport from Westerbork on 1 June 1943 with his wife and in-laws. He brought his guitar as a ‘welcome distraction to take our mind off things’. On arrival in Sobibor he managed at the last moment to join a group of men who were selected for labour in the peat camp of Dorohucza. Jules Schelvis was one of the eighteen Dutch Jews who survived Sobibor.

"before I knew it the women were separated from the men"
On 26 May 1943 there was a raid in the city centre of Amsterdam in which more than 3,000 Jews were rounded up. Among them was 22 year old typographer Jules Schelvis, his wife Chel and her family. The couple had considered going into hiding, but had dreaded the problems this would present. Like so many others they expected to be put to work in German camps and they had decided to let themselves be rounded up.

‘Very calmly,’ wrote Schelvis after the war ‘we got our rucksacks and haversacks, that had been long ready just in case.’ By tram they were taken to a site near Muiderpoort train station, and from there, after hours of waiting, transported on a special train to Westerbork on June 1st. After six days they left the barracks with bag and baggage and were put on a train to Sobibor.

After four days the victims arrived at the camp. The reception did not bode well. They were beaten out of the carriages by men with truncheons and whips. ‘I remember very well’, said Schelvis, ‘how my father-in-law was struck very hard across his back with a whip’.

The prisoners had to walk towards a large barracks and throw all the haversacks and rucksacks, coats and overcoats on big heaps. ‘Before I knew it the women were separated from the men. I didn’t even have a chance to kiss Chel and we weren’t allowed to look back’. Schelvis never saw his wife again.

"emaciated people with death in their shoes passed us"
From among the men a group of eighty young men were selected for, so it seemed, the Jewish camp police and Schelvis managed to get included in the group. As it turned out the men were chosen to work in a nearby camp. An SS-officer told them they could return to their family and friends in Sobibor every night, to eat and relax.

Those who stayed behind in the camp, so they were told, would first bathe. Separately of course, as that is why the men and women had been kept apart. Later, when Schelvis was put to work in Radom, he was told exactly what had happened to those who stayed behind.

After the men and women had undressed, they were led to special chambers where they were gassed. After that their corpses were checked for gold teeth; these were knocked from their mouths by members of a Jewish Arbeitskommando. After that the corpses were dragged to the crematorium and burned.

Schelvis and the other young men were moved to labour camp Dorohucza, a peat camp where conditions were abominable. Prisoners slept in a draughty barracks, on the floor, no blanket. The Poles and Dutchmen who had been here longer were covered in lice.

As there was no place to wash, the prisoners washed themselves in the creek in the morning. The work consisted of cutting peat. In the afternoon everyone received one litre of soup, made of sauerkraut, rotten apples and sometimes dog meat. ‘When we return to the barracks in the afternoon and at night, we are always beaten a lot by the Ukrainians.

We are never quick enough and allegedly not disciplined. When you receive a beating like that, usually a series of blows, you’re not very happy, and you continue to feel it for days’, says Schelvis. He also witnessed the execution of two Dutchmen who had tried to escape. Together with another Dutch printer Schelvis applied for work in a print-shop outside the camp. But he and the group of men he was part of ultimately ended up in Lublin-Flugplatz, a labour camp a stone’s throw from the concentration and death camp of Lublin-Majdanek.

There was no trace of a print-shop, but Schelvis did see men lugging heavy tree-trunks: ‘Emaciated people with death in their shoes passed us, spurred on by SS and Ukrainians with whips and sticks.’ Schelvis and the others from Dorohucza, including the Dutchman Jozef Wins, were forced to build barracks in the camp, among other things.

"de zieken werden doodgeschoten"
After several days Schelvis and the other typographers were taken to Radom, west of Lublin. Radom was an actual Jewish ghetto, where part of the population worked as tailors. Conditions were good and Schelvis rarely saw any SS in the ghetto. Here were the printing presses and a typesetting machine that had survived the ghetto uprising in Warsaw intact. The machines had been disassembled and transported to Radom where Schelvis and the other printers first had to reassemble them.

The relative calm in the ghetto was shattered on 8 November 1943, when the SS, the Grüne Polizei, and their Ukrainian helpers carried out a raid in the ghetto. Schelvis, who together with the other typographers was among those who were spared, saw it happen: ‘The sick who couldn’t walk were shot’. Children and old people were murdered also, while the others were taken away to the nearby Szkolna concentration camp to, as would Schelvis eventually, work in the weapons factory.

When the Red Army advanced in the summer of 1944, the camp leaders were struck by indecision. 

‘There was huge panic among the German leadership,’ Schelvis stated in 1947, ‘SS on the run from the front passed us and they didn’t know what to do, surrender or flee.’

The order of the Sicherheitsdienst to kill all Jews when the Russians approached, was ignored by the camp command. The prisoners were told to prepare to walk to Tomaszow-Mazowiecki, over one hundred kilometres to the west, where they arrived after four days of walking.

Here they were locked up in a rayon factory and they survived on potato peel broth; they did not work. A short time later the prisoners were put on a train to Auschwitz, where a selection took place on the platform.

Some women, who were sent to the ‘good’ side, stayed behind to work in the camp, while the men who had a lucky escape - Schelvis among them - were loaded back onto the train. Further west they went, and the train finally arrived in Vaihingen near Stuttgart, where Schelvis was liberated by the French army on 8 April 1945.

