9. Preparations for the Uprising

The march of time proceeded and summer was coming. In the meantime, life in Sobibor did not experience any important changes. The Germans had already formed another Forest Commando and they surrounded themselves with all kinds of precaution to avoid the venture happening again.
The safety measures of the camp had been strengthened and its leaders thought it was impossible to escape from it. Any services which had to be performed outside its perimeter and which had to include the participation of Jews would be fulfilled under reinforced escort, whose eyes were riveted on them.
Severe punishments would be applied to those Ukrainians who were found careless in their watch. The Germans were determined not to let any other escape be tried. At the same time, the transports which came from Poland itself could no longer be as massive as before. We noticed that the number of remaining Jews had become increasingly smaller as the constant killings had devastated the Polish nation.
And the few that did still come were already rebellious and inclined to violence. Day after day the latent spirit of insurrection and vengeance against the oppressors was getting more bitter. In opposition, mistrust among us had increased, since all of us feared those individuals who could like the Oberkapo Berliner betray us at any time.
Our despair was such that some of our boldest men even thought of instigating the Jews in the next transports, to revolt as soon as they set foot in Sobibor, by using the chance of the large number of people gathered in one group. These newcomers, in spite of having lived in the few isolated ghettos still existing in the country, were not unaware of what was happening in Treblinka and in the other labour and extermination camps.
As to Sobibor, nothing was known of it. They already knew about Polish guerrillas in the forests and of the acts of sabotage which had been performed against the German rulers, which already presaged resistance against tyranny.
They had also heard the rumours which were spread about the epic insurrection in the Warsaw Ghetto and about the unfavourable military situation of the Nazis in the war.
However, we had well-grounded fears that the plan could abort due not only to the impromptu character of the act – we could not imagine either what would the reaction of the men be to our decisions. Even if the majority of newcomers were wiling to face risk, a small cowardly minority could endanger the success of the movement and bring about our massacre. Only careful planning would be able to give us some hope, even if our dream never came true. If we did not succeed in escaping, we would still have the satisfaction of killing enemies before dying.
We could clearly see in the Polish Jew transports to which level of poverty and abuse they had been submitted to. By their ragged appearance and their endless moral and material poverty, we could conclude that they had come to the utmost limit of what was acceptable or bearable.
However, the aspect of the Jews who came from the rest of occupied Europe surprised us. Although they were no longer as healthy as those who had come before, their general condition was infinitely better than that of the Poles.
From that we could deduce that the Nazi persecution against the Jews born in Poland had reached the limit. But this hate was dictated by a twofold reason, particularly inherent to the German generation of the time – we were Jews, and we were also Polish.
The Germans did not only enslave and destroy us but they also used us as spearheads in their most dreadful purposes. They could use their shameless propaganda to perfection, and they even came to the point of using us as a means to convince people and diffuse their ideas so as to more easily attain their aims. Only those with nerves of steel would be able to tolerate the absurd things which they tried to induce us to do, and it is thanks to that stamina that many were still alive.
One of their customary ignominious acts was to make use of us to persuade the unsuspecting newcomers to believe they were in a labour camp. They would deliberately make use of our fragility and our impotence to make us lie to our own brothers.
On many occasions, when a new transport came in, Wagner or any other officer led some of us up to the fence behind which the reception yard was, filled with Jews. Then he called one of these poor people and started to ask us questions in front of him to which we would have to have highly convincing answers, prepared to suit the purpose. We would also be jokingly asked what we did in that place and we answered that we were artisans and had our workshops. He then inquired about our food, and in reply we said it was very good.
Thus, against our will, not only I but all the other companions contributed a lot for the Nazis to be successful in their shameless purpose or preventing the newcomers to Sobibor from suspecting anything. We felt guilty and filled with remorse, but we did that with our hearts broken, because we knew in advance what end awaited those poor wretched people.
Even if we wished or were able to, we would not be allowed to say anything else, since it would not help them in any way to declare we were in an extermination camp. Besides, we would be running serious risks, if any Jew ever betrayed us. Many a time I felt the urge to reveal the whole truth, but at the same time I thought that any attitude would even hurt those who might be selected among the group and used in the service of the bandits, being thus able to live for a longer period of time.
Quite often I had the opportunity of being alone with them near the wire fence. Then I would deliberately play the German’s game, and try to comfort and calm them, by falsely telling them all this was only a place of work. No one will ever be able to imagine the inner debate I held with myself to act like that and how could my nerves stand the hard strain.
In the beginning of summer the Germans built several “ Bunkers” in the camp. Those were subterranean storehouses to stock ammunition that had been manufactured in Russia and which had been yielded to the Whermacht on the battlefront. These explosives were transported to Poland and since the Nazis intended to use them later on, they had had some depots built in Sobibor, to profit from the enormous amount of slave workers available.
Countless women were chosen to work in the “Bunkers” under the extremely slim but violent hangman, Getzinger. The duties of the Jewesses would be to clean the storehouse and to sort the ammunition according to their types, as well as to pile it up. At the same time, we received some news which filled us with happiness. We learned that the cursed Gustav Wagner, the leader of Camp 1 had been re-assigned. He had been promoted to Oberscharfuhrer and now he had one more star on his epaulets.  We were very happy about his removal from our camp, because his too frequent visits to our workshops would have to decrease.
From now on, he was going to hold the position that the bandit Michel had held before, and he would become a kind of general supervisor and supplies officer in Sobibor. In this way he would not have much leisure to bother us with his customary and unpleasant visits. To fill the vacant place which had been left by Wagner, the no less sordid Karl Frenzel had been appointed, as the Commander of Camp 1. As to cruelty, he was not different from his predecessor in any way. However, he was a much vainer element and he was much less intelligent than Wagner.
