The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Life and Fall of Wlodowa

The Memorial Book of Wlodawa

"In Sobibor there was nothing to see..."
Mordechai Zanin

M. Zanin, the editor of the Newspaper "Die letzte Neies" -- Tel Aviv, visited, after World War II, 100 destroyed communities. Then a Jew had to have courage to endanger his life on a journey in the land of murder. At the time hundreds of those being rescued in bunkers, woods and returning from Russia were being killed on roads, villages and towns. But to the assistance of Mr. Zanin stood a British passport which enabled him to look like an English reporter. He said about this:

"The disguise of an English reporter in the conditions of post war Poland when the government was communist and the people drunk with hartred of Jews robbing Jewish property -- opened before me the hearts of all ranks of the population: farmers, citizens, intellectuals and artists, wishing to relieve their conscience of a sin. I saw the Jewish tragedy from the perspective of their conscience." Mr. Zanin described everything he saw, heard, and experienced. But not like a foreign reporter who contemplated at the Jewish tragedy merely as reporting material. He was the first writer to report about the 100 destroyed and slaughtered communities. His descriptions in the newspaper "Forwards" of New York evidently shook American Judaism.

"In Sobibor there is nothing to be seen..." in the chapter from his book 'u"ber Stein und Stock' which appeared in 1952 and describing the destruction of the Jewish Wlodowa.

About 10 km from Wlodowa on the railway leading to the town Chelm is a railway station, "Sobibor".

In the forest of Sobibor Jews of the district of Lublin and its surrounding experienced the greatest disaster of all.

Now silent reigns on the little station, the forest is shaking. Behind the forest the Bug flows. Here is the Polish-Russian border. But there is no fear you are in a border area. The few farmers disappear in the depth of the forest. They return to their peaceful life.

I stop a farmer and propose to him that he bring me to the extermination camp. The farmer looks at me and does not understand my intention. I tell him: "Not for nothing!" I'll pay you well. The farmer lives quite poorly: For payment he understands.

But he does not understand why I will pay him, as there is nothing to see there. Really nothing to see there..."

-- I mean the place where Jews were killed -- I tell him.

-- Oh, Jews? Deep in the forest many Jews were burnt for 2 years, but nothing remained to be seen...

We agreed that I will pay him for showing me the place where there is nothing to be seen.

We cross the railway lines and enter into the depth of the forest by a side road.

The farmer tells me that the Germans broke through the forest where they brought the transports with Jews directly to the gas chambers.

There remained signs of this way of suffering.

After a walk of 20 minutes we reached a bare patch in the forest. At the first moment it seemed as if here and there had been a village which was burnt down and the people escaped.

On the whole ground you can see among the sporidic weeds broken pieces of bricks and red ashen -- earth. Under the weeds the ground is dug-up, into narrow and deep ditches.

The whole area of this forsaken land seemed to be smaller than the area of Treblinka. On his ground there were 5 barracks for the SS-murderers and the Ukrainians. Two barracks for the Jews who were taken from the transports for work (one for men and one for women) the crematorium, and the gas chamber for 500 Jews.

4 barracks where the victims stripped off their clothes, the carpentry, the tailor workshop -- a modern hell, founded on a scientific basis: All the buildings in the camp, the houses and the crematorium were made of stones taken from Jewish houses of Wlodowa. In this camp were murdered Jews from Samosz, Rebishow, Chelm, Wlodowa, Lublin and Isbiza, Chrasnopol and Libartov -- tens of Jewish communities. Here were also brought war prisoners from the Polish and Russian army, Jews from France and Czechoslovakia and nearly from all countries of Europe. A people evaporated with the smoke of the ovens.

Like in all the extermination camps also in Sobibor there passed a wild wave of gold fever. Every piece of earth in the area from the station was dug up by the population of the environment. The farmer tells about it in simple words. He still believes that if one thorougly searched the place one would find treasures.

And around these treasures all his thinking was concentrated. All the questions he asked pointed at this. There was a mement when I thought he suspected that I came to undertake excavating works in order to unearth the "treasures".

Have there been committees here to investigate the ground?" I asked.

-- As far as I know, no -- he answered carefully -- besides ordinary people, nobody has come to search.

The spectacle of Sobibor offers the most awful spectacle of all the destroyed cemetries in Poland. Everyone dug exhumed and took what he took and the rest -- forsaken.

