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Esther Raab

Esther RaabEsther Raab (Chelm 11 June 1922; † 13 April 2015 Vineland, New Jersey), together with Regina Zielinski and Hella Weiss, was taken to Sobibor just before Christmas 1942 in a horse-drawn cart. They saw such atrocities that she sometimes thought that ‘going to the gas chambers was easier than being exposed to all the horror’. After her escape she went into hiding on a farm where she was reunited with her long lost brother.

She was born Ester Terner. Shortly after the German occupation started her father was shot and killed while on his way to Belzec extermination camp. Esther Raab was forced to help reclaim a river in Siedliczcze. When she arrived in Sobibor on 22 December 1942 she and seven other girls from her transport were put to work in the knitting room.


"we did not see these people again"
Together with about 800 other Polish Jews from the Staw-Nowosiulki labour camp, twenty-year-old Esther Raab arrived in Sobibor in December 1942 with a transport of trucks. She and seven other young women reported for work in the Strickerei; later she was put to work in one of the barracks where the clothes of the Jews who had been gassed were sorted.

More than once she witnessed the sadistic fits of overseer Karl Frenzel. One day during work in the sorting barracks the SS man shot the Jewish prisoner who supervised the work, in cold blood and for no apparent reason. Another time she witnessed how Frenzel made the Arbeitsjuden line up and force them to sing songs. As he apparently was not satisfied about the performance of a cabaret singer he had selected to sing, he took the singer and her son to Lager III, where the gas chambers and the execution area were. ‘We heard shots,’ Esther remembered in 1963, ‘and we did not see these people again’. One time, when she had to do some cleaning in a barracks that overlooked the train platform, she saw overseer Frenzel take a baby by the feet and slam its head against the side of the train.

"the girls’ hair was cut off"
Esther Raab also vividly remembered the time that Heinrich Himmler visited Sobibor. On 12 February 1943 he arrived to see exactly how the destruction of the Jews took place. In addition the SS had reason to celebrate, because Aktion Reinhardt was nearing its end. After a tour of the camp a festive banquet was to be organized in honour of the highest SS chief. Because of Himmler’s visit some 200 Jewish girls had been brought from Lublin to Sobibor by truck. ‘Since there were no transports coming in during that time, they had no choice but to get them from another camp,’ said Raab. The girls were put up in a barracks for two days and waited for Himmler. Raab saw how overseer Wagner and other camp-SS entered the barracks and she heard the girls starting to scream. ‘When Himmler came they were taken to Lager II’, said Raab, ‘where they were made to undress in his presence. The girls’ hair was cut off by our male workers.’ Then the girls were gassed in Lager III. After dinner Himmler held a speech in which he allegedly said that camp was well-organized and that discipline was adequate.

During the escape from the camp on 14 October 1943 Esther sustained an injury to her head. She fled into the woods and was able to go into hiding on a farm near Chelm. In 1946 she and Samuel Lerer, another Polish survivor of Sobibor, recognized Ernst Bauer on the street in Berlin and reported him to the police. At his trial in 1962 Bauer called himself the ‘Gasmeister of Sobibor’. For his crimes the court sentenced him to death; after the death penalty was abolished this sentence was commuted into a life sentence in 1971. Bauer died in the Berlin-Tegel prison in 1980. Esther Raab emigrated to the United States.

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Listen to the interview of
Jules Schelvis with Esther Raab

Watch an interview on YouTube
with Esther Raab and other survivors

Watch another interview on YouTube
with Esther Raab

Read the story Esther Raab told
the USHMM on 18 February 1992
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