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tanith
post Feb 20 2011, 01:11 PM
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Sobibor
(Poland)

Sobibor was established March 1942. First commandant: Franz Stangl. About 700 Jewish workers engaged temporarily to service the camp. Actually consisted of two camps divided into three parts: administration section, barracks and storage for plundered goods, extermination, burial and cremation section. Initially, three gas chambers housed in a brick building using carbon monoxide, three gas chambers added later. Operations Began April 1942. Operations ended following inmate revolt October 14, 1943. Estimated number of deaths, 250,000, the majority being Jews.

Sobibor was the second extermination camp to come into operation in the Aktion Reinhard program. It was located in a low populated area, but was strategically placed in relation to the concentrations of Jewish population in the Chelm and Lublin districts. Local Polish workers and Jewish slave laborers began construction work on the site in March 1942. The planners were able to incorporate the experience already gained at Belzec.

The site measured roughly 1,300 by 2,000 feet, surrounded by a triple line of barbed wire fencing and guarded by watchtowers. It was sub- divided into a reception area and three camps. The reception area included the spur line and platform which could accommodate up to 20 railroad wagons. Here were also located the administration buildings, armory, and living quarters for the SS and the Ukrainians.

The first camp held the Jewish prisoners required to service the SS men and Ukrainians. Enroute to the second camp from the platform where buildings were the deportees left their luggage and clothing. Within the second camp was an enclosed area, entirely shielded by tree branches intertwined with the barbed wire, where deportees undressed in the open before proceeding up a fenced in passageway called `the tube1 towards the shaving hut for women and the gas chambers. Also in camp two were storage huts for clothing and valuables.

The third camp was the most remote area and was screened by trees. Inside was the brick building housing three gas chambers, about 12 feet by 12 feet, each of which could hold about 160-180 people. Carbon monoxide generated by a diesel engine mounted outside was piped into the gas chambers. The corpses were removed from a second door and buried in huge, specially excavated pits. Carts, and later trolleys on a small rail track, were used to carry deportees who were too infirm to walk to the burial pits where they were shot so as not to delay the killing process.

In April 1942, Franz Stangl, an SS officer with a background in Operation T4, arrived to take command. Stangl commanded a mere 20-30 SS men, mainly from the T4 program. There was also a guard company of Ukrainians. About 200 to 300 Jews worked in teams at the gas chambers and burial pits. They cleaned out the killing rooms, removed gold teeth from the corpses and pushed trolleys heaped with bodies towards the pits. About 1,000 Jews worked at the platform cleaning up the rail trucks and removing debris, and in teams at the shaving hut, the undressing barracks and in the sorting sheds.

From May 1942 to July 1942, approximately 100,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor. They came from Lublin, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Austria (mostly via ghettos in Poland or Theresienstadt). They were told on arrival that they had arrived at a `transit camp1. The platform and adjacent building was designed to reassure them. They were then separated according to gender and age: children went with the women. They were divested of their luggage and valuables, forced to undress and driven up `the tube1, men first, to the gas chambers. Women were shaved at a hut situated along `the tube1. The actual killing process took about 20-30 minutes. The `processing1 of a convoy of 20 wagons took about 2-3 hours.

Between August and September 1942, the murdering stopped while repairs were made to the main rail track feeding Sobibor, and the number of gas chambers was increased to six, three on either side of a central corridor. This enabled the SS to kill about 1,200 people at the same time. The bodies were burned in the former burial pits. The camp, now under the command of Franz Reichsleiter, continued operations in October 1942 and worked through to spring 1943.

Over this period, about 70-80,000 Galician Jews, 145-150,000 Jews from the General-Government and 25,000 Slovak Jews were murdered. In March 1943 the first transport of French Jews arrived. Between March and July 1943, 19 Dutch transports brought 35,000 Jews from Holland. In the last months of its operation, Sobibor was used to murder the Jews of the Vilna, Minsk, and Lida ghettos. It is estimated that 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor.

In July 1943, Himmler, who had visited the camp in February, ordered that it be converted into a concentration camp. This edict effectively served a death notice on the Jewish workers who then organized a resistance movement and worked out an escape plan. It was led by Leon Feldhendler.

He was subsequently assisted by Alexander Pechersky, a Jewish officer in a transport of Red Army POWs which arrived in the camp in September 1943. The uprising was launched on October 14, 1943. In the fighting, 11 SS men and a number of Ukrainian guards were killed. Three hundred Jews escaped, but dozens were killed in the mine field around the camp and dozens more were hunted down over subsequent days. Of the Jews who broke out, 50 survived to the end of the war. The camp was liquidated in October 1943 and the site disguised as a farm.