Some time later, another transport of Polish Jews came. They were all gathered in the yard, waiting for the moment when they would have to go along the fatal corridor which would lead them to death, when an old lady called me. I was standing on the other side of the fence, watching the movement in the yard. As there were no guards near me, I approached the fence close enough to be able to talk to her.
As soon as I saw her, my memory lit up with the image of my dead grandmothers face. The unfortunate Jewess was so old that I immediately started calling her “granny”. I addressed her in kind soothing words and told her she was going to have a bath and rest after the long journey. However, an embarrassing surprise was in store for me, since she answered me – “ No my boy, you cannot deceive me” Next she bent down to the ground with a lot of difficulty and grabbed a fistful of dirt. She slowly rose and, raising her hand as high as her exhausted energies would allow it, started to let the dirt dribble and scatter in the wind which then blew while she prophesied  - “Look at this. Exactly like this dust is being scattered, so will the Germans disperse. My end is near and I know I am going to die in a few minutes, but you will survive to take revenge and to tell the world what happens here and what they do to us”. She actually died, because within a few minutes, the long column of women headed towards Camp 2. Among them was the wrinkled old lady, exhausted and hobbling in her death march but brave and haughty to face it with serenity. I shall never forget her.
One day we heard an explosion. As all news spread very fast in the camp, we soon learned what had happened. A grenade had just exploded in Getzinger’s hand, and had instantly killed him. A Ukrainian guard had also died with him. The ignoble officer had met his well-deserved end through his curiosity and conceit. He had been checking one of the Russian artefacts stocked in the “Bunkers” he was responsible for.
He considered himself so competent about it that he certainly did not believe the possibility of having any kind of accident. Of his body only pieces were found. They were soon gathered and sent back to Germany.
This event brought us indescribable happiness, since we had just been ridden of another henchmen, even it if did not mean much, because someone else would immediately be sent to replace him. After the first minutes of happiness, we started to worry about the reprisal which would certainly be coming, since whenever anything happened in Sobibor, we were the ones to bear the consequences.
Fortunately, luck was on our side and this time nothing happened. On the contrary, signs of restlessness began to be noticed in the Germans. As they were already being beaten in the war, maybe that fatal accident had looked like a bad omen to them.
Some time later a transport came from Biala –Podlaskie. Then the Nazis decided to make use of the return of the empty freight train to load it with a large shipment. To this purpose, they took from that transport about three hundred men who would then be used to load the train.
The cargo would be made up of part of the hundreds of tons the most varied utensils stocked in the sheds of Camp 2 and which had belonged to the exterminated Jews. These sheds were already overfilled and there was urgent need to empty them a little.
What we saw then was perhaps the most barbaric event among all those which had been publicly practiced in the camp up to that moment. The three hundred Polish Jews, in spite of their being exhausted after the trip and by the mistreatment they had suffered on arrival, were immediately put to work.. As the Germans were in a hurry to load the wagons, all the work was done at an incredibly fast pace and with unparalleled savagery.
In our presence those poor people were forced to run, ceaselessly, from the ramp where the train was to the sheds in Camp 2, where each picked up a bale of goods and ran back to the place of shipment. Along the long route, to and from the ramp, the Germans struck whiplashes and blows of every kind on them, urging them to move still faster and without granting them one second to rest. But the brutality of the Nazis did not end there. This time, the monstrous SS wanted to amuse themselves and started to hang the defenceless Jews. At the least sign of tiredness, dozens of them were grabbed and immediately hung by their necks from the nearby trees. All this was done to the accompaniment of loud guffaws from the German and Ukrainian jackals.
Not yet satisfied with murdering them like that, the hyenas went down to torture too. They gathered a large number of flasks of different kinds of drugs found in the latest transport , called some of the wretches and made them drink them one after the other, until the flasks were empty. All of them got poisoned and fell to the ground. Many others were forced to swallow large quantities of dry sand, until their stomachs were filled up.
Soon, under a wave of torture, killing and beating, the train was totally loaded and ready to leave. While the whistle of the engine would be heard leaving Sobibor, the remaining Jews were led to Camp 3. The dead and dying which were the aftermath of the slaughter were thrown onto the “loras” and sent to the same destination.
A small airplane periodically came to Sobibor. It flew there in order to take back to Germany all the load of gold taken from the Jews. In spite of the existing shady dealings and of the constant leaks, the quantity of gold taken to that country was very large, but it was impossible to really say how much it amounted to. The plane landed in a small airfield between Camps 2 and 3. One of the novelties which appeared at that time was the arrival of ten Russian non-Jewish women. None of us ever found out how they got there and no one ever saw them.
The rumour that they had been sent to Sobibor to cook for the Germans and to wash their clothes was soon spread. However, what really happened was quite different, since, at night, we could hear the din made by the bacchanals that the Ukrainians held with the Russian women. My nephew Jankus who worked in the officer’s yard, told us the higher ranking guards used to take the women into their lodgings. It is possible that the officers also used them occasionally. Although they were not Jewish, no one ever left Sobibor alive, and their fate must have been death.
When we were at the end of summer, a transport came from the Concentration Camp of Majdanek, near Lublin. As its passengers were totally incapacitated for work, the Germans brought them to Sobibor to die.
In Majdanek there was a crematorium , but it could only incinerate a small number of corpses at a time and it would not be able to absorb that large levy of Jewish skeletons. By virtue of that, they had been sent to Sobibor which could swallow them all at the same time.
