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Planning the Revolt in Sobibor

(October 1943)

On April 28, 1943, a transport of Polish Jews from the town of Izbica arrived at Sobibor. Because of Sobibor's planned expansion the Nazis selected 40 Jews to work in the camp. Those Jews brought to the hermetically isolated prisoners of Sobibor the stunning news about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. It was the spark to fight back.

A nucleus of a conspiracy was established. Its leader was Leon Feldhendler, a thirty-three year old. A tall man, about thirty-five years old, still wearing his Red Army lieutenant's uniform attracted Feldhendler's attention. His name was Alexander (Sasha) Aronowich Pechersky, who as a former military man, emerged as the factual leader.

On October 10, a consolidated command was formed. The number of the conspirators involved was kept to an absolute necessary minimum. From a total of about 550 Jews alive at the time, less that 10% had any knowledge of the escape plan.

The escape was divided into three phases:

Phase I - prepare the assault teams [3:30-4:00 P.M.]

Phase II - eliminate the Nazis noiselessly [4:00-5:00 P.M.]

Phase III - mobilization of all prisoners for an open revolt and mass escape [5:30 P.M]

In the first phase, members of the underground who had access to the warehouses and sorting sheds were told to remove and to deliver knives and small axes to the conspirators command post. Next was the placement of six combat groups, of three people each, in preparation for the secret killing of the Nazis.

In the second phase, the Germans were to be trapped and executed in selected places. In Lager I, mainly in the workshops. The killings in Lager II were to take place in the warehouses and in the incinerator building. The Nazis should be lured to those places under various pretexts.

Put in the broadest terms, the plan called for killing as many Germans and Ukrainians as possible within one hour, and then ignite a total revolt by the rest of the by now uninformed prisoners. In its details the plan utilized the Germans' brashness and their confidence that they had total control over the seemingly subdued prisoner population. It also depended upon the predictability of their daily routine. Most important, we utilized their greed.

A special group of prisoners was designated to attack the armory. All of them would be armed with knives and axes prepared to fit inconspicuously under belts when covered with jackets.

A few youthful prisoners were given responsibilities as message carriers, luring the Nazis to the traps and to steal weapons. Because of their functions in the camp, their movement was not strictly scrutinized by the Nazis. They had access to places that were strategically important to the underground, including the Nazi quarters, canteen and the incinerator.

All preliminary preparations were to be completed by 4:00 P.M. Then the telephone wires would be cut at both ends and the middle section hidden to prevent the Nazis from quickly reconnecting the line. Just before 5:00, the electrician Walter Schwarz, a German Jew, was ordered to damage the electric generator supplying power to the camp. Then the elimination of the SS Staff would begin. All the Germans within reach would be quietly killed. So as not to betray the action, no one was to use (at this phase) the weapons acquired from the enemy. Above all, everything had to have the appearance of routine. Even the behavior of the kapos in the conspiracy was not to change and Leon urged them to make use of the whips as usual, until all workers were returned to their quarters in Lager I.

If everything went well to that point, Kapo Pozycki would blow a whistle for the regular roll-call a little earlier than usual. The Jews would form a column, but instead of waiting for the Germans, they would be led by the Kapos in regular formation toward the main gate. The idea was that the guards would think it was a German order for some work assignment; this would allow the prisoners to come as close as possible to the main gate without arousing suspicion. Then the gate would be taken by storm and the guards overpowered.

To the organizers' dismay, there was no way of contacting the Jews in Lager III. The escape date was originally set for October 13. Later, due to unforeseen circumstances, it was moved to the next day October 14.

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.