DONATE NOW TO HELP UPGRADE LIBCOM.ORG

8. Reaction Sets In

Meanwhile, the panorama of the war was changing. In Egypt the progress of the German and Italian troops had been held back by Montgomery’s legendary VIII army in El Alamein. A Jewish brigade had been incorporated into those forces, and was fighting side by side with the British against the Nazis.
 
On November 3rd 1942, unable to resist the strong British pressure, Rommel had decided to withdrew. But there were visible signs of panic in the Fuhrers headquarters.  On that same day, Hitler had determined that the fortified line be kept at any cost and he issued the order of “ Victory or Death”. in Alamein. On the following day, aiming at saving what was left of his army, Rommel ignored the higher orders and started the retreat.
 
The Desert Fox was thoroughly beaten. On the Russian front , in Stalingrad , the same thing was happening. For long months the Germans had striven to take possession of the city and their attack had failed completely.
 
Soon afterwards foreseeing the final collapse, the German Commander Von Paulus was already thinking of withdrawing his army when the absurd order to resist to the last drop of blood came. Hitler was already becoming insane and despair seemed to be taking hold of the German High Command which already suspected defeat was inevitable. With this attitude all their troops were annihilated in Stalingrad. On the Pacific, a bloody battle had been fought in the air and on the sea in Midway, and the Japanese had been defeated, losing most part of their fleet of aircraft carriers. From that moment on, the Americans would launch their attack and the end of the Empire of the Rising Sun would start. With all these severe mishaps the Berlin – Rome – Tokyo Axis began to disintegrate and the Fuhrers gang could feel their end was near.
 
But not only on the battlefields did a reaction take place, also in Sobibor, the first signs of rebellion would soon start. The perverse acts the Nazis performed on us became more frequent every day. Their habitual drunken orgies multiplied and, as a consequence, we started to suffer heavier punishments. They would wake us up late at night, only to quench their thirst for vengeance, and force us to march, robbing us of our sleep. This was very symptomatic. It clearly meant that things were not going so well for them.
 
Winter was coming and we were led to believe that the conditions under which we vegetated in the camp would become even harsher. The killing went fiercely on, now performed with unmatchable efficiency, with the refinements lately introduced. At the least unpleasant thing and under any pretext, the Germans would impose tremendous physical punishment, sometimes without their victims even knowing why.
 
Dozens of Jews were constantly submitted to twenty- five whiplashes. Quite often this rude punishment was doubled and even tripled. They had to count every blow because if they did not, the punishment would be worse. There were cases in which the poor devil could not resist this torture. They were already undernourished, with their health weakened and more dead than alive.
 
Thus, they would finally succumb to suffering.  Others even tried to kill themselves, led by their total hopelessness and by their highly sensitive nerves in shreds. They preferred to hang themselves, which would bring them eternal peace. To go on living longer in the hands of their torturers, waiting for death, which they knew would certainly come.
 
Some even begged the Scharfuhrer to kill them, since they no longer had the necessary strength to tolerate life under those conditions. However, the hangmen never attended them. They only killed them when they felt like it, but never in answer to their pleas. The answer was always the same –
 
-          “No, you must not die now, because we need you to work in the fields”. Only those who were better fed and healthy could stand the terrible torments that the Germans created specially for us. One of them consisted of making the victims go from one end to the other of a beam which supported the roof of one of the sheds. These beams were dozens of meters long and were placed at great height. The crossing would have to be made with the hands, as the only support, the whole body hanging in the void.
 
When his energy failed him, the victim would obviously fall, and the fall was usually fatal. Many were successful, but others died.
 
Little by little, an atmosphere of rebellion started to form. We did not mention insurrection as such, yet, but there was constant clamour against the wave of violence and abuse,which reigned there. Many Jews already thought that a few scarce minutes lived outside the barbed wire fences would perfectly make up for the loss of their own lives. Perhaps they no longer cared whether death came after freedom, even if it were ephemeral. Notwithstanding, no one had dared try to escape as of yet, since among the Jews themselves there did not exist enough mutual trust which would be essential to the success of the dangerous enterprise. Strict secrecy would be necessary, since, in case of failure, the consequences would be unpredictable. The Polish Jews did not seem to trust those who came from other countries and were afraid of being betrayed.
 
One day, Wagner called me and ordered me to get my main tools ready. This time, though, it was not going to be my goldsmith tools, but those I used to fix the metal parts of cars. He told us we were going on a trip. I gathered my tools and waited for new instructions, with some doubt in my mind and worried at the sudden change in routine.
 
A few minutes later there came a truck under heavy SS escort. We got in, twelve people altogether, for other Jews had also been called. We did not have the slightest idea as to the reasons and the final destination of that strange trip.
 
