ARC Main Page Sobibor Camp History

Sobibor Labour Camps

Last Update 15 June 2006


In accordance with German plans at the very beginning of the occupation, the Lublin district was intended to become "the pillar of the Generalgouvernement’s agriculture". In order to modernize the agriculture in this region, the German authorities (mainly the civil administration) wanted to regulate the small rivers and to improve the meadows. Therefore the Wasserwirtschaftsinspektion (Inspection for Water Economics) in the Lublin district installed a network of small work camps in 1940. Jewish and Polish prisoners would work there. Chelm County became one of several centres for these camps. The Sobibor extermination camp was built in this district in 1942.
In 1940, Jews (mainly from Lublin and Warsaw districts) were sent to these work camps. Their official salary was 96 Zloty per month; but this amount was not nearly enough considering the extremely hard work.

Sobibor Work Camps
These forced labour camps were set up in the swampy surroundings of Sobibor: Czerniejow, Dorohusk, Kamien, Krychow, Luta, Nowosiolki, Osowa, Ruda Opalin, Sawin, Siedliszcze, Sobibor-village, Staw-Sajczyce, Tomaszowka, Ujazdow, Wlodawa and Zmudz.
In some places the camps were located in school buildings, abandoned farms or industrial buildings.
Except for the Krychow camp, the prisoners lived in barns, on private farms or in a mill (in Staw-Sajczyce). The camps were under the supervision of the German civil administration but the prisoners were guarded by Trawniki men or by Jewish police (in Osowa). In Sawin, the Jewish prisoners were supervised by Jewish police and Polish guardsmen who worked for the Wasserwirtschaftsinspektion.
Sawin Work Camp #1
The prisoners were forced to work 8-10 hours daily. Most of the time they stood in the water in wet clothes, without the opportunity of changing them. Food was always a major problem. Only those who came from towns close to the camps had the opportunity of obtaining some food from home. The Jews taken from the Warsaw Ghetto or the Warsaw district depended on the camp's kitchens. If they had some money they could buy bread from the local peasants. In some camps, like Krychow, the prisoners were killed when camp commander Adolf Löffler discovered contacts with local Poles. The Polish farmers accused of selling food to the prisoners, were beaten. In Osowa these contacts were not so strictly forbidden. Because they had no money the Jews exchanged their clothes for food.
In 1941 alone, 2,500 out of 8,700 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto had to be released from the camps because of sickness. Many Jews died of starvation, typhus epidemics and very hard work. In several camps, like Osowa or Sawin, they were shot in mass executions. In autumn 1941, in Osowa, the last remaining group of 58 Jewish prisoners were executed close to the camp. Two of them survived and became functionary prisoners in the next period, between 1942 and 1943.

Sawin Work Camp #2
In 1941, about 2,200 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto were sent to Krychow, Osowa, Sawin and Staw-Sajczyce. The number of people who were released from these camps during June/July 1941 (when almost all large buildings were taken over by the German Wehrmacht in the course of the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union) is not known. In Osowa the average number of prisoners was 400-500 people, in Siedliszcze approximately 2,000, and in Sawin 700-800.

Krychow was the biggest camp of this network, located south-west of Sobibor close to Hansk village. It was built before the war as detention camp for Polish criminals. Even then the prisoners had to regulate the rivers of this region.
In 1940, the Hansk local administration received an order from the German civil administration to prepare buildings of the former camp for Gypsy transports. These were relocated from their camp in Belzec. The whole group has been estimated at between 1,000 and 1,500 people. According to the statements by Polish witnesses from Hansk, the Gypsies in Krychow were not guarded and not forced to work. Most of them could not speak Polish. They exchanged their clothes for food and begged for money. In autumn 1940, they were deported from Krychow. Some of them were sent to the Siedlce Ghetto.
Sawin Work Camp #3
Between the end of 1940 and early 1941, most of the prisoners in Krychow were Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto and local Polish and Ukrainian farmers, arrested for not having paid their impositions. Around 1,500 prisoners in Krychow (according to witnesses in Hansk) were beaten by the guards and suffered from starvation and illness. 150 Jews worked as manual workers. Many Jews had to work on fields which belonged to the German "colonists", or at the manors taken over by Germans. Even women and children (8-12 years old) had to work there. With the beginning of Aktion Reinhard all of these forced labour camps were reserved for Jews only. After their families paid for them, the Polish and Ukrainian prisoners were released at the beginning of 1942.

The Jews arrived from liquidated ghettos in the surroundings of Sobibor: Rejowiec, Siedliszcze, Sawin, Wlodawa and Chelm or were sent after selection in the Sobibor death camp. In Sobibor the transports from abroad were selected on the ramp. People from Slovakia, Terezin (Theresienstadt), Germany and Austria did not realize or could not believe that they were standing on the ramp of an extermination camp, that a few meters away their relatives and friends were being murdered! Sobibor was probably the only extermination camp of Aktion Reinhard at which the SS selected bigger groups of Jews for work in another camp. It is unknown how many persons were selected at Sobibor for work in the forced labour camps (e.g. Budzyn, Trawniki, Poniatowa, and Dorohucza).

