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The Sobibor Death Camp

Factory of Death - Sobibor

The Sobibor Death Camp  

 

Sobibor Map as remembered by SS Sergeant Bauer & Survivor Thomas Blatt

The Sobibor death camp was located near the Sobibor village, which was located in the eastern part of the Lublin district of Poland, close to the Chelm – Wlodawa railway line. The camp was 5km away from the Bug River which today forms the border between Poland and the Ukraine.

 

In 1942 the area around Sobibor was part of the border between the General Government and the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, the terrain was swampy, densely wooded and sparsely populated.

 

Sobibor was the second death camp to be constructed as part of the Aktion Reinhard programme, and was built on similar lines to Belzec, incorporating the lessons learnt from the first death camp to be constructed.

 

In the early months of 1942 after a reconnaissance visit by a small aircraft that circled over the village, a train arrived at Sobibor, two SS officers disembarked, they were Richard Thomalla, who worked in the SS-Zentralbauleitung Zamosc,  and Baurath Moser from Chelm. They walked around the station, took measurements and eventually made their way into the forest opposite the railway station.

 

In March 1942 a new railroad spur was built, which ended at an earthen ramp, the ramp was opposite the station building. The camp fence with interwoven branches was built in a manner which ensured that the railway spur and the ramp were located inside the camp, thus preventing passengers at the station from observing what happened in the camp.

 

The deportation trains entered the ramp through a gate and disappeared behind the “green wall.” In the station area three larger buildings existed – the station, the forester’s house, and a two-storey post office. There was also a sawmill and several houses for workers.

 

As construction work progressed, undertaken by 80 Jews from nearby ghettos, such as Wlodawa and Wola Uhruska, the site was inspected by a commission led by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Neumann, head of the Central Construction Office of the Waffen –SS in Lublin.

 

Once the Jews had completed the initial construction phase, they were gassed during an experimental gassing. Two or three of them escaped at that time to Wlodawa and informed the Hassidic rabbi there, what was happening in Sobibor.

 

Rails leading into Sobibor

The rabbi even proclaimed a fasting in memory of the first victims and also as a sign of resistance. Both the escapees and the rabbi were denounced by a Jewish policeman and all of them were executed.

 

The camp was in the form of a 400 x 600m rectangle, surrounded by a 3m high double barbed-wire fence, partially interwoven with pine branches to prevent observation from the outside. Along the fence and in the corners of the camp were wooden watchtowers.

 

Each of the four camp areas was individually fenced in: the SS administration area (Vorlager), housing and workshops of the Jewish commando (Camp 1), the reception area (Camp II) and the extermination area (Camp III), in 1943 a munitions supply area (Camp IV) was added.

 

The ‘Vorlager’ included the ramp, with space for 20 railway cars, as well as the living quarters for the SS staff and Trawnikimanner. Also included was the main gate, on top of the main gate was a wooden sign about 0.60 x 2.40m with the words ‘SS- Sonderkommando Sobibor, painted in Gothic letters. Unlike the death camp at Belzec, the SS men lived inside the camp area.

 

The Jews from the incoming transports were brought to the ‘reception area’ (Camp II), here they had to go through various procedures prior to their death in the gas chambers: division according to sex, the surrender of the suitcases, the confiscation of possessions and valuables, removal of clothing and the cutting of the women’s hair.

 

On their way to the gas the naked victims passed various buildings, some warehouse barracks, a second former forester’s house, which was used as the camp’s offices and living quarters for some of the SS men, separated by a high wooden fence, a small agricultural area with stables for horses, cattle, swine and geese and about 250m south of the gas chambers a small wooden Catholic chapel, in the shadow of tall pine trees, which was now the ‘Lazarett’ and high observation tower used by the forester, overlooked the entire area.

 

The most isolated area in the camp was the extermination area (Camp III) was located in the north-western part of the camp. It contained the gas chambers, mass graves and housing for the Jewish prisoners employed there.

 

A path 3 to 4m wide and 150m long, ‘Die Schlauch (The Tube) cynically known by the SS in the camp as the ‘Himmelfahrtstrasse (Street to Heaven) led from the reception area to the extermination area. On either side the path was fenced in with barbed –wire, intertwined with pine branches. Through it the naked victims were herded towards the gas chambers. The barber’s barracks, where the hair of the Jewish women was cut off, was built near the end of the tube. The hair was used by the Germans for a number of uses such as mattresses for u-boats, slippers etc. 

 

The three gas chambers were inside a brick building - individual chambers were square shaped, 4 x 4m and had a capacity of 160 – 180 persons. Each gas chamber was entered through a small door, leading from a veranda which ran along the length of the building. After gassing the bodies were removed through a 2 x 2m folding door, opposite to the entrance, and placed on a second veranda.

 

Crude diagram of Sobibor drawn by one of the survivors

Outside the building was an annex in which a motor produced the deadly carbon monoxide gas, water pipes conducted the gas to the gas chambers. The mass graves were 50-60m long, 10-15m wide, and 5-7m deep, the sandy walls were constructed obliquely in order to facilitate the burying of corpses.

 

A narrow gauge railway was constructed from the station led to the burial pits, on which a small train from a local sawmill, pulled tippers, containing the victims who had died en-route to the camp. 

 

While the basic installations were being made ready to exterminate the Jews, the organisation of the SS and Ukrainians was also taking shape. In April 1942 SS-Obersturmfuhrer Franz Paul Stangl was appointed commandant of Sobibor, and he visited Christian Wirth in Belzec death camp, to obtain guidance and experience.

 

After his return from Belzec, the construction work speeded up, Franz Stangl, an Austrian who had served in the euthanasia programme, at Hartheim, and Bernburg, had as his deputy, another SS man with euthanasia experience, SS-Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Michel, who was replaced a few months later by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Gustav Wagner.

 

Stangl & his children

Stangl at a party

Click image descriptions for full view

The initial commander of Camp I was SS-Oberscharfuhrer Otto Weiss, who was replaced by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Karl Frenzel, who had previously supervised the Jewish prisoners in Camp II. SS-Oberscharfuhrer Kurt Bolender served as commander of Camp III from April 1942 until the autumn of 1942, where he was replaced by SS-Oberscharfuhrer Erich Bauer. Alfred Ittner was in charge of the camp administration was later transferred to Camp III.

 

The Ukrainian guards at Sobibor came from the SS training camp in Trawniki and were led by SS-Scharfuhrer Erich Lachmann, up until the autumn of 1942, when Bolender took over this responsibility. The Trawnikimanner were organised into three platoons, led by Ukrainian volksdeutsche.

 

In early April 1942 when the camp was nearly completed, further experimental gassings took place, about 250 Jews from Krychow forced labour camp were brought to Sobibor for this purpose.

 

Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ar/sobibor.html

 

The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

www.HolocaustResearchProject.org

 

Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2010

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