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Stanislaw Szmajzner

Stanislaw SzmajznerStanislaw Szmajzner (Pulawy 13 March 1927) arrived in Sobibor at age fifteen. He was a goldsmith and had to make signet rings and other jewellery for the guards. During the uprising he managed to get hold of three rifles wrapped in blankets. He shot one of the Ukrainian guards in the watchtower: ‘That was the first time in my life I fired a gun’.

Apart from making gold jewellery Stanislaw Szmajzner had to check the prams that came in with the transports. He was also the foreman of the maintenance mechanics. After the uprising he joined the partisans. In 1947 he emigrated to Brazil. At the police station in Sao Paulo he recognized Gustav Wagner, who committed suicide not much later. Szmajzner died on 3 March 1989 in Goiania, Brazil.

wanderings in Poland
On 12 May 1942 a transport from the ghetto of Opole arrived in Sobibor. Among the prisoners was fifteen-year-old Stanislaw Szmajzner. He was born in Pulawy on the Weichsel. His parents, who spoke mainly Yiddish, were members of the orthodox Jewish congregation. Stanislaw attended the Tarbut school, where they also taught Hebrew. After leaving school he went to work for a goldsmith, although his father, owner of several fruit shops, would have preferred him to continue his education. The Jewish community lived virtually isolated in an anti-Semitic environment. Many Pulawy Jews had left the area and had emigrated, for example to Western Europe.

Shortly after the German invasion of Poland, Pulawy was bombed. After Stanislaw had sought refuge in the part of Poland that was occupied by the Red Army for a while, he returned to his parental home, but was arrested by the Germans as a Jew. He managed to escape and after some wandering he moved on to Walwonica, where his parents, his brother and his sister had found refuge in an abandoned cottage. Stanislaw reported to the Jewish Council to get food. Later the family left for Kazimierz where they had to work in a stable. The work was heavy and the family decided to try their luck elsewhere. After extreme hardship and exhausted from hunger, illness and cold the family eventually ended up in the Opole ghetto. In the spring of 1942 the ghetto was closed down and by the end of March the first group of Jews was transported by train to Belzec extermination camp. The first train transport to Sobibor took place on 12 May 1942. The Szmajzner family were among those who were taken away.

goldsmith in Sobibor
After the 2,000 Jews from Opole were chased from the boxcars while being savagely beaten by the SS and Ukrainian guards, the men were separated from the women. Stanislaw, who had brought a small wooden box with tools, came forward voluntarily as a goldsmith. He showed a golden monogram as proof of his skill, and Gustav Wagner, the SS man in charge of the daily running of the camp, put him in a separate section of Lager I. In this room two painters were also at work, including the Dutchman Max van Dam, who had come to Sobibor via the French transit camp Drancy. Under camp commander Stangl, Stanislaw made golden rings with SS-runes and monograms for the handles of their whips. The gold he worked with came from the gassed Jews, whose golden teeth and rings he had to melt down. Under Stangl’s successor Reichleitner, Stanislaw became the foreman of the maintenance workshop in Lager I. In his capacity of welder and mechanic he could move around the entire camp, except for Lager III, the enclosed area that housed the gas chambers.

de dood van kapo 'Berliner'
As a member of the underground committee Stanislaw played an important role in the preparations for the uprising that took place on 14 October 1943. Until the arrival of the Soviet soldiers, the Polish Jews played a dominant role in the committee that did not include any Jews from Western Europe because they were mistrusted. The Polish Jews especially did not have much trust in the German Jews, because in their eyes they had not sufficiently distanced themselves from the Nazis. This mistrust was not totally groundless; the Arbeitshäftlinge had had mainly very bitter experiences with a German Kapo known as ‘Berliner’, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. A few weeks before the uprising he was beaten up very badly by Stanislaw and the foreman of the tailor workshop. A Czech prisoner then administered a lethal injection. His successor as Kapo was Spitz, from the Netherlands, who was wrongly regarded as a traitor.

