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Arkady Wajspapir

Arkadij WajspapirArkady Wajspapir (1921) served as a sergeant in the Red Army and was injured in September 1941. As a Jewish prisoner of war he and the other Soviet soldiers had to build barracks in Lager IV in Sobibor. It quickly dawned on him that ‘the only way out of there was to escape’.

Before he was drafted into the Red Army Arkady Wajspapir worked as an engineer. After his recovery in a field hospital in Kiev he was transported to Minsk as a POW. On 22 September 1943 he, Petsjerski and other soldiers, arrived in Sobibor. After the war he returned to his old profession of engineer in the town of Donetzk.


"the soup tasted like dishwater"
In September 1941 twenty-year old Soviet soldier Arkadij Wajspapir was severely injured during combat with the German Wehrmacht, and shortly after that he was taken prisoner by the Germans in Minsk. Until March 1942 he was looked after in a hospital for POWs. After being discharged from the hospital, he was transported to the Minsk concentration camp. In September Wajspapir and other Jewish POWs, including Alexander Petsjerski, together with approximately nineteen hundred Jewish-Russian civilians, were transported to Sobibor. Wajspapir and his fellow-soldiers did not know what kind of a camp it was. He expected it would not be pleasant. But it never occurred to him that the prisoners from the Soviet Union were brought to Poland to be killed there. Upon arrival in Sobibor men were selected to work in the camp. The camp was to be extended with new barracks in Lager IV and this required carpenters. The SS selected eighty soldier - Wajspapir among them - to work as carpenters in the Baukommando; the other soldiers and the other Jewish prisoners from the Soviet Union disappeared into the gas chambers.

What an average workday looked like for him, Wajspapir recounted in 1975. ‘Early in the morning we were woken up by the oldest inmates, who were called Kapo. Breakfast consisted of 150 grams of rye bread and a cup of boiled water or coffee. Subsequently the prisoners were put to work. In the afternoon there was soup, which we called Plöre. After swallowing this dishwater we would work until nightfall. Then there was dinner: 100 grams of rye bread and a cup of hot water’. Dinner was followed by roll call, after which the prisoners of the Baukommando could return to the barracks to sleep.

"Frenzel was an out-and-out sadist"
Wajspapir dealt with, among others, SS-Oberscharführer Hubert Gomerski, who often beat the prisoners with his whip. He also knew SS-officer Karl Frenzel, leader of the Baukommando. ‘Saying he was cruel would be putting it mildly,’ according to Wajspapir. ‘He was an out-and-out sadist’. Frenzel always carried a whip, which he often used - without any provocation - to strike prisoners on the head, in the face or on other parts of the body. ‘Many a prisoner was crippled after such treatment, or even died.’ Wajspapir also saw Frenzel taking a group of sick prisoners to Lager III where they were killed. Another time he took a mentally ill boy from Minsk, who was hiding under his wooden bed, from the barracks and led him to Lager III.

Wajspapir had daily contact with fellow-inmate Petsjerski, who also worked in the Baukommando and whom he had first met in the Minsk concentration camp. Immediately on arrival in Sobibor the Poles in the underground committee, that planned escapes, reached out to the Soviet soldier Petsjerski. After he was told how the camp was laid out exactly and how it was guarded, he decided to prepare a revolt and mass escape. He put together a combat group, which consisted mainly of Soviet POWs. Wajspapir was also part of this group. On October 10th, in consultation with the previously formed underground committee of the Polish prisoners, active preparations began for the uprising that would eventually take place on 14 October 1943. An important element in the plan was the murder of SS staff; Wajspapir was ordered to kill an SS and a Ukrainian guard in the tailor workshop together with the Pole Jehuda Lerner.

"I hit him on the head with the sharp edge of the axe"
Armed with axes Wajspapir and Lerner made their way to the tailor workshop in the afternoon of the 14th of October. There they hid behind a curtain. ‘About one hour later,’ says Wajspapir, ‘SS officer Siegfried Graetschus - the leader of the Ukrainian guards - entered the workshop. He stopped at the door and tried on a coat that the tailors had made for him. I stepped from behind the curtain, walked past the officer to the door, turned around and hit him on the head with the sharp edge of the axe. Graetschus let out a scream, did not immediately fall to the ground but tumbled headfirst, because the blow was obviously not forceful enough.Arkady Wajspapir Then Lerner came at him and hit him on the head with the axe. Graetschus fell to the floor and died. I yanked the gun from his holster and pocketed his papers. The tailors dragged the body away from the door and covered it with clothes.’ At that moment the Ukrainian guard entered the workshop. The tailors panicked, but Lerner and Wajspapir kept their cool and also killed the guard with their axes.

Many died in the mass-escape, but Wajspapir was among the prisoners who managed to get away in the woods. ‘We split up into groups and took off in different directions. Our group, consisting of eleven Soviet prisoners, went in the direction op the northeast’. Eventually the escapees managed to cross the Bug river and they joined the partisans.

Listen to the interview with Arkady Wajspapir

Listen to an interview with Arkady Wajspapir on the website "Long shadow of Sobibor"

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