At the end of the trip we noticed we were approaching Wlodawa, incidentally Bajlie’s native town. The truck drove to the sector where the old Wlodawa ghetto had been. The Ghetto was already literally deserted. All its inhabitants had been evacuated for extermination. The place was very gloomy with all the abandoned buildings.  We could not see anyone nor hear anything.
 
Finally, the vehicle came to a halt. The Germans showed us two of the best houses there and told us to demolish them. They warned us, however, that all the material should be removed in the most perfect condition.
 
Thus, both houses had to be taken apart very carefully.  The roof, the doors and windows, the boards and locks, as well as all the other components were to be carried intact to Sobibor, and there reassembled. I was told to dismantle the zinc roof and to take off all the locks and hinges. While I worked, my thoughts continuously turned to escape. In my mind, ideas were in turmoil but common sense prevailed.
 
My escape in those conditions would not help me in any way, since my brother and my nephew were still in Sobibor and I would feel responsible for their misfortune. So I gave up my bold plan. Even if I succeeded in escaping at that moment, I would be running serious risk, because the Poles could later denounce me and even kill me. I had known them a long time and I trusted the devil more than I did them.
 
We went back to the camp and we promptly started assembling the houses. One of them was destined to serve as lodgings for four officers. The other would be raised next to the small railroad station of the hamlet which had given its name to the camp, outside its limits.
 
When the first one was completed, we had the opportunity of seeing what level of effrontery of the Germans would reach. They had a sign painted with the following words – “Birds Nest”. They should have written on the sign something referring to a snake pit, as that house, would be called by us, from then on.
 
As to the other, placed outside the camp, I was told to assemble the roof. When I had been told to dismantle it, I had been so surprised that I had not even been able to say I did not know how to do it. However, I had not found the task very difficult. Now, though the work was rather different and as I did not know anything about it, I decided to get some information from a friend who was an expert in it.
 
I headed towards the place followed by my brother and escorted by two Ukrainian guards heavily armed. The cold was starting to be felt, as winter was coming. Inside the camp, the temperature was much more bearable, since we worked indoors, while there we would have to work the whole day in the open air. We spent two days to get the roof of the house ready.
 
While my brother handed me the zinc sheets, I fixed them to the beams with a great waste of nails. Incidentally, I did not care very much about doing a good job and I did not worry about the possibility of the roof having a leak, even because when that happened, we probably would no longer be alive.
 
The roof was awfully assembled and it could not be any other way since I was only a goldsmith. Besides, the zinc sheets did not fit one another and they always got crooked. The cold threatened to freeze my hands and the height of the roof was making me dizzy. Even when we knew nothing about some kind of job that the Nazis assigned us to we could never refuse to do it, or try to argue with them.
 
In the first days of winter, under already very severe cold a transport came from the Polish cities of Zolkiewka, Turbin, and Izbica. From it were taken several carpenters, skilled artists in their profession. One was chosen to direct the group. His name was Josef. Among the others, there was a boy who was the son of a rabbi. His name Lajbu.
 
Lajbu, a huge Jew, was enormously tall and, besides, was intelligent and kind. His affable manners immediately conquered us and his word soon carried a lot of weight. He kept telling us that someone would be saved from that place. It was only a matter of time, he said. Besides, poised and thoughtful as he was, he always advised us as to my moral problems. He had become an adviser in his own right inside the camp. Lajbu survived Sobibor. However, he was cowardly murdered, in 1945 by reactionary Poles, in his native town – Lublin.
 
The transports kept coming ceaselessly and whenever it was convenient for them, the Nazis selected new elements to make their engine work better. They appointed a young Czech Jew, by the name of Kurt, to be a nurse. He later escaped and now lives in the United States. That nursing position was merely symbolic since the Germans did not supply him with the essential drugs. The infirmary was nothing but a room which had been destined to receive those who were in any need of medical treatment. As the latter was non-existent, the infirmary had become only a show piece. As a matter of fact , should any patient stay there for two days and he would be sent straight to Camp 3.
 
An elderly Jew was equally selected to be our doctor, the poor old man was an invalid and, as he did not have any medical supplies available, he was completely useless to us. When any patient needed to stay in bed, he would continue in the shed where he usually slept, together with all his healthy companions and did not get any kind of special treatment.
 
The brutal Wagner would always come and ask him how long he had been in bed. If the answer indicated that this was his second day, the patient would be sent to the Death Camp. He was carried there wrapped in a blanket.    
 
As getting sick in Sobibor meant a candidacy for Camp 3, the most desperate pretended they were sick, only to make death come sooner. Those were the ones who had already been vanquished by dejection and tiredness, since the Germans exploited a man to his last breath, Only those who still had some flickering hope of survival resisted to the end of their energies, when they would then collapse and surrender.
 
