Friday, February 24, 2012

Sobibor Part 1

Sobibor Part 1

Sobibor is the name of a small town in eastern Poland near the border with Belarus. It lies on the line-Wlowada-Chelm in the middle of a sparsely populated wetland. Sobibor is also the name of one of three death camps, the other two were Belzec and Treblinka, in the spring of 1942 within the framework of the so-called Operation Reinhard this camp was built there. Heinrich Himmler, instructed the SS and Police Leader of the District of Lublin, Odilo Globocnik, the former Gauleiter of Vienna and fanatical National-socialist to the end-th degree, the leadership of the "Aktion Reinhardt" with the goal to murder all Jews living in the General Government with poison gas .The General Government  included the German-occupied parts of Poland, who had not been affiliated with the German Reich, and which included the districts of Cracow, Warsaw, Radom and Lublin, after the invasion of the German Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union during June 1941 the area around Lemberg was also added to this region. It was intended to murder all Jews from the Lublin district in Sobibor.

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In Auschwitz, the murder by poison gas had already started in October 1941. After trial gassings of Polish prisoners and Russian prisoners of war in the basement of Block 11, the first Jews from Upper Silesia were killed with Zyklon B in the morgue of the crematorium I. In Chelmno (Kulmdorf), from the so-called Warthegau, after December 1941 there were at least 152,000 Jews and 5,000 Gypsies put  into gas vans, i.e. they were taken into tightly closed transport vehicles into which the exhaust gases of the engines had been connected. This method proved to be cumbersome and time consuming. In the death camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka over a period of 21 months there were 1.75 to 2 million people who were  murdered. The number of victims at Sobibor is estimated at 15,0000-250, 000 humans. A more accurate determination of the numbers is no longer possible, since all records were destroyed. The estimates are based on the reconstruction of transports going through railway stations and statements of Polish railway officials. It seems to be that Sobibor was probably used exclusively to exterminate Jews. In addition to the majority of Polish citizens were Dutch, German, French, Czechs, Slovaks and Soviets as well. The prisoners who had not died during the transports or arrived in a poor healthy condition were shot immediately upon arrival, the others were herded into chambers into which carbon monoxide gas was forced in, where the victims suffered an agonizing death by suffocation.

