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Resistance: Treblinka 
 

There were many acts of resistance throughout the existence of the Treblinka concentration camp.  These acts of resistance were not solely spontaneous acts performed by individuals, but many were group efforts.  Some of these acts of resistance were even elaborately planned occurrences. 

What many testimonies agree upon as the first act of resistance was the stabbing and killing of SS Unterscharfuhrer Max Bialas, by Meir Berliner in early September 1942.  Meir Berliner, a Jewish prisoner, had arrived in Treblinka a few days before the stabbing.  That day a new shipment of prisoners had arrived, and it was undecided which group of prisoners was going to be killed - the new group or the old group, so the guards lined up all the prisoners for roll-call.  Suddenly, Meir Berliner jumped out of line, and jumped at Max Balas with a knife, fatally stabbing him. 

There were grave and immediate consequences for Berliner's actions.  The guards opened fire as soon as Berliner jumped out of line, killing him, as well as more than ten other prisoners.  Later, ten more men were taken and shot in front of all the others as punishment for Bialas' death.  The next day another 150 men were removed and also shot. "The lesson learned by the Jewish prisoners who worked in the camp was that the cost of a courageous act like that performed by Berliner was very high - more than 160 Jews were executed in reprisal for the killing of one SS man." (http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/isreali/yad-vashim/yvs-camps-02.00.html). 

Another early recorded act of resistance occurred when a girl being led to the gas chamber took a gun from one of the guards, and shot three guards, killing one of them.  The punishment for this girl was torture as well as death. 

All the acts of resistance attempted at Treblinka were not made solely by individuals.  In December 1942 a spontaneous group resistance effort took place.  A new transport of Jews had just arrived in the camp and the guards were ordering them to undress in order to get them into the gas chambers.  The prisoners soon realized what was about to happen to them, and began shouting,
"Don't obey the Germans!  Don't Undress!"  People began grabbing sticks and knives, and attacking any Germans and Ukrainians who were around them.  The guards immediately opened fire, and soon "the square was covered with the corpses of the prisoners."  Any prisoners who were not killed were shoved into the gas chambers.  While about 2,000 Jews were killed, it seems that only three Germans or Ukrainians were injured. l

Although these three incidents did occur, they were not the normal means of resistance.  Most prisoners used less obvious means of resistance.  One common means of resistance was escape.  This was achieved in various ways.  Many prisoners jumped from moving trains on the way to Treblinka, others dug underground tunnels leading to outside of the perimeter of the camp, while still more would hide in railway cars which were leaving the camp. 

Very few escaped prisoners managed to find their way to freedom, and there were stiff penalties for the escape of a prisoner.  Those prisoners caught in an escape attempt were hanged, most of them were also tortured before they were killed.  One testimony tells of a case where two youth caught trying to escape were "hung naked by their feet.  All the Jews in the camp were forced to witness their torture, and only after they were kept hanging from their feet for several hours were they shot to death". 2 

Even if the escapees managed to find their way to a ghetto still in operation, they soon were back in a concentration camp, when their new ghetto was liquidated.  However, many were able to spread the word about what was going on in Treblinka, and more escape attempts were made. However, because of these early escape attempts, security measures at the camp soon became harsher.  Ten Jews working in the camp were shot for every one Jew who escaped, and the fencing around the camp was made stronger. 

Because of the harsher methods of punishment and security, and because snow soon covered the ground making it easy for guards to spot the tracks left by escapees, escape attempts eventually dwindled.  After the last escape attempts ended in failure in December 1942, it became clear that the only realistic way to succeed in escaping was a mass rebellion by means of force, which led to the creation of the underground. 

An underground "organizing committee" was formed in the main part of the camp in order to prepare for the revolt.  This committee was comprised of the SS men's physician Dr.Chorazycki, Zelo Bloch, who was a lieutenant in the Czech army, Zeev Kurland, and others.  A branch of the underground was formed in the extermination area after Zelo Bloch and Adolf Friedman, who was another leader in the "organizing committee", were transferred to the extermination area in around March or April of 1943. 

Early efforts of the underground included gaining guns and other weapons by bribing Ukranian guards.  The prisoners would pay for this service with gold and valuables that they had taken from the remains of the victims of the camp.  This was not very successful, as most of the guards would take the money, without bringing any weapons.  This plan eventually led to the death of Dr. Chorazycki, when  Kurt Franz, the deputy camp commander, discovered Chorazycki carrying money to be used for obtaining weapons. 

