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1943: Death and Resistance
 pg. 407 
  After the rebellion, the Germans forced the captured escapees to raze what was left of the Treblinka camp. Then those prisoners were shot, trees were planted, and the site was disguised as a farm. Jewish resistance had helped to shut down Treblinka, but only after the camp's work was essentially finished.

Meanwhile, southeast of Treblinka, three miles from the Bug River, the Sobibór death camp still operated. Between March and July 1943, 19 transports from the Netherlands brought 35,000 Dutch Jews to Sobibór's gas chambers, which killed about 250,000 Jews in all. The death traffic then diminished, with more than 13,000 Jews from liquidated ghettos in Vilna, Minsk, and Lida being gassed at Sobibór during the second half of September. The camp's inmates understood that the end of the transports meant the end of their lives, too.

In early September 1943, Sobibór's prisoner work force included about 650 Jews. As at Treblinka, some were skilled workers who maintained the camp, others sorted loot, and still others were condemned to gas chamber work crews and corpse disposal. Thomas Blatt was among the approximately 300 prisoners who escaped the camp during the uprising that broke out there on October 14, 1943. His 1996 book Sobib ór: The Forgotten Revolt reports that just 48 of the Sobibór escapees survived to be liberated.

The uprising at Sobibór led the Germans to abandon plans to convert the death camp to a concentration camp. Instead, they decided to dismantle and disguise the site whose killing work had been virtually accomplished anyway. Like Treblinka, Sobibór became a farm. That result, however, was not the only outcome of the Sobibór uprising. Events in Warsaw, Treblinka, and Sobibór indicated that the Polish Jews increasingly realized there would be no "salvation through work." Stripped of hope for survival, they would resist until death. With the threat of such Jewish resistance in mind, Himmler accelerated the destruction of Jews who remained in Lublin-area labor camps at Trawniki and Poniatowa as well as in the Majdanek death camp.

In the Lublin district on November 3, 1943, some 42,000 Jews were rounded up and shot. Historian Christopher Browning calls this massacre "the single largest German killing operation against Jews in the entire war." Its German code name was Erntefest, which means "harvest festival."

Conservative overall estimates show that the Holocaust took at least 500,000 Jewish lives in 1943. Through no fault of its own, that year's Jewish resistance--significant though it was, impressive though it remains--was unfortunately not enough to prevent disaster.

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Crematorium IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau could burn almost 1500 bodies a day.
Photo: Yad Vashem

Dejected German military officers face their Russian captors following the Battle of Stalingrad.
Photo: Sovfoto/Eastfoto

1943: Death and Resistance
 pg. 407 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.