According to the historian Pohl of the three death camps of "Aktion Reinhardt" Sobibor is best explored. after an uprising by the prisoners on 14 October 1943, about 300 of them managed to escape from the camp. 46 prisoners among them nine women survived the end of the war. With them it was a comparatively large group of survivors of an extermination camp, that could bear witnesses to the crimes committed. However, none of the prisoners survived, those working in Camp III, in the immediate area of ​​the killing installations, and had been completely isolated from the rest of the camp. The testimony of the survivors were in a series of court cases, both crucial to the conviction of the members of the SS and members of the Ukrainian guards who had murdered at Sobibor.
Two historical studies on the main basis for today's certain knowledge of the extermination camp of Sobibor appeared in 1987, the study of the Holocaust scholar and former director of the Jerusalem Yad Vashem, Yitzahak Arad, on the "Aktion Reinhardt" that both reflect the memories of survivors and especially since the end of the war, summarizes the research done in Poland. Dedicated exclusively to the history of the monograph is Sobibor's Dutch survivor Jules Schelvis, who was deported with his family on June1,1943 from  Holland to Sobibor. He himself had been transferred to the labor camp at Dorohucza and had survived as the only one of its transport.(1) Only decades after his release he began to gather all the information available on the history of Sobibor and forwarded his records to the judicial authorities for evaluation. Jules Schelvis appeared in 1982 than before the jury in the retrial at Hagen, of the the former SS officer Karl Frenzel as plaintiff (Nebenklager). His book was published in 1993 in the Dutch language and 1998 in the German language. Nevertheless, Sobibor is to a wider public until now largely unknown.
[(1)This statement is not quite correct: Of the approximately 700 Dutch men who, upon arrival, were immediately transferred to labor camp Dorohucza to dig peat, two survived the war[not one sic] In the rest of the Lublin district, only thirteen women and one man were liberated, though not all at Dorohucza or Lublin.(writers comment)]
At the start of the Second World War, Frenzel was drafted into the Reich Labor Service. However, he was soon released because he had many children to support. His brothers were in the army, and he felt left out of the action. Responding to an appeal to loyal party members, Frenzel applied for special service in the military through his SA unit, but instead he was assigned to Action T4, the Nazi state's program to kill all people with disabilities. When the Wehrmacht later called for his service, T-4 prevented his transfer.
Along with other T4 recruits, Frenzel reported to the Columbus House in late 1939, where he was first checked for political reliability and then watched film on the supposed degeneration of handicapped people. First he worked in the laundry and as a guard at Grafeneck Castle, then he worked in construction at Bernburg, and finally became a stoker at Hadamar Euthanasia Centre. As a stoker, he was responsible for removing the dead bodies from the gas chambers, breaking out gold teeth, and burning the bodies, as well as various other tasks around the gas chambers and crematoria. It is also speculated that Frenzel helped in the design of the gas chambers at Hadamar. Like his colleagues, this was Frenzel's first experience with gassing and burning people, which would be useful later in the extermination camps. On 20 April 1942, he was assigned to Operation Reinhard and sent to Sobibor extermination camp.
Frenzel claimed that when he received his orders, he was told that Sobibor was merely a work camp which he had to guard. When he found out the camp's true nature, he was forbidden from discussing it with anyone, as it was to be kept a state secret. The penalty for violating this was imprisonment at a concentration camp or death.
Frenzel was the commandant of Camp I, which was the forced labor camp, at Sobibor. He also commanded the Bahnhofkommando. Frenzel served as Gustav Wagner's replacement as the quartermaster-sergeant of the camp when Wagner was attending to duties elsewhere or was on vacation. During these times, Frenzel selected which prisoners from the newly arrived transports would work in and outside the camp (in effect, also selecting the vast majority that would go to the gas chambers) In this capacity, Frenzel carried out genocide, taking part in the industrial-scale extermination of thousands of inmates as part of Operation Reinhard.
Frenzel freely used his whip on inmates without reservation. Erich Bauer, one of the commanders of Camp III, stated: "He [Frenzel] was one of the most brutal members of the permanent staff in the camp. His whip was very loose." For instance, in spring 1943, when a worker prisoner tried to take his own life and was found dying, Frenzel shouted that Jews had no right to kill themselves — only Germans had the right to kill. Frenzel whipped the dying man and finished him off with a bullet. Years later in an interview, Frenzel claimed that he was always fair in doling out "punishments". In the spring of 1943, after two Jews from Chelm escaped from the camp, the staff consulted amongst themselves and Frenzel announced the verdict that every tenth prisoner at the morning roll call would be executed. Frenzel personally walked along the lines of the roll call and pulled the victims out of line to be shot at Camp III. Twenty prisoners were shot as a reprisal for the two who escaped.
Unlike many SS men, Frenzel supposedly had his limits. He testified that he tried to avoid participation in the more murderous actions of the camp. For instance, when he was put in charge of the trolley that transported Jews to the gas chambers, he protested. Frenzel states:
After the disembarking of the train, the children and the feeble Jews were forcibly thrown onto the trolley. Terrible scenes happened then. The people were separated from their families, pushed with rifle butts, lashed with whips. They cried dreadfully, so I could not cope with this task. Reichleitner complied with my request, and he appointed Bredow to escort the trolley.
After the prisoner revolt of 14 October 1943, Frenzel helped in dismantling the camp. He was then sent to participate in Sondertruppe R in Trieste and Fiume, which confiscated the houses of deported Jews in Italy
At war's end, he was arrested by United States troops at a P.O.W. camp near Munich, but was soon released. Frenzel found a job in Frankfurt as a stage lighting technician. On 22 March 1962, whilst on a break at work, he was again identified, arrested and brought to trial along with other former SS officers at the Sobibor trials on 6 September 1965.
The official charge brought against Frenzel was the personal murder of 42 Jews and participation in the murder of approximately 250,000 Jews.
Frenzel's justification for his activity at Sobibor:
“As I already pointed out, under the prevailing war conditions, which are now difficult to comprehend, I unfortunately believed that what was going on in Sobibor was lawful. To my regret, I was then convinced of its necessity. I was shocked that just during the war, when I wanted to serve my homeland, I had to be in such a terrible extermination camp. But then I thought very often about the enemy bomber pilots, who surely were not asked whether they wanted to carry out their murderous flights against German people in their homes in such a manner. ”
On 20 December 1966, Frenzel was sentenced to life imprisonment for personally murdering six Jews, and for his participation in the mass murder of a further 150,000 Jews as Commandant of Sobibor's Lager (camp) No:I.  He was released on a technicality in 1982, re-tried, and again sentenced to life imprisonment on October 4, 1985. Due to his advanced age and poor health, the sentence was not imposed and he was released.
Sobibor survivor Thomas Blatt was among those called to testify as witnesses against Frenzel at the post-war trial, and when Blatt traveled to the court venue city, Blatt and Frenzel met at a hotel in order to discuss historical questions and technical details about camp operation for the history of the uprising Blatt was then writing; the event is presumed to be the only time that a Nazi death camp supervisor was interviewed by a death camp prisoner.
In the years after the war, Frenzel frequently expressed remorse for his actions, but explained that he had simply complied with his duty. He renounced his belief in the Nazi Party.    "Ever since 1945, I have been cursing the Nazis — for everything, for what they did, and everything they stood for. I fought against the devil. Since 1945 I have refrained from any involvement in politics."
In the 1987 movie Escape from Sobibor, Karl Frenzel was played by Kurt Raab.
Karl Frenzel spent the last years of his life in a retirement home in Garbsen near Hannover, where he died on September 2, 1996.
In a 1983 interview, Frenzel — who was at the camp from its inception to its closure — admitted the following about Sobibor:
“ 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.”
Frenzel's testimony contrasts greatly with a memorial plaque at the site today, which reads "HERE THE NAZIS KILLED 250,000 RUSSIAN PRISONERS OF WAR, JEWS, POLES AND GYPSIES."
“When my children and friends ask me whether it is true, I tell them yes, it is true. And when they say, but this is impossible, then I tell them again, it is really true. It is wrong to say that it never happened.”sic]