Some days later, another transport came from Holland. From it some men and women were selected. The rest, about two thousand people, were put to death. In the first two days it even seemed that the women were just having a picnic. When the hour came for the distribution of the scanty rations, they would go there happy as larks, singing lovely Dutch songs and swinging their well-nourished bodies.
 
However, their happiness and their vigour were short-lived, since the exhausting work in the camp soon annihilated them completely. Some of them even died due to overwork and to their extremely weak physical conditions. These Jewesses were well-fed young women who had only been used to performing their house-keeping chores in their native country and they found themselves all of a sudden forced to fulfil arduous and inhuman tasks, working much above their strength would allow them to, and on extremely poor rations. The truth is they soon stopped singing.
 
With their arrival the number of women working for the Nazis in Sobibor came up to about sixty. For us, men, they were like a blessing fallen down from heaven. Hardly anyone still expected to go on living or that anything would ever happen to make that hell a little better. As we know all was lost – and so did the girls – we gave ourselves to the only pleasure still left to us – love.
It was like a kind of previous consolation for death, which was getting nearer and nearer.
 
However, not all the men enjoyed the same opportunity. There were hundreds of men and the women were only some dozens. The privileged ones, the group leaders and the kapos were those who could enjoy this special prerogative. The other poor devils did not mind very much being passed over as most of them were not strong enough to try to go after the women. Most of them were practically finished, physically as well as morally. We, the privileged ones,were not worth much, but we were a little better off than the others.
 
Obviously, we were, thus, the lucky ones. This helped to make our last days of life a little better. Each one did the best he could. But there was a also a serious problem. If any of them were unfortunate enough to become pregnant, the Germans would immediately send her to Camp 3. As the German wickedness went to the extreme, the women took all the necessary measures they could, though to no avail in many cases.
 
From the group of women who succeeded in escaping from Sobibor I remember Eda, who had come in the first group of three, and some others – Chelka, who now lives in Israel. Helda and Esther, who now live in the United States, and Zelma, who at present lives in Holland with her husband Chaim, another survivor from Sobibor.
 
They first met there and they are still together. As to Esther, I would like to remark that she is not the girl by the same name who had come in the first group, along with Eda and Bajle.
 
Among the Dutch Jewesses who had just come, there was one called Kory. She was a beautiful young woman, the same age as i., sixteen. Between the two of us soon a tender feeling developed. I forgot Bajle and devoted all my attentions to Kory. Our trysts were held in the machine shop, whenever possible. As soon as the daily tasks were finished, the counting was performed and all of us then went back to the shed where we slept. Taking advantage of the absence of the workmen, Kory and I used to meet in the shop. Bajle found out about it and out of jealousy stopped her intimate relationship with me. However, we still were close friends. Soon afterwards, Bajle started a love affair with another Jew and everything was in harmony again.
 
All of a sudden, the snowfall started, increasing our suffering with the glacial cold. Fortunately we succeeded in getting some warm clothes so as to better bear it, since the storehouses which held used clothing in Camp 2 were filled to the brim. When December was coming to an end, many of the officers left Sobibor and went back to their homes in Germany for Christmas and the New Year’s celebrations.
 
The few who stayed behind held noisy parties in the officer’s casino.
While they got drunk, sang and danced, we, the Jews, had to bear the bitter cold and we were even happy at the mere thought of being still alive. While the Germans merrily met their relatives and their friends to celebrate, we were deep in loneliness, without our parents and without even any hope for a less gloomy future. Thus ended the year of 1942
 
Evaluating my situation, I came to the realisation that my only happiness had been the fact of having been able to survive for over seven months in that human maelstrom, where my most faithful companions had only been uncertainty and death.
 
In the sheds destined for the Nazis and the Ukrainians there was a kind of stove, which was not only used as such but also as the heat source for the interior of the room. I, as a repairman, was responsible for the installation and cleaning of the stoves and their chimneys. Because of that I was free to go through all the buildings on the camp.
 
I took advantage of my job to do as little as I could, since I was always mentioning something which had to be fixed, all of them unnecessary I should say, or the replacement of pipes and chimneys as well as many other imaginary repairs.
 
Thus I was able to spend long hours on the roofs of the sheds, and then came into contact with the Ukrainian guards. Out of this little intimacy our first and very useful confabulations sprang.
 
Meanwhile, the great amount of snow on the railroads had decreased the number of new transports. Many days passed without any new Jews coming to Sobibor. From one of the transports, which had come from the town of Izbica, they selected a blacksmith, a Polish Jew. He was a strong young man with an air of inconformity and even rebellion.
 
He told us he used to live in the forests near his town, with a small armed group. They were a band of Jews who had taken refuge in the woods when they saw how bad things were, and they were all ready to defend themselves, and even die, if need be. He added it had just been his bad luck to have been caught by the Nazis on one of the rare occasion he had gone to town to see his relatives.
 
