Sunday, October 14 marked the 69th anniversary of the escape from the Sobibór death camp.
I spent a good part of the day thinking about the ingenuity, daring and courage of the 365 Jews out of 650 prisoners who successfully escaped that day in 1943. Only forty-seven who escaped survived the Holocaust. The Nazis and their collaborators tracked down and executed the 318 others. The prisoners who had not tried to escape were shot.
My emotions are a bit raw each time as I write about this, but I want to share one memory about my visit to the former site of the Sobibór Death Camp in October 2006 with my husband, Bob Rosegarten, our friend, Rabbi Burt Schuman, and Anna Wiernicka, our guide.
We first visited the museum housed in a small cabin-like structure that served as the former living quarters of an SS officer. The exhibit was small but organized beautifully with a few artifacts, text and images that illuminate the history of the uprising. I gravitated immediately to the photographs of former prisoners. I searched hungrily among the portraits for Leon Felhendler, one of the leaders of the uprising. I had seen photos of Alexander Pechersky who had spearheaded the escape, but had never seen one picture of Felhendler in any of the photographic collections.
I could not contain myself when I finally saw his face. It did not seem respectful, but I squealed with joy. His thin mustache and slightly receding hairline made him appear older than his thirty-three years. I restrained myself from touching the photograph.
I share his portrait as a remembrance because his determination and courage, and that of all the Jewish heroes of the Sobibór death camp escape continue to inspire me. I hope when you learn more about them in the chapter “Like Thunder in the Spring” in my book, Beyond Courage, and on my site – you too will be inspired.
Unfortunately the museum at Sobibór was closed in June 2011.