Sobibor extermination camp

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"Sobibor" redirects here. For other uses, see Sobibor (disambiguation).

Extermination camp
Poland Sobibor - death camp mausoleum.jpg
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
Sobibór is located in Poland
Location of Sobibor in Poland today
Coordinates51°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 namesSS-Sonderkommando Sobibor
Known forGenocide during the Holocaust
LocationNear Sobibór, General Government (occupied Poland)
Built by
Original useExtermination camp
First builtMarch 1942 – May 1942
Operational16 May 1942 – 14 October 1943[1]
Number of gas chambers 
3 (expanded to 6)[2]
InmatesJews mainly from Poland, but also from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union (including POWs)
Number of inmatesEst. 600–650 slave labour at any given time
KilledEst. min. 200,000–250,000
Notable inmatesJoseph Serchuk, Dov Freiberg, Alexander Pechersky, Emanuel Querido

Sobibor (/sˈbbɔːr/) was a Nazi German extermination camp built and operated by the SS as part of Operation Reinhard. It was located in the forest next to the railway station of Sobibór within the semi-colonial territory of General Government in occupied Poland.

Unlike many other Nazi camps, Sobibor existed for the sole purpose of exterminating Jews. Most new arrivals were immediately sent to the gas chambers, the rare exceptions being those forced to serve as slave laborers assisting in the operation of the camp. Roughly 200,000 people were murdered at Sobibor,[3] making it the fourth most deadly extermination camp, after Belzec, Treblinka, and Auschwitz.

Sobibor is notable for the prisoner revolt which took place on 14 October 1943. The plan for the revolt, developed by Alexander Pechersky and Leon Feldhendler, involved two phases. In the first phase, teams of prisoners were to assassinate all of the on-duty SS officers in discreet locations. Then in the second phase, all 600 prisoners would assemble for roll call and walk to freedom out the front gate. However, the revolt did not go as planned. The operation was discovered while several SS officers were still alive and prisoners ended up having to escape by climbing over barbed wire fences and running through a mine field under heavy machine gun fire. Even so, about 300 prisoners made it out of the camp, of whom roughly 60 survived to the end of the war. Thus the Sobibor revolt is often described as the most successful to take place in any Nazi camp.

After the revolt, the Nazis demolished the camp and planted it over with pine trees to conceal the evidence of what had happened there. In the first decades after World War Two, Sobibor was not well known and the site was rarely visited except by locals digging for buried valuables. Since then, it has become better known through its depictions in the TV miniseries Holocaust and the film Escape from Sobibor. The site now hosts the Sobibor Museum as well as ongoing archaeological excavations.



Sobibor was part of the culmination of several years of escalating measures taken against Jews in Lublin District. The area came under Nazi control with the signing of the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty on 28 September 1939, after which the SS gradually introduced the ghetto system. These ghettos became dumping grounds for Jews deported from the west.

The first Nazi camps in the area were the sixteen labour camps of the Lublin Reservation, where roughly 95,000 Jews were forced to build latifundia in exchange for small monthly pay.[4] The area was favored by Artur Seyss-Inquart who opined that because it was "swampy in its nature", it would serve well as a reservation for Jews, and that "this action would cause [their] considerable decimation."[5] 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, established at a former Polish prison, was the largest and main branch of the complex.[6] During preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union, the plan was discontinued for reasons which remain unclear.[7] Nevertheless, numerous labour camps remained in use.

The escalation from brutal forced labour to outright extermination was settled upon gradually between 1940 and 1942. The concentration of Jews in the area was discussed by Nazi officials at an October 1941 meeting in occupied Lublin, attended by Hans Frank, Ernst Boepple, and Odilo Globocnik among others, who proposed the creation of a new order.[8] Over the course of 1941, experiments with gas vans led to the establishment of the extermination center at Chełmno and further plans for extermination centers at Bełzec and perhaps Sobibor as well. At the Wansee Conference on 20 January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich explicitly outlined a plan for systematic extermination which would become known as Operation Reinhard.[9]

