This death camp was one of the Nazis best kept secrets. Not even survivors
of Auschwitz had heard of the place. It was so successful that its victims and survivors were disbelieved and forgotten.
Within this camp, in operation for only eighteen months, at least 250,000
men, women and children were murdered. Only 48 survived the war.
It was established as a second of three camps, the others being Treblinka
and Belzac. Its location was near the village of Sobibor, because it was isolated and near a railway line. It was rectangular
in shape (400 x 600 metres) and surrounded by a 3 metre high fence. It also had a minefield that surrounded the whole camp,
to keep prisoners from escaping and to keep locals away. Internally it was divided into 5 sections.
Housing for the SS.
Housing for the Ukranian guards.
Barracks for prisoners.
Workshops such as tailors, shoemakers,
carpenters, mechanics etc.
Location where new arrivals were
stripped of their possessions and clothing.
Location of processing objects taken
from new arrivals.
Pyres for burning corpses.
Housing for prisoners working in
In summer 1943, warehouses began
to be built to store captured ammnition.
LIFE AND DEATH
The boxcar doors opened suddenly and the fresh air and the smell of the
pine trees felt good. But what followed was horrifying and it happened so quickly that they didnt have time to think about
Day and night, victims arrived at Sobibor. Some came by lorry, cart or
even on foot, but the majority came by train. The camp gates opened and the whistle of
the train told them they were there.
After a few minutes, they found themselves in the camp compound. The orders for the doors to be opened was given and the occupants
treatment varied, depending on whether they were from the east or the west. If they came from the west, they normally wore
their best clothes because they thought they were being resettled. They were even given claim tickets for their luggage to
keep up the pretence.
If from the east, they got off the train amid screams, shouts and beatings.
One states Schnell, raus, raus, rechts, links (fast, out, out, right, left) shouted the Nazis. I held my 5 year old boy by
the hand. A Ukranian guard snatched him, I thought they would kill him but my wife took him and I assumed I would see them
Leaving their baggage on the ramp, they were ordered into 2 lines, one
of men, the other of women and children. Those too ill to walk were told they would be taken to the hospital and were taken
and put on a cart.
Many decisions had to be made but after being on the trains for days they werent ready to do this. Toivi Blatt was holding his mothers hand when the order
came to separate the two lines. He decided to follow his father but turned to his mother, unsure of what to say to her. For
reasons he still cannot understand, he said And you didnt let me drink all the milk yesterday, you wanted to save some for
today She sadly replied This is what you think of at a time like this? To this day the scene haunts him and he has regretted
those words which turned out to be the last he ever said to her.
Most victims didnt realise that it would be their last chance to say
anything to the other person. Out of the thousands on the ramps, only a few would be selected for jobs. The rest would be
lead through a gate that read Sonderkommando Sobibor (Special unit Sobibor)
Those who were to work were taken to lager 1. Here they were registered
and placed in barracks. Most of these still didnt realise that they were in a death camp and asked other prisoners when they
would see their families. Most of them were told of the real Sobibor. That it was a place where they gassed Jews, that the
smell was dead bodies piling up and the fire they saw in the distance was bodies being burned. Once they found out, they had
to come to terms with it. Some committed suicide, others were determined to survive. But all were devastated.
Those In Vorlager, lager 1 and lager
The prisoners that worked outside Lager 111 had a wide range of jobs.
Some made gold trinkets, boots, clothing, cleaning cars or feeding horses. Others sorted clothes, unloaded and cleaned the
trains, cutting wood for the pyres, burning personal artefacts, cutting hair etc. They lived in daily terror and fear. They
could be whipped just for the sake of it. Some were whipped after work for something they had done during the day. They were
forced to count the number of lashes and if they forgot or missed a count, it would start all over again or they would be
beaten to death. The others were forced to watch.
Other things happened to the prisoners as well. Barry, Paul Groths dog
would be allowed to rip a prisoner apart for the fun of it. The SS were most dangerous when bored, it was then that they would
create games. One was to sew up the legs of the prisoners pants, put rats down them and if the prisoner moved, he was shot
or beaten to death.
