Oral History

Esther Raab describes the uprising in Sobibor

Esther was born to a middle-class Jewish family in Chelm, Poland. In December 1942, she was deported from a work camp to the Sobibor killing center in occupied Poland. Upon arrival at Sobibor, Esther was selected to work in a sorting shed. She sorted clothing and the possessions of the people killed at the camp. During the summer and fall of 1943, Esther was among a group of prisoners in the Sobibor camp who planned an uprising and escape. Leon Feldhendler and Aleksandr (Sasha) Pechersky were the leaders of the group. The revolt took place on October 14, 1943. German and Ukrainian guards opened fire on the prisoners, who were unable to reach the main gate and thus had to try and escape through the minefield around the camp; about 300 escaped. Over 100 of them were recaptured and shot. Esther was among those who escaped and survived.


The date was original the thirteen of October, and that day we all got ready, ready, put on two, two sweaters, and, and my boots I put on for the first time again, and I got dressed with a coat and with a kerchief, and, you know, you didn't take no luggage with you, you didn't know where you're going, anyway, if you'll make it. And then, some uniform military Gestapo came to the camp, never used to come on that day, and we thought somebody maybe...slipped out, but they left, and the next day exactly, the plan was, at four o'clock should start, everybody has to kill his, his SS man, and his guard, at his place of work. And it started working, and I was like a messenger girl, going here four killed, here five were killed, just throwing signals, not talking, but, we couldn't find [SS officer Karl] Frenzel, and we thought, although the electric wire was cut, the telephone wire was cut, we were afraid that somehow he got out on the outside and, and went for help. And this was before decided, in case anything goes wrong, everybody on his own. And whoever, wherever one can run, or wherever one can jump, should go. Maybe one will survive, and will be able to tell the world. And we assembled, like on a normal day, and then Sasha [Pechersky] and Leon [Feldhendler], the organizers, went up on the table, and they said, "We can't find Frenzel. Something--everybody on his own." But a lot of people were panicky right away. A lot of people didn't want to go, they gave up. And those who felt they want to try, just ran in all directions. I saw that somebody put a stepladder behind the par...uh, carpenter's shop, and that people are climbing up, and I want to explain that this was all split seconds. And I just jumped up that stepladder. And as I was on top, I noticed there are a lot of bodies already on the mines, some people went before me. I got a bullet shot from the tower right here, and I fell down. As I fell down, I was so much aware, and the will to live was so great, there's no measurements to it, that I started hopping on dead bodies, and soon I reached the woods, we were in the woods, and it was...I felt, I did it, I made it.



  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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