Sobibor extermination camp: Wikis


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For the village, see Sobibór. For the protected area, see Sobibór Landscape Park.
Sobibór extermination camp

Nazi extermination camps in occupied Poland (marked with black and white skulls)
Sobibor extermination camp is located in Poland
Location of Sobibor in Poland
Coordinates 51°26′50″N 23°35′37″E / 51.44722°N 23.59361°E / 51.44722; 23.59361Coordinates: 51°26′50″N 23°35′37″E / 51.44722°N 23.59361°E / 51.44722; 23.59361
Location Sobibór, German-occupied Poland
Operated by SS-Totenkopfverbände
First built 1942
Operational 1942–43
Inmates Jews, Gypsies
Killed over 200,000

Sobibor was a Nazi German extermination camp set up in the Lublin region of occupied Poland as part of Operation Reinhard; the official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor. Jews, including Jewish Soviet prisoners of war (PoWs), and possibly Gypsies were transported to Sobibor by rail, and asphyxiated in gas chambers that were fed with the exhaust of a petrol engine. According to various estimates, between up to 200,000[1] and a minimum of 250,000[2] people were killed at Sobibor.

After a successful revolt on October 14, 1943 about half of the 500 prisoners in Sobibor escaped; the camp was closed and planted with trees days afterwards. A memorial and museum are at the site today.

Sobibór is also the name of the village outside which the camp was built, which is now part of Lublin Voivodeship in Poland.


The camp

Beginning in march 1942, the Nazis established 16 forced labour camps in the Lublin district of Poland. The district was intended to become an agricultural centre. Except for Krychow forced labour camp, the camps used existing structures such as abandoned schools, factories, or farms to imprison the labourers. Krychow (Krychów) was the largest of the 16 camps and had been built before World War II as a Polish detention camp. In 1942, Sobibor extermination camp was built near the forced labour camps.[3]

In mid-April 1942 when the camp was nearly completed, experimental gassings took place. About 250 Jews from Krychow were brought there for this purpose. Christian Wirth, the commander of Belzec, arrived in Sobibor to witness these gassings.

In May 1942, Sobibor began mass gassing operations. Trains entered the railway station and the Jews onboard were told they were in a transit camp, then were forced to undress and hand over their valuables. They were then led along the 100-metre-long (109 yards) Road to Heaven (Himmelstrasse), which led to the gas chambers, where they were killed using carbon monoxide released from the exhaust pipes of tanks.

During his postwar trial, SS-Oberscharführer Kurt Bolender described the way the gassing operations ran:

"Before the Jews undressed, Oberscharführer Hermann Michel made a speech to them. On these occasions, he used to wear a white coat to give the impression he was a physician. Michel announced to the Jews that they would be sent to work. But before this they would have to take baths and undergo disinfection, so as to prevent the spread of diseases. After undressing, the Jews were taken through the "Tube", by an SS man leading the way, with five or six guards at the back hastening the Jews along. After the Jews entered the gas chambers, the guards closed the doors. The motor was switched on by the former Soviet soldier Emil Kostenko and by the German driver Erich Bauer from Berlin. After the gassing, the doors were opened and the corpses were removed by Jewish prisoner workers (Sonderkommando)."

The camp was split into four sections:

Garrison Area: This included the main entrance gates and the railway platform where the victims were taken off the trains. The commander's lodge was opposite the platform and was on the right side of the guardhouse and on the left of the armoury.

Lager (Camp) I: This 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 area. This camp was the living barracks for Jewish prisoners and included a prisoners' kitchen. Each prisoner was given about 12 square feet (1.1 square meters) of sleeping space.

Lager (Camp) II: This was a larger section and included an assortment of vital services for both the killing process and the everyday operation of the camp. 400 prisoners, including women, worked here. Lager II contained the warehouses used for storing the objects 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 prepared for their death. Here they undressed, women's hair was shaved, clothing searched and sorted and documents destroyed in the nearby furnace. The victims' final steps were taken on a path framed by barbed wire; this was the Road to Heaven, which led directly to the gas chambers.

Lager (Camp) III: This was where the victims were killed. 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 plain gate. The entrance for the victims descended immediately into the gas chambers and was decorated with flowers and a Star of David.

