Leon Feldhendler in 1944
|Died||6 April 1945
|Cause of death||Murdered|
|Known for||One of the leaders of the revolt and escape from Sobibor|
Leon Feldhendler (Lejb Feldhendler) (1910 – 6 April 1945) was a Polish Jewish resistance fighter known for his role in organizing the 1943 prisoner uprising at the Sobibor extermination camp together with Alexander Pechersky. Prior to his deportation to Sobibor, Feldhendler had been head of the Judenrat ("Jewish Council") in his village of Żółkiewka, Lublin Voivodeship, in German-occupied Poland.
Role in Sobibor Uprising
In the spring of 1943, Feldhendler led a small group of Sobibor prisoners in formulating an escape plan. Their initial idea had been to poison camp guards and seize their weapons, but the SS discovered the poison and shot five Jews in retaliation. Other plans included setting the camp on fire and escaping in the resulting confusion, but the mining of the camp perimeter by the SS in the summer of 1943 rendered the plan impractical.
In late September 1943 a Holocaust transport of Jews from the Minsk Ghetto arrived. Among them was a Soviet POWs officer of the Red Army, Alexander Pechersky, who survived the selection to gas chambers. His presence gave new impetus to the escape plans. Pechersky soon assumed the leadership of the group of would-be escapees and, with Feldhendler as his deputy, devised a plan that involved killing the camp's SS personnel, sending the remaining Soviet POWs to raid the arsenal and then fighting their way out the camp's front gate.
The uprising, which took place on 14 October 1943, was detected in its early stages after a guard discovered the body of an SS officer killed by the prisoners. Nevertheless, about 320 Jews managed to make it outside of the camp in the ensuing melee. Eighty were killed in the escape and immediate aftermath. 170 were soon recaptured and killed, as were all the remaining inhabitants of the camp who had chosen to stay. Some escapees joined the partisans. Of these, ninety died in combat. Sixty-two Jews from Sobibor survived the war, including nine who had escaped earlier.
Death in Lublin
Feldhendler was among those who survived the war, hiding in Lublin until the end of German occupation. The city was taken by the Soviet Red Army on 24 July 1944, and became the temporary headquarters of the Soviet-controlled communist Polish Committee of National Liberation established by Joseph Stalin. However, on 2 April 1945, Feldhendler was shot through the closed door of his flat as he got up to investigate a commotion in an outer room. Feldhendler and his wife managed to escape through another door and made their way to Lublin's Św. Wincentego á Paulo hospital, where he underwent surgery but died four days later. According to most of the older publications, Feldhendler was killed by right-wing Polish nationalists, sometimes identified as the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne, an anti-Communist and anti-Semitic partisan unit (name unknown). However, more recent inquiries, citing the incomplete treatment of the event by earlier historians, and the scant documentary record, have called into question this version of events.
The only concrete document found by local Polish scholars is a record of Feldhendler's hospital admission at Wincentego á Paulo describing the injury. Dr Kopciowski wrote that Feldhendler was likely shot in an armed robbery gone bad, because he was known locally as a budding gold trader. A number of escapees from the Sobibór death camp were in possession of bags of gold coins saved secretly in the process of sorting the belongings of the victims of gassing on German orders. Meanwhile, as noted by Marcin Wroński, communist press in the Soviet-controlled Lublin routinely accused former AK and WIN partisans of common crime as part of ideological warfare. Feldhendler's killing was one of at least 118 violent deaths of Jews in the Lublin district between the summer of 1944 and the fall of 1946 amid the crime-wave of the so-called Soviet liberation.
Feldhendler in culture
In the 1987 made-for-TV film Escape from Sobibor he was played by Alan Arkin. Feldhendler's life in Lublin is mentioned in the 2005 book Wyjątkowo długa linia by Hanna Krall. It was written about tenants of a local tenement house, and nominated for the Nike Award.
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- Thomas Blatt. "Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt". Retrieved 2009-01-29.
- Yitzak Arad (1984). Jewish Prisoner Uprisings in the Treblinka and Sobibor Extermination Camps. The Nazi Concentration Camps: Proceedings of the Fourth Yad Vashem International Historical Conference. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem.
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- Kowalski, Isaac (1985). Anthology on Armed Jewish Resistance, 1939-1945. Jewish Combatants Publishers House. p. 245.
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- Richard C. Lukas (1986). The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944. University Press of Kentucky. p. 81.
- Tadeusz Piotrowski (1998). Poland's Holocaust. McFarland. p. 94.
- Martin Gilbert (1999). Holocaust Journey: Traveling in Search of the Past. Columbia University Press. p. 273.
- Kopciowski, Adam (January 2008). "Anti-Jewish Incidents in the Lublin Region in the Early Years after World War II". Journal of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research (in Polish).
- Marcin Wroński (25 March 2013). "Lublin tuż po wojnie. Anarchia, bieda, dostępność broni..". Interview with historian Marcin Wroński by Marcin Bielesz. Gazeta.pl Lublin. Archived from the original on March 27, 2013. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
- Paul, Mark (2008). Polish-Jewish Relations in Wartime Northeastern Poland and the Aftermath. Toronto: PEFINA Press. p. 33.
- Reszka, Paweł P. (17 January 2008). "Gdy życie ludzkie straciło wartość". Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish). Archived from the original on May 17, 2008. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
- IMDB database entry
- Marek Radziwon (7 June 2005). "Wyjątkowo długa linia , Krall, Hanna". Gazeta Wyborcza. Archived from the original on April 13, 2010. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
Announcement about one of twenty Nike nominated books.
- Weekend z nagrodą NIKE: Hanna Krall