Those who worked in Lager 111, nobody knew much about. They had to remove
the bodies from the gas chamber, search them for valuables and bury them or later on, burn them. They even found family members
among the dead. None of them ever survived Lager 111.
The Death Process.
Those that were not selected for work, stayed in the lines, except those
who were taken to the hospital and shot. They were taken along a walkway with buildings called the Merry Flea and the swallows
Nest , saw gardens with planted flowers and saw signs to showers and canteen. All this to deceive them, for Sobibor seemed
too peaceful to be a place of murder.
Once in Lager 11, SS Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Michael gave a short speech.
You are leaving for the Ukraine, where you will work. In order to avoid epidemics, you are going to have a disinfecting shower.
Put away your clothes neatly and remember where they are, as I shall not be with you to help to find them. All valuables must
be taken to the desk
Young boys pass string around for their belongings. They were to hand
over valuables through a window to a cashier. Having undressed and folded their clothes neatly, the victims entered the Tube
labelled by the Nazis a the Road to Heaven. This tube, approx 13ft wide, was constructed of barbed wire sides that were interwoven
with tree branches. Running from Lager 11 through the tube, the women were taken aside to a special barracks to have their
hair cut off. After this they were taken to Lager 111 for their showers.
Entering Lager 111, the unknowing victims came upon a large brick building
with three separate doors. About 200 people were pushed through each of these doors into what appeared to be showers but what
were really gas chambers. The doors were then closed. Outside in a shed, an SS officer started the 200 horsepower, 8 cylinder
engine that produced carbon monoxide gas. The gas entered each of the three rooms through pipes.
Toivi Blatt recalls standing near Lager 11, hearing sounds from Lager
Suddenly I heard the sound of internal
combustion engines. At once I heard a terribly high-pitched , yet smothered, collective cry at first strong, surpassing the
roar of the motors, then after a few minutes, weakened. My blood froze
In this way, 600 people were killed at once. But this was not fast enough
for the Nazis so, during the fall of 1942, three additional gas chambers, of equal size were added. Then, 1200 to 1300 people
could be killed at one time. There were two doors to each gas chamber, one where the victims walked in and the other, where the victims were dragged out. After a short time of airing out the chambers, Jewish
workers were forced to pull the bodies out, throw them onto carts and then dump them into pits.
At the end of 1942, the Nazis ordered all the corpses exhumed and burned.
After this time, all further victims were burnt on pyres of wood and helped with gasoline. It is estimated that 250,000 people
were killed at Sobibor.
Standing at the death camp caused emotions within some people. The first
was a great sense of sorrow. At this one camp, 250,000 people had died. One says
The first thing I saw after stepping
out of the car was this sign. The four plaques have the same message written in different languages. The plaque on the left
is in English. It read this At this site, between the years 1942 and 1943, there existed a Nazi death camp where 250,000 people
were murdered. On October 14th 1943 during the revolt by Jewish prisoners, the Nazis were overpowered and several
hundred prisoners escaped to freedom. Following the revolt the death camp ceased to function. Earth conceal not my blood
There is not much left of the camp. Most of it had been demolished by
1847. There are just a few buildings that have survived but none are labelled and most are used by the locals. There is a
small log cabin built after the war to house the Sobibor museum. This museum does not consist of much information. Inside
there are a few pictures, very few artefacts and includes some info about the revolt. When one man saw this, he was very angry,
especially when he found what was in two display cases.
The case on the right holds shoes and hair that had been collected from
those that were killed. On the left is one of ashes and bone fragments from the victims. Of course, seeing this caused grief
and anger. The container that holds the ashes is of Styrofoam. There were even dead flies in the case. I felt that those who
died had been forgotten and neglected. If anyone cared about their memory, they would at least remove the flies
Treblinka was established in 1941 as a labour camp and was located 50 miles northeast of Warsaw.
Within a year and with what would be known as Treblinka 1, a second camp was built that would be instrumental to the Final
Treblinka 11 would serve as an elimination camp for the Jews of central Europe, it
was only a mile from the original camp. Opening for operation on July 23, 1942, as the evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto began, this would house the machinery to exterminate 265,000 Jews of Warsaw.