It is not known when the plans for Sobibor were established.[10] The Nazis may have had plans for the site as early as 1940, as evidenced by a railway map which omits several major towns, but includes Sobibor as well as several other sites which would eventually host extermination camps.[11] However, no documents survive which allow us to reconstruct the decision making process. Thus, the earliest firm evidence for the Nazis plans comes from the testimony of local Poles, who noticed in autumn 1941 that SS officers were beginning some sort of project in the woods next to Sobibor station. When a worker at the station cafeteria asked one of the SS men what was being built, he replied that she would soon see and that it would be "a good laugh."[12]

Camp construction[edit]

Sobibor was located near the rural county's major town of Włodawa, called Wolzek by the Germans. The camp's location was selected due to its proximity to the Sobibór railway station on the Chełm – Włodawa railway line connecting General Government with Reichskommissariat Ukraine.[13] Camp construction was supervised by SS-Hauptsturmführer Richard Thomalla, a civil engineer by profession, who had previously built the Bełżec camp. He applied the lessons learned there to the design of Sobibor.[14]

SS Officers began preparing the site in October 1941[15] and construction had begun in earnest by March 1942.[16] 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 eighty Jews from ghettos within the vicinity of the camp. A squad of Trawniki men guarded the prisoners. Upon completion of construction, the Nazi attempted to kill all of the Jews involved.[17] Two sonderkommando members escaped to Włodawa, but their reports were met with disbelief.[10]

In mid-April 1942, when the camp was nearly completed, several experimental gassings took place there.[18] Christian Wirth, the commander of Bełżec and Inspector of Operation Reinhard, visited Sobibor to witness an experimental gassing of thirty to forty Jewish women brought specially from the Krychów camp.[19] He reportedly complained about the fitting of the gas chambers doors.[18] Some 250 Jews from Krychów were killed during these trials.[13]

The first commandant of Sobibor, 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 Sobibor's commandant from 28 April to the end of August 1942.[2] According to Stangl, Odilo Globocnik initially stated that Sobibor was a supply camp for the army. Stangl learned the true nature of the camp 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."[18] Feeling overwhelmed by a new job, Stangl first studied the Bełżec camp operations and management, where the extermination operations had already started. He accelerated the completion of Sobibor.[20]

Erich Fuchs, who spent time installing the killing apparatus at the three Reinhard death camps of Sobibor, Treblinka, and Belzec, explained how the gassing of victims at Sobibor was developed. On Wirth's orders, he acquired a heavy gasoline engine in Lemberg, disassembled from an armoured vehicle or a tractor: a 200 horsepower, V-shaped, 8 cylinder, water-cooled motor, identical to the one at Bełżec. Fuchs installed the engine on a cement base at Sobibor in the presence of Floss, Bauer, Stangl, and Barbl, and connected the engine exhaust manifold to pipes leading to the gas chamber.[21]

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.

Beginning on 17 March 1942, Sobibor was used for mass extermination of Jews deported from the Lublin Ghetto.[14]


Aerial photograph of the camp perimeter, taken likely before 1942. Permanent structures are not there yet, including Camp II barracks (lower centre), Camp III, and Camp IV. The railway unloading platform (with visible prewar railway station) is marked with the red arrow; the location of gas chambers is marked with a cross. The undressing area, with adjacent "Road to Heaven" through the forest, is marked with a red square.

The camp was divided into three or four sections.[18] The administration and garrison area included the main entrance for road-bound traffic and living quarters for the staff. The second section included the railway platform, where the victims were sorted after disembarking from the Holocaust trains, as well as barracks where the Sonderkommando Jews performed camp labour. In the third section were the brick gas chambers with metal roofs and a small narrow-gauge rail. Workers pushed wagons by hand (the type used at sawmills), in order to trundle the gassed bodies from the chambers. Nearby were several mass graves.[18]

Unlike at Belzec, at Sobibor the SS men lived within the camp's perimeter.[13] 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 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 barbed wire fences and a moat constructed along the perimeter, outside of which were minefields.[22] The only opening was a gate leading to 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 that included services for the killing process as well as 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, hair, gold, and 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 tube"), and led directly to the gas chambers.[2] As in Treblinka and Belzec, it was called the "Road to Heaven" or der Schlauch ("the tube"), and led directly to the gas chambers.[23][24]

