“..When we emerged from ..camps ..run down to ..point of stupor ..not even ..strength to feel joy. Just to rest ..to ..sleep our fill. Never ..it seemed ..would our tiredness go away. Nor our sadness. Upon us lay ..weight of all those who were not returning. A few 1,000 survivor’s ..against 1,000,000’s of dead ..a sum of suffering that will never be reckoned ..by anyone.” Charlotte Delbo.
There are two ways to write History, with integrity and the Truth. Here, that truth and its integral essential requires a narrative within The Holocaust, and its constituent parts, one of which is Sobibor, that there is a Human dimension. The veracity of that fact alone bears the responsibility for 250,000 People, all murdered because they were Jews. The sheer magnitude of what Hitler achieved with his Final Solution cannot simply be enumerated, placed diligently into chronological order and then become acceptable to humanity. For me, Sobibor retains a unique position within the annals of The Holocaust in terms of the 250,000 individual Jews murdered there. That fact will never be reckoned with. Equally, all 6 Death Camps of Hitler’s resolve to the destroy the Jews of Europe are uniquely placed to establish a crime of such immense proportions, it has taken 70 years thus far to come to terms with that atrocity.
As yet we have been unable to understand, are inadequately placed to appreciate and insufficiently commensurate with a traumatised Jewish People to even comprehend the depths of despair visited upon these Jews of Europe. Such was the murderous atrocity that was committed upon all too many people, especially Jewish People for which the Death Camp was designed, all of whom were delivered toward the abyss with no regard for our humanity, what civilisation hails or even what common decency should expect. It is understandable we have to attempt to develop terms to add to our understanding. While this extermination centre at Sobibor was devised for the almost exclusive destruction of those Jews sent there, there were other’s who fell victim to Hitler’s grossness, who fell here also. There misfortune was in being placed on a criminal list which charged them with some misdemeanour. Whereas the Jewish People were designated by Birth, decreed by their antecedence and assured by their faithful allegiance to their monotheist belief system that total destruction was deserving of that birthright.
Even when those of other national beliefs, ethnical persuasions or religious creeds found their existence ended alongside these Jews of Europe, the innumerable scholarly efforts cannot begin to calculate Sobibor’s individual transgressions. All endeavour to pick through Hitler’s clear intention to remove all Jews from the face of the earth has not come up with a more fitting accommodation of a World’s grief. Such sorrow that would never suffice for Sobibor’s 250,000 victims, let alone to encompass the travesty of The Holocaust with 6,000,000 terms to calculate, must still be evaluated, tackled and engaged. Though we are reminded that there were other peoples from many corners of Europe destroyed here, it was for the express purpose of destroying the Jewish People that those Jews who had been brought to the Camp for ‘special treatment’ ensured that all too few of them were to survive. On October 30th. 1941 Staff personnel from the T4 Euthanasia programme arrived in Lublin, under Odilo Globocnik’s jurisdiction, and they set about to install and operate the 3 ‘Aktion Reinhard’ Death Camps at Belzec, Treblinka and here at Sobibor.
“..Wirth told me that I should definitely become ..commander of Sobibor. I answered that I was not qualified for such a mission. I received from Globocnik ..task to erect ..camp. That it was not to be an ammunition camp but a camp for killing Jews I learned finally from Wirth. During ..discussion with Wirth he told me if I would not do it ..another would come. He would then put me back at ..disposal of ..Brigadefuhrer Globocnik. Actually I was not relieved of my post. I stayed in Sobibor ..transports arrived and were liquidated.” SS Obersturmfuhrer Paul Franz Stangl.
For me, Sobibor is exactly what I had envisaged of the essential of the siting for a Death Camp. It was secluded, it was isolated and Sobibor was pretty much off the beaten track. It was perfectly situated, suited for its intention to murder the Jewish People in all its devised specifications. This is not to say that its detail, its murderous duty could be kept a total secret. Far too many locals who wished to gain from the detail of the destructive process, a process of gained experience for the Jews, helped develop a well versed knowledge held by so many. There were those travellers who passed by and those visitors too inquisitive to ignore the turmoil. All too many sought to either know why so many transports of Jews ended up at Sobibor, or make profit from the awareness of what was happening to these Jews who had their lives ended once the transport stopped at Sobibor. All of which made Sobibor a beacon for those keen to know what was happening in the area and thus free to impart much, all or even nothing of the knowledge they had gained!
“..To take ..place of emigration ..and with ..prior approval of ..Fuhrer ..evacuation of ..Jews to ..East has become another possible solution. Although both courses of action ..must ..be considered as nothing more than ..temporary expedients ..they do help to provide practical experience which should be of great importance in view of coming Endlosung ..of ..Jewish question.” SS Oberstgruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich.
