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Press Review


Nazi atrocities uncovered 70 years after Sobibor revolt





Source: Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa

written by EVA KRAFCZYK

Seventy years after it was demolished by retreating Nazis, trees roots have grown over the mass graves and gas chambers of the former death camp Sobibor. Whereas Auschwitz draws thousands of tourists every year, but for the sound of birdsong, all is usually quiet at Sobibor. Few visit this spot in Wlodawa, eastern Poland, near the border with Belarus and Ukraine. When it became clear that the war was turning against the Nazi regime, the German SS guards that ran the camp attempted to erase all evidence of their crimes. 

The camp buildings were torn down, and trees were planted in the woodland area close to where the railway station had been. But archaeologists from Poland and Israel have taken up the challenge of uncovering the traces left behind, and Sobibor is to be brought back into public awareness with the creation of a new memorial. 

"We already know a lot more about the camp as a result of the archaeological work," Polish Deputy Minister of Culture Piotr Zuchowski told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper in an interview published Monday. For example, the course of what the SS operators of the camp called the Himmelfahrtstrasse, or Ascension to Heaven Street, is now known. Along this road the inmates of Sobibor were dragged to their deaths into the gas chambers. 

At least 250,000 people were murdered in Sobibor, most of them Polish Jews, with others coming primarily from the Netherlands and present-day Slovakia. This summer, archaeologists found the remains of an escape tunnel, presumably dug by members of the Sonderkommando - or special commando. 

These were the inmates who were tasked with burning those gassed and who were then themselves murdered to eliminate all witnesses to the crimes. More mass graves were also uncovered. "We still don't know the precise location of the gas chambers," Zuchowski said. "But although the Germans erased their tracks, we are still finding clear proof of their deeds."

In contrast to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Sobibor was purely functioned for murder. Those transported here were not offered the hope of surviving through slave labour. Facing certain death, some inmates resisted. In the afternoon of October 14, 1943 an uprising against the SS guards and their assistants began. Around 360 prisoners managed to escape, with around half of them reaching the surrounding woods.

"The desperate heroism of the long humiliated prisoners in Sobibor belongs in the world's history books as one of the greatest examples for mankind's passion for a life of dignity without fear," said Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, an organisation of Holocaust survivors. Work on a new memorial at Sobibor is to begin next year. It will recall the life, death and resistance of the prisoners in the camp.

At a ceremony Monday marking the prisoner revolt, Lies Caransa from the Netherlands was presented with a metal disc discovered by the archaeologists. Written on it was the name and date of birth of her brother, David Zak, murdered in Sobibor at the age of seven.