Sobibor Trial
(September 6, 1965-December 20, 1966)


Karl Frenzel: Life Imprisonment
Erich Fuchs: 4 Years Imprisonment
Robert Jührs: Acquitted & Released
Erwin Lambert: 3 Years Imprisonment
Franz Wolf: 8 Years Imprisonment
Ernst Zierke: Released on Health Grounds
Alfred Ittner: 4 Years Imprisonment
Hans - Heinz Schütt: Acquitted & Released
Werner Dubois: 3 Years Imprisonment
Erich Lachmann: Acquitted & Released
Kurt Bolender: (Committed Suicide on the 10th October 1966)

A group of ex-officials of the Sobibor extermination camp were arraigned before a West German court from September 6, 1965, to December 20, 1966. Six were found guilty, one committed suicide during the trial, and three were acquitted. the remainder were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.










Franz Stangl
(1908 - 1971)

Franz Stangl, the son of a night-watchman, was born in Altmünster, Austria, on March 26, 1908. After working as a weaver, Stangl joined the Austrian police in 1931 and soon afterwards the then illegal Nazi Party.

After Anschluss, Stangl was quickly promoted through the ranks. In 1940, Stangl became superintendent of the T-4 Euthanasia Program at the Euthanasia Institute at Schloss Hartheim where mentally and physically handicapped people were sent to be killed.

In 1942, he was transferred to Poland where he worked under SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Odilo Globocnik. Stangl was commandant of Sobibór from March 1942 until September 1942, when he was transferred to Treblinka. Always dressed in white riding clothes, Stangl gained a reputation as an efficient administrator and was described by Odilo Globocnik as “the best camp commander, who had the greatest share of the entire action....”

At the end of the war, Stangl managed to conceal his identity and, although imprisoned in 1945, he was released two years later. He escaped to Italy with his colleague from Sobibór, Gustav Wagner, where he was helped by some officials of the Vatican to reach Syria on a Red Cross passport. Stangl was joined by his wife and family and lived in Syria for three years before moving to Brazil in 1951. With the help of friends, Stangl found work at the Volkswagen plant in Sao Paulo, still using his own name.

For years his responsibility in the mass murder of men, women and children had been known to the Austrian authorities, but Austria did not issue a warrant for Stangl's arrest until 1961. It took another six years before he was tracked down by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and arrested in Brazil.

After extradition to West Germany, he was tried for the deaths of approximately 900,000 people. He admitted to these killings but argued: "My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty ...". Found guilty on October 22, 1970, Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died of heart failure in Düsseldorf prison on June 28, 1971.

Franz Stangl was interviewed by the author Gitta Sereny in 1970 and his comments later appeared in the book Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience (1983):

"Would it be true to say that you got used to the liquidations?"

He thought for a moment. "To tell the truth," be then said, slowly and thoughtfully, "one did become used to it."

"In days? Weeks? Months?"

"Months. It was months before I could look one of them in the eye. I repressed it all by trying to create a special place: gardens, new barracks, new kitchens, new everything; barbers, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters. There were hundreds of ways to take one's mind off it; I used them all."

"Even so, if you felt that strongly, there had to be times, perhaps at night, in the dark, when you couldn't avoid thinking about it?"

"In the end, the only way to deal with it was to drink. I took a large glass of brandy to bed with me each night and I drank."

"I think you are evading my question."

"No, I don't mean to; of course, thoughts came. But I forced them away. I made myself concentrate on work, work and again work."

"Would it be true to say that you finally felt they weren't really human beings?"

"When I was on a trip once, years later in Brazil," be said, his face deeply concentrated, and obviously reliving the experience, "my train stopped next to a slaughterhouse. The cattle in the pens hearing the noise of the train, trotted up to the fence and stared at the train. They were very close to my window, one crowding the other, looking at me through that fence. I thought then, 'Look at this, this reminds me of Poland; that's just how the people looked, trustingly, just before they went into the tins..."'

"You said tins," I interrupted. "What do you mean?" But he went on without hearing or answering me.

"... I couldn't eat tinned meat after that. Those big eyes which looked at me not knowing that in no time at all they'd all be dead." He paused. His face was drawn. At this moment he looked old and worn and real.

"So you didn't feel they were human beings?"

"Cargo," he said tonelessly. "They were cargo." He raised and dropped his hand in a gesture of despair. Both our voices had dropped. It was one of the few times in those weeks of talks that he made no effort to cloak his despair, and his hopeless grief allowed a moment of sympathy.

