The Great Escape

I just finished reading "Escape from Sobibor" by Richard Rashke. I gather that a film was made from the book also.


Laura Michelle was in the 3rd grade. I was asked to make some Holocaust presentations to the 3rd grade classes. The school was in South Seattle with many black students. I described as easily as I could the Nazi death camps. One boy asked how come the Jews did not fight back. At the time I compared it to the breaking of the spirit of black slaves. (I had just talked on Black History earlier in the year) When the spirit is broken you lose the will to fight. Prov 18:14 The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, But who can bear a broken spirit? NKJV


Rashke had interviewed 18 of the 30 living survivors before he published the book in 1982. The escape was the largest escape from any kind of prison camp during the war. Roughly 300 Jews escaped and 159 were unable to make the decision to try and escape and stayed in the camp while the others made their break.


Sobibor was a death camp. The Jews working there were working to maintain the camp, bury bodies and act as lackeys of the Nazis. The author describes trains coming into the camp crammed with dying Jews who were then unwittingly taken to the showers of death. Towards the end of the almost total genocide of Polish Jews they would arrive knowing what was in store and those who resisted were brutally dealt with. The weak, the slow the fearful were just shot at the loading dock as the rest were marched to their deaths. The Dutch or French Jews were led to believe that they were coming to a labor camp, some even believed that they were coming to a special homeland for Jews, the Nazi enjoyment at their ignorance rips our subconscious.


The description of Nazi cruelties is beyond any normal imagination to contemplate. A line repeated in the book to describe the thinking of the surviving Jews about the Nazi’s was: “don’t they have families”. It is in this camp where the survivors cook, sew, paint, make jewelry and do their best to be useful to the Nazi’s.


Yes, the allies were made of aware of the camps and no action was taken. The Pope was aware of the camps and no moral statement was made. The Polish historical hatred for Jews left the Jews alone and they knew it. Just surviving was all they could do. The trains began to slow down. The Polish Jews had been all but wiped out as they tried to defend themselves in their ghettos without any help from allied forces. The trains to transport Jews from the West were needed to transport troops and resources to the Eastern Front.


A son of a Rabi began to make plans for a mass escape. The turning point came when some Russian soldiers who were Jews were brought to the camp to work a munitions scheme of making captured Russian weapons usable for German forces. The description of the natural Russian leader defying the Nazis is real movie material. Finally, real soldiers who knew how to fight and use weapons were available to the committee making escape plans.


There was a peculiar relationship between the Jewish craftsmen and the Nazis always having personal items made and procured for them. The plan was to use that relationship to neutralize as many Nazis as possible on the day of the escape. One by one Nazis were invited to view or receive gifts they had ordered from their personal craftsmen. Russian soldiers and sometimes gutsy Jews welcomed them with hatchets to the head. As the Nazis were being eliminated one by one the time of the assembling of the prisoners in the main yard was coming when the plan was to march out of the camp under the leadership of the Jewish trustee who was working with the escape committee.


As the moment approaches the excitement cannot be contained as the Jews rush the gates spilling over land minds to the forest’s edge as the Ukrainian guards shot at the fleeing Jews. The Russian soldiers do their best to link with partisans and make their way back to the Russian army. The Jews look for Poles willing to risk their lives to hide them. The Germans want to find and kill them so that no survivors could ever describe the horrors of Sobibor.




About hansston

Pastor a church in Sparta.
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