The Most Successful Uprising And Mass-escape Of Jews From A Nazi Extermination Camp


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Feb 19, 2010
Alexander Pechersky
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Aleksandr Pechersky

Birth name Alexander Aronovich Pechersky
Nickname(s) Sasha
Born 22 February 1909
Kremenchuk, Poltava Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 19 January 1990 (aged 80)
Rostov-on-Don, Soviet Union
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branch Red Army
Rank Captain
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Medal for Battle Merit (1951), Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
Spouse(s) Olga Kotova
Other work Music theater administration
Alexander 'Sasha' Pechersky (Russian: Алекса́ндр Аро́нович Пече́рский; 22 February 1909 – 19 January 1990) was one of the organizers, and the leader of the most successful uprising and mass-escape of Jews from a Nazi extermination camp during World War II; which occurred at the Sobibor extermination camp on 14 October 1943.

In 1948 Pechersky was arrested by the Soviet authorities along with his brother during the countrywide Rootless cosmopolitan campaign against the Jews suspected of pro-Western leanings. Only after Stalin's death in 1953 was he released from jail due in part to mounting international pressure. However, the harassment did not stop there. Pechersky was prevented by the Soviet government from testifying in multiple international trials related to Sobibor, including the Eichmann Trial in Israel. The last time he was refused the permission to exit the country and testify was in 1987, for a trial in Poland.

Pechersky, a son of a Jewish lawyer, was born on February 22, 1909 in Kremenchuk, Poltava Governorate, Russian Empire (now Ukraine). In 1915, his family moved to Rostov-on-Don where he eventually worked as an electrician at a locomotive repair factory. After graduating from university with a diploma in music and literature, he became an accountant and manager of a small school for amateur musicians.

World War II
On 22 June 1941, the day when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Pechersky was conscripted into the Soviet Red Army with a rank of junior lieutenant. By September 1941, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant quartermaster (class II). In the early autumn of 1941, he rescued his wounded commander from being captured by the Germans. He didn't receive any medals for this deed. One of his fellow soldiers reportedly said: "Sasha, if what you've done doesn't make you a hero, I don't know who is!" In October 1941, during the Battle of Moscow, their unit was surrounded and captured by the Germans in the pocket at the city of Vyazma, Smolensk Oblast.

Captured, Pechersky soon contracted typhus, but survived the seven-month-long illness. In May 1942, he escaped along with four other prisoners of war, but they were all recaptured the same day. He was then sent to a penal camp at Borisov, Belarus, and from there to a prisoners of war (POW) camp located in the forest next to the city of Minsk. During a mandatory medical examination it was discovered that he was circumcised. Pechersky recalled a German medical officer asking him: "Do you admit to being a Jew?" He admitted it, since any denial would result in a whipping, and was thrown into a cellar called "the Jewish grave" along with other Jewish POWs (prisoners of war), where for 10 days he sat in complete darkness, being fed 100 grams (3.5 oz) of wheat and a cup of water every second day.

On August 20, 1942, Pechersky was sent to a SS-operated arbeitslager, a work camp, in Minsk. The camp housed 500 Jews from the Minsk Ghetto, as well as Jewish Soviet POWs; there were also between 200–300 Soviet inmates whom the Germans labeled as incorrigible: people who were suspected of contacting the Soviet partisans and those who were repeatedly truant while working for the Germans. The prisoners were starved and worked from dawn till dusk. Pechersky wrote about the Minsk work camp:

The German Nazi camp commandant didn't let a single day pass without killing someone. If you looked at his face you could tell he was a sadist. He was thin, his upper lip shaking and his left eye bloodshot. He always had a hangover or was drunk and committed unspeakable horrors. He shot people for no reason and his favorite hobby was commanding his dog to attack random people who were ordered not to defend themselves. — Pechersky

At Sobibor
On 18 September 1943, Pechersky, along with 2,000 Jews from Minsk including about 100 Soviet Jewish POWs, was placed in a train cattle car which arrived at the Sobibor extermination camp on September 23, 1943. Eighty prisoners from the train, including Pechersky, were selected for work in Lager II. The remaining 1,920 Jews were immediately led to the gas chambers. Pechersky later recalled his thoughts as the train pulled up to Sobibor, "How many circles of hell were there in Dante's Inferno? It seems there were nine. How many have already passed? Being surrounded, being captured, camps in Vyazma, Smolensk, Borisov, Minsk... And finally I am here. What's next?" The appearance of Soviet POWs produced an enormous impression on Sobibor prisoners: "hungry hope-filled eyes following their every move".