The committee eventually came up with a plan to remove weapons from the camp arms store to use in their uprising.  A Jewish locksmith forced to repair the lock on the arms store managed to make an extra key for the underground committee. 

The first attempt to use the new key was at the end of April 1943.  A group of Jewish prisoners removed two cases of grenades from the storeroom, while they were assigned to clean and polish the German's boots in the SS quarters, which surrounded the arms store.  However, they soon realized that the detonators were missing, and returned the grenades to the storeroom.  This led to a postponement of the uprising, but in July 1943, a final plan began to formulate. 

The plan was set to take place on August 2, 1943 at 16:30.  The schedule for the rebellion was set as follows: 

"STAGE A - 14:00 TO 16:30 - ACQUISITION OF ARMS AND DEPLOYMENT 
1)  Removal of the arms from the arms store and their transfer to the combat groups' assembly points. 
2)  Deployment of the combat groups near the targets of attack - the camp headquarters, the quarters of the SS and of the Ukrainians, and the guard towers. 
3)  Quiet elimination of Germans entering workshops and work sites. 

STAGE B - begin at 16:30 - SEIZING CONTROL OF THE CAMP AND DESTROYING IT 
1)  Attack the camp headquarters and SS people in various places. 
2)  Cut telephone lines and open fire on the guard towers, forcing the guards to abandon their positions. 
3)  Break into the Ukranians' quarters, seize their weapons and lock them up under guard in the barracks. 
4)  Set the camp afire and destroy it. 
5)  Arm with additional weapons taken from the SS and the Ukrainians. 
6)  Link up with the extermination area people. 

The signal for the beginning of Stage B was to be a grenade explosion. 

The plan for the extermination area was: 
1)  Prisoners leave the barracks where they were kept in the afternoon hours after work. 
2)  Attack the SS men and Ukrainian guards near the barracks and seize their weapons. 
3)  Prisoners burst into the guard room and seize the guards' weapons. 
4)  Take over the guard tower where a Ukrainian guard armed with a machine gun was stationed. 
5)  Take control of the entire extermination area, destroy it and link up with the people of the lower camp for a joint escape. 

STAGE C - ORGANIZED DEPARTURE TO THE FORESTS BY ALL PRISONERS." 

(http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs-camps-03-00.html). 

The day that the plan was to be carried out, work went on as usual.  Coincidentally, Kurt Franz, along with four SS men and sixteen Ukrainians, left Treblinka to go bathing in the Bug River.  The absence of these guards weakened the security in the camp. 

At 14:00 the prisoners began the removal and distribution of arms.  For the next hour and a half everything went well.  At 15:30 an SS officer, Kurt Kuttner, had noticed unusual activity going on.    He found money on one Jew, who he promptly began to beat.  The underground committee began to worry that Kuttner would inform the other camp guards, so decided to start their insurrection early and Kuttner was shot immediately. 

The shot that signaled Kuttner's death, also signaled the beginning of the revolt.  A large fuel tank was set on fire, which spread to the surrounding buildings.  The prisoners' quarters and warehouses were also set on fire.  Shots and grenades exploded all over the camp.  The Jews began to run through the fences to freedom. 

Once the extermination camp heard the shot and explosions from the lower camp they, too, sprung into action.  While the members of the underground were fighting, the rest of the Jews tried to escape through the fences, while dodging bullets from the guard towers. 

Of the 850 prisoners in the camp at the time of the revolt, about half were killed while trying to escape.  Most of the other half of the prisoners who managed to make it out of the perimeter of the fence, were caught either by German security forces, or by local inhabitants who, after taking their money, would turn the escapees over to the Germans.  About one hundred of the prisoners made to attempts at escape.  Approximately 60 - 70 of the prisoners who escaped managed to survive the war. 

At the end of the section, the student will be able to: 
1.  Identify Kurt Franz, Dr. Chorazycki, and Max Bualas. 
2.  Describe specific examples of resistance in the Treblinka concentration camp. 
3.  Analyze the factors leading up to the organized revolt in Treblinka. 

