Oral History

Selma (Wijnberg) Engel describes deportation to Sobibor

Selma was the youngest of four children born to Jewish parents. When she was 7, Selma and her family moved to the town of Zwolle where her parents ran a small hotel. When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, they confiscated the hotel. The family had to live in a poor Jewish section of the town. Selma went into hiding but was betrayed and then sent to the Westerbork camp. In April 1943 she was deported to Sobibor, where she worked in the clothes sorting area. There, the prisoners tried to pocket food and valuables and ruin the clothes so the Germans could not use them. Selma met her future husband, Chaim, who was helping to plan a prisoner uprising. When the revolt began, they escaped and used some money taken from the clothing to buy shelter in a barn. They left Poland after the war because of violent antisemitism, moving first to the Netherlands in 1945, then to Israel in 1951, and finally to the United States in 1957.

Browse Selma Engel's diary and other papers


We went three days and three nights to Sobibor. Uh, when we stopped sometimes the train, in every freight wagon is a little window on top, and everybody tried to look through it, so when you had chance to look through it, and you saw people was, was standing like, and they did like that, and we thought they were just an...anti-Jews, and they know we, we Jews didn't like us, but we had no idea that they told us that we go to our death. And, every time when the train stopped, the Germans start shooting on top of the train, and with dogs around us, and it was very panicky, and it was very scary, and we hope, you know, we, we girls, we really stuck together, and we helped each other to stay a little bit in good mood. After three days and three nights, we thought we were in Russia, everybody looked so poor, and, uh, we had no idea where we were, and then we come on and we see the big sign, Sobibor, and when we came in, everything looks very nice, little windows and flowers and, and, uh, the houses were painted green and red, and, it, it looks very nice, and when they opened the doors, these big doors that we had to go out, they start screaming and hitting with the whips, and, uh, we had to go out and out, and, all, all the people, and there was a little trolley, a little wagon what, uh, the coal miners use that goes, you can, uh, uh, rip it open that people can easy go out, so all the people that couldn't walk, they throwed them in there, and also children what got lost from their parents, they had to go in the trolley, and this trolley went straight to the gas chamber.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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