On January 20th. 1942 with the establishment of The Wannsee Conference, which is convened so that Hitler can now ensure all arms of the Reich, all Government Agency’s and the wider German public are signed up to his very own Final Solution of the Jewish Question, removes Jewish emigration from the agenda entirely. The practical experience being gained would be what SS Sturmbannfuhrer Dr. Rudolf Lange as the Commander Einsatzkommando 2, as Commander of the Security Police and the SD for the General District Latvia, and as deputy for the Commander of the Security Police and the SD for the Reich Commissariat ‘Eastland,’ Lange brought his killing experience to the arena. Here, in this grand Villa, SS Oberstgruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich outlined the Plans to Annihilate 11,293,300 Jews of Europe and so assign culpability to all of the German people throughout the whole of Germany!
“..Another possible solution of ..problem has now taken ..place of emigration ..evacuation of ..Jews ..East ..provided ..Fuhrer gives ..appropriate approval in advance. These actions are ..to be considered provisional ..but practical experience is already being collected which is of ..greatest importance ..to ..future final solution of ..Jewish question. Approximately 11,000,000 Jews will be involved in ..final solution of ..European Jewish question ..distributed ..among ..individual countries.” The Wannsee Protocol.
Three days later, on January 23rd. Hitler met with over 50 of his High Ranking Nazi officials to no doubt to deliver appropriate approval and so commission Sobibor amongst the 3 Aktion Reinhard Camps being planned for Poland. The 6 Death Camps all told, which Hitler had purposely built in Poland, would not be allowed despoil the soil of the German Reich. Here at Sobibor alone, where mass murder commenced in May, the Slaughter which would continue unabated for some 17 months enriched the Polish soil with the remains of its Jewish victims. Also, Poland would lay saturated with the blood of its own Jewish People and the blood of those Jews brought from so many nations to Poland for the purpose of their annihilation. This is what the term of The Holocaust means for those Jews, destroyed where ever they were found, wherever they were brought to, wherever they were Murdered and by whatever means at Hitler’s disposal.
At every juncture the Jews who were detained, under the auspices of Hitler’s genocidal intention were effectively deceased and made to disappear by all manner of means. By March 21st. 1942 Sobibor Death Camp was well under construction and would be brought in line with the killing operations soon to be taking place within Belzec. Chelmno was an altogether different monster, conveying its Jews to burial pits in the back of Vans which had been purposely built so as to gas the Jews who entered them. Arriving on the scene was SS Obersturmfuhrer Paul Franz Stangl, who was a graduate of the ‘euthanasia’ institutes at Hartheim and Bernburg. On April 16th. Stangl describes what he witnessed at Belzec as pits overflowed and the trenches containing the murdered Jews were overflowing with the human devastation from a formative mass murder site. Here at Sobibor, and then when he brought that total experience to Treblinka, Stangl proved a deliberate advocate of Hitler’s intention, as he dealt in the possible destruction of some 1,500,000 Jews.
“..pits had overflowed. ..they had too many corpses in it ..putrefaction had progressed too fast ..corpses had rolled down ..hill.” SS Obersturmfuhrer Paul Franz Stangl.
Perhaps it is in the immense depravity by which Hitler achieved his Final Solution that so many of Hitler’s followers are circumspect in their own account of the very detail they wished to deny. After all, who would wish to acknowledge that their own responsibility was in the midst of such an abhorrence. With a tragedy that for 6,000,000 Jews of Europe decays the meaning of civilisation and dissolves all humanity in pits which overflowed with the remnants of an innocent Jewish People, too many took up the option to act in accordance with a bestial directive. What Stangl had moved on to learn, and he learned much about the killing process, was a learned experience that was taken by him into commanding the destruction of the Jewish People on unprecedented a scale. The initial, and supposed shock for Stangl was a lot to do with his need for the very efficiency which he did not seemingly encounter on that first visit to Belzec.
“..I saw them myself ..Chelmno ..Treblinka ..Sobibor ..Belzec.” SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Hoess.
While others, like SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Rudolf Hoess, witnessed at Chelmno what is equally atrocious to decent humanity, Stangl would emerge from his experience at Belzec to ensure the administration of murder was more capable. However, where Stangl was to become instrumental in the slaughter of possibly 1,500,000 Jews alone in 2 Death Camps, Hoess would reside over the destruction of as many as 1,100,000 Jews in a single establishment, even if that Death Camp was Auschwitz and Birkenau. Likewise both Hoess and Stangl surely had learned enough to ensure a more systematic approach would amplify their own methodology of killing, and satisfy the lustful whim of der Fuhrer. Stangl though, as the first camp commandant of Sobibor, had truly learned from experience the well worn lessons that Belzec had enumerated. Also, Stangl corrected his own processes and procedures in order to deliver for Hitler, those very exacting demands for The Final Solution of the Jewish Question.