There probably already existed in the fall of 1941 the plan to build a camp at Sobibor. The site fulfilled the necessary conditions. It was lying on a railway line, and there was plenty of space to keep and store the property of the victims. It was also far removed from greater estates, conveniently placed for mass murder that could remain unnoticed beyond the immediate environment. In January / February 1942, the site, which covered twelve acres and was later extended to 60 Hector had to be fenced. Construction began in March 1942. A group of civilian workers from the area and about 80 Jews from nearby ghettos were forced to construct the buildings and have them fenced in. They were supervised by ten Ukrainian guards ("Trawnikis'). The site management was that of Richard Thomall, a member of the SS construction office in Lublin, who was also responsible for the construction of the camp at Belzec and the layout and structure corresponded to that of that camp, however, Sobibor was larger, of the existing buildings, a former post-office was converted as the commandant's o villa and a forestry house was used as an administration building. A small chapel was used as an additional execution site. Otherwise, the camp consisted of three distinct separated areas.

The chapel, which along with all the surrounding camp area became prohibited territory for the Poles soon after the Germans arrived. The Chapel is no longer there, a Roman Catholic Church was built on the same spot in 1987.
The Pre-Entrance(Vorlager) and camp I were the management area(Verwaltungsbereich). The Vorlager bordered directly on the railroad track, where the transport trains arrived. There, the first arrivals saw a big sign that read "SS Sonderkommando". In the Vorlager were the commander's villa, accommodation and supply facilities for the members of the SS, the armory and other warehouses located. The barracks of the Ukrainian auxiliary troops were also within this range of the Vorlager. Camp I had three living barracks for Jewish laboring prisoners, a kitchen, the roll call square(Appellplatz) and workshops in which the prisoners worked for the needs of the SS men, painting, tailoring and knitting. It had Sattlers, had Carpenters, Smiths that performed forging and Boot-makers repairing shoes or other leather goods. On the average 50 Jewish prisoners worked in the camp I.
Camp II, which was shielded by a wooden fence against the views of the new arrivals, was the reception area. Tis was the Main Center of the SS, as well as stables for horses, pigs, chickens and ducks. Also, an acreage for fruit and vegetables were created there. In addition, Camp II was the collection point for the entire possession of the victims and sorted and separated by clothing, food and valuables. Documents and personal documents of the victims were burned. Up to 400 prisoners, including about 100 women who were regualary assigned to this function at Camp II. Between Camp II and Camp III, a small airfield was created. Also leading from Camp II was a small, about 150 meters long andn three to four meters wide corridor to Camp III. This corridor was designated as the"Schlauch" (Tube) was fenced with barbed wire, which was interwoven and camouflaged with pine branches.

 In camp III stood the stone building with the gas chambers. These contained three large chambers, each measuring about  four by four meters square.and could hold up to 200 people  when driven into them. Beside it was a wooden shed in which a 200-hp diesel engine was installed, the exhaust gases went  through pipes into the hermetically sealed chambers. In addition, there was a kitchen and bunkhouse for the Jewish prisoners who worked there, a log cabin for the SS, a guard tower and a 60 meter, by 20 meters wide and six to nine meters deep pit(Grube) where the the victims were buried. In June 1943 the entire area was mined in a 15 meters distance from the outer fence.
Also in the early summer of 1943 they started with  the establishment of a fourth camp in which a large ammunition depot and captured weapons where meant to be held. This part of the camp was never completed.

As in other extermination camps the prerequisite at Sobibor were surprises, haste, terror and deceit, the most important method to enable a smooth process to accomplish largely murder through a well organized system, to eliminate the most unsuspecting victims without hold-ups. The Polish Jews had been since the invasion of the German Wehrmacht into Poland during September 1939 experienced two and a half years of terror by many SS-Units, persecutions were behind them before they were deported to extermination camps. They had known the loss of property and freedom, had been herded into ghettos and forced labor, starvation and deprivation had thus weakened them physically and mentally. They were in many cases, eyewitnesses of murders by the German occupiers, where family members or friends and acquaintances had fallen victim. They were aware of mass executions and death camps, and they knew that their situation was almost hopeless. And yet they were oblivious  in most cases, and had no idea what awaited them at Sobibor.
Survivors described the shock they experienced when they arrived: "Although we had heard about Sobibor," said Thomas Blatt, who was brought in April 1943 as a 15-year-old from the nearby village of Izbica to Sobibor, "We understand now what this place was really meant to be for us. I tried to understand the dimensions of all that, but it did not work." On the question to an acquaintance, whom he had met on his arrival he asked him, "just tell me Jozek, what will I do if I stay here?", He answered calmly: "This is an extermination camp, here are no exceptions made​​,  you and the other people of your transport you are here because 72 Dutch Jews were killed here a few days ago who had  tried to organize an escape, you have taken their place". Itzhak Lichtman, who was deported in May 1942 from Zolkiewka to Sobibor, was told that his group on the way to the railway station,  Polish children and adults accompanied them and shouting: "Hey, Zydzi, idziecie spalenie na" (Jews, you'll be burnt ) We spoke Yiddish, but we also understood Polish. Nevertheless, we did not comprehend the meaning of these words and their way of teasing and mild abuse. We had heard of the death camp at Belzec, but we did not believe it. "It was simply inconceivable that all the newcomers, with a few exceptions, which were selected for slave labor(Arbeitssklaven) would be killed immediately and temporarily spared which was only a short time delay before they were intended for death.
The victims, who were deported from Western European countries to Sobibor, the existence of an extermination camp was even less imaginable. They had mostly believed the statements of their persecutors, that they "would move" for work in the East, and tried as much as possible to take their personal belongings and property with them. "In March 1943 we were on our way to Poland," said the Dutch women Selma Wijnberg, who was deported from the camp at Vught in Holland to Sobibor. "Many of us were hoping to meet their families again. German nurses distributed medicines to the sick. It all looked normal" To the deception of those left behind in Holland and maintain the guise of civility, the SS demanded some sacrifices from those in Sobibor, by writing postcards to relatives, which, however, was not specified as the senders place as Sobibor, but "Wlodawa".

