Oral History

Selma (Wijnberg) Engel describes forced labor sorting the clothing and possessions of people deported 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 had to sort the clothes, and right away when I came, somehow Chaim worked on the same table, and we had to sort the clothes from first quality, second quality, and I know everything went to Germany, and I try, every piece what I saw, I tried to tear it apart, the clothes, and I thought that was the only thing what I could do of sabotage. And also when I found money and jewelry, I didn't give it to the Germans, I give it to Chaim. I laid it on the table in a corner, and Chaim took it most of the time. Well Chaim had a friend what worked by the fire men, and they, they burned all the papers, so the man knows that he has to look always on the bottom if there was some money there, and he put it in the ground, for, and hide it in the ground. So, when, when the, I didn't even think for what I did it. I did, I didn't even think that we ever can use it for ourself. I was just thinking, only thinking whatever I thought, how can we do, on the sabotage against the Germans.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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