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Interview with the Leader of the Sobibor Revolt

Sasha’s [Alexander Aronowicz Pechersky] image never left my memory. I remember him standing with me and Szlomo in front of the barbed wires in Sobibor, as another Jew with an ax tried to cut them. Everything was in turmoil, machine guns blasting the area, many fell. He had only a revolver in his hand which was useless against guard in the distant towers. Sasha emerged again, for a short time, as a leader when with a lager group of Jews wandered in the forest.

After the war, when news reached me of his survival I promised myself to meet him someday. After emigrating to the U.S. at the first opportunity I wrote him a letter and received an invitation. This enabled me to get a visa to the Soviet Union. January 20, 1980 I boarded a plain in Los Angeles and the next day I arrived at Rostov.

Sasha and his wife Olga were waiting in the main lounge of the airport. Thirty-seven years I have seen him the last time, but I recognized him immediately. In a second I was in his arms in the customary Russian "bear hug". Despite his age, his posture was straight and energetic. A taxi took us straight to the hotel. (As a foreigner I was not allowed to sleep in a private home.) In the evening he came and invited us for supper in his home. After a short walk, we stoped in front of an older, wooden apartment house. The front door led us through a narrow hall to a room at the right. This was his place. On the other site of the hall, his neighbor was a woman doctor and they shared a communal kitchen and toilet. In two small rooms, he lived with his wife Olga, a very kind woman. The furniture was sparse: a table some chairs. One corner of the room was curtained of by a bed sheet hanging on a string, forming a triangle behind which was a mirror and a shelf with a razor and other toilette necessities.

Alexander Aronowicz Pechersky was born in Kremenchung in 1909, later in 1915 he moved to Rostov on the Don (river) where he studied music and theater. After receiving his diploma, he worked as a cultural director in a string of so-called culture centers where he organized amateur theaters.

At the start of the Word War II , he was conscripted to the army as a junior commander. In September the same year he was promoted on the front to lieutenant and worked in the battalion and division staffs. A month later, in the area of Wiazma, in October, 1941 he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

In May, 1942 as a result of an unsuccessful escape from the POW camp in Smolensk, he was sent to a punitive camp Borysow. His Jewish heritage discovered, he was transferred on August, 1942 to a SS labor camp in Minsk.

September 18, very early in the still dark morning the SS commandant Waks had a short speech assuring that the people are only being transferred to Germany to work. Three hundred grams of bread was distributed to each person and they were led to the train station. On September, 23, the train arrived at Sobibor.

Excerpts from an interview with Alexander Aronowicz Pechersky
Leader of the Sobibor revolt
Soviet Union, 1980
Toivi: Were you aware of what happened in Sobibor?

In the evening, the same day, I asked a another prisoner about the smog coming out from behind the fence in the opposite site of the camp. He looked at me and told me a matter of fact, the people you came with?, they are leaving Sobibor in the smoke. From him I learned the truth about the death factory, but working in the forest I was removed from direct witnessing of the murder, until... (and here his voice breaks down and tears rolled down his cheeks, the same thing happened a few years later when we meet in Moscow) working in the forest I heard amidst noises a laud cry of a child "Mama" coming from behind a hilltop. I realized that I was working near the gas chambers. I was thinking about my Elotchka, my daughter I left in a village in the Ukraine.

Toivi: Why, do you think you were selected by the conspirators for an organizer of the revolt?

I don't know. Maybe because I was still wearing my officers' cap or they noticed my close association with other former soldiers. Most probably, because one of my closest friends from Minsk was a Polish Jew, Leitman Szlomo, a cabinet maker from Warsaw and he someway established contact with the conspiracy, recommending me to Boruch (Leon Feldhendler-T.B.) as a military officer to lead the revolt. At this time a few former POW led by Grisha made plans to escape.

Toivi: Did you believe in success of the revolt?

We had no choice. Fighting back give us a chance, a very distant chance but still some hope. Here we were sentenced do die. As a military man, I was aware that a surprise attack is worth a division of solders. If we can maintain secrecy until the last minute of the outbreak, the revolt is 80% accomplished. The biggest danger was deconspiration. Because of it so few prisoners were involved. Nevertheless, I was astonished that so many people initially were able to escape. The smudginess of the operation surprised myself. Now thinking about this I came to a conclusion that the Nazis simple despised us Jews, believed their own indoctrination about the subhumans and treat us like robots not being able for this kind of operation. They were to confident in these believes and this, too, proved their downfall.

Toivi: I had seen you a few times in Sobibor casually talking with Luka, the Dutch girl. In your diaries you mention her quite often. She left a lasting impression on you.

Yes, Luka was only 18 years old, very intelligent and smart. Although our meeting was initially arranged by Shloma and I knew her only about two weeks, I will newer forget her. We were not involved like other young people in camp. She was an inspiration for me. In the beginning the communication was difficult, because the language problem. Soon we were able to understand each other without help. I informed her minutes before the escape of the plan. She has given me a shirt. She said, "it's a good luck shirt, put it on right now", and I did. It's now in the museum. I lost her in the turmoil of the revolt and never saw her again.

Toivi: You have written that the attack on the armory was unsuccessful. I have seen documents, testimonies from SS Dubois contrary to your statement.
Sasha: Yes I know, could be that another group I was not aware of succeeded in their attack on the armory.
(Note) Without question Sasha is considered by me and the rest of the survivors a Hero and all of us agree that if it had not been for him, no Jew would have survived Sobibor. Even so, I had troubling questions to ask.

