The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Operation Reinhard:
Geographic Location: Sobibor

The second, Sobibor, was established in March of 1942, near the village and rail station of Sobibor, not far from the Chelm-Wlodawa railroad line, in an isolated, wooded and swampy area.

SS-Obersturmführer Richard Thomalla, a staff member of the SS Construction Office in Lublin, was in charge of construction, but was replaced a month later by the first Camp Commandant, SS-Obersturmführer Stangl, who was responsible for completing the job. (get pub/orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/ yvs16.04 for construction details.)

Sobibor was designed and constructed in the form of a rectangle, 400 by 600 meters in size. It was surrounded by a barbed wire fence 3 meters high, which had tree branches intertwined with it in order to disguise the camp. It was divided into three distinct areas, each independently surrounded by more barbed wire. These areas were:

    1. The Administrative area - it consisted of the Vorlager ("forward camp"e;; closest to the railroad station), and Camp I, and included the railroad platform, with space for twenty freight cars, and living quarters for the German and Ukrainian staff. Camp I, which was fenced off from the rest, contained housing for Jewish prisoners and the workshops in which some of them worked.

    2. The reception area, or Camp II. This was the place where the Jews from incoming transports were brought. Here they went through various procedures before being killed - removal of clothing, cutting of women's hair, and the confiscation of valuables.

    3. The extermination area, Camp III. It was located in the northwest part of the camp, and the most isolated. It contained the gas chambers, burial trenches, and housing for Jewish prisoners employed there. A path, 3 to 4 meters wide and 150 meters long, led from Camp II to the extermination area. It was enclosed with barbed wire on both sides, and was camouflaged with intertwined branches to conceal the path from view. The path, or "tube", was used to herd the terrified and naked victims into the gas chambers after being processed. There was also a narrow-gauge railroad which ran from the rail platform directly to the burial trenches; it was used to transport those who arrived too ill or too weak to make it on their own, and for those who had died in transit.

    The gas chambers were inside a brick building. There were initially three of them, each 16 square meters in size, and each capable of holding from 160 to 180 persons. They were entered through doors on a platform in the front of the brick building, and a second door was used to remove bodies after the killing was finished. The gas, carbon monoxide, was produced by a 200 horsepower engine in a nearby shed.

Burial trenches were nearby, each 50 to 60 meters long, 10 to 15 meters wide, and 5 to 7 meters deep. The initial test of the killing system occurred in mid-April, when 250 Jews, primarily women, from the Krychow labor camp, were killed while the entire SS contingent attended.

Three additional gas chambers were added during a brief halt in camp operations which occurred in August-September, 1942. During this period, Stangl was sent to Treblinka, and replaced by SS-Obersturmführer Franz Reichsleitner as Camp Commandant.

At the end of the summer of 1942, the burial trenches were opened, and the bodies burned in huge piles. Subsequent victims were cremated immediately after death, instead of being buried as had been done previously.

On July 5, 1943, Himmler ordered the camp closed as an extermination center, and converted to use as a concentration camp. Camp IV was built in order to store captured Soviet ammunition.

After the uprising at Sobibor, Himmler abandoned the idea of a concentration camp and ordered the camp destroyed. The buildings were destroyed, the land plowed under, and crops planted. No trace remained by the end of 1943. The area is now a Polish National Shrine. (Encyclopedia, IV, 1373-1378)

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