Be strong and be brave- 4 Heroines

Ala Gertner, Róża Robota, Regina Szafirsztajn and Estera Wajcblum, more then likely these names mean nothing to you. But these 4 young women showed a bravery that would make the bravery of any hardened warrior pale in comparison.

These 4 women were all members of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Sonderkommando were Jewish prisoners who worked the death camps in return for special treatment and privileges. Every few months, the current sonderkommando was liquidated and the first task of their successors was to dispose of the bodies of the previous group. Since a sonderkommando usually comprised men from incoming transports, their second task often consisted of disposing of the bodies of their own families.

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By 1943, the four women named above were all imprisoned in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Three of the women, Ala, Regina and Estera, were assigned to work in the munitions factory adjacent to Auschwitz. Recruited by Róża Robota, who worked in Auschwitz’s clothing depot (known as “Canadakommando,” these men and women had the awful task of sorting through the clothing discarded by murdered Jews)recruited them to smuggle minute quantities of gunpowder out of the factory.

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This they did, almost daily, smuggling the powder in secret pockets sewn into their camp issued dresses, even under their nails. Róża would then collect the powder, wrap it in small rags and send it through the underground network of the camp.

On October 7th, 1944, at about 3 in the afternoon, the Poles in Crematorium 1 begin the revolt. Hungarians in Crematoria 3 and 4 join in while the sonderkommando of Crematorium 2 break through the wires of the camp. An especially sadistic Nazi guard in Crematorium 1 is disarmed and stuffed into an oven to be burned alive. Small arms fire rattles from the second floor of the crematoria until the Germans bring in heavy machine guns and riddle the wooden roof.

The guards counterattack and penetrate the buildings, indiscriminately shooting at all prisoners they encounter. The sonderkommando in Crematorium 4 drag their demolition charges into the oven rooms and detonate them in a defiant suicide. The revolt is quickly suppressed and the escaped men recaptured with the help of local citizens. Approximately 200 sonderkommando are forced to lie face down outside the crematoria where they are executed with single shots to the back of the head. Some of the men are spared for interrogation, but the bodies of the 12th Sonderkommando are soon disposed of by the 13th Sonderkommando.

The men give up names, including those of some women who were engaged in smuggling gunpowder. Despite months of beatings and rape and electric shocks to their genitals, the only names given up by the women are those of already dead sonderkommando.

On January 5, 1945, the four women are hanged in front of the assembled women’s camp. Roza Robota shouts “Be strong and be brave” as the trapdoor drops.

Crematorium 4 was damaged beyond repair and never used again. On November 7th, 1944, the Nazis destroyed the gas chambers to hide their crimes. Twelve days after the hanging of the four women, the camp personnel forced 56,000 prisoners on a Death March into what remained of the Third Reich; 7,500 prisoners left behind were liberated by advancing Soviet armies on January 27th.

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The Jesselton revolt

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Jesselton revolt was a multiethnic uprising on the occupied island of Borneo in October of 1943. The revolt was led by a guerrilla force mainly consisted of indigenous Suluk people and ethnic Chinese. The rebels were mainly armed with spears and Indonesian swords called parang, with little or no firearms.

The Kinabalu Guerrillas were led by Albert Kwok in the west and by Mustapha Harun in the north.

 

The Kinabalu Guerillas, consisting of 300 Chinese and islanders people like the Suluk and Bajau. The Dusun and Sikhs, started an uprising against the Japanese on 9 October 1943, on the eve of National Day of the Republic of China. Albert Kwok was a supporter of the Kuomintang government of the Republic of China

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Kwok was forced to launch the revolt ahead of schedule because the forced conscription of the native Chinese was approaching. Imam Marajukim, a Muslim cleric from Sulu in the Philippines, was involved in the resistance against Japan in the Philippines and helped supply Kwok and the Kinabalu guerillas.The Suluks were described as “strongly displeased to be anti-Japanese” Imam Marajukim helped the Chinese secure participation in the uprising from Panglima Ali’s Suluks, the Binadan inhabitants of the Mantanani and Danawan (Dinawan) islands, and the Oudar Islanders under Orang Tuah Arshad.The rank of 3rd Lieutenant within the Sulu guerrillas was granted to Kwok after he joined the resistance movement.

The Chinese and Suluks started the insurrection with a combined land and sea attack on the Japanese in Jesselton. Mantanani and other islands contributed ships to the Suluk flotilla, headed by Suluk (Sulug) Island leader Orang Tuah Panglima Ali and Oudar (Udar) Island leader Orang Tuah Arshad.Panglima Ali was the primary leader of the naval part of the uprising.

The 100-strong Chinese guerrilla force was led by Kwok first took control of the Menggatal and Tuaran police stations and then used parangs to attack the Japanese on land in Jesselton.

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While the 200-strong guerrilla force of Suluks and Bajau from the coastal islands led by Sulug Island leader Orang Tuah Panglima Ali, Udar Island leader Orang Tuah Arshad, Mantanani Island leader Jemalul and Dinawan Island leader Saruddin attacked from the sea, assaulting the city and burning down warehouses.

Dusun-Murut and Sikh Indians joined the guerillas in the attack on the Japanese. The Japanese suffered 60-90 deaths, but the guerillas were armed only with parangs and spears, so they were forced to withdraw. This led to the defeat of the uprising.

 

The infamous Kempeitai, whose methods of torture and interrogation were very similar to the German Gestapo, conducted the systematic Massacre of the Suluks while pursuing the remnants of the Chinese guerrillas.