  • 7 January 1921~

Sophie Verduin

"the Jews were thrown on tippers "

In March 1943 sixteen-year-old Sophie Verduin was taken to Westerbork. She did not stay long in the camp; after three days she left on a transport to Sobibor. Upon arrival she and other women were taken to a fenced-off section of the camp and she witnessed ‘how the Jews were thrown on tippers and then beaten and shot to death’. After several hours Sophie and the other women were put on a transport to Lublin, where she had to work sorting clothes.

In September she and her sister Lena together four other Dutch women were moved to the Blizyn labour camp to work as knitters in the Strickerei. Besides the six Dutch women only Polish Jews worked here. Sophie was one of the two Dutch women who survived this camp; the others, Lena among them, died there of tuberculosis.

When Sophie was put to work in Blizyn, a massacre was taking place in the surrounding area. A little more than two weeks after the Sobibor uprising, in early November, Himmler, afraid there might be more riots, ordered all Jews in extermination camp Majdanek, the larger labour camps Trawniki and Poniatowa, and several smaller camps, including Blizyn, to be shot.

The operation took place on 3 and 4 November 1943 under the code name Erntefest. The Jewish work details that had to burn and bury the dead were also killed after they were done. In all, more than 42,000 people died.

In the spring of 1944 Sophie was taken to Radom, where she worked on the land in the neighbouring Szkolna camp. After three months she was transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she stayed until the end of the year. On New Year’s Eve she was taken to Bergen-Belsen. Here she was liberated by British troops on 15 April.

Jetje and Sientje Veterman

"you didn’t see any people"

In November 1942 in Zwolle, nineteen-year-old Jetje Veterman, her sister Sientje, their younger brother and their parents were rounded up and taken to Westerbork. Because Jetje found an orderly job in the punishment barracks, she was not immediately put on a transport east. Neither was her sister, who worked in the kitchen, or her younger brother, who helped build barracks.

Their mother found a job in the laundry, while their father was soon put on a transport. Jetje did not think much of the Jewish refugees from Germany, who were also imprisoned in Westerbork. ‘The German Jews there were generally as bad as the regular Germans,’ she stated in 1947.

In March 1943 Jetje and her sister were also taken away to go to Auschwitz. But when they arrived at the camp the train kept going. She never even caught a glimpse of this camp. ‘We just heard screaming and that was all.’ The train went on to Sobibor, where the camp SS separated the men and women as soon as they arrived.

Jetje did not see what happened to the men. The women ‘were told to keep moving and they walked behind us armed with belts. We were asked whether we wanted to work and that we could apply for the laundry, the factory, etc.’ Subsequently the young women who were selected to work - Jetje and Sientje among them - were searched in the roll call area.

‘They took everything from us, luggage, jewellery, etc.’. The women were taken away on the same train that had brought them there. Jetje had not been able to get a clear picture of the camp. ‘We didn’t know what Sobibor actually was. You didn’t see any people, the barracks were completely empty, no beds, nothing.’

in the sorting barracks and the marmalade factory
The train’s destination turned out to be the Lublin-Flugplatz labour camp. In the past the large halls had been used to assemble aeroplanes. In these factory halls Jetje and her sister - together with other Dutch women, including Cato Polak, the sisters Suze and Surry Polak, Mirjam Penha-Blits, Sophie Huisman, Bertha Ensel and Judith Eliazer - had to sort clothes in that came from murdered Jews.

From Lublin the clothes were taken by train to Germany. Hundreds of Polish Jewesses who were also put to work sorting clothes, simply could not believe that the Dutch women were Jewish too - they did not speak Yiddish.

In this labour camp also there were always selections and it was essential not to get sick. But living and working conditions deteriorated visibly and Jetje contracted typhoid fever. She ended up in the Revier, but she was not safe there either, because the weakest prisoners were regularly taken away. Once Jetje’s fever was gone and she returned to work in the nick of time just before one of these selections was to take place.

Not long after that she and other girls were put on a transport to a marmalade factory in Milejow that was run by the Wehrmacht. Conditions were relatively good there. The stable on the site served as a sleeping-place for both women and men. The food was much better and the women were not constantly yelled at by the guards. The male prisoners were from the Trawniki labour camp, but one day they were taken back to this camp. Jetje and the other women were also taken there later.

‘It was terrible, it smelled of gas and all the barracks were empty. We had to start by cleaning the barracks. We never saw the men again who had left there the day before.’ Those men, together with most of the other Jews in camps in and around Lublin were shot in early November during a massacre by the SS under the code name operation Erntefest. More than 42,000 Jews were killed during this orgy of violence. In Trawniki the number of dead was about 6,000.
"we could pick out all the clothes we wanted"
When she arrived in Trawniki Jetje had seen the male prisoners burn the bodies. As they themselves were shot shortly after that, Jetje feared the same fate awaited her and the other women. But ‘theOberscharführer treated us very well and told us we would stay here and life would be good. And we were fed well and we could pick out all the clothes we wanted’. In Trawniki Jetje and the other Dutch women were put to work, among other places in the vegetable gardens and making clothes.

