Sobibór extermination camp

Extermination camp
Sobibór extermination camp memorial, pyramid of sand mixed with human ashes

Location of Sobibór (right of centre) on the map of German extermination camps marked with black and white skulls. Poland's borders before the Second World War
Location of Sobibór in Poland today
Coordinates 51°26′50″N 23°35′37″E / 51.44722°N 23.59361°E / 51.44722; 23.59361Coordinates: 51°26′50″N 23°35′37″E / 51.44722°N 23.59361°E / 51.44722; 23.59361
Other names SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor
Known for Genocide during the Holocaust
Location Near Sobibór, General Government (occupied Poland)
Built by
Original use Extermination camp
First built March 1942 – May 1942
Operational 16 May 1942 – 14 October 1943[1]
Number of gas chambers  
3 (expanded to 6)[2]
Inmates Jews mainly from Poland, but also from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union (including POWs)
Number of inmates Est. 600–650 slave labour at any given time
Killed Est. min. 200,000–250,000
Notable inmates Joseph Serchuk, Dov Freiberg, Alexander Pechersky

Sobibór (or Sobibor /sˈbbɔːr/;[3] Polish: [sɔˈbʲibur]) was a Nazi German extermination camp built and operated by the SS near the railway station of Sobibór during World War II, within the semi-colonial territory of General Government of the occupied Second Polish Republic. The camp was part of the secretive Operation Reinhard, which marked the deadliest phase of the Holocaust in German-occupied Poland. The camp was situated near the rural county's major town of Włodawa (called Wolzek by the Germans), 85 km south of the provincial capital, Brest-on-the-Bug (Brześć nad Bugiem in Polish). Its official German name was SS-Sonderkommando Sobibór.[4] Jews from Poland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union (including Jewish-Soviet POWs),[5][6][7] were transported to Sobibór by rail. Most were suffocated in gas chambers fed by the exhaust of a large petrol engine.[8] Up to 200,000 people were murdered at Sobibór[9] and possibly more. At the postwar trial against the former SS personnel of Sobibór, held in Hagen two decades into the Cold War, Professor Wolfgang Scheffler estimated the number of murdered Jews totalled a minimum of 250,000.[10][11] This would make it the fourth worst extermination camp, after Bełżec, Treblinka, and Auschwitz.

During the revolt of 14 October 1943, about 600 prisoners tried to escape; about half succeeded in crossing the fence, of whom around 50 evaded capture. Shortly after the revolt, the Germans closed the camp, bulldozed the earth, and planted it over with pine trees to conceal its location. Today, the site is occupied by the Sobibór Museum, which displays a pyramid of ashes and crushed bones of the victims, collected from the cremation pits.

In September 2014, a team of archaeologists unearthed remains of the gas chambers under the asphalt road. Also discovered in 2014 were a pendant inscribed with the word "Palestine (Eretz Israel)", in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, dating from 1927; earrings; a wedding band bearing a Hebrew inscription; and perfume bottles that belonged to Jewish victims.[12][13]


Beginning in 1940, the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) had established the so-called Lublin Reservation near Sobibór. It comprised 16 forced labour camps, built as part of the new Nisko und Lublin Plan of Jewish resettlement. The district was intended to become an agricultural centre of the General Plan East, inhabited by the ethnic German "colonists" brought by Heim ins Reich into the Empire. About 95,000 Jews expelled from as far away as Warsaw and Vienna were brought into the area in order to build latifundia, in exchange for a small monthly pay.[14] Most prisoners were housed in a network of sub-camps set up in pre-existing structures such as converted school buildings, factories, and farms. The Krychów camp was the main branch of the new complex. It was set up at a former Polish correctional centre and was the largest of the 16 forced labour camps of the Nisko Plan.[15] During preparations for the Wehrmacht attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland the Plan was discontinued.[16] Soon after that, the heavy concentration of Jews in the area was discussed by the Nazi officials at the October 1941 meeting in occupied Lublin, attended by Hans Frank, Ernst Boepple, and Odilo Globocnik among others, proposing the creation of a new order.[17]

Sobibór extermination camp was built in March and April 1942 as soon as the Final Solution was set in motion at Wannsee.[18] By this time the Chełmno and Bełżec extermination camps were already operating, and as of 17 March 1942 it was used for mass extermination of Jews deported from the Lublin Ghetto.[19] The new camp's location, near the Sobibór railway station, was selected due to proximity of the Chełm  Włodawa railway line connecting General Government with Reichskommissariat Ukraine.[20]

