Camp rebellions

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Rebellions were organised by Jewish prisoners at three of the six extermination camps - Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Sobibor

There were several escape attempts from Sobibor, some of which were successful. However, the Nazis executed many prisoners as punishment and as a warning to others. 

In the summer of 1943, led by Leon Feldhendler, the prisoners began planning a mass escape. This was helped by the arrival at the end of September 1943 of many Soviet Jewish prisoners of war. This group included Lieutenant Aleksandr Pechersky. He was made leader of the underground group, with Feldhendler as his second-in-command. The prisoners planned to kill the SS soldiers, steal their weapons and escape from the camp.

On 14 October 1943, the prisoners managed to kill 11 SS men and several Ukrainian guards. Around 300 prisoners were able to escape. However, many of them were captured and killed. Most of those who had not joined the escape were also killed. About 50 of the escapees survived the war.

After the uprising, the Nazis destroyed Sobibor. The whole area was ploughed, planted with crops and given to a Ukrainian guard.

 

Treblinka

There were several attempts to escape en route to Treblinka. Most failed. There were also attempts to escape the camp itself. One such attempt was planned as the Germans prepared to liquidate the camp.

The SS and their Ukrainian collaborators suppressed the uprising and killed most of the 750 Jews who had attempted to escape.

 

Auschwitz-Birkenau

In October 1943 a transport of Jews arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau from Bergen-Belsen, a camp in Germany. All were selected for death.

In the undressing room of crematorium II one of the women seized the pistol from an SS officer. She shot two SS guards, one of whom later died from his wounds. Other women joined the attack. The SS overcame the mutiny and killed all of the women.

There are examples of Jews escaping from the crematoria and gas chambers. One such incident involved men, women and children who had been transported from Hungary. On the night of 25/26 May 1944, they escaped and hid in the woods and in ditches. The SS tracked them down and killed them.

On 10 June 1942 Polish prisoners in a work detail attempted to escape while working on a drainage ditch in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Very few got away. Twenty prisoners were shot by the SS. To prevent future acts of resistance and in revenge, more than 300 Poles were murdered in the gas chambers.

The most ambitious uprising at Auschwitz-Birkenau involved the actions of 250 Jewish Sonderkommando on 7 October 1944. They set fire to one of the crematoria. They managed to cut through the fence and reach the outside of the camp. The SS surrounded them. In the fight that followed, they managed to kill three SS guards and wound 10 of them. All 250 Jews were killed.

One of the work camps made arms for the German army. The SS discovered that four Jewish women had stolen explosive material from this factory and given it to the Sonderkommando. The women were captured and hanged in front of other prisoners – again as an act of revenge, but also to stop others resisting.