Philip Bialowitz is one of the few survivors of the Sobibór extermination camp, who is still living. He was one of the prisoners who escaped from the camp, “running through machine gun fire and minefields,” according to this article in a Florida newspaper on March 7, 2013.
This quote is from the news article:
“…We were reduced to ashes within a half-hour of our arrival,” Bialowitz said about his fellow prisoners at Sobibór, a Nazi prison camp. [...]
It was not a labor camp — it was an extermination camp. Jews from across Europe were brought in by train and almost immediately gassed and then burned in mass cremations. The Jewish Virtual Library estimates 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibór in 18 months.”
The photo below shows the location at Sobibór where a brick building with gas chambers once stood. A large block of stone represents the gas chambers in two buildings at Sobibór, which were torn down long ago. Survivors of Sobibór do not agree on the number or size of the gas chambers. The victims were killed with carbon monoxide from the exhaust of engines taken from captured Soviet tanks, which were stored in in the camp. There is also disagreement among Holocaustians on whether these were diesel engines or gasoline engines.
Monuments at Sobibór where the gas chambers were once located Photo Credit: Alan Collins
This quote is from the news article:
Now a small memorial sits in a dense forest at Sobibór. Bialowitz visits every year.
“I stand on the ashes of 250,000 Jews, in the middle of a forest, hidden from the conscience of the world.”
The photo below shows another view of the red stone sculpture, which represents a woman, looking up at the sky, holding a small child in her arms. In the background can be seen the huge mound of ashes that is located in the former camp. These are the ashes of the 250,000 Jews who were gassed and burned at Sobibór.
Sobibor Monument with ashes in the background Photo Credit: Alan Collins
Ashes of the Jews who were gassed and burned at Sobibor Photo Credit: Alan Collins
The photo above shows a huge mound of ashes and bone fragments surrounded by a stone wall. In front of the wall is a glass display case which contains a small amount of ashes and bone. There is also a display of ashes and bone fragments in the Museum at Sobibór.
Hopefully, Philip Bialowitz does not stand on this mound of ashes once a year when he goes back to visit the former camp.
Contrary to Biolowitz’s claim that the Jews were turned into ashes within a half hour of arrival, most Holocaust historians say that the bodies of the Jews who were gassed at Sobibór were first buried and then exhumed and burned. This same procedure was followed at the Belzec, Treblinka and Chelmno extermination camps where the bodies were first buried and then exhumed and burned.
In an attempt to destroy all the evidence, the ashes of the victims at Chelmno were hauled away secretly during the night by the SS men and taken to another town where they were dumped into a river.
The ashes at Treblinka and Belzec were buried to destroy the evidence. Only at Sobibór were the ashes of the victims left behind as incriminating evidence.
There is a similar mound of ashes at the Memorial Site of the Majdanek camp, where the ashes of 18,000 Jews, who were shot on November 3, 1943, have been placed under a dome, which is shown in the photo below.
Ashes of 18,000 Jews who were shot at Majdanek in 1943 Photo Credit: Simon Robertson
The Sobibór camp was quite small; it was only 400 meters wide and 600 meters long. The entire camp was enclosed by a barbed wire fence that was three meters high. On three sides of the camp was a mine field, intended to keep anyone from approaching the camp. The watch towers were manned by Ukrainian SS guards who had been conscripted from captured soldiers in the Soviet Army to assist the 30 German SS men who were the administrators of the camp.
The Jews arrived on trains which stopped at the ramp across from the Sobibór station, or in trucks from nearby Polish villages. Most of the Jews were transported in cattle cars, but the 34,000 Dutch Jews who were sent to Sobibór arrived in passenger trains, according to Toivi Blatt, one of the prisoners who was chosen to be one of the helpers at Sobibór.
At the entrance to the camp, the victims were instructed to deposit their hand baggage and purses before proceeding along the path, called the “Himmelfahrtstrasse” (Street to heaven), which led to the spot where the hair was cut from the heads of the women, and then on to the gas chambers disguised as showers. According to Toivi Blatt, all documents, photos and personal items were removed from the confiscated baggage and anything that could not be recycled to send to Germany was burned in open fires that lit up the night sky.
The Sobibór camp was on the eastern edge of German-occupied Poland, five kilometers west of the Bug river. The Bug river was as far as trains from western Europe could go without changing the wheels to fit the train tracks in the Soviet Union, which were a different gauge. On the other side of the Bug river from Sobibór was Ukraine, which had belonged to the Soviet Union until it was taken by the Germans shortly after their invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
The unsuspecting Jews who arrived at Sobibór were told that they would be sent to work camps in Ukraine after they had taken a shower, but instead, the Jews were immediately killed in gas chambers disguised as shower rooms.