With the arrival of this blacksmith a movement of rebellion against the threat which afflicted us started to grow inside our machine shop. We knew our end would be tragic. Not all deserved our trust though, and the first meetings were held by a group of about fifteen men of which I was one.
 
As things in Sobibor were getting worse everyday, the blacksmith started to get mad and he became inclined to commit violence. Many times he would urge us to escape, even without having planned anything. He even spoke about killing the Scharfuhrer’s who came into our shop.
 
On my part, I always tried to calm him down, by telling him that this would not be an adequate moment and that in case of failure, we would be immediately punished with death. I also asked him not to express himself in that way and to even avoid talking about the same dangerous topic. All our companions were Jewish, of course, but even so we did not know all of them well enough to trust them entirely.
 
Before he had been grabbed in his native town, the young blacksmith had already been aware of what was being done against his people, but he could never have imagined how things actually were in Sobibor.
 
This is why he never tired of talking about escape and he could not accept our conformity. He even got to the point of saying we were all weaklings. In the machine shop I headed, there were not only Polish Jews, but also Dutch, French, German and Austrian ones. All our talks were carried out most carefully, since we were afraid of being denounced. As a matter of fact, I could only trust the Polish Jews.
 
One day, a transport came filled with Jews from various Polish towns. If it had not been for a special fact  which called our attention, there would not be anything strange about it. However, it so happened that, when the women were being led to the bath, we heard piercing cries. At the same time we heard the loud voice of a woman say –  “I am not a Jewess!.  You cannot do this to me. Release me”
 
Despite her protests, pleas and tears, the Germans did not pay any attention to her. Once they had come to Sobibor, no one would ever escape. No argument would ever be able to convince those bandits. We only saw a long line of Jewesses heading towards death. The protesting woman had been arrested by mistake, along with the Jews of some city. If she had not succeeded in convincing the Nazis before she boarded the train, she could not expect to do so in Sobibor.
 
We did not pay much attention to that, because we could not experience any feeling about the fact that the Polish were suffering in their own flesh the same horror that the Germans had been practicing on us and which they used to applaud. Sobibor, however, did not only mean work and killings. There was also some swindling. The great masters of these foul dealings were the Ukrainians. They always had some excuse available to call on us in the various places where we worked. They offered us bottles of vodka, roast chicken and salami, in exchange for gold. As the winter was very severe, liquor was very welcome to us.
 
Incidentally, I had become an inveterate consumer of vodka, and this was one of my most constant worries. It is true that temperature led us to drinking but some time ago I had come into the habit of drinking alcohol. This was one of those rare things, which helped me to see life as less bitter and face it more bravely.
 
It was easier for me than the others, because my access to any part of the camp was free. Thus I did not experience any difficulty in getting a bottle, even through the dangerous barbed wire fences. I must confess to the reader that in Sobibor I drank enough to last me for the rest of my life. However, if any of us were caught while performing one of these dealings, he would be sent to Camp 3. Even so this kind of business still existed , since death was a common event in Sobibor which everyone expected, sooner or later.
 
But I was not the only one to easily obtain gold which was to be used in the swoppings with the corrupt Ukrainians. Other Jews were also able to get it, chiefly those who worked in Camp 2, separating the things which belonged to our brothers who were exterminated.
 
Nearly all the dealings with the guards were also performed by them through the wire fences. The Ukrainians, obsessed by gold, were very greedy in their dealings. One of the most frequent excuses they found to go to our workshops was that of the constant clogging or some other problem with their rifles.
 
They would go there nearly everyday for me to unclog or repair them. They would prudently first remove the bolt before handing the gun to me. Then, while I held it in order to fix it we would talk and do our trading. In these moments I was very careful, due to the presence of Jews which did not deserve my confidence yet, since the only people I trusted were my Polish countrymen.
 
The rifles had been manufactured in Russia and I had never used any kind of weapon. As I handled or fixed them, my curiosity was roused and I started to observe how they worked, even without their bolts. I paid great attention to all the details and, little by little, I learned how to use them. I did not dare ask the guards any questions since they could suspect my excessive interest. I limited myself to coming to my own conclusions and I handed the weapons back without a word. Only the Russians used that kind of weapon, the Nazi officers had hand-machine –guns.
 
And thus winter came to an end , without any new important events happening in Sobibor. When the first spring flowers started to bloom, the coming of the transports became active again. There were times when six and even eight thousand Jews were killed on the same day. It was as if the giant had been in a state of near hibernation and now had wakened with his appetite sharpened and ready to devour thousands of victims at one time.
 
