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MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL IN SOBIBÓR. THE NAZI GERMAN EXTERMINATION CAMP (1942–1943)

Timeline The most important events in 1941–1944

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  • March / April 1942

    Commencement of the construction of the SS-Sonderkommando Sobibor

    In the early spring of 1942, the Włodawa Judenrat was ordered by the Germans to provide 150 Jewish workers for construction works at the railway station in Sobibór. The works lasted about two months. After the construction was completed, two workers, Abraham Szmais and Fajwel Cukierman’s son-in-law, managed to escape. When the escapees reached Włodawa, they informed local Jews about the gas chambers that had been built in Sobibor.

    The camp was erected in a swampy area west of the Chełm–Włodawa railway line.

    The extermination centre was divided into sectors. The barracks for the SS personnel and the guards were interned in the forward grounds of the camp, in the immediate vicinity of the railway ramp. The Jewish prisoner-workers (selected as “fit for labour” from arriving transports) were quartered right behind that sector, in camp I. The warehouses for the stolen property and the technical facilities of the camp infrastructure constituted camp II. Camp III was completely separated from the rest. This is where the gas chambers were located and the bodies of the murdered were buried.

  • April 1942

    Camp personnel

    The camp was administered by a commandant and a crew of 20–30 officers from the SS, Austrians and Germans, as well as a 120-strong unit of the guard formation from Trawniki.

    At the end of April 1942, SS-Hauptsturmführer Franz Stangl was appointed as the camp commandant. He held the position until August 1942 and was then transferred to a corresponding post in Treblinka.

    He was replaced by SS-Hauptsturmführer Franz Reichleitner, who performed his function until the camp’s liquidation. They were both Austrians and participated in the “T4” program, carried out in Germany in 1939–1941, the aim of which was to murder the mentally ill and the disabled.

  • May 1942

    First transports

    In early May 1942, the first mass transports from the Puławy, Krasnystaw, Chełm and Zamość counties, and a month later from the town of Hrubieszów, began reaching Sobibór. The victims were brought in to the camp in cargo trains (about 70 to 100 people were crammed into each wagon).


  • June 1942

    First transports from abroad

    The first larger group of Jews from Poprad in Slovakia was deported to Sobibór. The transport consisted of about 1,000 people.

    In the spring of 1942, German, Austrian and Czech Jews, and later also Dutch and French Jews, were deported to the camp.

  • July/September 1942

    Halt in railway transports

    Due to the renovation works carried out at that time on the Lublin–Chełm railway line, few transports arrived at the camp. Many people were brought by trucks, carts, others were driven on foot from nearby towns.


  • August/September 1942

    Redevelopment of the camp

    The works continued until the end of the camp's active operation. Ultimately, its area covered about 60 hectares, which rendered it the largest operation “Reinhardt” camp in terms of area.

    The first gas chambers were built similar to those in Belzec. About 250 people could be murdered there at one time. Between June and September 1942, a total of eight more chambers, connected by a common corridor, were added to the existing ones. About 500 people could be gassed there at one time, and the extermination process lasted about 20 minutes.

  • late 1942

    Construction of a field crematorium

    Initially, the bodies of the victims were placed in mass graves on the grounds of camp III. The burning process commenced at the end 1942 and lasted until the end of the camp’s active operation. The corpses were burnt on fire grates made of rails.


  • March 4–25, 1943

    Deportation of Jews from France

    Four transports of Jews from the transit camp in Drancy reached Sobibor, a total of about 4,000 people. Mostly stateless persons or those who had obtained citizenship a little earlier, including a significant percentage of French Jews, were brought in to the facility.


  • March 5, 1943

    Transport of Jews from the Netherlands

    The first transport of 1,105 Jews deported directly from the Netherlands reached Sobibor. The group came from the transit camp in Westerbork.

    Until July 23, 1943, a total of 34,313 women, men and children were brought in 19 transports from the Netherlands to the German death camp in Sobibór.

    Small groups of Dutch Jews were transferred to nearby labour camps. Among them was Jules Schelvis, who was selected as “fir for labour” and sent to the labour camp in Doruhucza.

  • Spring of 1943

    Establishment of the first organised resistance group

    The camp’s resistance movement was headed by Lejba (Leon) Felhendler, the head of the Judenrat in Żółkiewka. They planned an escape and focused on gathering information needed to develop a plan – including the structure of the camp, the habits of the personnel, the changing of the guard and the type of the guards’ armament.


  • July 23, 1943

    Successful prisoner escape

    The escape took place near the village of Żłobek, where a group of prisoner-workers laboured in the forest. It was the first successful escape of such a large group prisoners, but most of them did not survive until the end of the war. Zyndel Honigman, Chaim Korenfeld, Salomon Podchlebnik and Abraham Wang were among those who managed to avoid death.

    Excerpt from the report of German military police in Włodawa:

    “On the day of 23-07-43, at 12,00 hrs, 28 Jews escaped from the Sobibor camp after stabbing a guard with a knife, taking 1 rifle and ammunition with them. Direction of the escape unknown.”

  • September 1943

    Unsuccessful escape attempt

    Dutch Jews, headed by Joseph Jacobs, a naval officer, also made an attempt to organise an escape. As a result of betrayal (by the guards with whom they were in agreement), the conspiracy was discovered. Consequently, most of the Dutch Jews were murdered.


  • October 14, 1943

    Prisoner uprising

    Jewish prisoners of the Sobibor camp started an armed revolt. They killed nine SS men, severely injured one and killed two guards.

    After eliminating a number of the German personnel members, the prisoners made an attempt to escape. As a result, approximately 300 people managed to flee from the camp. After the escape, the Germans organised a manhunt that lasted many days, during which some of the escapees were killed. It is assumed that about 60 participants of the uprising and other escapees lived to see the end of the war. Two of the leaders of the revolt – Lejba Felhendler and Alexander Pechersky – also managed to survive.

  • December 1943

    Liquidation of the camp

    After the uprising, the Germans decided to liquidate the camp. Jewish prisoners brought in from the death camp in Treblinka began dismantling the camp infrastructure. When their task was completed, the group was shot.

    Excerpt from the report of Kazimierz Schnierstein, dated November 23, 1945, describing the area of the camp after its liquidation:

    “The gas chamber was blown up, […] the barracks were burnt down or disassembled and shipped out; the ashes and bone fragments from the cremated bodies were scattered in shallow ditches and covered with sand. […] Only the skeletons of residential buildings remain on site (used by the gestapo and guards), as the windows, doors and what furniture remained inside have been salvaged by local residents.”

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