Selma Engel-Wijnberg

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Selma Engel-Wijnberg
Born Selma Wijnberg
(1922-05-15) 15 May 1922 (age 93)
Groningen, Netherlands
Residence Branford, Connecticut, U.S.
Ethnicity Jewish
Spouse(s) Chaim Engel
Children 3
Awards Knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau

Selma Engel-Wijnberg[1] (born 15 May 1922) is a Dutch Jewish Holocaust survivor. She escaped successfully from Sobibor and survived the war.

Early life[edit]

Wijnberg was born in Groningen, Netherlands. She was raised in Zwolle where her parents owned and managed the Hotel Wijnberg.[2]

During the Second World War[edit]

In September 1942 she first hid in Utrecht, and later in De Bilt. While hiding she used the name "Greetje van den Berg". She was arrested on 18 December 1942, and transferred, two months later, to Camp Vught, then to Camp Westerbork and finally to Sobibor on 9 April 1943.

After her escape during the revolt in Sobibor on 14 October 1943, she fled with Chaim Engel, a Polish Jew (10 January 1916 – 4 July 2003). The two had met and fallen in love in Sobibor. The couple fled through a minefield and a forest and hid for nine months in the attic of a farm until the expulsion of Axis forces from Poland in July 1944 by the Red Army.[3] The couple married, and she became pregnant. They journeyed through Poland via Chełm and Parczew, where their son Emiel was born, then to Lublin. They crossed the Ukraine by train to Chernivtsi and to Odessa. They left by boat for Marseille, France. During the journey, Emiel died. His body was buried at sea near Greece. From Marseille they travelled by train to Zwolle and returned to Selma's parents' home, Hotel Wijnberg.[4]

After the Second World War[edit]

Minister Hans Kolfschoten decided that Chaim Engel could not remain in the Netherlands as he was an unwanted foreigner. In the Netherlands they married again on 18 September 1945. The police of Zwolle concluded that Selma, by marrying Engel, a Pole, had become a Polish citizen. The police asked the Ministry of Justice what should happen with them both. They could not be returned to Poland because Poland no longer accepted the return of Polish citizens expelled from foreign countries. It was decided not to intern them in a camp for foreigners near Valkenswaard because that detention centre was full and because Selma was of Dutch origin.[5] In Zwolle, Selma gave birth to two more children, a son and a daughter. They set up a velvet and fashion store.[6]

In 1951 they moved to Israel where they settled in Kibbutz Moledet and later in Beit Yitzhak. Chaim did not feel at home in Israel, so in 1957 they decided to move to the United States where they settled in Branford, Connecticut. They returned to Europe on some occasions to testify against the war criminals of Sobibor.[7]

On 12 April 2010, Minister Ab Klink apologized during the Westerbork-rememberings ceremony on behalf of the Dutch government. She did not accept the apologies, because they were "too late". The same day she was decorated with the grade of Knight in de Order of Oranje-Nassau. It was the first time since she had left in 1951 that she returned to the Netherlands.[8]

Movie, documentary and book[edit]

In the 1987 movie Escape from Sobibor[9] her character was played by Ellis van Maarseveen. Ad van Liempt wrote a biography about her Selma: De vrouw die Sobibor overleefde (ISBN 978-90-74274-42-5)[10] and made a documentary about her which was aired by the NOS on Dutch television.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Profile, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website; accessed 23 December 2014.
  2. ^ Liempt 2010, p. 13.
  3. ^ Liempt 2010, p. 104.
  4. ^ Liempt 2010, p. 113.
  5. ^ Liempt 2010, p. 118.
  6. ^ Liempt 2010, p. 119.
  7. ^ Liempt 2010, p. 120, 121.
  8. ^ Officiële excuses voor Sobibor-overlevende,, 8 April 2010.
  9. ^ Escape from Sobibor at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ "Selma: De vrouw die Sobibor overleefde" at
  11. ^ Selma: De vrouw die Sobibor overleefde,, 11 April 2010.