Sobibor: 61 years since the revolt

Discussions on the Holocaust and 20th Century War Crimes. Note that Holocaust denial is not allowed. Hosted by David Thompson.
User avatar
Helly Angel
Posts: 5070
Joined: 11 Mar 2002 20:00
Location: Florida, USA

Sobibor: 61 years since the revolt

Post by Helly Angel » 14 Oct 2004 04:42

This is from Jennifer Rosenberg´s website:

Sobibor: An Overview

The Sobibor death camp was one of the Nazis' best kept secrets. When Toivi Blatt, one of the very few survivors of the camp, approached a "well-known survivor of Auschwitz" in 1958 with a manuscript he had written about his experiences, he was told, "You have a tremendous imagination. I've never heard of Sobibor and especially not of Jews revolting there."* The secrecy of the Sobibor death camp was too successful - its victims and survivors were being disbelieved and forgotten.

The Sobibor death camp did exist and a revolt by the Jewish workers did occur. Within this death camp, in operation for only eighteen months, at least 250,000 men, women, and children were murdered. Only 48 Sobibor prisoners survived the war.

Sobibor was the second of three death camps to be established as part of Aktion Reinhard (the other two were Belzec and Treblinka). The location of this death camp was a small village called Sobibor, in the Lublin district of eastern Poland, chosen because of its general isolation as well as its proximity to a railway. Construction on the camp began in March 1942, overseen by SS Obersturmführer Richard Thomalla.
Since construction was behind schedule by early April 1942, Thomalla was replaced by SS Obersturmführer Franz Stangl - a veteran of the Nazi euthanasia program. Stangl remained commandant of Sobibor from April until August 1942, when he was transferred to Treblinka (where he became commandant) and replaced by SS Obersturmführer Franz Reichleitner. The staff of the Sobibor death camp consisted of approximately 20 SS men and 100 Ukrainian guards.

By mid-April 1942, the gas chambers were ready and a test using 250 Jews from the Krychow labor camp proved them operational.

The Sobibor death camp was built just across the railroad tracks from the Sobibor train station. The camp was rectangular in shape (400 by 600 meters) and enclosed by three-meter-high barbed wire fence. Nearly surrounding the camp was a minefield - built not only to keep prisoners from escaping but also to hinder partisans from approaching and contacting the prisoners. Internally, the camp was divided into five sections.

Sobibor: Life and Death (Part 2 of 4)

The boxcar doors opened suddenly, and the fresh air and the smell of the pine trees did us good. But what followed was horrifying; it happened so quickly that we had no time to think.1
Day and night, victims arrived at Sobibor. Though some came by lorry, cart, or even by foot, many arrived by train. When trains filled with victims drew near the Sobibor train station, the trains were switched onto a spur and led into the camp.

The camp gate opened wide before us. The prolonged whistle of the locomotive heralded our arrival. After a few moments we found ourselves within the camp compound. Smartly uniformed German officers met us. They rushed about before the closed freight cars and rained orders on the black-garbed Ukrainians. These stood like a flock of ravens searching for prey, ready to do their despicable work. Suddenly everyone grew silent and the order crashed like thunder, "Open them up!"2
When the doors were finally opened, the occupants' treatment varied depending on whether they were from the East or the West. If Western European Jews were on the train, they descended from passenger cars, usually wearing their very best clothes. The Nazis had relatively successfully fooled them, made it appear that they were being resettled in the East. To continue the charade even once they had reached Sobibor, the victims were helped from the train by camp prisoners dressed in blue uniforms and given claim tickets for their baggage. A few of these unknowing victims even offered a tip to the "porters."3
If Eastern European Jews were the occupants of the train, they descended from cattle cars amidst shouts, screams, and beatings, for the Nazis presumed that they knew what awaited them, thus were thought more likely to revolt.

"Schnell, raus, raus, rechts, links!" (Fast, out, out, right, left!), shouted the Nazis. I held my five-year old son by the hand. A Ukrainian guard snatched him; I dreaded that the child would be killed, but my wife took him. I calmed down, believing I would see them again soon.4
Leaving their baggage on the ramp, the mass of people were ordered by SS Oberscharführer Gustav Wagner into two lines, one with men and one with women and young children. Those too ill to walk were told by SS Oberscharführer Hubert Gomerski that they would be taken to a hospital (Lazarett), thus were taken aside and sat upon a cart (later a little train).
There were many decisions to be made quickly. But after days or even a week in the trains many were not physically or mentally prepared. What was the best choice? Should the boys act older or go with their mothers?

Toivi Blatt was holding his mother's hand when the order came to separate into two lines. He decided to follow his father into the line of men, thus he turned to his mother, unsure what to say.

But for reasons I still cannot understand, out of the blue I said to my mother, "And you didn't let me drink all the milk yesterday. You wanted to save some for today."
Slowly and sadly she turned to look at me. "This is what you think about at such a moment?"

To this day the scene comes back to haunt me, and I have regretted my strange remark, which turned out to be my very last words to her.5

The stress of the moment, under the harsh conditions, did not lend to clear thinking. And, usually, the victims did not realize that this moment would be their last time to speak or to see each other.
If the camp needed to replenish its workers, a guard would shout out among the lines for tailors, seamstresses, blacksmiths, and carpenters. But was volunteering a good or bad decision? Those that were chosen, often left brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters, and children behind in the lines. Other than those that were trained at a skill, sometimes the SS chose men or women, young boys or girls, seemingly randomly for work within the camp.

