Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sobibor Part 3

Sobibor Part 3     

25-30 German Nationals had been transferred to Sobibor, on average there were 18 of them present at any time. The memories of the survivors of their tormentors were precise and agonizing. Once after they were only for a short  time involved in the work process, they knew every detail of the habits of each SS men, with whom they came in contact. They knew who beat and tortured without restraint, and if it was fun and even pleasure, which one was prepared to kill with his own hand.
"Every SS officer had his own way to kill". Ada Lichtman testified. "They were all waiting for the arrival of the transports. Bredow had his eyes on the lookout for very young girls  which  he whipped always in a sadistic manner.Gomerski killed the prisoner with a stick, which had nails embedded in it. Groth and Bolender came with their dogs. If they said to a prisoner, "Ah, you do not want to work?", The dog would pull the victim to pieces". (25) The prisoners watched every day, as this small group of SS men without scruples or inhibitions tormented individual victims, monitored and organized the murder of hundreds and thousands of innocent victims.
Reference (25) From Mielec to Sobibor.Testimony of Eda Lichtman in: Novitch, Sobibor, page 56
What memories do the men of "Aktion Reinhardt" still have of their crimes,in their brief encounters with tens of thousands of people whom they drove to their deaths, or to the individual men and women, of whom they chose to do some work for them and then terrorized or killed them,  is not known. There are data and CVs=Curriculum Vitae(Lebensläufe) of the perpetrators and statements of a few that were taken after the war before the German courts and held accountable for their deeds. There, they did not dispute the facts of mass murder. But all the perpetrators of Sobibor refused to take or accept responsibility for their actions, and sought to deny or play down their own participation. Karl Frenzel, who was feared for his ferocity in particular, but also because he had repeatedly sent some prisoners to Camp III to be gassed, said in 1962 in Göttingen during his court hearing: "I mean even to say that I was popular under the Jews".(Ich meine sogar sagen zu können, dass ich bei den Juden beliebt war)
Odilo Globocnik had appointed in April 1942 -SS Colonel Franz Stangl, a former lieutenant colonel in the Austrian police, the commander of the Sobibor extermination camp. His first task was to supervise the completion of the of the Commandants accommodation(Lagerhaus) . Then he took over the responsibility for the management of the extermination camp. Franz Stangl came officially under the reporting responsibility of Odilo Globocnik and the inspector of camps Christian Wirth. Stangl came with 20-30 German SS men to Sobibor, which, like himself, were previously participating in the "elimination" of the physically and mentally disabled people and had been involved in the "euthanasia" program. .After protests, especially by the Church against this type of disposal of the sick,  Adolf Hitler had on 24 August 1941 ordered the official closure of all, known as "T4" killing facilities. The staff. had already performed the killing of 70,000 sick people smoothly with poison gas and with utmost secrecy and had now drafted the same use to the murder of Jews during "Aktion Reinhardt". The men had to sign a declaration that they neither provide written information on the "Aktion Reinhardt", nor were they allowed to pass on word of mouth what had expired and  that photography in the camps was strictly prohibited, and this obligation was  to maintain confidential and valid and continued even after retirement from their services.
In late August, Franz Stangl was transferred to Treblinka, His successor in Sobibor was the SS- Colonel Franz Reichleitner, who as commander at castle Hartheim had also played a key part in the murder of patients. For the smooth running of everyday life in the death camp the deputy commander was Gustav Wagner and in his absence  Karl Franzel as his deputy for the running of the camp. Both were feared by the prisoners as brutal thugs and ruthless killers.  
In addition to the order of murder, SS men were responsible for the collection of gold, precious items, and property of the victims still usable and to ensure to have it forwarded to the German Reich. They received in addition to their wages,(Sold) which depended on their military rank, a daily compensation in the form of money (Zusatzvergütung). Every three months they were entitled to two or three weeks' leave.
The Germans were supported by an average of 120 Ukrainian guards, who had previously undergone a training course at Trawniki near Lublin. They were mostly Soviet prisoners of war who were more or less voluntarily recruited to assist  the Germans mainly as guards as well as Hiwis(Hilfswillige). They were led by ethnic Germans(Volksdeutsche), who spoke both German and Russian and Ukrainian. At Sobibor they guarded the camp at the gates, the guard towers and patrolled around the perimeter. They supervised the prisoner details that had to work outside of the fence. And they did take part in executions by order of the German camp administration. "If Jews committed a crime," said one of the Ukrainians after the war before a Soviet court,  "They were shot by the officers themselves, or gave us such an order and then they were shot by us. The emaciated arrivals, the sick and infirm were shot at once, a special order for each different Transport did not exist,  the execution of such prisoners by firing squad was an ordinary procedure".(29) Often the cruelty of the "Trawnikis"  towards the Jewish victims exceeded that of their German masters. They were armed with whips and Russian rifles. However, they received very little ammunition, as the SS men did not trust them.
Reference(29)Businnij on August 8,1975 in Kiew,in Sta.Do-WZ-V610,by Schelvis,Vernichtungslager,page 47.