With the destruction of the Jews of Europe fixed, and which was prioritised above and beyond all other considerations, the Second World War waged by Hitler would become a subordinate consideration. Here too Stangl at Sobibor, who had a staff of between 20 and 30 SS Camp guards, also used the Trawniki’s who had been well trained under Wirth’s tutelage. All told, these guards, whose duty not only brought them to bear down viciously and heavily on the Jewish People prior to their destruction, did so without conscience or consideration for the norms of human decency. Within the Death Camp system, the guards own position saved them from the exacting detail of a World War, exempting from Hitler’s abandonment. The vagaries of waging war were not lost upon Hitler and he disabled his most competent General’s, denying them the stewardship of their own expertise while gouging out a role of expertise for killer’s in the Death Camps. As Germany was losing a War, which drained the life out of an incalculable number of their own, Sobibor was raising the stakes in the damnation of any Jewish presence within Europe.
“..ordered by Wirth I drove an LKW to Lvov .. fetched a gas motor ..transported it to Sobibor. ..arrived at Sobibor ..close to ..railway station I saw a tract of land with a concrete construction and ..other solid buildings. ..Sonderkommando ..commanded by Thomalla. Other ..SS who attended were F.B. Stangl ..F. Schwartz ..Kurt Bolender and others. We unloaded ..motor. ..a heavy Russian benzene engine ..presumably a tank or tractor motor at least 200 horsepower V motor ..8 cylinders ..water cooled. We installed ..engine on a concrete foundation and set up ..connection between ..exhaust and ..tube. I ..tested ..motor. It did not work. I was able to repair ..ignition and ..valves ..motor finally started running. ..chemist ..I knew from Belzec ..entered ..gas chamber with measuring instruments to test ..concentration of ..gas. Following this a gassing experiment was carried out. 30 ..40 women ..gassed in one gas chamber. ..Jewish women were forced to undress in an open place close to ..gas chamber ..driven into ..gas chamber by .. SS ..and Ukrainian auxiliaries. When ..women were shut ..in ..gas chamber I and Bolender set ..motor in motion. ..motor functioned first in neutral. Both of us stood by ..motor ..switched ..to Cell ..so .. gas was conveyed to ..chamber. ..suggestion of ..chemist I fixed ..motor on a definitive speed ..unnecessary ..to press on ..gas. ..10 minutes later ..30 ..40 women were dead. ..chemist and ..SS Leader gave ..sign to stop ..motor. I ..saw how ..corpses were removed. ..transportation was done with a lorry trail that led from ..gas chambers to a remote plot.” SS Unterscharfuhrer Erich Fuchs.
This Hitler War waged against the World, and this was a World which was already awakening to Hitler’s own sickening, racially motivated pretence, moved too cautiously to prevent the disaster that met with the Jews as the entered Sobibor and the other Death Camps. Hitler was clearly hate filled and his motives for waging a War, such as World War II was in essence a screen which provided him the necessary distraction to exact his more crucial conflict against the Jewish People. Hitler already had established the pretext by which he would systematically murder the Jews, and it was an antisemitic hatred of Biblical proportions. For this final solution Hitler sought the culpability of many followers, acolytes and similar miscreants and inveigled Germany and the German people into its worst excesses. Here at Sobibor, at both the other Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, in all 6 Death Camps he had established in Poland, and wherever Hitler could gain an advantage over Jewish existence, the Jews were forced to perish.
For what would overcome the Jews of Europe, Nations moved with such a shockingly obvious intransigence. With so little respect for the ‘christian’ charity which had enshrined European faith and governance, the Jews were given up to destruction. Here too at Sobibor, the direst of consequences faced these Jewish People and the abandonment of all Jewish existence was assured. The personnel of Sobibor were made aware that much of what Hitler felt and that could be achieved against the Jews, was accomplished with a duplicitous certainty of other nations complicity. Here at Sobibor, with a selection of SS guards, who had previously worked on the T4 Euthanasia Programme in Germany, the murder of the Jews was as Hitler assuredly predicted. There were a further 90 to 120 Ukrainians, these were the Trawniki’s, who were used as camp guards. These Trawniki had been fully immersed in the many century’s old hatred for the Jewish People.
In addition, approximately a thousand Jewish prisoners were selected from the strongest of those who arrived at the camp to assist the sequence of destruction. These were the Sonderkommando who worked upon the processing of new arrivals. They managed the arrival, the off loading, the undressing, the motioning forward and all the way to the gas chambers. These Sonderkommando took control of all of the soon to be destroyed Jews, their immediate but temporary internment and the sorting of all their belongings once they have been fully processed. These Sonderkommando, who themselves would be subjected to the same ritual of selection every few days, challenged themselves to continue to hold on to their existence. Theirs was a life without hope, though as hope was the last to die, their life, such as it was, endured to the bitter end.
