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Thomas Blatt

Thomas BlattThomas Blatt (Izbica 15 April 1927; † 31 October 2015 Santa Barbara, California) arrived in Sobibor by truck on 23 April 1943. He escaped the gas chamber because a guard spotted him among the women and children and said: ‘Du Kleiner, komm mal ‘raus’.

In the camp he had to help strengthen the fencing, later he had to sort and burn documents. After his escape he was shot by a Polish farmer and he wandered through the surrounding forest until the liberation. The bullet remained lodged in his lower jaw for the rest of his life. After the war he moved to Santa Barbara in California.




persecution of Jews in Poland
During World War II Poland was divided by Nazi-Germany and the Soviet Union. Part of German-occupied Poland was annexed, the rest was turned into Generalgouvernement, which served as a reservoir of slave labour and after the German invasion of the Soviet Union furthermore became the backdrop of the systematic murder of the European Jews in the death camps. More than half of the victims of the genocide were Polish Jews. In April 1942 the Jewish ghetto of Lublin was evacuated and the inhabitants were shot or deported to the Belzec death camp, where they were gassed. One ghetto after the other was liquidated and in October most of the Jews from the town of Izbica were also rounded up and put on a transport to Sobibor. At the end of April 1943 the last remaining Jews were taken to this camp by truck, and among them were Thomas Blatt, his younger brother and their parents.

‘We did not know,’ said Blatt in 1949, ‘what was happening in Sobibor. There were rumours that people were being burned there.’ Upon arrival in the camp, that looked deceptively peaceful and even pleasant, Thomas and forty other young men were selected as Arbeitsjuden, while the rest of the transport - including the other members of the Blatt family - were gassed in Lager III. Later Thomas heard that Dutch Jews who were working in the camp had been shot shortly before they arrived and the Germans therefore needed new workers. Among other things Thomas had to shine shoes for SS man Frenzel and later also burn the documents left behind by the victims. A few times he also had to cut the hair of naked female prisoners before they were herded into the gas chambers.

"we will not be defeated"
In the summer of 1943 a group of Arbeitsjuden from the Belzec extermination camp arrived in Sobibor. They brought wine and Dutch gin. Contrary to the usual routine, they were not taken to the gas chambers but shot right there on the platform. Blatt was among those who had to burn their papers and clothes. He found a diary that had been kept up to the arrival in Sobibor. He never forgot the final lines: ‘We are riding on the train. The Germans said we would be doing the same work we did in Belzec. I am afraid. They ordered us to bring wine, gin and other things. The train has stopped. We have arrived at our destination. I hear shots. I can tell things are not right. We will not be defeated, we will not be defeated.’ Later Blatt heard that the victims were the final prisoners from Belzec, who, after the camp had been closed down, had been forced to dig up and burn the hundreds of thousands of dead bodies to erase all trace of the mass murder. In order to prevent all contact with the prisoners in Sobibor, the camp leadership had decided to kill the transport from Belzec as soon as they arrived.

Other prisoners in Sobibor also found notes in the clothes of the victims from Belzec. One of them ended like this: ‘We are in Sobibor now and we know what awaits us. Understand that after us death also awaits you! Avenge us!’ After the rumour had spread that Sobibor was also to be closed down, an underground committee planned a mass escape. With the arrival of a transport of prisoners from Kiev the plans gained momentum. Among the prisoners from the Soviet Union were also Jewish Red Army prisoners of war, and the members of the underground committee, who lacked all military training, placed their hope in them. One of the Soviet soldiers, the Ukrainian lieutenant Alexander Petsjerski, took control and in a short amount of time developed a daring plan: first as many SS as possible were to be murdered, and then the prisoners would escape en masse. Few prisoners knew about the plan, but Thomas was one of the insiders. Three weeks after the Soviet POWs arrived, the uprising took place on 14 October 1943.

escaped and shot
After the uprising Thomas fled in the direction of Lager I, where prisoners tried to climb over the barbed wire fencing. When Blatt tried to escape, the fence fell on top of him. Lying on the ground he saw how many escapees met their end in the minefield. After he crawled from under the fence, he ran across the dead bodies towards the forest. On his way there he was shot, but he still managed to reach the forest and was later able to join the group of Petsjerski, who had also managed to escape. Blatt and a few others decided to walk to Izbica where they found refuge at a farm. After a few months they were discovered by German soldiers and shot. Blatt was the only survivor; he was hit by a bullet in the neck and pretended to be dead. Again he fled into the forest. Blatt1983After his wound had healed, he pretended to be a Polish Christian and managed to join a group of partisans with whom he fought the Germans until the liberation.

After the war Blatt studied journalism in Poland, travelled to Israel and emigrated to the United States in 1959. Here he observed that many people - including Jewish Americans - knew nothing about Sobibor or the Jewish uprising. Blatt had found his destiny. He started collecting documents about the Jewish resistance and lectured in and outside the United States about this war experiences and his stay at the Sobibor extermination camp. He wrote two books about his time in the camp: Sobibor: the forgotten revolt (1996) and From the ashes of Sobibor: a story of survival (1997).


Watch the interview of
Jules Schelvis with Thomas Blatt

Watch an interview on YouTube
with Thomas Blatt and other survivors
Rob Fransman en Thomas Blatt 2010
Read the testimony Thomas Blatt
gave in januari 2010 at the tribunal
in München (Dutch)
LOGORead the interview
"Demjanjuk should confess"
Logo APRead the interview "Sobibor survivor Thomas
Blatt testifies at John Demjanjuk trial"
Logo ZeitMagazineRead the interview "Die Kugel
blieb in meinem Kiefer stecken"
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