Translated from the Polish manuscript by Dalia Tesler, edited by Yecheskel Raban
Published by "Beit Lochamei Hagetaot" The Ghetto Fighters' House Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum, Israel and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House with the assistance of the Hayim and Feigel Frenkel Memorial Fund, Australia ©
Dedicated to the Sobibor’s revolt organizers;
to the many who generated it and participated in it;
and in memory of the hundreds of thousands of its victims.
From Lublin to Sobibor
Testimony of Hella Felenbaum-Weiss
Following the common initiative of Judy Cohen & Ada Holtzman, the testimony was translated from Hebrew to English in January 2005. The translation was commissioned by an anonymous. It was edited by Ada Holtzman.
I cannot exactly remember how did we arrive to Sobibor; on the way we went through a deep forest, and then we saw a sign says: “Sonderkommando”.
As in a dream I heard a voice of one of the Germans says: “who can knit?” and I stepped out of the line. As a result of the hunger that we went through, I was very thin and short for my fourteen years of age. The German ordered me to come forward, and then they took me to a cabin, where I found two girls whom I knew before – Zelda Metz (Kelberman) and Esther Terner (Raab). In my childhood my mother taught me how to knit sox, so my job was to provide sox to the Germans and to iron the shirts of the S.S. men. The carpenters built a small bench for me, so when I heard the S.S. steps by the cabin, I stepped up on the bench so that I’ll look a little taller and older.
There is nothing more terrifying than the feeling of helplessness towards horrible crimes which took place just in front of your eyes, and you cannot do anything. What could we, girls, do when we saw the people led to their death? Nothing. One day a special transport arrived at the camp. The people were not wearing regular cloths. Those were prisoners in striped pyjamas. They were so skinny and bonny, and collapsing from hunger and weakness. Their heads were shaved and you could not tell between men and women. A rumor was spread in the camp that those people, about 300 hundred, arrived from the death camp Majdanek, where the gas chambers ceased to operate. The Germans ordered them to lay down on the ground, and they simply collapsed. Frenzel, an S.S. man, came over and forged a chlorine solution on their heads, as if they were already corpses. The screaming and groaning that came out of their throats were like wounded animal’s howls. It seems that there are no limits to human cruelty.
There was another transport that shocked and agitated us. A rumor was spread out that a transport from Lvov arrived, but actually no one knew from where those Jews were. Those from the camp prisoners, who were ordered to empty the train cars, were weeping and sobbing when they told us the horrible scene revealed to them. What probably happened was that the train cars were packed and jammed with people, and while traveling they were killed by chlorine. Their bodies were green and their skin peeled to any touch…
One day, a transport from the death camp of Bełżec arrived to Sobibor. At first, we did not know where they were coming from, but a while later we heard fire salvoes, time and again, and we knew – these were not target shootings exercise. Sometime later we realized the truth: in the clothing pockets of the dead we found notes which were written in Yiddish and said: “They told us that we are going to a labor camp, but this is a lie. Avenge our death!” In a later time, when I joined the Partisans, and went through Poland and Germany and arrived at Czechoslovakia, I often thought about those notes, which were a source of inspiration and encouragement to me.
Before the breakout of the rebel, when, like the other girls, worked at the laundry place, I knew that something was “cooking” at the camp. Years later I was still admiring the resourcefulness and wisdom of the masterminds and planners of the rebel. Without a lot of shootings, the rebels killed many Germans and Ukraine soldiers. It is a pity that so few of us were left alive to tell about the rebel - and not because wrong planning, but beccause of the living conditions which prevailed then, in occupied Poland.
Those who managed to run away from the camp realized that it was not so easy to survive in the forest. While running in the forest at the darkness of the night, I met one of the camp survivors, and later another one who were nicknamed “Radio” in Sobibor, for he was installing the speaker for the Germans to voice their commands during Appell. The three of us ran unknowingly where we were, and where we were heading. In the depth of the forest we found an empty foresters’ cabin. Later we realized that the Partisans killed the forester who stayed there because of his cooperation with the enemy. There we found a supply of potatoes in sacks. It was a real treasure! At night we lit a bonfire to roast them, and than we climbed up an old ladder to the attic, and than pick it upstairs, so that we could sleep peacefully. It was an ideal hiding place.
But, our happy days did not last long. One morning we heard voices of people talking in German. We felt that they are searching the cabin, and that our end had come. But, the voices went weaker and the people on their horses left; but, we were afraid that they will come back to the cabin, so we decided to leave the place. It was freezing cold in the forest, and it constantly rained. We approached one of the villages and we tried to steal a couple of old sacks to be used as blankets. We were exhausted and weak from hunger because our only food was uncooked potatoes.
One night we noticed three sparks flickering – they were three alighted cigarettes. The three men slowly approaching us, and than voices calling in German:
“Halt! Stehen Bleiben!” (Stop! Stand where you are!). They approached us, and than we saw that instead of guns in their hands, they have spades. When they saw us, they started laughing – they thought we were a bunch of robbers who were wondering around the forests. They pretended to be Germans, just to frighten us. As a matter of fact, they were Soviet prisoners of war, who escaped the labor camp near Chełm.
Indeed, we were lucky to run into them. They were very brave men that feared nothing, and as long as we hang with them, we were not hungry; they killed animals and birds with their spades as if they were guns and one day they even brought us a piglet
With them we were wondering in the forest to look for a camp of Partisans. Eventually we found them, and I joined the famous Partisan Brigade called: The Prokupyuk Brigade. At first, they imposed some difficult assignments, in order for them to determine our courage and devotion. Only then we got regular warfare duty.
During the course of my service at the Partisans Brigade, I won two medals: “The bravery” medal and the “Red Star” medal, and five decorations for participating in combats: the first one I received on October 1, 1944 for my participation in the combat in the Carpathian mountains, the second one – on November 26,1944, for my participation in the combat on Michalovce Humenne, the third decoration I received on January 20, 1945 for participating in the combat for conquering the cities of Preshov and Koshice, the fourth one for the conquering of Moravska Ostrava and the fifth decoration I received on May 8, 1945 – the day of signing the cease fire treaty and for my participating in the last combats of World War II.
In Czechoslovakia I met my future husband, who than served at the General Svoboda’s army. We both immigrated to Israel, and now, I am a mother of three. But, I will never be able to forget Sobibor.
The testimony was taken by Miriam Novitch in Gedera, Israel, in 1968.
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"I would like to hope, that these tragic testimonies will continue to serve as manifesto, which says, that the day will come when all discriminations will stop in this world, the hatred, the mass murders and the wars, and peace – the dream of our prophets, will dwell safely upon this earth."
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Last Updated November 1st, 2004