Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Oct. 14, 1943: Jewish Rebellion at Sobibor Death Camp

There is an image of Jews going tamely to slaughter in the Holocaust. And it is true, for various reasons, this did happen. But some Jews stood up and fought, even at times defeating the Nazis at least for a time.

Sobibor was one of the Nazi death camps. Jews so thoroughly trashed it that the Nazis did all they could to eliminate every memory of the place.

In honor of the Jews who rebelled at Sobibor, here is a song written by someone in the Vilna Ghetto, inspired by the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, honoring those who stood up and fought. It is sung in this case by Paul Robeson, who does it full justice:

In 1943 Jews were responsible for the destruction of one of the worst Nazi death camps. You probably haven't heard of Sobibor. Sobibor was designed specifically and solely to kill. It wasn't a camp where they worked people to death. It was a camp where they killed people. Mengele sorting who died and who lived for awhile longer was kind compared to the brutality of Sobibor.

Two of the six Nazi death camps, Treblinka and Sobibor, were destroyed as a result of Jewish uprisings. These events were suppressed not only by the embarrassed Nazis, but also ironically by some Jews who felt ambivalent about resistance and by some Israelis who, until the revelations of the Eichmann trial, felt those who remained in the Diaspora had, by not moving to Israel, been partly responsible for their fate. I think the memory of Jewish resistance against the Nazis is extremely important to keep alive.

Sobibor was almost the forgotten Nazi Death Camp. It was almost forgotten because the SS themselves tried to eradicate all traces of the camp. The camp had become an embarrassment after nearly half the Jews at the camp rebelled and escaped. Yeah...nearly half.

Some memories of Sobibor:

That rebellion happened October 14th, 1943.

Sobibor was one of the actual "Death Camps" where extermination was the primary goal. Most concentration camps focused on working the prisoners to death. This confuses some people who expect all of the Nazi camps to be the same. Simply put the Nazis had different camps for different purposes. The "Death Camps" focused on killing people as fast as they could. There were six death camps, all located in Poland: Aucshwitz II, Bezec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka. More than 250,000 people were murdered at Sobibor alone. Both Treblinka and Sobibor were destroyed thanks to Jewish uprisings.

At 4 PM, Oct. 14th, 1943, rebels led by Alexander (Sasha) Pechersky started killing SS soldiers at Sobibor. The first to die was the camp's deputy commander, killed as he visited the tailor's shop to try on a new uniform. Here is an account of that first blow as told by a survivor:

October 14, 1943 was a warm, sunny day and nothing disrupted the routine. Only a very small group knew that this was to be the fateful day. The Nazis in the camp went about their business as usual. At precisely 4:00 P.M., the stage was set. Everything now depended on the nerves of the attackers, their faith in themselves and luck.

Acting commander SS Untersturmfuehrer Niemann rode up on his horse and entered the tailor shop. Mundek was ready, holding the new uniform. The German without suspicion, unhooked his belt with its pistol in the holster and causally threw it on the table.

As tailors have done for ages, he patted and turned Niemann at his will. Finally he told him to stand still while he marked the alterations with a crayon. Then the blow fell. The Nazi dropped like a fallen tree, his head split. Shubayev rushed to Sasha's quarters and delivered the first pistol. They embraced. Now, there was no turning back.

They killed 11 German and Ukrainian guards (more by some accounts), triggering a mass breakout. About half of the camp's prisoners escaped, though in the end only 50 survived the war. Some were killed by Germans...some by Poles. Here is the same survivor's account of the breakout:

Someone was trying to cut an opening in the fence with a shovel. Within minutes, more Jews arrived. Not waiting in line to go through the opening under the hail of fire, they climbed the fence. Though we had planned to touch the mines off with bricks and wood, we did not do it. We couldn't wait; we preferred sudden death to a moment more in that hell.

Corpses were everywhere. The noise of rifles, exploding mines, grenades and the chatter of machine guns assaulted the ears. The Nazis shot from a distance while in our hands were only primitive knives and hatchets.

We ran through the exploded mine field holes, jumped over a single wire marking the end of the mine fields and we were outside the camp. Now to make it to the woods ahead of us. It was so close. I fell several times, each time thinking I was hit. And each time I got up and ran further...100 yards...50 yards... 20 more yards...and the forest at last. Behind us, blood and ashes. In the grayness of the approaching evening, the towers' machine guns shot their last victims."

Within days of this rebellion, SS chief Hienrich Himmler ordered the camp dismantled and all traces destroyed. Camp III, the actual extermination area, was immediately destroyed and hidden. The other facilities were used until July 1944.

This was one example of Jewish resistance against the Nazis. And, although only 50 survived the war, their actions shut down one of the Nazi death camps. That is about as successful as half-starved, terrified, desperate people can be in the face of one of the most technologically advanced group of sociopaths in history.

THIS is the kind of history we need to remember.

Return to Mole's History Page.

Return to I Had a Thought

No comments:

Post a Comment