Pechersky wrote about his first day in Sobibor:

I was sitting outside on a pile of logs in the evening with Solomon (Shlomo) Leitman, who subsequently became my top commander in the uprising. I asked him about the huge, strange fire burning 500 meters away from us behind some trees and about the unpleasant smell throughout the camp. He warned me that the guards forbade looking there, and told me that they are burning the corpses of my murdered comrades who arrived with me that day. I did not believe him, but he continued: He told me that the camp existed for more than a year and that almost every day a train came with two thousand new victims who are all murdered within a few hours. He said around 500 Jewish prisoners – Polish, French, German, Dutch and Czechoslovak work here and that my transport was the first one to bring Russian Jews. He said that on this tiny plot of land, no more than 10 hectares, (24.7 acres or .1 square kilometer) hundreds of thousands of Jewish women, children and men were murdered. I thought about the future. Should I try to escape alone or with a small group? Should I leave the rest of the prisoners to be tortured and murdered? I rejected this thought. — Pechersky

During his third day at Sobibor, Alexander Pechersky earned the respect of fellow prisoners by standing up to Karl Frenzel, an SS senior officer, as the incident was recalled by Leon Feldhendler.

Pechersky, still wearing his Soviet Army uniform, was assigned to dig up tree stumps in the North Camp. Frenzel was in charge because an underling was elsewhere and was in a bad mood. Frenzel was waiting for an excuse to pick on someone since he considered himself an officer and a gentleman and waited for some reason to begin his sadistic games. One Dutch Jew was too weak to chop a stump so Frenzel began beating him with his whip.

Pechersky stopped chopping and watched the whipping while resting on his axe. Kapo Porzyczki translated when Frenzel asked Pechersky if he didn’t like what he saw. Pechersky didn't bow down, shake or cower in fear but answered, Yes Oberscharfuhrer. Franzel told Pechersky that he had 5 minutes to split a large tree stump in two. If Pechersky beat the time he would receive a pack of cigarettes, if he lost, he would be whipped 25 times. Franzel looked at his watch, and said: Begin.

Pechersky split the stump in four and a half minutes and Frenzel held out a pack of cigarettes and announced that he always does as he promises. Pechersky replied that he doesn’t smoke, turned around and got back to chopping down new tree stumps. Frenzel came back twenty minutes later with fresh bread and butter and offered it to Pechersky. Pechersky replied that the rations at the concentration camp were more than adequate and that he wasn’t hungry. Frenzel turned around and left, leaving Kapo Porzyczki in charge. That evening, this episode of defiance spread throughout Sobibor. This episode influenced the leadership of the Polish Jews to approach Pechersky about ideas for an escape plan. — Leon Feldhendler

Pechersky's plan merged the idea of a mass escape with vengeance: to help as many prisoners as possible to escape while executing SS officers and guards. His final goal was to join up with the partisans and continue fighting the Nazis.

Five days after arriving at Sobibor, Pechersky was again approached by Solomon Leitman on behalf of Leon Feldhendler, the leader of the camp's Polish Jews. Leitman was one of the few prisoners who understood Russian and Pechersky didn't speak either Yiddish or Polish. Pechersky was invited to talk with a group of Jewish prisoner leaders from Poland, to whom he spoke about the Red Army victory in the Battle of Stalingrad and partisan victories. When one of the prisoners asked him why the partisans won't rescue them from Sobibor, Pechersky allegedly replied: "What for? To free us all? The partisans have their hands full already. Nobody will do our job for us."

The Jewish prisoners who had worked at the Bełżec extermination camp were sent to Sobibor to be exterminated when Bełżec closed. From a note found among the clothing of the murdered, the Sobibor prisoners learned that those who had been killed were from work groups in the Belzec camp. The note said: "We worked for a year in Belzec. I don't know where they're 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!"

The leadership of the Polish Jews was aware that Belzec and Treblinka had been closed, dismantled and all remaining prisoners had been sent to the gas-chambers and they suspected that Sobibor would be next. There was a great urgency in coming up with a good escape plan, and Pechersky, with his army experience, was their best hope. The escape had to also coincide with the time when the Sobibor's deputy commandant Gustav Wagner went on vacation, since the prisoners felt that he was sharp enough to uncover the escape plan.

Pechersky clandestinely met with Feldhendler under the guise of meeting Luka, a woman he was supposedly involved with. Luka is often described as an 18-year-old woman from "Holland", but records indicate she was 28 and from Germany, her real name was Gertrud Poppert–Schönborn. After the war, Pechersky insisted that the relationship was platonic. Her fate after the escape was never established and she was never seen alive again. During an interview with Thomas Blatt, Pechersky said the following regarding Luka: "Although I knew her only about two weeks, I will never forget her. I informed her minutes before the escape of the plan. She has given me a shirt. She said, 'it's a good luck shirt, put it on right now', and I did. It's now in the museum. I lost her in the turmoil of the revolt and never saw her again."