At Camp III the victims were killed. It was in the northwestern part of the camp, where there 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 gas chambers, 500 people were murdered at a time.[25] 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 at the camp.[26]

SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp to be destroyed and the area planted with trees,[25] and it was not until 2014 that Polish and Israeli researchers, following an eight-year long investigation, 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. Dr. Kranz also commented that "the whole former camp is one huge crime scene", with traceable evidence of the Holocaust present everywhere.[25]

Killing process[edit]

On either 16 or 18 May 1942, Sobibor 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 (barbers) were Thomas Blatt (age 15)[27] and Philip Bialowitz (age 13).[28] 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.[29] During his trial, SS-Oberscharführer Kurt Bolender described the killing operations as follows.

Map of Sobibór. The "Road to Heaven": centre, vertical, with gas chambers at the end of it (top-right turn, horizontal slant). The burial, cremation and ash pits further right, at the edge of the woods
8 page from "Raczyński's Note" with Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór extermination camps - Part of official note of Polish government-in-exile to Anthony Eden 10 December 1942.

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[30]

Local Jews were delivered in absolute terror, amongst screaming and pounding. Foreign Jews, on the other hand were treated with deceitful 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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[22] 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.[13]

Uprising [edit]

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.[34] 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).[35] Some who survived the selection[further explanation needed] joined the group and shared their military experience.[34]

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.[36]

Some of the Sobibór extermination camp survivors in 1944

On 14 October 1943, under the cover of night, members of the Sobibór underground, led by Soviet-Jewish POW Alexander Pechersky from Minsk,[35] covertly killed 11 German SS officers, overpowered the camp guards, and seized the armory.[37] 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.[35]

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 killed 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.[38]

After the revolt[edit]

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.[39] 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.[40]

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.[38]

In June 2019 the last known survivor of the revolt, Semion Rosenfeld, who was born in Ukraine, died at a retirement home near Tel Aviv, Israel, aged 96. Isaac Herzog, the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who had been providing support to Rosenfeld, described him as a "true hero".[41]

Operational structure[edit]

The chief commandant of Sobibór (April / August 1942), and later of Treblinka, was Hauptsturmführer Franz Stangl, who was responsible for overseeing the murders of at least 100,000 Jews from May 1942 to July 1942 at Sobibór, before his transfer.[42] 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.[43][44]

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.[43][45] 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."[46] 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."[46] 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.[47]

The SS executioner, "Gasmeister" Erich Bauer

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.[48][49]

Erich Bauer,[50] 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.[50]

Camp guards[edit]

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.[51]

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.[52] The Stroop Report listed the Trawnikis Sonderdienst Guard Battalion as one assisting in the suppression of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.[53]

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.[54][55][56] 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.[57][57][58]

Chain of command[edit]

