Sobibor Strangeness

A small compendium
Published: 2008-05-29

Of the three so called Aktion Reinhardt “extermination camps” Sobibor near Wlodawa is the one least researched by revisionists. So far there has not been published any book length revisionist study on this camp. As for exterminationist scholarship, the most in-depth study is provided by Jules Schelvis’ Sobibor. A History of a Nazi Death Camp (revised edition 2007). Since about a year ago, I have been looking into the historiography of the camp as well as the accounts left by former inmates. Below I will list some of the most interesting contradictions that I have encountered within the orthodox Sobibor narrative.

  • It is alleged that, in similarity with Belzec and Treblinka, Sobibor initially contained a smaller gas chamber building, which was later replaced with a second, larger building. Franz Stangl, who oversaw the last phase of the camp’s construction and served as commandant from March to September 1942, described the first installation as a “brick building” (Sereny, Into That Darkness, p. 109). Erich Fuchs, who supposedly installed the gassing engine and also participated in the first trial gassings, testified in 1963 that the chambers were housed in “a concrete structure”. Erich Bauer was supposedly nicknamed “The Gasmeister of Sobibor”. In 1950 he was sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) by a West German court for operating the Sobibor gas chambers. According to a “confession” penned by Bauer while in prison, the first gas chambers were not made by brick or concrete but of wood (Schelvis, p. 101). It is significant that neither Schelvis nor Arad, while respectively quoting both witnesses, mention this glaring contradiction. Schelvis only remark on Fuchs’ testimony: “Because he had put into place so many installations over the course of time, he did not remember that the first gas chambers at Sobibor had been constructed of wood” (p. 114). How is that Stangl and Bauer, two men who both should have been familiar with this building, produced such divergent testimony?
  • The claimed number of gas chambers as well as their sizes and capacities differ notably between the various witnesses, as well as among exterminationist historians. Arad (Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, p. 31) writes that the first building contained 3 chambers, each 4 x 4 meters, with a capacity of 200 victims per chamber. For the same building Miriam Novitch (Sobibor. Martyrdom and Revolt, p. 26) claim a total capacity of 150 people. Schelvis on the other hand merely notes that the figures stated by the witnesses vary between 40 and 80 victims per chamber. As for the second building, Arad asserts that it housed 6 chambers each measuring 4 x 4 meters with a total simultaneous capacity of 1,300 people (p. 123). Novitch in turn writes that there were five chambers, each 4 x 12 meters, with a total capacity of 400 victims (p. 26). Schelvis (p. 115) simply refer to the 1966 verdict of the Hagen trial, which found it “a reasonable assumption that each of the six gas chambers could hold 80 people” i.e. 480 victims in total. In 1950, former SS-Scharführer Franz Hödl gave a testimony guaranteed to please all: “…about 6 to 8 gas chambers had been erected. The gas chamber had either 4 or 6 chambers on either side of the central corridor, three on the left, three on the right” (Schelvis, p. 104).
  • It is alleged that about one third of the victims were buried before being cremated. Outdoor cremations were supposedly begun in either the late summer – early autumn (Arad, p. 171) or winter (Schelvis, p. 110) of 1942. Arad writes that the bodies were buried in an unspecified number of mass graves “50 to 60 meters long, 10 to 15 meters wide, and 5 to 7 meters deep” (p. 33). Novitch likewise do not state the number of pits, and give their measures as 30 meters long, 15 meters wide, and 4 to 5 meters deep (p. 24). Schelvis (p. 110-2) claims with confidence (using statements of Kurt Bolender as reference) that there were ever only 2 burial pits (and in addition to this a cremation pit over which a grid of railway gauge was laid out). The dimensions of the second pit are left unclear. As for the first one, Schelvis writes that it was 60 meters long, 20 meters wide and about 6 to 7 meters deep. According to Polish archaeologist Andrzej Kola, who supposedly carried out drillings at the former camp site in 2001, there were 7 grave pits with an average depth of 5 meters. The largest pit allegedly had a surface of 64 by 23 meters (210 x 75 ft.), while the second largest measured 18 x 23 meters (60 x 75 ft.). It was reported by the press (The Scotsman, November 26, 2001) that the drillings revealed the upper layers of the graves to contain cremated remains, while the lower layers contained non-cremated remains in a state of decay. Are we to believe that the SS staff, given a whole year to work, did not manage to disinter all the buried corpses? Why would the lower layers of bodies have been left untouched, if there was an order from Himmler to exhume and incinerate all bodies (cf. Arad, p. 170)?
  • Another press item (Associated Press, November 23, 2001) states that Kola’s team found the traces of a long barrack “about 70 yards from the mass graves”. In one of its corners, the archaeologists had uncovered 1,700 bullets. According to Kola, the barrack “might have served as a gas chamber”, adding that further study was necessary. But why would executions by bullet have been carried out inside a gas chamber building? In the Scotsman article published three days later the barrack containing the bullets is described as “a hospital barrack”.