Eight months later the women returned to Lublin, where they worked in the camp’s vegetable garden. ‘I was like the Kapo of the estate. We had to work in a large garden, planting potatoes etc. Because we were outside all day we could organize a lot. Sometimes there were good posts.

Through the Vorarbeiterinnenthat came with me I was able smuggle a thing or two.’ Because the Red Army was advancing rapidly, the camp was evacuated post-haste in the summer of 1944. Escorted by SS and Wehrmacht the prisoners started on their death march to Auschwitz. As they left the camp the group was bombed by Soviet planes.

The Germans used the prisoners as a shield by pulling them on top of them. They walked day and night, and many were close to exhaustion. ‘If you couldn’t keep up, you were shot.’ As the Germans were also completely worn out, the final leg of the journey was made by train.

"at the wire I spoke to him"
In Auschwitz-Birkenau the women were first disinfected and then registered in the Schreibstube. Jetje did not stay long in Auschwitz; she was put on transport again in September 1944. ‘There was a general selection,’ Jetje recounts. ‘All barracks were gathered. Dr. Mengele came to carry out the selection. Many people were gassed then.’ As she left the camp Jetje spotted her sister Sientje. She had contracted scabies and for all Jetje knew, her sister would disappear into the gas chamber too.

After a long journey Jetje and the other Dutch women ended up in Bergen-Belsen, north of Hannover, where they had to work very hard and were beaten frequently. There she contracted typhoid fever for the second time. In this camp she received a sign of life from her sister, who turned out to have been taken first to Buchenwald and later to Lippstadt.

Eventually Sientje would see the end of the war in Kaunitz. In Bergen-Belsen Jetje learned that her cousin worked in the Diamantlager, which was going to be put on transport. ‘One time, at night at the wire I spoke to him.’ In Bergen-Belsen Jetje was liberated. Via Celle she and other people from the Netherlands were taken to Enschede.

Jozef Wins

"there were red roofs and pebbled pathways"

On 12 March 1943 in Amsterdam 27-year-old typographer Jozef Wins was betrayed while he was in hiding. He was first locked up in the prison on the Amstelveenseweg and later transported to Westerbork as a ‘punishment case’. He did not stay here long: on 11 May, three days after arriving, he was put on a transport to the east. On the way they had treacle biscuits and a few mattresses were placed in the closed freight car for the sick.

Three days later the transport arrived in Sobibor, and the Jewish punishment cases were forcibly driven from the train. At that time Wins did not yet know what type of camp Sobibor was. It did not look sinister. ‘Around me I saw different kinds of houses and barracks; the camp looked friendly, there were red roofs and pebbled pathways,’ he stated after the war.

Wins was among the eighty men who were taken from his transport to be brought to the nearby Dorohucza labour camp. But before he left Sobibor, he caught a glimpse of what was in store for the Jews who had to stay there. In the distance he saw that ‘the people who stayed behind had to take off their socks and shoes, and elderly and sick people were thrown onto tippers. These people were constantly struck with whips.’

"they left barefoot"
What Wins saw on arrival in the peat camp Dorohucza, did not bode well either. ‘When we arrived, eighty men were taken away.

These people had to take off their shoes and boots and they left barefoot. There was also a lot of beating and we stood and watched, appalled, especially after they went on hitting them, even after some had fallen into the water.’ Once in the camp it became clear that the prisoners could not only expect to be beaten by the Ukrainian guards, there could also be selections of Jews who were to be murdered.

Wins was present at one of those selections in early June. ‘It was carried out by the Lagerführerwith the Ukrainians and the Kapos, and we were lined up naked in rows of five. First the Jews in the front row were called forward and the weakest were selected. If they didn’t have enough, the same thing started all over again, until they had eighty men.’

Nevertheless, the high mortality rate in the camp was not the result of executions, but predominantly of the lack of food and the appalling hygiene. Most prisoners, who at best lasted a few weeks in the camp, visibly lost weight every day and contracted typhoid fever or dysentery. Wins refers to Dorohucza as a ‘wild’ camp, ‘because it meant fighting for your life’. Wins managed to get a job in the technical department. He spent about six weeks in the camp.

Late July 1943 Wins and other typographers were taken via Lublin to an SS printing operation in Radom, a Jewish ghetto where some 3000 people lived. In Radom were the parts of printing presses and typesetting machines that had survived the Warsaw ghetto uprising intact. Wins and the other printers first had to assemble the machine and then print items for the SS-company Ostindustrie (Osti).

They printed business cards for the local commandant as well as posters with executions of Polish resistance fighters. On 8 November 1943 the ghetto was shut down; children and older people were shot by the SS. The others, including Wins, were transferred to the neighbouring camp Szkolha to start work in the weapons factory.

hidden among the typhoid fever patients
When the Red Army approached in the summer of 1944, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were told to prepare for a 110 kilometre journey to the west, to Tomaszow-Mazowiezki. After that it was further and further to the southwest and after some time Wins ended up in a camp in Kochendorf near Heilbronn. As Wins, who worked in the salt mines described: ‘It was blood and mayhem over there’.

In March 1945 this camp, too, was evacuated. Then followed a twelve-day death march southwards, to Dachau near Munich. Of the almost two thousand men who left, 792 arrived. The others had been killed by shots to the neck. After a few days Wins was told that there would be another march.

