The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Operation Reinhard
The Extermination Camps
Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka

Sobibor -- from May to July 1942

The extermination installations in Sobibor had been tested in April 1942, and mass exterminations began during the first days of May. Commandant Stangl introduced into his camp the extermination techniques employed in Belzec. He received additional advice and guidance when Wirth visited Sobibor. (Sereny, pp. 110,113.)

Ada Lichtmann, a survivor from Sobibor, reported how the arrivals were "greeted":

We heard word for word how SS-Oberscharführer Michel, standing on a small table, convincingly calmed the people; he promised them that after the bath they would get back all their possessions, and said that the time had come for Jews to become productive members of society. They would presently all be sent to the Ukraine where they would be able to live and work. The speech inspired confidence and enthusiasm among the people. They applauded spontaneously and occasionally they even danced and sang. (Yad Vashem Archives 0-3/1291, p. 18.)

Older people, the sick and invalids, and those unable to walk were told that they would enter an infirmary for medical treatment. In reality, they were taken on carts, pulled by men or horses, into Camp II, straight to the open ditches where they were shot. (StA Dortmund AZ: 45Js 27/61 <AZ. ZSL: 208 AR-Z 251/59, vol.7, pp.1282, 1308, 1433>)

During the first weeks the arrivals had to undress in the open square in Camp Il. Later, a hut was erected for this purpose. (See plan of Sobibor in the appendix provided with the printed material) There were signs pointing toward the "Cash Office" and the "Baths." At the "Cash Office" the Jews had to deposit their money and valuables. It was located in the former forester's house, on the route along which the naked people had to walk on their way to the "tube" and eke gas chambers. The victims handed over their money and valuables through the window of this room. They had been warned that those trying to hide something would be shot. When time permitted, the Jews were given numbers as receipts for the items handed over, so as to lull them into a sense of security that afterwards everything would be returned to them. (Verdict of LG Hagen AZ: 11 Ks 1/64, p. 243 <ZSL: misc. file 209>)

Transports which arrived in the evening or at night were unloaded and kept under guard in Camp II until the morning, when the people were taken to the undressing huts and then led into the gas chambers. (Yad Vashem Archives M-2/236, p. 2.) Extermination operations did not normally take place at night.

Frequently, the entire procedure, from the unloading to entry into the gas chambers, was accompanied by beatings and other acts of cruelty on the part of the Germans and the Ukrainians. There was a dog called Barry whom the SS-men had trained to bite Jews upon being called to do so, especially when they were naked. The beatings, Barry's bites, and the shouting and screaming by the guards made the Jews run through the "tube" and of their own accord push on into the "baths" -- in the hope of escaping from the hell around them.

Occasionally, a restricted number of skilled workers were selected from some transports. These included carpenters, tailors, and shoemakers, as well as a few dozen strong young men and women. They had to do all the physical work. For months on end, the extermination machinery in Sobibor operated smoothly and uninterruptedly. It should be recalled that fewer transports came to Sobibor than to Belzec, and generally with fewer deportees per train. Usually only one deportation train arrived each day; there were also days without a transport. The size of a transport rarely exceeded 20 freight cars, conveying 2,000 - 2,500 persons.

Stangl, the leading figure, supervised operations. His personality and experience of many years as a police officer in the "Euthanasia" program made him a very suitable camp commandant.

The first phase of operations in Sobibor lasted from May until the end of July 1942. During this period the Jews from the ghettoes of Lublin district were taken there. Among these were also Czech and Austrian Jews who had first been deported to these Polish ghettoes. Altogether, 61,330 Jews from Bezirk Lublin were taken to Sobibor. Simultaneously, transports arrived with 10,000 Jews from Austria, 6,000 from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and part of the 24,378 Slovak Jews who were murdered in this camp by the end of 1942. The first wave of extermination in Sobibor lasted three months, claiming at least 77,000 Jewish victims, excluding those deported from Slovakia.

At the end of July 1942 the large deportations to Sobibor were halted due to repair work on the railway line between Lublin and Chelm. At the beginning of August several transports reached the camp from the ghettoes in the neighborhood; they travel led along the eastern sector of the line which was again open to traffic.

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