The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/aktion.reinhard/yvs16.04

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Yad Vashem Studies XVI:  Operation Reinhard (4/11)
Summary: The Construction of Sobibor
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Nizkor Project -
Keywords: Yad Vashem,treblinka,sobibor,belzec

Archive/File: orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs16.04
Last-modified: 1993/03/27 
XRef: yad_vashem index

                       YAD VASHEM STUDIES
                     Edited by Aharon Weiss

                          YAD VASHEM
                        JERUSALEM 1984

                    "Operation Reinhard": 
       Extermination Camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka

                         Yitzhak Arad 

        The Construction of the Sobibor Extermination Camp 

   Sobibor, a village in a thinly populated region on the Chelm- Wlodawa
   railroad line, was chosen by the Central Building Administration
   (SS-Zenttalbauverwaltung) in Lublin as a suitable locality for an
   additional extermination camp.  (Verdict of LG Hagen AZ:II Ks
   1/64,p.64 )

   The camp extended westward from the Sobibor railroad station, along
   the railroad track, and was surrounded by a thin coniferous wood.
   Near the railroad station buildings a siding led into the camp where
   the deportation trains were unloaded.  Originally there were two
   wooden houses in this locality, a former forester's house and a
   two-storey post office.  The total area of the camp measured 12
   hectares, forming a 600 x 400 m.  rectangle.  Later on the area was

   Construction of the camp began in March 1942 after the extermination
   operations in Belzec had already started.  SS-Obersturmfu"hrer
   Richard Thomalla, head of the Central Building Administration in
   Lublin, was in charge of its construction.  The workers employed for
   this purpose were local people from the neighborhood.

   At the beginning of April 1942 the building operations slowed down.
   In order to speed up the work, Globocnik appointed
   SS-Obersturmfu"hrer Franz Stangl as camp commandant.  However, he
   first sent him to Belzec to gain experience in operating a (Gitta
   Sereny, Into the Darkness, London, 1974 camp.  ,
   pp.  109 f.  The British writer and journalist, Gitta Sereny, had the
   opportunity to talk to Franz Stangl, the former commandant of the
   Treblinka extermination camp, ( while he was in custody.) < After
   Stangl assumed his post, the construction of the camp was
   accelerated.  A group of Jews from the ghetto of the Lublin 'Bezirk'
   was brought in for construction work.

   The first gas chambers in Sobibor were housed in a strong brick
   building with concrete foundations, in the northeastern part of the
   camp.  Inside were three gas chambers; each measured 4 x 4 m.  and
   could hold 150-200 people at a time.  Each chamber had a separate
   entrance door leading off from a platform on the long side of the
   terrain.  Opposite the entrance was another door through which the
   corpses were removed.  As in Belzec, the exhaust fumes were conducted
   through pipes from a nearby shed into the gas chambers.

   Upon completion of the construction work, extermination tests were
   conducted in mid-April 1942.  Wirth came to Sobibor in order to
   follow the experiments.  He was accompanied by a chemist whose
   pseudonym was Dr.  Blaurock (or Blaubacke).  SS-Unterscharfu"hrer
   Erich Fuchs, who served in Belzec, described the preparations for the
   first gassing trials: On Wirth's instructions I travel led by truck
   to Lvov and collected a gassing engine there, which I transported to
   Sobibor.  In Sobibor...  [we] unloaded the engine.  It was a heavy
   Russian gasoline engine [probably a tank or train engine] with at
   least 200 h.p.  [V-enginel 8 cylinders, water cooled].  We stood the
   engine on a concrete base and connected the exhaust to the pipe
   conduit.  Then I tried out the engine.  To begin with, it did not
   function.  I managed to repair the ignition and the ventils so that
   the motor finally started.  The chemist, whom I already knew from
   Belzec, entered the gas chamber with a measuring instrument in order
   to test the gas concentration.  Next, an experimental gassing was
   carried out.  I seem to recall that 30-40 women were gassed in one
   chamber.  The Jewesses had to undress on a covered piece of wooded
   ground near the gas chamber and were driven into the gas chamber
   by...  members of the SS as well as by Ukrainian volunteers.  When
   the women were locked into the gas chamber, 1, together with Bauer,
   operated the engine.  Initially the engine idled.  We both stood next
   to the engine and switched from free-exhaust so that the gases were
   conducted into the chamber.  At the suggestion of the chemist, I
   adjusted the engine to a certain number of revs per minute so that no
   more gas had to be supplied.  After approximately 10 minutes all the
   women were dead.  The chemist and the SS-Fu"hrer gave the signal to
   switch off the motor.  I packed up my tools and saw how the corpses
   were removed.  Transport was by means of a rail-trolley which ran
   from the gas chamber to a distant area.  (StA Dortmund AZ:45 Js 27-61