Sobibór was one of the three Aktion Reinhard camps which were set up following the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942 when “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe” was planned.
The Nazis claimed that the Aktion Reinhard camps were transit camps for the “evacuation of the Jews to the East,” a euphemism for the genocide of the Jews. Unlike the death camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek, the three Aktion Reinhard camps did not have ovens to cremate the bodies. The Jews were not registered upon arrival at the Aktion Reinhard camps and no death records were kept.
The head of Aktion Reinhard (Operation Reinhard) was SS-Brigadeführer Odilio Globocnik, who had previously been the Gauleiter of Vienna, Austria. Unfortunately, Globocnik and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler both committed suicide after being captured by the British, so we will never know their version of what happened.
At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in 1946, documents were introduced which showed an exchange of letters in 1943 between Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the head of all the concentration camps, and Richard Glücks, the Inspector of the Concentration Camps, in which Glücks suggested that Sobibór be converted into a concentration camp. In a letter dated 5 July 1943, Himmler rejected this idea. This indicates that Sobibór was not a concentration camp, but rather a camp that was not part of the Nazi concentration camp system.
The three Aktion Reinhard camps were all in remote locations, but “each site was on a railroad line linking it with hundreds of towns and villages whose Jewish communities were now trapped and starving” in the spring of 1942, according to Martin Gilbert’s book entitled The Holocaust. Sobibór was linked by rail with many large Jewish communities, including Lublin, Wlodawa and Chelm. Jews were also brought from the Theresienstadt ghetto, located in what is now the Czech Republic, and from the Netherlands, to be gassed at Sobibór.
Deportations to Sobibór began in mid April 1942 with transports from the town of Zamosc in Poland, according to Holocaust historian Martin Gilbert. The Jews from the Lublin ghetto were also sent to Sobibór to be gassed, although there were several gas chambers at Majdanek just outside the city of Lublin.
During the first phase of the extermination of the Jews at Sobibór, which lasted until July 1942, an estimated 100,000 Jews were gassed to death. Their bodies were buried in mass graves, then dug up later and burned on pyres. During the next phase, the bodies were burned immediately, according to Toivi Blatt, one of the few survivors of Sobibór. At the age of 15, Blatt had been selected to work in sorting the clothing in the camp. Philip Bialowitz was also selected to work in sorting the possessions of the Jews who arrived at the camp.
This quote is from the news article about Philip Bialowitz:
Bialowitz was a teenager when he arrived with what remained of his family at the camp on the outskirts of the village of Sobibór in Poland. Prisoners who had a trade deemed useful by the guards were spared, to be used as slaves in the camp. Bialowitz’s brother was a pharmacist, and he told the guards Bialowitz was his assistant. The brothers were saved; the rest of the family was not.
Bialowitz said goodbye to his sisters and niece.
“My niece was crying as she hugged me,” Bialowitz said. “She knew she was going to die. At 7 years old, she knew.”
Upon arriving at the camp, prisoners were stripped of their clothes and all their belongings. Bialowitz was forced to search through their belongings, giving anything of value to the guards and burning all documents.
He said he tried to commit to memory the faces from thousands of families’ photographs before torching them.
Under constant threat of death, he had to cut the hair of women stripped naked on their last stop before the gas chambers. He was forbidden to utter a word of comfort to them.
During World War II, and for years afterward, the Sobibór camp was virtually unknown. William Shirer did not even mention it in his monumental 1147-page book entitled The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was not until the release of a 1987 TV movie, Escape from Sobibor, based on a book with the same name, that the public knew of this remote spot where 250,000 Jews lost their lives. The movie tells the story of the revolt during which around 300 prisoners escaped; no more than 50 of them survived to the end of the war. Philip Bialowitz was one of the prisoners who escaped and survived.
This quote is from the news article about Philip Bialowitz:
Bialowitz said it is of the utmost importance the story be retold over and over, so the world might finally learn the lessons it failed to learn from Adolf Hitler’s reign. Referring to the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the genocide in Darfur, Bialowitz said, “The world is profoundly broken.”
The father of five and grandfather of 15 said his faith was tested but is stronger than ever.
“There are good people and evil people,” he said. “God didn’t make the Holocaust happen.”
Bialowitz has testified at several war trials and the subsequent sentencing of some of the Gestapo gives him little satisfaction. He has not forgiven them.
“I do not condemn the Germans, only the perpetrators, and the punishment does not fit their crimes.”
On the day of his escape 70 years ago, a teenage Bialowitz made a promise to the leaders of the successful revolt — to tell the world about Sobibór.
You can read the official history of the Sobibór at this website.
You can read here about how some of the Jews were saved because they were sent to Siberia by Stalin.