An an estimated 250,000 Jews were murdered in the Sobibor Nazi extermination camp, near the present-day eastern border of Poland.
Sobibor was constructed in the spring of 1942 along the Chelm-Wlodawa railway line, in a wooded, swampy, and thinly populated region. It was small and cramped, with barbed-wire fences and a 50-foot-wide minefield surrounding the area. Before the gas chambers was a road called Himmelfahrsstrasse: “Road to Heaven.”
The camp was run by a small staff of German SS and police officials and a police auxiliary guard unit of between 90 and 120 men, all of whom were either former Soviet prisoners of war of various nationalities or Ukrainian and Polish civilians selected or recruited for this purpose. All members of the guard unit were trained at a special facility of the SS and Police Leader in Lublin, the Trawniki training camp.
After some experimentation, the camp authorities began regular gassing operations in May 1942. When trains arrived at the station, the camp guards ordered the victims out of the trains and ordered them to turn over their valuables. They were then forced to undress and sent into the “showers” which were actually gas chambers. Once the chamber doors were sealed, in an adjacent room guards started an engine which piped in carbon monoxide, killing all those inside.
In the autumn of 1942, the staff, using Jewish forced laborers, began to exhume the mass graves and to burn the bodies on open-air “ovens” made from rail track. The Germans also utilized a machine to crush bone fragments into powder. These efforts aimed at obliterating all traces of mass murder.
In the spring of 1943, after the prisoners received intelligence about the dismantling and liquidation of the Belzec (Poland) killing center, they organized a resistance group and planned an uprising.
On October 14, 1943, with approximately 600 prisoners left in the camp, the uprising began, with prisoners succeeding in killing nearly a dozen German personnel and guards. Around 300 prisoners succeeded in breaking out of the killing center that day; around 100 were caught in the dragnet that followed and more than half of the remaining survivors did not live to see the end of the war.
After the revolt, the killing center was dismantled and the Jewish prisoners who had not escaped during the uprising were shot.
Source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum