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Sobibor Interviews

Jozef Wins

"there were red roofs and pebbled pathways"
On 12 March 1943 in Amsterdam 27-year-old typographer Jozef Wins was betrayed while he was in hiding. He was first locked up in the prison on the Amstelveenseweg and later transported to Westerbork as a ‘punishment case’. He did not stay here long: on 11 May, three days after arriving, he was put on a transport to the east. On the way they had treacle biscuits and a few mattresses were placed in the closed freight car for the sick. Three days later the transport arrived in Sobibor, and the Jewish punishment cases were forcibly driven from the train. At that time Wins did not yet know what type of camp Sobibor was. It did not look sinister. ‘Around me I saw different kinds of houses and barracks; the camp looked friendly, there were red roofs and pebbled pathways,’ he stated after the war. Wins was among the eighty men who were taken from his transport to be brought to the nearby Dorohucza labour camp. But before he left Sobibor, he caught a glimpse of what was in store for the Jews who had to stay there. In the distance he saw that ‘the people who stayed behind had to take off their socks and shoes, and elderly and sick people were thrown onto tippers. These people were constantly struck with whips.’

"they left barefoot"
What Wins saw on arrival in the peat camp Dorohucza, did not bode well either. ‘When we arrived, eighty men were taken away. These people had to take off their shoes and boots and they left barefoot. There was also a lot of beating and we stood and watched, appalled, especially after they went on hitting them, even after some had fallen into the water.’ Once in the camp it became clear that the prisoners could not only expect to be beaten by the Ukrainian guards, there could also be selections of Jews who were to be murdered. Wins was present at one of those selections in early June. ‘It was carried out by the Lagerführer with the Ukrainians and the Kapos, and we were lined up naked in rows of five. First the Jews in the front row were called forward and the weakest were selected. If they didn’t have enough, the same thing started all over again, until they had eighty men.’ Nevertheless, the high mortality rate in the camp was not the result of executions, but predominantly of the lack of food and the appalling hygiene. Most prisoners, who at best lasted a few weeks in the camp, visibly lost weight every day and contracted typhoid fever or dysentery. Wins refers to Dorohucza as a ‘wild’ camp, ‘because it meant fighting for your life’. Wins managed to get a job in the technical department. He spent about six weeks in the camp.

Late July 1943 Wins and other typographers were taken via Lublin to an SS printing operation in Radom, a Jewish ghetto where some 3000 people lived. In Radom were the parts of printing presses and typesetting machines that had survived the Warsaw ghetto uprising intact. Wins and the other printers first had to assemble the machine and then print items for the SS-company Ostindustrie (Osti). They printed business cards for the local commandant as well as posters with executions of Polish resistance fighters. On 8 November 1943 the ghetto was shut down; children and older people were shot by the SS. The others, including Wins, were transferred to the neighbouring camp Szkolha to start work in the weapons factory.

hidden among the typhoid fever patients
When the Red Army approached in the summer of 1944, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were told to prepare for a 110 kilometre journey to the west, to Tomaszow-Mazowiezki. After that it was further and further to the southwest and after some time Wins ended up in a camp in Kochendorf near Heilbronn. As Wins, who worked in the salt mines described: ‘It was blood and mayhem over there’. In March 1945 this camp, too, was evacuated. Then followed a twelve-day death march southwards, to Dachau near Munich. Of the almost two thousand men who left, 792 arrived. The others had been killed by shots to the neck. After a few days Wins was told that there would be another march. An exhausted Wins told the Dutch doctor Boswijk that he could not go on. The doctor then hid him among the typhoid fever patients. ‘He helped me enormously and brought me food all the time; he saved my life.’ On 29 April Wins was liberated in Dachau.

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