Sobibor - Muehlenkamp's "best explanation"

Published: 2011-06-04

By Thomas Kues

After my comment on the terms Sonderlager and SS-Sonderkommando in relation to the Sobibór camp,[1] Roberto Muehlenkamp has focused his untiring yet self-defeating powers of "argumentation" on the following passage in the March 1944 Benda report on the Sobibór prisoner uprising:

"Mit Rücksicht auf die Art die Sonderlagers und dessen Häftlinge, wurde veranlasst, dass die Wehrmacht sofort die Verfolgung der Flüchtigen und die Schutzpolizei die Sicherung des Lagers ausserhalb der Lagerumzäunung aufnahm."[2]

In English translation:

"In view of the nature of the special camp [Sonderlagers] and its prisoners, the Wehrmacht was ordered to organize an immediate posse after the fugitives, and the Police to secure the safety of the camp outside its fences."

Muehlenkamp has offered the following interpretation:

"The best explanation (i.e. the one that takes all known evidence into account and requires the fewest additional assumptions) is that it was considered most urgent that all fugitives be recovered lest they reveal that Sobibór had been an extermination camp, and that the Wehrmacht was charged with the task because it had more personnel available for this purpose than the SD and the Security Police, including units that were trained and experienced in hunting partisans and therefore most suited for the task."[3]

In other words: The most reasonable explanation for why "the nature of the special camp and its prisoners" required the escaped inmates to be pursued with particular fervor was that they were able to inform the world about Sobibór the Extermination Camp. The problem with this explanation, similar to most arguments advanced by Muehlenkamp and his ilk, is that it ultimately falls back on the a priori assumption that Sobibór indeed functioned as a "pure extermination camp" - for which there is not a shred of hard evidence.

The assertion that the escaped inmates were carriers of the secret of the "extermination camp" Sobibór in fact makes little sense even from an exterminationist viewpoint. Not a single inmate from the "death camp proper", Lager III, participated in the mass escape on 14 October 1943. In Sobibór: Holocaust Propaganda and Reality I spent several passages discussing what the Jewish eyewitness have to say regarding their and other inmates' knowledge of Lager III, which was separated from the rest of the camp by fences and a densely wooded area. The Jewish work commando(s) employed in Lager III were likewise kept separated from the rest of the prisoner population and never entered the other Lagers. Thomas Blatt, who was sent to Sobibór in April 1943, writes in his memoirs that

"The most conclusive evidence that something murderous was taking place in Lager III was the fact that no-one ever came out alive, but such evidence was purely circumstantial. The Nazis made it difficult to collect any direct evidence of what was widely known throughout the camp."[4]

However, as I showed in the abovementioned study, based on maps an air photos, the inmates in the other parts of the camp could not have been certain that "no-one ever came out alive" .[5]
According to another witness, Eda (Ada) Lichtman, "They [the Germans] always thought that we [= the Jewish inmates] did not know what was going on there [in Lager III]."[6]

If these witness statements are correct, then how could the escaped prisoner have been viewed as carriers of the secret (Geheimnisträgern) of  Sobibór the Extermination Camp? If it was indeed true that no Jew "ever came out alive" from Lager III and that this fact constituted "the most conclusive evidence" the camp inmates had that this part of Sobibór served as a facility for mass murder, would not then all the Polish civilians in the vicinity of the camp, who were in a much better position to ascertain whether "no-one ever came out alive", likewise have been considered Geheimnisträgern and dealt with accordingly?

The Oneg Szabat group in Warsaw identified Sobibór as an extermination camp already in early July 1942, two months after it began operating, and already on 1 July 1942 the Polish Fortnightly Review published an article according to which Jews were sent to Sobibór and murdered there en masse with gas, machine-guns and bayonets. In a report from the the Polish Government in Exile dated 23 December 1942 Sobibór is identified together with Treblinka and Belzec as an extermination center. The Polish underground press mentioned the Sobibór "death camp" repeatedly in 1942 and 1943.[7] There can be no doubt that the Germans were aware of the contents of at least some of these propaganda writings, and the way they depicted the camp ­- but why would they then worry as late as in mid-October 1943 that the escaped prisoners would "reveal" Sobibór as an "extermination camp"? This gets even more curious when one considers that the atrocity stories produced by the early Sobibór eyewitnesses are ridiculous yarns about gassings with chlorine, mysterious black substances, magical bloodstains, electric machines releasing "deadly gas", collapsible gas chamber floors, mass killings carried out with water hoses, etc. etc.[8] - i.e. certainly not any "detailed knowledge" regarding the supposed going-ons in Lager III.

Roberto Muehlenkamp has completely ignored the following simple explanation why there was a special urgency to the pursuit of the escaped Sobibór inmates: As already shown by me the dismantling plant for captured Soviet munitions mentioned in Himmler's directive from 5 July 1943 (NO-482) was indeed installed in the "Lager IV" or "Nordlager" section of Sobibór and came to employ at least 110 inmates, many of them Soviet-Jewish POW:s, who, led by Alexander "Sasha" Pechersky, made up the core of the 14 October uprising. Documentary evidence further show that a significant amount of captured Soviet munitions was stored there and later, following the prisoner revolt, sent away from the camp.[9] It goes without saying that the detailed knowledge of the munition dismantling plant held by the escaped inmates would have been of potentially great value to partisan units operating in that part of eastern Poland as well as in the neighboring parts of Belarus and the Ukraine, especially considering that many of said partisans were using Soviet weapons. The knowledge of the escaped prisoners could thus have triggered a partisan attack on the camp with the purpose of stealing the munitions depot, or prompted the destruction of the railway tracks, as a means of shutting down the dismantling operation.[10] The fact that the addition of several trained and experienced Red Army soldiers to the local partisan groups hardly would have benefited the Germans also fits this picture.

The above alternative explanation is certainly better than Muehlenkamp's "best explanation", as it does not require belief in the factually unsupported claim that Sobibór functioned as a "pure extermination camp."

[4] Thomas Toivi Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1997, p. 232.
[5] Jürgen Graf, Thomas Kues, Carlo Mattogno, Sobibór: Holocaust Propaganda and Reality, TBR Books, Washington DC 2010, pp. 97-98.
[6] Ibid., p. 79.
[7] Ibid, pp. 63-67.
[8] Ibid, pp. 69-75, 82, 179.

[10] For some curious reason it never occurred to the partisans that they could (at least temporarily) stop the deportation trains to Sobibór and the other "extermination centres" by dynamiting the railroad tracks leading there. No doubt some exterminationist historians would put this up to the Poles being inveterate anti-Semites...

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Author(s): Thomas Kues
Title: Sobibor - Muehlenkamp's "best explanation"
Published: 2011-06-04
First posted on CODOH: June 4, 2011, 4:12 a.m.
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