According to custom, I had to call the roll before work, everyday, at the break of day. On a given day, two bricklayers were missing. As Wagner was on vacation, the man in charge of receiving the results of the counting was the Nazi Karl Frenzel. When this officer asked me if all were present, I had to tell him two were not. The hangman then asked about their whereabouts, and I said I did not know. Frenzel left the room in a rage and soon afterwards,  he learned that an escape had been performed. None of us had known anything about that escape, we did not even know if they had been successful or not in their daring feat. No rumours came to us about their fate and we could not guess if they had escaped or been killed. However, they had left some vestiges on one of the fences which surrounded Camp 1.
 
The reprisal was fast in coming and ruthless. Karl Frenzel put us in one long line and started to count us from one to ten. When the tenth man was reached , he would tell him to step out of the file and resumed the operation. When he was satisfied, he stopped counting. Twelve men had been separated- he aligned them and led them to Camp 3. Thus the German appeased his anger. Unbelievable as it may seem, none of the condemned men even hinted at protest. They placidly walked to death, and none of them ever cried or asked for mercy. They left peacefully as if their destination were to them a natural event.
 
Maybe they were happy, even in good spirits, since they headed for Eternity with their thoughts turned to success of their brothers, who would take out into the world the first true cries of what was happening in Sobibor. After this first escape, the Germans doubled their watch and the safety of the camp. They were mainly worried about the outer fences which, once one had passed them, would give access to the world outside and, consequently, to freedom. All along them were then dug ditches, the width and depth of which would be able to make anyone, no matter how brave, give up his idea of crossing them. Besides that, there still existed the intricate barbed wire fence.
 
The ditch was dug around the whole of Camp 1 and, as they were not satisfied yet, the Nazis decided to mine the whole of the length.
 
To that aim, they ordered me to make some strange objects. I obeyed this command and soon afterwards I learned that explosives would be put there.
These rudimental artefacts consisted of a metal pipe about  twenty centimetres long with a diameter of twelve to fifteen centimetres.
 
Their extremities were soldered so that the contents would be closed inside. On one of the sides, an orifice was opened through which a detonation fuse would be inserted. We made such a large quantity of these mines that it would be impossible for me to be precise about the number.
 
Besides, these, real mines used in the war arrived from Germany a little afterwards. Thus three very difficult obstacles would give the camp the conditions necessary to prevent any escape: the fences, the ditches and the mines.
 
It seemed that nothing would be able to cross this powerful barrier. I worked very hard to manufacture the mines. The task was exhausting due to its priority and even so, I still had to make some jewels during the night. One day I was soldering the pipes I noticed that the oxygen in the apparatus was nearly finishing. I informed Wagner, who had already returned from his vacations, about the fact. He had been furious since he had learned about the escape.
 
Wagner had promised me he would see about a new supply of oxygen, but he had completely forgotten about it. In the meanwhile, another Nazi henchman came to my shop – Getzinger. The officer, brutal as usual, had a metal object in his hands and he wanted to solder it himself.
 
He pulled the blowtorch from my hands and started the operation. To my complete disgrace, the oxygen finished at that moment. The German immediately went into a rage and asked me why I had not told him that I was running out of oxygen. I answered very shyly and awkwardly, that I had already told Wagner about the immediate need of a new supply. But the German was not convinced by this irrefutable argument and slapped my face with all his strength. Then he went away without further explanations. About half an hour later, when I still lamented the pain caused by Getzinger’s slaps, Wagner came again and addressed me in a derisive way ; -“ Then the oxygen has finished, hasn’t it?” Shaking in the expectation of what was going to happen, I dared to answer;  - " I had already warned you Sir, that it was finishing.”
 
Without as much as a wink, the giant violently pulled me outside and got hold of his whip. Then the same usual punishment started – twenty- five whiplashes across my buttocks and I had to count them, one by one. Very pleased at what he had done, he went away. I was not able to sleep that night, such was the state I was in with the blows Wagner had struck me, and which throbbed ceaselessly.
 
On the following day, the oxygen cylinders I had asked for came and I resumed my work manufacturing the mines, until they were satisfied with the amount made. Not only I but also the other Jews who worked for the Germans no longer bothered about the customary punishment of the twenty-five whiplashes. For us,what was important was to live and to try to keep our bodies and spirits healthy.
 
The rudeness, the shouts, the blows and the physical punishment of any kind were so frequent in Sobibor that they were already an integral part of our lives. Should they be abruptly interrupted we might even come to miss them,since no one attributed any importance to the fact now. If anyone mentioned it, he would run the risk of being considered ridiculous.
 
The Nazis took away all the mines with the strong explosive. We never learned what type was used nor how powerful it was. The truth is that, a few days later, the whole circuit of Camp 1 was solidly mined. Plates indicating the existence of dangerous mines in the place were also put up. With that they hoped to break our spirits and lessen our boldness.
 
