The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/aktion.reinhard/yvs.camps.04

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Yad Vashem Studies IV: The Nazi Concentration Camps (4/4)
Summary: Structure and Aims, The Image of the Prisoner, The 
         Jews in the Camps. The revolts and escape of prisoners.
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Nizkor Project -
Keywords: Yad Vashem,treblinka,sobibor,belzec

Archive/File: orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs.Camps.04
Last-modified: 1993/03/26 

                          THE NAZI CONCENTRATION

              Structure and Aims * The Image of the Prisoner
                          The Jews in the Camps


                        Jerusalem, January 1980
                              YAD VASHEM
                            JERUSALEM 1984

                           SEVENTH SESSION
                         Chairman: Bela Vago

                          EXTERMINATION CAMPS

                             YITZHAK ARAD

                         Liquidation of the Camp

   After the uprising, on August 18 and 19, 1943, another two transports
   slated for extermination arrived in Treblinka, bringing Jews from
   Bialystok.  Shortly afterward the Germans destroyed the gas chambers
   and the other installations that remained after the revolt, and with
   that put an end to the camp.  While the liquidation of the camp was
   no doubt in accord with a plan that predated the uprising, its timing
   was probably moved up in wake of the revolt.  On October 20 most of
   the remaining Jewish prisoners were transferred to Sobibor, where
   they were killed.  Another 25-30 prisoners remained in Treblinka and
   were shot there a few days later.  In order to cover up the crime, a
   farm-house was built on the site of the camp, trees were planted, and
   a Ukrainian peasant was employed to guard the deserted place.
   (Sereny, op.  cit., pp.  249-250; Franciszck Zabecki, 'Rozbicie obozu
   w Treblince', Warsaw, 1977, pp.  94-95) The Treblinka Revolt in
   Polish Sources

   The idea of the uprising, its organization and implementation were
   entirely the fruit of prisoner initiative.  No assistance nor
   encouragement whatsoever was received from the outside.  In a number
   of Polish sources, which appeared for the first time in 1969, mention
   is made of a plan by the Armia Krajowa (Fatherland Army) to attack
   Treblinka and free its prisoners.  According to what is written, this
   was in coordination with the Jewish underground in the camp.  It is
   also stated in these publications that on August 2 the camp was in
   fact attacked from the outside.  (Ibid., pp.  96-99; Tedyslaw
   Razmowski, "Akcja Treblinki," 'Dzieje Najnowsze', Vol.  I, 1969, pp.
   167-172) It should, however, be noted that these accounts are filled
   with imprecisions, contradictions and a lack of clarity and confused
   information about the labor and penal camp--Treblinka 1, where most
   of the prisoners were Poles--and about the Treblinka annihilation
   camp.  It is more reasonable to suppose that the Armia Krajowa's
   planned attack had to do with Treblinka 1.  In not a single testimony
   by survivors of Treblinka is there any mention of a link with the
   Polish underground or with any other underground outside the camp, or
   any hint whatever of assistance received from outside.  Nor is Polish
   assistance in the revolt mentioned in the reports of the Polish
   underground written during the war and dealing with the Jews'
   uprising in Treblinka.  The same holds for the German sources, and
   for the two Treblinka trials, where no Polish attack on Treblinka is
   mentioned.  It is certain that had such an attack occurred it would
   have aroused responses on a wide front, including reprisal measures,
   and would have appeared in the German reports.  It thus can be stated
   with absolute certainty that the Polish underground did not extend
   any aid whatever to the revolt in Treblinka.  The Polish underground
   did not attack German camps in which Polish prisoners were held in
   detention, even though ihose Poles were themselves members of the
   underground.  Moreover, it is known that the Armia Krajowa was not
   distinguished by its sympathy for the Jews, and it is difficult to
   suppose that its forces would have carried out an offensive operation
   against a camp within which, with the exception of some 2,000
   Gypsies, only Jews were imprisoned and annihilated.  Furthermore,
   survivors of Treblinka tell of many instances in which Armia Krajowa
   people conspired against them after their escape from the camp.  (For
   testimonies of escapees from the camp who were given a hostile
   reception by the surrounding population, see Abram Krzepicki,
   "Relacje dwoch zbiegow z Treblinki II," BZIH, No.  40, 1961, pp.
   78-88.  Sereny, op.  cit., pp.  244-245; testimony of Goldfarb, op
   cit., pp.  28-29) 

   Infuence of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on the Treblinka Uprising