Out of the thousands that stood on the ramp, perhaps a select few would be chosen. Those that were chosen would be marched off at a run to Lager I; the rest would enter through a gate that read, "Sonderkommando Sobibor" ("special unit Sobibor").

The Workers
Those that were selected to work were taken to Lager I. Here they were registered and placed in barracks. Most of these prisoners still did not realize that they were in a death camp, thus many asked other prisoners when they would again be able to see their family members.
Often, other prisoners told them about Sobibor - that this was a place that gassed Jews, that the smell that pervaded was dead bodies piling up, and that the fire they saw in the distance was bodies being burned. Once the new prisoners found out the truth of Sobibor they had to come to terms with it. Some committed suicide. Some became determined to live. But all were devastated.

The work that these prisoners were to carry out did not help them forget this horrific news - rather, it reinforced it. For all the workers within Sobibor worked within the death process or for the SS staff. Approximately 600 inmates worked in the Vorlager, Lager I, and Lager II, while approximately 200 worked in the segregated Lager III. The two sets of prisoners never met, for they lived and worked apart.

Workers in the Vorlager, Lager I, and Lager II

The prisoners that worked outside Lager III had a wide range of jobs. Some worked specifically for the SS - making gold trinkets, boots, clothing, cleaning cars, or feeding horses. Others worked at jobs dealing with the death process - sorting clothes, unloading and cleaning the trains, cutting wood for the pyres, burning personal artifacts, cutting the women's hair, etc.

These workers lived daily amid fear and terror. The SS and the Ukrainian guards marched the prisoners to their work in columns, making them sing marching songs along the way. A prisoner could be beaten and whipped for simply being out of step. Sometimes prisoners were to report after work, at roll call, for punishments they had accrued during the day. As they were being whipped, they were forced to call out the number of lashes - if they didn't shout loud enough or if they lost count, the punishment would start over again or they would be beaten to death. Everyone at roll call was forced to watch these punishments.

Though there were certain general rules one needed to know in order to live, there was no certainty in who could be a victim of SS cruelty.

We were permanently terrorized. Once, a prisoner was talking to a Ukrainian guard; an SS man killed him. Another time we carried sand to decorate the garden; Frenzel [SS Oberscharführer Karl Frenzel] took out his revolver, and shot a prisoner working at my side. Why? I still don't know.6
Another terror was SS Scharführer Paul Groth's dog, Barry. On the ramp as well as in the camp, Groth would sick Barry on a prisoner, who would tear the prisoner to pieces.
Though the prisoners were terrorized daily, the SS were even more dangerous when they were bored. It is then that they would create games. One such "game" was to sew up each leg of a prisoner's pants, then put rats down them. If the prisoner moved, he would be beaten to death.7

Another such sadistic "game" began when a thin prisoner was forced to quickly drink a large quantity of vodka and then eat several pounds of sausage. Then the SS man would force the prisoner's mouth open and urinate in it - laughing as the prisoner threw up.8

But even while living with terror and death, the prisoners continued to live. The prisoners of Sobibor socialized with each other. There were approximately 150 women among the 600 prisoners, and couples soon formed. Sometimes there was dancing. Sometimes there was love making. Perhaps since the prisoners were constantly facing death, acts of life became even more important?

Workers in Lager III

There is not much known about the prisoners who worked in Lager III, for the Nazis kept them permanently separated from all others in the camp. The job of delivering food to the gates of Lager III was an extremely risky job. There were a number of times when the gates of Lager III opened while the prisoners delivering food were still there, and thus the food deliverers were taken inside Lager III and never heard from again.

To find out about the prisoners in Lager III, Hershel Zukerman, a cook, tried to contact them.

In our kitchen we cooked the soup for camp No. 3 and Ukrainian guards used to fetch the vessels. Once I put a note in Yiddish into a dumpling, "Brother, let me know what you are doing." The answer arrived, stuck to the bottom of the pot, "You shouldn't have asked. People are being gassed, and we must bury them."9
The prisoners who worked in Lager III worked amidst the extermination process. They removed the bodies from the gas chambers, searched the bodies for valuables, then either buried them (April to the end of 1942) or burned them on pyres (end of 1942 to October 1943). These prisoners had the most emotionally wearing job, for many would find family members and friends among those they must bury.
No prisoners from Lager III survived.

The Death Process
Those that were not selected for work stayed in the lines, except those that had been selected to go to the hospital who were taken away and directly shot. The line made up of women and children walked through the gate first, followed later by the line of men. Along this walkway, the victims saw houses with names like "the Merry Flea" and "the Swallow's Nest," saw gardens with planted flowers, and saw signs that pointed to "showers" and "canteen."10 All this helped deceive the unsuspecting victims, for Sobibor seemed to them too peaceful to be a place of murder.
Before they reached the center of Lager II, they passed through a building where camp workers asked them to leave their small handbags and personal belongings. Once they reached the main square of Lager II, SS Oberscharführer Hermann Michel (nicknamed "the preacher") gave a short speech, similar to what is remembered by Ber Freiberg:

You are leaving for the Ukraine where you will work. In order to avoid epidemics, you are going to have a disinfecting shower. Put away your clothes neatly, and remember where they are, as I shall not be with you to help to find them. All valuables must be taken to the desk.11
Young boys would wander among the crowd, passing out string so that they could tie their shoes together. (In other camps, before the Nazis thought of this, they ended up with large piles of unmatched shoes - the pieces of string helped keep the pairs of shoes matched.) They were to hand over their valuables through a window to a "cashier" (SS Oberscharführer Alfred Ittner).
Having undressed and folded their clothes neatly in piles, the victims entered "the tube" labeled by the Nazis as the "Himmlestrasse" ("Road to Heaven"). This tube, approximately ten to thirteen feet wide, was constructed of barbed wire sides that were interwoven with tree branches. Running from Lager II through the tube, the women were taken aside to a special barracks to have their hair cut off. After their hair was cut, they were taken to Lager III for their "showers."