Luka's shirt still exists and is described on May 3, 2010 by Pechersky's daughter as:

It is very well preserved. Light gray. Has dark-gray stripes. A little worn from wear and being often washed. Long sleeves. The shirt collar has some blurred letters of the Latin alphabet which are no longer readable.
The uprising
According to Pechersky's plan, the prisoners would assassinate the German SS staff, thereby rendering the auxiliary guards leaderless, obtain weapons, and eliminate the remaining guards. Individual Polish Jewish inmates were assigned specific German SS guards that they were supposed to lure inside the workshops under some pretext and silently kill. Ester Raab, a survivor of the escape, recalled: "The plan was, at 4 o’clock (pm), should start (the escape), everybody has to kill his SS man, and his guard at his place of work." Only a small circle of trusted Polish Jewish inmates were aware of the escape plan as they didn't trust the Jews from other European countries.

On 14 October 1943, Pechersky's escape plan began. During the day, several German SS men were lured to workshops on a variety of pretexts, such as being fitted for new boots or expensive clothes. The SS men were then stabbed to death with carpenters' axes, awls, and chisels discreetly recovered from property left by gassed Jews; with other tradesmen's sharp tools; or with crude knives and axes made in the camp's machine shop. The blood was covered up with sawdust on the floor. The escapees were armed with a number of hand grenades, a rifle, a submachine gun and several pistols that the prisoners stole from the German living quarters, as well as the sidearms captured from the dead SS. Earlier in the day, SS-Oberscharführer Erich Bauer, at the top of the death list created by Pechersky, unexpectedly drove out to Chełm for supplies. The uprising was almost postponed since Bauer's death was felt necessary for the success of the escape. Bauer came back early from Chełm, discovered that SS-Scharführer Rudolf Beckmann had been assassinated, and began shooting at the Jewish prisoners. The sound of the gunfire prompted Alexander Pechersky to begin the revolt earlier than planned. Pechersky screamed the preplanned code-words: "Hurrah, the revolt has begun!"

Disorganized groups of prisoners ran in every direction. Ada Lichtman, a survivor of the escape recalls: "Suddenly we heard shots... Mines started to explode. Riot and confusion prevailed, everything was thundering around. The doors of the workshop were opened, and everyone rushed through... We ran out of the workshop. All around were the bodies of the dead and wounded." Alexander Pechersky was able to successfully escape into the woods. At the end of the uprising, 11 German SS personnel and an unknown number of Ukrainian guards were killed. Out of approximately 550 Jewish prisoners at the Sobibor death camp, 130 chose not to participate in the uprising and remained in the camp; about 80 were killed during the escape either by machine gun fire from watchtowers, or while getting through a mine field in the camp's outer perimeter; 170 more were recaptured by the Nazis during large-scale searches. All who remained in the camp or caught after the escape were executed. However, 53 Sobibor escapees survived the war. Within days after the uprising, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp closed, dismantled and planted with trees.

After the escape
Immediately after the escape, in the forest, a group of 50 prisoners followed Pechersky. After some time, Pechersky informed the Polish Jews that he along with a few Soviet Jewish soldiers would enter the nearby village and then shortly return with food. They allegedly collected all the money (Pechersky implies the money collection is a fabricated detail) and weapons except one rifle, but never came back. In 1980, Thomas Blatt asked Pechersky why he abandoned the other survivors. Pechersky answered:

My job was done. You were Polish Jews in your own terrain. I belonged in the Soviet Union and still considered myself a soldier. In my opinion, the chances for survival were better in smaller units. To tell the people straight forward: "we must part" would not have worked. You have seen, they followed every step of mine, we all would perish. what can I say? You were there. We were only people. The basic instincts came into play. It was still a fight for survival. This is the first time I hear about money collection. It was a turmoil, it was difficult to control everything. I admit, I have seen the imbalance in the distribution of the weaponry, but you must understand, they would rather die than to give up their arms. — Pechersky

Pechersky, along with two other escapees, wandered the forests until they ran into Yakov Biskowitz, and another Sobibor escapee. Biskowitz testified at the Eichmann Trial regarding the meeting:

The two of us wandered through the forests, until we met Sasha Pechersky. There were three of them whom I came across. One had weak legs. They wore white clothes made of hand-woven material. They had sunk into mud after escaping. After that, we met together. There were now five of us – we walked to the Skrodnitze forests. There we met the first Jewish partisans called Yehiel's Group (under Yehiel Grynszpan) – it was a group of Jews who had undertaken action. We engaged in sabotaging railway lines, cutting telephone wires, hit-and-run attacks on German army units. — Yakov Biskowitz