 

Pop-Up # 2 - The commander of the camo, Stangl, testifies about the outbreak of the revolt 

"Looking out of my window I could see some Jews on the other side of the inner fence - they must have jumped down from the roof of the SS billets and they were shooting...In an emergency like that my first duty was to inform the chief of the external security police.  By the time I'd done that, our petrol station blew up.  That too had been built just like a real service station, with flower bed round it.  Next thing the whole ghetto camp was burning and then Matthes, the German in charge of the Totenlager, arrived at a run and said everything was burning up there too..."http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/hweb/orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs-camps-03-01.html 

 

Discussion Questions 

1) Identify: Kurt Franz, Dr. Chorazycki, and Max Bualas. 
2.  Describe specific examples of resistance in the Treblinka concentration camp. 
3.  Name at least three factors which lead up to the organization of the revolt in Treblinka. 

Works Cited 

McVay, Kenneth.  "The Nizkor Project; Acts of Resistance and the Organization of the 
Revolt in Treblinka (1 of 2)."  [Online] Available http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/ 
hweb/orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs-camps-02-00.html, 25 February 1999. 
 

McVay, Kenneth.  "The Nizkor Project; Organization of the Underground in the 
Extermination Area (1 of 2)."  [Online] Available http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/ 
hweb/orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs-camps-03-00.html, 25 February 1999. 

"Testimonies of Treblinka SS-Men."  [Online] Available http://www.us-israel.org/jsource 
/Holocaust/treblinkatest.html, 25 February 1999. 

Works Consulted 

McVay, Kenneth.  "The Nizkor Project; Acts of Resistance and the Organization of the 
Revolt in Treblinka (2 of 2)."  [Online] Available http://www2.ca.nizkor.org/ 
hweb/orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs-camps-02-01.html, 25 February 1999. 

"Resistance: Treblinka." [Online] Available http://library.advanced.org/10294/ 
data/text/treblinka.html, 22 February 1999. 

"Treblinka." [Online] Available http://www0.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shtetl/ 
treblinka/index.html, 19 February 1999. 
 
 
 
Sobibor

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     Almost everyone has heard of Auschwitz and Treblinka. However, few people have ever heard about Sobibor, where the biggest prisoner escape of World War II took place on October 14, 1943.
    The death camps- Sobibor, Belzec, and Treblinka were quite different from Auschwitz a concentration camp with gas chambers for those too weak to work. They were giant death machines. Every Jew sent to Sobibor was to be gassed within twenty four hours with the exception of a couple hundred Jews chosen to maintain the camp (Rashke vii). They too were destined to be killed when Operation Reinhard was completed, if they lasted that long.
    Sobibor was near the village and railway station of Sobibor, in the eastern part of the Lublin district in Poland, not far from the Chelm-Wlodawa railway line (Arad 3). Established as part of the operation of Aktion Reinhard, the camp was built in a sparsely populated, woody, and swampy area beginning in March 1942 (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust). In April 1942, SS Obersturmfuhrer Franz Stangl was made camp commandant. Stangl, who had visited Belzec, another death camp, had studied the extermination techniques there, and had introduced them in his own camp. After the experimental killings were carried out in Sobibor in April 1942, routine mass extermination began there in early May 1942 (Arad 75).
    The camp staff included twenty to thirty SS men, most of whom had taken part in the Euthanasia program (Encyclopedia of the Holocaust 1373). In addition, ninety to one-hundred and twenty Ukrainians worked in the camp. The camp was in the form of a rectangle 1,312 by 1,969 feet (400-600 meters) in area, surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with tree branches intertwined in it to conceal the interior. There were three areas: the administration area, the reception area, and the extermination area.

Floor Plan of the Camp

-The Administration Area
    It consisted of the Vorlager (the camp closest to the railway station and Camp I. It was fenced from the rest of the camps and contained housing for the Jewish prisoners and the workshops in which some of them were employed.

-The Reception Area
    Also known as Camp II was where the Jews were brought to go through various procedures prior to their being killed in the gas chambers. Barracks were erected indicating the direction to the "cashier" and the "baths" (Arad 77). At the "cashier" the Jews were ordered to submit their money and valuables (77). In the forest house was a room which overlooked the path where the naked people had to pass on their way to the "tube" and gas chambers, and the victims handed their money and valuables through the window. When time permitted, the Jews received numbers as receipts for the money and valuables they had submitted, to make them believe that they would truly receive everything back after the baths (77).

"Many times the whole process, from disembarkation until entering the gas chambers, was accompanied by beatings and atrocities carried out by some of the Germans and the Ukrainians. For example, there was a dog named Barry who was trained by the SS men to bite the Jews, especially when they were naked on the way to the gas chambers. The beatings, the bitings of Barry, and the shooting and shouting of the guards caused the Jews to run through the "tube" and push themselves into the "baths," hoping to find some escape from the hell around them" (77-78).