   The idea of an uprising and the formation of the underground in
   Treblinka occurred before the Warsaw ghetto uprising.  In the
   testimonies of Treblinka survivors, we find conflicting views on the
   effect information about the Warsaw ghetto uprising and its outcome
   had on the prisoners and members of the underground in Treblinka.  On
   the one hand is the claim that word of the Jewish fighting lifted
   morale and fostered a fighting spirit in Treblinka.  On the other
   hand, the view has been put forward that the remnants of Warsaw Jewry
   who were brought to Treblinka had given up on the possibility of
   rescue by means of revolt or escape; this discouraged the prisoners
   in Treblinka and cast a cloud of pessimism over the camp.
   (Wilenberg, op.  cit., pp.  52-53; Kon, op.  cit., p.  536; testimony
   of Strawczynski, op.  cit., p.  50) C.  Acts of Resistance and the
   Organization of the Revolt in Sobibor The effort to preserve the
   secrecy of the Sobibor annihilation camp was more successful than for
   other annihilation camps, including Belzec (from which only one man
   managed to escape).  The security arrange ments in Sobibor wcre very
   tight and severe from the earliest stages, and the number of those
   who escaped en route to the camp and from the camp itself was small
   compared to Treblinka.  In the first period of the camp's
   operation--May to July 1942--approximately 100,000 Jews were murdered
   in Sobibor.  But fewer transports were sent there than to Treblinka,
   and the total number of Jews murdered in Sobibor came to about
   250,000, whereas in Treblinka the number reached 875,000.  (The
   figure quoted here is based on research that will shortly be
   published in my book Treblinka--Ovdan ve-Mered, Tel Aviv, 1983)

   The relatively smaller number of transports enabled better security
   of the camp area and prevention of escapes from it, thereby
   forestalling the filtering out of information about what was taking
   place there.  Rumors about the existence of the Sobibor extermination
   camp only reached the nearest communities, Wlodawa and Chelm.  We
   have very little information about escapes from Sobibor, and what
   there is is not based on direct testimony of escapees nor even on the
   testimony of people who met the escapees.  We know, for example, that
   on Christmas in 1943, five Jewish prisoners (two of them women),
   along with two Ukrainian guards, escaped from the extermination area
   in Sobibor (called Camp 3).  But a Polish farmer informed on them and
   in the pursuit carried out by the "Blue [Polish] Police" they managed
   to shoot and kill the two Ukrairuans and one of the women.  As
   reprisal for the escape, several hundred prisoners were shot to death
   in the camp.  (Tatiana Berenstein, "Obozy pracy przymusowej dla Zydow
   w Dystrykcie Lubelskirn," BZIH, No.  24, 1957, p.  16.  The Blue
   Police --the Polish police force that worked for
   the Germans.)

   In another instance known to us, a prisoner escaped from the main
   camp (called in Sobibor--Camp 1) by hiding in a freight car among
   piles of clothing being sent from Sobibor to Gerrnany; he made his
   way to Chelm.  It appears that he is the person who spread the word
   in Chelm about what was happening in Sobibor.  When the last
   transport of Jews from Chelm was en route to Sobibor, toward the end
   of February 1943, there were indeed a number of escape attempts (Ilya
   Ehrenburg, ed., 'Merder fun Felker--Materyalen vegen di Retsikhes fun
   di Daytshishe farkhaper in die Tsyvaylik okupirte sovyetishe
   raiyonen', Moscow, 1944-1945.  According to the testimony of Haim
   Poroznik , the escape took place in
   February 1943.) made from the train.  A transport of people from
   Wlodawa, which arrived in Sobibor on April 30, 1943, also resisted
   when ordered to get off the train at the Sobibor platform.  Another
   such instance occurred on October 11, 1943, when the people resisted
   going to the gas chambers and broke out in flight.  Some were killed
   near the fences, and the others were caught and brought to the gas
   chambers.  (Alexander Pechorsky, 'Der Oifstand in Sobibor', Moscow,
   1946, pp.  40-41.  Ehrenburg, op.  cit., p.  14; group testimony hy
   survivors of Sobibor, YVA, 0-3/2352, p.  62; Ruckerl, op.  cit., p.

   Talk about the possibility of resistance and escape began to
   circulate at the end of 1942 or beginning of 1943.  One of the ideas
   raised was poisoning the SS people.  (Ibid., p.  186.  Adam
   Rutkowski, "Ruch oporu w hitlerowskim obozie stracen Sobibor," BZIH,
   No.  65-66, 1968, pp.  14-15) But all of this early talk did not lead
   to concrete results, and for the period until the middle of 1943 we
   have no reliable information on organizing for escape.  In late June
   1943, after the liquidation of the camp at Belzec, the 600 prisoners
   who still remained in the camp were brought to Sobibor.  They were
   told that they were being brought to Germany to work, but when they
   arrived at Sobibor they were removed, in groups of ten, and shot on
   the spot.  From a note found among the clothing of the murdered, the
   Sobibor prisoners learned that those who had been killed were from
   work groups in the Belzec camp.  The note said: We worked for a year
   in Belzec.  I don't know where they're taking us now.  They say to
   Germany.  In the freight cars there are dining tables.  We received
   bread for three days, and tins and liquor.  If all this is a lie,
   then know that death awaits you too.  Don't trust the Germans.
   Avenge our blood !  (There are several different versions of the
   exact wording of the note; possibly there was more than one.
   Testimony of Leon Feldhendler, 'Dokumenty', Vol.  I, 'Obozy', p.
   207) The Sobibor prisoners now understood with greater certainty what
   fate awaited them.  The slowed-down tempo of transports at the end of
   July--because of the cessation of the transports from Holland-- added
   to the feeling that the end was approaching.  All this led to more
   intensive organization by the underground and more attempts to escape
   from the camp.  A short time after the murder of the people from
   Belzec, two prisoners cut the camp fences one night and succeeded in
   getting away.  On the following day at the roll-call, twenty
   arbitrarily selected prisoners were shot to death in reprisal.  The
   SS men announced that this method of collective punishment--for each
   prisoner to es- cape ten would be shot--would be used in reprisal for
   all instances of escape.  (Testimony of Tomasz (Tuvia) Blat, YVA,
   0-3/713, pp.  69-70; Moshe Bahir, "Ha-Mered ha-Gadol be-Sobibor,"
   'Pirsume Museum ha-Lohamim ve-ha-Partizanim', April 1944, p.  12)

