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Article

Escape from Sobibor!

Alexander Pechersky on the Revolt and Escape

 

Alexander Pechersky on the Revolt and Escape
From the Sobibor Death Camp

 

In his own words...

 

 

 

Reunion of Sobibor survivors Alexander Pechersky (third from the left)

Alexander Pechersky was born on the 22 February 1909 in Kremenchuk, in the Ukraine. A lieutenant in the Red Army, he became a Prisoner of War in October 1941.

 

* Read more about Alexander Pechersky [here]

 

 

After trying to escape in May 1942, he was taken to Borisov, where a medical examination exposed him as being of Jewish extraction. He was sent to Sobibor death camp on the 22 September 1943 as a Jewish POW, along with some other soldiers and approximately 2,000 Jews from Minsk.

 

 

He was among eighty men selected by Hubert Gomerski for carpentry work, all the others on their transport were immediately taken to the gas chambers by Karl Frenzel.

 

Only twenty-two days later he managed to lead – together with Leon Feldhendler, a Polish Jew - the revolt on the 14 October 1943. Another four days later he and a group of his Soviet comrades succeeded in crossing the River Bug and joining the partisan bands – which later became part of the regular Soviet army.

 

He spent a short period in hospital in 1944. He never received any commendations for his heroic deeds, quite the contrary, the Soviet authorities regarded anyone who had worked either in Germany or for the Germans as a traitor, and he ended up instead with a prison sentence of several months.

 

 

Pechersky outlined his thinking in planning the revolt at the death camp:

 

 

My aim was first to kill the fascists who had already murdered so many Jews at Sobibor. Maybe that would allow only ten or fifteen of us to make a run for freedom, so that we could tell the world the truth.

 

 

To be honest I was not really all that confident about my plan, but I never mentioned that to the members of the committee, I wanted them to feel they were not powerless, and that we could indeed stage a revolt and escape.

 

 

For some time I discussed the plan only with my friend Leitman. I knew him as a quiet, strong and intelligent man. After giving it a lot of thought, we decided to present the plan, which had been worked out in detail, to Feldhendler and a few members of the committee.

 

I imposed one condition, that if we were to go ahead and execute the plan, killing the SS officers would be done only by men appointed by myself. I wanted them to be eliminated by teams of two, with a Soviet soldier in charge.

 

The reason was that I knew the characters of my men, I was well aware that if anyone should waver at the last minute, or even one hand should tremble, the entire revolt could fail. A single scream would be enough to cause hysteria; after that, restoring calm at the camp would be impossible.

 

Alexander Pechersky model of the Sobibor Death Camp

I also imposed one other condition, “I will take your opinions into account, but I will have the final say. If I say this is how it will be done, then that is the way it will be done.

 

Pechersky described after the war what happened in Camp I after the roll-call signal was given:

 

People came streaming from all sides. We had previously selected seventy men, nearly all of them Soviet Prisoners of War, whose task it was to attack the armoury. That was why they were in the forefront of the column.

 

 

But all the others, who had only suspected that something was being arranged but didn’t know when and how, now found out at the last minute, they began to push and jostle forward, fearing they might be left behind, in this disorderly fashion we reached the gate of Camp I.

 

A squad commander, a German from Near-Volga, approached us, “Hey you sons-of –bitches,” he shouted, “didn’t you hear the whistle?” So why are you pushing like a bunch of cattle? Get in line, three in a row!”

 

As though in response to a command, several hatchets suddenly appeared from under coats and came down on his head.

 

 

At that moment the column from Camp II was advancing toward us. Several women shaken by the unexpected scene, began to scream. One prisoner was on the verge of fainting. Another began to run blindly, without any direction. It was clear that under these circumstances it would be impossible to line up the people in an orderly column.

 

“Comrades, forward,” I called out loud. “Forward,” someone on my right picked up the slogans. “For our fatherland, forward!”

 

 

The slogans reverberated like thunder in the death camp, and united Jews from Russia, Poland, Holland, France, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Six hundred pain-wracked, tormented people surged forward with a wild “hurrah” to life and freedom.

 

Pechersky described what happened when the guards realised the revolt had started:

 

 

The guards on the watchtower opened intensive machine-gun fire on the escaping prisoners. The guards who were at and between the barbed-wire fences joined them.

 

Yanek the carpenter aimed and shot at the guards on the watchtower, the machine-gun fell silent. The locksmith Henrick used the captured sub-machine gun to silence the gunner from the second watchtower. But this machine gun continued to fire incessantly.

 

 

The remaining SS –men tried with automatic fire to cut-off the way of the crowd of prisoners.... The main body of the prisoners turned toward the fences of Camp I. Some ran directly over to the minefields. According to the plan, stones and planks had to be thrown on the mines to explode them, but in the confusion nobody did it.

 

Many found their death there, but they paved the way to freedom for the prisoners who followed them. A special group started to cut the fences close to the house where the commander of the camp lived.

 

 

When I passed by this house, I saw Frenzel crouching behind another house and shooting with a sub-machine gun. I shot him twice with my pistol but missed him. I did not stop.

 

A large group of prisoners under the command of Leitman tried to cross the barbed –wire fences close to the main gate. The guards on the watchtower aimed his fire on Leitman’s group.

 

 

Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/revolt/sobiborescape.html

 

 

The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

www.HolocaustResearchProject.org

 

 

Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2011

More Stories By Holocaust Research Project

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