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Edinburgh, Monday, November 26, 2001
Mass Graves Confirm Sobibor Holocaust
POLISH archaeologists have found mass graves at the Sobibor extermination camp -- damning evidence that gives the lie to Holocaust deniers.
Sobibor, one of the four main extermination camps of the Nazi regime, was evacuated and destroyed on the orders of the SS chief Heinrich Himmler in October 1943, after an uprising by inmates.
The British Holocaust denier David Irving claimed during his libel trial -- which he lost last year -- that he had never heard of the camp. In an exchange with a lawyer, he was asked about the existence of Nazi death camps in Poland and said: "Treblinka I am becoming uncertain about. Sobibor I know nothing of." [Website comment: See transcripts, page 242, day 2, Jan 12, 2000]
Like the three other extermination centres -- Belzec, Treblinka and Chelmno -- Sobibor was situated deep in Poland where an efficient rail network married to remote areas gave the Nazis the perfect means to build their human abattoirs. Sobibor was grassed over and reforested after the SS pulled out and has only recently been under forensic examination.
The discoveries of the seven mass graves will provide invaluable material for Holocaust academics about the numbers who died there.
According to official Polish accounts, 250,000 people were killed in Sobibor, which was opened in May 1942 and lies close to the eastern border with Ukraine. Most victims were from the Warsaw ghetto and died within hours of arriving there, although there was an adjacent work camp holding Russian prisoners of war.
The detainees were told they were going to be deloused and were led to the "showers." These were in fact gas chambers linked up to the exhaust systems of large diesel engines of the sort used in U-boats: it was a crude method of extermination; the victims, many of them children, often took up to 30 minutes to die.
"We uncovered seven mass graves with an average depth of 15ft. In them there were charred human remains and under them remains in a state of decay. That means that in the final stage the victims were burned," said Andrzej Kola, an archaeologist. He said the largest grave measured 210ft by 75ft, the others 60ft by 75ft.
"We also found a hospital barracks. The people there were probably shot, as we found over 1,800 machine gun cartridges," Mr Kola said. "In the woods we found remnants of barbed wire, which enabled us to reconstruct the boundary of the camp."
Just 52 people survived Sobibor from the thousands sent there. Among them were some of the 300 who broke out of the camp on 14 October, 1943. Eighty were caught soon after escaping, but a handful survived the war.
Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, head of the Council for Remembrance of Struggle and Martyrdom and a former Polish foreign minister, said it was vital to gather evidence to refute the claims of revisionists seeking to deny the Holocaust.
"The work will continue. We have to confirm scientifically that this camp existed. There are crazy voices trying to deny the events of those years," said Mr Bartoszewski, who as a young man helped protect Jews in occupied Poland.
Franz Stangl, who later commanded the Treblinka death camp and was found guilty of helping slaughter 900,000 people there, mentioned the Sobibor camp in Gitta Sereny's 1974 biography Into That Darkness.
Sereny, who interviewed Stangl extensively for the book, wrote that 100,000 people died during the two months after the camp opened, when Stangl was posted there. The gas chamber equipment broke down and did not resume work until October.
A 1965 memorial at Sobibor reads: "In this place from May 1942 until October 1943 there existed a Hitler extermination camp. At this camp 250,000 Russian, Polish, Jewish and Gipsy prisoners were murdered."
In all six million Jews and a further six million "subhuman" enemies of the Third Reich were killed in the extermination plan. Although Auschwitz in Poland claimed the most -- more than a million -- it was not solely a death camp as prisoners worked in factories adjacent to the extermination centre.
Related story on this website:
Monday, December 3, 2001
David Irving writes to The Scotsman:
I just read Allan Hall's article on the Sobibor find (Nov 26) and must take exception to his suggestion that I had never heard of the camp. Of course I had. When asked in the witness box at the Lipstadt Libel Trial what I knew about it, I replied quote rightly, "Sobibor I know nothing of." I had no need to. I am not a Holocaust historian; I have never written on it. Even those who have, have found no single document referring to the camp, so my own lack of knowledge should not surprise your correspondent.
Afterthought: We wonder why they have started excavating Sobibor, instead of Auschwitz?