The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Life and Fall of Wlodowa

The Memorial Book of Wlodawa

H. Nivjeska

The extermination camp Sobibor which the Germans began building immediately after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was perhaps the most unknown camp.

The little railroad station of Sobibor was located in a forest about 12 km. from Wlodowa. Here two big buildings and a row of barracks were built. Afterwards another building called the "Sanitation Center" was added.

The ghetto was a 10 hectares wood, surrounded by 4 walls of barbed wire and the area between the walls was mined. Armed guards stood at the rear gate. From the high guard towers standing every few metres the whole camp was watched day and night.

Ghetto Sobibor was divided into three areas. Two houses for the officers were located in the first area. In addition there were workshops for tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, and barracks for the labourers of the camp.

The second area contained the workhouses for the classification and assortment of the belongings of the corpses. Here was also the beauty-parlour. It was forbidden at the risk of death for the labourers of both areas to enter the third area.

The purpose of the extermination camp of Sobibor like the camp at Treblinka was solely for the liquidation of Jews. This meant that they were not mixed camps that included "Arians" too. It was not a free camp like Oswiencim and Maidanek where you were allowed to write letters and receive parcels and where news from outside could leak in. Here there was not even a hospital besides a "Lazarett" consisting of a deep ditch, where old and ill, no longer able to move unaided, were thrown in.

This camp was created for the sole purpose of conducting a quick mass extermination of the Jews. The murdering of the masses had to be worked out in such a way that no problems would arise for the executioners and those responsible for maintaining secrecy. In addition, care had to be taken not to leave any sign of what was done. The torture of the victims was just a sadistic addition of the executioners. It was a free pleasure without any danger, as all the possible witnesses were as well executed.

The German "service" in Sobibor was comparatively small. The system of violence and torment of people simplified everything. The pitiful victims were deceived by the Germans to the very last and ignorant of their cruel fate could not possibly have expected it.

Even when the labourers revealed to the Jews that were being led to their death, the Jews were more inclined to believe the Germans. The warnings of their brothers seemed to them rather illusory.

Officially they were told that they would be sent for work to the Ukraine, and that here in the "Sanitary Center" of Sobibor they had just to go through the "Entlausung" -- a desinfectant shower.

If not for this blind belief the people would never have gone to their own death. They would have attacked their murderers with their bare hands and teeth and would wildly run towards the electrified area in a mad attempt to escape. Even the weak would have not surrendered with any attempt of defence but would have fallen down on the earth clinging to it desperately and could only have been torn away with force. Thus bringing about confusion and disorder in the precisely-run German death factory. They would have forced the Germans to increase their numbers on this front.

There existed many extermination camps and they could not afford such allowances while World War was at its peak. In Sobibor there were only twenty SS-men. The guards were taken from the "Blacks" as the Ukrainians were known, Russian prisoners from Wlasow and a group of Letvians , formed altogether about 300 men. A group of guards stood outside the camp in order to prevent the local population from approaching the barbed wire fence.

Besides the entrance gate bore a sign announcing that everyone approaching the gate would be shot.

In the beginning of 1941 sealed railroad cars started arriving from east and west. These were vans with sealed doors and windows bringing Jews from Poland and Russia, exhausted from starvation, thurst and cold. Most were near death and suffering from suffocation and others were already dead. Luxury trains with first and 2nd class cars also arrived and the passengers had only handlugagge signifiying that the were rich Jews coming from Western Europe -- France, Holland, Belgium, etc.

Doors were opened and the people entered the camp. They were immediately devided in groups of men and women. They were made to run and were beaten and the dogs that had been set after them bit and tore their flesh.

It is very difficult to describe the despair, wailing and howling of people who had been sure they were going to work and who were suddenly face to face with disaster.

One of the survivors of such a transport testified afterwards that the Germans came to the camp for their "hobbyhorse-riding" in their uniforms with white gloves. They watched bursting of laughter, how these agonized people were tormented and observed how the Ukrainians nearly beat to death those trying to approach the well in order to get some water. The most beautiful and most elegantly dressed girls were forced to clean the privy springs with their bare hands.

After they had been counted they were brought in through a gate to the first area. The healthy and strong were set aside for labour. The rest were moved to the second area, where they had to strip off their clothes.

In the beginning the personal belongings of the victims were removed to several warehouses. Afterwards three barracks were constructed. In the first barrack shoes were taken, in the second -- clothing and underwear, and in the third hair was shorn for sanitary reasons.

They were ordered to throw money and jewels into big bowls.

After they had passed these three barracks they stood naked and ashamed, surrounded by armed Ukrainian guards. Then they were divided into long rows and were made to run by whipping them mercilessly. Chasty women who covered their breasts with their hands were pulled out of the row and their breast were cut off. Children were snatched from the arms of their mothers and thrown on the earth and kicked to death with nailed boots. The screaming of the wounded children and mothers maddened even those who, by wonder, had not been struck.