   Previous to that event, one night in June 1943, the prisoners were
   suddenly taken from their barracks and kept for a number of hours
   under heavy guard by the Ukrainians; then shots were heard from the
   area of the camp's fences.  On the next day the prisoners learned
   from the Ukrainians that Soviet partisans had tried to get near the
   camp.  (Testimony of Z.  Ida Matz, Dokumenty, Vol.  I, Obozy, p.
   213.  It should be noted that in the various sources concerning
   partisan activity in the Sobibor area, no mention is made of any
   outside attempts to attack the camp.)

   It should be noted that in that same period there were several
   instances of Ukrainian guards fleeing and joining the partisans.  As
   a precaution against escape by both prisoners and guards alike, and
   against partisan activity in the area around Sobibor (especially east
   of the Bug), in July 1943 Wehrmacht soldiers laid a minefield 15
   meters wide around the camp.  In addition, west of Camp 1 a water
   channel was dug between the prisoners' barracks and the conifer
   thicket in the camp.  In direct response to the escapes by the
   Ukrainians, the camp commanders decided to arm only those guards
   actually doing guard duty, and they were each given only five
   bullets.  When they learned of the escapes, the prisoners tried to
   establish contact with the partisans via the Ukrainians.  (Rutkowski,
   op.  cit., pp.  16-17; testimony of Blat, op.  elf., pp.  69-70) They
   were unsuccessful.

   On July 5, 1943, Himmler ordered that Sobibor be converted into a
   concentration camp whose installations would serve as a depot for
   captured Soviet ammunition, which would be reprocessed by the camp's
   prisoners.  According to this order the camp was to be placed under
   the concentration-camp administration in the head office of the SS.
   (Ruckerl, op.  Cit., p.  176) Following the order construction work
   for storing the captured ammunition was begun in the northern part of
   the camp (called in Sobibor--Camp 4).  At the same time, a work group
   that came to be called the Wald-Kommando ("forest commando"),
   numbering forty people (half of them Jews from Poland, and half Jews
   from Holland), began to work cutting down trees in a forest several
   kilometers from Sobibor.  The wood was needed for construction of the
   new installations.  A squad of seven Ukrainians and two SS men was
   assigned to guard the work group.  One day two of the prisoners
   (Shlomo Pudhalebnik and Yosef Kurz, both of them from Poland),
   accompanied by a Ukrainian guard, were sent to gel water from the
   nearby village.  on the way there, the two killed the guard, took his
   gun and fled.  When the incident was discovered, work was immediately
   stopped, and the men of the Wald-Kommando were taken back to the
   camp.  Suddenly, at an agreed-upon signal, the Polish Jews in the
   group broke out into a general flight.  Ten of them were caught, some
   were shot while fleeing, and only eight managed to get away.  The
   Dutch Jews in the Wald-Kommando decided not to join in the escape
   attempt, fearing that their lack of knowledge of the language and
   unfamiliarity with the region would grearly diminish their chances of
   finding refuge.  The ten prisoners who were caught, among them the
   Capo, were brought to the camp and were shot in full view of all the
   prisoners.  (Testimony of Blat, op.  cit., pp.  74-75; Matz, op.
   cit., p.  212; testimony of Abraham Wang, who was one of the members
   of the forest commando who succeeded in escaping, YVA, 0-3/4139, pp.
   6-7) Underground Organization and Preparations for Revolt

   From the second half of July until the middle of August 1943, an
   underground group was formed in the carnp under the leadership of
   Leon Feldhendler, who had been the chairman of the Judenrat in
   Zolkiew.  The group was made up mostly of the heads of workshop work
   groups.  In light of the method of collective punishment that the
   Germans instituted and the presence of a minefield around the camp,
   the underground group reached the conclusion that it was necessary to
   plan a large, organized escape during the course of which most of the
   camp's prisoners would flee.  According to one of the early plans,
   the boys who worked as servants in the SS living quarters were to
   kill the SS while they slept, take their weapons and hand them over
   to the members of the underground.  According to this plan, after the
   killing, of the Germans the Ukrainian guards were supposed to join
   the insurgents and escape with them to the forest and the partisans.
   This plan, however, was quickly shelved because it was feared that
   the boys, aged 14-16, would not be up to the task, and because the
   plan would have to be carried out in the early morning hours and that
   would give the Germans a full day for pursuit.  (Testimony of
   Feldhendler's wife, YVA, 0-16/464; Rutkowski, op.  cit., p.  16;
   testimony of Blat.  op.  cit., p.  77; Matz, op.  cit., p.  213)