The unloading was done in the afternoon, and the Germans decided to leave the slaughtering for the following day. Thus the wretched people were thrown in the reception yard to spend the night. As I had already finished working, I went out to look at them from afar, through the fence. I could then watch one of the most painful scenes I have ever witnessed in my whole life.
The poor Jews, dressed in striped clothes which were used in Concentration Camps, looked like a band of convicts. However, never before had such a rickety group entered the camp. By their undernourished and weak conditions , they were all annihilated and unable to even move.
They were really half-dead. They all lay on the ground, in a long human mat.
They were not even strong enough to talk. I could only hear some feeble moans. My curiosity was roused by the awful scene, so I decided to go nearer the wire to watch them at close quarters.
Then I stared at them in astonishment and I could see they were nothing but remains of human rags, so useless that not even a single guard had been posted there to watch over them. I suddenly heard an extremely weak voice. I listened hard and tried to locate where it had come from, since I had heard my own name. I looked at all of them but was not able to distinguish anything.
A second later to my immense surprise my name was called once more and then I could see it was a man who had called me. Although he was not able to talk , he identified himself as my cousin Majer. The poor devil whispered only a few words – “ Don’t you remember me? I’m from Pulawy”.
I would never have been able to recognise him. Majer had once been a tall strong man. That which I saw now was only a skeleton. Besides, he had shrunk and his back was already hunched. I could hardly believe what I saw. I tried to comfort him by telling him he was going to have a bath, put on new clothes ,eat a meal and rest until he recovered and could be sent to work. In truth Majer was already irrecoverable and he was very close to dying, even if he were not sent to Camp 3. 
Even so, I lied to him on purpose, thus using the Nazi methods. I played the role of a doctor who does not dare tell his patient that death is coming and that nothing else can be tried to prevent it. If I had told him about the end which was to be given to him on the following day he might have died then and there, probably for his own good. However, I wanted to encourage him in his last moments even if he were virtually incapable of reacting.
In Majer’s figure I saw the spectre of penury, of starvation and abuse. I could not hold back my emotion. I went to my shed and got a whole loaf of bread and went immediately back to my cousin. I threw the bread to him through the fence but I was horrified to see how many Jews, as squalid as he was and who were near him, came crawling towards the bread. The starving people fought a terrible battle over it and hardly anyone was able to eat a piece of it, since the loaf crumbled completely. Majer had not been able to get a single crumb.
I got mad at that and promised him I would bring him another roll, but first I warned him to try and come a little closer to the fence so that the same thing would not happen again. I intended to put the roll in his own hands. However, his extreme weakness would not let him move and I was forced to try again to throw the bread to him, the same way as before. I fetched another loaf and again threw it towards him. However, the others were already expecting it, and again they made the same disorderly charge. I never came to know whether Majer was able to grab a little piece of it. I soon gave up the idea of staying there, for I was afraid the noise would call the attention of the guards every time they made one of those attacks. Besides, some of my friends were also trying to help the poor human rags and the place had become hectic. I was sorry for not having been able to help decrease my cousin’s suffering, even though I had really tried.
Soon afterwards a group of officers and Ukrainians came and started preparing their delight. The bandits walked among that defenceless mass of human beings and, as if they were merely taking a stroll, started to hit them with their rifle butts and bludgeons, finally killing some of them among devilish guffaws and jokes. Only when they were fed up with killing, did they go away, as if nothing had happened. And thus that night passed.
Soon after daybreak, the criminals came back and started to move the remaining crowd to Camp 2. Most of the Jews were no longer able even to get to their feet. Some of them tried to drag their bodies, crawling with great effort, while the others remained on the ground in the yard or in the corridor, which led to the other camp. Perhaps only one tenth of them ever made it to Camp 2 by their own means, since nearly all stayed behind.
The yard as well as the corridor were littered with bodies of dead and dying people who made up the most part of those wretches and their bodies carpeted the vast area. Among those still alive, none was able to walk. Then to finish the task of removing the bodies,the Nazis called in the “Bahnhof –Kommando”. Very promptly, the Jewish boys on the Railroad Commando started the job and spent the rest of the day collecting those human remains to take them to the “loras” which would then transport them to Camp 3.
When all was ended, another group came to disinfect the yard and corridor, with chlorine, since the Germans were afraid of an epidemic. After disinfection , the ground became whitish. There were no words for me to tell you what this transport from Majdanek actually was like. No one had ever before seen such a cruel, horrifying scene in Sobibor.
However, we had not been very alarmed or disappointed. Anything could be expected from the Germans and we had already witnessed as many unbelievable things in those long months of our miraculous survival. A few days later, something strange happened. it came about in the afternoon, at the time of the evening roll call, after work. Since he had taken over the command of Camp 1, the Nazi Frenzel had become the man in charge of receiving the results of the counting.
Once this had been done, he told Mundek, the chief tailor, to step out of the group and gave him twenty-five whiplashes. Next, he told me to do the same and the same punishment was applied on me. Everyone was surprised and no one could understand the reasons  which had led the hangman to do that. Even now I cannot guess the reasons for that unexpected punishment, since I had not done anything to deserve it. However, our suspicions pointed to the Oberkapo Berliner, who would be the only person who would denounce us at the least transgression. Maybe he had learned that Mundek and I had both given some pieces of bread to half-dead Jews in the transport from Majdanek and he had decided to denounce us to Karl Frenzel.
Our hate for Berliner grew everyday, because he was just like the Germans . As he was a Jew, we craved for killing him even more than we wanted to kill the Nazi scoundrels. The autumn of 1943 was nearing and the days were becoming shorter. As evening fell earlier than before, the schedules were changed and the roll call was taken sooner. Although we were sent inside the sheds earlier, our work went on as usual. We were already used to life in the camp and we were in control of our emotions. We could even think of ourselves as cold, unfeeling men, deprived of fear or feeling. We really tried to reason out, with no fantasy, any possible way of escaping from that hell.