The water of the river washed down the ashes of 800,000 Jews. Part of the ashes were used as fertilizer for the forest, to make its trees greener, its bushes softer.

Until now nobody thought of erecting a tombstone in memory of the dead because it is Sobibor, because here only Jews were exterminated - only 800,000 Jews.

The river flows peacefully. The trains pass and don't stop at Sobibor. This is an isolated and forgotten place.

The revolt in Treblinka (August 1943) which was written up in the modern literature which appeared until now. When the Chelma camp yas destroyed (Jan. 17, 1945) the little remnants of the Jews rose up and killed 2 German policemen. Only 29 of those Jews survived. But the revolt of Sobibor seemed to be the greatest one. In Lublin I found a Jew named Moshe Bornstein, one of those who survived the revolt of Sobibor. He told me." In the Jewish working division there were 425 men and 175 women from different countries. Among them many Russian Jews, war prisoners of the Sowjet army. A Jew from Sitonor in the rank of major together with Leibl Fladhendler, the son of the Rabbi from Solkow were the instigators of the revolt. They organized 92 men each one with another task. They intended to revolt at the end of June, but because of a denunciation, the matter could not be executed.

A Jew from Berlin betrayed the preparations to the leaders of the camp, and even handed over 3 who were shot.

Moshe Matiszewitz, the son of the smith Seinwel from Krasnokow and a Jew from Turbini. For all that, they did not renounce their plan of revolt even after the denunciation and though the Germans managed the camp in such a way that it was impossible to talk. On the same July day the labourers in the forest who were digging there, intended to kill their Ukrainian guards and to escape.

Every Jew was watched by two men. One SS-men and one Ukrainian. In spite of the double guards the forest labourers decided to execute their plans. The opportunity arrived when 3 Jew, Shlomo Podchalnik, Jossel Kopp, from Matrobin and Sundel Honigmann from Koskowow went to fetch water for the forest labourers. The three were led by one armed Ukrainian. They attacked him and killed him. According to a prearranged plan they were to give a sign for all the labourers to attack guards with their axes and spades and then disperse into the forest. But the sign did not come, instead, they arrived a man on a horseback announcing the murder of the Ukrainian. 13 Jews of the 40 were killed on the spot. The rest were forced to crawl on their bellies, a distance of 4 km to the camp. There two by two, they were shot in front of all the camp inhabitants.

The atmosphere in the camp became unbearable.

All the time new transports arrived with Jews from Poland and abroad. In the day of the greatest summer heat the Jews of the transport arrived half-dead and were moved directly to the crematorium. "Give us a drop of water and kill us!" they prayed: "Kill us!" Moshe Bornstein continues his story:

"Though, we, these who were unloading the wagons, were already used to awful spectacles and death did not make any impression on us, the tortures of half suffocated Jews, broke us dawn again.

The "work" in the camp started at 10.00 o'clock at night when the trains with the transports arrived at the station. The work had to be finished until 2.00 o'clock in morning. This was the time restricted for the poisonning >sic> of the Jews, transferring the luggage to the store-houses and cleaning the wagons.

In order to avoid a break for breathing, the Germans organized dances with music every Sunday.

As for every 425 men and only 175 women in the camp. the women were forced to dance the whole day. Every man also had to dance if he wanted to remain alive. For the dancing we had to come dressed up for the dance. In the storehouses there were the most beautiful clothes, especially from the transports from abroad. Therefore the women appeared in elegant evening-dresses and the men in underwear of silk and elegant suits with silk ties. Sunday was the day of rest for the SS-men and the Ukrainians -- it was the day of suffering and torture for the Jews. A terrible hell.

The dancing was the dance with death. A dance between thousand of dead people. And we the dancers knew that our fate would be the same as theirs: gas chambers and crematorium.

The supervisor of the camp the Obersturmf"hrer Neumann whom the Jews killed later, was 18 years old. But his cruelty did not know any limits. He always invented the most awful tortures for his victims. One of his inventions was the dancing on Sunday.

On the night of September 15/16 we were woken up: A transport of Jews had arrived which had to be unloaded quickly and poisoned. Until sunrise the whole transport had to be in the crematorium. This was the most awful train we had ever seen. The nightmare train, the hell.