   Another plan proposed in August spoke of setting the camp on fire in
   the afternoon hours (or, according to another version, in the middle
   of the night), and, in the ensuing commotion, when the SS and
   Ukrainians would be called to extinguish the fire, the prisoners
   would burst through the gates and flee.  But when word of this plan
   was conveyed to other groups of prisoners, they rejected it.
   (Testimony of Feldhendleis wife, op.  cit., p.  13; Rutkowski, op.
   cit., p.  15; Matz, op.  cit., p.  213; testimony of Dov Freiberg,
   The Attorney-General of the Government of Israel v.  Adolf Eichmann,
   Minutes of Session No.  64, Jerusalem, 1961 )

   Another plan proposed digging a tunnel, but nothing came of it.  One
   of the major shortcomings of the underground group was the absence of
   someone with leadership ability and military training who would be
   able to work out a complex escape plan.  Finally Feldhendler found a
   suitable person: a Dutch Jew named Joseph Jacobs, a former naval
   officer, who had been brought to Sobibor on May 21, 1943.  (The exact
   name of the Dutch Jew is not certain, and there is no proof that his
   name was, in fact, Jacobs.  According to another version, he was a
   journalist and fought in the International Brigade in Spain: Louis de
   Jong, 'Het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden--In de Tweede wereldoortog',
   Vol.  VIII--'Gevangenen en Gedeporteerden', The Hague, 1918, p.

   Jacobs took it upon himself to organize the uprising together with his
   Dutch friends, in conjunction with the underground group.  According
   to the new plan that was formulated, the insurgents, assisted by
   several Ukrainian guards who had agreed to collaborate, would steal
   into the arms shed in the afternoon, when the SS people were in the
   dining hall.  The insurgents would arm themselves, burst through the
   main gate and escape to the forests.  However, one of the Ukrainians
   informed, and the escape plan became known.  Jacobs was seized and
   Interrogated about his partners in the plot.  In spite of continued
   blows and torture Jacobs did not break and adhered to his claim that
   he alone planned to escape.  Still, in reprisal for the escape
   attempt, seventy-two Dutch Jews were murdered along with him.
   (Testimony of Feldhendler's wife, op.  cit., pp.  11-12; Rutkowski,
   op.  cit., p.  22 (according to Rutkowski, it is possible that the
   escape took place in July and not in August.); testimony of Freiberg,
   Eichmann's Trial, op.  cit.)

   Another escape was planned in the first half of September 1943 by six
   Capos, headed by the Oberkapo Moshe Sturm.  But one of the prisoners,
   called Berliner, informed, and the six were caught and shot in full
   view of all the prisoners.  As a reward the Germans appointed
   Berliner Oberkapo, but shortly afterward the prisoners also
   "rewarded" him, and Berliner was poisoned.  (In the camp, Moshe Slurm
   was called "Moshe the Governor." On this, see Blat, op.  cit., pp.
   71-72; Rutkowski, op.  cit., p.  21; testimony of Izak Rotenberg,
   YVA, 0-3/4141, p.  3.  According to Bahir, op.  cit., p.  12, a Capo
   by the name of Positzka was involved in Berliner's poisoning.)

   Another escape attempt was made in mid-September.  Prisoners kept in
   the extermination area (Camp 3) dug a tunnel that began in their
   barracks and was supposed to reach beyond the fences and the
   minefield.  The work of burrowing the tunnel was almost finished when
   it was discovered by the camp guards.  The prisoners of Camp 3, who
   then numbered betwen 100 and 150 men, were shot as punishment.  When
   the Camp 3 prisoners were being taken to be executed, the prisoners
   in the other part of the camp were kept in roll-call formation under
   heavy guard as a preventive measure.  Afterward, a new group of men
   was transferred to Camp 3.  (Testimony of Blat, op.  cit., p.  76.
   Testimony of Jacob Biskowitz, Eichmann's Trial; Matz, op.  cit., p.
   213; Rutkowski, op.  cit., p.  16.)

   In spite of the repeated failures in organizing an escape and in
   spite of the heavy collective punishments--the killing of hundreds of
   prisoners in the camp, which caused terrible damage to the
   self-confidence of the organizers--the underground group headed by
   Feldhendler continued its tireless search for a new person able to
   lead the revolt and escape.  This leader was now found in the person
   of a Jewish officer, a former lieutenant in the Soviet army, named
   Alexander Pechorsky.  Pechorsky arrived at the camp with a group of
   100 Jewish war prisoners who had served in the Red Army and had been
   kept at the SS labor camp in Minsk.  When the Minsk ghetto was
   liquidated, this group.  together with a large transport of 2,000
   Jews, was brought to Sobibor.  Most of the Minsk Jews were sent
   direcrly to the gas chambers, save for a group of eighty men--most of
   them skilled workers or prisoners of war--who were kept in the camp
   in order to work on the construction of Camp 4 in place of the group
   of Dutch Jews who had been murdered and the prisoners of Camp 1 who
   had been transferred to the extermination area.