“..I was in ..extermination camp of Jews for ..2 to 3 weeks. ..sometime ..autumn 1942. ..assigned by Wirth to enlarge ..gassing structure according to ..model of Treblinka. I went to Sobibor together with Lorenz Hackenholt ..who was at that time in Treblinka. ..went with Hackenholt to a sawmill near Warsaw. ..Hackenholt ordered a big consignment of wood for reconstruction in Sobibor. Finally ..both of us went to Sobibor. ..reported ..to ..camp commander ..Reichleitner. He gave us ..exact directives for ..construction of ..gassing installation. ..old installation ..not big enough ..reconstruction ..necessary. ..Jewish prisoners and ..Askaries ..took part in ..work. During this time ..no transports with Jews arrived.” SS Unterscharfuhrer Erwin Herman Lambert.
While the weakest of those who had already served the Sonderkommando were sent to their deaths, the strongest, fittest and the most adaptable managed to Survive for another day. On April 18th. 1942, and with the despatch of some 1,000 so called privileged Jews from Theresienstadt to Sobibor, Sobibor will begin to wreak havoc on those Jews to be murdered here. With the eventual establishment of order at the Camp under Stangl, with him as the Kommandant, Stangl’s own element of efficiency would prove quite telling in murderous terms. Jews were transported to Sobibor by railway, and conducted in cattle trucks from so many countries, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany and the Netherlands. The major contingent of Jews however came from each and every corner of Poland itself. Upon arrival, and this operation was done to a strict formula and while the entire exercise was both methodical and deadly, it lacked none of the finesse Stangl adapted to the system he had learned from.
“..transports to Belzec ..gassing operations ..stopped ..suddenly. ..staff members of ..Belzec camp ..informed ..place would be rebuilt completely. ..group of Jews ..in charge of ..demolition work. ..March ..April 1943 ..cremation of ..corpses ..terminated and ..graves ..levelled. ..camp ..emptied entirely and levelled. ..some planting ..done there. ..Jewish work commando ..to Sobibor. I remained in Belzec for two more days ..clearing ..loading. ..I was in Sobibor ..heard during ..transport of ..Jewish work commando ..Belzec to Sobibor ..mutiny ..shooting took place which led to some deaths.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Werner Dubois.
In May 1942, when the Death Camp at Sobibor came on stream and was fully operational, Jews from many corners of Europe were transported there. The likes of Wirth and Hackenholt and places like Belzec had been exemplary in tutoring the method of destruction and Stangl was both an avid and studious disciple. The Jews meanwhile were taken directly to the reception area. These Jewish People had arrived to what was euphemistically termed ‘resettled,’ and even though the Jews might have been informed that they had merely reached a transit camp, and that they would eventually continue en route to a labour camp. This, tragically for those incumbent Jews was a well rehearsed ruse. Many of these Jewish People were even forced to write letters, or post cards to their relatives back at the staging post to this destruction. With the attempt to lull those yet to be transported East, the mail sought to let the next batch of victims know that there was indeed a labour camp and that they had all arrived safely. The Jews were under this grand illusion and were then told that they would continue on their journey the next day.
“..Many corpses of Jews were lying inside ..camp. These corpses were already bloated. Particularly I can remember seeing many corpses in ..vicinity of ..fence. These people were shot from ..guard towers. I heard then in Treblinka how Globocnik and Wirth summed up ..following: Dr Eberl would be dismissed immediately. In his place ..Stangl would come to Treblinka from Sobibor as commander. Globocnik said in this conversation that if Dr Eberl were not his fellow countryman ..he would arrest him and bring him before an SS and police court. In Treblinka everything was in a state of collapse. ..camp was overstocked. Outside ..camp ..a train with deportees was unable to be unloaded as there were simply no more room.” Josef Oberhauser.
First off though, the Jews must take a shower and have their clothes disinfected before being allowed to transfer on to their next destination. The men and women were separated soon after they arrived and their children were taken with their mothers and even if those females were without Children. The Trawniki’s then ordered all of these Jews to remove all of their clothing in a process that was so very traumatic for the most open of minds. All from the arriving transport were ordered to deliver up their most prized possessions and any valuables they still might have. The Jews were then marched with little ceremony, and it was hoped they would remain in strict order so as to limit any need of panic or prevent any form rebellion taking place. As the Jews were being brought to the gas chambers, some sensed the fatality of what they had been led to believe. With all of that in mind, the Jews could be treated so brutally at the whim of the guards who would force the line forward at a seeming pace and even beat them with whips, sticks, rifle butts or even a boot.
“..Lublin (Majdanek) 24,733 ..Belzec 434,508 ..Sobibor ..101,370 ..Treblinka ..713,555.” SS Sturmbannfuhrer Hermann Hoefle.
There could be the deafening screams of drunken Trawniki who shot wildly, fired indiscriminately and killed so many. All the while, there would still be about something like 450 to 550 Jews who were inevitably forced into each of the gas chambers. The whole process of annihilation, from when the Jews first arrived, and right through the gassing process and into the burial pits took just over 2 to 3 hours. The Jewish transport of Men, Women and Their Children were no more, an indictment upon those who ordered and controlled the very mechanism of destruction here at Sobibor. Then the transport Sonderkommando was ordered to clean out the railway wagons, wipe away the debris of former lives, take charge of all goods and possessions awaiting the return of owners who would never retrieve their possessions. Just before the now disembarked train left and before another train load of 1,500 or 2,000 Jews could be dealt with, many of the carriages would carry away a booty so enormous, Hitler could continue to fund both his destruction of the Jews and a World War.