In the middle of April 1943, a mixed transport came from Izbica, Lubelskie and their neighbourhoods . From it the Germans selected one by one, about forty men to work for them. They were all strong and healthy young men. However, the Nazis made a mistake as to one detail.
 
All these males were no longer similar to the large mass of Jews that let themselves be influenced by the Judenrat of their former ghettos. They were not used to following their advice or obeying their orders. Due to their own good faith , millions of trustful people had already been exterminated by the sole reason that they had let themselves be led by the members of the Judenrat who, on their turn, were dominated by the Germans and faithfully obeyed all their commands.
 
Many of these forty young men had not peacefully accepted the tutelage of that nefarious Jewish organism, which nearly always collaborated with the Nazis and had never done anything on behalf of their fellow –citizens. Because of this, they had refused to go to the extermination camps and had escaped from their ghettos. Some of them were members of Jewish organisations such as “Betar”, the “Ha-Shomer and the Gordonia. These entities had been created before the war and their main object was to prepare Jews to go to Palestine. There, they would start to form the Kibutzim .
 
In this way an important increment would be given to the Jewish colonisation of that remote region, the starting point for the establishment of a Jewish State. All those youths had had some military training, and they were men mentally mature and very distrustful. On this occasion, a small Jewish resistance against the Nazi maelstrom had been started in Poland.
 
Many Jews had started to live in hiding in the forests and they even had weapons. They lacked two things to be able to attack the Germans but they intended to, at least, defend themselves, since they would rather fight to death then submit to the oppressors. Some of them were finally caught by the Germans only due to the lack of support from the Poles, who refused them anything and even denounced them.
 
So, as they needed to go to the towns to get food and news they ran the serious risk of being denounced and arrested. Many a time they had been arrested when visiting relatives, which still lived in the town. The Germans were always on the watch and they used to surround the ghettos, in search of new victims for extermination. Then, whenever they were unfortunate enough to be there at that moment, they were inescapably herded along with the others.
 
Incidentally, this had happened to our companion Chaim Korenfeld. He was a man who could not accept the German tyranny and knew very well what his fate be if he ever got caught. Because of this, he had hidden in the woods, where he decided to live. His calls did not meet with any receptivity from the Poles in that region and latter even refused to give them the least help. All of them constantly changed their living quarters, so as to avoid being caught unawares or being denounced. They had some weapons which were aimed at defending themselves but they did not possess the necessary conditions to start any kind of attack. One day, Chaim dared to go to the ghetto to meet his own father. He wanted to convince him to go back with him to the forest where his band lived. They would thus be safe from the fury of the Germans. Chaim left the woods and very carefully entered the Ghetto.
 
However, by an unlucky twist of fate, on that very day the Nazis decided to surround the community to capture all the remaining people. Most of them had already been sent to the extermination camps. As the Jews in the neighbourhood were getting scarce, the Germans launched an overpowering raid on all the ghettos of the region, aiming at collecting the sufficient number of victims to make up a transport.
 
Picking some here and others there, they succeeded in coming to the desired amount , since they were not interested in making a train run with an insufficient quantity of Jews. The convoy would only depart fully loaded, that is to say,with some thousand wretches. Thus Chaim had come to Sobibor.
 
Out of the forty robust Jews taken from the transport, the Nazis selected twenty-eight Poles who, once added to the twelve Dutchmen who were already in Sobibor, would make up the total of forty elements which were necessary for forming a new Forest Commando. The former Commando had been made up of French Jews who could not resist the arduous task and who had been sent to Camp 3.
 
The necessity for wood for the furnace had largely increased, and the Frenchmen had not produced enough, as they had not been able to adapt to the tremendously rough job. As substitutions were made daily, the Commando came to pieces and the Germans immediately tried to organise another. Although, very worried, they decided to use Polish Jews on the new Commando, as they knew they would be the only ones to bear the terribly tiring work in the woods.
 
They knew very well how hard they could work and their physical resistance for hard labour, significantly higher than the energy shown by elements  who came from other countries. However, they were afraid of the possibility of an escape when they adopted these measures and made no secret about it.
 
In the middle of spring, in the first days of May, a rebellion which was promptly put out burst on the camp. The intended escape never did take place and I had not known anything about it, just like it had happened with the first one.
 
Everything was done very fast. I never knew what had actually happened and how the plan had been found out. My companions did not know anything either. On the following day, the henchmen appointed a new Commander to replace Moses. He was a German Jew from Berlin, which was soon to be called Kapo Berliner by us. To the position formerly held by Krajcewicer, they appointed another Jew, also German. It soon became obvious that the Nazis intended to place German Jews in the main trustworthy positions.
 