The way to the "Sanitary Center" was stained with blood and squashed brains of children.

Afterwards they were moved to the third area. Here again they were told about their journey to work in the Ukraina. But before they had to take a desinfectant shower and after that they would receive clothing, a uniform in order to prevent discrimination between poor and rich. Everyone would have the same work.

Although the victims had just now suffered internal tortures they still believed them. They passed obediently through the long and narrow path between the barbed wire with green branches.

In the beginning, when "only" two or three transports arrived a day they used gas. Two Russian tanks stood between the chambers and after the chambers were filled with people the tanks were set to work and pressed the gas in through the pipes. After about 20 minutes the doors were opened and the corpses were removed. A lot were still dying. All were thrown into deep pits pouring over them chloride of lime and covered with ashes.

In the course of time the method of extermination was improved. A special machine was installed creating the gassing routing through the pipes directly into the chambers and "Sanitary Center". After a German verified the death of the people by looking through a window in the roof he ordered the gassing to stop, the floor opened and the corpses fell down into a cellar. There the labourers loaded them on carriages removing them to the pits.

The "labourers" themselves were shot after this service. The doors were opened to let in fresh air, water pumps were turned on to clean the "Sanitary Center". And everything started again.

When the number of transports increased to seven - eight a day and the death machine of Sobibor was no longer capable of handling so many, the Germans made the nearby situated Wlodowa an assembly center and sent to it a part of the transports. The first once came from Kalish with about 4,000 people.

Since then more and more Jews were sent to this assembly center. On days when the rate of transports arriving to Sobibor was small the missing number of people was filled from the concentration camp.

At the end the turn of the Jews of Wlodowa themselves also came. The SS-men acted here like on other places. First they ordered the "Judenrat" to make a list of all the aged, sick, cripples and poor who were a burden to them. Those were in the first transport from Wlodowa to Sobibor. The second consisted of Jews from Kalish and the surrounding. All were ordered to the market place surrounded by Ukrainian guards. From there they had to run to the Wlodowa railway station Wlodowa -- Bug from where they were brought to Sobibor by train. Anyone failing to run the 5 km to the station was shot down.

On May 23, 1943 the last transport with Jews of Wlodowa left for Sobibor. This transport included those few lucky ones needed in the camp and those whom the Germans just plain liked and also the Jewish Militia that had become superfluous.

Since the people of the last transport knew already where they were being led, they smashed and broke the windows and doors of the cars, jumped from the moving train and escaped into the forest in the midst of a shower of shots. About 200 pepole got away into the forest this way.

In June 1943 a very strange transport arrived from Bialistok; cars full of naked people packed like sardines. During the whole journey they did not even receive a drop of water. In addition chloride of lime was poured on them. The dead and living had become one clot which became impossible to separate.

The labourers sorting the belongings of the corpses not once recognized the clothes of dead relatives. The gravediggers removing the corpses from the cellar under the "Sanitary Center" recognized the corpses of their own fathers, mothers, wives and children. The robbed belongings were sent to Germany. Objects of value like documents, reports and photographs were immediately burnt. Women's hair was packed and shipped to the workshops of carpenters for the use of upholstery.

The death camps worked at full capacity day and night without any interruption. When the hideous screaming of the suffocating was heard from the "Sanitary Center", the Germans let loose a herd of geese they had especially bread for this purpose. The noise that the geese started deafened the voices of the suffocating in the gas chambers.

The Germans desparately tried to keep all their doings in the utmost secrecy. Nevertheless they could not conceal it from the eyes of the public. The huge pits were filled quickly. The corpses, though the chloride of lime was poured on them started rotting and the dangerous stench of putrifaction was smelled for many kilometres in the surrounding.

Afterwards the Germans reopened the graves with excavators and removed the corpses to oven where they were burnt. Day and night dense black smoke hang over the camp of Sobibor and over the tree-tops of the great forest. The air was poisened by the stench of the human flesh and burnt bones.

While the corpses were being burned, the Germans looked for new amusements. Together with the Ukrainians they threw Jewish women and children alive into the fire.

In March 1944 the corpses of the Jews of Wlodowa and Adampol were loaded on vans and removed to the rural Christian cemetry of Olchowka near to Wlodowa. There combustable material was poured over them and they were burnt.

One transport included Russian prisoners of war and also a Jewish officer named Pazarski. This officer persuaded the prisoners of the camp to organise a revolt. They suddenly attacked the Germans and killed many of them. Some of the rebels succeeded in passing the barbed wire and escaping into the forest. But most of them were killed by mines and by the shots. From those who escaped only a small part survived.

After this revolt the Germans destroyed the barracks and all the facilities in the Sobibor camp. Thousands of poisoned, slaughtered, shot and tortured by all kind of deathmethods. Justice rests as does the conscience of the world.

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