An exhausted Wins told the Dutch doctor Boswijk that he could not go on. The doctor then hid him among the typhoid fever patients. ‘He helped me enormously and brought me food all the time; he saved my life.’ On 29 April Wins was liberated in Dachau.

Selma Wijnberg

Selma Wijnberg behind her brother Maurits and his wife Betje Jakobs. In the shadow is her mother Alida Wijnberg-Nathans. The photograph may have been taken around August 1942 in Zwolle. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

"the windows had curtains with flowers on them"
In September 1942 twenty-year old Selma Wijnberg went into hiding in De Bilt, where she was arrested, together with a Jewish couple, by the Utrecht police.

After being imprisoned in Utrecht and Amsterdam, she was transported to camp Vught in February 1943. Conditions were still reasonable for her then. ‘At camp Vught we smoked the best cigarettes, we had pillows on our beds etc.’, she recounted in 1947.

One of the things Selma did was make dolls she would give to the children in the camp. After Vught she was taken to Westerbork, where after eight days she was put on a transport by freight train to Sobibor.

Her transport arrived at the camp platform on 9 April 1943. ‘When we arrived at the camp,’ said Selma, ‘it appeared to be ideal. The windows had curtains with flowers on them.’ In the barracks she was taken to, she found Polish girls in beautiful pyjamas and nightgowns. ‘They all looked so elegant. The girls started singing, so we thought we had arrived in paradise.

’ The spell did not last long. ‘After one day we knew how things really were.’ Most of the Jews were immediately herded to the gas chambers; the small group that Selma was part of was selected to work in the camp. After being unloaded from the train, the elderly and the sick were thrown on to tipping carts by the Bahnhofkommando; they were killed at another location inside the camp.


That Selma and many others who arrived at the camp initially thought they had come to a fairly pleasant place, was exactly what the camp commanders wanted to achieve with their deception policy.

After Selma and some other Dutch girls were selected to work in the camp, they had walked passed the so-called Vorlager. This was the section of the camp complex where the German and Ukrainian camp guards lived. It was designed to make a good impression in order to put the prisoners at ease and prevent panic. The barracks somewhat resembled Tyrolean cottages and carried names like "Lustiger Floh", "Gottes Heimat" and "Schwalbennest".

"sometimes we had plenty to eat for three days in a row"
Selma worked mainly in the sorting barracks in Lager II, where the belongings of the victims - suitcases, bedding, rucksacks - were taken as quickly as possible. One day she found a small child’s doll in the luggage; the child had been transported from Vught via Westerbork to Sobibor. It was a doll Selma had made herself and ‘had given to a child at camp Vught’. The clothes and shoes were collected at the undressing area and taken to the sorting barracks by a special work detail.

‘All the clothes had to be sorted: coats with coats, cloaks with cloaks etc. When this was done each type had to be subdivided into different classes’. Also, the prisoners had to unpick seams and collect any small items that were hidden there. ‘Any money we found, we had to put in a suitcase, but we buried as much of it as we could.’ 

Portretfoto van Selma Wijnberg. (privécollectie Jules Schelvis)

The SS guards who were there watched closely that all Stars of David, arm bands and names that were sewn into the clothes, were removed. Almost all clothing from the camps went to families in Germany through organizations like Kraft durch Freude. The origins of the clothes had to be hidden from them.

In the luggage and clothes of the victims the Arbeitshäftlinge also found food, sometimes canned, which was a welcome addition to the meagre camp food. ‘Articles of food we took with us to the barracks, so sometimes we had plenty to eat for three days in a row.’

Later the regime at the sorting barracks was tightened and prisoners could be severely punished for concealing food products. ‘Then we had almost no opportunity to open a can; several people were shot for doing that. This is also what happened to a boy who opened a tin of sardines. When he was executed we were forced to stand around him.’

with typhus in sickbay
Besides the gassings in Lager III violence was also the order of the day elsewhere in the camp complex. Every SS guard and most of the Ukrainian guards carried whips, which they loved to use.

SS-supervisor Frenzel was known for, in a drunken state or sober, beating prisoners without any provocation until they were disabled or died. Selma remembers that one day Frenzel ‘had all the sick Jews who worked in the barracks line up and taken to Lager III. We heard shots and we heard that Frenzel had ordered them to be killed.’

Selma also fell seriously ill. In the winter of 1943 she contracted typhus and was in the barracks with a high 40 degree fever. Her Polish boyfriend Chaim Engel, whom she had met in the sorting barracks, told her on October 14th about plans for an uprising and a mass escape from the camp. Only a few prisoners knew about this: apart from the Polish and Russian prisoners who devised the plans only Selma and her friend Ursula Stern. The uprising and escape did not go completely as planned.

The operation called for as many SS as possible to be lured into the barracks or offices where they were to be killed. Then there would be a normal roll call. To mislead the Ukrainian guards, the Soviet prisoners of war were to appear in the roll call area dressed in German uniforms. They would lead, this was the plan, the prisoners to the gate, supposedly to work outside the camp.

"huns were beaten to death and thrown under a blanket"
The prisoners had indeed managed to kill a number of SS. ‘Everywhere the Huns were called in, beaten to death and thrown under a blanket,’ says Selma. But chaos ensued during roll call.

