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Hella Weiss

Hella WeissHella Weiss (née Felenbaum; Lublin 25 November 1924) arrived in Sobibor just before Christmas in a horse-drawn cart. She worked in the laundry, had to knit socks and gloves and she tended to the flower garden. About her time in the camp she remembers: ‘They tormented us terribly’.

After her escape she fought with the partisans and in the Soviet army. She received six decorations, including the ‘Red Star’. An injury landed her in a field hospital. After the war she married a Czech man with whom she ran a wayside restaurant in Israel. Hella Weiss died in December 1988 in Gedera.

"there was a selection on the platform"
Hella Weiss was barely sixteen when in the winter of 1940 she, her parents and two brothers, were rounded up by the German occupier and deported to labour camp Siedliszcze, near Chelm, together with many other Jews from Lublin. During the transport many prisoners died from hunger and cold. In the camp there was also sorrow and misery, many people died as a result of exhaustion and disease. Hella contracted typhoid fever there. The camp doctor hid her in the cellar and cured her with alcohol. In late 1941 there was a selection. A group of prisoners, including her parents, were taken to Krychow labour camp and later gassed in Sobibor. Hella and both her brothers, together with 500 to 600 other prisoners, were also taken to this extermination camp; on 20 December 1942 they arrived in horse-drawn carts.

In 1965 she still remembered her arrival vividly: ‘There was a selection on the platform of the camp. Myself and a few others were taken from the group. The others were taken down to Lager III’, where the gas chambers were. Her oldest brother, Schimek, had already been shot and killed in an attempted escape before they arrived at the camp. Hella and other young women were put to work in the Strickstube, where they had to knit socks and gloves for the camp SS. Later she worked in the laundry and the vegetable garden, where she could see the deportation trains roll into the camp.

"he shot him in front of all the prisoners"
Not only were Jews gassed and shot to death continuously in Sobibor, those who were put to work as Arbeitsjuden were also constantly terrorized. Weiss repeatedly witnessed how prisoners were assaulted and murdered, especially by deputy commander Wagner, whom she referred to as a ‘dangerous sadist’. ‘On days that no transports arrived,’ recounted Weis, ‘he would take people from the camp and shoot them himself.’ Once she witnessed Wagner killing a sick young man, who had not been able to attend roll call: ‘Wagner entered the barracks, called the boy out and shot him in front of all the prisoners.’

Frenzel, Wagner’s deputy, also indulged in excessive violence. One day two girls from her barracks told Weis how Frenzel had shot their father, who was made to carry sand bags as a punishment, because he had done something wrong.

decorated as partizan
After the uprising and her escape, Hella and two other escapees managed to hide deep in the woods in an abandoned forester’s cabin. Later she heard that partisans killed the forester because he allegedly collaborated with the Germans. Hunger and cold forced them to leave the cabin and go to a village to look for food and burlap sacks against the cold. During one nocturnal expedition they ran into a group of escaped Russian POWs and they moved on together. Eventually the escapees joined a partisan group, and they fought the Germans together. Hella was decorated more than once for her contribution to the fight against the Wehrmacht. After the war Hella Weis emigrated to Israel, where she passed away in 1998 in Gedera.

Groepsfoto Weiss

Portret Weiss als partizaan

Listen to the interview with Hella Weiss

Read a 1968 testimony of Hella Weiss

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