From Lublin to Sobibor
Testimony 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, Australia ©

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.

Translated from the Hebrew text by librarian Ester Blumwald, Toronto, Canada.
Commissioned by Judy Cohen and edited by Ada Holtzman, Israel.

Ilana Safran

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 place.

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 potatoes.

One night we noticed three sparks flickering – they were three alighted cigarettes. The three men slowly approaching us, and than voices calling in German:

“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.