Escape from Sobibor

Hitler’s Chosen People fight back and win

Holocaust scholars hid story of heroic Jews who refused

to quietly go to their death in Nazi extermination camps

It took a non-Jew to break the silence of arrogant 'experts'

Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke

By Carl Dow
Publisher and Editor
True North Perspective/True North Humanist Perspective
Image: Cover of Lower Town, by Darren Jerome.  
Escape from Sobibor
By Richard Rashke
University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition (July 1 1995)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN-10: 0252064798
ISBN-13: 978-0252064791
 1 March 2015Up until his landmark book, Escape from Sobibor by American non-Jew Richard Rashke (1982), the world was led to believe that European Jews passively allowed Germany's Nazis to herd them by the millions into the scientifically perfected death camps designed to exterminate all Jews. This false impression was encouraged by Holocaust scholars, who said there was not enough documentation to support eye-witness accounts of resistance and revenge.
As one who was raised as a Christian, my first experience with Holocaust literature was a 1948 Polish movie, The Last Stop, the protagonist of which was a Polish Jewish woman who led women's resistance at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland.
Wanda Jakubowska, a Polish filmmaker, Communist, and concentration camp survivor, returned to Auschwitz in 1948 to fashion one of the most powerful and historically accurate feature films about the experiences of women in the death camp. The Last Stop celebrates the resilience of female solidarity and was one of the few films made in the actual place where the events happened, by the survivors themselves. Scripted by Jakubowska and Gerda Schneider in 1945, the story is based on observations of events during their internment. Unlike later films about the Holocaust, this one shows both brave opposition and cowardly acquiescence to the Nazis, and both class differences and solidarity between the Jewish, Polish, Russian and French prisoners. As in many Polish post-war films, hope lies in the Communist resistance; but unlike films by male directors, the film resolutely focuses on the female experience of war. The Last Stop includes images one will never forget.
While never a student of the genre, I finally gave up on Holocaust literature because the focus was on surrender and what I thought was a glossing over of Nazi cruelty. Then, in 1982, while I, as an editor, was nursing thousands of copies of newspapers off the press at Toronto's Eveready Printers, I stumbled across a new book called Escape from Sobibor by American Richard Rashke. I speed read the book, wincing in advance in preparation for another dismal story of surrender and destruction, and because I didn't need to be reminded about the monstrous  Nazis who had been spawned by Germany.
But I was soon pleased to have my expectations denied. Escape from Soibibor was a book about Jews fighting back and winning.
Perhaps it makes sense that a non-Jew could better tell the Holocaust story than a Jew. American Richard Rashke, brilliantly puts the Nazi Jewish extermination plan in a context that reveals not only the hearts and minds of the victims but also the barren souls of those who committed the crime.

While Hitler’s bile infected a gullible population at home and caused human suffering throughout the world, it’s most vicious expression was east of Germany through to Moscow and Stalingrad. In eastern Poland they found an excellent location for three camps especially designed for extermination of all European Jews. In eastern Poland and western Ukraine there was, outside of Germany, the highest concentration of anti-Semitism. Both Catholic and Orthodox churches had sown the seeds of anti-Semitism in fertile soil. The so-called "Christ killers" deserved what Hitler had chosen for them.

Some have argued that others beside Jews died in their millions at the hands of the Nazis. According to two American retired colonels, Colonel David M. Glantz, who saw action in Vietnam, and Lieuenan. Colonel Jonathon M. House, whose active duty included command positions in Korea, and who both taught university level military history, the war Hitler started on his eastern Front saw a staggering 29 million military casualties alone. It cost the Red Army 10 million to stop Hitler, another 10 million to throw the Nazi war machine back, and a final nine million to take Berlin. So what's with five million Jews?

The difference was that the Slavs were subhuman and were to be literally worked to death. The Jews, from whatever country, were to be exterminated without the joy of forced labour, as many and as quickly as possible. In this the Germans had plenty of support in eastern Poland and western Ukraine. The Polish Blue Police, the Polish Home Army, the Polish Partisans, the Polish National Armed Forces, all hunted and exterminated Jews without encouragement from the Germans. All the Nazis had to do was make it clear that it was okay with them.

Only the Red Army, the Red Army partisans and the Polish Communist partisans accepted the Jews with open arms as equals. Jews blew up bridges, troop and munition transport trains, and ambushed German military formations. They merged with other partisan groups or operated independently.

Escape from Sobibor describes the only successful mass breakout from a Nazi concentration or death camp in World War II. Hollywood made much of such an attempt with the movie The Great Escape. But in fact that escape failed, all were either shot or captured and put back behind barbed wire.

On October 14, 1943, six hundred Jews imprisoned in Sobibor, a secret Nazi death camp for Jews, in eastern Poland, revolted. They killed a dozen German SS officers and Ukrainian guards, trampled the barbed wire fences, and raced across an open field filled with anti-tank mines.

