If some Jews survived the deportation to Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor does this mean they were not death camps but transit camps?
Holocaust deniers claim:
A handful of western European Jews survived their deportation to Sobibor, which means that Sobibor—and by extension Belzec and Treblinka—were not death camps, but transit camps.
The facts are:
The evidence shows that most of Jews from western Europe who were deported to the East were murdered immediately on their arrival at Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka. Some were selected for labor in the death camps themselves or nearby labor camps. Thus, because a tiny fraction of the 250,000 western Jews deported to the death camps survived does not mean Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor were not extermination camps.
Carlo Mattogno, an Italian Holocaust denier, documents the names of 101 male Jews who were deported from the Theresienstadt ghetto to Osawa-Sobibor on May 9, 1942. These Jews did not die in Sobibor but in the Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. Mattogno claims that this means that Sobibor, Treblinka, and Belzec were not death camps, but transit camps from which Jews were pushed further to the East.
The facts about the fate of western European Jews deported to the East.
About 250,000 Jews from Germany, France, Slovakia, Austria, the former Czech lands, and the Netherlands were deported to Poland and the occupied Soviet territories. The Germans intended for their journey to be a one-way trip, but it was not always a straight line from a city or transit camp in Western Europe to a mass grave in one of the death camps.
In general one of two things happened to these western European Jews:
- The transports of western European were immediately murdered upon arrival in the death camp. As labor needs arose, some of the male Jews from the transports were selected for work in the Sonderkommandos in the death camps.
- Some transports of western European Jews underwent a selection in which some Jews were diverted from the transports to the death camps and were sent to ghettos or labor camps in Poland or the German-occupied Soviet territories where they often died of starvation, abuse or execution.
Let us take a look at these two results of “resettlement” in the East.
The majority of Jews from western Europe were murdered immediately on arrival in the death camps.
Between March 2, 1943 and July 20, 1943, 34,313 Jews from the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands were shipped directly to Sobibor on 19 transports. Of the 34,313 Jews on these transports only 18 Jewish men survived the war. Where did the other 34,297 Jews from Westerbork go? If all of them had been transported to the East to work as the Holocaust deniers claim, surely more than 18 would have returned and some of them should have been women and children.
The western European Jews were diverted from the transports to the death camps to a ghettos or labor camps in the East.
Mattogno argues that that since 101 German and Czech male Jews survived a transport to Sobibor on May 9, 1942 this means that it was not a death camp. The transport was routed “Osawa-Sobibor.” The Germans had set up a labor camp at Osawa (which is on the rail line to Sobibor). When this transport stopped at Osawa some of the male Jews were selected to work in the Osawa camp. The remainder of the transport—the women, children, elderly, and sick—were sent on to Sobibor where they were all murdered on arrival. Later, some of the Jews in the Osawa labor camp were transferred to Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. These diversions permitted the some of the Jewish men to survive the war.
Several Jews from western Europe testified to being selected for labor from transports to Sobibor:
Jules Schelvis, a Dutch Jew was deported on June 1, 1943, along with 3,005 other Jews including his wife Rachel and her family. On his arrival in Sobibor, he was selected with 79 other male Jews for work in Dorohucza, a nearby labor camp for digging peat. The remaining 2,875 Jews in Schelvis’s transport (including his wife and her family) disappeared.
Albert Adejes, a French Jew, was deported to Sobibor on March 4, 1943. After a six-day journey, he related: “We had to get off the train and step into the ice-cold night. When we had all gathered between two or three SS barracks, they asked us if we wanted to work. I was one of forty who stepped forward and volunteered. The others stayed back. Forty of us went straight back into the wagons that had taken us from Drancy to Sobibor.”
Adejes was one of the four Jews who survived this transport, eventually ending up at Auschwitz-Birkenau at the end of the war.
Thus, the Holocaust deniers’ argument that because a handful of western European Jews survived transports to the Sobibor death camp this does not means that most of the Jews that were deported to that camp—or to Belzec and Treblinka—were not murdered on arrival.
Excavations at Belzec death camp: The case of Max Munk.
While Belzec was being surveyed by Professor Andrzej Kola, the director of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography at the Nicolaus Copernicus University (Torun, Poland), from 1997-1999 to locate the areas of the mass graves, investigators found the lid of a silver cigarette case bearing an inscription: “Max Munk, Wien 27.” Max Munk was born in Vienna in 1892 and was deported to Theresienstadt via Prague on December 17, 1941 on Transport N. From Theresienstadt he was deported on transport ‘Ag’ to the transit ghetto in Piaski on April 1, 1942. Ultimately, Munk’s journey to Belzec was completed when he was placed on another transport to Belzec from the Piaski ghetto. His ashes are buried somewhere in Belzec but his cigarette case is mute evidence that Belzec was, for him and some 450,000 other Jews, the final destination.
Excavation Site at Sobibór. By Julian Nitzsche (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The evidence shows that most of the Jews from western Europe who were deported to the East were murdered immediately on their arrival at Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka. Sometimes a small number was selected for labor in other camps or upon their arrival were put to work in the Jewish Sonderkomandos in the death camps. Mattogno’s assertion that because a tiny fraction of the 250,000 western Jews deported to the death camps survived this means that the Operation Reinhard camps were transit or labor selection camps is false.
 Carlo Mattogno, Belzec in Propaganda, Testimonies, Archeological Research, and History (Theses & Dissertations Press, 2004), (“Table 1”), p. 112 at http://vho.org/dl/ENG/b.pdf.
 Jules Schelvis, Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp (Berg, 2007), pp. 198, 199.
 Martin Gilbert, Holocaust Journey: Travelling in Search of the Past (Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 248.
 Schelvis, Sobibor, p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 217.
 Ibid., p. 217.
 Robin O’Neill and Michael Tregenza, “Archeological Investigations: A Review by Historians,” Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team, 2007, www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ar/modern/archreview.html. See also Andrzej Kola, Belzec: The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources, Excavations 1997-1999 (Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2000), “Summary, Figure 95,” p. 76.