SOBIBOR


SOBIBOR
SOBIBOR (Sobibór), one of the six Nazi death camps situated in German-occupied Poland, three miles west of the Bug River and five miles south of Wlodawa in the General Gouvernment. It was situated in a wooded area near a small village by the same name in the Lublin District. It was built along the Chel-Wlodawa railway line. The camp measured 1,312 by 1,969 feet. Barbed wire – some 9.5 feet high – interspersed among the trees for concealment, surrounded the camp and the outer perimeter was mined. In March 1942 the Germans began construction work on the camp in preparation for the mass murder of Polish and other Jews. Jewish slave workers were employed on the site. It was the second camp in Aktion Reinhard to be built. belzec preceded it and was functioning before it was built, and treblinka followed. The camp functioned from May 1942 until October 1943, but the largest transport of victims arrived during June–October 1942, the peak period of killing. Sobibor was used mainly for the murder of Jews from German-occupied eastern Poland and occupied parts of the Soviet Union. Non-Jewish prisoners of war as well as Jews from czechoslovakia , austria , holland , belgium , and france were also put to death at Sobibor. The total number of victims is estimated at 250,000. The victims usually arrived by train and their belongings were immediately taken away. They were then ordered to undress, the women's hair shorn, and the naked mass of people was forced into five gas chambers, which had a total capacity of 500 persons. The gassing lasted 15 minutes. Various systems for the disposal of the dead were used: at first mass graves were dug; later the corpses were burned in heaps, and in the last stage the Nazis burned the bodies on disused iron rails. The ashes were usually taken away by train to an unknown destination. The victims' belongings were carefully sorted and sent to Germany. Women's hair was also crated to Germany. The camp was divided into three sections. Sector I was for administrative functions. Sector II, or the Reception area, was where Jews, who would arrive by train, were received; it was there that their valuables were confiscated, their hair shorn, and their clothes removed. Sector III was the killing center in the northwest area of the camp, equipped with gas chambers and mass graves. A 492-foot path 9–13 feet wide led from Sector II to Sector III. Victims were marched naked from one camp to the other. The gas chambers were powered by a 200 horsepower engine which produced carbon monoxide. Special accommodations were made for those too weak to walk; a narrow gauge railway was used from the station to the gas chambers to take these Jews to their destination. Those who could not manage the final steps, including infants, were shot. The camp staff consisted of approximately 30 SS men and about 100 Ukrainians, under the command of Richard Thomalla and afterward of Franz Stangl. Most of the German guards as well as Stangl were veterans of the killing process; they had participated in the T-4 euthanasia program. The Ukrainians were mostly Soviet prisoners of war trained at Trawniki. A few were ethnic Germans. The number of Jewish   Plan of the Sobibor extermination camp, reconstructed from a drawing by A.A. Pechersky. Courtesy Jewish Observer and Middle East Review, London. Plan of the Sobibor extermination camp, reconstructed from a drawing by A.A. Pechersky. Courtesy Jewish Observer and Middle East Review, London.   laborers never exceeded 1,000. Those who weakened were killed and were continually replaced by stronger persons from the new transports. About 200 laborers worked near the gas chambers and in connection with the disposal of corpses. The others were employed in the administrative and economic sections of the camp, especially in sorting out the victims' belongings. Artisans and specialists were usually treated better than other workers. There were two stages to the killing. The first, from May–July 1942, utilized the gas chambers, which proved inadequate under the strain of massive deportations. Then, as at Belzec, Sobibor camp operations were halted while three more gas chambers were created under the same roof. The capacity was doubled from 600 to 1200. At the beginning of October 1943, some 300 Arbeitsjuden (Jewish laborers) were employed in the camp; most had spent 10–16 months there. Having learned what was in store for them they decided to kill the camp commandant and escape. Poorly armed, they revolted on Oct. 14, 1943, led by alexander pechersky , a Soviet Jewish prisoner of war, and his deputy, Leon Feldhendler, who had been chairman of the Judenrat at Zolkiew in Eastern Galicia. Several German supervisors and Ukrainian Hiwis (Hilfswillige, "volunteers") were killed. The German supervisors and the Hiwis opened fire on the Jews fleeing and prevented them from reaching the exit of the camp. The Jews then came into the area of barbed wire fences and minefields. Some 300 Jews escaped, but most were later killed by the Germans. In the end only 50 survived. Immediately after the revolt, Sobibor was closed down and a grove of trees planted over the site. This was done by some 30 Jewish laborers brought from the General Gouvernment, who were all shot in November 1943. No lists of the victims are extant, possibly because the Germans did not conduct any registration at the camp, or perhaps these lists, with all the other files of the camp, were removed when the camp was closed. In 1965 a trial was conducted in Krasnodar, U.S.S.R., at which a number of functionaries from Sobibor were tried. A year later, at Hagen, Germany, 11 functionaries were tried: one committed suicide, one was sentenced to life imprisonment, five were given relatively light sentences, and four were acquitted. After the war a monument was erected on the site in memory of the 250,000 victims murdered there. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Suhl (ed.), They Fought Back (1967), 7–50; Ainsztein, in: JSOS, 28 (1966), 19–24; G. Reitlinger, Final Solution (19682), index; J. Tenenbaum, Underground (1952), 261–64, index; Lukaszkiewicz, in: Biuletyn Glownej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce, no. 3 (1947). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (1987); T. Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival, foreword by C.R. Browning (1997); G. Sereny, Into the Heart of Darkness (1974); C. Lanzmann, Shoah (1985). (Danuta Dombrowska / Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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