They did that on purpose, since the Jews who had come from Germany were not only more obedient but also more subservient. Even suffering the horrors of Nazism, they still believed in the Fuhrer and his gang. Their faith was such that they even thought they would be spared. My companions and I did not trust them any longer. They were already known as inveterate stool pigeons, such terror did the Germans instil in them.
Any insurrection would never be able to count on their participation.
 
Soon after the aborted escape and considering the circumstances under which it had been stifled, we came to the clear undisputable conclusion that the denouncer had been Kapo Berliner. From that day on we never believed anything the German Jews ever told us and we lost the least bit of trust we still had in them.
 
Oberkapo  Berliner came to be considered a dangerous, infamous individual, absolutely deprived of any scruples. As a matter of fact, it was his habit to abuse his subordinates only to please his masters, the Nazi scoundrels. It has already been said that this story is intended to be the faithful report of the whole truth, which took place at those sadly remembered times.
 
Unfortunately, the immense majority of Jews who had come from other regions of Europe did not inspire confidence in the Polish Jews. Our distrust was notably worse when we dealt with the German Jews. Numberless times we had heard them say that they did not believe Hitler would destroy them and that the Germans were not as bad as they seemed. They thought we magnified the facts and that we would all survive in the end, meaning specially the Germans in Sobibor. So they tried as the best they could to collaborate with the monsters.
 
We cannot deny that all of them suffered the same misery we, the Jews from Poland , went through. We cannot avoid mentioning that among the foreigners there were fighting, hopeful, brave elements, willing to do anything. However, they were so very few that nearly all Polish Jews constituted a monolithic block with similar ideas, capable of performing significant deeds and of facing any kind of danger. The only thing missing was opportunity.
 
On May 15th 1943,something happened that served to prove that not all those who lived in the cursed camp were submissive lambs. From that day on , the Germans started to notice that things were no longer going to be the way they wanted them. There was in Sobibor a group of Jews, mostly Polish, who were wiling to react against oppression and the threat of death.
 
Everything happened with the group of forty men which had been formed some weeks before to replace the former Forest Commando, made up of French Jews. The new group was composed, as I have mentioned before, of twenty-eight Polish Jews, taken out of the last transport which had come from Izbica, and of the twelve Dutch Jews who already were in Sobibor.
 
The day they had been sent to chop wood in the forests, nearly three weeks before, they started to notice that the Nazis did not take them back to the camp at lunchtime, as usual. Early in the morning, they would leave the camp, chained to one another, and head for the woods, taking with them their meagre rations, which was nothing but a piece of bread.
 
The Germans thought they were strong enough to bear the tremendous task without being properly fed. Only in the afternoon would they stop working and be sent back to camp to sleep. The escort was composed of four Nazis, carrying machine guns and five Ukrainian guards with rifles.
 
When it was time for lunch the Ukrainians would stack their arms and sit beside the Germans to eat and talk. Then the members of the Commando, chained to one another, would gulp down their pieces of bread. That day, maybe due to their carelessness or because they did not believe there was any danger of an escape, the guards responsible for watching the Jews, did not put them in chains, at meal –times. But the Ukrainians did not know that in the group were four young men who were planning to escape, and they would never find a better occasion than that. Luck started to smile on the indomitable youths.
 
One of the guards called two of them to follow him to a brook nearby. They were going to fetch some water. The young men immediately got up, grabbed the buckets and headed to the place the guards had mentioned. They were two robust Polish Jews – Josef Kopf, and Szlomo Podchlebnik.
 
Both were walking ahead of the Ukrainian who followed them some meters behind. So, they moved away from the bivouac until they came to the banks of the brook. But it had not only been to fetch the water that the guard had decided to call them. He also intended to do some of his usual trading with the two Jews. To them, the call to go to the place had been like a heavenly blessing, and the exceptional opportunity could not be ignored.   
 
As soon as they had reached the river, the Ukrainian asked them if they had anything to trade. Podchlebnik slyly told him that on that particular day he only had some diamonds and proffered his hand with half- closed fingers, as if he were really holding something. The unsuspecting guard immediately bent to look closer at the supposed precious gems. At that exact moment , the Jew violently stabbed his stomach Before he could shout for help , Kopf hurled himself on him  and beheaded him with the knife he also carried. Once the Ukrainian was dead, the two Jews took his weapons and went back to the bivouac. Their weapons were a rifle with a fixed bayonet and a revolver.
 
This was the best occasion for the two of them to escape, however, the four friends were committed to one another on their honour and two of them had stayed in the bivouac. Thus, they returned very carefully walking among the trees and bushes around them until they came to the place where the other members of the Forest Commando were, with their dangerous well-armed escort.
 
As soon as they saw their friends they started to gesture to them from afar to tell them they had already gotten rid of the guard, who had gone with them to the river and they should also try and find a way to escape. In the meanwhile, though they understood what had happened, the other two companions, Zyndel and Chaim, could not do anything, since it was impossible for them to act at that moment. Thus they decided to wait for their chance. This was not late in coming.
 
