Oral History

Chaim Engel describes arrival in Sobibor

In 1939, as Chaim's tour in the Polish army was nearing its scheduled end, Germany invaded Poland. The Germans captured Chaim and sent him to Germany for forced labor. As a Jewish prisoner of war, Chaim later was returned to Poland. Ultimately, he was deported to the Sobibor camp, where the rest of his family died. In the 1943 Sobibor uprising, Chaim killed a guard. He escaped with his girlfriend, Selma, whom he later married. A farmer hid them until liberation by Soviet forces in June 1944.


We arrived in Sobibor. So I was with my brother and myself and my friend. And we all meet the other rest of the people, about seven, eight hundred people and they took us out from the trains and they put us in two lines and uh and they start collecting...picking out people. I didn't know what the picking out means, so uh one German asked me, "Where are you from?" I said, "From Lodz." "Out." And then they went further. "What are you?" "Uh, a carpenter." "Out." Things like that, so they picked about eighteen to twenty people. Well, let me maybe say that we heard in Poland that that happens with the Jews. They kill Jews and they gas Jews and things like that. But we really, as younger people, we really didn't believe that something like that is possible. We thought maybe the younger people will take to work...maybe only the older people. You just didn't want to bel...wan...want it to believe, because it was so incomprehensible, so unbelievable that something like that can happen that you just...even if you had the intelligence you didn't believe it. So when they picked us out in the camp, I really didn't know what the picking out means, whether life or death, so they took us...the twenty people...they took us in one side and the others went to the camp, to the gas chambers...what we found out later. So we worked in there. Went...in the afternoon, in the afternoon, they took us with all the other people to separate the clothes. That started to be our work and... I started to separate my clothes...that was the clothes from the people who just arrived with the transport what we came with. And while I did that I found the clothes of my brother, his...the pictures from the family, so I knew already...they already told me what's going on, so I knew already what happened...that he went to the gas chamber with my friend and I am here separating his clothes.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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