Suspicious because roll call was early, the prisoners, who knew nothing about an escape plan, saw none of the familiar SS and therefore did not line up in the usual way. One Ukrainian guard who came running tried to restore order. Someone yelled: ‘The war is over, man!’ and in the ensuing chaos the guard was killed by the prisoners.

Selma and Chaim with their newborn son Emiel. The photograph was taken in the spring of 1945 in Odessa. The couple lived here under the assumed name of Kriseck. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

A short time later the SS staff sprang into action and there was a gunfight with the armed prisoners. The sentries also emptied their guns into the fleeing crowd. A group of women ran back to the barracks in a panic, while Selma together with Chaim ran to the main gate and managed to escape the camp unharmed.

‘Many died because of the mines,’ according to Selma, ‘since they didn’t know where they were exactly.’ All prisoners who had stayed behind in the camp or who had panicked and run into a barracks during the shooting, were shot shortly after the uprising.

After their escape from the camp, Selma and Chaim joined the Polish partisans. Later they went into hiding on a farm. After being liberated by the Red Army in June 1944 near Chelm, she stayed in Poland for another six months with her partner, where she gave birth to a son.

Via Lublin, Czernowitz, Odessa, Marseille and Tilburg, they arrived in Zwolle in early June 1945. Their little baby had died at sea due to lack of food. Selma Wijnberg is the only prisoner born in the Netherlands who survived the Sobibor uprising and came home in one piece. After living in Zwolle for some time, she and her husband emigrated to the United States. 



The first Sobibor trial took place in 1950. SS Oberscharführer Erich Bauer, the former ‘Gasmeister’, was sentenced to death on 8 May 1950, but later this sentence was commuted into life imprisonment. The second trial, against SS men Johann Klier and Hubert Gomerski, also took place in 1950. On 25 August 1950 Gomerski was sentenced to life in prison, Johann Klier was acquitted.

In September 1965 the third Sobibor trial started in Hagen against former camp SS. Charges were brought against, among others, Karl Frenzel, Kurt Bolender, Werner Dubois, Erich Fuchs and Franz Wolf. The sentences varied from life imprisonment to acquittal. Bolender committed suicide before he could be convicted.

Karl Frenzel in court. (private collection Jules Schelvis)

 Gustav Wagner, who had managed to flee to Brazil, committed suicide in 1980 after being recognized by Stanislaw Smajzner, a Sobibor survivor.


In 1982 a retrial started in Hagen at the request of Karl Frenzel, who had been given a life sentence in 1965. On 4 October 1985 Frenzel was again sentenced to life imprisonment.

The trial against former camp guard Iwan Demjanjuk started on 30 November 2009 in Germany. He is accused of murdering 29,000 Jews in Sobibor. Dutch survivor Jules Schelvis acts as co-prosecutor during the trial.


Haim Treger and Ilana Safran

Haim Treger and Ilana Safran, survivors of Sobibor camp.

Archaeological Excavations at Sobibór Extermination Site

In order to provide information about the specific details of the camp, researchers must basically rely on survivor testimonies.  These testimonies often provide limited information about a very small area of the camp, thus making an actual blueprint and reconstruction of the camp impossible.

Therefore, the International Institute for Holocaust Research and the Archaeological Division of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheba are overseeing and helping to support the Sobibór Archaeological Project, whose purpose is to reconstruct the layout of the Sobibór Extermination Camp by way of archeological excavations. 

This project is being conducted by archaeologist Yoram Haimi as part of his doctoral research in Ben Gurion University of the Negev under the supervision of Prof. Isaac Gilead on the behalf of the Archaeological Division and Prof. Hannah Yablonka on behalf of the Dept. of Jewish History. The Institute hopes that this project will help facilitate a comparison between Sobibór, Treblinka, and Be??ec camps.

The first excavation season was completed in October 2007 in cooperation with local archaeologist Wojciech Mazurek and the director of the Sobibór Museum, Marek Bem. 

Over one thousand objects related to victims of the Shoah were discovered that season.  In October 2009, the second excavation was conducted.  It revealed the plans and sections of 17 post-holes apparently for wooden beams that supported a structure. 

Numerous objects were also uncovered, including false teeth, a keepsake from the baths at Marienbad, now in the Czech Republic, a 1941 Dutch coin, a fragment a brown Lysol bottle produced in Germany and metal keys.  Currently the finds are being analyzed and processed.

Pathway leading to the gas chambers, uncovered in excavations conducted in 2007

House and suitcase keys

New excavation site 2009

Mass Graves

 A photo with a partial view of the Sobibor monument known as the "ash mountain" from the air. The photo, which was taken by Paul Bauman, and which Yoram also sent to me, is this one: 

The areas around the mound which are greener than others are areas where mass graves of the Sobibor extermination camp are located. The grass grows greener over the graves, a phenomenon that can probably be explained by the fertilizing action of the human remains contained in the graves, which apparently act as a sort of dung. A similar phenomenon is reported in Lucja Nowak’s article about archaeological research at Chelmno, which I pointed out here

The first grave.
[...]The grave has an irregular shape; the width of the northern part can be established at 8 m and narrows by 3 meters towards the south. Its length equals 62 m. More or less in the middle, it is cut by a concrete road of the period between 1962 and 1964.