Upon entering Lager III, the unknowing victims came upon a large brick building with three separate doors. Approximately 200 people were pushed through each of these three doors into what appeared to be showers, but what were really gas chambers. The doors were then closed. Outside, in a shed, an SS officer or a Ukrainian guard started the 200 horsepower, 8-cylinder engine which produced the carbon monoxide gas. The gas entered each of these three rooms through pipes installed specifically for this purpose.

As Toivi Blatt relates as he was standing near Lager II, he could hear sounds from Lager III:

Suddenly I heard the sound of internal combustion engines. Immediately afterward, I heard a terribly high-pitched, yet smothered, collective cry - at first strong, surpassing the roar of the motors, then, after a few minutes, gradually weakening. My blood froze.12
In this way, 600 people could be killed at once. But this was not fast enough for the Nazis, so, during the fall of 1942, three additional gas chambers, of equal size, were added. Then, 1200 to 1300 people could be killed at one time.
There were two doors to each gas chamber, one where the victims walked in and the other, where the victims were dragged out. After a short time of airing out the chambers, Jewish workers were forced to pull the bodies out of the chambers, throw them into carts, and then dump them into pits.

At the end of 1942, the Nazis ordered all the corpses exhumed and burned. After this time, all further victims' bodies were burnt upon pyres built upon wood and helped by the addition of gasoline. It is estimated that 250,000 people were killed at Sobibor.

Part 3 of this series describes the revolt within Sobibor.


1. Itzhak Lichtman as quoted in Miriam Novitch, Sobibor: Martyrdom and Revolt (New York: Holocaust Library, 1980) 82.
2. Moshe Bahir as quoted in Ibid 143-144.
3. Richard Rashke, Escape From Sobibor (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995) 58.
4. Itzhak Lichtman as quoted in Novitch, Sobibor 82.
5. Thomas Toivi Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1997) 4.
6. Aizik Rottenberg as quoted in Novitch, Sobibor 104.
7. Ber Freiberg as quoted in Novitch, Sobibor 75.
8. Rashke, Escape 101.
9. Hershel Zukerman as quoted in Novitch, Sobibor 107.
10. Rashke, Escape 59.
11. Ber Freiberg as quoted in Novitch, Sobibor 74.
12. Blatt, Ashes 101.
Last edited by Helly Angel on 14 Oct 2004 04:48, edited 1 time in total.

David Thompson
Forum Staff
Posts: 23711
Joined: 20 Jul 2002 19:52
Location: USA

Post by David Thompson » 14 Oct 2004 04:45

Readers may find these additional threads on Sobibor of interest:

Sobibor testimony of Dov Freiberg
Sobibor death camp uprising
Last edited by David Thompson on 14 Oct 2004 05:57, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Helly Angel
Posts: 5070
Joined: 11 Mar 2002 20:00
Location: Florida, USA

Post by Helly Angel » 14 Oct 2004 04:45

Sobibor: The Revolt

Jews have often been accused of going to their deaths during the Holocaust like "sheep to the slaughter." But this just isn't true. Many resisted. But the individual attacks and the individual escapes lacked the zest of defiance and craving for life that others, looking back in time, expect and want to see. Many now ask, why didn't the Jews just pick up guns and shoot? How could they let their families starve and die without fighting back?

But resisting and revolting were simply not this simple. If one person were to pick up a gun and shoot, the SS would not just kill the shooter, but also randomly choose and kill twenty, thirty, even a hundred others in retaliation. Even if escaping from a camp were possible, where were the escapees to go? The roads were traveled by Nazis and the forests were filled with armed, anti-Semitic Poles. And during the winter, during the snow, where were they to live? And if they had been transported from the West to the East, they spoke Dutch or French - not Polish. How were they to survive in the countryside without knowing the language?

Though the difficulties seemed insurmountable and success improbable, the Jews of the Sobibor death camp attempted a revolt. They made a plan and attacked their captors, but axes and knives were little match for the SS's machine guns. How and why did they come to the decision to revolt?

During the summer and fall of 1943, the transports into Sobibor came less and less frequently. The Sobibor prisoners had always realized that they had been allowed to live only in order for them to work, to keep the death process running. But with the slowing of the transports, many began to wonder whether the Nazis had actually succeeded at their goal to wipe out Jewry from Europe, to make it "Judenrein." Rumors began to circulate - the camp was to be liquidated.
Leon Feldhendler decided it was time to plan an escape. Though only in his thirties, Feldhendler was respected by his fellow inmates. Before coming to Sobibor, Feldhendler had been the head of the Judenrat in the Zolkiewka Ghetto. Having been at Sobibor for nearly a year, Feldhendler had witnessed several individual escapes. Unfortunately, all were followed by severe retaliation against the remaining prisoners. It was for this reason, that Feldhendler believed that an escape plan should include the escape of the entire camp population.