"When do you think you began to think of them as cargo? The way you spoke earlier, of the day when you first came to Treblinka, the horror you felt seeing the dead bodies everywhere - they weren't 'cargo' to you then, were they?"

"I think it started the day I first saw the Totenlager in Treblinka. I remember Wirth standing there, next to the pits full of blue-black corpses. It had nothing to do with humanity, it couldn't have; it was a mass - a mass of rotting flesh. Wirth said, 'What shall we do with this garbage?' I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo."

"There were so many children, did they ever make you think of your children, of how you would feel in the position of those parents?"

"No," he said slowly, "I can't say I ever thought that way." He paused. "You see," he then continued, still speaking with this extreme seriousness and obviously intent on finding a new truth within himself, "I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. I sometimes stood on the wall and saw them in the tube. Bu t- how can I explain it - they were naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips like ..." the sentence trailed off.

"Could you not have changed that?" I asked. "In your position, could you not have stopped the nakedness, the whips, the horror of the cattle pens?"

"No, no, no. This was the system. Wirth had invented it. It worked and because it worked, it was irreversible."



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tanith
post Feb 20 2011, 01:12 PM
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SOBIBOR

This death camp was one of the Nazis best kept secrets. Not even survivors of Auschwitz had heard of the place. It was so successful that its victims and survivors were disbelieved and forgotten.

Within this camp, in operation for only eighteen months, at least 250,000 men, women and children were murdered. Only 48 survived the war.

It was established as a second of three camps, the others being Treblinka and Belzac. Its location was near the village of Sobibor, because it was isolated and near a railway line. It was rectangular in shape (400 x 600 metres) and surrounded by a 3 metre high fence. It also had a minefield that surrounded the whole camp, to keep prisoners from escaping and to keep locals away. Internally it was divided into 5 sections.

Vorlager.

The ramp.

Housing for the SS.

Housing for the Ukranian guards.

Armoury.

SS kitchen.

Bakery.


Lager 1.

Barracks for prisoners.

Workshops such as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, mechanics etc.


Lager 11.

Location where new arrivals were stripped of their possessions and clothing.

Location of processing objects taken from new arrivals.


Lager 111.

Gas chambers.

Pyres for burning corpses.

Housing for prisoners working in Lager 111.


Lager IV.

In summer 1943, warehouses began to be built to store captured ammnition.


LIFE AND DEATH

The boxcar doors opened suddenly and the fresh air and the smell of the pine trees felt good. But what followed was horrifying and it happened so quickly that they didnt have time to think about it.

Day and night, victims arrived at Sobibor. Some came by lorry, cart or even on foot, but the majority came by train. The camp gates opened and the whistle of

the train told them they were there. After a few minutes, they found themselves in the camp compound. The orders for the doors to be opened was given and the occupants treatment varied, depending on whether they were from the east or the west. If they came from the west, they normally wore their best clothes because they thought they were being resettled. They were even given claim tickets for their luggage to keep up the pretence.

If from the east, they got off the train amid screams, shouts and beatings. One states Schnell, raus, raus, rechts, links (fast, out, out, right, left) shouted the Nazis. I held my 5 year old boy by the hand. A Ukranian guard snatched him, I thought they would kill him but my wife took him and I assumed I would see them later

Leaving their baggage on the ramp, they were ordered into 2 lines, one of men, the other of women and children. Those too ill to walk were told they would be taken to the hospital and were taken and put on a cart.

Many decisions had to be made but after being on the trains for days they werent ready to do this. Toivi Blatt was holding his mothers hand when the order came to separate the two lines. He decided to follow his father but turned to his mother, unsure of what to say to her. For reasons he still cannot understand, he said And you didnt let me drink all the milk yesterday, you wanted to save some for today She sadly replied This is what you think of at a time like this? To this day the scene haunts him and he has regretted those words which turned out to be the last he ever said to her.

Most victims didnt realise that it would be their last chance to say anything to the other person. Out of the thousands on the ramps, only a few would be selected for jobs. The rest would be lead through a gate that read Sonderkommando Sobibor (Special unit Sobibor)

The Workers.

Those who were to work were taken to lager 1. Here they were registered and placed in barracks. Most of these still didnt realise that they were in a death camp and asked other prisoners when they would see their families. Most of them were told of the real Sobibor. That it was a place where they gassed Jews, that the smell was dead bodies piling up and the fire they saw in the distance was bodies being burned. Once they found out, they had to come to terms with it. Some committed suicide, others were determined to survive. But all were devastated.