Its irregular shape and relatively insignificant length in comparison with the other graves indicate that the grave was dug by hand.[...]While uncovering the grave we noticed that the earth must have contained some active substances: protective rubber gloves became destroyed.

Collected earth samples were examined by the Karol Marcinkowski University of Medical Sciences in Pozna?, Department of Forensic Medicine. Caustic substances in the grave may provide evidence for experiments connected with liquidation of corpses.

The special unit (Sonderkommando) under the command of SS Hauptsturmführer Herbert Lange, which in autumn 1941 in the Kazimierz Forest near Konin killed an undetermined group of victims by boiling them alive in pits filled with quicklime, was later transferred to the center in Che?mno at that time being established.

It seems very likely that the attempts to liquidate the corpses with the use of lime were shifted to Che?mno. This method apparently did not prove successful with a significant number of bodies. In the cemetery thus far we have not come across another such place where the earth would contain active chemical substances.[...]

The second grave, so-called "w?oc?awska"
[...]Situated about 20 m east of the old forest track, the grave runs parallel to it. Its current length is marked with a stone wall and equals 185 m. In order to establish its actual run, transverse probes were put up, while in inaccessible places drills were made.

On the basis of the drills made, it was possible to state that the clearing where the grave is situated was originally longer: it stretched over 45 m further south. The grave had an irregular width, ranging from about 7 m in the southeastern part, through about 10 m in the middle part, to only 4 m in the northeastern edge. While the new layout was being uncovered, the existence of burned-out objects and ashes as well as crushed human bones both burned and unburned was stated.[...]

The third grave.
Located parallel to the forest wall. On the basis of probing surveys and drills, it was stated that it reaches the forest from the south (SE), insignificantly entering its area. It passes under the forest track, which during the war most likely in this part of the clearing ran along the then forest wall, situated further on than the present one.

A stone wall (about 135 meters long), which was to determine the stretch of the grave, is narrower by 2 m than the actual width of the grave. Its total length equals 174 m, width about 8 m. The contents of the grave includes sandy soil with gravel, burn waste, ash, and crushed human bones.

The fourth grave.
It is represented by a 140-metre-long wall. Located between the third and the fifth graves; its presumed location does not correspond with the actual location. The fundamental fourth grave is located between the wall of the fourth non-existent grave and covers the whole fifth grave. Its actual width equals 10 m, while its length is 182 m. It is filled with gray sandy soil mixed with inclusions of burn waste, ash and crushed bones.

The fifth grave
The last grave, or rather a line of pits filled with ashes, was not commemorated with any walls; in the 1960s it was already not discernible on the surface. On the basis of the description by Judge W. Bednarz it appears that in 1945 the pits were examined by him.

The total length of these pits equals 161 m. The stretch is made up of 11 pits, each located about 2-3 m from another. The dimensions of the pits vary from 9x7.5 m to 15.50x8.50 m. They are filled with gray soil with a significant mixture of burn waste and crushed human bones. In the southern (SE) part of the grave the bones found in the pits used to be ground; those in further parts - crushed.

According to W. Bednarz, the depth of the pits was about 4 m, and the width 8-10 m. Even now the flora on the pits is more luxuriant, making this stretch more visible on the surface.


Sobibór consisted of five camps, all of them within the area encircled by the barbed wire fences and mine fields (Fig. 9).

First was the Vorlager, or fore-camp, with the houses and the barracks of the SS men and the Ukrainian auxiliaries. The principal structure of the fore-camp was the house of the commandant.

The ‘conveyer belt’ process (Hilberg, 1985: 967-976) of extermination at Sobibór started on the train ramp facing the fore-camp. Here, the disembarking Jews were told that they had arrived in a transit camp and were to take a bath on their way to places of resettlement.

The sick and the old were separated and taken to the ‘Lazaret’ where they were immediately shot. The rest, leaving their luggage on the ramp, were taken for undressing to camp II, north of the fore-camp, where all their personal belongings were taken away. In the storehouses of camp II sorting, processing, packing and storing the loot was carried out by Jewish slave workers who lived in Camp I, north to the fore-camp and south of camp II.

Fig. 9: Plan of Sobibór after E. Bauer (from Rückerl, 1977: 160-161)

From camp II the naked victims were brutally driven towards camp III via a lane concealed from camps I and II by high fences of barbed wire interwoven with tree branches. This lane, known as the Schlauch (Hose) orHimmelfahrtsstrasse (the Way to Heaven) terminated in the gas chambers at camp III (Fig. 9).

The men were driven directly to the gas chamber. The women were first taken, via a short branch of the Himmelfarhtsstrasse,to a barrack near the gate where their hair was shorn, from where they were sent to the gas chambers.

When the gas chambers were filled with victims, the gas was vented into the rooms asphyxiated the victims in about 20-30 minutes. Before being buried, the bodies were searched for valuables and gold teeth were removed. During the first phase of operation, about 80,000 bodies were buried in large pits.

In autumn 1942 a different way of body disposal was introduced. Bodies were taken for cremation by narrow-gauge rail carts from the gas chambers to grids made of old railway tracks. After cremation and crushing the larger bone fragments, the ashes were buried in pits. The mass graves were in camp III, adjacent to the gas chambers.