In many ways, a mass escape was more easily said then done. How could you get six hundred prisoners out of a well-guarded, land mine-surrounded camp without having the SS discover your plan before it was enacted or without having the SS mow you down with their machine guns?

A plan this complex was going to need someone with military and leadership experience. Someone who could not only plan such a feat, but also inspire the prisoners to carry it out. But, at the time, there was no one in Sobibor who fit both these descriptions.

On September 23, 1943, a transport from Minsk rolled into Sobibor. Unlike most incoming transports, 80 men were selected for work. The SS were planning on building storage facilities in the now empty Lager IV, thus chose strong men from the transport rather than skilled workers. Among those chosen on that day was First Lieutenant Alexander "Sasha" Pechersky as well as a few of his men.
Sasha was a Soviet prisoner of war. He had been sent to the front in October 1941 but had been captured near Viazma. After having been transferred to several camps, the Nazis, during a strip search, had discovered that Sasha was circumcised. Because he was Jewish, the Nazis sent him to Sobibor.

Sasha made a big impression on the other prisoners of Sobibor. Three days after arriving at Sobibor, Sasha was out chopping wood with other prisoners. The prisoners, exhausted and hungry, were raising the heavy axes and then letting them fall on the tree stumps. SS Oberscharführer Karl Frenzel was guarding the group and regularly punishing already exhausted prisoners with twenty-five lashes each. When Frenzel noticed that Sasha had stopped working during one of these whipping frenzies, he said to Sasha, "Russian soldier, you don't like the way I punish this fool? I give you exactly five minutes to split this stump. If you make it, you get a pack of cigarettes. If you miss by as much as one second, you get twenty-five lashes."1

It seemed an impossible task. But Sasha attacked the stump "[w]ith all my strength and genuine hatred."2 Sasha finished in four and a half minutes. Since Sasha had competed the task in the allotted time, Frenzel made good on his promise of a pack of cigarettes - a highly prized commodity in the camp. Sasha refused the pack, saying "Thanks, I don't smoke."3 Sasha then went back to work. Frenzel was furious.

Frenzel left for a few minutes and then returned with bread and margarine - a very tempting morsel for all who are really hungry. Frenzel handed the food to Sasha. But, again, Sasha refused Frenzel's offer, saying, "Thank you, the rations we are getting satisfy me fully."4 Obviously a lie, Frenzel was even more furious. But instead of whipping Sasha, Frenzel turned and abruptly left.

This was a first in Sobibor - someone had had the courage to defy the SS and succeeded. News of this incident spread quickly throughout the camp.

Sasha and Feldhendler Meet
Two days after the wood cutting incident, Leon Feldhendler asked that Sasha and his friend Shlomo Leitman come that evening to the women's barracks to talk. Though both Sasha and Leitman went that night, Feldhendler never arrived. In the women's barracks, Sasha and Leitman were swamped with questions - about life outside the camp...about why the partisans had not attacked the camp and freed them. Sasha explained that the "partisans have their tasks, and no one can do our work for us."5
These words motivated in the prisoners of Sobibor. Instead of waiting for others to liberate them, they were coming to the conclusion that they would have to liberate themselves.

Feldhendler had now found someone who not only had the military background to plan a mass escape, but also someone who could inspire confidence in the prisoners. Now Feldhendler needed to convince Sasha that a plan of mass escape was needed.

The two men met the following day, on September 29. Some of Sasha's men were already thinking of escape - but for just a few people, not a mass escape. Feldhendler had to convince them that he and others in the camp could help the Soviet prisoners because they knew the camp. He also told the men of the retaliation that would occur against the whole camp if even just a few were to escape.

Soon, they decided to work together and information between the two men passed via a middle man, Shlomo Leitman, so as not to draw attention to the two men. With the information about the routine of the camp, layout of the camp, and specific characteristics of the guards and SS, Sasha began to plan.

The Plan
Sasha knew that any plan would be far-fetched. Even though the prisoners outnumbered the guards, the guards had machine guns and could call for back-up.
The first plan was to dig a tunnel. They started digging the tunnel in the beginning of October. Originating in the carpentry shop, the tunnel had to be dug under the perimeter fence and then under the minefields. On October 7, Sasha voiced his fears about this plan - the hours at night were not sufficient to allow the entire camp population to crawl through the tunnel and fights were likely to flare-up between prisoners waiting to crawl through. These problems were never encountered because the tunnel was ruined from heavy rains on October 8 and 9.

Sasha began working on another plan. This time it was not just a mass escape, it was a revolt.

Sasha asked that members of the Underground start preparing weapons in the prisoner workshops - they began to make both knives and hatchets. Though the Underground had already learned that they camp commandant, SS Haupsturmführer Franz Reichleitner and SS Oberscharführer Hubert Gomerski had gone on vacation, on October 12 they saw SS Oberscharführer Gustav Wagner leaving the camp with his suitcases. With Wagner gone, many felt the opportunity ripe for the revolt. As Toivi Blatt describes Wagner:

Wagner's departure gave us a tremendous morale boost. While cruel, he was also very intelligent. Always on the go, he could suddenly show up in the most unexpected places. Always suspicious and snooping, he was difficult to fool. Besides, his colossal stature and strength would make it very difficult for us to overcome him with our primitive weapons. 6
On the nights of October 11 and 12, Sasha told the Underground the complete plans for the revolt. The Soviet prisoners of war were to be dispersed to different workshops around the camp. The SS would be individually lured to the various workshops either by appointments to pick up finished products they had ordered like boots or by individual items that attracted their greed like a newly arrived leather coat.