“..During my year and a half stay in Sobibor ..frequently saw ..working Jews ..whipped. ..Jews had to bow down and ..Unterfuhrers ..ordered ..Jewish kapos to whip them. ..received 10 ..25 lashes. ..working Jews attended ..punishments ..to maintain camp discipline ..a deterrent. ..most cases ..Jews who were whipped were dressed.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Karl Frenzel.
For me, I gained a kind of insight, even a reprise of what had formerly gone into my own work from visiting some of the scenes of The Holocaust atrocity. Where my own x3 Books, which I had thought finished, finalised and complete, could have gained more from a purely personal perspective, was in the sense to be had from the spaces that had been occupied with such destruction. Upon reflection, I am convinced the narrative of my work required a more individual experience for me to appreciate the very private nature of what was exemplified in the murderous terms employed here. Within Sobibor there was that air of desolation and a remoteness no other Death Camp had provided. This was all blended with a dimension of destruction that was almost impossible to contemplate. The necessary comprehension for what did occur, and at Sobibor, it proved catastrophic for some 250,000 Jews of Poland and greater Europe.
It occurred to me, and not just here at Sobibor with what seemed to be an urban myth, but no Birds flew over Sobibor. I did not see Birds fly over Belzec! Majdanek did not allow for Birds to fly over it, nor did Auschwitz or Birkenau betray the fact that perhaps Birds do indeed sense the evil nature of these places? There is a hollow echo in all of the Death Camps I have visited, a reverberation that extends its resonance from back in History, some 70 years ago. I will visit both Treblinka and Chelmno in the coming months and will no doubt see that birds there have bypassed these sites also. Here at Sobibor, with the use of x5 Gassing Chambers, the Murders of more than 250,000 Jews was fully accomplished. The Death Camp was located in the Lublin District of Poland, close to Wlodawa and the village and railway station of Sobibor itself. The Germans established the camp in March 1942 with its clear intention defined in murderous terms, and a destructive force so unrelenting, War did not disengage it.
Between April 1942 and October 14th. 1943, the approximately 250,000 Murdered Jews of Sobibor had no other option but to relinquish their hold on life. I found personally, in much the same way as I had chosen to visit those places I was writing about, that it was those places such as Sobibor which made me revisit my own work. Unashamedly, my approach has become ever more a personal indictment of all of those who did so much to bring about the catastrophe for the Jews but also, it is with a pained accusation that will not come to terms with all of those who did so little. It has now become even more evident and obvious to me that my work is in need of being further enhanced. It needs to take into account the more personal ramifications that there is for History because of The Holocaust. Like Simon Wiesenthal, we can no longer look on from the outside and accept that these 6,000,000 murdered Jews are seen merely as a statistic.
What had been written by me in the past could easily become, by being supplemented by whatever impression these visits would make on me a more rounded and more appropriate understanding of what the architecture of the slaughter entailed. These Death Camp visits have made a profound impression on me, so much so I could only further add to the memory of all those Jews taken to Death Camps like Sobibor, and other places of execution, as a personal expression of outrage that this should have happened at all. So as to inform a world of yesterday that today forms a hope that many extinguished lives would require a better comprehension of that shocking sense of the abandonment they must surely have felt, we need to address clearly the silence that pervaded the arena of destruction. Sobibor was a relatively small compound, and in keeping with all others of the Aktion Reinhard Death Camps, maximised its space accordingly.
All of the Death Camps in fact were built exactly for the purpose of executing Hitler’s verbally expressed demands. The Camp ay Sobibor itself was not more that 24,000 square metres, 400 metres running along the Railway spur away from the Sobibor railroad station, and 600 metres away from the spur to the furthest end of the camp. Sobibor camp would be extended at a later stage to stretch further its capacity to process and contain the Jews it had murdered. It was established in a clearing in the middle of a wood, which gave it a very closed off and secretive air. Sobibor village itself was nestled in a thinly populated area along the main railway link between Wlodawa and Chelm. Odilo Globocnik, the Governor General of the Polish Generalgouvernment had been drawing up plans for the inclusion into The Aktion Reinhard extermination process, Death Camps that would be built exclusively for the Destruction of the Jewish People, and all within Poland.
Sobibor was found to have the exacting set of credentials required for the purpose of destroying the Jews and maintaining secrecy. For me, Sobibor is the only Death Camp, of either Aktion Reinhard or of the entire Death Camp system, to exemplify that secretive need. Sobibor too took in its transports from the wider European Continent alongside those of locally entrapped Jews. Surrounded by a barbed wire fence, Sobibor had the formulaic and necessary secretiveness built into this electrically wired cage, carefully bound and intertwined with pine branches and foliage. This effort, supposedly to shield the incumbent Jews for destruction from the fact of that destructive capability. Sectioned off, Sobibor had three distinct areas, a receiving area, a containment area which housed the administration of the Camp and the extermination area, where the Jews themselves would be gassed. With the arrival of the Jewish transport, which had been preceded by the digging of the burial pits, their elimination could begin. These massive trenches were designed to inter the many tens of thousands of those Jews who had been murdered merely moments earlier.