Camp III also contained the barracks of the Jewish slaves who worked at the gas chambers and pyres, none of whom survived, and of the Ukrainian auxiliaries. The fifth camp, camp IV, has been already mentioned above and it will be discussed in more detail below.

2. The documentary background

None of the few extant official documents refers in any way to physical elements of Sobibór that are relevant to archaeology, such as structures, their layout, or artefacts. That such documents existed is certain: Odilo Globocnik, the commandant of the Einsatz Reinhardt showed Franz Stangl, the first Sobibór commandant, plans of Sobibór in early spring of 1942 in Lublin (Sereny, 1983: 103).

Testimonies of German staff members are also sketchy; the SS men hardly described specific features, but for general references to the plan of Sobibór and its five sub-camps. The structure of the first gas chamber from April 1942 is described in a few brief sentences ‘…close to the railroad station I saw a track of land with a concrete construction and some other solid buildings…

We installed the engine on a concrete foundation…’ (testimony of the SS soldier E. Fuchs who installed the first gassing engine at Sobibór, in Arad, 1987: 31). Stangl, the first commandant of Sobibór, hardly refers to particular buildings. As noted above, he was familiar with the blueprint of Sobibór while it was built, and participated in its construction.

The only structure he refers to in the construction process is ‘…a new brick building with three rooms, three metres by four…it looked exactly like the gas chamber at Schloss Hartheim.’ (Sereny, 1983: 109). In another testimony, however, E. Bauer, known as the Gasmeister (Gas master), stated that ‘The gas chamber was already there, a wooden [sic] building on a concrete base…’ (in Schelvis, 2007: 101).

The memories of the survivors constitute an important set of documents that is essential for the understanding of the history and archaeology of Sobibór. It is noteworthy that the corpus of these memory narratives has increased in recent years.

The W?odawa-Sobibór museum, for one, is currently publishing a series of memoires, some of which have already been published before (Blatt, 2008, Ticho, 2008, Wewryk, 2008, Zielinski, 2008).

There are additional memoires, testimonies and studies written by Sobibór survivors published recently, as well as decades ago (Blatt, 1997b, Freiberg, 2007, Novitch, 1980, Rashke, 1995, Schelvis, 2007). Browning (1999), notes that:

…human memory is imperfect. The testimonies of both survivors and other witnesses to the events in Be??ec Sobibór, and Treblinka are no more immune to forgetfulness, error, exaggeration, distortion, and repression than eyewitness accounts of other events in the past…however, without exception all concur on the vital issue at dispute, namely that Be??ec, Sobibór, and Treblinka were death camps…

The problems of human memory that Browning lists affect also the recollections related to space, structures and artefacts, so important in archaeology. Perpetrators and dozens of survivors left Sobibór in late 1943 and only a handful returned to visit the place decades later.

The locals were unfamiliar with the inner structure of the site and could go there only after the area was totally levelled and replanted. For survivors, it is not easy to recognize specific locales while walking in the present day forest of Sobibór, with no familiar structures for orientation, decades after the site was erased.

Probably this is why Gitta Sereny (1983: 117) who visited Sobibór in 1972 states that the mound of ashes was the place where the Sobibór gas chambers stood, while Martin Gilbert (1997: 250) identifies the location of the gas chambers where the monuments are, more than 100m to the south of the ash mound.

Images, mainly photos, maps, plans and air photographs are invaluable documents, the potential of which has not yet been fully exploited. As is the case with other types of World War II documents, there are few images of Sobibor. In fact, from March 1942 to November 1943 there are a number of photographs which do not contribute significantly to the archaeological research of the site.

Sobibór photos in books and articles are very rare and the largest number of images available is the on line collection on the web site of the Ghetto Fighters House (GFH) (http://www.infocentres.co.il/gfh). Most of the Second World War pictures here are of poor quality and their provenance and authenticity are not always known.

Two air photographs of Sobibór taken by the Luftwaffe are of importance: one from 1940, before the extermination centre was constructed (Fig. 10), and the second one from 1944, after the site was eliminated and the area re-forested (Fig. 11). Recent air photographs (e.g., 2005) are instrumental in attempts to locate old features appearing on the 1940 and 1944 photos, in the present day forested terrain (see below).

Fig. 10: Aerial photo of the future extermination centre at Sobibór, 1940 (from ARC www.deathcamps.org, http://www.deathcamps.org/sobibor/pic/bmap16.jpg)


Fig. 11: Aerial photo of Sobibór in 1944 (National Archives, Washington DC; courtesy of Alex Bay).

3. The 2001 excavations at Sobibór

As mentioned above, the site of Sobibór was excavated in 2001 by a team directed by A. Kola (Kola, 2001). The archaeologists used the same methods that were used in the 1997-1999 excavations of Be??ec.

Two main features were discovered (Fig. 12): seven mass graves in varying sizes in the area surrounding the ash mound and a number of structural remains south of them, adjacent and to the west of the asphalt paved lot where the monument is located. Building E is the largest and the most significant structural assemblage uncovered.