The planning took into consideration the Germans' brashness and power-hungry mistreatment of the seemingly subdued Jews, their consistent and systematic daily routine, their unfaltering punctuality, and their greed.7
Each SS man would be killed in the workshops. It was important that the SS did not cry out when being killed nor any of the guards alerted that something unusual was happening in the camps.
Then, all the prisoners would report as usual to the roll call square and then walk out together through the front gate. It was hoped that once the SS had been eliminated, the Ukrainian guards, who had a small supply of ammunition, would acquiesce to the revolting prisoners. The phone lines were to be cut early in the revolt so that the escapees would have several hours of fleeing time under the cover of darkness, before back-up could be notified.

Significant to the plan was that only a very small group of the prisoners even knew of the revolt - it was to be a surprise to the general camp population at roll call in order to limit the possibility of the SS noticing something strange or for the revolters to be informed on.

It was decided that the following day, October 13, would be the day of revolt.

We knew our fate. We knew that we were in an extermination camp and death was our destiny. We knew that even a sudden end to the war might spare the inmates of the "normal" concentration camps, but never us. Only desperate actions could shorten our suffering and maybe afford us a chance of escape. And the will to resist had grown and ripened. We had no dreams of liberation; we hoped merely to destroy the camp and to die from bullets rather than from gas. We would not make it easy for the Germans. 8

October 13
The day had finally arrived. Tension among those that were to play a role in the uprising was high. But during the morning, a group of SS arrived from the nearby Ossowa labor camp. The arrival of these additional SS not only increased the man power of the SS in the camp but could preclude the regular SS men from making their appointments in the workshops. Since the additional SS were still in the camp during lunchtime, the revolt was postponed. It was rescheduled for the following day - October 14.
As the prisoners went to bed this night, many were afraid of what was to come.

Esther Grinbaum, a very sentimental and intelligent young woman, wiped away her tears and said: "It's not yet the time for an uprising. Tomorrow none of us will be alive. Everything will remain as it was - the barracks, the sun will rise and set, the flowers will bloom and wilt, but we will be no more." Her closest friend, Helka Lubartowska, a beautiful dark-eyed brunette, tried to encourage her: "There is no other way. Nobody knows what the results will be, but one thing is sure, we will not be led to slaughter."9

October 14

The day had come. Excitement among the prisoners was so high that no matter what happened, the revolt could not be postponed, for the SS were sure to notice the change in mood in the prisoners. The few weapons that had been made were already handed out to those doing the killing. In the morning, they all had to try to look and act normal while waiting for the afternoon to come.


All battle team commanders (the prisoners who were to actively participate in the revolt were broken up into battle teams of two to three persons each) had each individually met with Sasha for final instructions.
Frenzel enters the carpentry shop and notices one prisoner is wearing especially nice clothing. The inmate was wearing nice clothes in preparation for the revolt. Many other prisoners were wearing extra clothes as well as carrying extra food and valuables. Frenzel asks the prisoner if he's going to a wedding.10 Did the new clothes make Frenzel suspicious?
2:00 p.m.

Something unusual happened. SS Unterscharführer Walter Ryba, armed with a submachine gun, comes into Lager I and took four prisoners away with him. SS don't usually carry such heavy weapons. Could he know about the planned revolt?
3:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Sasha finds out that SS Ryba was only carrying the submachine gun because a Ukrainian guard had not also accompanied the prisoners.
Many of the battle teams take their positions.
My assignment was to liquidate Scharführer Greischutz, who was in charge of the Ukrainian guard. I was happy for the opportunity given to me to kill a German. We had prepared axes, which we had sharpened in the smithy. We took up our position an hour earlier. At four o'clock we were sitting in the rooms and waited.11
4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
The killings began. (Though there are discrepancies in the accounts as to which SS officer was killed at what location, the following is a summary of the SS deaths.)
Leon Feldhendler was stationed here to help orchestrate the revolt in this section of the camp.

Unterscharführer Josef Wulf
Wulf was the first SS man killed during the revolt.
When he entered the storeroom, everything looked normal. There were some prisoners piling the clothes in bins. One of them approached Wulf with a coat, another prisoner stood behind him to help him into it. At that moment, Tsibulsky and another prisoner of war stepped out of their hiding place behind a bin and cracked Wulf's head with their axes. Wulf fell without a sound. The dead body was dragged into a bin and covered with clothes. The blood on the floor was covered with sand. Wulf's pistol was taken by Tsibulsky.12

Steubel was also lured into the storeroom and killed there.

Scharführer Vallaster
Killed during revolt; circumstances of death not known.

Scharführer Kurt Beckman
Though they attempted to lure Beckman to the storeroom for a new leather coat and though he at first appeared to be going to the storeroom, he abruptly turned around and went to his office. A little later, three prisoners went to Beckman's office where they surprised him and stabbed him with daggers. They did not have time to hide his body or clean up the blood, so they left the body behind the desk.

