Sobibor extermination camp

The extermination camp Sobibor was a death camp of Nazi Germany , created in March 1942 , which was part of Operation Reinhard . It is also the name of the village next to which it was built. He is currently part of the voivodship of Lublin , in Poland .

There came mostly Soviet Jews captured on the Eastern Front, prisoners of war and gypsies . Transported to Sobibor in cattle trains in harsh conditions finally they were poisoned in gas chambers that were fed with a gasoline engine to produce carbon monoxide , but then crystals of a pesticide marketed under the name were introduced Zyklon B that Was much more effective and fast. The system to get them into the chamber was to make them believe that they were disinfection showers and instill confidence in the prisoners. It is estimated that up to 200,000 people in January killed in Sobibor, the vast majority Jews.

The 5 of July of 1942 , Himmler ordered the camp closed as an extermination center and that became a concentration camp . Field IV was built to store captured Soviet ammunition.

In September 2014 a team of archaeologists found the remains of the gas chambers of the concentration camp. 2


The “Road to Heaven”, route that the deportees traveled to the gas chamber of Field III. Photo taken in 2007.

The camp was located 235 kilometers southeast of Warsaw , 4.8 kilometers west of the Bug River and south of Wlodawa . It entered service in April of 1942 and finalized in October of 1943, being estimated that in their facilities they died between 225 000 and 250 000 people, all Jewish of different nationalities.

It was designed and built in the shape of a rectangle of 400 by 600 meters. Surrounded by a three-meter high barbed wire fence with branches of trees hooked to the wire to camouflage the field, it was divided into three distinct areas, each of which was separated from the rest by more hawthorn wire.

Administrative area or Field I

Formed by the front field, the nearest part to the train station, and Field I, in addition to the railroad platform, with space for twenty freight wagons, and of the German and Soviet field dwellings (former prisoners of war). Camp I, with a fence that separated him from the rest, contained housing for some prisoners Jews and workshops where they worked.

Reception area or Field II

This was the place where the Jews were taken when they arrived at the camp. Here they went through several stages before being killed: their clothes were taken off their hair, women were cut off and valuables were confiscated.

Area of ​​extermination Field III

It was located in the northwest area of ​​the countryside and was the most isolated part. In it were the gas chambers , the graves and the dwellings of the Jewish prisoners who worked there. A road three to four meters wide and 150 meters long joined Campo II and the extermination area. It was surrounded on both sides by barbed wire and camouflaged with tree branches to hide it from view. The road, or “tube”, was used to lead the naked victims to the gas chambers after being “processed”. There was also a narrow path that linked the platform with the pits; Was used to transport those who arrived too sick or weak to walk, and for those who arrived dead.

The gas chambers were inside a brick building. Initially there were three, with a capacity of 160 to 180 people. They entered through gates on a platform in front of the brick building, and a second door was used to remove the corpses once the assassination ended. The gas, carbon monoxide , was produced by a 200 horsepower engine located in a nearby shed.

The pits were nearby, each being 50 to 60 meters long by 10 to 15 meters wide by 5 to 7 meters deep. The first test system execution took place in mid-April, when 250 Jews, mostly women, the labor camp Krychow were killed in the presence of the entire contingent of SS .

Personnel of administration and guards of the field


Sobibor had three commanders:

  • Richard Thomalla , SS Hauptsturmführer ( captain ), architect and builder of the three fields of Operation Reinhard . He was the first Commander with rank of interim of Sobibor; Once it started to work, he handed over the command.
  • Franz Stangl , SS Hauptsturmführer , was the first commander of the Field between March and September 1942.
  • Franz Reichleitner , SS Hauptsturmführer , was the second and last commander from September 1942 until December 1943.

German and Ukrainian personnel

In the area served between twenty and thirty-five guards of the SS , in addition to the Ukrainians who served as lookouts.

The flight of Sobibor

Captain Alexander Pechersky

In the Sobibor extermination camp took place the biggest flight of prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp in World War II . The prisoners, organized by Leon Feldhendler and the captain Alexander Pechersky ( POW Soviet nicknamed Sasha ), planned the escape by the Organization called Resistance . Sasha was always rebellious and arrogant before the SS to raise the morale of the prisoners.

Field leakage took place the 14 of October of 1943 , before the camp authorities finalized Operation Reinhard as estimated reportedly driving the clandestine committee’s Resistance field.

Stanislaw ” Shlomo ” Szmajzner had the function of infiltrating the SS armory, stealing a small number of rifles there. They also got shears to break the fences, even if it did not help. They ended up with several SS men getting them somehow into a small construction in the northeast of the country and hitting them with axes . At noon all the prisoners of the camp were brought together to lodge, and Alexander Aronovich Pechersky shouted the announcement of the rebellion. Then they all began to run towards the gates and fences of the camp, and the heavy pressure of the mass of people pushing threw down the barbed-wire gate, all this while the SS Oberscharführer Karl Frenzel tried to sweep the largest number of prisoners Possible with a fixed machine gun. The prisoners began to leave the open gap, getting about four hundred people out.

