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Dutch co-plaintiffs Demjanjuk trial to read their complaint

The Dutch co-plaintiffs in the Demjanjuk trial will be allowed to read their complaint in the Munich courtroom on Wednesday 13 and Thursday 14 April. Sobibor survivor Jules Schelvis, aged 90, will also read his complaint.  Continue Reading >>

In this press folder you will find relevant information regarding the Demjanjuk process.
contact: press@stichtingsobibor.nl

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Table of Contents

Dutch co-prosecutors attend the Demjanjuk trial in Munich
Portrait of co-plaintiffs
Click here for portraits of the Nebenkläger from the USA
Sobibor extermination camp
The numbers
Trawniki
The Demjanjuk era
Transports of children [Kindertransporten]
Uprising, including photos and names of the survivors who will be attending the trial
Transport lists
History after 1945
The Lane of Remembrance
Redesign/four-country project
Stichting Sobibor

Dutch co-prosecutors attend the Demjanjuk trial in Munich

Fourteen of the 'Nebenkläger, November2009

14 ‘Nebenkläger, November 2009

The co-plaintiffs [Nebenkläger] in the trial of John (Iwan) Demjanjuk are people whose immediate family members (parents, siblings, spouses) were executed in Sobibor between 28 March and 1 October 1943, the extermination camp where Demjanjuk worked as a Trawniki-trained guard [Wachmann]. A number of these individuals are responding to a request from the German justice department, while others spontaneously indicated that they wished to be involved.

Legally speaking, only the immediate family members of homicide victims can be co-plaintiffs. Morally speaking, the Dutch co-plaintiffs are appearing on behalf of all those exterminated during the period in which Demjanjuk was in Sobibor. One example is the case of the transports of children [kindertransporten] from Vught, during which entire families, none of whom are still living, were also deported.

More than 170,000 Jews were exterminated in Sobibor. Of the Jews deported from the Netherlands, 34,313 were sent to Sobibor, approximately 33,000 of which were victims of the gas chambers. Their names are known only because they were put on transport lists that were kept.

Because their names are known, a group of 23 Dutch co-plaintiffs could be established. At least one co-plaintiff will come from Germany, while at least two will come from Poland. It is currently unknown whether someone will be permitted to speak on behalf of the more than 130,000 Jews from Poland, the former Soviet Union, France, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the former Yugoslavia who anonymously perished in Sobibor.

The Dutch survivors will testify on behalf of their murdered family members, but will also symbolically represent all those who were gassed in Sobibor.

Portrait of co-plaintiffs

Rob Cohen (aged 83) was 19 years old by the end of the war and he spent more than two years in concentration and extermination camps, one of which Auschwitz-Birkenau. “I have seen the Nazi merciless murder machine at work. It defies all human imagination and anyone having joined these massacres deserves a fitting and just punishment.? If a German court were to pronounce such a verdict, it would, in his opinion, merit Germany a place among western democracies. “That so many have gotten off scot-free is still eating my heart.?

Vera de Jong-Simons (aged 69) feels obliged towards “her murdered parents and relatives to now still see one of the perpetrators brought to justice.? It is important for her that as many co-plaintiffs as possible are on the spot to create the broadest global publicity. Against the background of this trial her personal concern is “that I have had to miss my parents all my life, with all its consequences; the realisation and awareness of the inhumane manner with which my parents, my grandmother and my aunt have been killed.?

Rudie Cortissos (aged 70) takes her complainant place to court to get just a bit of restitution and to show the world that surviving dependants’ thoughts still go back and are to this day in a daily struggle with the past. “Yes, to confront the issue at hand, but I doubt we can keep our eyes dry. Even big blokes are known to occasionally cry.? Read More »

Additional Information

Sobibor extermination camp

The Rampe in Sobibor; Foto Sonja ter Laag

The camp was located in the General Government [Generalgouvernement] in eastern Poland on the Chelm-Wlodawa railway line, approximately six kilometres from the village of Sobibor, diagonal to the small railway station that stands there today. In order to avoid hindering regular passenger and freight traffic when large transports arrived, the rail capacity existing at that time was expanded to three tracks that could handle a maximum capacity of 50 freight cars. From the westernmost track, a fourth track branched off and passed through the double fence surrounding the camp. The adjacent platform was 120 metres long, limiting the capacity of the fourth track to a maximum of 11 cars and an engine. The camp was located in a sparsely populated, swampy area not far from the border of the occupied Soviet Union, the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. Along with Belzec, Treblinka, and partly with Lublin/Majdanek, the Sobibor camp was one of four extermination camps that the SS built as part of Operation Reinhardt [Aktion Reinhardt] to implement “the final solution of the Jewish question? [Endlösung der Judenfrage]. In addition to these four camps, Chelmno, near Lodz, Poland, was also used as a place for extermination (in gas-trucks), as was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was both a labour and an extermination camp.

Please visit www.stichtingsobibor.nl to read more on the history of Sobibor.

The numbers

In eighteen months’ time, 170,000 Jews, 33,000 of whom were from the Netherlands, were gassed in Sobibor. Between March and the end of July 1943, weekly transports were also made from Westerbork to Sobibor. Approximately 1,000 people were selected to work elsewhere, including co-prosecutor Jules Schelvis.

Trawniki

(see www.CHGS.nl)

The Demjanjuk era

Demjanjuk, who had been trained as a guard in Trawniki, worked at the Sobibor extermination camp from 26 March until 1 October, 1943. During that time, 27,900 Jews from the Netherlands, including 1,269 children transported from Vught, were exterminated.