It is about 60m long and is located in the south-west section of the area tested. It is interpreted as an undressing room where the clothes and belongings of the victims were processed (Kola, 2001: 121). We will discuss Building E further in the section below. For the moment, it is worth noting that in the current plans for future development of the site, this archaeological feature is interpreted as the gas chambers (Bem, 2006).

4. The 2007 season

In October 2007, acting on the assumption that we knew roughly where the gas chamber was located, we decided to dig first in the area bordering the west of Kola’s Building E. We worked in 5x5m squares which correspond to Kola’s grid, screened all the sediments we dug and used soft hair brushes to clean the surfaces we exposed.

The sediment we excavated was sand, heavily mixed with ashes and burnt materials and artefacts. It was approximately 10cm deep and overlaid deep layers of sterile sand. The nature and the extension of the archaeological deposit and the types of artefacts embedded in it indicate that the part of Sobibór we excavated is neither the gas chamber nor the undressing barrack.


Fig. 12: Plan of the 2000-2001 excavations at Sobibór (after Kola, 2001: 122).

The most important features we unearthed were two black parallel lines (feature F) consisting of black and grey ashes, burnt wood fragments, and whitish material, probably ash as well (Fig. 13). These could have been remains of camp fences, a suggestion supported by the fact that in the debris of this part of the site we recovered hangers for security fencing (Fig. 14).

Fig. 13: Sobibór 2007 excavations, feature F.

Fig. 14: Sobibór 2007 excavations, hangers for security fencing (photo by Yehudit Heymans).

We recovered about 1,000 artefacts that do not seem to be associated with gas chambers. They included a wide assortment of artefacts made of different raw materials. Most common were artefacts made of metal. In addition to hangers of security fencing, there were also fragments of barbed wire, as well as nails and a peg of a narrow-gauge railway.

Bullets and bullet cartridges were also found, one of them even bearing the year of production, 1938. The bullets were deformed by fire. Also of note were an element of a door lock, scissors, knives, spoons, belt buckles, cigarette lighters and fragments of metallic cigarette cases (Fig. 15).

There were many glass artefacts, including numerous fragments of bottles and jars. Many small bottles were most probably containers of perfume or medicines, while larger jars, some of which produced in the Netherlands, could contain disinfectants. We also uncovered fragments of dentures and glasses of spectacles.


Fig. 15: Sobibór 2007 excavations, a fragment of a cigarette case.

Similar collections of artefacts were retrieved in other extermination centres, as well. Numerous scissors, knives and spoons, for example, were reported from Be??ec (Kola, 2000: Figs. 86-88, 93, 112-114, 11). Glass bottles and jars were also common in Be??ec (Kola, 2000: Fig. 90-91), where cigarette cases were found as well (ibid: 95, 97). Comparable artefacts are also known from Che?mno.

Only the unique items from the Che?mno collections are published (Pawlicka-Nowak, 2004b), such as jewellery and a cigarette case (see above, Fig. 4), but numerous everyday artefacts, such as cutlery, nails, plates, glass bottles and jars were also unearthed there. As mentioned above, numerous such artefacts are exhibited in the museums at Che?mno and the Imperial War Museum in London (see above, Fig. 5).

5. The geophysical evidence obtained in 2008

A one-week season in July 2008 was devoted to acquiring geophysical data. The work was carried out under our guidance by Paul Bauman and Brad Hansen of Worley Parsons Resources and Energy (Calgary), and Phillip Reeder of the University of South Florida.

The geophysical team was organized and coordinated by Richard Freund of the University of Hartford. The following methods were used to acquire the data: EM61 High Resolution Metal Detection, GEM19 Overhauser GPS Magnetic Gradiometer, EM38 Terrain Conductivity Meter, Ground Penetrating Radar, Low Altitude High Resolution Aerial Photography, and GPS Mapping (Bauman, 2008).

The geophysical work was carried out in two areas of the site: in the open field south of the ash mound monument, where the mass graves are, and in eight 20x20m squares placed immediately south and east of the area excavated by us in 2007. In addition, low altitude aerial photography was carried out over the major part of the original perimeter of the site. GPS data were collected at various locations in the site and in the Sobibór train station and ramp.

The results are being evaluated now and we can already discern the archaeological potential of different locales (Bauman, 2008). The low altitude photography from a weather balloon of the open field immediately to the south of the ash mound is illuminating (Fig. 16). It appears to have delineated areas of mass graves in the open field, as defined by deeper green hues in the vegetation.

This supports the conclusion of the 2001 coring activities carried out by Kola’s expedition (Fig. 17). It is possible that this conclusion will be further corroborated by the processing of several GPR profiles conducted across these tentatively identified mass graves. The aerial photographs also appear to distinguish areas of Sobibór from surrounding forest by the subtle but clear change in tree canopy height and homogeneity (Bauman, 2008: 9).

Fig. 16: Sobibór 2008: areas of mass graves in the open field around the ash mound, as defined by deeper green hues in the vegetation (courtesy of Paul Bauman, Worley Parsons). 

Fig. 17: Recent aerial photo of Sobibór and the main features at the site (aerial photo courtesy of ImageSat International).

Fig. 18: The 1947 plan of Sobibór (after Lukaszkiewicz, 1947) projected on the modern aerial ImageSat photo.

Contributor: bgill
Created: October 29, 2011 · Modified: December 8, 2011

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