The village of Sobibor is located to the East of Lublin, near the Eastern border of Poland. During the Second World War it was situated in the Nazi occupied area, not annexed to Nazi Germany, called the Generalgouvernement. Sobibor Killing Centre was constructed some distance from the village, near to the Chelm-Wlodawa railway line.  

Operation Reinhard

In 1941, Heinrich Himmler tasked SS General Odilo Globocnik, leader of the SS and police in Lublin, with the mass murder of the entire Jewish population within the Generalgouvernement. This task would be named Operation Reinhard. Under this operation three Killing Centres; Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka II, were specifically constructed to facilitate mass murder. They functioned between March 1942 and the end of 1943.

To disguise the functions of the Killing Centres used within Operation Reinhard, people who were later sent to be murdered were forced to write letters to their families, stating that they were at a forced labour camp before being murdered in gas chambers. This was intended to convince family members, and others, that people were still alive.

During the course of Operation Reinhard, the Nazi regime murdered around 1.7 million Jewish people.  

Sobibor Killing Centre

 Construction was directed by Captain Richard Thomalla of the SS, in 1942. The location, in close proximity to the Chelm-Wlodawa railway, was selected as it was both isolated and allowed easier transportation of people. The site covered an area approximately 400 meters by 600 meters, and its perimeter was surrounded by barbed wire fences that had tree branches woven into them for disguise.

Following completion of construction in April 1942, the first deportation train arrived containing 2,400 Jewish people from Chelm. Transportation trains to Sobibor began arriving on a regular basis from May 1942. Between May and the end of July 1942, around 61,000 Jewish people were murdered at the Sobibor Killing Centre.

Following the order to ‘resettle’ every Jewish person within the Gerneralgouvenment by the end of 1942, the rate of murder at Sobibor increased significantly. At the end of July 1942, Sobibor ceased operations in order to update the railway line and expand the capacity of the gas chambers. Arrivals into Sobibor resumed the following October, at which time the updated gas chambers had the capacity to murder 1,300 people at a time. The first of the next phase of deportations brought 24,000 Jewish people from Slovakia, deported from the Izbica Transit Camp, and other ghettos within the area Lublin area.

Many people were transported to Sobibor from transit camps within the Nazi camp system; over 34,000 Jewish people were deported to Sobibor from Westerbork, The Netherlands, between March and July 1943. Transportations also came to Sobibor from Drancy, France. The final deportations to Sobibor arrived in September 1943, mostly from the Minsk, Vilna and Lida Ghettos which were in the process of being liquidated by the Nazis; around 14,000 individuals arrived in the last month of the Killing Centres existence.

Throughout its operation, the Killing Centre murdered between 170,000 and 250,000 people, most of whom were Jewish. Some Gypsies were also murdered at to Sobibor during its time of function.

Sobibor was constructed with three sections; the Administration area, the Reception area and the Killing area. Each section carried out a different role in the functioning of the Killing Centre.

Reception Area

The Reception area of the Killing Centre was where people arrived on the trains coming into Sobibor. On arrival at the platform, people would be informed that they were on route to forced labour camps, and must be disinfected before their journey could continue. Men and women were then separated. Most people arriving on these transportations were immediately sent to be murdered using Carbon Monoxide gas. A very small number of people, judged able to work, were chosen to remain alive and used for forced labour. They would carry out the role of the Sonderkommando in the gas chambers. These individuals were required to remove bodies from the gas chambers, remove gold teeth and then dispose of the remains. The Sonderkommando generally were not allowed to live for more than a few months, facing scrutiny of whether they were still capable of carrying out the tasks. They would then be murdered and replaced.

Forced labourers also worked within the Reception area transferring people from the platforms to the gas chambers, and removing belongings. The area contained stores where belongings stolen from people brought to Sobibor were housed, before transfer into the Third Reich.

The Reception area was connected to the Killing area by a path called ‘the Tube’, which was enclosed to prevent escapes.

Killing Area

The gas chambers inside Sobibor Killing Centre began functioning in May 1942. Once people had been removed from the trains, they were forced to remove their clothing before being marched down ‘the Tube’, to what appeared to be a shower bloc. At this point, women had all their hair shaved. After this, people were murdered in gas chambers using Carbon Monoxide gas. This process was repeated until every person marked for death who arrived on the trains had been murdered.

The SS guards who worked in Sobibor referred to ‘the Tube’ as the Himmelfahrtstrasse, ‘heavenly road’, to disguise their intentions.  Originally the Sonderkommando were required to bury the bodies in mass graves. However at the end of 1942, the Nazis ordered the Sonderkommando to exhume the bodies and burn them in an attempt to hide evidence of the atrocities they had committed at Sobibor. The Sonderkommando had barracks in the Killing area, alongside the burial trenches.

Administration area

The Administration area contained barracks for SS guards, and staff who had been trained in the Trawniki camp. As well as the Camp Commandant, a staff of around 20 to 30 SS officers, and Trawniki staff, worked within Sobibor. The administration offices were also housed in this area, the names of Jewish people from Western Europe were recorded. The names of Jewish people from Poland and other Eastern European countries were not recorded.


The Sonderkommandos at Sobibor created a resistance group in 1943. This group intended to prevent any more mass murder in the gas chambers. They were led by Leon Feldhendler, then Aleksandr Pechersky, both of whom had received military training in the Soviet Union. The group planned to kill SS guards and begin a mass escape from the Sobibor Killing Centre.

On the October 14, 1943, the revolt happened. The resistors killed some of the SS guards and allowed 300 people to escape. Of these, around 100 people were recaptured and murdered, as were all remaining people held at the Killing Centre. Only 46 people who escaped from Sobibor survived to the end of the Second World War.


Sobibor Killing Centre ceased operation in October 1943, following the October revolt. The revolt stopped the intended transformation of Sobibor into a concentration camp, which in turn led to the liquidation of the Killing Centre. Although there was intention to use the Sobibor site as a holding centre for women and children from Belarus, this plan was never carried out. The site was dismantled by people who had been held prisoner in Treblinka, supervised by SS guards. These people were shot after the site was dismantled. A small Ukrainian guard unit remained on the site, the ground was ploughed over and crops were planted on the site. 


SS First Lieutenant Franz Stangl, became Camp Commandant of Sobibor on April 28, 1942. He remained in post until August 1942, when he was transferred to Treblinka. There he received a commendation for his ruthlessness and dedication. He carried out various roles before being captured by American troops in 1945, and imprisoned for his part in SS operations in Yugoslavia and Italy. Franz Stangl’s role in mass murder operations in Poland remained unknown until he was rearrested in Brazil after being placed on the Austrian list of ‘wanted criminals’. He was tried for responsibility of the mass murder of 900,000 Jewish people and sentenced to life imprisonment. Stangl died of heart failure in 1971. His activities at Sobibor were not included in his trial.

In 1942, following Franz Stangl, SS Captain Franz Reichleitner took control of Sobibor Killing Centre.  After leading the liquidation of Sobibor, Reichleitner was sent to Italy and killed in action, in January 1944.

Some of the former Sobibor guards were captured between 1965 and 1966. Eleven men were tried for atrocities committed at Sobibor. One was sentenced to life imprisonment, five to a shorter prison sentence, four were acquitted, and one committed suicide.


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