Sobibor - October is the 72nd Anniversary of Uprising

Sobibor coverOctober 2015 marks the 72nd anniversary of the prisoner uprising and escape from the Sobibor concentration camp in eastern Poland. I’d never heard of the camp, or its famous escape, until two survivors from the camp came to Chandler Arizona in the winter of 2014 and gave a talk. Philip Bialowitz and Thomas Blatt, two of only eight (then) remaining survivors presented their story.

Sobibor was a Small Camp, and still relatively unknown
The camp only had a prisoner population of 600, and an even smaller staff of Germans to keep the prisoners in line. Regardless of size there was only one purpose for the camp’s existence – to process and kill Jews as quickly as possible. Those prisoners saved from the ovens for a work detail, were routinely murdered and replaced with fresh prisoners.

Escape from Sobibor – the 1987 movie
The escape was memorialized in a 1987 made-for-television movie, Escape from Sobibor. The movie is based on the moving account of Thomas Blatt in his book From the Ashes of Sobibor.  Alan Arkin plays the lead role of Leon Feldhendler.  Did the revolt succeed? Yes – if you consider that every person in the camp helped break down the fence, overthrow the German guards and ran for the woods through an open area filled with land mines. Ultimately of the 600 people in the camp at the beginning of the revolt, all but 50 to 70 prisoners were recaptured or killed. The German authorities immediately ordered the camp be shut down and any remaining prisoners were sent to the gas chambers in other camps.

I consider the story especially timely, relative to vocal American political candidates who demonstrate their total ignorance of history by blaming victims for their deaths. Even a prominent Russian recently declared to the world that Poland was partly to blame for the joint German and Russian invasion in 1939. In the case of Sobibor a mostly unarmed prison population fought back, choosing a chance at life, rather than certain death. It’s too bad the revolt happened decades earlier when all news of rebellion was suppressed, rather than today when word could have spread instantly on the Internet.

The Typical Story – You Died. Therefore every Story is Unique
It was either Philip Bialowitz or Thomas Blatt, the survivors of Sobibor who spoke in Chandler, who made a statement I will never forget. He said “I’m always asked what the typical story was. The typical answer is you died. Therefore every story of survival is unique.”

Rather than retell the entire story of Sobibor, I refer you to the information and link for the film. The DVD is currently available on Amazon for a mere $3.25.

Link to for movie information Web site

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Tags: Commentary, Jewish History, World War II - Europe

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