This week in Jewish history | 600 Jewish inmates revolt in Sobibór - World Jewish Congress

This week in Jewish history | 600 Jewish inmates revolt in Sobibór

This week in Jewish history | 600 Jewish inmates revolt in Sobibór

(c) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

On 14 October 1943, approximately 600 Jewish inmates in the Sobibór death camp staged a revolt.

The planning for the uprising began after some inmates became suspicious that the remaining prisoners would soon be liquidated, as they noticed that fewer Jews were being sent to the death camp. The revolt was led by two Jewish prisoners, one a Soviet officer, Lieutenant Alexander Pechersky, the other, a Polish Jew named Leon Feldhendler.

The plan was for the inmates to secretly kill SS officers shortly before the evening roll call. Then, during the roll call, several prisoners masquerading as SS members would continue to kill guards and urge prisoners to escape. Pechersky famously charged those who managed to escape with the responsibility to “let the world know what happened here.” 

The uprising began around 4 PM, when prisoners managed to kill deputy commandant Johann Niemann and SS NCO Josef Wulf. Over the next hour, the inmates killed nine other guards. 

However, as the evening’s roll call approached, the remaining camp personnel grew alarmed and began opening fire on the Jewish inmates. Members of the camp resistance who had obtained arms returned fire, and over 300 inmates succeeded in escaping from the death camp, of whom about 200 initially survived the intense manhunt in the surrounding area.

Among the survivors were Pechersky and Feldhendler, the latter of whom was murdered in Lublin in April 1945 in circumstances that have never been fully established. Pechersky survived to write an account of what happened at Sobibór and would go on to testify against SS officers and Ukrainian collaborators in trials during the 1960s and 1980s. 

At least 170,000 people— nearly all Jews— were murdered in Sobibór; the vast majority were gassed upon arrival. The camp was developed in March of 1942 as one of the main sites for Operation Reinhard, the plot to annihilate all Jews in German-occupied Poland. Jews were also sent there from Holland, Slovakia and the Soviet Union. Following the uprising, the SS murdered the remaining prisoners, and proceeded to bring Jewish inmates from the Treblinka death camp to dismantle the facilities and erase evidence that the site had been a death camp.  

In June 2019, the last known survivor of the Sobibór death camp, Semion Rosenfeld, passed away at the age of 97. Upon his passing, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder praised Rosenfeld, saying that his “very survival was a testament to the resistance of the Jewish people against hatred, and he lived the remainder of his life as a proud Jew in the Soviet Union and eventually in the Jewish State.”