Transports of children [Kindertransporten]

On 6 and 7 June 1943, two trains carrying Jewish children left the concentration camp in Vught (Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch). All of the children under the age of 16 were forced to leave, and their mothers were ordered to go with them. They were told that they were going to a special children’s camp in the area, but the trains went to the transit camp at Westerbork before being sent on to Sobibor. Almost immediately upon their arrival there, 1,269 Jewish children were exterminated in the gas chambers.

Uprising, including photos and names of the survivors who will be attending the trial

Petsjerski

On 14 October 1943, there was an uprising amongst the “work-Jews? imprisoned at the camp. These people were those effectively charged with keeping the camp going. Under the leadership of one of the prisoners, a Russian Jew named Alexander Petsjerski, more than 300 of the 650 prisoners escaped. After the uprising, the camp immediately ceased operations and, after those who had not escaped were exterminated, it was razed to the ground. Trees were planted on the site in order to hide forever the crimes that had been committed there.

Philip Bialowitz

Of those who escaped, only 47 survived the war to bear witness to the mass exterminations that had taken place in Sobibor. Two of them, co-plaintiffs Thomas Blatt and Philip Bialowitz, will testify against Demjanjuk at his trial in Munich.

Transport lists

At the time, transport lists were prepared in Westerbork for various purposes. Most of the lists that were kept included the first and last names of people who had been deported – in virtually alphabetical order – along with their birthdates. These were given to the officer in charge of each transport [Transportführer] to be provided to the commanding officer at the destination; 19 deportation trains went to Sobibor.

History after 1945

Thomas Blatt in 1945

Sobibor’s journey out of obscurity was a long one. It was not until the early 60s that an interest in the events that took place there began to be felt. Over the years, the purposes to which the site has been put could not be more divergent from one another, as is clear when summarising them as follows: Sobibor, extermination camp – football pitch – wedding location – memorial (Frank van der Elst, “Sobibor, the post-war history of an extermination camp; football pitch, wedding location, memorial? [“Sobibor, de naoorlogse geschiedenis van een kampterrein; voetbalveld, trouwlocatie, monument?] see www.stichtingsobibor.nl).

The Lane of Remembrance

Lane of Remembrance

There was nothing about the camp’s former site that reflected its wrenching history. Construction of the Lane of Remembrance began in 2003. Hardy green trees and stones engraved with the names and dates of birth and death of those murdered in Sobibor line the Lane, an abiding memorial. There are a proportionally larger number of stones for Dutch victims because the transport lists from the Netherlands were kept. Those lists preserved the names of the Dutch nationals, and of those who had tried to escape Nazi-Germany, exterminated in Sobibor, in contrast to the 135,000 victims from other countries.

Based on information dating from the war, the Lane of Remembrance was located as closely as possible to the former Road to Heaven [Schlauch or Himmelfahrtstrasse], the path the Jews were forced to march before being stripped and sent to the gas chambers. It may be that more current research at the site will require a change in its layout. The Dutch government has expressed Stichting Sobibor’s position in this regard: in the event of such change, the stones now lining the Lane of Remembrance will retain a respected and cherished place at the site.

Redesign/four-country project

International consultations have been held with regard to the site of the former camp. The Netherlands is one of the four countries involved in the redesign of the site of the former extermination camp at Sobibor. The Netherlands, along with Poland, Israel and Slovakia, will financially support the redesign. The redesigned site will include marked ash burial sites, as well as a visitor center and a place for remembrance. If the redesign goes according to plan and is completed in 2013, Sobibor will be awarded status as a Polish national museum. To the Netherlands, it is vital that redesign ensures that the stones that have already been placed along the Lane of Remembrance will retain a respected and cherished place at the site. Locating a visitor center on the site of the extermination camp itself would be a significant impetus in terms of education.

Stichting Sobibor

Stichting Sobibor is a foundation that was established in 1999 by Jules Schelvis, the sole survivor of the 1 June 1943 transport from Westerbork. In 2011 he retired as a consultant to a board consisting exclusively of volunteers and supported by a growing number of contributors. The foundation’s goal is to keep the memory of this extermination camp, where more than 33,000 Jews from the Netherlands were gassed to death, alive.

Recurring activities include Jules Schelvis’ lectures on Sobibor in the Netherlands and Germany. The foundation also presents lectures on such topics as the Sobibor Uprising, as well as holding exhibits, publishing books, and organising memorial services and journeys. In cooperation with Bildungswerk Stanislaw Hantz (BSH) of Kassel, Germany, and Studnia Pamieci of Lublin, Poland, academic field trips are made to the Aktion Reinhardt camps in eastern Poland.

Education is becoming an increasingly important goal. The foundation is now contributing to a DVD on the Jewish children in Camp Vught. It is hoped that this DVD will give today’s young people an idea of what intolerance, discrimination and persecution led to more than 60 years ago by telling them the story of the Jewish children transported to, and murdered in, Sobibor.

Polish students during a remembrance

The academic field trips and memorial journeys also bear witness to the increasing importance of education. Our foundation’s work with Polish teachers, students and pupils is constantly increasing. The meaning of the camp’s history has become more intense through our activities and those of young Poles in Sobibor. The cooperation between the provinces of Lubelski (Poland) and Gelderland (the Netherlands) – both on an official level and in terms of friendship – has ensured that updated study and teaching materials are available to today’s pupils in elementary and secondary school education.