Sobibór: The Other Great Escape

October 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of the mass breakout from Sobibór death camp. Althea Williams recalls an extraordinary event that is today largely forgotten.

Not the end of the line: Sobibór station in 2009, the time of Demjanjuk's trial

 We knew our fate. We knew that we were in an extermination camp and death was our destiny. We knew that even a sudden end to the war might spare the inmates of the ‘normal’ concentration camps, but never us. Only desperate actions could shorten our suffering and maybe afford us a chance of escape. And the will to resist had grown and ripened.

(Thomas Toivi Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibór: A Story of Survival)

Sobibór, Belzec and Treblinka extermination camps were situated in the part of eastern Poland the Nazis called the General Government. Created in 1942, they were a key element in Operation Reinhard, the plan to murder all Jews in the region and the first phase of the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’, the eradication of all European Jews.

From March 1942 until October 1943 between 1.6 million and 2 million Jews and an indeterminate number of Roma and Soviet prisoners of war were killed. On arriving at the camps they would be reassured by an SS officer that their belongings would be returned and they would shortly be transported to the Ukraine to live and work but first, to prevent disease, they would be showered and disinfected. Many were so relieved after their ordeal on the cattle trucks that they ‘applauded spontaneously and sometimes even danced and sang’, recalls Eda Lichtman, a survivor. Most would be gassed and cremated before the day was out. 

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