The two Russian Jewish soldiers who Yahov Biskowitz met with Pechersky were Alexander Shubayev (who was responsible for executing SS-Untersturmführer Johann Niemann; was later killed fighting the Germans) and Arkady Moishejwicz Wajspapier (who was responsible for executing SS-Oberscharführer Siegfried Graetschus and Volksdeutscher Ivan Klatt; survived the war). For over a year Pechersky fought with the Yehiel's Group partisans as a demolition expert and later with the Soviet group of Voroshilov Partisans, until the Red Army drove out the Germans from Belarus.

As an escaped POW, Pechersky was conscripted into a special penal battalions, conforming to Stalin's Order No. 270 and was sent to the front to fight German forces in some of the toughest engagements of the war. Pechersky's battalion commander, Major Andreev, was so shocked by his description of Sobibor that he permitted Pechersky to go to Moscow and speak to the Commission of Inquiry of the Crimes of Fascist-German Aggressors and their Accomplices. The Commission listened to Pechersky and published the report Uprising in Sobibor based on his testimony. This report was included in the Black Book, one of the first comprehensive compilations about the Holocaust, written by Vasily Grossman and Ilya Ehrenburg.

For fighting the Germans as part of the penal battalions, Pechersky was promoted to the rank of captain and received a medal for bravery. He was eventually discharged after a serious foot injury. In a hospital in Moscow, he was introduced to his future wife, Olga Kotova.
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Alexander Pechersky

Leader of the Sobibor Revolt



Alexander Pechersky

I was born in Kremenchug in 1919, but spent my childhood in Rostov. After I finished my secondary studies I entered a music school. Music and theatre were the most important things in my life. I directed amateur dramatic circles and took a great interest in the arts.

In 1941 I joined the army with the rank of second lieutenant, and was soon promoted to first lieutenant. Taken prisoner in October 1941, I caught typhus, but concealed the disease, fearing to be killed.

In May 1942, I tried to escape with four other prisoners, but we were caught and were sent first to the disciplinary camp of Borysov and then to Minsk. During a medical examination it was discovered that I was Jewish. I was locked up with other Jews in a place nicknamed “the Jewish cellar,” where we spent ten days in complete darkness.

We were allowed 100 grams of bread a day and a jug of water. Then on September 20 1942 we were transferred to the labour camp of Sheroka Street in Minsk, where I lived until my deportation to Sobibor.


The area of the ramp at Sobibor

In September 1943 we were told that Jews would be transferred to Germany, but that families would not be separated. At 4am a silent crowd left Minsk, the men on foot, women and children in trucks.

We gathered at the railway station where a freight train awaited us. Seventy people were crowded into a box-car, and after four days we reached Sobibor. We stopped during the night and were given water. The doors opened, and facing us, was a poster Sonderkommando Sobibor.

Tired and hungry, we left the car. Armed SS officers stood there and Oberscharfuhrer Gomerski shouted “Cabinet makers and carpenters with no families forward.”

Eighty men were led into the camp and locked in a barrack. Older prisoners informed us about Sobibor. We had all fought in the war and suffered in labour camps but we were so horrified about Sobibor that we could not sleep that night.

Shlomo Leitman, a Polish Jew from Sheroka, was lying at my side. “What will become of us?” he asked. I didn’t answer pretending to sleep. I couldn’t get over my reaction and was thinking of Nelly, a little girl who travelled in my boxcar and who was, no doubt, dead already. I thought of my own daughter Elochka.

On September 24, I wrote in my diary: “We are in the camp of Sobibor, we rise at 5.00 am, get a litre of warm water, but no bread, at 5.30 we are counted, at 6.00 we leave for work, in columns of threes, Russian Jews are in front, then Poles, Czech and Dutch.”


A work detail at Sobibor

I remember when the SS man Frenzel ordered us to sing, Cybulski was walking at my side, “What shall we sing?” he asked and I answered, “We only know one song: Yesli Zavtra Voyna.” It was a patriotic Russian song and it gave us hope for freedom.

Soldiers led us to the Nordlager, a new section of the camp. Nine barracks were already built there and others were under construction. Our group was split in two, one part was sent to build, the other to cut wood. On our first day of work, fifteen people got twenty-five lashes each for incompetence.

