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Meier Ziss

Meier ZissMeier Ziss (Lublin 15 November 1927) arrived in Sobibor in June 1942. At first he worked as a barber, later he became ‘Brandmeister’ and had to burn the documents left behind by the people who had just arrived on a transport. In the camp he heard that his parents had been killed and he ‘wanted to be dead together with them’. When he joined the partisans after the uprising he felt free and happy again. ‘There I was a human being.’

Meier Ziss grew up in Hrubiszow. After the war he went via Italy to Venezuela where he lived from 1956 to 1961. After that he went to Israel where he worked as an electronics dealer. It is unknown whether Meier Ziss is alive today.

"women threw pots and bottles at the SS"
In May 1942 Meier Ziss, aged 14, from Lublin was transported to Sobibor, where he worked in the sorting barracks (among other things). Later he had to burn documents of murdered Jews. He witnessed Frenzel’s retaliatory measures after the Germans discovered that an escape was being planned in Lager III, where the gas chambers were. Every Dutch Arbeitsjude was ordered to line up and they were taken to Lager III by Frenzel and several Ukrainian guards to be shot. But not all Dutch prisoners were killed. ‘The painter was taken out of the group of 72 lined up Dutchmen,’ Ziss remembers in 1965. He meant artist Max van Dam who, for the time being anyway - was needed because he was still working on a portrait of Frenzel. Van Dam arrived at the camp from Drancy, the French equivalent of Westerbork, a few months earlier. He was put up in Lager I, where he had to paint pictures for the SS mess and portraits of SS officers.

When Ziss was still working in the sorting barracks, his job was to collect the luggage and clothing of the Jews who were to be sent to the gas chambers after a transport arrived at the undressing area. He also had to make sure that the undressing area was cleaned up after the collection so that the next group of Jewish victims would not become suspicious and possibly panic. One day he saw how a group of Jews refused to get undressed. ‘Frenzel was there,’ Ziss declared after the war, ‘he fired shots at a few women who had thrown pots and bottles at the SS.’ When Ziss and the other Jews who worked in the camp later arrived at the undressing area, they found the bodies of the murdered women.

"they came crawling into the camp"
In the same undressing area, according to Ziss, a mother who was to be sent to the gas chamber had once managed to hide her child of about eighteen months. Frenzel, who was often present when the prisoners undressed, had seen the woman put her child underneath some pieces of clothing. Ziss, who had to collect the victims’ clothes, saw Frenzel kick the child to death.

Ziss was also present at the execution in July 1943 of the remaining eleven members of the Waldkommando, which consisted of Dutchmen and Poles, from which five Poles had managed to escape during their work in the forest. They killed one Ukrainian guard. This man’s body and the bodies of several escapees who were killed by the Germans were taken to the camp. The Dutch members of the work detail had to return to the camp on the double, the Poles were forced to make their way back on their hands and feet, all the while being beaten with rifle butts and whips. ‘I was working in Lager II,’ Ziss recounts, ‘when the rest of the Waldkommando came crawling into the camp and were forced to keep crawling until they reached the clearing between Lager II and Lager III.’ As a deterrent all prisoners were drummed up to watch the executions. By order of the Germans, the Polish Jews were killed by a firing squad of Ukrainian guards.

"it was cold when Himmler arrived"
On 12 February 1943 Heinrich Himmler honoured Sobibor with a visit. Himmler wanted to see the killing process firsthand. ‘It was cold already when Himmler and a lot of SS arrived by armoured train,’ Ziss remembered. During this period no transports arrived at the camp and prisoners were brought in from elsewhere for the demonstration of the gas chambers. Ziss: ‘Girls had been brought in, I don’t know exactly how many, and they had to wait two or three nights before they were gassed.’ The two to three hundred girls were from Lublin and they had been transported to the camp in trucks. Ziss observed that on the day of Himmler’s visit the camp SS were not carrying sticks or whips, as they usually did. This turned out to be an official order of the camp commander who wanted to make a good impression on his highest superior; Himmler was not to suspect that there was any beating in the camp. After witnessing the gassing of the girls in Lager III Himmler was given a tour. In a speech afterwards he reputedly said that Sobibor was well organized and that discipline was adequate.

After the uprising in Sobibor on 14 October 1943, Ziss, like so many others, wanted to escape through the main gate. But SS officer Frenzel used his machine gun to mow down just about anyone who expected to be able to leave the camp through the gate. Together with some others Ziss managed to escape by climbing over the barbed wire fencing and running through the minefield to eventually reach the forest. He joined the partisans and fought the Germans. After the war he travelled to Italy and then on to Venezuela, and he finally settled in Israel. 

Listen to the interview with Meier Ziss

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