   The arrival of the prisoners of war, a cohesive group with battle
   experience and bearing the glory of the Soviet army, lifted the
   morale of the Sobibor prisoners.  The outstanding leader of this
   group was Lieutenant Pechorsky.  Contact between him and Feldhendler
   was established by Shlomo Litman, a Polish Jew and carpenter by trade
   who had been in the SS camp at Minsk together with the Soviet
   prisoners and had arrived with them at Sobibor.  Feldhendler was
   impressed by Pechorsky's personality, and at their first meeting,
   which took place on the evening of October 29, already suggested to
   him that he organize a mass escape from the camp.  In subsequent
   talks conducted between the two, a group was established; Pechorsky
   at its head and Feldhendler as his deputy.  The other members of the
   group were four people from Feldendler's group and three from the
   Minsk group.  (The members of the Feldhendler group were the heads of
   the various groups of artisans: Janek headed the carpenters; Josef,
   the tailors; Jacob, the cobblers, and Munik, the youth group.
   Members of the Minsk group were Lipman, Tziebulski and Shubayev.  See
   Pechorsky, op.  cit., pp.  26-27, 41.) The cooperation between the
   two groups, with Feldhendler's group contributing their experience in
   the camp and familiarity with its conditions and Pechorsky's people
   eontributing military know how and experience, led to the formulation
   of two plans that were supposed to make possible the escape of all
   600 prisoners from the camp, including the 150 women in Camp 1.  (In
   the Sobibor Camp there were also Jewish women prisoners.  The first
   group was brought to the camp as soon as it was established to work
   in the kitchen for the SS personnel.  Later, when it was decided to
   keep a permanent group of prisoners in the camp, women were included
   among them.  They were working in the kitchen, laundry and in other
   services and were lodged next to the blocks of the Jewish male

   The prisoners in the extermination area, who at that time numbered a
   few dozen, were not informed of the plans, because of the inability
   to establish contact with them.  In light of the lessons of the past
   and in order to prevent treason it was decided this time not to bring
   the Ukrainians in on the plan.  The first plan worked out by the new
   leadership was based on digging a tunnel 35 meters long from the
   carpentry shed, which was located near the carnp fence, to a point
   beyond the fences and the minefield.  According to the plan all the
   prisGners in the camp were to escape, at night, through the tunnel.
   Pechorsky was well aware that digging a tunnel was a complicated
   matter that would take two or three weeks, and even if the work were
   completed, the attempt to get 600 people out on one night might well
   fail.  He also was told of the discovery of the tunnel in Camp 3, and
   therefore an alternate plan was also worked out.  It involved killing
   the SS people, seizing their arms, and escaping in an organized
   flight.  And so along with the work of burrowing the tunnel, which
   began on October 5 (Valentin Tomin and A.  Sinelnikov, Vozvrash.henie
   me..helatelno, Moscow, 1964.) and was carried out only at night,
   preparations were begun for the alternative plan.

   Two of the Capos--Positzka and Czepik--who sensed that secret work
   was going on, realized that there was an underground organization and
   that plans for an escape were being made.  They asked Pechorsky to
   allow them to join the underground.  Their request was granted, for
   it was clear how much the Capos could help in the preparations for
   the revolt.  And, indeed, on October 8, with Positzka's assistance,
   two of the leaders of the underground, Pechorsky and Litman, were
   trans- ferred to work in the carpentry shop, whose location enabled
   them to supervise the preparations for the revolt.  (Pechorsky, op.
   cit., pp.  31-32; Rutkowski, op.  cit., p.  31.)

   On October 8 and 9 heavy rains fell on the camp.  The strearning
   water penetrated the tunnel and utterly wrecked it.  It was clear
   that the tunnel escape plan had to be abandoned.  At this stage eight
   of the prisoners of war decided to escape from the camp.  Pechorsky
   learned of their plan and managed to talk them out of it by stressing
   the heavy punishment that would be meted out to the other prisoners
   in reprisal for their escape.  (Pechorsky, op.  cit., pp.  32-34.)
   Now the only remaining plan was the alternate plan; it was very
   complicated and required precise plan- ning, and the prisoners had
   very little time left.  October 13 was set as a possible date for the
   outbreak of the revolt, for according to the information that the
   prisoners had, a group of SS men, among them two of the most
   dangerous--Wagner and Gomerski--would then be on homeland leave in
   Germany.  On October 10, the eve of Yom Kippur, the camp authorities
   allowed the prisoners to assemble in the women's barracks.  The
   underground leadership used this opportunity to confer, and it was
   decided to begin the armed uprising very soon.  (Tomin-Sinelnikov,
   op.  cit., pp.  153-155; Ruckerl, op.  cit., p.  195.)

   On October 12, at 21:00 hours, the leadership of the underground met
   in the carpentry shed.  Ten people took part in this meeting.  (The
   ten included Capo Positzka.  On that day, eighteen sick prisoners
   were taken to Camp 3 (death camp), and this seriously affected the
   morale of the other prisoners.  Pechorsky, op.  cit., p.  43;
   testimony of Blat, op.  cit., p.  78.) Pechorsky presented the plan
   of the revolt that was to take place the following day.  The plan was
   divided into three stages.  Stage A: Between 15:30 and 16:45

   The quiet liquidation of some of the SS men who would be asked to
   come, each separately, to the workshops for clothing or shoe
   measurements, for inspecting carpentry work, etc.  Feldhendler was
   put in charge of asking the SS men to the workshops.  At the same
   time, the rest of the SS people would be killed inside the buildings
   at the various places of work.  These activities would be carried out
   in utmost secrecy in order that they not be discovered by the other
   prisoners or the Ukrainian guards.  This operation was assigned to
   special groups of two or three men each, comprised of prisoners of
   war and long-time prisoners.

