Photo Credit: Emmanuel DYAN via Flickr
Sobibor extermination camp, Poland

The last surviving fighter in the 1943 uprising in the Sobibor Nazi death camp in Poland, Arkady Vaispapir, died in Ukraine on January 11 at the age of 96, TASS reported Friday, citing Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee said on Friday. “May he stay in our memory forever,” Dolinsky said. “Our condolences go to his family and friends.”

Arkady Vaispapir was born in 1921, in the village of Bobrovy Kut, in Kherson, southern Ukraine. He was drafted in the Red Army in 1941 and took part in the defense of Kiev, where he was seriously injured and taken prisoner. A Jew, he was then sent to Sobibor, an extermination camp in eastern Poland, in 1943. While in the camp, he joined a group of other inmates who planned the revolt of October 1943.

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Sobibor was the site of one of two successful uprisings by Jewish Sonderkommando prisoners during Operation Reinhard. The revolt at the Treblinka extermination camp on August 2, 1943 resulted in up to 100 escapees. A similar revolt at Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 7, 1944 led to one of the crematoria being blown up, but nearly all the insurgents were killed.

On October 14, 1943, under the cover of night, members of the Sobibor underground, led by Soviet-Jewish POW Alexander Pechersky from Minsk, a Red Army officer, covertly killed 11 German SS officers, overpowered the camp guards, and seized the armory. Although the plan was to kill all the SS and walk out of the main gate of the camp, the killings were discovered, and the inmates ran for their lives under fire. About 300 out of the 600 Sonderkommando prisoners in the camp escaped into the forests. Most of them were recaptured by the search squads.

Dutch historian Jules Schelvis (Vernietigingskamp Sobibor) estimates that 158 inmates were killed by the guards or in the minefield that surrounded the camp. Another 107 were murdered in the manhunt launched by the SS, Wehrmacht, and Orpo police units. Some 53 insurgents died of other causes between the day of the revolt and May 8, 1945.

There were 58 known survivors, 48 male and 10 female, from among the Arbeitshäftlinge prisoners performing slave-labor for the daily operation of Sobibor. Their time in the camp ranged from several weeks to almost two years. A handful of inmates managed to escape while assigned to the Waldkommando, who were cutting trees for the body disposal pyres.

Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia [FCJR] also conveyed his condolences to Arkady Vaispapir’s sons.

“On behalf of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and myself personally, I express deep condolences over the death of your father, a great hero whose memory will live on in our hearts,” he said. “With your father’s departure, the whole world has lost a hero.”

Vaispapir and his comrades summed up their strength to act together against a mechanism that seemed to be unbeatable but still it cracked in a most unpredictable place, Boroda said.

“Like the heroes of the Jewish people in antiquity, they didn’t think they would have to accomplish exploits but they did,” he said.

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