Their escort, made up of four SS and four Ukrainians, was resting. The eight criminals had just finished eating and they were engrossed in lively conversation, sitting on the ground. Their rifles, in the meantime, were stacked a little way from them. Not far from the henchmen the Jews of the Forest Commando were equally resting, well away from the Ukrainian weapons. As to the machine-guns, the Germans kept them by their side.
 
The final blow would have to be struck in such a way as to take all the members of the escort by surprise. One small mistake, as unimportant as it might be, would endanger the success of their escape and bring about drastic consequences.
 
In such a case, Podchlebnik and Kopf would also be under the risk of being killed , even if they were a little distance away from the bivouac. A few seconds later, one of the Germans got up and left the group , strolling towards the Jews, as if he were taking a leisurely walk.
 
When the officer was distant enough from the group, the other accomplices Zyndel and Chaim, hurled themselves on him as fast as lightning and brandishing their sharp knives. With well-aimed blows the SS was felled and went down to the ground writhing with pain.
 
This was the sign for flight.  With one exception, all the Polish Jews in the large group promptly rose to their feet and hurriedly left the place, disappearing in the forest. The Germans and the Ukrainians were so surprised that they stood there petrified. Before they could recover from the shock and get hold of their weapons, precious seconds had elapsed, enough for the fleeing band to get out of sight and put a great distance between them. The bandits had just suffered a tremendous impact with the loss of two of their men and it took them some time to recover from the shock and start to do something. The only Polish Jew who had not followed the others stayed in the same place, sitting peacefully. He was dead. He had had a stroke, perhaps brought about by the unexpected emotion, and had died in the same sitting position he had been before. His name was Heinech.
 
The other twenty-seven members were lost from sight of the Germans who hunted them in despair, sweeping the woods without finding anything. The brave Jews had disappeared without leaving any traces and the Germans seemed to be totally disoriented, shouting orders in the forest  which were only answered by their meaningless echo.
 
As to the twelve Dutch Jews who had also belonged to this legendary Forest Commando, they were nothing but poor devils. They had been so frightened that they never even rose from their places. Immediately after the Nazi officer had been killed, they raised their arms and were surrounded by the Ukrainians. Incidentally, this contributed even further for the escapees to gain time and, consequently, distance.
 
The guards could not pursue them straight away, because they were too worried about the harmless Dutchmen. The total lack of initiative on the latter’s part did not permit them to follow the brave Poles. They had had everything in their hands, but they had not known how to make use of the panic reigning over the enemy and had preferred to submit, thus wasting the last and only chance which came their way.
 
They paid very dearly for their inertia and their unfortunate lack of courage. They were immediately put in chains and taken back to Sobibor, where they arrived in the late afternoon. Soon, the trills of a whistle, which meant a general call, were heard summoning all the Jews to go into formation. All of us then gathered again and started to wait for what was going to come. The crowd was next led to the vicinity of Camp 2 and there we were given the order to place ourselves in a long semi – circle.
 
As soon as we had done that, the twelve Dutch Jews were shown to us in chains and followed by the Ukrainians. The bandits put them one beside the other, about thirty meters in front of us. Then they shot them all before us. With this inhuman act the Germans expected to discourage any other similar attempt. However, the Dutchmen deserve an honourable exception.
 
The fact even called our attention. Even if they were innocent and obedient, they were going to be punished by something they had not done. On the contrary, they had submitted without the least resistance.
 
They were brave men – justice be made to them. They faced the firing squad without a word of protest, without a gesture of defence. None of them asked for mercy, and they stood upright, serenely waiting for the murderers bullets.
There was no sign of fear on their faces and they even seemed pleased at being only one step away from Eternal freedom. They had not learned to live like the others, but they had known how to die like no one else.
 
The Germans set up this disgusting scene with great pomp. They intended all of us to watch it, thus thinking they would be able to instil fear and terror in us. They were wrong once more. We had only been frightened when we heard the whistles, which summoned us to a meeting.
 
At that moment, we had been worried since, every time this thing happened , we thought our last hour had come. We were not afraid of it but the mere expectation was a torment. We would prefer death to come suddenly than have to imagine it was coming. We would like it to be certain, never doubtful.
 
Among the twenty-seven Polish Jews who had participated in the spectacular escape of the Wald-kommando, three are old friends of mine and are still alive. One of them is called Chaim Korenfeld and he lives in the state of Sao Paulo, Brasil. The other two, Zyndel and Podchlebnik  are in the United States of America.
 
To my three indefatigable heroic friends I dedicate the pages of this chapter, since they were the ones who blazed the way along which others would follow. To them I devote all my praise, since they covered themselves in glory by taking revenge against the Nazi tyranny.