Camp construction

Sobibór was located 145 kilometres (90 mi) from Bełżec, less than a three-hour drive away. Camp construction was supervised by SS-Hauptsturmführer Richard Thomalla, a civil engineer by profession who built the camp in Bełżec and then applied the lessons learned there to the design of Sobibor.[19]

Construction of the camp began under SS direction on 1 March 1942.[21] The first workers summoned to build the railroad spur were local people from neighbouring villages and towns, but the camp was primarily built by a Sonderkommando of about 80 Jews from ghettos within the vicinity of the camp. A squad of Ukrainian Trawniki-Männer, trained at the Trawniki SS compound, guarded the prisoners. Upon completion of construction, the Jews involved were all killed.[22] In mid-April 1942, when the camp was nearly completed, several experimental gassings took place there.[23] Christian Wirth, the commander of Bełżec and Inspector of Operation Reinhard, arrived in Sobibór to witness one of the gassings, with about 30–40 Jewish women from the Krychów camp brought in for this purpose.[24] He reportedly complained about the fitting of the gas chambers doors.[23] Some 250 Jews from Krychów were killed during these trials.[20]

The first commandant of Sobibór appointed by Heinrich Himmler was SS-Obersturmführer Franz Stangl, the manager of the T-4 Euthanasia Program in Nazi Germany at both the Hartheim and Bernburg extermination hospitals. Stangl served as the Sobibór's commandant from 28 April to the end of August 1942.[2] According to Stangl, Odilo Globocnik initially stated that Sobibór was merely a supply camp for the army, and that the true nature of the camp became known to Stangl only when Hermann Michel took him to see the gas chamber hidden in the woods: "The moment I saw it – I realised what Michel had had in mind – it looked exactly the same as the gas chamber in Schloss Hartheim."[23] Feeling overwhelmed by a new job, Stangl first studied the Bełżec camp operations and management, where the extermination operations had already started. He then accelerated the completion of Sobibór.[25]

SS-Scharführer Erich Fuchs, who spent time installing the killing apparatus at the three Reinhard death camps of Sobibór, Treblinka, and Bełżec, explained how the gassing of victims at Sobibór was developed. On Wirth's orders, he acquired a heavy gasoline engine in Lemberg, disassembled from an armoured vehicle or a tractor. It was a minimum of 200 horsepower, V-shaped, 8 cylinder, water-cooled motor, identical to the one at Bełżec. Fuchs installed the engine on a cement base at Sobibór in the presence of Floss, Bauer, Stangl, and Barbl, and connected the engine exhaust manifold to pipes leading to the gas chamber.[26]

We put the engine on a concrete plinth and attached a pipe to the exhaust outlet. Then we tried out the engine. At first it did not work. I repaired the ignition and the valve and finally got the engine to start. The chemist whom I already knew from Bełżec went into the gas chamber with a measuring device in order to gauge the gas concentration. After that, a trial gassing was carried out. I seem to remember that thirty to forty women were gassed. The Jewesses had to undress in a clearing in the woods near the gas chamber. They were herded into the gas chamber by the above-mentioned SS members and Ukrainian volunteers. Once the women were locked inside, I attended to the engine together with Bauer. At first the engine was in neutral. We both stood next to the engine and switched it up to "release exhaust to chamber" so that the gases were channelled into the chamber. On the instigation of the chemist I revved up the engine to high RPM making further accelerating unnecessary. After about ten minutes the thirty to forty women were dead. The chemist and the SS gave the signal to turn off the engine. I packed up my tools and saw the bodies being taken away. A small Lorenbahn wagon on rails was used leading to an area farther away.