The Sonderkommando, or Death Brigade, were kept isolated from the rest of the camp, contained within this amphitheatre of despair and destruction. Here, performing their deadly detail and unable to move from where they had become witness to all too much of the detail of the Slaughter, they lived out their existence until it became their turn for special treatment. The process was managed to a strict timetable and with the newly arrived transport lulled into a false sense of security, they were soon dispatched amidst the clamour for the disposable possessions that they had been brought along with them. The ruse even continued with the shower heads, disguised as they were, and the full intention of the murder apparatus was thus concealed. With few exceptions, those Jews who had arrived at the gates to extinction, and for the Jews, Sobibor spelled out a disaster for them and while they had no clear idea of what was to come, they perished as part of an unprecedented assault upon all Jewish existence.
“..I estimate ..number of Jews gassed at Sobibor ..about 350,000. In ..canteen at Sobibor I once overheard a conversation between Frenzel ..Stangl ..Wagner. ..discussing ..number of victims in ..extermination camps of Belzec ..Treblinka ..Sobibor and expressed ..regret ..Sobibor ‘came last’ in ..competition.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Erich Bauer.
By May 1942 with the first mass gassings in Sobibor Death Camp, this would mean that 50,000 Jews had been murdered in Sobibor. Since initial operations commenced, Towns and Villages, Shtetl’s of Jewish industry had been decimated in the rush to deliver them toward Sobibor where they would be terminated. That termination assigned, on May 23rd. 4,000 of Chelm’s Jews who were murdered at Sobibor in a 3 day operation which combined Jews taken from many other Polish community’s. The corralling of the Jews along the route to extinction would ensure for Eichmann’s maximising sense of transports capacity, a full contingent of Jews for slaughter. There would be no respite for the Jews of Poland and then Europe as Sobibor competed with both Chelmno and Belzec, and within that capacity for murder, each proved as deadly as the other.
On August 6th. the Jews who had been assembled in the Gurs Camp, all were meant to be resettled and murdered in Auschwitz, but some of them found their way to Sobibor. That September, on the 22nd., with his remit for ‘Sonderkommando 1005’ action, Blobel arrived at the area of Sobibor with its deliberate aim to dispose entirely of the evidence of the 250,000 Jewish murders. As the formative Inspector of this obliterating effort, Blobel was kept at arms length and was not required within Sobibor to act. That detailed action would be controlled from Globocnik’s command centre and accomplished in house in line with the others of the Aktion Reinhard camps. The evidence of Sobibor would now be all but obliterated from our History, though not completely from the scientific advances still being made. As we reached October 15th., on what was Izbica-Lubelska’s ‘black day,’ when some 6,000 to 10,000 of her Jewish Citizens are removed to a resettlement transport and that transport has a final destination which is to be Sobibor.
On November 22nd. the Judenrat at Zolkiew, which had been Chaired by one Leon Feldhandler, a leader of the Uprising at Sobibor, were spared Sobibor. However, along with 2,500 of its fellow Jews, they too were transported to the Death Camp at Belzec. Within the terms of Blobel’s remit, and with the exhumation and cremation information passed along to those given responsibility to destroy the very evidence which, funeral pyres raged the length and breadth of Hitler’s rampage into Eastern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine. On November 25th. When The New York Times acknowledged that Sobibor was assessed, along with Belzec and Treblinka as killing centres of Jews, what more could a World need to know to do something. That clear media assessment accounted for 2,000,000 Jews as having already been Murdered. Such are the vagaries of this open wound it was barely concealed from those with an interest in knowing.
With the very specific detail of such a heinous crime, nothing would allow for Hitler to escape the accusation of History. Nor should this accusation allow for any distortion which suggests other than Hitler’s complete and total implication in each and every aspect of The Final Solution. Without Hitler it would have been impossible to conduct such a monumental atrocity without his knowledge, direction and commissioning demand. That is certain. By the end of 1942 though, with the destruction within Lublin, of 23,000 of her Jews now sent to Belzec, which was reaching the end of its Aktion Reinhard days, both Sobibor and Treblinka took up the baton of Hitler’s resolve to destroy all of European Jewry. The planned obliteration of the evidence, in order to conceal from the World what Hitler had ordered, would take decades to uncover. Of these mass killings, which Hitler directed a necessary response, the German reaction had now ordered selected kommando’s to dig up and cremate the bodies of their own community’s, their own brethren, their own Family’s. Such then was to be Hitler’s further revenge on the Jews of antiquity.
