From Lublin to Sobibor
of Hela Felenbaum-Weiss
Miriam Novitch: Sobibor - Camp of Death
and Revolt, Tel Aviv 1979
Translated from the Polish
manuscript by Dalia Tesler, edited by Yecheskel Raban
Published by "Beit
Lochamei Hagetaot" The Ghetto Fighters' House
Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum, Israel and
Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House with the
assistance of the Hayim and Feigel Frenkel Memorial Fund,
Dedicated to the organizers of the Sobibor
revolt; to the many who initiated it and participated;
and in memory of the hundreds of thousands of its victims.
from the Hebrew text by librarian Ester Blumwald, Toronto, Canada.
Commissioned by Judy Cohen
and edited by Ada Holtzman,
|I cannot exactly remember how did
we arrive to Sobibor; on the way we went through a deep forest, and
then we saw a sign says: “Sonderkommando”.
As in a dream I heard a voice of one of the
Germans says: “who can knit?” and I stepped out of the line. As a
result of the hunger that we went through, I was very thin and short
for my fourteen years of age. The German ordered me to come forward,
and then they took me to a cabin, where I found two girls whom I
knew before – Zelda Metz (Kelberman) and Esther Terner
(Raab). In my childhood my mother taught me how to knit socks, so
my job was to provide socks for the Germans and to iron the shirts of
the S.S. men. The carpenters built a small bench for me, so when I
heard the S.S. march by the cabin, I stepped up on the bench so that
I’ll look a little taller and older.
There is nothing more terrifying than the feeling
of helplessness towards horrible crimes which took place right in front
of your eyes and you cannot do anything. What could we, girls, do when
we saw the people being led to their death? Nothing. One day a special
transport arrived at the camp. The people were not wearing regular
clothes. Those prisoners wore striped pajamas. They were so skinny and bony, and collapsing from hunger
induced weakness. Their heads were shaved
and you could not tell the difference between men and women. A rumor was spread in the
camp that those people, about 300 hundred of them, arrived from the
Majdanek death camp, where the gas chambers ceased to operate. The Germans ordered
them to lay down on the ground, and they simply collapsed. Frenzel, an
S.S. man, came over and poured a chlorine solution on their heads, as if
they were already corpses. The screaming and groaning that came out of
their throats were like wounded animal’s howls. It seems that there are
no limits to human cruelty.
There was another transport that shocked and agitated us.
A rumor went around out that a transport from Lvov arrived, but actually
no one knew from where those Jews were. Those camp prisoners,
who were ordered to empty the train cars, were weeping and sobbing when
they told us the horrible scene revealed to them. What probably happened
was that the train cars were jam-packed with people, and while
traveling they were killed by chlorine. On arrival, the bodies were green and
their skin peeled to the touch…
One day, a transport from the death camp of Be˙˙ec arrived to Sobibor.
At first, we did not know where they were coming from, but a while later
we heard fire salvoes, time and again, and we knew – these were not
target shooting exercises. Sometime later we realized the truth: in the pockets of the
clothing of the corpses we found notes which were written in
Yiddish and said: “They told us that we are going to a labor camp, but
this is a lie. Avenge our death!” Some time later, when I joined the
Partisans, and went through Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia, I often thought about those
notes. They became a source
of inspiration and encouragement for me.
Before the outbreak of the rebellion, when, like the other girls, I worked at
the laundry work place, I knew that something was “cooking” at the camp.
Years later I was still admiring the resourcefulness and wisdom of the
masterminds and planners of the rebellion. Without a lot of shootings, the
rebels killed many Germans and Ukrainian soldiers.
It is a pity that so
few of us managed to stay alive to tell about the rebellion - and not because
of wrong planning, but because of the living conditions that prevailed
then, in occupied Poland.
Those of us who managed to run away from the camp realized that it was not so
easy to survive in the forest. While running in the forest, in the
darkness of the night, I met one of the camp survivors, and later
another one who were nicknamed “Radio” in Sobibor, for he was installing
the speaker for the Germans to voice their commands during
'Appell' (roll-call). The
three of us ran not knowing where we were, and where we were heading.
Deep in the forest we found an empty foresters’ cabin. Later we
realized that the Partisans killed the forester who stayed there because
of his cooperation with the enemy. There we found a supply of potatoes
in sacks. It was a real treasure! At night we lit a bonfire to roast
them. Then we climbed up on an old ladder to the attic, taking the
potatoes upstairs, so that we could sleep peacefully. It was an ideal hiding
But, our happy days did not last long. One morning we heard voices of
people speaking in German. We thought they would search the cabin, and
that our end had come. But, the voices grew weaker and the people on
their horses, left.
However, we were afraid that they will come back to the
cabin, so we decided to leave. It was freezing cold in the
forest, and it constantly rained. We approached one of the villages and
we tried to steal a couple of old sacks to be used as blankets. We were
exhausted and weak from hunger because our only food was uncooked
One night we noticed three sparks flickering – they were three alighted
cigarettes. The three men slowly approaching us, and than voices calling
“Halt! Stehen Bleiben!” (Stop! Stand where you
are!). They approached us, and than we saw that instead of guns in their
hands, they have spades. When they saw us, they started laughing – they
thought we were a bunch of robbers who were wondering around the forests.
They pretended to be Germans, just to frighten us. As a matter of fact, they
were Soviet prisoners of war, who escaped the labor camp near Che˙m.
Indeed, we were lucky to run into them. They were very brave men that feared
nothing, and as long as we hang out with them, we were not hungry; they killed
animals and birds with their spades as if they were guns and one day they
even brought us a piglet
We were wondering in the forest with them looking for a camp of Partisans.
Eventually we found them, and I joined the famous Partisan Brigade called:
The Prokupyuk Brigade. At first, they imposed some difficult assignments, in
order for them to determine our courage and devotion. Only then did we get
regular warfare duty.
During the course of my service at the Partisans Brigade, I won two medals:
“The bravery” medal and the “Red Star” medal, and five decorations for
participating in combats: the first one I received on October 1, 1944 for my
participation in the combat in the Carpathian mountains, the second one – on
November 26,1944, for my participation in the combat on Michalovce Humenne,
the third decoration I received on January 20, 1945 for participating in the
combat for conquering the cities of Preshov and Kosice, the fourth one for
the conquering of Moravska Ostrava and the fifth decoration I received on
May 8, 1945 – the day of signing the cease fire treaty and for my
participating in the last combats of World War II.
In Czechoslovakia I met my future husband, who then served in General
Svoboda’s army. We both immigrated to Israel, and now, I am a mother of
three children, but, I will never be able to forget Sobibor.
The testimony was taken by Miriam Novitch in Gedera,
Israel, in 1968.
© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2005.
All rights reserved.