-The Extermination Area
    The extermination area, Camp II, which was located in the northwestern part of the camp, was isolated from the other two camps. It contained the gas chambers, the burial trenches, and the housing for the few Jewish prisoners that were employed at the camp. The gas chambers were located inside of a brick building. The capacity of each square chamber, which measured 172 square feet, was 160 to 180 persons. The entrance to the chamber was a platform at the front of the brick building. Yet there was a second opening to each chamber through which dead bodies were removed after gassing. The gas, carbon monoxide, was produced by a 200-horsepower engine in a nearby shed, from which it was piped directly into the chambers (The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust 1375). Also nearby, were the burial trenches, each 164 to 197 feet long, 33 to 49 feet wide, and 16.4 to 23 feet deep. A narrow-gauge railway ran from the railway platform to the burial trenches, to transport all those too weak to make it to the chambers alone or to transport those that had arrived to the camp already dead. Inside of the extermination area, 200 to 300 Jewish prisoners were also kept to remove the bodies of the deceased from the gas chambers and then clean up the chambers. There was also a special team of prisoners, called the "dentists," who's task was to extract gold teeth from the mouths of the murdered victims before their bodies were put into the trenches (The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust 1375).

First stages toward extermination:
    The first stage of extermination want on for three months, from the beginning of May to the end of July 1942. The Jews brought during this period came from the Lublin district in Poland, and from Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Austria. The whole procedure, from the arrival of the train to the burial of the victims took three hours. In the meantime, the railway cars were cleaned up, the trains departed, and another twenty cars with Jews entered the camp.
    At the end of August 1942, three more gas chambers were constructed with the capacity to contain 3450 to 550 people. Franz Stangl was transferred to Treblinka and his place was taken by SS- Obersturmfuhrer Franz Reichsleiten.

Second Stage:
    The second stage began once work on the railway had been completed and transports to Sobibor resumed. Winter arrivals had usually frozen to death by the time they arrived at the camp. Other transports consisted of people who had been stripped naked to inhibit them from escaping the train. From October 1942 to June 1943 a total of 70,00 to 80,00 Jews from Lublin and the Eastern Galicia districts were brought to Sobibor.

chart::  Deport#.text 

Deportations to Sobibor - Operation Reinhard

Date of Deportation         Town                        Number of Deportees
May 3                              Kamarow                   2,000
May 5, 1942                    Opole                         2,000
May 12                            Opole                        2,000
May                                 Pulawy                      2,500
May 6                              Deblin-Irena                2,500
May 7                              Ryki                          3,000
May 7                              Josefow                     1,270
May 8                              Konskowola                1,580
May 8                              Baranow                     1,500
May 9                              Markuszow                  1,500
May 10                            Michow                       2,500
May 12                            Turobin                       2,750
May 12-15                       Zolkiewka                     1,000
May 13-14                      Gorzkow                        2,000
May 14-15                      Krasnystaw                    3,400
May 15                            Izbica                             400
May 15                            Zamosc                       5,000
May 18                           Siedliszcze                       630
May 21-23                     Chelm                            4,300
May 23                          Wlodawa                       1,200
May                                Lysobyki                         500
 

    In February 1943, Heinrich Himmler paid a visit to the camp, and watched the extermination of several hundred Jewish girls. Four transports from France arrived as well as nineteen others from the Netherlands. The Dutch Jews who arrived were also killed, but only after they had written letters to their families about the labor camp they thought they were in. The last transports to arrive in Sobibor were from the Vilna, Minsk, and Lida ghettos. This brought the total number of Jews killed at Sobibor throughout the period of the camp's operation to about 250,000 people.
    At the end of the summer of 1942, the burial trenches were opened and the process of burning the victims' bodies began. The corpses were put into huge piles and cremated. 
 

