Run for Freedom
October 14, 1943: An escape from the Sobibór extermination camp is cut short. The Nazi German camp was located on the outskirts of Sobibór, Poland and held about 600 to 650 prisoners at any given time. There were originally three gas chambers but that was increased to six. There were an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 people killed at the camp. The camp opened in mid-April 1942 and there were test mass killings in the gas chambers even though it was thought the doors were not perfectly fitted. Franz Stangl was the first commandant of Sobibór due to his experience as manager of the T-4 Euthanasia Program at both Hartheim and Bermburg extermination hospitals. He was replaced by Franz Reichleitner in September 1942.
The camp had been in full “production” since May 1942 and in the spring of 1943 there were rumors that it would shut down. The prisoners were fearful of what would happen to them if the camp were dismantled and an underground committee was created to form a plan for escape. In September 1943, a group of prisoners was brought in from the Minsk Ghetto. Among the Soviet-Jews was Alexander Pechersky. He plotted with Leon Feldhendler and the two led a revolt on this night. The hope was to kill all the German SS officers and walk out the main gates. However, after killing eleven SS officers the bodies were discovered and the best that could be managed was a break by the inmates under fire.
About half of the Sonderkommando prisoners managed to escape into the forest. It is thought that 158 inmates died in the revolt, either killed by the guards or in the minefield surrounding the camp. Another 107 were killed by pursuing SS, Wehrmacht, or Orpo police while trying to round up the escapees. Another 53 died of other causes between the day of the revolt and the end of the War in the area. There were 58 known survivors (48 male and 10 female) from the Arbeitshaftlinge prisoners who were performing slave labor to run Sobibór. Their time at the camp ranged from several weeks to almost two years.
Both of the leaders managed to survive World War II. Leon was able to hide in Lublin until the end of German occupation in July 1944. On April 2, 1945 he was shot through the closed door of his flat. He and his wife escaped and he was taken to a hospital where surgery was performed. He died four days later. His killer was never apprehended. Alexander not only survived the war, but also survived Stalin’s persecution of the Jews. He was arrested but was finally freed after Stalin’s death. He was asked several times during his life to testify against his persecutors, but the Soviet government would not permit him to leave Russia. The final time he was refused permission to leave came in 1987. According to his family, he simply gave up the will to live. He died in 1990 at the age of 80.
We feel free when we escape – even if it be but from the frying pan to the fire. – Eric Hoffer
Happy the man who from the sea escapes the storm and finds harbor. – Euripides
The efforts which we make to escape from our destiny only serve to lead us into it. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Never completely encircle your enemy. Leave him some escape, for he will fight even more desperately if trapped. – Alex Haley
Also on this day: Pooh Corner – In 1926, A.A. Milne published his first Pooh story.
Bull Moose – In 1912, presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt was shot.
Ready! Camera! Action! – In 1888, the oldest surviving movie was filmed.
Buzz – In 1912, Claude Grahame-White flew.
Cubs Win! – In 1908, the Cubs won the World Series.
* “Sobibór extermination camp (crop)” by Azymut (Rafał M. Socha) (crop of the subject area by User:Poeticbent) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sobib%C3%B3r_extermination_camp_(crop).jpg#/media/File:Sobib%C3%B3r_extermination_camp_(crop).jpg