Name Rank Function and notes Citation
Organisers of the camp (Germans and one former Austrian)      
  Odilo Globočnik SS-Brigadeführer Major-general and SS police chief (SS-Polizeiführer) at the time, Head of Operation Reinhard [2] [43]
  Hermann Höfle SS-Hauptsturmführer  Captain, coordinator of Operation Reinhard [43]
  Richard Thomalla SS-Obersturmführer First lieutenant, head of death camp construction during Operation Reinhard [2] [43]
  Erwin Lambert SS-Unterscharführer Corporal, head of gas chamber construction during Operation Reinhard [43]
  Karl Steubl SS-Sturmbannführer Major, commander of transportation units during Operation Reinhard [43] [48]
  Christian Wirth SS-Hauptsturmführer Captain at the time, inspector of Operation Reinhard [43]
Commandants (Germans and Austrians)      
 Franz Stangl SS-Obersturmführer First lieutenant, 28 April 194230 August 1942 transferred to Commandant of Treblinka extermination camp [2] [43] [48]
 Franz Reichleitner  SS-Obersturmführer First lieutenant, 1 September 194217 October 1943;[2] promoted to captain (Hauptsturmführer) after Himmler's visit on 12 February 1943 [48]
Deputy commandants (Germans and Austrians)      
 Gustav Wagner SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, deputy commandant (Quartermaster, sergeant major of the camp) [2][43] [48]
 Johann Niemann SS-Untersturmführer Second lieutenant, deputy commandant, killed in the revolt [43] [48] [13]
 Karl Frenzel SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, commandant of Camp I (forced labor camp) [2] [43] [48]
 Hermann Michel SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, deputy commandant, gave speeches to trick condemned prisoners into entering gas chambers [43] [48] [59]
Gas chamber executioners (Germans)   
 Erich Bauer SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, operated gas chambers [2] [43] [48]
 Kurt Bolender SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, gas chambers' operator [2] [43] [48]
Other staff officers (Germans and Austrians)      
 Heinrich Barbl SS-Rottenführer Private first class, pipes for the gas chambers (from Action T4) [48][60]
 Ernst Bauch committed suicide in December 1942 on vacation in Berlin from his Sobibor duty [48]
 Rudolf Beckmann SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, killed in revolt [48] [13]
 Gerhardt Börner SS-Untersturmführer Second lieutenant [50]
 Paul Bredow SS-Unterscharführer Corporal, managed the "Lazarett" killing station [2] [48]
 Max Bree killed in the revolt [48]
 Arthur Dachsel police sergeant, transferred from Belzec in 1942, burning of corpses (Sonnenstein) [43] [48]
 Werner Karl Dubois SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant [2] [43] [48]
 Herbert Floss SS-Scharführer Sergeant [2] [48]
 Erich Fuchs SS-Scharführer Sergeant [2] [48] [50]
 Friedrich Gaulstich SS-Scharführer Sergeant, killed in the revolt [48] [13]
 Anton Getzinger [48]
 Hubert Gomerski SS-Unterscharführer Corporal [43] [48]
 Siegfried Graetschus SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, Head of Ukrainian Guard (2/2), killed in the revolt [2] [43] [48]
 Ferdinand "Ferdl" Grömer Austrian cook, helped also with gassings [48]
 Paul Johannes Groth supervised sorting of clothes in Lager II [43][61]
 Lorenz Hackenholt SS-Hauptscharführer First sergeant
 Josef Hirtreiter SS-Scharführer Sergeant, transferred from Treblinka in October 1943 for a short while [2]
 Franz Hödl [43] [48]
 Jakob Alfred Ittner SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant [43] [48]
 Robert Jührs SS-Unterscharführer Corporal [43]
 Aleks Kaizer [43]
 Rudolf "Rudi" Kamm [48]
 Johann Klier SS-Untersturmführer Second lieutenant [43] [48] [13]
 Fritz Konrad SS-Scharführer Sergeant, killed in the revolt [48] [13]
 Erich Lachmann SS-Scharführer Sergeant, Head of Ukrainian Guard (1/2) [43] [48]
 Karl Emil Ludwig [43] [48]
 Willi Mentz SS-Unterscharführer Corporal, transferred from Treblinka for a short time in December 1943 [43]
 Adolf Müller [48]
 Walter Anton Nowak SS-Scharführer Sergeant, killed in the revolt [2] [43] [48]
 Wenzel Fritz Rehwald [43] [48]
 Karl Richter [48]
 Paul Rost SS-Untersturmführer Second lieutenant [2]
 Walter "Ryba" (real name: Hochberg) SS-Unterscharführer Corporal, killed in the revolt [48] [13]
 Klaus Schreiber [13]
 Hans-Heinz Friedrich Karl Schütt SS-Scharführer Sergeant [2] [43] [48]
 Thomas Steffl SS-Scharführer Sergeant, killed in the revolt [48] [13]
 Ernst Stengelin killed in revolt [48]
 Heinrich Unverhau SS-Unterscharführer Corporal [43] [48]
 Josef Vallaster SS-Scharführer Sergeant, killed in the revolt [48] [13]
 Otto Weiss commandant of the Bahnhof-kommando at Lager I before Frenzel [48]
 Wilhelm "Willie" Wendland [43] [48]
 Franz Wolf SS-Oberscharführer Staff sergeant, brother of Josef Wolf (below) [2] [43] [48]
 Josef Wolf SS-Scharführer Sergeant, killed in the revolt [48] [13]
 Ernst Zierke SS-Unterscharführer Corporal [43]
Wachmänner guards (Ukrainians and Russians)      
Sobibór "Road to Heaven" in 2007



Death toll[edit]

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum states that at least 167,000 people were murdered at Sobibór. Other estimates by historians 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.