   Each group had its own special task.  Two other men were assigned to
   cut the telephone line that ran from the camp's headquarters, across
   Camp 2, to the security forces in Wlodawa, and to cut off the
   electricity in the camp.  Another group was to sabotage the camp
   vehicles.  The boys and young girls who worked in the SS living
   quarters were given the job of removing the ammunition and grenades
   they found there and delivering them to the insurgents.  It was also
   decided to try to break in secretly to the Ukrainians' guard room and
   remove rifles from there.  Positzka was supposed to take a group from
   Camp 1 to Camp 2 (the central part of Sobibor was called Camp 2),
   where the housing of some of the SS people was located, to help
   eliminate the four SS men who were there.

   The time for the outbreak of the revolt was fixed on the assumption
   that the separate elimination of the SS people could only take place
   during work hours.  Also, the hour had to be close to nightfall, in
   order to facilitate escape.  Stage B: 16:45

   The Capos Positzka and Czepik would get the prisoners into roll-call
   formation in the center of Camp 1, as was done every day.  The
   prisoners of war and the underground people were to occupy the front
   rows and then the Capos would lead the men toward the exit gate.  On
   the way to the gate the insurgents would seize the arms shed.  When
   the Ukrainian guards would become aware of what was happening and
   open fire, the insurgents would return fire, and the quiet operation
   would turn into an armed revolt.  The insurgents would break open the
   gate and break through the southern fence, near the SS quarters, on
   the assumption that mines were not laid in that area.  Stage C

   Escape to the forests and joining up with the partisans.  This stage
   was not worked out in any detail, and each of the escapees would have
   to find his own way to refuge.  (Pechorsky, op.  cit., p.  43;
   Rutkowski, op.  cit., pp.  31-32.)

   About forty prisoners and POWs were privy to the secret of the

   October 13, the day set for the uprising, arrived.  But on that day
   an unexpected German inspection committee arrived at the camp, and
   the heads of the underground therefore decided to postpone the
   revolt.  That even,ing another meeting was held at which it was
   decided to carry out the plan the following day.  The implements that
   would serve as weapons--knives, axes, specially sharpened shovels and
   other tools--were distributed to the members of the underground.
   (Testimony of Blat op.  cit., p.  78; Rutkowski, op.  cit., pp.
   30-31; Abraham Margolis, "Mi-Varsha le-Sobibor," 'Sobibor--Mahane
   ha-Avadon ve-ha- Mered, Tel Aviv, 1979, p.  72 )
   The Revolt - October 14, 1943

   Up until the hour that had been set for the outbreak of the revolt,
   life in the camp continued as usual.  Except for the underground
   members, the vast majority of the prisoners in the camp did not know
   what was about to happen.  The first stage of the revolt was also
   carried out as planned: between 16:00 and 16:30 hours, eleven SS men
   who had been called to the workshops were killed, among them the
   commander of the camp, Untersturmfu"hrer Niemann.  These were all the
   SS people in the camp that day, save for one--Frantzel--who was
   called to the workshops but did not come.  The operation in Camp 1
   was run by Pechorsky, while Feldhendler commanded the operation in
   Camp 2.  The telephone and electric lines were cut, and the motor
   vehicles immobilized.  The blacksmiths' group removed six rifles from
   the Ukrainian guard room, and these were handed over to the
   underground.  (Pechowsky, op.  cit., p.  54; testimony of Blat, op.
   cit., p.  81; Rutkowski, p.  35; Stanislaw Shmeizner, "Me-Opole
   le-Sobibor," Sobibor, op.  cit., p.  65.) All of these activities
   were carried out without the Ukrainians at their posts or in the
   guard towers being aware of what was hap- pening.

   At 16:45 Positzka and Czepik began assembling all the prisoners into
   roll-call formation.  At that point the rest of the prisoners sensed
   that something was afoot, but they still did not know what.
   According to the plan, the prisoners of war and the members of the
   underground, some of them armed, took up position in the front rows.
   The opera- tion plan was now disrupted.  A truck that had arrived
   from outside the camp appeared in Camp 2 and came to a halt near the
   building of the carmp headquarters.  The driver, Oberscharfu"hrer
   Bauer, spotted a dead SS man Iying there and then saw a prisoner
   running from the building.  He immediately opened fire on him.
   (Testimony of Biskowitz, Eichmann's Trial.) At the same time the
   commander of the Ukrainian guard, a Volksdeutsche from the Volga
   area, appeared at the roll-call square.  The insurgents attacked him
   and killed him with ax blows.  The rest of the prisoners became
   panic-stricken.  The Ukrainian guards, who now realized what was
   happening, opened fire.  At that point Pechorsky decided not to wait
   until all the prisoners were assembled, as planned, and instead began
   stage two of the revolt.  With cries of Come on!  Hurrah!  the
   insurgents broke toward the gate and the fences, and from that moment
   on there was no control over what happened.  Some of the insurgents
   broke open the main gate and escaped from there southwest toward the
   woods.  Another group broke through the fences north of the gate.
   The first of this group triggered the mines, were wounded and killed,
   but the others who crossed the area where the mines had already
   exploded, managed to flee, as they stepped over the bodies of their