The transports continued to come from all the countries where the Swastika flag was hoisted and the most sparse were those from Poland herself. One day, one of those came from the town of Lwow, but it was a different one, in it only corpses came. There were only a few Jews alive in it. As soon as the doors of the wagons were opened, the German officers left the place, so bad was the smell which came out of them. There was no one who could stand the foul smell which came from the freight wagons. Everyone drew back pressing their nostrils.
As the corpses were already putrefied they would have to be taken out in any way, and the nauseating task fell to the Railroad Commando. The poor boys had no choice but enter the wagons and start the loathsome, macabre task of removing the corpses of the unfortunate Jews from Lwow and put them on the “loras”. Then they would be taken straight to the crematory furnaces.
The corpses were in such a state of decomposition that, on being pulled out of the wagons, their skin and even their limbs would come apart. The young Jews on the Railroad Commando had to empty the wagons and they did so under excruciating fits of nausea. This must have been the most unpleasant task ever performed by Jews in Sobibor.
Although it seemed unbelievable, some living people were still found inside the wagons. No one could ever understand how they could have stood the trip, so weak they were, inside the wagons which had been made into putrid sewers. As they were near death and could not even walk they were also put on the “loras” and sent to Camp 3. This transport was from then on called the cemetery-train.
As of that day, most of the transports which arrived in Sobibor came from Russia. Although they had been beaten in Stalingrad and the Caucasus, the Germans still held a large part of the Soviet territory. These transports did not only bring Jews but also many rumours which gave us some hope.
We learned that guerrilla warfare in the nations occupied by the Germans was being carried out. In France the maquis bothered the occupation troops.  In Italy some elements fought against fascism. In Yugoslavia the chetniks of Colonel Draja Mikhailovitch and Tito’s Communist guerrillas were pestering the occupiers. In Russia, the guerrillas were causing constant disturbance to the flank of the Wehrmacht. In Northern Africa, the German forces cornered in Tunisia had surrendered to the Allies. The Allies were preparing to land on Sicily and the Italian peninsular. It was believed that the armies of the Axis were being defeated on all fronts and ceaselessly retreating. There were rumours that the camp of Sobibor might even be bombed. The rumours true or false gave us new heart.
On this same occasion the news was spread that a new aborted escape had happened in Camp 3. The insurgents had paid with their lives for their daring deed. We never learned any details about their failure, however, our flame of hope got brighter and brighter.
On the other hand, the ferocity of the Germans grew worse at every new defeat of their armies. As they had perhaps kindled the dream of winning the war and building an Aryan Empire, they took revenge on us, by killing and abusing us with doubled violence.
In the middle of September, a transport came to Sobibor which would change the course of the history of the cursed camp. It had come from Russia and from it were taken fifty men, all of them physically fit for hard labour.
They were Russian Jews incorporated in the Soviet Army and who had fallen into the hands of the German troops during the battle. Although they were treated as prisoners of war, they had ended up in Sobibor only because they were Jews.
This was not strange to us, since the Nazis were in the habit of never respecting international conventions about prisoners of war which had been signed in Geneva, in the same way that they did not respect human life.
Among these Russian Jews there was an officer in the Russian Army. As soon as we learned about his rank , we started to call him “Politruk”, since he had been a political –officer. His name was Sasha Pechersky. He now lives in the Soviet Union.
As these Russians were a little reserved, they made their own group and they tried to keep themselves apart from us, the other Jews in the camp. We were already in autumn, and the days were increasingly shorter. This gave us the chance of having a few more hours of rest after work. Once the evening roll was called, we would use our free moments to talk, until the lights were turned off in Sobibor. It was during these precious moments that we learned the local news as well as some others from the outside world which were able to penetrate our nearly impenetrable camp.
This was also the time we enjoyed our love trysts and carried out our dealings with the Ukrainians. We gave them gold and in exchange we got vodka to warm us and make our spirits lighter. Gold was not lacking for us, since no one was ever inspected in Sobibor, as nobody entered the place or left it. Thus, the Germans did not bother about what we could or could not have with us. Besides, those who worked in the storehouses in Camp 2 and stocked the voluminous luggage of the people who had been exterminated, as well as in the sheds where the selection and shipment of goods to Germany was done, could easily get the metal. As to the vodka, the Ukrainians had hundreds of litres at their disposal, not only for their own consumption but also for their dealings with us.
Sometimes the Germans came and called the barber, Josef, who was a very good violinist - then they would tell him to play the violin and would make us dance with one another, while they amused themselves by looking at us. Even so, those were only moments when we were able to forget our suffering for a while. Hours went by like that until the lights were turned out and complete darkness would envelop the camp and then only whispers could be heard. It was in one of these opportunities that Lajbu, the Rabbi’s son , had his first contact with the Russian Jew Sasha, the “Politruk”.
On the following day, Lajbu came to me and murmured the results of his interview with the “Politruk”. He told me Sasha had  said that one of the Ukrainian guards had informed him about something which was very serious.
The guard told the “Politruk”, in secret, that due to the successive defeats suffered by the German armies on all fronts, they were thinking of closing Sobibor ,  probably before October 15th.
The Ukrainian was one of those pure Russians who had pretended he was of German descent so as to be able to join the armed forces.
Incidentally, I think I should mention that six of them had deserted from Sobibor. They had done so because they had been informed that the German –Soviet front was coming closer and closer by the day.