Those In Vorlager, lager 1 and lager 11.

The prisoners that worked outside Lager 111 had a wide range of jobs. Some made gold trinkets, boots, clothing, cleaning cars or feeding horses. Others sorted clothes, unloaded and cleaned the trains, cutting wood for the pyres, burning personal artefacts, cutting hair etc. They lived in daily terror and fear. They could be whipped just for the sake of it. Some were whipped after work for something they had done during the day. They were forced to count the number of lashes and if they forgot or missed a count, it would start all over again or they would be beaten to death. The others were forced to watch.

Other things happened to the prisoners as well. Barry, Paul Groths dog would be allowed to rip a prisoner apart for the fun of it. The SS were most dangerous when bored, it was then that they would create games. One was to sew up the legs of the prisoners pants, put rats down them and if the prisoner moved, he was shot or beaten to death.

Those who worked in Lager 111, nobody knew much about. They had to remove the bodies from the gas chamber, search them for valuables and bury them or later on, burn them. They even found family members among the dead. None of them ever survived Lager 111.

The Death Process.

Those that were not selected for work, stayed in the lines, except those who were taken to the hospital and shot. They were taken along a walkway with buildings called the Merry Flea and the swallows Nest , saw gardens with planted flowers and saw signs to showers and canteen. All this to deceive them, for Sobibor seemed too peaceful to be a place of murder.

Once in Lager 11, SS Oberscharfuhrer Hermann Michael gave a short speech. You are leaving for the Ukraine, where you will work. In order to avoid epidemics, you are going to have a disinfecting shower. Put away your clothes neatly and remember where they are, as I shall not be with you to help to find them. All valuables must be taken to the desk

Young boys pass string around for their belongings. They were to hand over valuables through a window to a cashier. Having undressed and folded their clothes neatly, the victims entered the Tube labelled by the Nazis a the Road to Heaven. This tube, approx 13ft wide, was constructed of barbed wire sides that were interwoven with tree branches. Running from Lager 11 through the tube, the women were taken aside to a special barracks to have their hair cut off. After this they were taken to Lager 111 for their showers.

Entering Lager 111, the unknowing victims came upon a large brick building with three separate doors. About 200 people were pushed through each of these doors into what appeared to be showers but what were really gas chambers. The doors were then closed. Outside in a shed, an SS officer started the 200 horsepower, 8 cylinder engine that produced carbon monoxide gas. The gas entered each of the three rooms through pipes.

Toivi Blatt recalls standing near Lager 11, hearing sounds from Lager 111.

Suddenly I heard the sound of internal combustion engines. At once I heard a terribly high-pitched , yet smothered, collective cry at first strong, surpassing the roar of the motors, then after a few minutes, weakened. My blood froze

In this way, 600 people were killed at once. But this was not fast enough for the Nazis so, during the fall of 1942, three additional gas chambers, of equal size were added. Then, 1200 to 1300 people could be killed at one time. There were two doors to each gas chamber, one where the victims walked in and the other, where the victims were dragged out. After a short time of airing out the chambers, Jewish workers were forced to pull the bodies out, throw them onto carts and then dump them into pits.

At the end of 1942, the Nazis ordered all the corpses exhumed and burned. After this time, all further victims were burnt on pyres of wood and helped with gasoline. It is estimated that 250,000 people were killed at Sobibor.


The Memorial.

Standing at the death camp caused emotions within some people. The first was a great sense of sorrow. At this one camp, 250,000 people had died. One says

The first thing I saw after stepping out of the car was this sign. The four plaques have the same message written in different languages. The plaque on the left is in English. It read this At this site, between the years 1942 and 1943, there existed a Nazi death camp where 250,000 people were murdered. On October 14th 1943 during the revolt by Jewish prisoners, the Nazis were overpowered and several hundred prisoners escaped to freedom. Following the revolt the death camp ceased to function. Earth conceal not my blood

There is not much left of the camp. Most of it had been demolished by 1847. There are just a few buildings that have survived but none are labelled and most are used by the locals. There is a small log cabin built after the war to house the Sobibor museum. This museum does not consist of much information. Inside there are a few pictures, very few artefacts and includes some info about the revolt. When one man saw this, he was very angry, especially when he found what was in two display cases.