The problem was that in the forest surrounding Sobibor there were not many possibilities to survive, so that only between 100 and 200 prisoners could survive the last great war. Some prisoners spent the rest of the time trying to hide from the Germans, and others volunteered to create a group of partisans Jews who devoted themselves to sabotage and combat in the rear of the Russian front. There were some prisoners who, after ending World War II , were interned in Soviet concentration camps.

As a result of the first and last mass escape of prisoners, Heinrich Himmler abandoned the idea of the extermination camp was closed and ordered the field. The buildings were destroyed and the land was plowed, which was cultivated. By the end of 1943 , there was no trace left. The area is today National Shrine of Poland to which groups of children are going to visit it with their schools.

Franz Stangl, Gustav Wagner, Karl Frenzel and others

Franz Stangl was simultaneously commander of the fields of Sobibor and Treblinka ; For this reason it could be attributed from 950 000 to 1 000 000 deaths. Gustav Wagner was a member of the SS who committed the worst atrocities at Sobibor. There are testimonies that he took the children of their mothers to beat them to death or any kind of humiliation to the Jewish religion.

Also many field Soviets (former prisoners of war) who participated in the acts of violence were also employed as field guards.

Deaths of SS killed during revolt

During the revolt ten Germans lost their lives, two troops from the occupied territories and eight Ukrainian guards. Among the dead SS are:

  • Johann Niemann , SS Untersturmführer ( Second Lieutenant ): He was born on 4 August 1913. He worked in the concentration camps of Esterwegen and Sachsenhausen before the war. Then he was in the death camp of Belzec , being transferred to the extermination camp of Sobibor where he was commander of Camp III, promoted to Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) by direct orders from Heinrich Himmler during his visit on 12 February 1943. It was the first SS killed during the revolt, in one of the shoe shops in the countryside by the Soviet soldier Aleksander Shubayev, who struck his head with an ax.
  • Rudolf Beckmann , SS Oberscharführer ( Brigade ): Born in Osnabrück. Member of NSDAP number 305 721. He had worked in the euthanasia program in the center of Hartheim . In Sobibor it was in charge of the Command of Classification of the Field II and of the stables. He also directed the Administration in the building of surveillance center, where he was killed. His body was buried in Lublin .
  • Josef Vallaster , SS Scharführer (Sergeant 1st): Austrian born on February 5, 1910. Served during the euthanasia program in Hartheim, where he was responsible for burning the bodies of the deceased. He worked briefly in the construction of the extermination camp of Belzec . In Sobibor was one of the heads of the SS of the field III, responsible for the gassing, burial and burning in crematorium of the bodies of the deportees. During the selections he liked to select the elderly and the sick to take them directly to the field of their jurisdiction and eliminate them.
  • Erwin Stengelin , SS Unterscharführer (2nd Sergeant): Born on August 18, 1911 in Tuttlingen , Germany. He worked in the euthanasia program, serving at the Hadamar Center. He was working in Field I of Treblinka , from where he was transferred to Sobibor shortly before the revolt.
  • Thomas Steffel , SS Scharführer: Born in Krummau , Czechoslovakia . He had been a photographer for the T4 Aktion , as it was called the program of Euthanasia . He arrived in Sobibor in February 1943 and was in charge of classifying the barracks of prisoners.
  • Max Bree , SS Scharführer: Born in Lübben ( Forest of Spree ). He served in Grafeneck and Hadamar during the Euthanasia program, later in Treblinka and was transferred in June 1943 to the Sobibor extermination camp. He supervised the Ukrainian guards and the Jews who worked in the sorting huts.
  • Siegfried Graetschus , SS Oberscharführer: He was born on June 9, 1910 in Tilsit ( East Prussia ). He worked between 1939 and 1940 in the Euthanasia Program. He served in Treblinka and was transferred to Sobibor in August 1942.
  • Fritz Konrad , SS Scharführer: Served in the Euthanasia Program in Sonnenstein and Grafeneck . He arrived for Sobibor in March 1943. He was killed in the shoe shop of Campo III.
  • Anton Novak , SS Scharführer: Supervised the hairdressers in the Sobibor camp.
  • Walther Ryba , SS Unterscharführer : He was killed in the workshops by one of the locksmiths.
  • Friedrich Gaulstich , SS Unterscharführer
Monument erected in the old terrain of Sobibor camp in homage to the victims.

In the media

The escape from the Sobibor extermination camp was the biggest of World War II , so it was brought to the screen by director Jack Gold in 1987 under the name Escape of Sobibor and was played by actors Alan Arkin , Joanna Pacula “Luka”, Rutger Hauer , Hartmut Becker, Jack Shepherd, Emil Wolk, Simon Gregor, Linal Haft, Jason Norman, among others.

This film was based on the book Escapar de Sobibor by Richard Ashker. 3


  1. Back to top↑ Hilberg, Raul (1985). The Destruction of European Jews . Yale University Press, p. 1219. ISBN 978-0-300-09557-9
  2. Back to top↑
  3. Back to top↑ Rashker, Richard (2004). Escape from Sobibor . Barcelona: Planet, ISBN 84-08-05333-7