Established: March 1942
Location: north-east of Lublin
The precise date for the construction of Sobibor is uncertain, but it is known that it began operations on 16 May 1942, with the arrival of its first convoy of Jews. The camp was specifically set up to exterminate Jews rounded-up in Poland, and then later, Austria, France, Holland and Czechoslovakia. It was created by the same Einsatzgruppe Reinhard organisation that had already demonstrated its ability and expertise in constructing similar facilities.
The camp was divided into three sections: one was devoted to workshops (a sock factory, a tailors’, a bakery) producing items required by the guards (who were mainly Ukranian Nazi-sympathisers). Another section featured the barracks, and the last housed the installations needed for mass murder: the warehouse where the prisoners had their heads shaved, the actual gas chamber, and the crematorium.
At least 250,000 people were murdered at Sobibor, mainly Jews. But this figure is without question an under-estimate, given that entire convoys often passed directly to the gas chambers: an example would be a group of 600 Soviets officers who entered the camp in August 1943, of whom only 80 survived – the rest were immediately despatched to the gas chambers on arrival, and their bodies burned.
On 14 October 1943, 300 prisoners (led by a Soviet officer, Alexandrei Petchorski) overcame their guards, took their weapons and made good their escape. A large number were recaptured as the Nazis hunted them down, but around 40 reached safety, and joined the partisan units operating in the area. These would become post-war witnesses to the crimes committed at Sobibor.
After the prisoner revolt, the camp was emptied and destroyed by the SS. Now nothing remains of what was one of the most efficient locations of Nazi repression. In the forest where the bodies that could not be destroyed in the crematorium had once been burnt, a huge quantity of human ash and ground sodden in blood record the brutality of the place and the marytrdom of its victims.