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How many people exactly were killed in Sobibor cannot be stated with certainty. Many documents that could inform us about the exact numbers of victims - mostly from Poland and furthermore predominantly from the Netherlands, Slovakia, Germany, and the Soviet Union - were destroyed or lost. Shortly after the October 1943 uprising Himmler ordered the camp to be razed to the ground and to erase every trace, including the camp administration. Based on statements from Polish railway officials and reconstructions of transports it was assumed for a long time that the number of victims must have been between 150,000 and 250,000.

Today it is possible to get closer to the exact number. In 2001 a German document surfaced from the British Public Record Office. It lists numbers of Jews who had been killed in the Aktion Reinhardt camps. It concerns a radio telegram intercepted by the British secret service, of 11 January 1943, drawn up by the SS in Lublin, addressed to the SS in Krakow. The telegram mentions how many Jews were murdered up to 31 December 1942 in Lublin, Belzec, Sobibor, and also Treblinka. This date was not chosen randomly; it is the date at which according to Himmler, the murder of the Jews in the General Government - the Umsiedlung in the euphemistic Nazi jargon - had to be completed. The total number of dead according to the telegram was 1,274,166; of these deaths 101,370 occurred in Sobibor. It was already known that between 1 January 1943 up to and including the uprising in October 1943, 68,795 Jews were killed in this camp, which puts the total number of Jews murdered in Sobibor at 170,165.

From Dutch Red Cross figures we know that 34,313 Dutch Jews were murdered in Sobibor. Two prisoners who had been put on a transport from Westerbork, Saartje Wijnberg and Ursula Stern, managed to escape the camp during the uprising, and they survived the war. Also, upon arriving in Sobibor some Dutch prisoners were selected to work in other camps. After being selected they were immediately transported from Sobibor; at most they spent a few hours on the threshold of the camp. Of those who were put to work elsewhere, Jules Schelvis, who later wrote about the history of the camp, is the most prominent survivor.

Read more about the Höfle-telegram

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