The camp was split into three or four sections.[23] The administration and garrison area included the main gate entrance for the road-bound traffic and living quarters for the staff. The second section included the railway platform, where the victims were taken off the Holocaust trains, as well as barracks where the Sonderkommando Jews performed camp labour. In the third section were the brick gas chamber with metal roofing and a small narrow-gauge rail with hand pushed wagons (the type used at saw mills), for trundling the gassed bodies out of it, as well as several mass graves.[23]

Unlike at Bełżec, at Sobibór the SS men lived inside the camp perimeter.[20] The Commander's lodge was located north of the guardhouse and close to the platform; the SS canteen, the living quarters for the SS staff, and an armoury, were right next to it.[2] The Camp I prisoner barracks were built behind the garrison area, directly west of the main gate. The zone was made escape-proof by surrounding it with extra barbed wire fences and a deep trench filled with water, constructed along the camp perimeter, outside which were placed minefields.[27] The only opening was a gate leading into the work area. The camp zone included the living quarters for the Jewish prisoners as well as the prisoners' kitchen. Each labourer was given about 12 square feet (1.1 square metres) of sleeping space.[2]

The Camp II Vorlager was a larger section and included vital services for both the killing process and the everyday operation of the camp. Some 400 Sonderkommando prisoners, including women, worked there. Lager II contained the warehouses used for storing the items taken from the victims, including clothes, food articles, cut-off hair, gold, and all other valuables. This section also housed the main administration office. At Lager II the Jews were prepared for their death. Here they undressed, women's hair was shaved, clothing was searched and sorted, and documents were destroyed in the nearby furnace. The victims' final steps were taken on a path surrounded by barbed wire. It was called the "Road to Heaven", or der Schlauch(= "the hose"), and led directly to the gas chambers.[2]

At Camp III the victims were killed. It was in the northwestern part of the camp, where were only two ways to enter the camp, from Lager II. The camp staff and personnel entered through a small plain gate. The entrance for the victims descended immediately into the gas chambers and was decorated with flowers and a Star of David above the entrance to the gas chambers.[2]

In the Sobibór gas chambers 500 people were murdered at a time. Only recently, following an eight-year-long investigation, Polish and Israeli researchers have confirmed the exact location of the gas chambers at Sobibór. The discovery of the remains of the building's foundations, unearthed in 2014, was confirmed by Tomasz Kranz, the director of Poland's Majdanek State Museum at Lublin.[28] In May 2013, archaeologists conducting excavations near Camp III unearthed an escape tunnel, an open-air crematorium, human skeletal remains, as well as a substance that appeared to be blood, and the identification tag of a Jewish boy who was murdered in the camp.[29] Dr. Kranz also commented that "the whole former camp is one huge crime scene", with traceable evidence of the Holocaust present everywhere although the SS leader, Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp to be destroyed and the area planted with trees.[28]

Killing process

On either 16 or 18 May 1942, Sobibór became fully operational and began mass gassing operations. Trains entered the railway siding with the unloading platform, and the Jews on board were told they were in a transit camp. They were forced to hand over their valuables, separated by gender, and told to undress. The nude women and girls, recoiling in shame, were met by the Sonderkommando who chopped off their hair in a mere half a minute. Among the Friseur were Thomas Blatt (age 15)[30] and Philip Bialowitz (age 13).[31] The condemned prisoners, formed into groups, were led along the 100-metre (330 ft) long "Road to Heaven" (Himmelstrasse) to the gas chambers, where they were killed using carbon monoxide released from the exhaust pipes of a tank engine.[8] During his trial, SS-Oberscharführer Kurt Bolender described the killing operations as follows.

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

Kurt Bolender[32]

Local Jews were delivered in absolute terror, amongst screaming and pounding. Foreign Jews, on the other hand were treated with hypocritical politeness. Passengers from Westerbork, Netherlands had a comfortable journey. There were Jewish doctors and nurses attending them and no shortage of food or medical supplies on the train. Sobibór did not seem like a genuine threat.[33]

The non-Polish victims included 18-year-old Helga Deen from the Netherlands, whose diary was discovered in 2004; the writer Else Feldmann from Austria; Dutch Olympic gold medalist gymnasts Helena Nordheim, Ans Polak, and Jud Simons; gym coach Gerrit Kleerekoper; and magician Michel Velleman.[34] Selected female prisoners were sexually exploited at drunken orgies before being murdered. For instance, two women from Austria, who were film or theatre actresses, were gang raped by the SS-men before being shot. Gasmeister Erich Bauer testified about this:

I was blamed for being responsible for the death of the Jewish girls Ruth and Gisela, who lived in the so-called forester house. As it is known, these two girls lived in the forester house, and they were visited frequently by the SS men. Orgies were conducted there. They were attended by Bolender, Gomerski, Karl Ludwig, Franz Stangl, Gustav Wagner and Steubel. I lived in the room above them and due to these celebrations could not fall asleep after coming back from a journey.