The case on the right holds shoes and hair that had been collected from those that were killed. On the left is one of ashes and bone fragments from the victims. Of course, seeing this caused grief and anger. The container that holds the ashes is of Styrofoam. There were even dead flies in the case. I felt that those who died had been forgotten and neglected. If anyone cared about their memory, they would at least remove the flies

TREBLINKA

Treblinka was established in 1941 as a labour camp and was located 50 miles northeast of Warsaw. Within a year and with what would be known as Treblinka 1, a second camp was built that would be instrumental to the Final Solution.

Treblinka 11 would serve as an elimination camp for the Jews of central Europe, it was only a mile from the original camp. Opening for operation on July 23, 1942, as the evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto began, this would house the machinery to exterminate 265,000 Jews of Warsaw.

Under the utmost secrecy, it was surrounded by two barbed wire fences. The inner one, covered with branches to hide what was going on.

Details were done to reinforce the idea that the Jews were being resettled. The Star of David on the front wall of Treblinkas gas house and the Hebrew inscriptions on the curtain that read This is the gate through which the righteous pass were just two examples.

Variations to the normal routine only happened when they had to accommodate the physical layout of the camp. For instance, the upper camp was unable to receive lengthy trains because of its short ramps. Therefore, only a few cars at a time were backed in to the camp compound and unloaded.

As trainloads of 5000 to 7000 people arrived at the camp the deportees would hear a speech by an SS officer that told them they had arrived at a transit camp. Prisoners were then moved through a selection process in which women and children were separated from the men. Those too sick to walk on their own, were taken to a pit near the infirmary and shot.

All others were taken to a barracks where their hair was shorn. Postcards were often written by prisoners and were later sent by the camp personnal. That encouraged relatives to move east for resettlement. From there they were directed to the gas chambers.

Treblinka opened with three gas chambers in operation but quickly expanded to at least six. Housed in brick buildings, the chambers appeared at first sight to be showers. Pipes attached to the ceilings brought the gas inside which looked like shower heads. They were told that they were going to a bath house to be cleansed. They would enter the door, once inside the order Ivan, water would be heard and the gas was ppumped in.

The gassing did not always happen quickly, because they were packed in so tightly, there was no room to move around. So, they might actually stand for 30-40 minutes before they actually died. After death, the bodies would be removed through a door opposite the entrance of the chamber where all the body cavities would be searched for hidden valuables. After this search the bodies would be dragged to mass graves for burial.

When the mass graves became a problem, the Germans ordered them to be excavated and the bodies disposed of in a more efficient way. Starting in the fall of 42, this meant dragging the bodies and stacking them on a grid of old railway tracks for burning. Once empty of the bodies, the chambers would be cleaned and made ready for the next group of prisoners.

While the victims were being gassed, some of the male prisoners emptied and cleaned the train cars of the corpses of those who died en route as well as any objects or dirt that was left behind. Once this work was complete, the train cars left the camp to make room for the next load of rail cars. All personal belongings and clothes etc were gathered up and sent to Germany.

Not all met their fate at the gas chambers, some were forced to work in keeping the killing process in operation. They would be used for a period of days and killed.

The camp was initially supervised by SS Obersturmfuhrer Imfried Eberl, Franz Stangl replaced him in August 1942. The camp was staffed by Germans, Ukrainians and Jewish prisoners. Twenty or thirty SS men served as the core leaders in the camp. 90 to 120 Ukrainians acted as camp guards, security personal and other jobs like operating the gas chambers. 700 to 1000 prisoners served as labour and were also to attend the needs of the Germans etc.

Opening on July 23 1942, 250,000 Jews from Warsaw and 112,000 from other places in the district were murdered at Treblinka by September 21st. Also meeting their deaths at Treblinka were 337,000 from Radom, 35,000 from Lublin and 107,000 from Bialystok along with 738,000 from the General Government.

From outside Poland, many thousands of Jews were transported and killed at this camp, 7,000 from Slovakia, 8,000 from Theresienstadt, 4,000 from Greece, 7,000 from Macedonia and 2,000 gypsies.

Some 750,000 people would die in Treblinka between July 1942 and April 1943. Most Jews would be dead within 2 hours of their arrival.

As the allied forces got nearer in the fall of 1943, the evacuation of the camp began. Orders were given to destroy the camp so that no traces of it would remain. A farm was built on the site and it was offered to a Ukrainian to run it for income.

Visitors today are likely to have a powerful and eerie experience. Visitors enter through the same spot where the Jews exited from the trains. Standing there you face an open field with solid rock structures that serve as tombstones. On each stone is engraved the name of a town and the number of people from that town that were killed by the Nazis at Treblinka.



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