Serving under German orders they were afraid of reprisal from the Russians, so they filled their pockets with gold and disappeared from the camp.
Lajbu went on to tell me that the “Politruk” had suggested that, as a consequence of the imminent danger which was nearing us, we should try to do something which might be able to save us, even if the possibilities were very small or even null.
I was astonished at that and started to think that perhaps the dramatic news was groundless, I came to the point of imagining that the mysterious revelation of Sasha to Lajbu were part of a stratagem to incite us to rebellion. I found it impossible for a Ukrainian guard, to dare tell a Russian Jew such an important secret. However, Lajbu soon put an end to my doubts.
Even if the Germans did not extinguish the camp, they could kill us and replace us with others. If they extinguished it, we would all be massacred and incinerated. Either way, the moment was highly dangerous and we had to do something.
Since the situation was already like that, I told Lajbu that I would discuss it with my two closest friends whom I could trust. Szol , the head of the shoemakers and Mundek, the chief tailor. I also asked him to make a date for me to meet the “Politruk” alone, the next day after work.
I went to bed in high spirits, pleased at myself. Sleep did not come easily because a thousand and one ideas crossed my confused brain.
On the following day, I woke up under great nervous strain , since I could hardly believe what I had heard the night before and supposed it had all been a dream. A leader had finally appeared among us. Up to the day the transport from Russia had come , no one had had any initiative for rebellion in Sobibor, inside the enemy’s own lair. There had been it is true, the wonderful deed of the Forest Commando performed in the very woods. Two bricklayers had also escaped , no one knew how. There had been other aborted attempts, but they had been stifled by the Nazis, with un-heard of violence. But now everything would be different.
We would have to subvert the order in Sobibor, under the very noses of the dozens of German and Ukrainian criminals. We knew for sure of the serious risks we would be running due to the Jewish stool pigeons. We would have to face the barbed wire fences, cross wide deep ditches and mined areas. We would have to hide from the machine guns placed on top of the countless high strategic towers.
Finally, we would have to win over a giant, deadly safety system which made Sobibor inexpungable. Uprising had always been the ideal of many of us, but we lacked someone who could impel us to do it. For all the difficulties to be overcome, it would be necessary for us to have someone to plan it and to lead us. No one would be better than Sasha, the “Politruk”. From now on, he would be our leader. Not only Sasha but all his other companions, also Russian Jews, had solid military experience and this fact encouraged us to the point of facing danger with limitless confidence.
“Politruk” was a man of action and not a bureaucratic strategist. He had been tempered on the battle-field when he defended his country against the bestial hordes of the Third Reich. With him we had some hope, if not of living at least of killing.  
I tried to tell Szol and Mundek about what had happened as soon as I could. They did not hesitate, over-brimming with happiness and emotion, to agree to participate in the uprising and happily accepted Sasha’s leadership. I asked them to keep the matter a secret and to wait for the result of my talk with the “Politruk”. At the time set, I met him and was surprised at the fact that Sasha had brought Lajbu and another of his countrymen, the Russian Jew Miszka, with him. We conferred for some time, in absolute secrecy, and decided that the plot would also be developed in secret, since we could not afford to run the risk of being denounced.
On the Sunday next to our date we held a meeting with the people we could really trust. At the meeting were present Sasha, Lajbu, Szol, Mundek, Josel and myself. Josel was the chief carpenter. All of them worked in Camp 1. However, our conspiracy also spread into Camp 2. We had two companions there who were willing to do anything and who said they would organise a rebellious group with elements they could trust. Both of them were kapos and worked in that camp, although all of them spent the night in Camp 1.
One of them was called Bunio and he was the head of the Railroad Commando , the other went by the name of Pozycki, and he was responsible for those who worked in the storehouses located in that camp. Once the initial basis of our mutiny were settled, we started the period of articulation. We started to meet frequently to exchange ideas and suggestions. We were worried about the way we should use to attract other people to our group, as much as when and how would it deflagrate.
After we had weighed the circumstances very carefully we decided that each one of us would individually try to attract other people who deserved our confidence. Our elements in Camp 2 were not present at those preliminary talks but they met Sasha in private.
From the very beginning one suggestion was accepted by all, with no exception, as being essential to the success of our venture – to eliminate the “Oberkapo” Berliner. Besides, being a habitual stool pigeon, Berliner was very sharp and suspicious. If he only imagined anything was being plotted, we would be irretrievably lost.
Unfortunately it had to be so, and we were sorry for that, because he was also a Jew. However, he had let himself be led by the Nazi technique, and had finally become one of its apologists. He thought he would save himself by acting like that and, to reach his egotistical aim, he did not measure consequences and he was always flattering the henchmen. He had been responsible for the death of many innocent people and, had he survived, he would have been one of the most prominent figures among the criminals who were judged in Nuremburg.
As we considered him our number one enemy it would be better to erase him from the list of the living than risk total failure in our venture. With his death, many Jews would be still saved from that infernal maze.
Everyone of us became conscious of his participation in this first and daring coup in the general fight plan. However, there still was the urgent need for total control over our emotions so that nothing would hinder the next steps in the operation. All was coldly planned and we only waited for the proper occasion to carry it out.
The first days of October were already passing very quickly when luck smiled on us. Wagner as well as the Commander – in – Chief “ Trottel” had gone to Germany on a visit. With “Trottel”’s absence, another bandit Deputy Commander Niemann, had taken over the general command of Sobibor. However, Karl Frenzel and the other SS officers were still in their posts.
We agreed that, on a certain night, after we had come back from work and the general call had been done, we would be free to carry out the plan. We would then go to the Kapo’s lodgings and we would try to catch Berliner by surprise, in case there were any need for that.