Unterscharführer Walter Ryba
Not part of the planned killings, Ryba entered the SS garage and was killed by a prisoner working there. This killing worried Sasha because he was afraid that Ryba's body, which was very close to the SS and Ukrainian living quarters, would be discovered.

Lager I
Sasha Pechersky was stationed here to orchestrate the revolt in this section of the camp.

Untersturmführer Josef Niemann
The acting commander of the camp rode up to the tailor shop on his chestnut horse, dismounted, and went inside. As he was being fitted for a new uniform, prisoners hit him on the back of the head with an axe. His body was then dragged to the back room and his horse taken back to the stables.

Oberscharführer Goettinger
Head of Lager III, Goettinger was asked to try on a new pair of boots in the shoemaker's shop. While talking to the shoemaker, Goettinger's head was smashed with an axe.

Scharführer Siegfried Greischutz
Head of the Ukrainian guard, Greischutz entered the Ukrainian tailor shop.

[T]he German entered that I and my friend awaited. He said that he hoped his winter overcoat was ready. The tailor brought the coat and started to fit it on him. It turned out that the German was closer to me than to my friend. I was sitting and sewing a button on a coat for a Ukrainian and the axe was between my legs. I got up, keeping the coat over the axe, approaching the SS man from behind and split his head. . . . We put the body beneath the table the tailors were working at.13

Klat, a Ukrainian guard, entered the tailor's shop looking for his boss, Greischutz (who had just been killed there). The tailors maneuvered Klat so that his back was to the back room. He was then attacked and killed.

Scharführer Friedrich Gaulstich
Gaulstich was killed in the carpentry workshop.
After 5:00 p.m.
The prisoners had gathered as usual in the roll call area. At 5:10 p.m. - twenty minutes early for roll call - the roll call whistle was blown according to Sasha's signal. Though Sasha was surprised at how well the plan had gone thus far, he realized that there could not be an orderly march through the front gate. Sasha stood up and addressed the assembled prisoners, saying something similar to "Our day has come. Most of the Germans are dead. Let's die with honor. Remember, if anyone survives, he must tell the world what has happened here."14

A Ukrainian guard discovers the body of Scharführer Beckman behind his desk and runs outside where SS men hear him yell, "A German is dead!" This alerts the rest of the camp to the uprising.

The prisoners at the roll call square yell, "Hurrah!" Then it is every man and woman for themselves.

Prisoners were running to the fences. Some were trying to cut threw them, others just climbed over. Yet, in most places, the minefield was still fully in place.

Suddenly we heard shots. In the beginning only a few shots, and then it turned into heavy shooting, including machine-gun fire. We heard shouting, and I could see a group of prisoners running with axes, knives, scissors, cutting the fences and crossing them. Mines started to explode. Riot and confusion prevailed, everything was thundering around. The doors of the workshop were opened, and everyone rushed through. . . . We ran out of the workshop. All around were the bodies of the killed and wounded. Near the armory were some of our boys with weapons. Some of them were exchanging fire with the Ukrainians, others were running toward the gate or through the fences. My coat caught on the fence. I took off the coat, freed myself and ran further behind the fences into the minefield. A mine exploded nearby, and I could see a body being lifted into the air and then falling down. I did not recognize who it was.15
As the remaining SS were alerted to the revolt, they grabbed machine guns and began shooting into the mass of people. The guards in the towers were also firing into the crowd.
The prisoners were running through the minefield, over an open area, and then into the forest. It is estimated that about half the prisoners (approximately 300) made it to the forests.

The Forest
Once in the forests, the escapees tried to quickly find relatives and friends. Though they started off in large groups of prisoners, they eventually broke into smaller and smaller groups in order to be able to find food and to hide.
Sasha had been leading one large group of about 50 prisoners. On October 17, the group stopped. Sasha chose several men, which included all the rifles of the group except one, and passed around a hat to collect money from the group to buy food. He told the group that he and the others he had chosen were going to do some reconnaissance. The others protested, but Sasha promised he'd come back. He never did. After waiting for a long time, the group realized that Sasha was not going to come back, thus they split into smaller groups and headed off in different directions.

After the war, Sasha explained his leaving by saying that it would have been impossible to hide and feed such a large group. But no matter how truthful this statement, the remaining members of the group felt bitter and betrayed by Sasha.

Within four days of the escape, 100 of the 300 escapees were caught. The remaining 200 continued to flee and hide. Most were shot by local Poles or by partisans. Only 50 to 70 survived the war.16 Though this number is small, it is still much larger than if the prisoners had not revolted, for surely, the entire camp population would have been liquidated by the Nazis.


1. Alexander Pechersky as quoted in Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987) 307.
2. Alexander Pechersky as quoted in Ibid 307.
3. Alexander Pechersky as quoted in Ibid 307.
4. Alexander Pechersky as quoted in Ibid 307.
5. Ibid 308.
6. Thomas Toivi Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1997) 144.
7. Ibid 141.
8. Ibid 139.
9. Arad, Belzec 321.
10. Ibid 324.
11. Yehuda Lerner as quoted in Ibid 327.
12. Ibid 325.
13. Yehuda Lerner as quoted in Ibid 327.
14. Richard Rashke, Escape From Sobibor (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995) 229.
15. Ada Lichtman as quoted in Arad, Belzec 331.
16. Ibid 364.