   The planned takeover of the arms store was not carried out, but the
   insurgents did succeed in killing the guard and taking his rifle.
   Those who were armed with rifles opened fire on the Ukrainians and
   killed four of them.  The only SS men remaining in the camp, Bauer
   and Frantzel, and the other Ukrainian guards returned fire.  Another
   group of insurgents, headed by Pechorsky, broke through the fences
   near the SS living quarters, where, as they had correctly assumed,
   mines had not been laid.  Other prisoners who were still in the area
   of Camp 2 now fled toward Camp 4.  (Ibid.; Pechorsky, op.  cit., p.
   56; Jacob Biskowitz, 'Mi-Hrubieszow le-Sobibor," Sobibor, op.  cit.,
   p.  110; testimony of Goldfarb, op.  cit., p.  26.)

   Of the 600 prisoners who were in the camp on the day of the up-
   rising, 300 managed to escape.  About 150 were killed by the guards'
   gunfire or by the mine explosions.  Approximately 150 sick prisoners
   and those from Western Europe and Germany, who had not been let in on
   the preparations for the revolt, and those who did not manage to
   escape, remained in the camp area.  Some of them got hold of weapons
   and continued to fight until they were killed.  Some of those who
   were caught on camp grounds were shot that very same day.  The
   others, including the prisoners in Camp 3 (the area of the gas
   chambers) who had taken no part in the uprising, were shot on the
   following day when the chief of staff of Operation Reinhard, Hermann
   Hofle, arrived in the camp from Lublin.  (Rutkowski, op.  cit., pp.
   42-43; Ruckerl, op.  cit., pp.  196 197.) The Escape to the Forests
   and the Pursuit

   Word of the revolt of the Jewish prisoners in Sobibor, which reached
   Chelmno and Lublin after some delay because of the cut telephone
   lines, caused a good deal of panic at German headquarters.  According
   to the report a revolt had broken out in Sobibor during which the
   Jewish prisoners had killed almost all of the SS, had seized the arms
   store, and, as a result, all of the security people still in the camp
   were in danger.  The report also stated that 300 prisoners had fled
   in the direction of the Bug River, and there was the danger that they
   might link up with the partisans.  The few SS remaining in the camp
   were in shock, and some of the Ukrainian guards had exploited the
   commotion to flee from the camp.  (Testimony of Liskowitz, Eichmann's

   Following the alarm that same night a large pursuit force was sent to
   the camp.  The force consisted of a company of mounted police, a
   company of Wehrmacht soldiers, police and SS forces from Wlodawa and
   Lublin and about 120 Ukrainians from Sobibor.  It numbered some 400
   men.  The search itself began only at dawn.  In addition, two or
   three surveillance planes were employed to follow the escapees in the
   fields and forests.  The uprising on the grounds of the camp itself
   was quickly put down.  But the search in the surrounding area under
   the command of Hauptsturmfu"hrer Wilbrandt, which was to prevent the
   escapees from joining the partisans on the other side of the Bug and
   to prevent them from spreading the word about the mass exterminations
   in Sobibor, lasted for more than a week.  After that time only the
   company of mounted police continued to comb the area.

   The escapees had split into a number of groups.  (one of them, headed
   by Pechorsky and numbering a few dozen fugitives, assembled in the
   forest.  They had four pistols and a rifle.  At night they met up
   with another group and together numbered about seventy-five men.
   (Pechorsky, op.  cit., pp.  59-60; testimony of Blat, op.  cit., pp.
   82-83.) On October 15, the day after the escape, the men in the group
   hid in a small wood near the railroad track.  The German surveillance
   planes that circled overhead did not notice anything.  In the evening
   the group continued north, but on the way encountered two other
   escapees who reported that the Bug River crossings were heavily
   guarded by the Germans.  Under these circumstances Pechorsky decided
   that a group that large had no chance of eluding the pursuit force.
   He argued that they must break up into smaller groups, each of which
   would try to get past the Germans on its own.  He himself chose
   another eight men from among the prisoners of war and set out.  This
   created some opposition on the part of the other fugitives, who
   feared being left without leadership, but, as they had no choice in
   the matter, they, too, broke up into small groups that tried to get
   through the danger area.  (A particularly striking accusation raised
   against Pechorsky is that of Blat who claims that Pechorsky chose all
   the men equipped with arms, and that only one of them, Shlomo
   Shmeizner, remained with the others.  Blat also claims that Pechorsky
   told the men that he was going to investigate the area and would then
   return, and it was only after it became clear that he was not coming
   back that the rest of the escapees decided to split up into small
   groups and try to find their way alone.  Testimony of Blat, op.
   cit., pp.  83-86.  It must be emphasized, however, that Pechorsky's
   basic concept was justified and that partisans always used this
   method when facing large enemy forces.  See description of events in
   the forest in Pechorsky, op.  cit., p.  62.)