At the Sobibor trial against the former SS personnel of the camp, held in Hagen two decades into the Cold War, Professor Wolfgang Scheffler estimated the number of murdered Jews to have been at least 250,000, while Gasmeister ("Gas Master") Erich Bauer estimated 350,000.[66][67]

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.[14][68]

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 [50]


The first monument to Sobibór victims was erected on the historic site in 1965.[69] 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.[70] 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]

Recent archaeology[edit]

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 words "Land of Israel (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.[71][72]

Dramatisations and testimonies[edit]

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.).[73]

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.[74]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Arad 1987, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, pp. 373-374. ISBN 0253342937.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Lest we forget (14 March 2004), ""Extermination camp Sobibor"". Archived from the original on 7 March 2005. Retrieved 7 March 2005. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) The Holocaust. Retrieved on 17 May 2013.
  3. ^ Raul Hilberg. The Destruction of the European Jews. Yale University Press, 1985, p. 1219. ISBN 978-0-300-09557-9
  4. ^ Robert Rozett, Shmuel Spector. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Routledge. p. 47. ISBN 1135969507.
  5. ^ Cite error: The named reference Yahil-1991 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  6. ^ Sławomir Sobolewski. "Obozy pracy na terenie Gminy Hańsk" [World War II forced labour camps in Gmina Hańsk]., the official webpage of Gmina Hańsk. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  7. ^ Barbara Schwindt (2005). Das Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslager Majdanek: Funktionswandel im Kontext der "Endlösung". Königshausen & Neumann. pp. 52–54. ISBN 3-8260-3123-7. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
  8. ^ Bogdan Musial. "The Decision-Making Process for the Mass Murder of the Jews in the Generalgouvernement" (PDF). The Origins of "Operation Reinhard". Shoah Resource Center: 3–5. Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. XXVIII, Jerusalem 2000, pp. 113–153. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  9. ^ Aktion Reinhard Camps. Sobibor Labour Camps. 15 June 2006. ARC Website.
  10. ^ a b Bem, Marek (2015). Sobibor Extermination Camp 1942-1943 (PDF). Translated by Karpiński, Tomasz; Sarzyńska-Wójtowicz, Natalia. p. 46. ISBN 978-83-937927-2-6.} Cite error: The named reference "Bem" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  11. ^ Schelvis (2014) [2007]. Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp. p. 23. ISBN 1472589068.
  12. ^ Schelvis (2014) [2007]. Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp. pp. 26–27. ISBN 1472589068.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Chris Webb, Carmelo Lisciotto, Victor Smart (2009). "Sobibor Death Camp". Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m USHMM (2015). "Sobibor: Chronology". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC.
  15. ^ Bem, Marek (2015). Sobibor Extermination Camp 1942-1943 (PDF). Translated by Karpiński, Tomasz; Sarzyńska-Wójtowicz, Natalia. p. 48-50. ISBN 978-83-937927-2-6.}
  16. ^ Berenbaum, Michael; Skolnik, Fred, eds. (2007). "Holocaust Chronology: 1942". Encyclopedia Judaica. vol. 9 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Macmillan Reference. pp. 348–349.
  17. ^ Arad 1987, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, pp. 30–31. ISBN 0253342937.
  18. ^ a b c d e Mgr. Wojciech Mazurek (15 April – 15 June 2011). Summary of the Archaeological Research Program at the Former German Extermination Camp in Sobibór (PDF). Archaeological Research. Sobibór Museum: "Sub Terra" Badania Archeologiczne. pp. 11–12, 15–16. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  19. ^ Arad 1987, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: the Operation Reinhard Death Camps, p. 184. ISBN 0253342937.
