Jewish Prisoners Stage Successful Uprising at Sobibor Extermination Camp

Sobibor was the site of one of two successful uprisings by Jewish prisoners in a Nazi extermination camp — there was a similar revolt at Treblinka on August 2, 1943.

A revolt at Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 1944 led to one of the crematoria being blown up, however nearly all the escapees were killed. Among the few who survived the Auschwitz revolt was Henryk Mandelbaum, who served as a tour guide at the camp after the war.

On October 14, 1943, members of the Sobibor underground, led by Polish-Jewish prisoner Leon Feldhendler and Soviet POW Alexander "Sasha" Pechersky, succeeded in covertly killing eleven German SS officers and a number of camp guards. Although their plan was to kill all the SS and walk out of the main gate of the camp, the killings were discovered and the inmates ran for their lives under fire. About 300 out of the 600 prisoners in the camp escaped into the forests.

Only 50 to 70 escapees survived the war, however. Some died in the mine fields surrounding the site, and some were recaptured in a dragnet and executed by the Germans in the next few days. Most of those who did survive were hidden from the Germans by other Poles, at the risk of their own and their families' lives.

The revolt was dramatized in the 1987 British TV movie Escape from Sobibor, directed by Jack Gold. An award-winning documentary about the escape was made by Claude Lanzmann, entitled Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures (Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 p.m.).

Sobered by both the sense that killing operations in the facility were winding down and information that Belzec had been dismantled and all surviving prisoners liquidated, prisoners at Sobibor organized a resistance group in the late spring of 1943. After considering several options for escape and augmented in numbers and military training skills by the arrival of a number of former Soviet-Jewish prisoners of war from the Minsk ghetto in late September, the prisoners opted for an uprising, following the liquidation of key German camp officials. On October 14, 1943, with approximately 600 prisoners left in the camp, those who knew the plan for the uprising initiated the operation. The prisoners succeeded in killing nearly a dozen German personnel and Trawniki-trained guards. Around 300 prisoners succeeded in breaking out of the killing center that day; around 100 were caught in the dragnet that following and more than half of the remaining survivors did not live to see the end of the war.