   After this experiment, which confirmed the smooth functioning of the
   gas chambers, and the completion of some other construction work, the
   Sobibor extermination camp was ready to operate.  It was an improved
   version of Belzec.  The camp was divided into three parts: an
   administration sector, a reception sector, and an extermination
   sector.  The administration and reception sectors were near the
   railroad station, while the extermination sector was ill a distant
   part of the camp, even more isolated than in Belzec.

   The administration area in the southeastern part was subdi- vided
   into two camps: the "Pre-Camp" ( Vorlager) and Camp I.  The Pre-Camp
   consisted of the entrance gate, the railroad ramp, and the living
   quarters of the SS-men, the Ukrainians, and their servants--in
   contrast to Belzec, here all the SS-men lived inside the camp.  Camp
   I was the area set aside for the Jewish prisoners who worked in
   Sobibor.  This is where their living quarters and workshops were
   located and where a few of them worked as shoemakers, tailors,
   blacksmiths, etc.

   The reception sector was called Camp II.  After being unloaded, the
   new arrivals were chased into this area where the huts for undressing
   and the storage sheds for their valuables were situated.  The former
   forester's house, which was also in this area, served as camp offices
   and apartments for some of the SS-men.  A high wooden fence separated
   the forester's house from the reception sector.

   The "tube," which connected Camp II with the extermination sector,
   began at the northernmost corner of this fence: it was a narrow path,
   ca.  3-4 m.  wide and 150 m.  long, fenced in on both sides with
   barbed wire intertwined with branches.  Along this path the victims
   were chased into the gas chambers which were located at the other end
   of the "tube."

   Near the entrance to the "tube" were a cow shed, a pigsty, and a
   chicken pen.  Halfway along the "tube" stood a hut known as the
   "hairdresser's," where the Jewish women had their hair cropped before
   entering the gas chambers.

   The extermination sector, designated as Camp III, was in the
   northwestern part.  It comprised the gas chambers, the mass graves,
   and separate barracks for the Jewish prisoners working there and for
   the guards.  The mass graves were 50-60 m.  Iong, 10-15 m.  wide, and
   5-7 m.  deep.  The sidewalls of the ditches sloped in order to
   facilitate the unloading of the corpses.  A narrow track for a
   trolley ran from the railroad station, past the gas chambers, to the
   ditches.  People who had died in the trains or were too weak to walk
   from the ramp to the gas chamber were driven in this trolley.

   The extermination sector was surrounded on all sides by barbed wire
   with intertwined camouflage material.  Watch towers were located
   along the fence and in the corners of the camp.

   The staffing of the camp was settled simultaneously with the
   completion of its basic installations.  Stangl's deputy was
   SS-Oberscharfu"hrer Herrmann Michel, replaced a few months later by
   SS-Oberscharfu"hrer Gustav Wagner.

   The Ukrainian company of guards in Sobibor was made up of three
   platoons.  Erich Lachmann, a former police official who had trained
   the Ukrainians in Trawniki, was placed in charge of this unit.  Being
   an outsider among the "Euthanasia" group, he was replaced by Kurt
   Bolender in the autumn of 1942.  In Sobibor, as in Belzec, each
   member of the German personnel had a specific function.  Upon the
   arrival of a transport most of the SS-men were given additional,
   specific tasks connected with the extermination procedure.
   SS-Oberscharfu"hrer Erich Bauer later testified at his trial:
   Normally, every member of the permanent staff had a specltic function
   within the camp (commandant of the Ukrainian volunteers, head of a
   work commando, responsihility for digging ditches, responsibility for
   laying barbed wire and the like).  However, the arrival of a
   transport of Jews meant so much "work" that the usual occupations
   were stopped and every member of the permanent staff had to take some
   part in the routine extermination procedure.  Above all, every member
   of the permanent staff was at some time brought into action in
   unloading the transports.  (StA Dortmund AZ:45 Js 27-61 ) At the end of April 1942 the
   Sobibor extermination camp was operational.

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.