  20. ^ Christian Zentner, Friedemann Bedürftig. The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, p. 878. Macmillan, New York, 1991. ISBN 0-02-897502-2
  21. ^ a b Klee, Ernst & Dressen, Willi & Riess, Volker (1991). The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders p. 231. Konecky & Konecky, ISBN 1-56852-133-2. Also in: Jules Schelvis (2014), Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp pp. 100–101. Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN 1472589068.
  22. ^ a b Matt Lebovic "70 years after revolt, Sobibor secrets are yet to be unearthed", Times of Israel 14 October 2013. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  23. ^ Gross, Jan Tomasz (1 May 2012). Golden Harvest: Events at the Periphery of the Holocaust. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780199939312.
  24. ^ Gilbert, Martin (17 August 2015). Holocaust Journey: Travelling in Search of the Past. Rosetta Books. p. 350. ISBN 9780795346774.
  25. ^ a b c Justin Huggler, Berlin (18 September 2014). "Gas chambers discovered at Nazi death camp Sobibor". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  26. ^ Aderet, Ofer (7 June 2013). "Archaeologists find escape tunnel at Sobibor death camp". Haaretz. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  27. ^ Schelvis (2014) [2007]. Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp. pp. 71–72. ISBN 1472589068.
  28. ^ Bialowitz, Philip. Life in Sobibór. A Promise at Sobibór: A Jewish Boy's Story of Revolt and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland. p. 79. ISBN 0299248038.
  29. ^ Schelvis 2007, p. 100: Testimony of SS-Scharführer Erich Fuchs about his own installation of the (at least) 200 HP, V-shaped, 8 cylinder, water-cooled petrol engine at Sobibor.
  30. ^ Arad 1987, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, p. 76. ISBN 0253342937.
  31. ^ "Sobibor". The Holocaust Explained. Jewish Cultural Centre, London. Archived from the original on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 20 September 2015 – via Internet Archive. As part of the concealment of the camp's purpose, some Dutch Jews dislodging at the ramp were ordered to write "calming letters" to their relatives in the Netherlands, with made-up details about the welcome and living conditions. Immediately after that, they were taken to the gas chambers. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  32. ^ "Michel Velleman (Sobibór, 2 juli 1943)". Digitaal Monument Joodse Gemeenschap in Nederland. Joods Monument. 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  33. ^ Arad 1987, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, pp. 116–117. ISBN 0253342937.
  34. ^ a b "Preparation – Sobibor Interviews". NIOD. 2009.
  35. ^ a b c Schelvis, Jules (2007). Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp. Berg, Oxford & New Cork. pp. 147–168. ISBN 978-1-84520-419-8. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  36. ^ Arad 1987, pp. 219–275.
  37. ^ Arad 1987, pp. 362–363.
  38. ^ a b Schelvis, Jules (2004). Vernietigingskamp Sobibor. De Bataafsche Leeuw. ISBN 9789067076296. Uitgeverij Van Soeren & Co (booksellers).
  39. ^ Reuters, Archaeologists Uncover Buried Gas Chambers At Sobibor Death Camp. The Huffington Post, 18 September 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  40. ^ Terrence McCoy (19 September 2014), Archaeologists unearth hidden death chambers used to kill a quarter-million Jews at notorious camp. Washington Post. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  41. ^ "Last survivor of Sobibor death camp uprising dies". 4 June 2019. Retrieved 4 June 2019 – via
  42. ^ J.V.L. (2015). "Sobibor Extermination Camp: History & Overview". The Forgotten Camps. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap Sobibor − The Forgotten Revolt (Internet Archive). Webpage featuring first-person account of Holocaust survivor and Sonderkommando prisoner age 16, Thomas Blatt.
  44. ^ "SOME SIGNIFICANT CASE – Franz Stangl". Simon Wiesenthal Archiv. Simon Wiesenthal Center. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
  45. ^ "The Sobibor Trial – The Station Master at Treblinka".
  46. ^ a b Frenzel interview, Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt website (Internet Archive).