And thus it was done. When the day came and the hour got closer, we started to move towards his shed. This movement was very careful although seemingly careless. Four of us were in charge of doing it, while some other companions would stand nearby to deceive the other “Kapos” and prevent their entering the lodgings. In the attack group there were Mundek, Bunio, Pozycki and myself.
As we entered , we saw Berliner all alone. We went in and without the waste of a single minute, got hold of him, immediately covering his mouth to prevent his shouting. Totally unable to move, the traitor could not even thrash about or cry for help.
Our plan consisted of beating him in such a way as not to leave any haematomas on his face, arms or any other visible parts of his body. Based on that, we only hit him below the belt so as to reach his entrails and produce severe internal ruptures. Our intention was to destroy him only on the inside, and we were very careful not to hit him externally.
When the man was in a state when it would be impossible for him to survive or even babble a few words, we stopped the operation and calmly left for our lodgings, although our wish was to finish the killing. We slept peacefully that night as if nothing had happened. On the next day, we reported to duty at the usual time. The first call was done and, as it was only natural, Berliner was not there. Then Pozycki informed the Nazi Frenzel that the “Kapo” Commander was sick. No one ever doubted that, not even the other “kapos” who lived in Berliner’s lodgings.
At noon, straight after lunch the Commander of Camp 1 came again for the usual counting, at the time we came back from work.  As Berliner was still absent, again Pozycki took a step forward and said the Chief- Kapo was still sick in bed. Again all of us kept quiet, since those who did not know what had happened could not suspect anything.
The beating we had given Berliner had been so violent that no one could really be able to perceive that something strange had happened. Certainly his companions who slept in the same shed, must have thought he was sick and asleep, since, after the severe beating, we had put him in his bunk, and covered him up to his head with a blanket.
We had not killed him immediately because we did not want to raise the German’s suspicions. However, we did not fear anything since Berliner would never be able to recover enough to talk and denounce what had happened to him. He had been left totally inert. He could not move or say anything. There was no doubt that our act had been vile and our aggression cowardly.
But there was a vital need for this prophylactic measure. However, the first stage of our operations was not complete yet. We still had to give Berliner the “coup de grace” and for that we drew a Machiavellian plan. It consisted of using the old aversion that Karl Frenzel felt against him and of which the Nazi made no secret. We settled everything and started to carry out the second stage of our manoeuvre.
It was already late in the afternoon when the presumptuous Nazi officer came to the tailor shop, with his peculiar elegance, to try on his new clothes. Mundek used the opportunity to hurt his vanity.
The tailor told Frenzel that Berliner usually said in front of everybody, that he enjoyed complete autonomy in Sobibor. He even used to say that he only respected Wagner, since he did not attribute any importance to the other SS officers.
As he was not yet satisfied with his story, Mundek added that I too knew everything and that I had heard Berliner say that many times. Finally, to impress the truth of his words, Mundek called me to the shop so that I , in person and in the presence of the Germans, could testify to what he said.
I went there and my accomplice immediately asked me if was not true that “Kapo” – Oberkapo Berliner  was always saying that, inside Sobibor, he would only obey Wagner’s orders. I did not even wait for Mundek to finish his question and promptly answered that it was true, that what he was saying was the whole truth. However, in order to make that well-rehearsed plot act as a bomb, I decided to add that Berliner affirmed he was a German Jew, much superior to us, and that he thought he was as important as a Scharfuhrer. Besides, all that , he still said that Karl Frenzel was a real fool.
On hearing these last words , the Nazi had his natural colour changed.  Astonished at the pseudo – revelation he became purple with anger and, seeing his pride deadly hurt, he told us – “ All right – You will see how this piece of shit will end”. The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. When our work was done, the usual roll call was performed and all of us went back to our sheds. The next task was up to the nurse, the Czech Jew Kurt. At this time of day he used to make his rounds. After he had gone through all the sheds, he headed towards the one where Berliner was. While he pretended to be examining him, he gave him some drug which would make him sleep to eternity.
As Kurt had some knowledge of his profession and knew how to put an end to Berliner – he had administered to the patient something which was really lethal. As a matter of fact he had just performed euthanasia, since the “Kapo” would actually never recover. Our plan had been carried out to perfection and we had gotten rid of the dangerous Jew.  May God be merciful to him.
On the following morning, the roll call was taken once more and as it had to be, Berliner did not answer it. For the last time Pozycki  went to Frenzel and told him the “Kapo” – Commander was still in bed. With a hard face, the German officer replied –  “ Is that so? All right. Get this piece of shit and take him to Camp 3” Not wasting a second, two of our men left the shed and went straight to the place where the corpse was. They wrapped him in a blanket and carried him away. A new “Kapo” – Commander(Oberkapo) was immediately appointed. He was a Dutch Jew.
We had thus had our first victory, since our daring mission had been successful. However, there was still a lot to be done before our aim was actually reached. Days went by very quickly in that disturbed month of October and we went on with the planning of the last details of our great uprising. Each one of us tried to form his own small group, united and highly trustworthy. The carpenters and the shoemakers closed ranks around their foreman.  As to myself, I grouped together all the elements I could trust in the intricate machine shop I headed. I tried to organise a monolithic block and at the same time avoid the danger of being denounced, due to the presence of Jews of several different origins.
The most important thing was to trust our luck and keep total silence and perfect emotional control. We should all go on pretending we were calm and that we knew nothing about what was going on. Many Jews were traitors and the Nazis were very sharp. Some of the officers were able to smell anything in the air. Maybe some Ukrainians were able to perceive some kind of abnormality and tattle. We had to be most careful and none of the conspirators could incur in any kind of mistake in relation to what then meant our whole conception of life.