rifles for the rebels 
According to the plan for the uprising prepared by the Russian Petsjerski and the Pole Feldhendler, Stanislaw had to attempt to steal rifles from the barracks of the Ukrainian guards. According to Petsjerski he was the ideal person for the job, because his work allowed him almost unlimited freedom of movement in the camp and because he knew the layout of the barracks. Stanislaw’s assignment was crucial for the success of the uprising, because without guns there would be no uprising. It was risky; if Stanislaw were caught in the act, the uprising could not take place, because there would undoubtedly be large-scale retaliation. With a stovepipe under his arm the young Pole left at the agreed time for the Ukrainian barracks in the Vorlager, where he reported with the message that he came to do some work. After fiddling with the stovepipe for a bit, he told the Ukrainian guard that he was also going to take a look at the stove in the barracks. Stanislaw walked up to the gun rack and using a pair of nippers cut the chain that tied the weapons together. From the sleeping quarters, where two boys were cleaning the boots of the Ukrainians, he got a blanket in which he wrapped three rifles. He put a few cartridges in his pocket. Because Stanislaw judged it too dangerous to pass the guard on his way out of the barracks, he ordered the boys to slide the bundle through the window where he would take it from them. When the boys realized there were guns inside the blanket, they got very scared and started to cry. There was no time to explain and Stanislaw took out a knife, which made a big impression. The boys did as they were told. Stanislaw left the barracks, was handed the bundle through the window and walked to the kitchen of Lager I, where Petsjerski and the other Russians were waiting for him. The soldiers immediately wanted to seize all three guns, but Stanislaw, who had risked his life to get the weapons, successfully claimed one for himself. After the soldiers reluctantly explained to him how the rifle - made in the Soviet Union - worked, Stanislaw divided the ammunition.

escaped and nearly killed
During the uprising he managed to shoot one of the Ukrainians in the watchtowers. Together with the Czech prisoner Kurt Thomas, who worked as an orderly, he managed to climb across the barbed wire fencing. Escapees before them had done the same, but had ended up in the minefield and were killed. With people caught in the barbed wire screaming behind them, the two ran across and past the dead bodies to the forest where they were safe from the Germans for the time being. However, the Germans immediately started hunting the escaped prisoners down.

Not only the Germans hunted the Jews, some Polish farmers also did so for the rewards paid by the Germans. And sometimes Polish partisans also targeted the Jews, for example the units of the Armia Krajowa that consisted of Polish nationalists, including anti-Semites. They finished off every escaped Jewish prisoner they encountered. Stanislaw and his group of thirteen escapees also met with violence. After wandering around they ran into twenty armed bandits near the village of Izdebno. They took the guns from the refugees as well as all the gold they had. When the bandits opened fire, Stanislaw and two other escapees dropped to the ground and did not move for half an hour. This is how they survived. The three of them continued on their way and found refuge with a farmer in Tarnawa-Duza, who was a friend of one of Stanislaw’s comrades.

"Some things are difficult to talk about"
After the war Stanislaw emigrated to Brazil, where he worked as a goldsmith. On his hacienda he enjoyed listening to Russian folk music. In his room he kept two rifles wrapped in a blanket. Here he wrote is memoires "Hell in Sobibor - tragedy of a Jewish teenager (Inferno em Sobibor). In 1967 he recognized former camp commander Stangl, who was later extradited to the Federal Republic of Germany where he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Gustav Wagner had also fled to Brazil, but had been tracked down by Simon Wiesenthal in 1978. At the police station Stanislaw was able to confirm Wagner’s identity. Extradition requests by Germany and Israel came too late, because according to the Brazilian authorities Wagner committed suicide in October 1978. Stanislaw was always secretive about the true cause of death, but he hinted he knew more about the matter. ‘Some things,’ he said, ‘are difficult to talk about.’ Stanislaw Szmajzner died on 3 March 1989 in the Brazilian city of Goiania.

Szmajzner with the partisans

Szmajzner als partizaan

Listen to the interview with Stanislaw Szmajzner

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