Ideas and Organization for Resistance
    The first ideas concerning organization, resistance, and mass escape were raised by the prisoners in Sobibor at the beginning of 1943. However, it was not until the late spring or the summer of 1943 that the ideas of resistance and escape began taking on some organizational form (Arad 299). 
    On July 5, 1943, Heinrich Himmler ordered the closing of Sobibor as an extermination camp and its transformation into a concentration camp. However, it is believed that the final solution was going to liquidate all of Sobibor.
    The event that prompted the operational decision to form an underground organization was the killing of Jewish prisoners from Belzec death camps. After the liquidation of the camp at Belzec, the 600 who still remained in the camp were brought to Sobibor in late June of 1943 (299). They were told that they were being taken to Germany to work, but when they arrived at Sobibor they were removed from the train in groups of ten and shot. From a note found among the clothing of the murdered, the Sobibor prisoners learned that those who had been killed were like themselves, prisoners. The Sobibor prisoners were suddenly confronted with the certain fate that awaited them (299). 

document: note.txt "We worked for a year in Belzec. I don't know where they are 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 death awaits you, too. Don't trust the Germans. Avenge our blood!" (299)
 

    The leading figure in the circle of those with ideas for resistance, was Leon Feldhendler, the former chairman of the Judenrat, the Jewish council in a town in eastern Galicia (Holocaust 1377). The group's aim was to organize an uprising and a mass escape from Sobibor. The Lieutenant Alexandr Pechersky, a prisoner of war from the camp of Minsk, was recruited into the underground and put in command. Pechersky and Feldhendler's 

 

I. Plans of Escape 

      The many plans that occurred in Sobibor prior to the uprising of October 14, 1943 did not succeed and were barely if ever, attempted. In order to prevent escapes, the Germans had planted mines along the entire circumference of the camp, hence it was almost impossible for the prisoners to escape their surroundings. Here are some of the main plans that the resistance organization performed before the actual occurrence of the actual escape.
    In the summer of 1943, the Ukrainians presented an opportunity of escape for the Jews. They promised that for a substantial sum of money they would arrange for trucks to drive by on a night in which they would be on guard and take with them a number of prisoners (Holocaust 1377). Then Ukrainians with lorries would take the prisoners across the Bug River and there they would be able to organize a partisan unit (Arad 300). The Ukrainians requested the money to hire the trucks to be paid in advance. Yet, many of the underground prisoners were suspicious and were not sure whether or not to give the money in advance or only after the prisoners were taken out of the camp. This proposal was refused after a Ukrainian approached a member of the underground group and informed them that only fifteen Jews could be removed from the camp (301). Many of the underground members soon believed that the entire plan had only been a way in which to lure the prisoners out of the camp, take their money, and kill them.
    Feldhendler's group, organized another plan, in which the group would kill the SS men while they were sleeping (302). The killing would be carried out by the youngsters, the so-called putzers, who worked in the SS living quarters. On the day the plan was to be carried out, the youngsters along with older prisoners would kill the sleeping SS men with the axes they had used for work (302). Yet this plan, was eventually dropped. Few were confident, that the youngsters even with the help of some older prisoners would be able to kill the men. This plan would have had to be carried out in the early morning which meant that they would have escaped during the early afternoon hence being more susceptible to being caught (302).
    Another plan was to dig a tunnel that would lead from Camp I outside of the mine field. The escape was to start in the barrack where the prisoners were living and its length had to be 120-130 meters (302). The work on this tunnel was continued for two months and part of it was completed, yet after the Germans discovered a tunnel in Camp III, the underground members feared they would find their tunnel and the idea was abandoned (302).
    Nevertheless, all these plans lacked thorough detailed planning and lacked leadership and military training. "In spite of the repeated failures at organizing an escape and in spite of the heavy collective punishment that caused a drop in the morale and self-confidence of the prisoners, the Underground group headed by Feldhendler did not give up their ideas of resistance and escape" (305). The prisoners soon learned that they could not rely on others for help and that their only hope was their own abilities and strengths.

II. The Outbreak
     October 14, 1943 was a day just like any other routine day. Pechersky was at his command post in the carpentry workshop in the early morning while Feldhendler had taken up his position in the warehouse (Rashke 213). Communications between the two men were handled by the putzers who were able to move freely between Camp I and Camp II. Since Pechersky was satisfied with the way things were going in both camps, he asked Leitman, another Underground committee member, to send him the commanders of the battle teams one by one so that he could brief them about their assignments. When Tsibulsky came, Pechersky explained to him that his task was the most important. "He, together with two other prisoners of war, would be taken by Capo Pozyczka to Feldhendler in Camp II." (Arad 323) They were to liquidate the Germans there. It is this event that would be the first to start the whole operation. However, Pozyczka and three other prisoners were taken away by the SS. 
     Hence, the quiet liquidation of the SS staff in the camp, started around 15:30 (325). Since the SS men frequently visited the storerooms, Feldhendler decided to have the killings take place there (Rashke 219). The first SS men invited into the storeroom was Unterscharfuhrer Josef Wulf; he did not suspect a thing. At that moment, Tsibulsky and another prisoner of war, stepped out of their hiding place in the storeroom and cracked Wulf's head with their axes. The dead body was dragged into a bin and covered with clothes. Slowly but surely as the SS men entered the storeroom, shoemaker shop, and the warehouse, they would be killed. The Ukrainian Klat, Niemann, Goettinger, Greischutz, and Beckman were all killed (Arad 327).  After the signal for role call was given, and the Jews were supposed to line up in rows of three, Pechersky realized that there was no turning back. All the Jews surged forward, some with hatchets in their hands, attacking the SS. This attack prompted some controversial testimonies. According to Pechersky "the attack on the armory did not succeed" (330). 

