The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Life and Fall of Wlodowa

The Memorial Book of Wlodawa

The trial of the executioner of Sobibor
Shimon Kanz

A jury of judges, prosecutors and defendors who arrived from Germany and headed by the Israeli judge Dr. Beniski, heard testimony for 3 days at the court of Tel Aviv. The testimony was given by Mrs. Ada Lichtmann who survived after the revolt and who had refused to go to Germany in order to testify at the trial of the executioners of Sobibor. Her testimony led to a loud and stubborn victory of the persecution over the defense. The more she continued in her descriptions of the hell she had experienced the more appeased the noise of the prosecutors and their questions and comments stopped and they lowered their heads.

In the eyes of the Jewish judge, who himself had tasted the camps of Hitler, stood tears and his voice hardly found its way through throat.

Spectacles of cruelty

"Don't ask me for exact dates", said Mrs. Lichtmann to the provocating and torturing questions of the lawyers. "At that time no calender existed but on the other hand I remember the events of those days which I am describing because they will remain deeply rooted in my memory throughout my life."

The awful depressed the mood and atmosphere of the courtroom. Horrow accompanied the route from Krakow from where the Germans had openly exiled her, through Miliz, Dubinki, Charaschow, and other places on the bloody road to Sobibor. Physical and mental pains, blows and humiliations. Her husband Mark Weismann was killed with stones during the work in the camp Postak.

The strikes and blows of the SS-men and Ukrainians while passing the "Spalier" (their lines) before the entrance of the concentration points.

Already at the beginning of her simple words the lips whispered automatically: "Is this possible?" From where did this woman with her delicate face and blue eyes, take the strength to endure these tortures? From where did she have the strength to tell again of her suffering?

Devilish laughter deafens the screaming of the dying

She recalls events of Jews struck and shot on Dobinko. In Dobinko the Jews were loaded on wagon trains that went to Charabishow.

Planes flew over the train shooting with machine guns into the wagons. They lowered the planes so that we could see the faces of pilots. And when they stopped the shooting for a while we heard them laughing. The devilish laughter deafened the screaming of those laughing.

On the way somewhere near to Dubinko, they were taken out of the wagons and the men and women were forced to strip off their clothes and to begin dancing. The voice of Mrs. Lichtmann breaks off.

Her face reflects her feeling of tortures and inability to tell all. Her words shiver and only an echoe is heard of those awful days which had become from day to day more terrible.

They were kept on the ground only one day. It was fenced in with barbed wire and again they were loaded on the wagons, like cattle from the slaughter and brought to Sobibor. Usually the journey from Charobichow took several hours. But then it extended to eternity and no one, neither Mrs. Lichtmann nor someone else from the survivors, remembers how long they travelled in the closed wagons.

Nevertheless, the journey lasted for a few days and the German soldiers were amused by their victims. There on the station before Sobibor the Ukrainians broke into the wagons and plundered jewelry and those who did not succeed to take of the ring of their finger in time, had the ring taken off together with the finger... "You don't need either the finger nor the ring any more" the wild Ukrainians consoled their victims! "Soon you will be broiled and soap will be made from you, dist".

The Polish farmers also waited in front of the entrance to Sobibor and shouted at the Jews in the transports. "Throw us your money, anyway it will not redeem you from death, you are going to the gas chamber."

The speech to the transports

The shouts of the Poles penetrated into the conscience of those weakened from hunger and thrust pains and agony and they started screaming and yelling thus deafening the camp.

The SS-man Michel who was called by the camp inhabitants "the speaker" as he received the arrivals with a prepared speech, did not have what to say to the Polish Jews. Those were received with whips and gunshots. The Polish farmers also shouted at the Jews from Holland, Belgium, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Greece - but those did not understand the meaning of their shouts.

At their arrival to the camp they were welcomed with a speech by Michel: "You have to be disciplined. Strip off your clothes, make a nice bundle of them and attach them to the luggage, in order to recognize them immediately after the shower, because you will not receive other clothes here."

Among the transport of 7,000 men with whom Ada Lichtmann arrived in the year 1942 and who went on the same day to the gas chamber only three women survived chosen to work in the laundry. With an indication of his finger the SS-commander took her out of the line and asked her for profession. When she answered that she was a teacher he and his assistants broke out in laughter: "We will teach you to be a laundress... Choose two other girls." Her closest friends Bela Sobol and Sarka Katz were already beyond the gate on the way to the crematorium, but she managed to get them out of the line.

The Jews believed the Germans and in astonishing order they packed their belongings and after an hour not even one was alive, only a few craftsmen were allowed to survive.

Shouts going up to the sky in the night

We three organized the laundry in the camp. Until then the German officers too were dirty and lice-infected. In the course of time the laundry was enlarged and women from other transports arriving daily were distributed to us. The judges realized how Mrs. Lichtmann hesitates in her narration and talk to her kindly: "Talk, remember as much as you can".