Under the utmost secrecy, it was surrounded by two barbed wire fences. The inner one, covered with branches to hide
what was going on.
Details were done to reinforce the idea that the Jews were being resettled. The Star of David on the front wall of
Treblinkas gas house and the Hebrew inscriptions on the curtain that read This is the gate through which the righteous pass
were just two examples.
Variations to the normal routine only happened when they had to accommodate the physical layout of the camp. For instance,
the upper camp was unable to receive lengthy trains because of its short ramps. Therefore, only a few cars at a time were
backed in to the camp compound and unloaded.
As trainloads of 5000 to 7000 people arrived at the camp the deportees would hear a speech by an SS officer that told
them they had arrived at a transit camp. Prisoners were then moved through a selection process in which women and children
were separated from the men. Those too sick to walk on their own, were taken to a pit near the infirmary and shot.
All others were taken to a barracks where their hair was shorn. Postcards were often written by prisoners and were
later sent by the camp personnal. That encouraged relatives to move east for resettlement. From there they were directed to
the gas chambers.
Treblinka opened with three gas chambers in operation but quickly expanded to at least six. Housed in brick buildings,
the chambers appeared at first sight to be showers. Pipes attached to the ceilings brought the gas inside which looked like
shower heads. They were told that they were going to a bath house to be cleansed. They would enter the door, once inside the
order Ivan, water would be heard and the gas was ppumped in.
The gassing did not always happen quickly, because they were packed in so tightly, there was no room to move around.
So, they might actually stand for 30-40 minutes before they actually died. After death, the bodies would be removed through
a door opposite the entrance of the chamber where all the body cavities would
be searched for hidden valuables. After this search the bodies would be dragged to mass graves for burial.
When the mass graves became a problem, the Germans ordered them to be excavated and the bodies disposed of in a more
efficient way. Starting in the fall of
42, this meant dragging the bodies and stacking them on a grid of old railway tracks for burning. Once empty of the
bodies, the chambers would be cleaned and made ready for the next group of prisoners.
While the victims were being gassed, some of the male prisoners emptied and cleaned the train cars of the corpses of
those who died en route as well as any objects or dirt that was left behind. Once this work was complete, the train cars left
the camp to make room for the next load of rail cars. All personal belongings and clothes etc were gathered up and sent to
Not all met their fate at the gas chambers, some were forced to work in keeping the killing process in operation. They
would be used for a period of days and killed.
The camp was initially supervised by SS Obersturmfuhrer Imfried Eberl, Franz Stangl replaced him in August 1942. The
camp was staffed by Germans, Ukrainians and Jewish prisoners. Twenty or thirty SS men served as the core leaders in the camp.
90 to 120 Ukrainians acted as camp guards, security personal and other jobs like
operating the gas chambers. 700 to 1000 prisoners served as labour and were also to attend the needs of the Germans etc.
Opening on July 23 1942, 250,000 Jews from Warsaw and 112,000 from other places in the district were murdered at Treblinka
by September 21st. Also meeting their deaths at Treblinka were 337,000 from Radom, 35,000 from Lublin and 107,000
from Bialystok along with 738,000 from the General Government.
From outside Poland, many thousands of Jews were transported and killed at this camp, 7,000 from Slovakia, 8,000 from
Theresienstadt, 4,000 from Greece, 7,000 from Macedonia and 2,000 gypsies.
Some 750,000 people would die in Treblinka between July 1942 and April 1943. Most Jews would be dead within 2 hours
of their arrival.
As the allied forces got nearer in the fall of 1943, the evacuation of the camp began. Orders were given to destroy
the camp so that no traces of it would remain. A farm was built on the site and it was offered to a Ukrainian to run it for
Visitors today are likely to have a powerful and eerie experience. Visitors enter through the same spot where the Jews
exited from the trains. Standing there you face an open field with solid rock structures that serve as tombstones. On each
stone is engraved the name of a town and the number of people from that town that were killed by the Nazis at Treblinka.