We had settled the date for the insurrection – it was going to be October 13 and, in spite of the dizzy speed in which this day was coming. I had not said a word to my brother yet. I was afraid that he would, against his will, somehow indicate what was going to happen, by being unusually nervous. Among the men who worked under me in the machine shop I could only unconditionally trust three of them, my brother, the French Jew Leon and the very skilled Abraham, the same one who had made the bicycles for the officer’s children.
There was still my cousin Nojech who still worked as a Platzmeister, near Camp 2, on his task of checking the bottom of all containers and looking for hidden gold. However, he still spent the night with us in Camp 1 and he knew nothing of our plan. My nephew did not know anything either. He worked in the officers yard as a cleaning man, but he slept in our camp. One night, when Nojech came back from work, I decided to tell him all that had already happened, as well what was going to happen. I told him what his task was going to be and asked him to fill four little sacks with gold and other valuable things. I told him that when the time came we would carry the bags with us.
If we were successful in our daring venture and were able to escape, the gold would be enormously useful to us. At the same time, I told my brother and my nephew about everything that had happened so far. To my complete surprise, Nojech did not show any signs of hesitation, since he already expected those things to happen, on the contrary he was very pleased at the idea and he only regretted not to have learned about it sooner. He promptly pledged his solidarity to our cause and even went further, saying that he had been hiding a Dutch knife for a long time, for an emergency like that.
As a matter of fact, many Jews kept with them automatic Flemish knives which had been surreptitiously taken from the transports which arrived from Holland. These weapons were the ones used to kill both a Nazi and a Ukrainian in the memorable escape of the Wald-Kommando.
By then Nojech had radically changed. He was no longer the same man with whom I had had such a harsh dialogue, more than a year before. At that time, he could only think of the Bible, and despised all violence. He thought we should only trust in God and that weapons were unnecessary. He still prayed, there could be no doubt about that. However, his spirit had matured and he had kept a knife for any unexpected circumstances. He now knew perfectly well that the teachings of Moses would not kill the Nazis, nor to lead him to freedom. He looked like a new, modern Samson, who did not possess the jaw of a donkey, but who could handle a Dutch knife.
Suddenly he said to me – “You were right about a lot of things”. Soon after he said that, should he survive, he would not stay in Poland for a single day. He would go to Palestine, where three of his brothers lived, as fast as he could. He added that all the Jews, from any country, should go to a place where they would be able to fight, work and finally form their own country. No one then would ever be able to say that the Jews were displaced people and there would never be another Sobibor to annihilate them. Nojech was really another man. He was still very religious , but he now thought that, besides praying, everyone should also fight. He attached great importance to religion and said that, thanks to it, we, the Jews, still existed in the world and had not been disintergrated.
After I had talked to my relatives I cautiously started to steal and hide some of the axes that were sent to our shop to be sharpened. I was doubtlessly happy with the turn of events and my small group was starting to plan the last details. I was absolutely sure that I could count on my companions under any circumstances. Leon the French Jew, was a mature and experienced man, even though he was quiet and a little bit stern. I trusted him blindly since he knew how to deal with firearms and had all his experience of the Spanish Revolution behind him.
Abraham was a very determined young man, equally worthy of my entire trust. Besides , he was a Polish Jew like me, and he had been waiting for a long time for an opportunity like that to take revenge for the death of his loved ones. He had been with us from the very beginning. As to my brother Moisze, though he was a little younger than I, he was taller and more athletic. Without doubt I could count on him, as suffering had made him cold and willing. I was even surprised at the passiveness with which he received the news about the uprising.
My group thus formed, we decided to carry out our plan of action to the end, keeping in close contact with the other rebels all the time. It was decided that , if need be, we would come to the point of neutralising our own workmates, specially the German, Dutch and Austrian Jews.
These could, at the last and most decisive hour, hinder us and thus endanger the success of our rebellion. By then, all of us had our own switch blade Dutch knives and in the shop we had enough material we could use as weapons.
We also had some axes which had been hidden for that end. As to the other shops which also existed in Camp 1, only Polish Jews worked there, and there was no difficulty in their adhering to our plan. They were tough, resolute men and very close to one another. Long months of suffering side by side had instilled into them so much hatred that only they could be able to distill.
Luck also was on our side, since in the last days no transports had come to Sobibor. It was October 12th, the day before our desperate, insane attempt. Sesperate because,  we had very little hope of surviving and being free. Insane because, should we fail, we could at least take revenge and kill as many as we could of those despicable Nazi assassins and their no less abject servants, the Ukrainians.
We would try to do everything in our power or above it to teach those who had humiliated and killed millions of Jews, an unforgettable lesson. We would perform superhuman deeds to show them we were also men, and not dirty, lazy human rags, as they used to call us.
They would then see that we were not so peaceful and submissive as they thought we were and that, given the right day and hour, we would not be lacking in courage and boldness, enough to prove them that we also knew how to fight, to kill and die for our parents, and brothers.
That same night we held our last meeting to add the finishing touch to the last important details. Only the leaders of the rebellion took part in it. Each one of us already had his task planned in detail and we would soon impart the last instructions to the other members of the rebellious groups. Notwithstanding , we still had a capital point to settle – which weapons could we count on?
Our initial plan had consisted in obtaining firearms, only after we had killed some Germans. At present, we only had knives, axes, bludgeons and some tools which could be used as weapons. Our precarious armament did not seem to be enough to face the machine guns and  the rifles the bandits were going to use against us, and we were very sorry in such inequality.