“..I remember ..visit of Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler in Sobibor. All ..SS men ..members of ..police …Ukrainian volunteers ..lined up in a parade. ..reported my platoon to Himmler for inspection. ..on ..day when Himmler was in Sobibor a certain number of Jews was gassed. I can tell for sure that Himmler visited Camp lll ..extermination area. I saw Himmler with ..whole group going in ..direction of Camp III.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Hubert Gomerski.
When we reach February 12th. 1943, Himmler and his entourage of 20 High Ranking SS Personnel and Reich functionaries arrived in a fleet of 7 Cars, arrives at Sobibor. Here to oversee the destructive capacity of the facility, Himmler would not be disappointed. With over 200 Female Jews from Lipowa, including 70 of Wlodawa’s prettiest Jewish Females brought together for a resettlement action, all are murdered for Himmler’s benefit! The exercise was hugely effective in enumerating what Himmler could take back to Hitler. Sobibor also proved effective in ensuring what Hitler had fully demanded. Himmler could then further ingratiate himself into Hitler’s good graces. Himmler was such a petty bureaucrat, all that he was awarded with by Hitler was responded to with such sycophantic assurances that Himmler would not allow Hitler to be kept from one iota of the evidence of the fullest accomplishment of the final solution.
“..Himmler was in Sobibor ..certain number of Jews was gassed. ..Himmler visited Camp III.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Hubert Gomerski.
The catalogue of devastation continues right through the months ahead and on February 28th., 2,000 Stryj Jews are murdered at Sobibor. During March Dutch Jews are being murdered also and Sobibor is becoming a major transit destination. On April 6th. over 2,000 Dutch Jews, previously held at the Westerbork Detention Camp are transported to Sobibor and resettled there. They are murdered. Of the more than 34,000 Dutch Jews transported from Westerbork to be ‘resettled’ at Sobibor, barely 19 Survived. The scale of the disaster for Dutch Jewry shows no sign of abating as on April 13th. more than 1,200 of her Jews are once more expelled from detention at Westerbork Camp and are murdered in Sobibor. Six days later, on April 19th. more than 900 Berlin Jews are dispatched toward Sobibor and murdered there. On April 27th. a further transport of more than 2,000 Dutch Jews are sent from Westerbork and murdered at Sobibor.
At Wlodawa, I took in the scenery of this small Polish Town and reflected back to April 30th. when 1,200 of her Jewish Citizens were driven out of their homes and murdered. That the murders were accommodated just a short stretch down the road in Sobibor, is a reminder that Polish society was never too far from Hitler’s destructive enterprise. I had been walking in the footsteps of these dead and it was a poignant reminder of how close to a place of destruction Towns like Wlodawa were. Some of Wlodawa’s Jewish in this particular transport attacked the SS at Sobibor. On a weekly basis, commencing May 4th., nearly 8,000 Dutch Jews were split between transports to Auschwitz/Birkenau and Sobibor and murdered. Here at Sobibor, in the summer of 1943 the prisoners, led by Leon Feldhandler, began planning a mass escape. This uprising was helped by the arrival, at the end of September, of many Soviet Jewish prisoners of war.
This group included Lieutenant Aleksandr Pechersky who was made leader of the underground group, while Feldhandler became his second in command. The prisoners plan was daring enough. They planned to kill their SS tormentors and the Trawniki, Askarie or the ‘blacks,’ steal their weapons and escape from the camp. That was to come, but in the meantime on June 1st. more 3,000 Dutch Jews were murdered at Sobibor. Four days later on June 5th. a further 1,200 Dutch Jews were sent to be murdered at Sobibor. Three days later on June 8th. another 5,000 Dutch Jews arrived at Sobibor to be murdered. On July 5th. Himmler issued the order for Sobibor to be made into Concentration Camp. This did not prevent the deportations of Jews to Sobibor to be murdered and on September 18th. 2,000 Minsk Jews duly arrived and were put to death there. The month sees the final destruction of many of those Jewish community’s with any sizeable grouping being removed to Sobibor.
On September 23rd. 4,000 of Vilna’s Jews are transported and murdered at Sobibor while Minsk’s Ghetto Jews expelled to Sobibor. The remaining Lida Ghetto Jews are also expelled as are the remaining Riga Ghetto Jews, all expelled toward Sobibor for annihilation. Fear was becoming a factor for those Jews of Sobibor which had managed to Survive for any length of time up till this moment. There had been several escape attempts already and while there had been some limited success, the majority of such attempts ended in the death’s of the Jews caught and a series of reprisal actions which followed. This was the Camps execution plan to dissuade the many prisoners from attempting to escape. It was a warning to the others that Jewish lives were forfeit and subject to the Camps brutal and uncompromising position placed upon these Jews. Sobibor’s Jews however, managed an uprising which took the camp by complete surprise.