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They bayoneted and beheaded the Suluks and burned their villages to the point that the indigenous people were almost completely wiped out. Around 3,000-4,000 of Suluks were exterminated.

“The Tokyo war crimes trial” index described Japanese atrocities as “an apparently systematic attempt to exterminate the Suluk race between February and June 1944”

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The real escape from Sobibor

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Today marks the 74th anniversary of the Sobibor uprising. The reason why I call this article “the real escape from Sobibor” is not to mistake it for the movie “Escape from Sobibor” although the book and the movie are based on the event, parts of it are fictionalized.

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However this is not to say it is not a good movie, because it is a good movie and although I haven’t read the book I understand it is a very compelling read.

Sobibór  was a Nazi German extermination camp located on the outskirts of the village of Sobibór, in occupied Poland, within the semi-colonial territory of General Government, during World War II.

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During the revolt of 14 October 1943, about 600 prisoners tried to escape; about half succeeded in crossing the fence, of whom around 50 evaded capture. Shortly after the revolt, the Germans closed the camp, bulldozed the earth, and planted it over with pine trees to conceal its location. Today, the site is occupied by the Sobibór Museum, which displays a pyramid of ashes and crushed bones of the victims, collected from the cremation pits.

On 14 October 1943, members of the camp’s underground resistance succeeded in covertly killing 11 German SS-Totenkopfverbände officers and a number of Sonderdienst Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards. Of the 600 inmates in the camp, roughly 300 escaped, although all but 50 – 70 were later re-captured and killed. After the escape, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the death camp closed. It was dismantled, bulldozed under the earth, and planted over with trees to cover it up.

By the summer of 1943, the transports to the Sobibór death camp were slowing down. The veteran Jewish prisoners sensed that the end was quickly approaching. In July, the prisoners organized an underground unit. It was led by Leon Feldhendler, the son of a rabbi from the nearby town of Zolkiewka.

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In September 1943, a deportation from Minsk of Soviet Jewish prisoners of war brought to the camp a trained officer, Lieutenant Aleksandr “Sasha” Aronovich Pechersky.

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The Jewish underground recruited Pechersky and placed him in command. His deputy was Leon Feldhendler.

They devised a daring plan. SS officers would be lured into storehouses on the pretext that they were to be given new coats and boots. Once inside , aided by the bold efforts of Thomas (Tuvia) Blatt,thomas_blatt

they would be attacked by the prisoners and killed with axes and knives. Nazi weapons were to be seized, and at roll call the camp would be set ablaze. All prisoners would have a chance to bolt for freedom. Once outside Sobibór’s gates, they would all be on their own.

 

At 4:00 p.m. on October 14, 1943, the first SS soldier was killed with an axe. Ten more SS men were killed, as were several Ukrainian guards. Telephone wires and electricity lines were cut. Within an hour, the camp was burning, guns were aimed at the guard towers, and the first group of prisoners fled across the German mine fields surrounding the facility.

By dusk more than half the prisoners—about 300 people—had escaped. Most were killed by their Nazi pursuers or died crossing the minefields. After the revolt, some joined partisan units; others found shelter among sympathetic Poles. It is estimated that just 50 of the escapees survived the war.

 

Within days of the uprising, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the camp closed, dismantled, and planted with trees.The gas chambers were demolished. Remnants of their foundations were covered with asphalt and made to look like a road .Four of the chambers were uncovered by archaeologists in 2014, using modern technology1602439565257blob

(image courtesy of Yael Feder, granddaughter of one of Chaim Feder  From left to right: Standing in the back row, l-r:1. Meier Ziss 2. Unknown3. Chaim Powroznik, name changed to Herman Posner in USA 4. Unknown 5. Chaim Feder (Leah’s grandfather) – survivor from Chelm, but was not at Sobibor. His first wife and two little boys were killed at Sobibor.6. Leon Feldhendler7. Kelman Wewryk 8. Josef Herzman9. Zelda Metz10. Szlomo Podchlebnik (note: he was not part of the larger October 1943 revolt, his brave escape was earlier in July 1943) 11. Luba Izakson Feder (my grandmother) – survivor from Chelm, but was not at Sobibor. Her mother and sisters were killed at Sobibor. 12. Szlojme Czesner – survivor from Chelm, but was not at Sobibor. His relatives were killed at Sobibor.)

Feldhendler was among those who survived the war, hiding in Lublin until the end of German occupation. The city was taken by the Soviet Red Army on 24 July 1944, and became the temporary headquarters of the Soviet-controlled communist Polish Committee of National Liberation established by Joseph Stalin. However, on 2 April 1945, Feldhendler was shot through the closed door of his flat as he got up to investigate a commotion in an outer room. Feldhendler and his wife managed to escape through another door and made their way to Lublin’s Św. Wincentego á Paulo hospital, where he underwent surgery but died four days later. According to most of the older publications, Feldhendler was killed by right-wing Polish nationalists,sometimes identified as the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne,an anti-Communist and anti-Semitic partisan unit (name unknown). However, more recent inquiries, citing the incomplete treatment of the event by earlier historians, and the scant documentary record, have called into question this version of events.

 

The only concrete document found by local Polish scholars is a record of Feldhendler’s hospital admission at Wincentego á Paulo describing the injury. Dr Kopciowski wrote that Feldhendler was likely shot in an armed robbery gone bad, because he was known locally as a budding gold trader. Feldhendler’s killing was one of at least 118 violent deaths of Jews in the Lublin district between the summer of 1944 and the fall of 1946 amid the crime-wave of the so-called Soviet liberation.

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I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2 ,however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thanks To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the paypal link. Many thanks

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