  47. ^ Photo of new plaque at camp site, "More Documents," Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt (Internet Archive).
  48. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as Jules Schelvis & Dunya Breur. "Biographies of SS-men – Sobibor Interviews". NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The core of this website consists of thirteen interviews with survivors of the uprising on 14 October 1943 in the Sobibor extermination camp, originally recorded in 1983 and 1984 forty years after the fact.
  49. ^ Arad 1987, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: the Operation Reinhard death camps, p. 192. ISBN 0253213053.
  50. ^ a b c d e Klee, Ernst, Dressen, Willi, Riess, Volker The Good Old Days: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders. ISBN 1-56852-133-2.
  51. ^ Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt by Thomas (Toivi) Blatt HEP Issaquah 1998.
  52. ^ "Trawniki". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 21 July 2011.
  53. ^ Mgr Stanisław Jabłoński (1927–2002). "Hitlerowski obóz w Trawnikach". The camp history (in Polish). Trawniki official website. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  54. ^ Matussek, Karin (12 May 2011). "Demjanjuk Convicted of Helping Nazis to Murder Jews During the Holocaust". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  55. ^ "John Demjanjuk zu fünf Jahren Haft verurteilt". Die Welt. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  56. ^ "John Demjanjuk guilty of Nazi death camp murders". BBC News. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  57. ^ a b c "Convicted Nazi criminal Demjanjuk deemed innocent in Germany over technicality". 23 March 2012.
  58. ^ "Nazi camp guard dead". The Age. Melbourne. 19 March 2012.
  59. ^ Nizkor Web Site Retrieved on 9 April 2009
  60. ^ Robin O'Neil (2009). "6". Belzec: Stepping Stone to Genocide. ISBN 0976475936.
  61. ^ Involved at KZ Sobibor and KZ Belzec. Disappeared at the end of the war -fate unknown. Officially declared dead by a German court in 1951 at the request of his wife
  62. ^ "Survivors of the revolt – Sobibor Interviews".
  63. ^ "Interrogation of Mikhail Affanaseivitch Razgonayev Sobibor Death Camp Wachman -".
  64. ^ BBC News (12 May 2011). "John Demjanjuk guilty of Nazi death camp murders". Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  65. ^ Piotr Eberhardt, Jan Owsinski (2015). Estimated Numbers of Victims of the Nazi Extermination Camps. Ethnic Groups and Population Changes in Twentieth Century Eastern Europe. Routledge. p. 124. ISBN 1317470966. Retrieved 19 September 2015.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  66. ^ Schelvis 2014, p. 252.
  67. ^ 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.
  68. ^ History of Sobibor at the Dutch Sobibor Foundation, Amsterdam.
  69. ^ E.S.R. (2013). "Museum of the Former Sobibór Death Camp". Information Portal to European Sites of Remembrance. Gedenkstattenportal zu Orten der Erinnerung in Europa. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
  70. ^ Virtual Shtetl (2013). "A discovery in the former Sobibór death camp". The extermination camp in Sobibór. Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  71. ^ Ofer Aderet (19 September 2014). "Archaeologists make more historic finds at site of Sobibor gas chambers".
  72. ^ Pempel, Kacper (18 September 2014). "Archaeologists uncover buried gas chambers at Sobibor death camp". U.S. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  73. ^ Sobibor, 14 Octobre 1943, 16 Heures. (2001). [DVD] Directed by C. Lanzmann. France: France 2 Cinéma; Les Films Aleph; Why Not Productions.
  74. ^ Regina Zielinski with Phillip Adams 'Escape from the Sobibor WW2 death camp,' Late Night Live Interview 29 October 2013


  • Novitch, Miriam (1980). Sobibor, Martyrdom and Revolt: Documents and Testimonies. ISBN 0-89604-016-X.
  • Sobibor Museum (2014) [2006], Historia obozu [Camp history], Dr. Krzysztof Skwirowski, Majdanek State Museum, Branch in Sobibór (Państwowe Muzeum na Majdanku, Oddział: Muzeum Byłego Obozu Zagłady w Sobiborze), archived from the original on 7 May 2013, retrieved 25 September 2014 Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)

External links[edit]