   Pechorsky and his men managed to get across the Bug on the night of
   October 19.  Three days later they met Soviet partisans from the
   Brest region and joined up with them.  (ibid, p.  69.) Other groups
   of escaped prisoners also managed to link up with Soviet partisan

   Feldhendler, together with another dozen or so escaped prisoners, hid
   in the forest for a number of weeks.  He himself found shelter for
   two months at a Polish friend's in his town of Zolkiew.  Later he.
   too, joined the partisans.  (Testimony of Feldhendler's wife, op.
   cit., pp.  21-22.)

   Other groups of escapees who roamed in the Parczew forest north- west
   of Sobibor encountered, after several weeks of searching.  Polish
   partisans of the Armia Ludowa (People's Army) and a group of Ychiel
   Grynspan's Jewish partisan unit.  An instance is also known in which
   six fugitives from Sobibor were murdered by a local gang that posed
   as a partisan unit.  (Testimony of Goldfarb, op.  cit., pp.  30-31;
   testimony of Biskowitz, Eichmann's Trial; Rutkowski, op.  cit., pp.
   45 46.)

   In the week following the escape, 100 of the 300 escapees were
   captured or shot to death.  (Rutkowski, op.  ail., p.  43.) It was a
   great achievement on the part of the insurgents that 200 of them did
   manage to get away.  several factors contributed to their success.
   The searches, which began only in the morning hours, allowed enough
   time for many of the prisoners to slip away from the camp area.  The
   many woods in I he region also ham- pered the searches, even from the
   planes.  Furthermore, the Germans were mistaken in supposing that
   most of the escaped prisoners would head east to the Bug and
   therefore in stationing most of their forces at the Bug crossing
   points.  In fact, most of the fugitives, especially the Polish Jews,
   headed north to the Parczew forest.

   The attitude of the local population to the escapees was not uniform.
   Some have told of the assistance they received from the local
   population, whereas others stress a hostile attitude and instances of
   farmers trying to rob or kill the fugitives.  There were also
   instances in which they succeeded.  (Testimony of Blat, op.  cit.,
   pp.  94, 97-98, 107-108)

   However, despite the relative success, the vast majority of the
   escaped prisoners did not live to witness the day of liberation.
   Some were caught and killed at later stages of the escape, and others
   died as fighters in the ranks of the partisans.  It is estimated that
   from all the escapees from Sobibor, only about fifty survived until
   the day of liberation.  Some of them, however, including Feldhendler,
   were killed _after the liberation_, on April 2, by right-wing Poles.
   (On Feldhendler's death, see Nathan Eck, "Sho'at ha-Am ha-Yehudi
   be-Eropa," Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, 1976, p.  255.  We have in our
   possession thirty-seven recorded testimonies of which thirty appear
   in "Sobibor," op.  cit.  Another six survivors, apart from Pechorsky,
   now live in the Soviet Union, and there are reports of additional
   prisoners who survived (two at present live in Holland).  It may
   therefore be assumed that the number of survivors was as least

   Three days after the outbreak of the revolt, on October 20, 1943, the
   last Jews of Treblinka were brought to the camp for extermination.
   Afterward the camp was liquidated, its buildings dismantled, and on
   its ploughed-up soil trees were planted.

   The Sobibor revolt and the fear of similar revolts apparently
   influenced Himmler in his decision to order Friedrich Kru"ger, the
   supreme commander of the SS and police in the General-Governmnet, to
   hasten the elimination of all the Jews still remaining in camps in
   the Lublin district.  In an operation the Germans called 'Erntefest'
   ("harvest holiday"), at the beginning of November 1943, 42,000 Jews
   in the Majdanek, Trawniki and Poniatowa camps were killed.
   (According to various reports in our possession, 15,000 Jews were
   murdered in Poniatowa, 10,000 in Trawniki, and the rest in Majdanek.
   See Nachmann Blumental and Joseph Kermish, eds., 'Ha-Meri ve-ha-Mered
   be-Getto Varsha - Sefer Mismachim,' Jerusalem, 1965, pp.  451-453.)

   Although the uprisings in Treblinka and Sobibor did not take place
   according to plan, in the end they were successful.  Many scores of
   prisoners did escape, and some of them did survive.  By their act of
   revolt, they not only wrote an important page in the history of
   Jewish fighting during World War II, but also succeeded in bringing
   to the world, during the days of the war itself, the terrifying truth
   of what had been done in the extermination camps.  They have also
   furnished detailed _first-hand_ accounts of these two camps and have
   thus contributed to the history of the Holocaust period.



This completes the Operation Reinhard section of the Yad Vashem Studies
(IV). While this volume is now out of print, others are available from the
distributor, Rubin Mass Ltd. P.O.B. 990, Jerusalem 91009, Israel. 

I have no connection with either Yad Vashem or with Rubin Mass Ltd., and no
financial interest in promoting the purchase of the material offered. I
simply believe it to be the best documented material relating to the
Holocaust available for the price, and recommend it highly.

You may obtain the Yad Vashem 1991 English Publications list, and pricing,
by requesting 'holocaust biblio.05' from Send
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