In your memoirs, you summarized your departure from the rest of the escapees with a few sentences. "We realized that it make no sense to continue together in such a large group therefore we divided into small units, each going its own way." You know, Sasha, the faith kept me close to you. After your speech just before the escape I lost you for a while, to meet you by the barbed wires, then lost you again, only to find you in the forest. I was with you until your departure, as was Szlomo, and we remember it differently.

Sasha, don't take this in the wrong way, please, because of you I'm here, alive; because of you, of us have families children and grandchildren instead of finding their end in Sobibor. If you lived in the West, you would be admired by untold thousands.

I just want to know: why didn't you organize a partisan group of us? We were people from hell, determined to fight to the death to revenge then deaths of our people. As we know now, in that same region there were Jewish partisans. Tell me, please, was it necessary to depart "that" way, by subterfuge? To promise that you would come back after a short surveillance and maybe to buy food. We trusted you, you were our hero, nobody else. Why didn't you tell us the truth?

(Note) His eyebrow came together as he gazed at me piercingly.

My job was done. You were Polish Jews in your own terrain. I belonged in the Soviet Union and still considered myself a soldier. In my opinion, the chances for survival were better in smaller units. To tell the people straight forward: "we must part" would not have worked. You have seen, they followed every step of mine, we all would perish.

Toivi: I can understand that not telling us the truth was perhaps necessary, otherwise we would not let you go, but why did you take with you all the armed men? Leaving us only one rifle, which one of your men still tried to take it from Szloma by force, backing down only after a great outcry from us. So your men had all the weapons and the rest of us, over 50 people, were left with one rifle. And on top of that, money was collected for your people to buy food for the rest. To us, this was plain dishonesty.

Tom, what can I say? You were there. We were only people. The basic instincts came into play. It was still a fight for survival. This is the first time I hear about money collection. It was a turmoil, it was difficult to control everything. I admit, I have seen the imbalance in the distribution of the weaponry, but you must understand, they would rather die then to give up their arms.

(Note) There was nothing more to say on this subject and I directed the conversation to his live in the partisans and the Soviet Union.
Toivi: Tell me what happened after you left.

With the help of a peasant near the Bug River, we crossed the river on the night of 19-20 and reentered my Motherland, the Soviet Union. Two days later we meet Voroshilov partisans and joined with them in fighting the Germans behind the German lines by sabotaging their transport and annihilating small garrisons. My best friends Cibulsky and Shubayev (Kali-Mali) were killed.

As soon as I could, I rejoined the Red Army. In August, 1944 I was severely wounded in the leg. I received a medal for bravery and returned as a civilian to my old job as a music teacher, but not for long...

Toivi: You were a leader of the most successful Nazi prisoner revolt during World War II. Many people own their lives to you. Did you receive any recognition for your deeds?
(Note) At this point he stood up and went to the door leading to the hallway, opened, checked outside and returned without a word. Living myself for a long time under the Communist rule in Poland, I understand his precaution even as he told me that his neighbor across the hallway is a longtime friend, a woman doctor, living in the same household for over twenty years.

Yes, after the war, I received an award, he whispered sarcastically, I was thrown into prison for many years. I was considered a traitor because I surrounded to the Germans, even as a wounded solder. After people from abroad kept inquiring about me, I was finally released but, my brother who had been arrested with me, succumbed to a diabetic coma while in prison. I was allowed again to work with the youth on a lover level in the cultural activities. I even was asked and did talk about my experiences in schools, but as far as an official acknowledgment and medal, no such thing for a Jew.

Toivi: Sasha, when historians are writing the history of Sobibor, you as the leader of the revolt are quoted as the fundamental source. Sobibor had a small community of prisoners and in most cases they know each other. In your writing, I found unknown names of kapos and for that matter, a commandant of Sobibor called Berg when in actuality the name of the commander was Reichleitner. Is there any reason for these discrepancies?

When I was aware in full, of the of the terrible Sobibor purpose, my mind was occupied first of all to find a way to get out, to stop the working of this machinery. The names of the prisoners and the Sobibor functionaries were of second importance and to be truthful, besides my closest friends from Minsk, I did not remember a single other name. In order to finish my memos I write down some fictional names. But this doesn't change the truth about Sobibor.

Toivi: Last question. Do you feel any resentment, feel any betrayal by the injustice done to you from both sides? Did you seek revenge on the Germans when fighting them with the partisans and the Soviet Army after Sobibor?

No, I did not take revenge. I fought for my Motherland as a solder, not as a murderer.

(Note) It was getting late, and as I had been told I had to be back in the hotel by midnight, I said goodbye and left with another bear hug from Sasha.

My journey initially was only to see a long lost friend, brother, father or whatever you would call a person who did give you a new life. I wanted to see him, to thank him, to know who he really was. In my memory I always have seen him as a strong, tool, military officer. In Rostow, his posture despite over 70 years was still erect, tool and commanded respect, the same time he was soft spoken, polite and sensitive, it did come out in our conversations.


I promised to try to get him a visa to the United States as my guest. The exit permit was refused by the Soviets. In 1987, again I invited him to the premiere of the film "Escape From Sobibor". This time he could receive the visa, but was already to sick to travel. He died in 1990.

Source: Historical research of Thomas ‘Toivi’ Blatt, survivor of the Sobibor death camp who escaped during the uprising on October 14, 1943. Provided by his daughter Rena Smith.