To Sobibor and Back
- An Eyewitness Account
Built in March 1942 the Nazi deathcamp Sobibor operated from May 1942 until October 1943 for only one purpose: to kill as many Jews as quickly as possible. The Nazis killed an approximate total of 260,000 Jews at Sobibor. Most came from Poland and from the occupied areas of the Soviet Union and Western Europe.
Only 47 managed to survive the horrors of Sobibor and give evidence of the death camp. One of them was Kalmen Wewryk. The following are excerpts of his story To Sobibor and Back. An Eyewitness Account:
'I remember a certain transport from Holland - ach, this was horrible! There were too many Jewish children to be 'processed' rapidly so they were in a long, steadily shrinking circular line from morning to night. Such beautiful children, gorgeous little blonde girls with pigtails, decently dressed. These poor unfortunates were well-fed, with pretty, round little faces. Their parents must have loved them so, must have lavished such care on them, and now ...
Many of them carried small suitcases or bags. It was pitiful, so sad! The SS men were watching over them. We weren't supposed to even glance at those Berelach and Yosselech and Estherlech; saying one word to them was out of the question! Some of the kids were crying; they probably understood. The soil was sandy, so some children made circles in the sand and they played with pebbles and branches. After all, they were only children.
If an SS man would have caught one of us glancing, even sideways, at those children, showing any interest at all in them, we would instantly have been taken to the gas chamber. But we managed to see what was going on. The Ukrainians and the SS were very nervous and wild that day. They were usually wild, but now they outdid themselves. Some children's eyes were full of fear - they were wide-eyed with fear. It was a day straight out of hell! And every minute less and less of them, less and less. The line got shorter and shorter. And my Berelechs and Yosselechs and Estherlechs became smoke in those accursed skies.
After it was all over, the SS men went to get drunk in their casino ...'
'Once a transport of ultra-Orthodox (Hassidic) women was brought to Sobibor. The poor women were shrieking horribly. When they were ordered to get undressed with their children, they were yelling 'Shma Yisroel' at the tops of their lungs. You could have heard them kilometers away.
All of them, with their children, were gassed. Not a single one was spared. I remember a group of Dutch Jewish women who had been brought in a transport. They kept yelling nervously and, in some cases, semi-hysterically, 'It's impossible! It's impossible! It can't be! It can't be!' They couldn't believe that such a place could exist in the middle of the 20th century ...'
'Many SS men were present at the roll calls. They went around with their whips and looked at people's faces. When an SS man didn't like a prisoner's face, he took him out of the line-up. Whoever had displeased an SS man, for one reason or another, or no reason at all, was taken out. The SS men would shout, 'Let your pants down!' The other SS would join 'the party', and they would beat the prisoner mercilessly. The blood would flow, and we were strictly ordered to look at the scene attentively and laugh.
If a German saw that a Jew
was not looking, the Jew would get beaten too. The beaten Jews were thrown into
the barracks after the beatings. However, the next day they couldn't go to work
- they were in such bad shape. They were then taken straight to the gas chamber.
These incidents happened almost every day. Women were not spared this treatment
'Every day brought new horrors. I remember when the Germans even arranged a 'wedding' of two Jewish prisoners. This was a complete wedding celebration, with rabbis, festivities, music, etc. They picked a Jewish singer dancer from France as the chief soloist at the festivities. Ach, did she sing! So beautifully, and with such expression! The Germans had prepared this wedding celebration for their own grotesque propaganda purpose. They filmed the wedding completely, and right afterwards all the participants, including the French soloist, were taken to the gas chamber ...'
On October 14, 1943, Sobibor was the scene of the war's biggest prisoner escape. About three hundred Jewish inmates rose in revolt but many were killed during the rebellion or during the escape attempt. All who stayed behind were executed the next day. As mentioned only 47 survived.
After the escape the Sobibor deathcamp was torn down. The killing installations were destroyed and the area planted over with trees ...
Kalmen Wewryk: To Sobibor and Back: An Eyewitness Account
Edited, transcribed and translated from the Yiddish by Howard Roiter
Published by the Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies
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