After the killing in the gas chambers, the corpses were collected by Sonderkommando and taken to mass graves or cremated in the open air.[27] The burial pits were approx. 50-60m (160–200 ft) long, 10-15m (30–50 ft) wide, and 5-7m (15–20 ft) deep, with sloping sandy walls in order to facilitate the burying of corpses.[20]

The uprising

Rumours that the camp would be shut down started circulating among its inmates in spring of 1943, after a drop in the number of incoming prisoner transports. A secret note carried by the Sonderkommando prisoner from Bełżec, who had been transported to Sobibór only to be killed on the railway platform there, hinted at what would happen to the prisoners if the camp were dismantled. This then led Polish-Jewish prisoners to organise an underground committee aimed at escaping from the camp.[36] In September 1943, the Sobibór underground was unexpectedly reinforced by the addition of Soviet-Jewish POWs transported from the Minsk Ghetto (along with 2,000 victims of gassing).[37] Some who survived the selection joined the group and shared their military experience.[36]

Sobibór was the site of one of two successful uprisings by Jewish Sonderkommando prisoners during Operation Reinhard. The revolt at Treblinka extermination camp on 2 August 1943 resulted in up to 100 escapees. A similar revolt at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 October 1944 led to one of the crematoria being blown up, but nearly all the insurgents were killed.[38]

On 14 October 1943, under the cover of night, members of the Sobibór underground, led by Soviet-Jewish POW Alexander Pechersky from Minsk,[37] covertly killed 11 German SS officers, overpowered the camp guards, and seized the armory.[39] Although the plan was to kill all the SS and walk out of the main gate of the camp, the killings were discovered, and the inmates ran for their lives under fire. About 300 out of the 600 Sonderkommando prisoners in the camp escaped into the forests.[2] Most of them were recaptured by the search squads.[37]

Dutch historian and Sobibor survivor Jules Schelvis estimates that 158 inmates perished in the Sobibór revolt, killed by the guards or in the minefield surrounding the camp. A further 107 were murdered either by the SS, Wehrmacht, or Orpo police units pursuing the escapees. Some 53 insurgents died of other causes between the day of the revolt and 8 May 1945. There were 58 known survivors, 48 male and 10 female, from among the Arbeitshäftlinge prisoners performing slave-labour for the daily operation of Sobibór. Their time in the camp ranged from several weeks to almost two years. A handful of inmates managed to escape while assigned to the Waldkommando felling and preparing of trees for the body disposal pyres.[40]

After the revolt

Within days of the uprising, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp closed, dismantled, and planted with trees.[2] The gas chambers were demolished. Remnants of their foundations were covered with asphalt and made to look like a road.[41] The last prisoners still in the camp, who had been used to dismantle the buildings, were killed in late November, and the last guards left the site in December.[1] Four of the chambers were uncovered by archaeologists in 2014, using modern technology.[42]

Some Sobibór survivors were spared the gas chambers because they were transferred to slave-labour camps in the Lublin reservation, upon arriving at Sobibór. These people spent several hours at Sobibór and were transferred almost immediately to slave-labour projects including Majdanek and the Alter Flugplatz airfield in the city of Lublin, where materials looted from the gassed victims were prepared for shipment to Germany. Other forced labour camps included Krychów, Dorohucza, and Trawniki before the killing spree of Aktion Erntefest. Estimates for the number of people sent away from Sobibór range up to several thousand, of whom most perished before the end of the Nazi regime. The total number of people in this group include 16 known survivors (13 women and 3 men) from among the 34,313 Jews deported to Sobibór from the Netherlands.[40]

Operational structure

The chief commandant of Sobibór (April / August 1942), and later of Treblinka, was Hauptsturmführer Franz Stangl, who was responsible for the murders of at least 100,000 Jews from May 1942 to July 1942 at Sobibór, before his transfer.[43] He fled to Syria after Germany was defeated. Following problems with his employer taking too much interest in his adolescent daughter, Stangl moved with his family to Brazil in the 1950s. He worked in a Volkswagen car factory and was registered with the Austrian consulate under his own name. He was eventually caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1971, he died in prison in Düsseldorf, a few hours after concluding a series of interviews with the British historian Gitta Sereny.[44][45]

