Sobibór extermination center

Article

October 23, 2021

The Sobibór extermination center was a Nazi extermination center located in the General Government of Poland. The location of this former center is now in the south-eastern quarter of Poland, close to the current borders with Ukraine and Belarus, about 250 km east-south-east of Warsaw. As well as the extermination centers of Bełżec and Treblinka, Sobibór came into operation as part of Operation Reinhard. From May 1942 to the summer of 1943, the German authorities had around 250,000 Jews murdered there. Sobibór was then transformed into a concentration camp, then liquidated at the end of 1943 after the revolt of October 14, 1943 during which approximately 320 prisoners managed to escape, of which about fifty survived.

Creation and organization

Origin

Along with Bełżec and Treblinka, Sobibór is one of the links in the implementation of Operation Reinhard, which aims to eliminate all Jews from the general government of Poland. The opening of the center marks the beginning of the deportation and extermination of all Jews in the Lublin district; its field of action quickly expanded significantly by integrating the region of Białystok and then Jews from Western European countries.

Choice of location and construction

The site was chosen because of its isolation and its proximity to a railway line: the center is located far from a village, but near a small railway station. The Boug, a river that marks the border between the General Government of Poland and the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, is 5 km away. The center is surrounded by forests and swamps. According to historian Christopher Browning, the site was first visited by a group of SS officers in the fall of 1941, several months before the Wannsee conference or the Aktion Reinhard decision. This hypothesis is also mentioned by Dieter Pohl according to which "the project will not be resumed until March 1942, probably due to technical problems". Construction of the center began in March 1942 and continued over several months, under the authority of SS-Obersturmführer Richard Thomalla, director of the central SS construction administration in Lublin. The work is entrusted to local companies which employ a Jewish workforce rounded up in the surrounding cities. When Franz Stangl arrived as commander of the center in April 1942 and that of the first convoy of deportees, on May 7 or 8, 1942, only the shell, including the gas chambers, was completed.

Organization and topography

All buildings, including the SS area and warehouses, are built inside the center. This measures 400 × 600 m. It is surrounded by a double row of barbed wire partly hidden by pine branches. The center is divided into four sectors which are themselves surrounded by barbed wire. The Vorlager (“avant-camp”) is located near the arrival docks. There are housing for the SS and Ukrainian and Baltic auxiliaries, as well as warehouses where the personal effects of the victims are stored. Unlike Bełżec, all the SS are housed within the confines of the center. Center I is made up of barracks where the Jewish deportees requisitioned for work are piled up. They are kept alive temporarily and regularly killed to be replaced by new deportees. The deportees arrive in Center II, which contains the barracks in which the victims must undress and deposit their valuables. In Center III the extermination takes place. It is located in the northeast in a very remote location, totally isolated from the rest of the center. Center III is connected to Center II by a 3 × 150 m path, fenced by barbed wire with tree branches in

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