document:  pechsky.txt

pechsky.txt

" People came streaming from all sides. We had previously selected seventy men, nearly all of them Soviet prisoners of war, whose task it was to attack the armory. That was why they were in the forefront of the column. But all the others, who had only suspected that something was being arranged but didn't know when and how, now found out the last minute. They began to push and jostle forward, fearing they might be left behind. In this disorderly fashion we reached the gate of Camp I. A squad commander, a German from Near-Volga, approached us, 'Hey, you sons-of-bitches,' he shouted, 'didn't you hear the whistle? So why are you pushing like a bunch of cattle? Get in line, three in a row!' As though in response to a command, several hatchets suddenly appeared from under coats and came down on his head" (329).

     In truth, the initial stage of the attack did succeed and the prisoners penetrated the armory. At that point, the quiet part of the uprising came to an end. Automatic fire from a watch tower and some other directions was opened on the prisoners running toward the camp's main gate. The prisoners who succeeded to run through the gates, fences, and mine fields. Pechersky and the other leaders of the uprising had lost control over the events and the mass of prisoners who were running in all directions. This was around 17:15 (331)

      The first stage of the uprising-the quiet liquidation of the majority SS staff in camp-had been accomplished successfully. However the second stage of the uprising, the roll call and march toward the gate, was not carried out according to plan (333). And although the leaders of the uprising had taken into account such a development and had created another escape route through fences and minefields, this alternative was not planned in detail. Which is why when the shooting began, prisoners began running in all directions and the Underground leadership lost control. Over half the prisoners, three hundred out of six hundred who were in the main camp, succeeded in crossing the fences and mining fields and escaping into the forest (333). However, most of them were killed by their pursuers. Those who had not joined the escape for various reasons, and had remained in the camp were all killed as well. At the end of the war, about fifty Jews survived of those who had escaped during the uprising (Holocaust 1378). 

 

Works Cited
Arad, Yitzhak. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka - The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. 
    Bloomington; University Press, 1987.
Rashke, Richard. Escape from Sobibor. Boston; Houghton Miffin, 1982.
"Sobibor" Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. NY; Macmillan Publishing, 1990.

Critical Thinking Questions
 

1. What was the significance of the "sign" that Pechersky witnessed?

2. Discuss the phrase "avenge our blood," and briefly explain what it marks the commencement of.
 

 Sobibor Questions

1. What made revolt inevitable within the camp?
2. Describe the organization of the underground and those chosen to lead them.
3. What different roles were forced upon those prisoners chosen to be employees of the camp?
4. What were the differences between the first deportations and the last deportations from Sobibor?
5. What did the unsuccessful acts of resistance and escape attempts make clear to the underground prisoners?

 

 
 
 

