History of the camp

After the outbreak of the II World War, Nazi Germany began to implement a large-scale process of the extermination of the Jewish people, which was solely based on the criminal anti-semitic ideology. Under the provisions of the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942, it was decided to build immediate extermination facilities located in occupied Poland. The construction of the Sobibór camp began in the end March/early April 1942. The first transports  came to Sibobór at the end of April 1942. Most of the victims were Polish Jews but also from the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and USSR.

Sobibór st. kolej. OW-IA05

,,Death factory” of Sobibór was located in a swampy forest near the railway line connecting Chełm with Włodawa. It was surrounded with several rows of barbed wire, ditches filled with water and a minefield.  The camp was divided into several main parts:

The foreground camp, so called garrison part with the commandant’s office, where Nazi-German camp service staff and Ukrainian guards were accommodated.

Camp I included residential barracks for Jewish people selected from the transports and forced to work in the area of the camp. Camp I included also kitchens, laundries and craft workshops.

Camp II included an assortment of vital services for the killing process. It consisted, inter alia, of undressing rooms, storages, sorting room and administrative buildings.

Camp III – this was where the victims were killed. Camp III included gas chambers and trenches used for burying corpses and in the later phase they were used as primitive opened crematorium, where on the grill built of rails the corpses were being burnt. 

Transports arriving to Sobibór were subjected to two separate proceedings: Polish Jews, who were aware of the purpose of this place were treated differently from the Jews from the Netherlands or France. After arriving at the place, on the railway ramp the preliminary selection was conducted. A part of future victims was selected by the Nazi-German camp service and went to work in the camp. The second part of people was directed to the camp II. After the speech of one of the SS soldier, the prisoners were asked to undress and give back their personal effects. Money and valuables were placed in the deposit. Then, the future victims were sent through the long sandy alley, called by the Nazis – Way to Heaven, to the camp III, where the hairdresser’s barrack were located. At the end of the road, behind the hinged gate a long barrack with gas chambers (which resembled the steam bath) was located. Just behind the chamber there was an engine room with diesel engine, which exhaust fumes were used in the killing process. The extermination lasted from 15 to 20 minutes. Then, the corpses were brought out from the gas chamber, searched and in the end buried in the area of the camp III. In the later phase of  existence of the camp, i.e. August/September, a primitive crematorium was built. Part of corpses were exhumed and burnt on cremation grill. 

The breakthrough in the history of the Sobibór death factory was the end of April 1943. It was then when the transport of about 300 Polish Jews arrived to the camp. 40 of them were selected for work in the various sub-camps. The arrived brought information about the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and about killed Nazis. At the same time the Sobibór prisoners began preparations for open armed uprising. On 14 October 1943 a group of Jews, which was headed by Aleksander  Peczerski, liquidated 9 Nazi crew members, 2 Ukrainian guards and stormed the gate of the camp. About 300 prisoners escaped. Official estimates say that only 53 witnesses of crimes committed at Sobibór survived the World War II.

After armed uprising and escape, the Nazis decided to liquidate immediately the camp. Most of the buildings had been dismantled, the area had been cleared and plowed under. In order to cover all the tracks of their criminal activities, the Nazis planted the area with trees.