  • Jules Schelvis notes that the railway passing through Sobibor “ran through marshland” (p. 28) and Arad writes that “the whole area was swampy” (p. 30). A look at a 1933 map of the area reveal several small lakes or ponds close to the future camp, as well as a number of marshy areas, including a smaller spot inside the future camp perimeter. Franz Suchomel, who oversaw the liquidation of Sobibor, testified in 1962 that the barracks in Sobibor were constructed on top of “meter high piles” to avoid the danger of flooding. In an interview in the early 1970s he further stated that no killings were done in Sobibor “after the snow thawed because it was all under water” adding that “It was very damp at the best of times, but then it became a lake” (Sereny, p. 115). In Arad we learn that inmates attempted to escape through a tunnel (p. 311). The tunnel, which was planned by a professional miner, “could not go deeper” than 155 centimeters below the earth’s surface, because “there was a danger it might strike water.” Since a look at topographical maps of the area show that Lager 3, where the gas chambers and mass graves were allegedly located, was situated lower than the other parts of the camp, it does not make sense to suppose the ground water to have been at a lower level there, allowing for the 5 meter deep grave pits alleged by Kola. Regardless, it is a mystery why the SS construction staff, who reportedly visited the future camp site already in late 1941 (Schelvis, p. 27) would have chosen an area dominated by marshland for an extermination camp where tens if not hundreds of thousands of bodies were to be buried.
  • There has of yet been published no documentation or scientific report – in Polish, English or any other language – on the aforementioned 2001 Sobibor excavation, despite seven years having passed. According to a personal communication from Mr. Yoram Haimi of the “Sobibor Archaeological Project” ( Kola “has a problem with the Polish government.” Interestingly, Schelvis makes no mention of the excavation in the revised, post-2001 editions of his book.
  • The former Ukrainian guards interrogated by Soviet officials tend to exaggerate the camp’s area considerably, despite one of their main duties at the camp being to patrol its perimeter. Mikhail Razgonayev in a 1948 questioning gave its measure as “2-3 square kilometers”. Ignat Danilchenko stated in 1979 that the size of the area was “approximately four square kilometers”. The actual area of the camp was less than half a square kilometer (cf. the so-called Rutherford map from 2002).
  • According to Fuchs’ account of the first gassing, the victims undressed near the gas chamber and were gassed naked. Stangl on the other hand testified that he was “certain that the bodies were not naked, but were buried with their clothes still on” (Schelvis, p. 101).
  • It is alleged that none of the inmates of “Lager 3” survived the camp’s existence, and that all contact between the inmates of Lager 3 and those of the other parts of the camp was strictly prohibited. Still a number of Sobibor survivors claim to have had contact with Lager 3 through smuggled letters (or to have been aware of such contact). For example we learn in Arad’s book (p. 79) that the camp cook Hershl Zukerman was the first inmate to become aware of the existence of the gas chambers through the reply to a letter which he had hidden inside a thick crumb pie (in the account published by Novitch the dish has become a dumpling). Moshe Bahir describes letters about magical bloodstains and gas chamber floor boards with embedded fragments of hands, cheeks and ears (!). Stanislaw Szmajzner claims to have received letters from Lager 3 detailing how the killing agent had been switched from engine exhaust to Zyklon B. None of the aforementioned communication is discussed by Schelvis. Jacob Biskubicz testified that he himself had seen a gas chamber with a collapsible floor. This also goes unmentioned by Schelvis. On the other hand he mention that survivor Chaim Trager “claimed to have seen all the goings-on in Lager 3 while building a chimney on a rooftop in that part of the camp” – yet he neither provides a quote from Trager’s sensational account nor a reference to it. Novitch presents a short account by the same witness, but it does not mention any such observation. Where is the testimony that Schelvis is referring to?

The above are only some of the problems and paradoxes to be found in the orthodox historiography of the Sobibor “death camp” – a historiography almost exclusively based on witness testimony. It is, at least to me, evident that there is need for a thorough, scientific investigation into the camp’s history. It is also evident that such research will not be carried out by the mainstream historians, but rather by skeptics and revisionists.

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Author(s) Thomas Kues
Title Sobibor Strangeness, A small compendium
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Dates published: 2008-05-29, first posted on CODOH: May 27, 2008, 7 p.m., last revision: n/a
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