User avatar
Sergey Romanov
Posts: 1987
Joined: 28 Dec 2003 01:52
Location: World

Post by Sergey Romanov » 14 Oct 2004 05:48

Here's Toivi Blatt's site:

Posts: 814
Joined: 21 May 2004 15:31
Location: poznan, poland

Post by szopen » 14 Oct 2004 08:44

Again, there is info that most of them "were shot by local Poles" and not a signle clue that of those, who survived, most were hidden or helped by local Poles. How f* typical.

User avatar
Helly Angel
Posts: 5070
Joined: 11 Mar 2002 20:00
Location: Florida, USA

Post by Helly Angel » 14 Oct 2004 12:57

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.

The other leader of the revolt, Leon Feldhendler was killed by native polish people to be jewish.

Thanks you Sergey.... great historical link!

Posts: 557
Joined: 01 Aug 2004 18:50
Location: Poland

Post by Obserwator » 14 Oct 2004 16:45

On the other hand Regina Feldman or Kurt Thomas are those surivors who were saved by Poles:
Regina Feldman (Zielińska), młoda 19-letnia uciekinierka z Sobiboru, nie wahała się, gdy zapukała w drzwi mieszkania swojej koleżanki, Polki. Znalazła tam opiekę i pomoc. Koleżanka oddala jej własny dokument (kenkarte) i pomogła w wyjeździe do pracy w Niemczech.Regina przeżyła wojnę jako opiekunka dziecka w niemieckiej rodzime w Frankfurcie. Obecnie
Regina Feldman(Zielinska) young 19year old escepee from Sobibor didn't hasitate when she knocked on the door of heir friends home-a Polish women.She found there help and aid.Her friend gave her own kenkarte and help her to go to Germany to find a job.
Regina survived the war as a childkeeper in german family in Frankfurt.

Kurt Thomas, czeski Żyd przywieziony do Sobiboru błądził cztery dni w lasach aż dotarł do wsi Siedliszczki koło Piask Lubelskich. Przed wywiezieniem pracował tam przez jakiś czas na gospodarstwie rolnym. W obcym kraju, nie znając języka, całą jego nadzieją był Pan Podsiadło i jego żona Anna. Pracując u nich poznał ich jako ludzi uczciwych i był pewny ze nie odmówią pomocy.

Czekał w krzakach do wieczora aż parobek opuścił gospodarstwo. Gdy gospodarz jak zwykle obchodził obejście zawołał do niego z ukrycia - „Gospodarzu, ratuj!" I uratował. Kurt Thomas mieszka teraz w Ameryce
Kurt Thomas a Chech Jew brought to Sobibor wandered four days in forest before he reached Siedliszczki near Piaski Lubelskie. Befor transfer he worked there for some time in rural housekeep.In foreign country not knowing language his whole hope was Mr.Podsiadło and his wife Anna.Working with them he came to know them as hones and was sure they won't deny him help.He waited till evening.When the house master as usuall made a round in his housekeep he yealled to him from hiding"Rescue me !". And rescued him they did.Kurt Thomas now lives in America

Author mentions later that both Szlomo Szmajzner and his friend Jankiel have found refugee in the home of a Pole named Józef Albiniak who hid them till the end of the war, and refused to take any money or possesions in return.
Also author mentions that several more Jews were later helped by Poles.
The author here is Tomasz (Toivi) Blatt- who was part of the Sobibor uprising.
His book Sobibor-Forgotten Uprising-is put online in the link I put.For people interested-despite polish version they are several documents in german and photos which might be of interest

User avatar
Helly Angel
Posts: 5070
Joined: 11 Mar 2002 20:00
Location: Florida, USA

Post by Helly Angel » 14 Oct 2004 20:26

Of course not all the polish were bad. But remember that the polish denied help the jews in Varsaw because they couldn´t lost munition and weapons accord the statement of Yiczak Zuckerman, is interesting this myth about the colaboration of the polish in the Holocaust, for example the images of polish people joking against the jews in several films as "Schindler´s list" where you can see a little girls shouting against jews or other girls making the signal of death when the train goes to Auschwitz.

This is all a myth I know because are important the testimonies about polish helping jews to escape.


Posts: 814
Joined: 21 May 2004 15:31
Location: poznan, poland

Post by szopen » 15 Oct 2004 08:57

Helly Angel wrote:Of course not all the polish were bad. But remember that the polish denied help the jews in Varsaw because they couldn´t lost
Another f*ing myth. And that's why Iwanski from KB lost his brother while fighting inside of the ghetto? Or that's why AK and GL few times attacked ghetto senties and walls? Or why GL provided trucks to Jewish fighters leaving the ghetto?

Not too mention that in 1943 AK in Warsaw had very scarce resources and indeed give them to people, who were openly hostile to them (in contrast to fighters from ZZW, which were recruited from ex-Polish officers and which received more weapons) and who would use it in action whose only goal was to die with honour had little sense from military point of view. Help was provided only because of moral implications.