Against all odds, more than three hundred made it to safety into the woods. Fifty of those men and women managed to survive to the rest of the war.

In this fully updated edition of Escape from Sobibor, Richard Rashke tells their stories, based on his interviews with eighteen of the survivors. He vividly describes the biggest prisoner escape of World War II. A story of unimaginable cruelty. A story of courage and a fierce desire to live and to tell the world what truly went on behind those barbed wire fences.

The Holocaust 'experts' turned a blind eye on resistance born of courage. They preferred to rely on documentation left by the Germans. One author, who wrote a thousand-page book on the Holocaust dismissed the Sobibor event with a footnote saying later, when challenged, that eyewitness accounts were unreliable because memory is faulty and survivors too emotional. With classic academic snobbery the Holocausters denied victims their due and instead relied on reports of those who committed the crimes against humanity than that of the Jews who singly, in groups of two or more, harried the Nazi criminals behind the lines from Germany to the Soviet Union.

Richard Rashke is a lecturer and the author of nonfiction books including The Killing of Karen Silkwood and Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals.

Mr. Rashke is featured in the award-winning international television series Nazi Hunters. His works have been translated into eleven languages and have been the subjects of movies for screen and television.

A produced screenwriter and playwright, his work has appeared on network television and off Broadway. He is also an alto sax player and composer. His latest composition, Crane’s Wife, a family musical based on a Japanese folk tale, was performed at the Kennedy Center, and a new play, Dear Esther, based on the life of a Sobibor prisoner, opened in Miami, Florida, in 2013. He lives in Washington, DC.      


In the following, Richard Rashke describes his frustration in dealing with minds of Holocaust 'historians' who wrote without due diligence about the German criminals and those who fought them.

Intellectual snobbery by Holocaust historians

cause the Jewish people more intense suffering

By Richard Rashke
Escape From Sobibor

In retrospect, my book, Escape from Sobibor, played a small but important role in raising the consciousness of Jews, especially American Jews. Time and again, younger Jews who privately nursed feelings of shame over the alleged passivity of Holocaust victims suddenly showed angry interest. “How come I never heard about any of this?” they would demand in almost disbelief. Since the publication of the book in 1982, other writers, researchers, and filmmakers have begun to explore the resistance theme, and teachers of social history have become increasingly hungry for more stories about the Jews who fought back and the Christians who helped them.

The renewed interest in Jewish resistance has caused me to rethink the contribution of the book to the history of World War II. It has become clear that most, but not all, Holocaust historians have trapped themselves in a catch-22 of their own making. On the one hand, they take pride in basing their writings and critical analyses on official records. And the Nazis were very obliging. They left behind millions of documents and reports and thousands of films, and pictures, that do not document and scarcely mention Jewish resistance to the Nazi regime. Add to this critical omission that the vast majority of resisters were killed without witnesses and one has what can only be called a cruel historical hoax.

I voiced my concern about the distorted “passive Jew” theory to a highly respected Holocaust historian whom I met at an international conference. Why, I asked, did he relegate the escape from Sobibor to a brief footnote in his thousand-page book? Because, he said, the escape was an interesting aberration and a footnote was all it deserved. How could he be so certain that resistance was a mere aberration, I asked? Because, he said, there are no documents. What about the survivors, I asked? They are too emotional, he said, and their memories are not to be trusted. Documents are frequently inaccurate, I countered. They often distort. By way of example, I pointed three factual errors in his own footnote about Sobibor. The historian dismissed me like a student and, in subsequent reprints of his classic, repeated the same three errors in the same skimpy footnote.

Over the years, I have encountered similar closed-mindedness and intellectual snobbery among other Holocaust historians who build on each other’s writings. Unfortunately, their writings are based on the same flawed premise: If the Nazis didn’t write about it, it didn’t happen; and if they did write about it but did not give it much significance, it wasn’t significant. More unfortunately, in portraying Jews as a flock of sheep on the road to slaughter, these historians have committed the unpardonable sin of distorting history. By so doing, they have caused intense suffering and irreparable damage to the Jewish people.

Escape from Sobibor challenges those historians and their false logic. Like other “impossible” events in history, the escape became an important symbol. It represents the buried stories of hundreds of thousands who fought and died in the ghettos no one ever heard of; who tried to escape on the way to camps but never made it; who fought back inside camps but who were killed anyway; who managed to escape only to be recaptured and executed; who formed or joined partisan groups from the woods of Vilna to the forest of the owls (Sobibor) and who never saw liberation as Toivi, Shlomo, Leon, and Esther did.

Sobibor broke into the news in 1981 when John Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian-American, was tried for lying about his service as an SS guard at Sobibor. The story ended thirty-one years and multiple trials later when he died in a nursing home in Germany.

I tell the Demjanjuk-Sobibor story in my new book within the broader context of America’s extensive use of former Nazi war criminals as Cold War propagandists, spies, and saboteurs. Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals. Published January 2013.


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