Even the Soviet-Jewish prisoners of war who had experienced the German policy of extermination at close range, before they were taken in September 1943 as part of the recent deportations to Sobibor from Minsk, had no knowledge of the extermination camps. For example, reported Alexander Petchersky, who led a few weeks later the revolt of the prisoners that they were still unsuspecting during transit, although farmers made movements and signs to them that they went to their deaths The Germans did not realize that Petchersky was a Jew, until he was stripped naked, [this was a standard practice during fightings in the Western Fronts as well,  my Unit took a handful of GI's prisoner, but could not provide for them and they were handed  over to an SS-Detachment, the first thing they did, had their trousers pulled down. Only one was circumcised and they made fun of him, but in my opinion he was not a Jew, as there are different methods of circumcision.sic]
Mid-April 1942 there were about 250 Jews, mostly women, brought from the nearby labor camp Krychow to Sobibor and murdered during a "test gassings"(Probevergasung) in the presence of all SS-men present in the camp. Early May 1942  began the first phase of the factory-scale killing in Sobibor, which lasted until the end of July 1942. During this period there have been from 90.000 to 100.000 people eliminated. These were mainly Polish Jews from the Lublin district, but also deported Jews from outside of Poland. At least 10,000 German and Austrian Jews were murdered between April and June 1942 in Sobibor. Of the 39,000 Slovak Jews who had been first brought to the Lublin district, approximately  24.500 were murdered in Sobibor. Between March and Juni1942 13,000 Czech, German and Austrian Jews that arrived via Lublin from Theresianstast at least 6000 found their death at Sobibor.
The trains stopped at the station at Sobibor. 18-20 railway wagons were run on a siding onto the unloading ramp. If the trains were longer, they were divided. They included, however, rarely more than 20 wagons, which contained 2,000 to 2,500 people. The  SS personnel was informed of the arrival of a  transport approaching, and the Ukrainian guards formed a corridor, so that none of the arriving inmates could escape. The wagon doors were opened and forced the people out by yelling orders, with beatings and threats, in a hurry to jump from the wagons. and run into the camp. All luggage had to be left behind. Sick and infirm were withheld in order to separate them from the rest of the group. The patients were then loaded onto horse-drawn wagons and they were told that they would be taken to the "hospital"(Lazarett). In reality they were taken to about 200 meters away to the old chapel. There they were dragged from the carts and shot close to a shrub-lined pit. In June / July 1942  narrow-gage railway trolleys were built, with which the sick were taken off the ramp straight down to the execution pits in Camp III and then killed there. The rest of the arrivals in the camp II learned that they were taken to the showers before they would continue their journey  to work assignments.

In the meantime, their clothes should be disinfected. Men and women had to undress separately. The children stayed with the women. All valuables were to be removed and deposited.  Anyone who tried to hide something, was immediately shot. Ada Lichtman reported: "We heard word for word, as Sergeant Michel, who was standing on a small table, was able to convince the people to calm down, he promised them that after the bath all their property would be returned to them, and he reiterated, it was time that the Jews should now contribute a little to the productivity themselves,  they would all go to the Ukraine to live and work  there. The speech sparked enthusiasm and confidence among the people,  they reacted with spontaneous applause, and sometimes they even sang and danced as well. "
The naked prisoners were segregated by sex and rushed through the "tube"(Schlauch) to Camp III. On the way the women were taken into a shed to cut off their hair before they were all chased directly into the gas chamber. Everything was done in utmost haste, accompanied by the shouts of the guards, of beatings and verbal abuse, sometimes even dogs were used onto the defenseless. The victims were in shock, had no opportunity to orient themselves and ran to escape the terror, straight into the gas chambers. There are reports that a large flock of geese, kept for the diet of the SS-men were startled, their cackling were meant to drown out the deafening screams of the terror of the victims. The agony of suffocation took 20 to 30 minutes. Two to three hours after the arrival of a transport the victims were already buried in the pits.

