Sobibor - survivors of an extermination camp In extermination camp Sobibor (East Poland) approximately 170,000 Jews from across Europe were killed. More than 34,000 were from the Netherlands. Less than fifty prisoners survived the war. The majority of them escaped during the uprising of 14 October 1943. On this website you can watch and listen to thirteen interviews with Sobibor survivors. Sometimes emotional, sometimes detached, they talk about their lives being disrupted by the war, the degrading conditions in the camp, their escape and their lives after the war. The leader of the uprising gives a detailed account of the preparation and execution of the mass escape. In addition there are interviews with two local Polish residents and one survivor of the uprising in the crematorium of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The interviews have been made by Dunya Breur and Dutch survivor Jules Schelvis. A description of Sobibor’s function in the Holocaust places the interviews in a historical perspective. You can also read the biographies of the interviewees and the eighteen Dutch survivors are listed as well. To listen to the interviews QuickTime has to be installed. You can download this application here. Photographs of the interviewed survivors are shown in the left lower corner of your screen. The website in the media: Netwerk - broadcast 2 November 2009 Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail Extermination camp Extermination camp Sobibor was built as part of the Aktion Reinhardt, which was led by SS-Generalleutnant Odilo Globocnic. He had extermination camps built in Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka for the annihilation of one and a half million European Jews. In Sobibor 170.165 European Jews were murdered; 34.313 of them were deported from the Netherlands. Roughly one in three Dutch Jews were deported to Sobibor between 2 March and 20 July, 1943. Almost all were gassed immediately upon arrival. Some thousand of them were selected upon arrival for forced labour in the camp or in one of the surrounding Arbeitslagers such as Trawniki, Dorohucza, Poniatov of Lublin. Of the deported Dutch Jews, only fifteen woman and three men survived the war. Read more: Aktion Reinhardt Structure of the camp Perpetrators Biographies of SS men Extermination in practice Arbeitsjuden Victims How many people exactly were killed in Sobibor cannot be stated with certainty. Many documents that could inform us about the exact numbers of victims - mostly from Poland and furthermore predominantly from the Netherlands, Slovakia, Germany, and the Soviet Union - were destroyed or lost. Shortly after the October 1943 uprising Himmler ordered the camp to be razed to the ground and to erase every trace, including the camp administration. Based on statements from Polish railway officials and reconstructions of transports it was assumed for a long time that the number of victims must have been between 150,000 and 250,000. Today it is possible to get closer to the exact number. In 2001 a German document surfaced from the British Public Record Office. It lists numbers of Jews who had been killed in the Aktion Reinhardt camps. It concerns a radio telegram intercepted by the British secret service, of 11 January 1943, drawn up by the SS in Lublin, addressed to the SS in Krakow. The telegram mentions how many Jews were murdered up to 31 December 1942 in Lublin, Belzec, Sobibor, and also Treblinka. This date was not chosen randomly; it is the date at which according to Himmler, the murder of the Jews in the General Government - the Umsiedlung in the euphemistic Nazi jargon - had to be completed. The total number of dead according to the telegram was 1,274,166; of these deaths 101,370 occurred in Sobibor. It was already known that between 1 January 1943 up to and including the uprising in October 1943, 68,795 Jews were killed in this camp, which puts the total number of Jews murdered in Sobibor at 170,165. From Dutch Red Cross figures we know that 34,313 Dutch Jews were murdered in Sobibor. Two prisoners who had been put on a transport from Westerbork, Saartje Wijnberg and Ursula Stern, managed to escape the camp during the uprising, and they survived the war. Also, upon arriving in Sobibor some Dutch prisoners were selected to work in other camps. After being selected they were immediately transported from Sobibor; at most they spent a few hours on the threshold of the camp. Of those who were put to work elsewhere, Jules Schelvis, who later wrote about the history of the camp, is the most prominent survivor. Read more about the Höfle-telegram nterviews Interviews provide a rich but subjective historical source, especially when it concerns far-reaching events that decide the course of one’s life. For human memory is not only selective and flexible, it can also adapt to dominant memory traditions. Knowledge gained after the war may become unintentionally intertwined with one’s personal memories and create an unclear image. At the same time events that have determined a person’s life are forever etched into the memory. The person in question makes personal observations while the event is taking place, which interferes with a clear perspective on causes and connections. This is illustrated by the varying estimates of numbers of murdered and escaped prisoners provided by the interviewees. The interviews - regardless of how informative and fascinating - need to be approached with a critical attitude. Their strength lies in the possibility of placing the experiences in a comparative perspective; however, the (scientific) researcher needs to check the information obtained from the interview against other historical sources. The interviews of the Sobibor survivors were filmed in 1983 and 1984. During this period the trial against camp commander Karl Frenzel took place in the German city of Hagen. Jules Schelvis, himself a Sobibor survivor, attended the trial as a correspondent for the newspaper Het Vrije Volk. He was accompanied by Dunya Breur (†2009), an authority on Slavonic languages, who was following the trial for a film production company. NetwerkstillSchelvis Jules Schelvis with the video recorder he used to record the interviews (photographs NCRV-Netwerk) Survivors came from America, Israel, Brazil and Australia to testify during the trial. Schelvis and Breur filmed these survivors using video equipment they bought themselves. Schelvis operated the camera and Breur conducted the interviews. Some interviews were recorded later in the home of Schelvis in Tricht. Schelvis and Breur travelled to the Russian city of Rostov on Don to interview Alexander Petsjerski and Arkadij Wajspapir. He and Dunya Breur conducted additional interviews with two Polish people from the Sobibor area and one survivor of the revolt in the crematorium of Auschwitz-Birkenau. You can also watch these interviews on The interviews originally recorded on VHS tapes were digitized NetwerkstillSchelvis Jules Schelvis with some of the original videotapes used to record the interviews (photographs NCRV-Netwerk) with a subsidy from the Heritage of the War programme of the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, which also made the development of this website possible. Search in interviews To listen to the interviews QuickTime has to be installed. You can download this application here.