The revolt commenced on October 14th., and the Jewish interned managed to kill 11 of the camps SS men and several of the camps Ukrainian guards were also killed. All told, around 300 Jews managed to escape and though many of these were captured and then killed, about 50 of these escaped Jews managed to Survive till the end of the war. As a reprisal action, most of those Jews who had not even joined the escape attempt were murdered. After the uprising, orders were issued to destroy the Death Camp Sobibor. After it had been completely dismantled at the end of 1943, the whole area was ploughed over, planted with crops and given to a Ukrainian guard to work the land. Sobibor had finally ceased its murderous operations. What can never be certain, as is the truth with all the Death Camps, indeed it is the truth wherever Hitler’s legions met with Jewish community’s, and that the full extent of the slaughter would never be known. However, somewhere between 250,000 and 300,000 Jews had been murdered at this particular Aktion Reinhard Death Camp, history knows as Sobibor.
“..Part of ..trolleys and rails originated from ..sawmill that bordered ..Sobibor camp. Additional trolleys and rails arrived by train from Trawniki. ..locomotive of this train came later ..about two months after ..trolley was in operation. At ..beginning horses pulled ..trolleys. ..trolley was ..to transport ..sick ..handicapped Jews from ..arriving trains to Camp lll. ..these people ..handicapped and sick children ..particularly infants ..taken to ..Lazarett ..were shot by those serving in Camp lll. ..known ..Lazarett was used ..for ..extermination of ..people.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Erich Bauer.
On October 19th. 1943 Odilo Globocnik finally announces the end to ‘Aktion Reinhard’ with all the SS personnel from the Death Camps at Belzec, Treblinka and here at Sobibor making the move to anti Partisan actions along the Adriatic Coastal area. What is striking in acknowledging the depth of despair that was in evidence within the Death Camps, as Sobibor firmly states, is why didn’t the Allied powers move to destroy the very infrastructure they knew was annihilating the Jewish People. While these camps existed to totally annihilate all the Jews sent there, the account of destruction could only accumulate an ever greater tragedy that would amount to an immense accusation. There was indeed a call from Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel on May 31st. 1944 who asked the question, wondering why there was no destruction of all the roads that led directly from Hungary to Poland. That same question could so easily have been posed with regard to any of the Death Camps and Sobibor included. This failure to act more positively and actively will remain one of those imponderables which History will now have an eternity to resolve.
Instead of any ethical response from moral governments, we have the expression of a Jew, whose demand went unheeded by the West. So as to obliterate the opportunity’s left to Hitler to deal with the Jews of Hungary at Auschwitz, and at his leisure, this is as unforgivable as it is complicit. By now, all that was known of what was happening in the slaughter houses that were Belzec, Treblinka and here at Sobibor and of course Auschwitz and Birkenau had been included in reports since the inception of these premises into an mechanised slaughter of the Jewish People and an unimaginable and industrialised scale. So when that call went out, and this simple demand would surely have prevented the future murders of those Jews still living, it was treated with scorn and ignored. However, what was now adding to a tally, an account which rang with the estimates of 6 times a 1,000,000 Jews from Europe and Russia, there is this sting which resonates with an accusation that is 6,000,000 Jews strong.
A call for the destruction of the routes to and from Hungary and toward Auschwitz and for the tracks to be bombed was totally ignored. That simple fact has even been denied to cover up what Allied intransigence delivered to the remnants of European Jewry. What must be deemed culpable, with the destruction of those Jews who were murdered even after Allied intelligence had gained its knowledge of the destructive capacity that became The Holocaust for the Jews of Europe, is exacerbated further with this later revelation. While there was no guarantee that this bombing would have ceased the destructive ability of any Death Camp let alone Auschwitz/Birkenau, it is obvious that the ability to operate at all was not considered more appropriately. For whatever time span not allowed to these ‘resettlement’ operations, this would have given Hitler a clear indication of what was already known about his Final Solution.
Such allied intervention, be it bombing, lending support to factions willing to take up arms, this just might have pre-empted the complete cessation of Auschwitz and Birkenau’s functioning in the annihilation process. History will never know if any Jews might have been saved by any intervening effort. History though would be very well aware of the positive effort expended on behalf of these Jews of Europe. As we approach what is the ebb tide of destruction here at Sobibor, a predominantly Hungarian Jewish grouping has by now been restored to a position within Hitler’s final resolve. Who knows either whether History will ever find the answer as to why any alleviation for any of these Hungarian Jews was not even attempted? In the midst of war it is true that many opportunities are missed and great wrongs cannot be corrected. But a simple sortie by Allied bombers over what was known as Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Auschwitz/Birkenau, Treblinka and even Sobibor would have given Hitler the clearest condemnation of what was known was happening to the Jews of Europe. On September 6th. 1965 the Sobibor Trial, with the German court in Hagen initiating criminal proceedings against 12 former SS men, was instructed to act against those who had committed Crimes Against Humanity. Justice here would not only be undone but it would be seen not to be done as Humanity was discarded in favour of a Trial with little in the way of Equity for the murdered Jews of Sobibor.