It consisted of 39 wagons. It came from Dambiza near Krakau. It had already been two weeks on its way. Through the lattices of the windows a terrible stench of corpses penetrated. When we opened we found piles of naked corpses. In every wagon there were 300 men, women and children. The most were already dead. And those who were still alive could still stand on their feet asked immediately: "where are the gas chambers?" They ran there with their last strength, -- quickly, quickly -- they ran in order to die quickly. No one of them had asked for water. They only had asked for the way to the gaschambers. We unoaded five wagons at a time, because of the stench we were afraid to open more than 5 wagons at a time. Out of thousands of Jews only some groups were sent to the gaschambers, 4 or 5 times, 500 every time. The rest were thrown on carriages and brought straight to the ovens.

The last transport caused the revolt. Execution of the uprising could no longer wait. Now the plan had to be worked out in its details and find the adapt moment for action. Besides of the Russian major and Leibl Fladhendler also.

Jossl Dominan, who was brought in a transport from France, Motel Mednelboim from Samosz and Jossl Licht and Majorek from Grabowitz, belonged to the organizing group.

The SS-men would take for themselves the best things from the store-houses: Jewelry, clothes, lingerie, and shoes. The Jews working in the storehouses had to report to their supervisors every time new good items appeared. The organizers of the revolt took advantage of this fact. The 14th of October was the suitable day. On the same morning a group of SS-men left for Wlodowa. The sign was given to be ready at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The supervisor of the storehouse at 3.30 because he had prepared for him exclusive woman's underwear. The supervisor of the storehouse for clothes went to his SS-men and told him that there was a precious cloth for a suit for him.

The head of the tailor's workshop told his SS-men to come to try on the new suit. At the same time the SS-men were invited to the storehouses or to the workshops. There a little group of labourers waited for them armed with axes, hammers and other tools. When he had passed the entrance the SS-men received a blow on his head. He was killed and covered with rags.

Thus 33 SS-men were killed and their weapons captured.

Exactly at 4 o'clock the Russian major announced the slogan: "To the gate". -- The group which had killed the Russian guards at the weapon magazine left with guns.

With arms in their hands left also the labourers of the storehouses and workshops.

The Ukrainian guards guessed what had happened and opened fire. The Jews answered the fire and ran to the gate. They killed the guard but did not find on him the key of the gate.

The wicket was open and only one man could pass there. The Ukrainians opend fire on the masses that had concentrated there at the wicket, and the dead blocked the way even more. At the same moment the SS-men from Wlodowa returned and they began to shot from the outside.

The fire of the Ukrainians from the inside and the SS-men from the outside caused death among the Jews. The Jewish Sowjet soldiers attached with their arms the Ukrainians trying to approach the masses. The Jews who had passed the wicket fell over the SS-men and those withdrew and escaped to save their skin..

But too late.

At the gate there were many dead. Also the fire of the Ukrainians deminished as tens of them fell.

From all the Jews in the camp only 150 escaped into the forest. The Germans and the Ukrainians pursued them into the forest and the battle continued.

The 150 escaped kept on offering sacrifices. Jossl Karp was killed after the liberation of Poland.

This fate was shared with him Leibl Fladleder. He fell in Lublin. The place where the epic of Dante had been enacted, is now empty and forsaken.

Only the forest witnessed the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Jews. The forest witnessed the heroism of the last Jews and the forest remained around the forsaken cemetry of a people.

Perhaps when he mankind will become better the term "Jew" will be recognized and appriociated by Non-Jews -- perhaps then someone will raise and erect a tombstone for the slaughter of Sobibor and place on it some flowers and he will light a candle on "Sadoshke" as it is done according to the Polish ritual on the graves of saints and heroes - Non-Jewish...

On June 29, 1965 the Polish government together with the remnants of Jewish refugees in Poland unveiled a memorial stone at the place where the gas chamber of Sobibor had been.

A group of people from Wlodowa with Chaim Klieger at its head, placed flowers on it.

To our regret there was not even one word on the momument to remind the world that at this place hundreds of thousands of Jews from Poland and abroad and also Jews from Wlodowa were murdered. As they were prosecuted alive so one does not want to remind them, only forget: their tragic death. -- Blessed be their memory -- God will revenge their blood. "HI'D"

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