At the end of July 1942 the railway line between Lublin and Chelm had to be be repaired, because the tracks sank into the marshy ground. The transports could not come for a few months to Sobibor, and the exterminations had to be interrupted. During this same period there were three more gas chambers, in which 600 people could be killed at the same time was extended thus doubling its capacity. The renovated building was divided into two parts by a central corridor and on each side were three chambers. In October 1942, both the repairs were completed on the tracks and the construction work to expand the gas chambers.
The second phase of mass murder began in early October 1942. At this time, the narrow gage railway carriage(Loren) within the camp  was put into operation, the sick and infirm were transported directly from the ramp to the pits for execution.
By early Oktober1942 28,000 people came from the district of Lublin to Sobibor, followed by another 4.500 Jews that arrived at irregular intervals during May 1943 from there as well.
Of the more than 75,000 Jews who were deported between March 1942 until the summer of 1944 from France to death camps, most of them went to Auschwitz. In March 1943, three transports from the French Camp Gurs were taken into the Lublin District. An unknown number of these prisoners were transported to Majdanek for work, all the others were sent to Sobibor for elimination. In July 1942, the deportation of Dutch Jews began into the Extermination Camps(Vernichtungslager).Of the 105,000 Dutch Jews, that came between July 1942 and September 1944 from the camps of Herzogenbusch(Vught) and Westerbork in passenger trains to Auschwitz and Sobibor a total of 34.131 people were transported in 19 transports to Sobibor (15).
Reference (15) Schelvis,Vernichtungslager, page 316

A transport of about 5.000 prisoners arrived from Majdanek in July 1943 in Sobibor, which due to the particular awfulness of their physical codition  will remain in the memories of those survivors that were members of the work detachment. The arrivals were wearing striped prison garb and were weakened to the  extreme. Many people were already dead upon arrival.  On this particular day there was a  technical problem with the killing facilities, the prisoners had to spend one day and one night in the open before they were murdered. About 200 people died during the night from exhaustion, were killed in some way or shot. The next morning, the stronger of the working team in the camp supported the weak to make their way to the gas chambers.Some of the Sobibor's had to remove the dead left behind at the assembly area and taken away. Dov Freiberg, who was assigned to this work, wrote: "The SS man Frenzel selected 20 prisoners and told us we should work naked, as the bodies are dirty and were full of lice. We had the dead carried away to about 200 meters towards the. railway carriages which had to be pushed away. Although we were accustomed to this kind of work, it is not possibly describe our feelings, as we bore the dead while on our bare bodies. the Germans herded us on with shouts and blows.

Video Pits at Sobibor

As I dragged the body of a man, I stopped and I saw no Germans in the area, I put him on the ground. And established as the body of the man whom I thought was dead raised himself on his elbows, and looked at me with wide eyes and asked: 'Is this still a long way' he spoke the words with great effort and then collapsed. At that moment I felt blows on my head and back. The SS man Frenzel beat me with a whip. I took the "living" dead at his feet and dragged him to the dumper carriage. "(16)
Reference (16) Dov Freiberg, Testimony, in YVA, A-361, accrdg. Arad, Belzec, P128
During the winter months of 1942/43 and in the spring and summer of 1943, Jews from South Galizien were  taken primarily from the Lemberg district to Sobibor. Their numbers are estimated at 15,000 to 20,000. It is no longer able to determine how large the number of those who came from Belzec, which was in the process of closure and disarray, were forwarded to Sobibor. In some cases, the Jews had been forced before their departure to undress. This was a precautionary measure, as attempts to escape during the journey and jump out of railway wagons would be hampered. Between October 1942 and June 1943 70000-80000 Jews were sent from the General Government to Sobibor. The total number of victims from the area are estimated between 145,000 to 150,000 persons. By the early summer of 1943 the deportations from the General Government  was as good as completed. Only a few Jews whose labor was still required in certain industrial facilities remained behind.
In June 1943, the evacuation of the ghettos in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the western part of Belarus(Wei├črussland)had been ordered. A large part of the able-bodied Jews, the SS transferred them from there into Concentration Camps to work in the armament industry. In September 1943, transports of 2,700 Jews went from the ghetto of Lida, as well as another 5,000  from the Wilna ghetto to Sobibor. From the 6000-8000 Jews that had survived  the liquidation of the ghetto out of a total of 75.000 in Minsk in the summer of 1943 which had been crowded together there at the beginning of the German occupation, 6000 of them were sent during September 1943 to Sobibor. 

                                                         continued under Part 2                                                              

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