Nightmarish memories of the Nazis' Sobibor death camp





John Demjanjuk is due to stand trial in Germany accused of helping to murder more than 27,000 Jews at the Nazi death camp of Sobibor in occupied Poland. The BBC's Steve Rosenberg returns to the site of the camp with one man who survived its horrors.

In the Jewish cemetery in the town of Izbica, 84-year-old Philip Bialowitz shows me a battered gravestone among a tangle of bushes.

“ In Sobibor life was hell. But we took revenge. We escaped to tell the world what had happened ”

"This is the place where I was shot," he tells me. "I was brought here with a group of people and we were shot with machine-guns."

The Nazis murdered 4,000 Jews in the cemetery. Philip's mother was killed here. But her son had a remarkable escape. Lined up with other Jewish prisoners by the side of a freshly dug grave, he jumped in as soon as the bullets started to fly.

"I fell down and pretended I was dead. I made myself room to breathe. Many people were screaming. They were injured. I couldn't help them. I lay there a few hours covered in blood. Then I managed to get out."

A few months later, Philip was rearrested, together with his brother, his two sisters and his niece. This time they were not taken to the cemetery. They were transported to Sobibor.

"We knew that Sobibor was a death camp," Philip recalls. "We'd heard. So when they took us on the road to Sobibor we knew that this is the end of our life."

Sobibor was one of three secret killing factories built by the Nazis in eastern Poland. In 18 months, a quarter of a million Jews were transported here and murdered in the gas chambers. Their bodies were incinerated, their ashes buried in pits.

It is here that John Demjanjuk is accused of being a guard and of helping to kill 27,900 Jews. His trial begins next week in Munich. John Demjanjuk denies the charges. ..

... But one remarkable day the Jews of Sobibor fought back.

On 14 October 1943, the slave labourers launched an uprising. It was led by a Polish Jew, Leon Feldhendler, and a Russian Jewish POW, Sasha Pechersky.
Their escape plan exploited the Nazis' greed. Slave labourers, whose job it was to sort the clothes of murdered Jews, put aside the best items. These were then used to lure the SS guards into traps one by one.

"I was one of the messengers," remembers Philip. "I went up to a Gestapo and told him, 'I've been sent to tell you they found a very beautiful leather coat and boots for you. Come to the warehouse to try it on'. When they went in, they were killed with knives and axes."

The Jews killed 12 SS men before the plot was discovered...


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