Sawin Work Camp #4
Adampol Memorial
Adampol Memorial
Apart from the difficult conditions of life and work (in spring and summer mosquitoes were a big problem), selections in the camps were regularly organized. Sick people and children were sent by horse-drawn vehicles or by foot to Sobibor death camp. In the camps which were very close to Sobibor, the inmates knew about the death camp. This psychological pressure shattered their will to resist and survive. In many Polish testimonies, the witnesses mentioned the passivity of the prisoners. In Osowa village, 7 km away from Sobibor and surrounded by a big forest, no prisoner escaped from the camp although some Poles attempted to help them. Only during the final liquidation of the Adampol Work Camp near Wlodawa (on 13 August 1943) did some of the prisoners who were in contact with partisans, try to organize some resistance and fight against the police. It is important to mention that most of the inmates in Adampol were Polish Jews who knew their fate. During the liquidation of this camp 475 Jewish prisoners were executed on the spot. Most of the foreign Jews had no possibility of escaping because they did not know the local population and region. Especially for Jews from Germany, Austria or Holland (1943) the language barrier was a huge problem. In Sawin successful escapes by two Czech Jews are known. One of those who escaped, who lost his mother during the selection in Sawin, only found out after the war that his camp was not far away from the death camp in Sobibor.

In other camps the biggest group of prisoners were Jews from outside Poland. Polish witnesses very often mention their close contacts with Czech Jews. Polish farmers realized that among the deportees were Jews who had converted to Christianity. For example in Sawin a dentist from Czechoslovakia was a member of the church choir and her son played the violin during mass. Christian Jews from Czechoslovakia were also in Krychow:
"Among the Jews who were in the camp in Krychow there were also Catholics. I saw how during the transport to Krychow some of them stopped before the cross which was close to the street, and they crossed themselves and prayed. I saw also that some of them wore small crosses on the chest." (Statement of Zygmunt Leszczynski from Hansk)

Sawin Work Camp #5
In summer and autumn 1943, most of these camps were liquidated and their inmates were sent to Sobibor. From Krychow the prisoners were taken on horse-drawn wagons. From Sawin they had to walk and many of them were killed on the way to the death camp:
"I remember, we were together with my father in front of our house, 5-8 m away from the street. Suddenly we saw the "Kalmuk" (probably a Ukrainian guard), and behind him several hundred marching people in a column. They walked very slowly and looked starved and dirty. Several of them took off their hats and told us words of farewell: "Good bye Mr. Stankiewicz, we are going to the fire."
(Statement of Henryk Stankiewicz from Sawin).

Sawin Work Camp #6
After the selections in the labour camps and during their final liquidation the Germans forced the Polish farmers to use their horse-drawn wagons to transport the old people and invalids. Just before the gate of the death camp in Sobibor the Poles had to abandon the wagons and Ukrainians from the camp drove the wagons through the gate. Then the Poles heard the victims screaming and after one or two hours the wagons were brought back to them.

Probably the last liquidated camp was in Luta village. The camp existed, according to the testimonies of local inhabitants, until the Sobibor uprising on 14 October 1943. The inmates from Luta observed a group of Sobibor prisoners who tried to escape to the nearby forest. After the uprising the Jews from Luta were taken to the death camp for extermination.

In Osowa a small cemetery is to be seen with graves of prisoners who died there.

It is very difficult to say how many people passed through the Sobibor work camps or perished there. The subject - small work camps within the death camp's surroundings - is not generally known among historians and requires further research.

Archive of the Institute for the National Remembrance in Lublin: Documents about the Investigations on the Mass Crimes in the Work Camps in Krychow, Siedliszcze and Adampol.
State Archive in Lublin: Collection of the Governor of the Lublin District.
Interview with Mr. Stefan Ostapiuk from Osowa, private collection of R. Kuwalek.
T. Berenstein: Obozy pracy przymusowej dla Zydow w dystrykcie lubelskim. Biuletyn ZIH, nr 24 (1957).
T. Berenstein: Zydzi warszawscy w hitlerowskich obozach pracy przymusowej. Biuletyn ZIH nr 67 (1967).
E. Dziadosz, J. Marszalek: Wiezienia i obozy w dystrykcie lubelskim w latach 1939-1967. „Zeszyty Majdanka”, vol. III (1967).
J. Krasnodebska: Przyczynek do historii getta w Sawinie. „Rocznik Chelmski”, vol. IV (1998).
J. Marszalek: Zydzi warszawscy w Lublinie i na Lubelszczyznie w latach 1940-1944. (in) Zydzi w Lublinie. Materialy do dziejow spolecznosci zydowskiej Lublina. red. T. Radzik. Lublin 1995.

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