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Schlomo Alster

Schlomo AlsterSchlomo Alster (Chelm 1 December 1908) was a carpenter and in Sobibor he had to help build barracks. He explained to new arrivals: ‘That is the fire, those are the people who just arrived.’ After the uprising he joined the partisans.

In 1936 Schlomo Alster married Hanna Grindberg. Not long after that their first child was born, followed by the second two years later. When they were three and five years old the Germans killed them and their mother. In Sobibor Schlomo Alster was not only a carpenter; he was also put to work on the Bahnhof-kommando. In 1946 he settled in Rehovot, Israel. Schlomo Alster passed away in March 1992.

 

 

"they went naked to the barracks"
In November 1942 Schlomo Alster was transported by train together with other Polish Jews from Chelm to Sobibor. Alster, aged 33, had worked for the Gestapo in his hometown as a carpenter, before the city was ethnically cleansed and the Jews were moved to the ghetto. After being herded from the train by SS and Ukrainian helpers in Sobibor, most of the Jewish prisoners were immediately taken to the gas chambers. ‘I saw,’ Alster stated in 1975, ‘that they were taken to a square, that they undressed and then went naked to another barracks, carrying soap and a towel. They were told they could wash up. What happened to them after that I did not see.’ Alster was among those who were selected to work as carpenters in the camp.

In Sobibor not only the Jews were systematically killed in the gas chambers, the Arbeitsjuden were not safe either. Prisoners could be beaten or shot to death at the slightest excuse. Sometimes Alster had to help out at the Bahnhofkommando, that consisted of SS and Ukrainian guards as well as prisoners. It was their job to clear the trains and line up the newly arrived prisoners in rows. Alster saw how the SS could rant and rave and sometimes gave the order to throw elderly prisoners, who had trouble getting onto the much lower platform, onto the Rampe holding them by their head and legs. Some lost consciousness in the process, others are even suspected to have died. He also witnessed how SS man Gomerski shot a prisoner for not taking off his cap for the German. Alster personally, together with other carpenters, by order of the SS, had to dance on one leg while Gomerski cracked his whip. Beatings were also common if the prisoners did not march to the roll call area in perfect order. And there was frequent bullying as well. The prisoners were often forced to sing, including German songs with the phrase ‘Judenblut muss fliessen’ (Jewish blood must flow).

Alster also experienced how several men managed to escape from the Waldkommando that had to fell trees in the forest and cut them up. The wood was needed to burn the gassed bodies. All prisoners who were put to work had to come to roll call, and ‘the prisoners of the Waldkommando were shot in our presence’. The order came from a German SS officer, the execution squad was made up of Ukrainian guards.

transports from Belzec en Minsk
Alster was also there when the transport with the last prisoners from Belzec arrived at the camp. These were the people who, after their camp was closed in December 1942, had been forced to dig up the hundreds of thousands of corpses and burn them to erase all traces of the mass murder. In order to avoid contact with the prisoners in Sobibor, the camp leadership had decided to shoot the transport on the platform.

In September 1943 a transport of prisoners from Minsk arrived at the camp. Among them were Jewish prisoners of war from the Soviet Union, including Alexander Petsjerski. Alster was present when shortly after his arrival this Red Army officer asked what the high fires in Lager III meant. He was then told that in that part of the camp prisoners were gassed and their bodies burned. According to Alster Petsjerski had responded ‘that he did not want to go there, but preferred to die in an escape.’ Within three weeks Petsjerski and others put together a daring plan for an uprising and a mass escape from the camp, which were to take place on 14 October 1943.

Alster also managed to escape. He fled to his native town of Chelm, where he and two other escapees hid in a basement for nine months. In 1946 he emigrated to Israel and settled in Rechovot, where he also died.

Listen to the interview with Schlomo Alster

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