The tension in the hall extended also to the memory of the woman. She feels the good eyes of Dr. Beinski on her and of the stenotypist, a Lieutenant in the police Mrs. Hela Koslowski who stops her tears while writing every word going out of her mouth.

The Germans do not want to hear about what she knows to tell but what she has seen with her own eyes. But how can she not tell about the shouts of women who arrived with the night transports. The heartbreaking shouts and screaming ceased for a moment and then once again beginning penetrating the limbs and soul. The SS-men boasted the next day that they raped the most beautiful women in front of the whole transport.

Generally the transports arrived during the day. Once on a hot summerday a transport arrived with thursty people as it had been for several days since they had tasted a drop of water. The SS-officer allowed some to go and fetch water, but there the "Unterscharfu"hrer" Michel was already waiting for them and he made them run to a dug uphole which served as a privy and forced them to smear their body and face with the excrement. And thus he brought them back to the thursty people of the transport. From another transport young men were forced to beat each other to death. The last one remaining from this terrible battle was shot by the Germans.

Heroic deeds in Sobibor

The stories of Mrs. Lichtmann and her husband whom she met in Sobibor after the revolt are horrifying.

They tell how the semi-alive victims tried to maintain to the last moment not only their human faces but also their human soulds. They tell about women who tried to save their children and were desparately driven to perform heroic deeds: About young mothers who attempted with their own bodies to cover and to defend their children. They tell about the Jewish officer of the Spanish civil war who immediately after his arrival tried organizing a revolt. The Germans found out about it and they chose 72 men and sent them to the crematorium. This massacre was supervised by the "Oberscharfu"hrer" Frenzel whose trial is taking place at the present inferment. Returning from the scene of the murder he ordered the quick erection of a temporary stage out of some planks, called for the orchestra, gathered the women and told them to sing and dance.

This Frenzel once caught a boy red-handed, eating sardines, he gathered all the Jews from the barracks and in front of all he shot the child. Sobibor did not become at once a concentration of plants and workshops. The camp gradually expanded, developed slowly, erecting all kind of workshops. There work was done only for the German officers and guards. Coats, dresses, furs were sewn there for them, their wives and mistresses. Very few Jews were sent to the forest to shop trees. Once the Jews of such a group attacked their guards, killed them and escaped. The Germans took revenge on other Jews. But all considered the heroism of the escaped as a miracle and dreamt of doing the same.

The Rebellion Committee

Sasha Pizurski who was brought to the camp with a group of prisoners of the Russian army immediately formed a committee to prepare a revolt. To this committee belonged also the heroes Leibl Feldhendler, Shaul Felischmann and others who strongly detested the Germans and had decided revenge.

In the barracks weapons were started to appear: axes and knives. How dangerous this was! How much courage, cunning, patience you had to use in order to conceal this. Many efforst of the spirit and mind, will and courage had to be used to take guns, rifles, bullets from the storehouses. The participants of this operation were divided into groups. The plan was worked out to the smallest details: Every group and its duties - really imaginative tasks: Some had to assault the guardtowers where the guards sat with machineguns; some had to tempt the officers into coming into the workshops; others had to attack the guards that were wandering about. Special men had to cut off the telephone and electricity lines and tear down the barbed wires - to make passage ways.

The malignent blood of the SS-Men is shed

The revolt was fixed for October 14, 1943. 700 condemned to death enthusiastically took their fate into their own hands. Until the prearranged sign was given every group had performed its tasks well. Nevertheless things which had not been expected in advance happened. Guns started firing from both sides, axes and knives greedy for blood shone in the air and the whole camp changed into a battlefield. On this day, October 14, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon there began on the hellground of Sobibor the shedding of the malignent blood of the SS-men and their Ukrainian assistants. Those who had been so sure of themselves when millions of innocent women and children were led to death, seemed now anxious and inferior, they became confused and ran like mice into the trap looking for a hiding place.

The SS-men and the police pursued the escapers. They mobilized airplanes and the Polish farmers of the area to help them pursue the fleeing Jews. Only a few pitied the victims and did not hand them over to the Germans. Out of 700 escaping from Sobibor only about 30 survived. Also Mrs. Ada Lichtmann and two of her friends, one of them a Polish woman called Alina Stern-Sofermann, who is living in Israel succeeded, with help of some young Poles, in arriving to the partisans in the woods of Parzew and continued their war against the German army. But until they reached the forest they wandered around day and night around the camp, living of tree leaves and poisonous mushrooms that so burned their intestines that they wished to die.

They lowered their eyes and one of them was turning his head from side to side replied: "No, we did not easily agree to accept such a mission. It was forced upon us officially". And the second added: "Its a good thing that you did not agree to come to Germany,,,, so we were enabled to come to Israel, a wonderful journey." One of the present in the hall heard this conversation said: "The blood of the Jews shed by the Germans flowed like a river. Don't you think that by defending the murderers you emphasize the responsibility of the German people of what took place." The two defenders ignoring the question avoided answering and the question remained unanswered.

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