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Aktion Reinhardt

Structure of the camp

Plans to build a camp near the hamlet of Sobibor in eastern Poland probably existed as early as the autumn of 1941. The location met every requirement the Nazis had: there was a railway and enough space to store the victims’ possessions. Moreover the hamlet was far enough removed from the larger towns and cities to be able to carry out the destruction of large numbers of people unnoticed. At the start of 1942 the terrain - initially twelve, later sixteen hectares in size - was fenced off. Construction started in March. It was carried out by a local forced labour crew and approximately eighty Jews from nearby ghettos. About ten Ukrainian guards (Trawniki) supervised the work. The set-up of the camp resembled Belzec, but Sobibor was larger.


Sobibor consisted of four separate sections. In the so-called Vorlager (garrison area) were the camp commander’s villa, the SS quarters and the weapons depot. Also located there were the barracks of the Ukrainian auxiliary troops. In Lager I (Camp I) were the living quarters for the Jewish Arbeitshäftlinge, a kitchen, the roll call area and the work barracks where Jewish prisoners had to carry out all kinds of activities for the SS-troops. Here were the laundry, mending, ironing and bakery barracks, and the barracks for the tailors, carpenters, mechanics and painters. The Vorlager was directly next to the railway where the transports arrived, and on arrival the first thing the victims saw from this so-called Rampe (platform) was a large sign with the lettering ‘SS-Sonderkommando’. The barracks in this section of the camp and in Lager I were placed very close together so it would be virtually impossible to see inside the camp from the train or from the arrival platform. This meant that not only the Jews on the trains were barely able to get an impression of the camp, it was also virtually impossible for the Polish railway personnel.

In Lager II was the undressing area for the prisoners who were led to the gas chambers. Also in this section of the camp were the barracks where all their luggage and clothing were gathered by Arbeitshäftlinge and sorted according to type, size, and quality. Identification, letters and other written or printed materials were burned there. In addition, this section of the camp housed the vegetable garden, the pigpens and stables for the horses; chickens and ducks were also kept here. Up to four hundred prisoners, including about one hundred women were put to work in this section of the camp. A narrow path, some 150 metres long, framed by barbed wire camouflaged with pine branches, led to Lager III.

In Lager III was a brick building with three gas chambers measuring four by four metres each. About two hundred people were crammed in here at a time. Adjacent to the gas chambers was a wooden shed with a 200 hp diesel engine inside. The exhaust fumes of this engine were piped into the hermetically sealed gas chambers. This section of the camp also contained the kitchen and the sleeping barracks of the Jewish prisoners who worked here, SS quarters, a watch tower and a huge burial pit - sixty metres long, forty metres wide and nine metres deep - that the bodies were thrown into. From the autumn of 1942 the gassed bodies were no longer buried, but were burned instead. In the following year mines were placed around almost the entire camp. At the same time construction was started of a fourth camp section, that was to house a large ammunition depot for captured weapons. This Lager IV, however, was never finished.

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