On September 25, we unloaded coal all day and were given only twenty minutes for lunch. The cook* was unable to feed us all in such a short time. Frenzel was furious and ordered the cook to sit down. Then he whipped him while whistling a marching tune. The soup tasted as though it had been mixed with blood and although we were very hungry, many of us were unable to eat.

Our arrival at the camp made a great impression on the older prisoners: they knew well that the war was going on, but had never seen the men who fought in it. And these newcomers could handle arms!


Karl Frenzel

We were approached by men and women who made us understand that their wish was to get out of hell. I couldn’t speak Yiddish so Shlomo Leitman who was born in Warsaw, acted as interpreter. We could understand some Polish as it resembles Russian.

I wanted to know the topography of Sobibor. Camp Number 1 where we lived, included workshops and kitchens. Camp Number 2 the reception centre of the new arrivals, had storage for the belongings stolen from the prisoners , a corridor led to Camp Number 3 and its gas chambers.

On September 26, twenty-five prisoners were whipped, a young Dutchman tall and lean, was chopping wood, but was not strong enough for the task. The SS guard hit him on the head. Astonished I stopped working. Furious, the guard shouted, “I give you five minutes to chop this wood, if you fail, you will get twenty-five lashes.”

I hit the wood as though it were his head. “You did it in four and a half minutes,” said the Nazi looking at his watch. He offered me a cigarette. “Thanks, I don’t smoke,” I replied.

27 September. We were still working at the Nordlager. At 9 a.m. Kali-Mali, from Sheroka, whose real name was Shubayev, told me, “All the Germans have left, only the Kapo is here, why?”

I answered, “I don’t know, but let us see where we are.” A prisoner informed us, “If they are not here, it means that a convoy has just arrived, look over there at the Camp Number 3.” We heard a terrible scream from a woman, followed by children wailing, “Mother, mother.” And, as if to add to the horror, the bawling of geese joined the human wailing.


Drawing of the camp layout at Sobibor

A farmyard was established in the camp to enrich the menus of the SS men, and the bawling of the geese covered the shrieks of the victims.

My helplessness at these crimes horrified me, Shlomo Leitman and Boris Cybulski were livid, “Sasha, let us escape, we are only 200 metres from the forest, we can cut the barbed wire with our axes and run,” said Boris. “We must escape all together and soon: winter is near and snow is not our friend,” he added.

On September 28, one week after I arrived at the camp, I knew everything about the hell of Sobibor. Camp Number 4 was on a hill: each section was surrounded with barbed wire and was mined. I was informed of the exact place occupied by the personnel, the guards and the arsenal.

Next day, the 600 prisoners, men and women were taken to the station to unload eight cars of bricks. Each of us was forced to run and fetch eight bricks; the one who failed was whipped twenty-five times. We finished our work in less than an hour and we returned to our commando’s. The reason for the haste, a new convoy was just entering the station.

Our group of eighty men was finally led to Camp Number 4, I was working near Shlomo; another prisoner from Sheroka approached me and whispered, “We have decided to escape; there are only five SS officers, and we can wipe them out. The forest is near.”


Leon Feldhendler

I replied, “Easier said than done, the five guards are not together. When you finish with one, the second shoots at us; and how shall we cross the minefields? Wait the time is near.”

At night, Baruch (Leon Feldhendler)** told me, “It is not the first time that we have planned to finish with Sobibor, but very few of us know how to use arms. Lead us, and we shall follow you.” His intelligent face inspired trust and gave me courage. I asked him to form a group of the most reliable prisoners.

On October 7, I gave to Baruch (Feldhendler) my first instructions on how to dig a tunnel. “The carpenters’ workshop is at the end of the camp, five metres from the barbed wire; the net of three rows of barbed wire occupies four metres to fifteen metres; let us add seven metres, the length of the barrack.

We shall start digging under the stove and the tunnel will be no more than thirty-five metres long and eighty centimetres deep, because of the danger of mines. We shall have at least twenty cubic metres of earth to hide, and shall leave that earth under the floorboards. The job must be done only at night.”

We all agreed to start working: the digging of the tunnel would take us fifteen to twenty days. But the plan presented weak spots: between 11pm and 5am six hundred persons had to pass in Indian file the thirty-five meters of the tunnel and run a good distance from the camp in order to avoid the posse of the SS.


SS Man Hubert Gomerski

I said, “I also have other ideas, meanwhile, let us prepare our first arms: seventy well whetted knives or razor blades.” Barauch (Feldhendler) said that the Kapo’s were interested in our plans and could be very helpful, since they walked freely in the camp. I thought that their help was vital, “All right, I accept,” I said.

October 8 1943. A new transport arrived. Janek, the carpenters’ supervisor, needed three prisoners to help him. Shlomo, another prisoner and I were chosen and sent to Camp Number 1. That same evening, Barauch (Feldhendler) brought Shlomo seventy well whetted knives.