BOLENDER, Kurt, SS-Oberscharführer
Arrived on 22 April 1942 at Sobibor together with Stangl, Frenzel, Gomerski and others. He testified: "I was during my service in Sobibor constantly in Camp III and was there among others also supervisor of the Jewish working command. It is correct that Jews were gassed there. I sorted the Arbeitshäftlinge (working prisoners) into groups. After the gassings took place, a group of them had to empty the gas chambers. Another group took the corpses to the mass graves."
In July 1942 he was arrested for perjury during his divorce case. He was punished by an SS-court in Krakow on 19 December 1942 and sent to the SS-penal camp Matzkau near Danzig. Shortly after the revolt in Sobibor he was called back to help dismantling the camp.
For his services he was awarded the Iron Cross second class on 18 January 1945.
Life after:
Sent to Italy. After the war his wife declared him as dead. As he had a number of criminal offenses to his name, he found it better to disappear off the records. He lived under the false name "Heinz Brenner", the name he went by at Schloss-Hartheim. The justice department came to know of him and arrested him in May 1961.
Instead of a notorious mass murderer he professed to be a "fighter against partisans in the Lublin area".
During his trial he constantly maintained that there were no sick and crippled people executed in Sobibor - only when he was cross examined he admitted that everything was true.During the first Hagen trial, he committed suicide shortly before his judgment was pronounced.

Kurt Bolander, to all appearances "an ordinary man" 
Bolander's Ausweis (identity card), signed by Himmler 
BREDOW, Paul SS-Unterscharführer
Came to Sobibor with the first group of T4 men together with Stangl. He was a real killer and was known amongst the prisoners as a bully who did not hesitate to mistreat them. During the arrival of transports he waited upon the invalids, whom he, directly after arrival on the ramp, took to the chapel. Here they were executed by him and a platoon of Ukrainians at the Lazarett, of which he was in charge and where his "hobby", fully approved of by Wirth, was "target-shooting". He had set himself a daily quota: shooting fifty Jews a day with his pistol.Served here until spring 1943.
Life after:
Served at San Sabba, Trieste in Italy. Was killed in an accident in Göttingen, Germany.
GROTH, Paul SS-Unterscharführer
For the first months he supervised the sorting of clothes at Camp II and he regularly came to Camp III as well. Survivors called him one of the worst sadists. Witness Margulies: "Every day he killed someone!". He had an affair with a Jewish girl.
Life after:
In order to obtain a widows pension, declared dead by his wife in 1951. In 1962 he was still missing. No further details known.
GOMERSKI, Hubert SS-Unterscharführer
Came to Sobibor end of April 1942 together with the first group of T4-men and stayed there until a few days before the revolt, which he missed due to being on leave.
After he initially was in charge of a group of Ukrainians, he together with Bolender supervised Camp III. During incoming transports on the ramp he selected the sick and invalids and took them to the place of execution. He made a point of it to place a bottle on the head of an inmate and shot him with a carbine in the head instead.
He was regarded next to Wagner and Frenzel as very dangerous. He was also very stupid, however due to his performance in Sobibor he was promoted Christmas 1942 to SS-Unterscharführer.
Life after:
Shortly before his arrest on 23 August 1949 he attested before the Landgericht Frankfurt/Main, after survivor Klier was able to turn him in, "I can only declare that to me a place with this name (Sobibor), is unknown to me".
Sentenced to life imprisonment on 25 August 1950 on account of the murder of an undisclosed number of people.
Appeal and second trial in 1972. Released because of bad health. Witnessed in the Frenzel trial 1983, apparently in good health

On 12 February 1943, when the majority of the murder program of "Aktion Reinhardt" had been almost completed,  the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler visited Sobibor, to take a look at the Death Installations himself. At this time the construction of four large crematoria at Auschwitz were ready for completion, and taken between March and June 1943 into operation. Since on the day of the visit by Himmler to Sobibor, no transports were expected, they brought several hundred girls and young women from Lublin to Sobibor, Himmler and  his entourage, would watch the efficiency of a murder performance in operation. Ada Lichtman recalls this visit. "After they had visited camps I and II, they arrived into Camp III, where they watched the execution of a group of young people. On the same day in honor of the visit a banquet was given and I had to decorate the tables. Himmler was excited about this visit. As he drove away, some of our killers carried new decorations".(30)[this is almost incredible to believe, but is apparently true.sic]
Reference (30) From Mielec to Sobibor in Novitch, Sobibor, page 59

