All Our Yesterdays: Escape From Sobibór, October 14th 1943

In the Eastern part of Nazi-occupied Poland, near the mayor town of Wlodowa, 1942 the Germans began construction of an extermination camp,  SS-Sonderkommando Sobibór, remembered simply as 'Sobibór'. 

When construction was completed, towards the end of April of the year, the Jewish workforce tasked with the construction were all Killed. At the same time, several experimental gassings took place there. Christian Wirth, the commander of the concentration camp at Bełżec and Inspector of Operation Reinhard - Germany's plan for the extermination of the Jews -  arrived in Sobibór to witness one of the gassings, 30–40 Jewish women having been brought in from another camp, Krychów, for this purpose.

We put the engine on a concrete plinth and attached a pipe to the exhaust outlet. Then we tried out the engine. At first it did not work. I repaired the ignition and the valve and finally got the engine to start. The chemist whom I already knew from Bełżec went into the gas chamber with a measuring device in order to gauge the gas concentration. After that, a trial gassing was carried out. I seem to remember that thirty to forty women were gassed. The Jewesses had to undress in a clearing in the woods near the gas chamber. They were herded into the gas chamber... On the instigation of the chemist I revved up the engine to high RPM making further accelerating unnecessary. After about ten minutes the thirty to forty women were dead.

Erich Fuchs, SS functionary who worked for the Action T4 euthanasia program

Jews from as far afield as Poland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, as well as Soviet prisoners of war, were transported to Sobibór by rail. Most were to be suffocated in gas chambers fed by the exhaust of Fuchs' 200hp petrol engine, believed to have been taken from an armoured vehicle.

The exact number of those killed in the camp is unclear, but up until the events of the night of October 14th 1943, which led to the closure of Sobibór, the figure of 250,000 is generally considered to be reliable.

As the transports to the camp decreased noticeably the inmates realised that the end was near. They decided to act.

With nothing to lose, they devised and enacted an audacious plan - one that they certainly knew would have very little chance of success. 

SS officers would be lured into storehouses on the pretext that they were to be issued new coats and boots. Once inside they were to be attacked by the prisoners and killed with axes and knives. Their weapons were to be seized, and at roll call the camp would be set ablaze. All prisoners would have a chance to escape.

At 16.00 on October 14 the first SS soldier was killed followed quickly be ten more.

Telephone wires and electricity lines were cut, and within the hour, the camp was ablaze, guns were firing at the guard towers, and prisoners fled across the German mine fields surrounding the facility.

By dusk more than half the prisoners—about 300 people—had escaped.

Read also: All Our Yesterdays: Warsaw Uprising 74 Years On


Most were killed, many whilst crossing the minefields. Of those who did manage to escape, some joined partisan units whilst others found shelter among sympathetic Poles. It is estimated that just 50 of the escapees survived the war.

The Germans closed the camp after the revolt, attempting to destroy all evidence by ploughing it into the ground and planting the area with Pine trees.

The survivors, however, bore living testimony to the horrors of Sobibór.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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