The third-in-command at Sobibór, and the camp's Lager I zone commandant, was Oberscharführer Karl Frenzel. Over 20 years after the war ended, he was put on trial, convicted of war crimes in 1966, and sentenced to life. He was released after 16 years on appeal and because of his health.[44][46] Blatt interviewed him in 1983 and taped it. Present at the camp from its inception to its closure Frenzel (a hostile commentator) said the following about the prisoners killed at Sobibór: "Poles were not killed there. Gypsies were not killed there. Russians were not killed there... only Jews, Russian Jews, Polish Jews, Dutch Jews, French Jews."[47] Possibly due in part to Frenzel's testimony, followed by Blatt's inquiry, the Polish government from the Soviet era changed the memorial plaque at the site, which used to read: "Here the Nazis Killed 250,000 Russian Prisoners of War, Jews, Poles and Gypsies."[47] The new memorial plaque reads, "At This Site, Between the Years 1942 and 1943, There Existed a Nazi Death Camp Where 250,000 Jews and Approximately 1,000 Poles Were Murdered." The plaque also commemorates the revolt of 14 October 1943 and the escape of Jews from the camp.[48]

Gustav Wagner, the deputy Sobibór commander, was on leave on the day of uprising (survivors such as Thomas Blatt say that the revolt would not have succeeded had he been present). Wagner was arrested in 1978 in Brazil. He was identified by Stanislaw Szmajzner, a Sobibór escapee, who greeted him with the words, "Hallo Gustl." Wagner replied that he remembered Szmajzner and that he had saved him and his three brothers. The court of first instance agreed to his extradition to Germany, but on appeal this extradition was overturned. In 1980, Wagner committed suicide, though the circumstances are controversial.[49][50]

Erich Bauer,[51] commander of Camp III and gas chamber executioner, explained the perpetrators' sense of teamwork in order to reach an atrocious result:

We were a band of "fellow conspirators" ("verschworener Haufen") in a foreign land, surrounded by Ukrainian volunteers whom we could not trust... The bond between us was so strong that Frenzel, Stangl and Wagner had had a ring with SS runes made from five-mark pieces for every member of the permanent staff. These rings were distributed to the camp staff as a sign so that the "conspirators" could be identified. In addition the tasks in the camp were shared. Each of us had at some point carried out every camp duty in Sobibór (station squad, undressing, and gassing).

Erich Bauer, Gasmeister

I estimate that the number of Jews gassed at Sobibor was about 350,000. In the canteen at Sobibor I once overheard a conversation between Karl Frenzel, Franz Stangl and Gustav Wagner. They were discussing the number of victims in the extermination camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor and expressed their regret that Sobibor "came last" in the competition.[51]

Camp guards

While the camp officers were both German and Austrian SS members, the camp guards under their command were Volksdeutsche from Reichskommissariat Ukraine as well as non-Jewish Soviet POWs, primarily from Ukraine.[52]

Before they were sent as guards to the concentration camps, most of the Soviet POWs underwent special training at Trawniki. This was originally a holding centre for Soviet POWs following Operation Barbarossa, whom the Sipo security police and the SD had designated either as potential collaborators or as dangerous persons.[53] The Stroop Report listed the Trawnikis Sonderdienst Guard Battalion as one assisting in the suppression of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.[54]

John Demjanjuk, a former Soviet POW, allegedly worked as a watchguard at Sobibór. He was temporarily convicted by a German lower court as an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews and sentenced to five years in prison on 12 May 2011.[55][56][57] He was released pending appeal and died in a German nursing home on 17 March 2012, aged 91, while awaiting the hearing. Because he died before the German Appellate Court could try his case, the German Munich District Court declared that Demjanjuk was "presumed innocent," that the previous interim conviction was invalidated and that he had no criminal record.[58][58][59]