Camp guards

While the camp officers were Germans (including Austrians and Volksdeutsche), the guards were from different ethnic groups and nationalities, including but not limited to the former Soviet POWs and representatives of different ethnic groups of USSR (Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Moldovans, representatives of Central Asia nationalities, etc.).[4]

Most of the Soviet POWs, before they were sent as guards to the concentration camps, had undergone a special training in Trawniki, which originally was a holding center for refugees and Soviet POWs, whom the Sipo security police and the SD had designated either potential collaborators or dangerous persons.[5] The Stroop Report listed the Trawniki Guard Battalion in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The uprising

Portrait of Sobibor uprising survivors taken in 1944
Portrait of Sobibor uprising survivors taken in 1944

Sobibor was the site of one of two successful uprisings by Jewish prisoners in a Nazi extermination camp — there was a similar revolt at Treblinka on August 2, 1943. A revolt at Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 1944 led to one of the crematoria being blown up, but nearly all the escapees were killed.

On October 14, 1943, members of the Sobibor underground, led by Polish-Jewish prisoner Leon Feldhendler and Soviet POW Alexander "Sasha" Pechersky, succeeded in covertly killing eleven German SS officers and a number of camp guards. Although their plan was to kill all the SS and walk calmly out of the main gate of the camp, the killings were quickly discovered and the inmates had to run for their lives under heavy machine-gun fire from guards.

Fewer than 300 out of the 500 prisoners in the camp succeeded in escaping to the forests. Many died in the mine fields surrounding the site, and some were recaptured and executed by the Germans in the next few days. Only 50 to 70[6] escapees survived the war.

The revolt was dramatized in the 1987 British TV movie Escape from Sobibor, directed by Jack Gold. An award-winning documentary about the escape was made by Claude Lanzmann, entitled Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures (Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 p.m.). The events of the uprising are a significant plot element in Gerald Seymour's 2008 novel Time Bomb.


Within days after the uprising, the outraged SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp to be closed and dismantled and the site to be planted with trees to hide any remains.

Karl Frenzel, commandant of Sobibor's Lager I, was convicted of war crimes in 1966 and sentenced to life, but ultimately released on health grounds; he died in 1996.

Franz Stangl, chief commandant of Sobibor and later of Treblinka, fled to Syria. Following problems with his employer taking too much interest in his adolescent daughter, Stangl went to Brazil in the 1950s. He worked in a car factory and was registered with the Austrian consulate under his own name. He was eventually caught, arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1971, he died in prison in Düsseldorf, a few hours after concluding a series of interviews with British historian Gitta Sereny.

Gustav Wagner, the deputy Sobibor commander, was on leave on the day of uprising (survivors such as Thomas Blatt say that the revolt would not have succeeded had he been present). Wagner was arrested in 1978 in Brazil. He was identified by Sobibor escapee Stanisław Szmajzner, who greeted him with the words "Hallo Gustl". The court of first instance agreed to his extradition to Germany but on appeal this extradition was overturned. In 1980, Wagner was found dead of an apparent suicide by use of a knife, though it is just as possible that he was murdered.

John Demjanjuk, an Ukrainian accused to be a former guard at Sobibor, was extradited from the United States to Germany on May 11, 2009, where as of 30 November 2009 he is standing trial for the partial responsibility of 27,900 deaths.[7] He was previously convicted by an Israeli court of being the man nicknamed Ivan the Terrible at Treblinka by the Jewish prisoners, though his conviction was later overturned when new evidence emerged exonerating him.


Following the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the revolt in 2003, the grounds of the former death camp received a grant largely funded by the Dutch government to improve the site. New walkways were introduced with signs indicating points of interest. In the forest outside the camp is a statue honoring the rebellion at Sobibor.

See also


  1. ^ Raul Hilberg. The Destruction of the European Jews. Yale University Press, 1985, p. 1219. ISBN 978-0300095579
  2. ^ Sobibor - The Forgotten Revolt
  3. ^ Aktion Reinhard Camps. Sobibor Labour Camps. 15 June 2006. ARC Website.
  4. ^ Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt, Thomas (Toivi) Blatt, HEP Issaquah, 1998.
  5. ^ Trawniki
  6. ^ Schelvis, Jules. Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp. Berg, Oxford & New Cork, 2007, p. 168, ISBN 978-1-84520-419-8.
  7. ^ Fox News Site - Alleged Nazi Guard Demjanjuk Charged 27,900 Times Over WWII Killings

Further reading

  • Freiberg, Dov 2007, To Survive Sobibor, Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-9652293886
  • Lev, Michael 2007, Sobibor, Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-9652294081
  • Schelvis, Jules (2007). Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp. Berg. ISBN 978-1845204181. 
  • Sereny, Gitta (1974). Into That Darkness: from Mercy Killing to Mass Murder. ISBN 0070562903. 
  • From the Ashes of Sobibor by Thomas Blatt
  • Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps by Yitzak Arad

External links



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