October 9: Grisha, who was caught sitting while cleaning wood, got twenty-five lashes. It was a bad day, thirty of our people had been flogged for various transgressions and we were exhausted. In the evening Kali-Mali came to the barracks, out of breath.

He informed me that Grisha and seven of our men were ready to escape and asked us to join them. “Come with us, the site near the barbed wire is badly lit, we will kill the guard with an axe and then we will run to the forest.” We went to find Grisha, and I explained to him that reprisals would be terrible even if his plan succeeded. I had to use threats before I persuaded him to plan only a collective escape.

October 10: I saw an SS officer with his arm in a sling. I was told that it was Greischutz back from his leave. He had been wounded in a Russian air raid. Later, Shlomo an I met the Kapo Brzecki*** who knew that we were preparing something. “Take me with you; together we shall accomplish more. I know the end awaits us all,” he said, and he also asked us to include the kapo Geniek. I answered, “Could you kill a Nazi?” He thought for a moment, and replied, “Yes, if it is necessary for our cause.”


Rail tracks at Sobibor

October 11: That morning, we heard screams followed by shots. We were locked up in the barracks and guards stood around us. The shooting lasted a long time and seemed to be coming from the Nordlager. We feared the prisoners had tried to escape before we were ready. Soon we learned the cause of the fusillade, a group of new prisoners already undressed, had revolted and had tried to run in the direction of the barbed wire.

The guards began to shoot and killed many of them instantly. The others were dragged to Camp Number 3. That day, the crematorium burned longer than usual. Huge flames rose up in the grey autumn sky and the camp was lit with strange colours. Helpless and distressed, we looked at the bodies of our brothers and sisters.

October 12: It was a terrible day: eighteen of our friends, many from Sheroka, were sick. Several SS men, under the direction of Frenzel, entered our barrack and asked the patients to follow them. Among them was a young Dutch prisoner with his wife, and the unfortunate man could hardly walk. The woman was running after the group screaming, “Murderers, I know where you are taking my husband. I can’t live without him! Assassins, murderers.” She died with the group.

Shlomo and I ordered a meeting for 9.00 pm, at the carpenters’ workshop. Baurach (Feldhendler) Shlomo, Janek, the tailors Joseph and Jacob, Moniek and others were present. We posted a sentry at the entrance. Moniek went to fetch Brzecki and, when both returned, I asked Brzecki again if he had thought over the consequences of his decision; if the plan failed, he would be the first to die.

He said, “I know it, but we must get rid of the SS officers and this should take one hour, if we could do it in less time, so much the better. For that purpose, we need efficient and determined men, since one moments hesitation would be fatal, and I know some capable people, who can do the job.”

At 3.00 pm Brzecki was to lead three of his men to Camp Number 2 under any pretext that he would find himself. Their task would consist of liquidating the four officers present. Baurach (Feldhendler) would lead the SS men to a place where the prisoners would be waiting, and would prevent anyone from leaving Camp Number 2 once the action had begun.


Allied Decode referring to the revolt at Sobibor

At exactly 4 o’clock, another team would cut the telephone wires from Camp Number 2 to the guards’ quarters. The same team would hide those wires in such a way as to make it impossible to reconnect the telephone on the same day. At the same time, we were to start killing SS officers, they would be invited, one by one, into the workshops where two of our men would execute them. At 4.30 pm everything would be finished.

At the same time Brzecki and Geniek would assemble the prisoners for the usual evening roll call. In front would be the Soviet prisoners who were to take over the arsenal and the rest of us would cover them. Once the arsenal was open, armed men would head the group and kill the guards at the gate. If they resisted we would fight with the arms taken from the officers.

Near the workshops and the officers’ villas was a mesh of barbed wire. There the ground was mined, but less dangerous. Stones were to be thrown in order to destroy the mines.

These were the details of the plan: I added that I had long discussions with Shlomo and I couldn’t think of anything better. I asked everybody to think it over again, and a new meeting was planned for the next day, under the strictest secrecy.

Just before the revolt, an idea occurred to me and I wanted to check if it was right. Having observed the behaviour of the guards for a long time, I knew that every morning each of them got five bullets for his rifle. I also noticed that, with the changing of each guard, the bullets were handed over to the next guard. This meant that the guards who were not on duty had no bullets.

In order to check my findings, I asked Brzecki to find an excuse to send me to the guards’ barracks. On October 13 at 10.00am, the carpentry workshop got an order to send a man to the barracks in order to repair the doors. Janek sent me there and, while I was visiting the rooms, I was glad to see that my idea was correct.