Chain of command

Name Rank Function and Notes Citation
Organisers of the camp (Germans and one former Austrian)      
  Odilo GlobocnikSS-BrigadeführerMajor-General and SS Police Chief (SS-Polizeiführer) at the time, Head of Operation Reinhard[2] [44]
  Hermann HöfleSS-Hauptsturmführer Captain, Coordinator of Operation Reinhard[44]
  Richard ThomallaSS-ObersturmführerFirst Lieutenant, Head of death camp construction during Operation Reinhard[2] [44]
  Erwin LambertSS-UnterscharführerCorporal, Head of gas chamber construction during Operation Reinhard[44]
  Karl SteublSS-SturmbannführerMajor, Commander of transportation units during Operation Reinhard[44] [49]
  Christian WirthSS-HauptsturmführerCaptain at the time, Inspector of Operation Reinhard[44]
Commandants (Germans and Austrians)      
 Franz StanglSS-ObersturmführerFirst Lieutenant, 28 April 194230 August 1942 transferred to Commandant of Treblinka extermination camp[2] [44] [49]
 Franz Reichleitner SS-ObersturmführerFirst Lieutenant, 1 September 194217 October 1943;[2] promoted to Captain (Hauptsturmführer) after Himmler's visit on 12 February 1943[49]
Deputy commandants (Germans and Austrians)      
 Gustav WagnerSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, Deputy commandant (Quartermaster, sergeant major of the camp)[2][44] [49]
 Johann NiemannSS-UntersturmführerSecond Lieutenant, Deputy commandant, killed in the revolt[44] [49] [20]
 Karl FrenzelSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, Commandant of Camp I (forced labor camp)[2] [44] [49]
 Hermann MichelSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, Deputy commandant, gave speeches to trick condemned prisoners into entering gas chambers[44] [49] [60]
Gas chamber executioners (Germans )   
 Erich BauerSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, operated gas chambers[2] [44] [49]
 Kurt BolenderSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, gas chambers' operator[2] [44] [49]
Other staff officers (Germans and Austrians)      
 Ernst Bauchcommitted suicide in December 1942 on vacation in Berlin from his Sobibor duty[49]
 Rudolf BeckmannSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, killed in revolt[49] [20]
 Gerhardt BörnerSS-UntersturmführerSecond Lieutenant[51]
 Paul BredowSS-UnterscharführerCorporal, managed the "Lazarett" killing station[2] [49]
 Max Breekilled in the revolt[49]
 Arthur Dachselpolice sergeant, transferred from Belzec in 1942, burning of corpses (Sonnenstein)[44] [49]
 Werner Karl DuboisSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant[2] [44] [49]
 Herbert FlossSS-ScharführerSergeant[2] [49]
 Erich FuchsSS-ScharführerSergeant[2] [49] [51]
 Friedrich GaulstichSS-ScharführerSergeant, killed in the revolt[49] [20]
 Anton Getzinger[49]
 Hubert GomerskiSS-UnterscharführerCorporal[44] [49]
 Siegfried GraetschusSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, Head of Ukrainian Guard (2/2), killed in the revolt[2] [44] [49]
 Ferdinand "Ferdl" GrömerAustrian cook, helped also with gassings[49]
 Paul Johannes Grothsupervised sorting of clothes in Lager II[44]
 Lorenz HackenholtSS-HauptscharführerFirst Sergeant
 Josef HirtreiterSS-ScharführerSergeant, transferred from Treblinka in October 1943 for a short while[2]
 Franz Hödl[44] [49]
 Jakob Alfred IttnerSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant[44] [49]
 Robert JührsSS-UnterscharführerCorporal[44]
 Aleks Kaizer[44]
 Rudolf "Rudi" Kamm[49]
 Johann KlierSS-UntersturmführerSecond Lieutenant[44] [49] [20]
 Fritz KonradSS-ScharführerSergeant, killed in the revolt[49] [20]
 Erich LachmannSS-ScharführerSergeant, Head of Ukrainian Guard (1/2)[44] [49]
 Karl Emil Ludwig[44] [49]
 Willi MentzSS-UnterscharführerCorporal, transferred from Treblinka for a short time in December 1943[44]
 Adolf Müller[49]
 Walter Anton NowakSS-ScharführerSergeant, killed in the revolt[2] [44] [49]
 Wenzel Fritz Rehwald[44] [49]
 Karl Richter[49]
 Paul RostSS-UntersturmführerSecond Lieutenant[2]
 Walter "Ryba" (real name: Hochberg)SS-UnterscharführerCorporal, killed in the revolt[49] [20]
 Klaus Schreiber[20]
 Hans-Heinz Friedrich Karl SchüttSS-ScharführerSergeant[2] [44] [49]
 Thomas StefflSS-ScharführerSergeant, killed in the revolt[49] [20]
 Ernst Stengelinkilled in revolt[49]
 Heinrich UnverhauSS-UnterscharführerCorporal[44] [49]
 Josef VallasterSS-ScharführerSergeant, killed in the revolt[49] [20]
 Otto Weisscommandant of the Bahnhof-kommando at Lager I before Frenzel[49]
 Wilhelm "Willie" Wendland[44] [49]
 Franz WolfSS-OberscharführerStaff Sergeant, brother of Josef Wolf (below)[2] [44] [49]
 Josef WolfSS-ScharführerSergeant, killed in the revolt[49] [20]
 Ernst ZierkeSS-UnterscharführerCorporal[44]
 Heinrich BarblSS-RottenführerPrivate First Class, pipes for the gas chambers (from Action T4)[49][61]
Wachmänner guards (Ukrainians and Russians)      