Auschwitz-Birkenau
 

Resistance at Auschwitz Birkenau

    The Holocaust was an extremely brutal event that occurred during World War II. The victims were the Jews, Gypsies, and handicapped and the brutes were the Nazis. The purpose was to exterminate the "inferior" and create a superior race. Several modes of extermination were used and they were implemented in concentration camps used for labor and termination, Auschwitz being the main one. The conditions were horrendous which explained why people would want to revolt or resist from anything they were ordered to do. 
    Auschwitz was the largest Nazi concentration and extermination camp. It was utilized as a labor and extermination camp, and implemented the Final Solution. Auschwitz was divided into three main areas; Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (Monowitz Ibuna). Its conditions were unbearable and the people there barely ate, bathed, or slept. They were separated by gender (children went with the women) and were then evaluated to determine which would go to the labor camps and which would go directly to be exterminated. There wasn't anything that the victims could do because they were forced to work by the SS and were tricked into the gas chambers. Hundreds of people were told that they would be showered, were forced to strip, and were then herded into the gas chambers that they thought to be showers (p. 50, 51 Friedmann). In early September of 1941, the killing of prisoners with Zyklon B began. Rudolf Hoss, a commandant of the camp, preferred it to the carbon monoxide used at other camps because he like the idea that it killed more quickly and reliably. Several gas chambers were built to conduct these murders. Himmler was the one that ordered them (p. 51 Friedmann). 
    Since, for the most part, it was unknown that death was coming, resistance was not always an option, or a thought. As time passed though, awareness of what was happening became more evident. Those who did resist by running, escaping from trains, or attacking guards, faced death. Some took advantage of this and were executed on the spot. They simply gave themselves in because they could not handle being tortured anymore. Others committed suicide. It was argued that suicide itself was a form of resistance (internet). If one person acted out, not only he was executed, but also his family and many others. This forced people to think twice about resisting and how they would go about doing it. 

Different types of Resistance:
-Passive Resistance: staying clean, diaries, writing poetry, and helping others.
-Spiritual Resistance: not showing any emotions, sanctification of life, rebirth of Jewish culture, fasting (Jewish worships). 
-Cultural Resistance: education in the ghetto, poor work, and damage of Nazi property.
-Active Resistance, armed and physical: sabotage, partisan activity, intelligent gatherings, escapes (230 attempts, 80 succeeded), revolt (required organization).

Memoirs and Recollections:
Revolt at Birkenau: Jews of the Sonderkommando at Birkenau were preparing a revolt. There were many people involved and if any got caught they would be executed on the spot. Revolt was an act of courage and was extremely dangerous. 
    Some girls from a nearby union explosives factory smuggled amounts of explosives they had collected into Birkenau. They passed it on until it reached the people planning this revolt. They would then hide them at the false bottoms of food tray. Israel Gutman recalls this occasion:
    "When I was standing near my friend he told me that he had not had time to put the explosives in the saucers and that the explosives were on his body in a cigarette package. I knew quite well that not only he would be killed as a retaliation, but all the underground of Auschwitz was jeopardized.
    When they carried out the search they felt I was trembling and they then searched me very thoroughly. When they didn't find anything then they didn't really look at my friend. Somehow or other they skipped him. Since I was a little excited, they thought that I was the one who had explosives and not him."
Another occasion:
Abe survived two years at Auschwitz. Most only survived eight weeks. He learned how to keep himself alive, steal from Nazis, and trade their goods. His remembers the Polish dancer named Horowitz, who bravely attacked the SS guard named Schillinger while he was trying to force him to undress in the gas chamber. She kills him with his own gun and wounds another guard before she is machine gunned to death.

Armed Resistance at Auschwitz: 
    On October 7, 1944, one of the four crematoria at Auschwitz was blown up by members of the Sonderkommando. These were workers, mostly Jews whose job was to clear away the bodies of gas chamber victims. All these soldiers were caught and killed. 

Outside attempts of Resistance: 
    In 1944, the Refugee War Board planned to bomb the railroads used to deport the Jews. The Czech underground gave them the railroad schedules and stops. Starting in June they proposed their plan to the war department, but it was repeatedly rejected on the basis of impracticality and lack of military capacity.
 
 

Works Cited
Landau, Ronnie S. The Nazi Holocaust. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992. 202-325.
Laska, Vera. Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: THE VOICES OF 
    EYEWITNESSES. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983. 152-189.
Swiebocka, Teresa. Auschwitz: A History in Photographs. Bloomington: Indiana
    University Press, 1993. 13-27.

 

