Escape from Sobibor, and Other Stories of the Last Century

Sobibor was constructed in Poland in April of 1942, under the code name “Operation Reinhard,” as a part of the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews.  Approximately 250,000 Jews were murdered there over the course of the next 3 years.

In October, 1943, 600 camp inmates attempted an escape.  About half of these succeeded.  Many were killed in the minefields surrounding the camp or were shot.  Only a small fraction of the escapees survived in hiding until the end of the war and liberation by Allied forces.

Location of death camps in Poland.
Location of death camps in Poland.

I have spent the last few mornings reading the first-person account of Dov Freiberg, one of those few survivors.  His complete story is here in his self-published book maintained on JewishGen, The Last of the Friebergs.

The Holocaust, in which 11 million people were murdered, remains one of the most horrifying and inexplicable events of modern history.  I also think it is crucially important part of understanding ourselves and our world.  But, as time goes on, and the event becomes more remote chronologically, I fear we understand it less.  At the same time, there are fewer survivors left to provide real insight or personal stories that make the event immediate and real to the rest of us.

Because, although the scale and efficiency of the genocide may have been unique, the fact of it is not.  To pretend that the Holocaust was simply a terrible mistake and a tragedy, and not something that can and has occurred in other times and places and with different victims and perpetrators is not only to be deliberately naive, but to maintain a mindset that allows it to happen again.  It is to pretend that evil, as Hannah Arendt so effectively put it, is not banal, and not something easily within reach for any of us, and that it does not need to be actively prevented.

Further reading:

Blatt, Thomas.  The Forgotten Revolt.