Sobibor Camp ranks among the worst of the secrets kept by the Nazi regime during World War II. Hitler, with his ideology that the Aryan race was superior to all others and his desire to destroy all the so-called inferior races, the Jews, Russians, Slavs and Serbs, along with anyone of colour, homosexuals, gypsies and any nation decreed as inferior, were consigned to camps built for the purpose of containing and exterminating these people.
Several camps were built where the Nazis managed to exterminate around ⅔ of the Jewish population of Europe including some 1.5 million children. Not only were the Jewish people decimated, but around 5 million souls of other races, creeds and colours were sent to the abominations called camps, where they were systematically starved, beaten, experimented upon and eventually gassed.
Camps such as Auschwitz were notorious and deservedly reviled for the activities that took place there but the Nazis had a far more insidious plan, one named Operation Reinhardt. This plan called for the creation of three death camps at Sobibór, Belzec, and Treblinka by SS officials Odilo Globocnik and Christian Wirth. These camps were created with one purpose and one purpose only and that was to systematically execute every person unlucky enough to pass through its gates.
By mid-1943, the number of trains being sent to Sobibor was slowing down and the Jewish prisoners at the camp feared that the end was approaching and soon everyone left in the camp would be put to death. In July of the same year, the prisoners formed an underground cell with the aim of escaping from the camp.
They were determined to try but lacked the leadership skills necessary. In September a train from Minsk brought a new load of Russian Jews and one of their number was Lieutenant Aleksandr “Sasha” Aronovich Pechersky, a trained officer. He was placed in charge of the escape, with Leon Feldhendler as his deputy. The plan they devised was daring and required nerves of steel. They would lure the SS Offices into a storeroom on the pretence of issuing new coats and boots.
Once the officers were inside the storeroom, they would be set upon by the prisoners and killed using axes and knives. They would then seize the weapons from the dead officers and at roll call the camp would be set on fire, allowing the prisoners to escape. Once outside the camp, each prisoner would be on their own.
On 14th October 1943, at 4:00pm in the afternoon, the first SS officer was killed followed by ten more SS men and some of the Ukrainian guards. The prisoners cut the telephone and electricity wires and soon the camp was burning.
The prisoners that had guns trained them on the guard towers and the rest of the prisoners took the opportunity to flee for their lives across the minefields that surrounded the camp. Approximately half the inmates escaped and of those roughly 70 actually made it to freedom. This escape caused SS Chief Heinrich Himmler to order that the camp be immediately dismantled.
The SS took pains to obliterate the camp from the face of the earth. They filled the gas chambers with concrete, the buildings were burned to the ground and then the entire camp was bulldozed to remove all trace. Trees and bushes were then planted over the empty space so that it vanished completely.
This meant that vital information about the concentration camp was unknown, such as the whereabouts of the gas chambers.
In September 2014, after a search lasting eight years, a team of archaeologists led by Yorim Haimi, was successful in locating the remains of the gas chambers under an asphalt road and the remains of this infamous camp. This search was very personal to Haimi as two of his uncles were slaughtered at Sobibor.
Haimi and his team from the Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research, the German-Polish Foundation and the Majdanek State Museum found four gas chambers that measured 16 feet by 23 feet that were used to suffocate up to 100 people at a time. Haimi told an interview, “This is where they forced the Jews in and that’s probably where the motor was placed that fed exhaust fumes into the chambers.”
In addition to finding the location of the camp and the gas chambers, the team found a number of personal artifacts such as a wedding ring, a pendant inscribed with the word ‘Palestine’, earrings, a perfume bottle, medicine boxes and eating utensils.
Now that the location of the camp is known a memorial to the souls that lost their lives to a madman’s decree can be erected so mankind will not forget the evil perpetrated here.