Andrea Bonilla
IB Contemporary World History
Mr. Blackmon
2 March 1999

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Resistance
    Throughout most of World War II, part of the Germans’ Final Solution involved an efficient, expedient way of ridding themselves of the Jewish population: death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau where members of the religion would become participants in mass executions where, due to human nature, there was the instinctive urge to fight death and resist the blow that fate was dealing the victims. It is questioned whether or not the Jews walked to their deaths like “sheep to a slaughter”, or with the fear and indignity that came with the knowledge of what their immediate futures held (Landau 138).
    Needless to say, the conditions of the Nazi camps were horrific and outrageously unsanitary, forcing the people to live in disease-ridden quarters while having the constant awareness of exactly how precariously their lives were hung in the balance. From the outset, Auschwitz was designed to be a place where mass murders were able to be performed in cycles, quickly killing hundreds of people. The principal tools used for the genocide were the gas chambers which led to the crematoriums. In this specific case, the gas chambers were divided into two types: Leichenkeller (“corpse cellars”) were large, underground structures which, tightly packed, held approximately 2,000 deportees. The other type was the Badeanstalten (“bath houses”), smaller chambers which were located above the ground. Crowds of Jews were falsely told by SS guards that they were all going to a shower room in order to be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected for their stays at the camps. In truth, they were thrust into one of the chambers, where a lethal combination of hydrogen and cyanide would permeate the air and, over time, asphyxiate every last one of the prisoners. After being stripped of any valuables, the bodies then were cremated in several of the 46 ovens meant precisely for burning bodies. At its peak, the camp was burning 500 bodies every hour in these ovens. The entire process was manned by SS guards as well as Sonderkommandos, teams of Jewish prisoners who were forced to labor in the chambers by the Nazis until they were killed; this was done every four months so that no prisoner could publicize the atrocities and crimes of their commanders with which they had become so intimate (Laska 174). Understandably, someone at risk of being deported to a death camp such as these would make the utmost effort to avoid their capture. Take for example the case of Itzhak Katznelson and his 18 year old son, Zvi. His wife and daughters having previously been deported, Katznelson attempted flight with his son at his side. They hid in a bunker which had been dug underneath a hothouse just outside the ghetto to which they had been confined. With false Hondurian passports in hand, they reached Poland before they were arrested, after which they were sent to Vittel. Ironically, this occurred merely three weeks before the Germans ceased the deportation of those with Latin American passports.
    The effort against the inhuman extermination of the Jews came from within the gates of the camps as well as without. In such a context, suicide may be seen as a sort of resistance in itself, with people preferring to take their own lives than to experience the misery inflicted upon them. Whatever the motivation, suicide was what claimed a large number of prisoners. Others, desperate for their lives, would attempt escapes that seldom took them to safety. On the part of the prisoners, resistance was largely disorganized and frequently spontaneous. However, it was a common concept, and the methods were widely varied (Swiebocka 25). Escapes needed to be devised in a way where the safety of the other prisoners was ensured, as others were punished for missing inmates. Resistance by Jews did not only appear in the form of suicide and escapes, however. Simply the act of doing something that went against the established rules. For example, some would pull their own gold-capped teeth in order to trade them for food so that they would not perish from starvation. Others refused to comply with the orders of the SS and continually smuggled coded notes out of camp by sewing them into clothes, hiding them inside other objects, or by burying them for later recovery (Swiebocka 26). Although plots to escape or to overpower the SS were mostly ill-conceived and ultimate failures, there was one which left and indelible impression on the history of the Holocaust. As above mentioned, the Sonderkommandos worked more closely with their Nazi dictators than any of the other prisoners did. Knowing what their fate would be after the period of four months was over, they conspired to create a plan in which they would bomb one of the crematoria. In preparation for this, four women smuggled explosives into the camp to the workers, and the men proceeded to destroy Gas Chamber and Crematorium IV while at the same time killing several of the SS. Eventually the four women were caught and hanged; nevertheless, they had succeeded in rendering inoperative one of Auschwitz-Birkenau’s four gas chambers. The date of this revolt, October 7, 1944, has much significance as a day of great victory on the part of the victims (Laska 175).
    Aware of the desperate situation inside of the death camps, several organizations devoted themselves to try to rescue them as soon as possible and with the least amount of deaths possible. One great frustration in relation to outside efforts was the June 1944 proposal of the War Refugee Board that the railway lines from Hungary to Auschwitz be bombed by them. Members of the Czech underground provided routes, train schedules, and advantageous bombing locations. The ultimate goal was to slow down and then stop deportations. However, the War Department repeatedly turned down the idea for a variety of reasons, from impracticality to lack of military capacity, and many others. Although the War Refugee Board continued their attempts to interest the War Department in their strategy, the scheme was never approved. Officials were not yet fully aware of how desperately the prisoners needed to be rescued until three escaped prisoners made the crimes against humanity public (Landau 211-13).
    Despite the fact that most people in the time of World War II had absolutely no idea of the gravity of the deportees’ situation, the push to end the Nazi cruelty gained momentum as the war continued. All over the world people were speaking out agains the German crimes under Hitler, and measure being taken against them. Although help came much too late, this is a period in history which should not and will not be erased, as that which is not learned is doomed to be repeated.