The deception of the organizers of the exterminations was so successful that there have been few attempts to escape from the transport trains to Sobibor. At the camp everything was done to maintain strict confidentiality and to establish a security and surveillance system that would make escapes impossible. Nevertheless, it was at the end of the year 1942 and in the first half of 1943 a number of successful escapes from the camp were accomplished. Thus, in memoirs the escape of a young man is several times mentioned, who probably escaped at the end of 1942 in a shipment that left Sobibor and he did hide in a load of clothes, and could found temporarily refuge in the ghetto of Chelm. Successful escapes were retaliated by the SS with the murder of an arbitrary fixed number of working inmates. Ber Freiberg, who was on May 15. 1942 brought from  Zolkiewka to Sobibor, reported: "There was an officer with the Dutch Jews, and a Ukrainian guard who promised to help him during a mass escape, but the security guard revealed the plan, although the officer accepted full  responsibility, the SS liquidated the entire group in camp III. To save bullets, the victims were beheaded".
On July 20, 1943,  two prisoners succeeded from a 40-member "Forest Commando", which should have brought water from a nearby village, to kill  the accompanying Ukrainian guard and get away with his rifle. The Polish Jews took advantage during the confusion of the guards and also tried to flee. Two were shot and 13 recaptured, another three of them managed to escape. The Dutch Jews who were aware that without knowledge of the Polish language had no chance to survive, and had not joined the escape attempt. The Polish prisoners who had been brought back to Sobibor were shot thereafter in the presence of all other prisoners: "When we were called for a roll call, we knew already what had happened. We trembled, thinking about what would happen to us. As we stood in the roll call, we decided among ourselves that we would not go to the gas chambers alive. We would defend ourselves by all means. Time passed, and our tension rose. We bid farewell to one another and to life. Some Germans arrived, opened the gate, and we were ordered to march to Camp II. There we stopped and were arranged in a semicircle. On the square lay, tied, the remaining members of the "Walkommando". one by one they were lashed and, at an order of a German, shot by a guardsman. The Germans were strolling among us. We had to watch all these cruelties without moving our eyes or turning our heads. After the execution we were taken back to Camp I. Wagner and Frenzel announced to us that next time all of us would be responsible for one escapee". (33).
Reference(33) Ada Lichtman,in Arad,Belzec,page 268.
The prisoners knew that escape was the only way to get out alive from Sobibor. "I constantly thought of escape," wrote Thomas Blatt in his memoirs. He tried to be included in work details, which were used outside the camp and volunteered for the "forest commando". "The group consisted of twenty Polish and twenty Dutch Jews:" Every morning we walked into a wooded area, which was three miles away from the camp. As it turned out, we were guarded at every step and  turn, the ratio was 1:2 one guard was able to watch two prisoners. Although we had our own "weapons"-Axes, Saws etc to fell trees, but the Ukrainians had a particularly effective security method, they kept a relatively large distance from  all of us and always had their weapons at firing position. The work was sheer torture and with permission of the foreman, I soon as was replaced by a prisoner from another working group".
To make an escape from the camp area was almost impossible and also to avoid partisans who were fighting  against the German occupiers would came near the camp, a ring of explosive mines around the entire area had been placed. At the end of the war apart from those that took part in the revolt on 14 October and lived, only three refugees survived Sobibor.
Resistance, in the face overwhelming superiority of the guards, as well as the tthought of "running away" was impossible. Nevertheless, there were at Sobibor desperate(Verzweiflungstaten) individuals who have berated in  face of impending death in the gas chamber and cursed the killer or threw themselves with their bare hands at the guards. In the spring of 1943, fewer and fewer transports came to Sobibor. The Working Prisoners knew that this would be followed by the closure of the camp and the killing of them all. This assessment (Einschätzung) was confirmed later in June 1943, after the closure of Belzec camp brought the last 600 working Jews from there to Sobibor for their extermination. In the clothing of the victims, prisoners found several notes.(Zettel) One read the following: "We worked for a year in Belzec. I don't know where they are taking us now. They say to Germany. In the freight cars there are dining tables. We received bread for three days, and tins and liquor. If all this is a lie, then know that death awaits you, too. Don't trust the Germans. Avenge our blood!' Ref (35) The text of the note is quoted differently in various memoirs, this one: Arad, Sobibor, page 299
Consequently in the spring of 1943 a secret resistance movement was established in Sobibor, considering a number of plans for an uprising. The leader of the group of ten to twelve people was Leon Felhendler, a son of a rabbi and a former chairman of the Jew's Council(Judenrat) in the ghetto of Zolkiewka. They took various plans into consideration, such as to bring about a mass escape. They did discuss whether there was a chance to poison the SS men, set fire to the camp or to dig several escape tunnels. It was also considered whether Ukrainian guards who had been identified as members of the Communist Party could be taken into confidence and ask for their assistance. In the summer of 1943 and independently of the efforts of the inmates of the camp areas in I and II, the prisoners of Camp III, had started to dig an escape tunnel. The plan, before the completion of the tunnel was betrayed and nearly killed all the prisoners from Camp III.