October 14: “On the night of October 13 we distributed knives and hatchets, as well as warm clothes.” I was to remain in the carpentry workshop where, from the window, I could watch what was happening in Camp Number 3. In the next barrack, Shlomo and a team of twenty men were repairing our wooden beds.


SS funeral for German guards killed in the Sobibor Revolt

According to our plan, at 4.00 and at 4.15 pm, two SS men were to appear at the tailors’ workshop. At the same time, two officers Greischutz and

Getzinger **** were in another workshop. Frenzel was supervising the building of some cupboards.

Rosenfeld’s job was to kill him. Friedrich Gaulstich would enter the carpentry workshop where Shlomo would be waiting. Other SS officers of Camp Number 2 were to be enticed into different workshops.

Each of us had his task: Shubayev, aged twenty-five, a railway engineer from Rostov, a good and simple buddy, would go to the tailors’ workshop with Moniek. Cybulski, a thirty-five year old driver, a former truck driver from Donbass, and accompanied by Michael and Bunio. Guided by Brzecki, they were to go to Camp Number 2 to meet Barauch (Feldhendler).

At 2pm, SS Unterscharfuhrer Walter Ryba came to Brzecki, he had a machine gun, and that worried me. That morning Frenzel noticed that Janek was better dressed than usual, but Geniek reassured us. Brzecki had to go to Camp Number 4 with other prisoners in order to stack wood. The guard took his machine gun only because he was the sole supervisor.

Geniek was to lead the four men to Camp Number 2. At first he asked us to postpone it to the next day, but that was impossible. Although the details of our plan were known only to the committee and a small group, the other prisoners felt that something was going to happen and kept asking: “Well, when will it be?”


Simon Mazurkewich

On the eve of October 14th, the older people said prayers, it was Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. ***** Some inmates told them, “Better pray for Sasha to help you.” They answered, “We are praying to God to help Sasha.”

We had another reason for not postponing our plan: On October 14 Gomerski was on vacation. The Lagerfuhrer Frenzel was a bastard but, compared to Gomerski, he seemed a choirboy. “Tomorrow may be too late,” I said to Geniek, “we have to do what we decided, and you must obey.”

At 3.20pm Geniek came to Cybulski’s barrack with Shlomo and the two others. Two officers were killed by Wajspapier in the shoemakers’ barrack while Jacob was giving them their boots. At 4.15 I heard that Cybulski, Michael and Barauch (Feldhendler) had accomplished their mission at Camp Number 2. At 4pm I had met Luka, the Dutch girl****** and told her, “The officers will soon be dead, be ready to escape.” As she trembled, I added, “What we are doing is the only way to survive, we have no right to give up living, we must avenge ourselves.”

At 4.30pm, Brzecki returned from Camp Number 4 with the commando and Unterscharfuhrer Gaulstich arrived soon afterwards. Shlomo told him, “We have done the repairs in the barracks, now the workers do not know what to do.” The SS man went in: Shlomo’s hatchet awaited him.

Frenzel didn’t come, and later we learned that SS officer Ryba had been killed in the garage. Now it was vital to leave, Brzecki whistled and prisoners were directed to Camp Number 1 in a disorderly way. This infuriated the guard, a Volksdeutsch from the Volga region, he was killed with an axe.

A new group coming from Camp Number 2, entered Camp Number 1 where prisoners were just learning what was happening. A Ukrainian guard began to shoot, a mighty “Hurrah” was heard. “Forward, Forward shouted the prisoners.


Alexander Pechersky after the war

They were running towards the gate, shooting with rifles, cutting barbed wire with pliers. We crossed a minefield and many lost their lives. My group marched towards the quarter where the SS lived, and several of us were killed. Between the camp and the forest there was an immense clearing and here, too, many fell.

At last, we got to the forest, but Shlomo and Luka were missing. We walked all night in a column, one by one. I was up front, followed by Cybulski, while Arkady brought up the rear. We were all silent, from time to time, a light was visible in the sky.

After walking three kilometres we reached a canal, that was five or six metres wide and quite deep. Suddenly we saw a group of men. Arkady went crawling off to investigate. He found Shubayev and many other friends. Together we built a bridge with tree trunks, and then I learned that Shlomo had been wounded while escaping. Unable to run, he asked to be put to death. Of course nobody listened to him and he stayed behind with other prisoners.

Our group numbered fifty-seven people. After walking another five kilometres, we heard the noise of a train. We were on the edge of a wood, an area of bushes in front of us. Dawn was approaching and we needed a safe place to hide. I knew the Nazis were after us and we thought that a group of trees near a railway wouldn’t attract the attention of our enemy. We decided to remain there during the day, camouflaged by branches.