Posts: 557
Joined: 01 Aug 2004 18:50
Location: Poland

Post by Obserwator » 15 Oct 2004 10:34

Just to clear things up:
Support from outside the Ghetto was limited, but Polish units from AK and GL sporadically attacked German sentry units near the ghetto walls. One Polish unit from AK, namely KB under the command of Henryk Iwański, even fought inside the Ghetto together with ŻZW. The AK tried twice to blow up the Ghetto Wall, but without much success.
A number (approximately 1000) of the fighters from the Ghetto Uprising took part in the later Warsaw Uprising
Home Army provided some weapons and explosives to ZZW
Prawdę przedstawia człowiek; który był w Getcie i brał czynny udział w walkach. Marek Edelman mówi: "Pod koniec grudnia 1942 roku otrzymaliśmy nasz pierwszy transport broni od Armii Krajowej. Nie było tego wiele, tylko 10 pistoletów. Nie mniej umożliwiło to naszą pierwszą akcję zbrojną [...] (3). Pod koniec stycznia 1943 r. otrzymaliśmy pięćdziesiąt większych pistoletów i pięćdziesiąt pięć granatów od Komendy Głównej AK [...] (4)
." (5)
Nie tylko Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB) otrzymała pomoc od Armii Krajowej. Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (ŻZW) dostał pomoc w postaci broni, amunicji i materiałów wybuchowych od dwóch organizacji podlegających Armii Krajowej, Korpusu Bezpieczeństwa (KB) i Polskiej Ludowej Akcji Niepodległościowej (PLAN). Broń i amunicja były również przekazane przez Gwardię Ludową.
This are memories of Marek Edelman who fought in the uprising-he says that Home Army of transports of weapons from Home Army-for example at the end of december 1942 they received their first shipment of weapons-10 pistols, making their first armed operation possible.In January 1943 they received 50 handguns and 55 granades from Home Army.
I may add that they also received a large amount of explosives and all in all about 600 granades besides a limited number of weapons(Home Army itself had few to spare) besides instructions on how to make bombs and basic urban fighting tactics IIRC
Not only they received help from Home Army but also from Security Corps, Polish Peoples Liberation Action(i am translating badly the name sorry for that) and Peoples Guard.
The failed attempts of blowing up walls were unsuccesfull because German soldiers attacked polish sappers at work.Some of them died in the exchange of fire.

Also Jurgen Stroop writes in his reports that "polish bandits" fought alongside Jews in the Ghetto and that German soldiers were harassed by snipers from the"aryan side".

Posts: 36
Joined: 10 Oct 2004 15:51
Location: Virginia, Blue Ridge mountians (U.S.A)

Post by rappcom » 15 Oct 2004 16:48

I have general information compiled on one of the Sobibor survivors, Ester Terner-Raab, but can anyone else provide any added information/details etc. about her, her experiences, post-war life and the like ? Would love to hear it.

She was 19 yrs. old at the time of the revolt. She was saved while in the camp to be one of the SS`s seamstresses. Again, her name is "Ester Terner-Raab".

User avatar
Posts: 73
Joined: 10 Dec 2004 03:33
Location: UK

Post by Ezri » 12 Dec 2004 02:15

rappcom wrote:I have general information compiled on one of the Sobibor survivors, Ester Terner-Raab, but can anyone else provide any added information/details etc. about her, her experiences, post-war life and the like ? Would love to hear it.

She was 19 yrs. old at the time of the revolt. She was saved while in the camp to be one of the SS`s seamstresses. Again, her name is "Ester Terner-Raab".

May I recommend the book Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke, University Press, which details Esther's account alongside many others who escaped and survived Sobibor.

Esther Raab broke into the forest outside Sobibor just as a bullet grazed the top of her ear and after 3 days Esther and her companions found a farm where they could wash etc. With help from that farmers son Esther and the two companions that remained with her, walked for 11 nights to a farm owned by a friend of Esthers family Stefan Marcyniuk. Whilst waiting for Stefan to arrive Esther was reunited with her brother, who was also hiding out in Stefan's barn.
Whilst in hiding the German front line was being pushed back all around them when a bunch of Ukranian slaves bivouacked in the barn, one of whom discovered the four already in hiding and kept their secret.
These days she speaks of her cousin Leon Feldhendler, one of the men who devised the Sobibor escape plan, with great pride and at the time the book Escape from Sobibor came out (revised edition 1995), she was living in New Jersey and running a kosha poultry-processing business with her husband.
Esther was a witness at each of the Sobibor Nazi war crimes trials and after she was asked to testify again against Gomerski who was being re-tried on yet another technicality, she declined, feeling there was no point anymore.
Some German university students were observers in the courtroom while Esther sparred with Frenzel's attorney and later they sent her flowers with the note ''Because of the terrible afternoon, you should have a little pleasure. These flowers are from us.'
On October 14 1993, the fiftieth anniversary of the escape from Sobibor, the Polish government sponsored a televised memorial at the camp. There Esther and Thomas Toivi Blatt carried a banner that said "In memory of the 250,000 who perished here. Later that night Esther and Toivi lit 250 candles, one for each 1,000 Jews who did not escape sobibor.

Theres some snippets anyway, all from Escape from Sobibor. Hope that helps.

Posts: 36
Joined: 10 Oct 2004 15:51
Location: Virginia, Blue Ridge mountians (U.S.A)

Post by rappcom » 12 Dec 2004 04:51

"Yes", that information on Esther is a GREAT help. Thanks alot for your time and help. Chris : Rappcom

User avatar
Posts: 73
Joined: 10 Dec 2004 03:33
Location: UK

Post by Ezri » 12 Dec 2004 05:25

Your very welcome Rappcom, it's nice to be able to pass some information on.
May I ask why your interest in Esther? If you would like to know more just holler. :)

Return to “Holocaust & 20th Century War Crimes”