Meanwhile, all over the camp, an atmosphere of suspense loomed and it seemed as if something was in the air, not only for those who knew everything but also for those who did not. It was like the calm, which preceded a tempest. Suddenly I had an idea and promptly told the others about it. I would get the weapons.
As soon as I had finished telling the leaders of the rebellion about my daring decision, which had been made at moment when I was filled with intense enthusiasm about the course that our imminent rebellion was following .
I started to think very coldly about what I had promised to do. I had not measured my words before and now I had to face my own boldness. I could hardly believe what I had said and now everything seemed to me a sad mistake. I had had a glimpse of how I could get the weapons but now I already found it impossible to actually get them.
Even so, I did not waive in my decision and warned them that, next day, at the time set, they should wait for me in the kitchen of our shed. I also explained my project to them and remarked that, at the right time, only the men who know how to use firearms should come to me, since I myself could not handle them. Once our meeting ended we shook hands and left , each one wishing the other luck and hoping that some of them would survive to tell the truth about Sobibor.
I went back to my quarters and there I met my three relatives  Nojech, Moisze, and Jankus, with their little bags of gold already prepared. We hid them in the shop and then I told them they should wait for me at lunchtime, when I would tell them the last details so that we all could be together at zero hour.
The other members of my group and I started preparing for the day of decision, since all were now familiar with the plan. Through the shoemakers who worked for the Ukrainians I had been able to get some days before, a pair of boots. We had also been able to get hold of clothes more suited to what we intended to do, through the people who worked in the store-houses in Camp 2. Thus, if we escaped, we would be better dressed and we would not call so much attention.
My whole group being already thoroughly drilled about the task that each one would have to perform, we decided we should try to avoid any contact with Josef, the barber who used to play the violin for the officers. We suspected he would be able to betray us. The insurrection had already been planned. Among us the large majority was made up of Polish and Russian Jews. There were also some elements from other countries but they deserved our confidence. Those whom we did not trust had been left out, from the beginning. The twelfth day of October passed in an atmosphere of deep expectation, and at nightfall, everything was running smoothly.
I soon put the axes in the places we had previously decided on, and I succeeded in doing that without any problem. My team-mates took care of their duties in respect to the rebellion.
After it got dark, we all went to bed, but none of us were able to sleep, even though everything was going according to plan, with all the risks carefully reckoned with. October 13th 1943 dawned, the day of our great decision.
As usual, the morning call was made and we soon headed for our workshops, since our rebellion would only take place in the afternoon. However, we could not have guessed what surprise was in store for us. At about nine o’clock in the morning some vehicles filled with SS troops came to Sobibor.
The rebels immediately contacted each other and the leaders issued orders to postpone the rebellion for that day. All had been synchronised to perfection and the determination was promptly obeyed, and the final steps for the coup was suspended. If there had not been for the perfect cohesion existing among the members of the rebellion, the arrival of the assault troops could have destroyed our superbly articulated movement.
We soon learned that those soldiers had come to pay a visit to Sobibor. They were coming from the Labour Camp in Osowa, located near the village by the same name, and which was about twelve kilometres away from ours. Their arrival obviously brought us some disappointment and various little details had to be postponed or even altered.
Mundek, the tailor and Szol, the shoemaker, were the two who had to face more trouble. Both had to delude some German officers who had said they would go there to try on their new shoes and clothes. These visits had been set for a time when our rebellion would have started. Fortunately our two companions could get out of trouble and the German officers said they would try on the clothes the following day.
There were no doubt that the bases of our structure were very solid. All the hindrances had been overcome and only the final hour had been postponed. After the first minutes of shock, we recovered our calm and the courage which was necessary to carry out our plans. All the conspirators were in close contact and their strength was jointly directed to our common object.
In the evening we met again for a debate about the causes and effects of the sudden arrival of the SS troops. Several opinions were given and the most plausible of them prevailed. We supposed that the coming of those undesirable elements had something to do with the possible extinction of Sobibor.
Some time before the “Politruk” had been told by the Ukrainian guard he had been talking to that the Germans were thinking of closing the camp before October 15th, and that had been the reason for us to decide to escape on the day before that day. Due to that, even if everything were just rumours, we decided that our dramatic operation would be carried out on the following day, the eve of the probable disaster.
Once the meeting was ended I met my brother, my nephew and my cousin Nojech again. This was probably our farewell, since there was no hope of our escaping from Sobibor. The flight would be a miraculous consequence of our revolt, because the most important reason was to avenge our massacred families and to kill the largest number of German and Ukrainian criminals as possible.
Then I told the other three that they were to meet me, as usual, at lunchtime. Once this was done I called Nojech for a private talk and we left the others. Next I whispered to him that next day I was going to perform a very dangerous task. I asked him then that, should I fail and not come back, he should try to be beside Moisze and Jankus all the time and specially when the last hour came.
I had not told the other two about the mission because I did not want to frighten them. However, to Nojech I revealed the whole of it, down to the minute detail. After he had heard it all very attentively he told me I was going to do something absolutely crazy but that, under the circumstances, and as all of us would probably die anyway, he would have done the same.
 It was already late at night and the lights would be put out in a minute. A generalised excitement loomed over those who could not accept the tyranny of the Nazis.
Many of those who did not know anything about it, tried to smell something in the air. Soon only vague rumours would break the darkness of the last night in Sobibor .
In a few hours we would attack the powerful German cohorts with our makeshift troops , so badly equipped, but who had the intrepid leadership of Sasha Pechersky, the “Politruk”, and with the precious help of Lajbu , the son of a rabbi, to both of whom I dedicate this chapter.