Death toll

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states that at least 167,000 people were murdered at Sobibór. Other estimates range from 200,000 (Raul Hilberg) to 250,000 (Dr. Aharon Weiss, and Czesław Madajczyk).[65] The Dutch Sobibor Foundation lists a total of 170,165 people based on the arrival schedule cited in the Höfle Telegram as the source. For practical reasons it is not possible to list all the people murdered at the camp. The Nazi regime not only robbed Jews of their earthly possessions and their lives but attempted to eradicate all traces of their existence.[19][66]

I estimate that the number of Jews gassed at Sobibor was about 350,000. In the canteen at Sobibor I once overheard a conversation between Karl Frenzel, Franz Stangl and Gustav Wagner. They were discussing the number of victims in the extermination camps of Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor and expressed their regret that Sobibor "came last" in the competition.

Erich Bauer, Gasmeister [51]


The first monument to Sobibór victims was erected on the historic site in 1965.[67] The Włodawa Museum, which was responsible for the monument, established a separate Sobibór branch on 14 October 1993, on the 50th anniversary of the armed uprising of Jewish prisoners there.[68] Following the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the revolt in 2003, the grounds of the former death camp received a grant largely funded by the Dutch government to improve the exhibits. New walkways were introduced with signs indicating points of interest, but close to the burial pits, bone fragments still litter the area.[2] In the forest outside the camp is a statue honoring the fighters of Sobibór.[2]

Dramatisations and testimonies

The mechanics of Sobibor death camp were the subject of interviews filmed on location for the 1985 documentary film Shoah by Claude Lanzmann. In 2001, due to Lanzmann's belief in the importance of the additional footage regarding Sobibor, as stated in the film's introduction, Lanzmann utilized unused interviews shot during the making of Shoah (along with new footage) to tell the story of the revolt and escape in his followup documentary Sobibor, 14 Octobre 1943, 16 Heures (Sobibor, 14 October 1943, 4 p.m.).[69]

In the 1978 American TV miniseries Holocaust broadcast in four parts, one of the principal characters, Rudi Weiss, a German Jew, is captured by the Nazis during a partisan attack upon a German convoy. Knocked unconscious, he wakes up in Sobibór, where he meets the Russian prisoners of war. The Sonderkommando are initially suspicious of him as a possible German spy planted within their midst, but he wins their trust and becomes part of the group that kills German SS officers as part of the uprising. Weiss and his new POW comrades successfully escape Sobibór during the mass break-out. The revolt was dramatised in the 1987 British TV film Escape from Sobibor, directed by Jack Gold and in the 2018 Russian movie "Sobibor", directed by Konstantin Khabensky.

One of the survivors, Regina Zielinski, has recorded her memories of the camp, and the escape in a conversation with Phillip Adams together with Elliot Perlman, in 2013 broadcast of Late Night Live by ABC.[70]

See also


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  7. Alan J. Levine,Captivity, Flight, and Survival in World War II, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000 p.205.
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  11. Peter Hayes, Dagmar Herzog (2006). Lessons and Legacies VII: The Holocaust in International Perspective. Northwestern University Press. p. 272. Retrieved 11 October 2014. Between May 1942 and October 1943 some 200,000 to 250,000 Jews were killed at Sobibor according to the recently published Holocaust Encyclopedia edited by Judith Tydor Baumel.
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  70. Regina Zielinski with Phillip Adams 'Escape from the Sobibor WW2 death camp,' Late Night Live Interview 29 October 2013


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