At dawn, it was raining. Arkady and Cybulski left to explore the terrain on one side, Shubayev and I on the other. We found an abandoned site near the forest. Cybulski and Arkady reached the railway line. Poles were working there, but without a guard. We hid and posted two sentries nearby; these sentries were to be changed every three hours. All day, planes were flying over our heads. We heard the voices of the Polish workers.

At night, we saw two men looking for something, we understood that they were fugitives who had returned from the direction of Bug, “Why haven’t you crossed the river?” I asked. They told us that they had been near a village where they learned that soldiers were sent along the Bug River to check all points.


Toivia Blatt

I asked if they had met Luka, and they assured me that they had seen her in the forest, leaving for Chelm with Polish Jews. We formed a new column, Cybulski and I leading, Arkady and Shubayev in the rear. After five kilometres we reached the forest, but we couldn’t find enough food so we decided to split into small groups, each taking a different direction. My unit included, Shubayev, Cybulski, Arkady, Michael Itzkovich and Simon Mazurkewich.

We set off eastwards, guided by the stars. We walked at night, and hid during the day. Our objective was to cross the Bug River. We approached little villages to beg for food and to ask our way. We were often told, “Prisoners escaped from Sobibor where people are being burned, they are looking for fugitives.”

We reached the village of Stawki, a kilometre and a half from the Bug River. We had spent the day in the forest and, at sunset, three of us entered a hut. A thirty- year old peasant was cutting and gathering tobacco leaves, an old man was near a stove. In a corner, a baby’s cradle was hanging from the ceiling, and a young woman was rocking it. “Good evening, may we come in?”

“Come in, come in,” answered the young man. “Draw the curtains,” said Cybulski. We sat down, everyone was quiet. “Could you tell us where to cross the Bug?” asked Shubayev. “I don’t know,” said the young man. “You must know, you have been living here long enough. We know that there are places where the water is low, and the crossing easy.” I said. “If you are so sure, then go. We know nothing, and we have no right to go near rivers.”

We talked a little longer, and told them that we were escaped war prisoners and wished to return home. At last the young man said, “I shall show you the direction, but I won’t go to the river. Find it yourselves, be careful, it is guarded everywhere since prisoners escaped from a camp where soap is made with human fat. The fugitives are being chased everywhere, even underground. If you are lucky, you will get to the other side. I wish you luck.”


Toivi Blatt and Alexander Pechersky in 1980 speaking on the revolt at Sobibor

“Let’s go before the moon rises.” “Wait” said the young woman, “take some bread for the way.” We thanked them and the old man blessed us with the sign of the cross. The same night, October 19 we crossed the Bug. On the 22nd, eight days after the uprising, we met a unit of partisans of the Voroshilov detachment.

A new chapter began.


* The cook was Herz Cukerman

** Baurach – this was Leon Feldhendler

*** Brzecki was probably Kapo Pozycki who died in the revolt.

**** SS- Oberscharfuhrer Anton Getzinger was not killed in the revolt, he died some weeks before the revolt, in an accident in the Nordlager. Graetschutz and Gaulstich were killed during the revolt.

***** It was not Yom Kippur it was Sukkoth

****** Luka was in fact from Hamburg, Germany, her fate is unknown, but it is unlikely she survived the aftermath of the revolt.
@diman that was a fascinating read thank you

It is easy to think of acts of Heroism as say a soldier rescuing his comrade from certain death and indeed that is heroic but another way that can manifest itself is here
Pechersky split the stump in four and a half minutes and Frenzel held out a pack of cigarettes and announced that he always does as he promises. Pechersky replied that he doesn’t smoke, turned around and got back to chopping down new tree stumps. Frenzel came back twenty minutes later with fresh bread and butter and offered it to Pechersky. Pechersky replied that the rations at the concentration camp were more than adequate and that he wasn’t hungry. Frenzel turned around and left, leaving Kapo Porzyczki in charge. That evening, this episode of defiance spread throughout Sobibor. This episode influenced the leadership of the Polish Jews to approach Pechersky about ideas for an escape plan. — Leon Feldhendler

How hungry must he have actually been and even if he didnt smoke he could have used the cigs as currency and yet he made a stand, he took charge of himself and his actions and achieved so much more than filling his belly or having a smoke, he achieved respect. this is heroism as well as unquestionable strength of mind. Amazing truly amazing.

Also It is right that the actions of the Germans who were involved in the murder of millions of people should never be forgiven, we just have to remember that they were the Germans of that time and not of this time, things are much different now.