 Leon Felhendler, one of two leaders of the revolt of 14 October 1943 

Alexander Petchersky, commander of the uprising in Sobibor. 
The prisoners did not know that Heinrich Himmler, had proposed to Oswald Pohl, head of the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office in a letter of 5 July 1943,  that Sobibor be converted into a concentration camp to store and prepare and should simultaneously develop a manufacturing facility for captured ammunition. Pohl replied, after consulting with Globocnik, on that Himmler project, as both concepts could be realized, the De-commissioning and manufacture of Munition even without the creation of a new concentration camp. Himmler concurred with this assessment in a letter dated 24 July 1943.
September 23rd 1943 brought the turning point with the arrival of a transport of 2,000 Jews that arrived in Sobibor from Minsk, with them were 80 Soviet prisoners of war who had been selected for the construction of the emerging camp IV. Now the preparations for the revolt entered into a concrete phase. Without the knowledge and  experience of the former Red Army soldiers, their knowledge of weapons and skills in dealing with the planning and conduct of military actions, the project would never have been realized. Alexander Petchersky, a Red Army lieutenant, was at 34 the oldest of the group. He received quickly due to his bold approach and military tactics the respect of others. Leon Feldhendler got in touch with Petchersky and founded with him an "underground committee," with four men from the Feldhendler's group and four prisoners of war were included.. They met at night in the women's barracks and exchanged information with the aim to prepare the mass exodus of all prisoners. However, they were out of touch with the prisoners in Camp III for which any contact was not possible and were not included in their plans. They knew that not much time was left for them to carry out a rebellion. They also began first with the construction of an escape tunnel. When this project quickly proved to be a failure because water had entered  the tunnel,  Petchersky developed a new strategy. 
First, all present SS men were to be killed at different locations within the camp during the course of just one hour, quickly and silently. They should be individually lured into the work barracks or be killed in their own offices with a knife or axe. It was the greed of the SS men who would not resist the prospect of an attractive piece of stolen goods, an important factor in the planning. Moreover Petchersky relied on the proverbial punctuality of the Germans to appear exactly at the agreed time. After elimination of the SS, all prisoners who gathered at the usual hour during the evening roll call would be taken to the Main Gate of Camp I where no mines were laid. The leaders wanted to use and appear in captured SS uniforms in order to deceive the Ukrainians on the guard towers, at least in the short term. After they were neutralized and the gate was opened, the leaders of the uprising told the prisoners to escape into the surrounding woods. Until that time, darkness would have had already fallen which would facilitate an easier escape. If there should be any problems with the march through the camp it was arranged for the Russian prisoners of war to cut the barbed wire fence and by stone and rock throwing bring the mines to detonation so that the prisoners would be able to reach the forest unharmed. There was no plan, "AFTER" everyone would have to find their own way to freedom.
The greatest uncertainty was the behavior of the Ukrainian guards. But Petchersky hoped that they would join the insurgents once the SS were out of the way. The fighters needed weapons, knives, hatchets and axes that should be made ​​in the workshops. It was also foreseen that firearms from the guarded armory could be stolen. The telephones lines and telegraphs, and the entire electricity system had to be shut down. A small militia unit of a total of only 30 to 40 people was formed and was part of the plan. Strict secrecy was impossible. The majority of the prisoners would probably panic which would not remain hidden from the SS nor the Ukrainian guards and they would have realized that a major action was in preparation.  Petchersky reserved the right to self-select those who will kill the SS men. Finally, the day of the revolt was set on the 13 October 1943. The prisoners had learned that on that day commander Reichleitner, camp director Gustav Wagner and the dreaded SS-men Hubert Gumerski, Bolender and  Klier would be absent . Most important  was Wagner's absence, he controlled  the prisoners had a keen eye and a remarkable observer and therefore difficult to deceive was seen as a hopeful sign.
On October 13, however, a group of SS men from Ossowo from a nearby forced labor camp arrived in Sobibor, and the insurgents feared that their plan had been betrayed. However, it was only a friendly visit by other SS men, the group stayed so long in the Sobibor that the uprising was forced to be postponed by 24 hours. 

                                                              continued under Part 4


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.