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Sobibór

  
 4Stars10px  - darkometer rating:  9 -
  
Sobibor 25   the original spur and ramp where the deportation trains arrivedThe site in eastern Poland of one of the three death camps of Operation Reinhard in 1942/43, the very deadliest phase of the entire Holocaust. Long a far too neglected memorial, it has in recent years seen a major archaeological research and refurbishment programme, and, most importantly, in late 2020, a proper state-of-the-art museum was finally opened at the site. The museum details the sinister crimes that were committed here and their historical context and also covers the revolt of 14 October 1943, which was also the subject of several books and two movies.

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

 
More background info: Sobibór was the second of the three death camps of Operation Reinhard to be set up (the first was Bełżec, the third Treblinka) and was operational from May 1942.
  
Like with the other two such camps, the remote location was deliberately chosen. Deep in a large forest but next to a railway line (between Włodawa and Chełm). A railway spur branching off that line was constructed to take trains straight into the camp. Next to the railway spur and unloading ramp was the “Vorlager” (outside camp) with the living quarters for the SS staff including the commandant and the quarters for the camp guards, who were mostly Trawniki-trained Ukrainians. The “Vorlager” was designed like a rural Tyrolean village, looking peaceful and harmless – nothing indicated the sinister real purpose of the camp.
  
Beyond that were Camp I and Camp II. The former was where a few hundred prisoners were held who had to work for the SS and were given various tasks in the camp’s upkeep and the processing of victims’ belongings – see below.
  
Camp II was where the arriving trainloads of victims were taken after they had disembarked at the ramp. Here they were “welcomed” by an SS man who told them that they were in a transit camp and would be sent to work camps further east after they had taken a disinfecting shower. They had to leave their luggage – and to keep up the pretence of a transit camp, the victims were given tokens with which they “would collect their luggage later”. In an adjacent courtyard the victims had to hand over their valuables at a special little booth, then they were forced to strip naked, after which they were sent down the so-called “Schlauch” (literally ‘hose’ or ‘tube’). This was a kind of corridor lined on both sides with barbed-wire fences. It was slightly curved, so one could not see where the “Schlauch” ended – at the gas chambers.
  
Also part of Camp II were sorting workshops and warehouses for the items plundered from the victims, a laundry, stables, pigsty, food storage, etc. plus the central former forester’s tower, then used as the tallest of the several watchtowers of the camp.
  
Just before its end the “Schlauch” branched off to a special barrack, where women’s hair was shaved off (men back then rarely wore their hair long). And immediately behind that began what was referred to as Lager III – Camp III. This is where the purpose-built gas chambers were. After an expansion there were eight separate gas chambers connected by a corridor. An outbuilding housed the large internal combustion engine that produced the carbon monoxide gas that was channelled into the gas chambers. Each chamber was packed as densely as possible with hundreds of victims, then the door was locked and sealed. The gassing took an agonizing 20 minutes or longer for everybody inside to be dead. A special consignment of prisoners then had the most horrible of tasks: emptying the gas chambers of the corpses. Initially these were buried in mass graves, but later exhumed bodies as well as the corpses straight from the gas chambers were burned on large pyres using metal fire grates. This was also done by the special prisoners, who also had to clean the gas chambers of the victims’ vomit and faeces (also the result of the agony of being gassed) and get them ready for the next batch of victims. These prisoners were housed in Camp III and never left. Eventually they too would be sent to the gas chambers or shot and were replaced by new ones.
  
These special prisoners are usually referred to as “Sonderkommandos” (‘special commandos’) – cf. also Auschwitz and Treblinka. In the case of Sobibór this is slightly confusing as the whole camp complex was also referred to as “SS-Sonderkommando Sobibór”. Therefore I will refer to it just as Sobibór and reserve the term Sonderkommando for those special prisoners in Camp III.
  
The whole perimeter of the camp complex was ringed with barbed-wire fences. In the forested parts of Camp II and III the barbed wire would be directly attached to tree trunks. The subcamps were also surrounded by more fences and there were about ten watchtowers with armed guards.
  
The first transports to Sobibór brought in Polish Jews from the ghettos of the region, later also from further away. These were carted in cattle cars in such crammed conditions that some didn’t even survive the train journey. The dead and those too weak or ill to walk were transported by a special narrow-gauge railway that led from the ramp straight into Camp III allegedly to an infirmary, but in reality it was where the weak and sick were summarily murdered, usually by shooting, and then cremated along with all those from the gas chambers.
   
When the ghettos had largely been emptied of Polish Jews, transports with detained Jews came from other countries too, in particular the Netherlands, France and Slovakia. These mostly arrived in regular passenger train carriages, often dressed in their best clothes and clutching their most valuable possessions. Most took the story of resettlement they were led to believe at face value and had no suspicion of their real fate until the very last moment.
  
When the trains arrived and the disembarked Jews were lined up the SS picked a few out that were of special use to them, such as shoemakers, carpenters or goldsmiths. These individuals were then sent to Camp I while the rest were herded down the Schlauch to the gas chambers. The working prisoners, who soon learned that their entire families had been murdered in Camp III, were then forced to sort the victims’ possessions, most of which were then reloaded on to the empty trains and sent back to the Third Reich – in this case mostly via a special storage warehouse in Lublin, which was also where the administrative headquarters of Operation Reinhard were located, under the infamous Odilo Globočnik and Christian Wirth (who had also supervised the construction of the Bełżec death camp).
  
The SS officers often helped themselves to valuables such as watches, jewels and so on, and had prisoner goldsmiths create specially commissioned pieces made from the victims’ gold. This included gold teeth or valuables hidden by some in various orifices – but extracted by the Sonderkommando prisoners.
  
Worker prisoners ("Arbeitsjuden") had all manner of further tasks including work in tailors’ and carpenters’ workshops, construction of camp facilities and in a special shed burning the victims’ ID documents in a furnace. In total some 600 such Jewish worker prisoners were housed at Sobibór. They were treated with cruelty too, often beaten or whipped for the tiniest of transgressions or simply to satisfy the sadistic whims of the SS men. But at least they had a chance of survival, as long as they were useful. Once they were not or showed signs of weakening they too were sent to Camp III or shot and replaced by others from newly arriving transports.
   
The first commandant of Sobibór from April to August 1942 was Franz Stangl, who, like Christian Wirth and several other SS men involved in Operation Reinhard, had previously played a central role in the Aktion T4 (the code word for the systematic “euthanasia” killings of disabled and mentally ill people). From August 1942 the commandant was Franz Reichleitner, another SS man with a T4 background. The same goes for the camp’s deputy commandant Johann Niemann, the head of Camp III Kurt Bolender, the head of Camp I Karl Frenzl, along with Hubert Gomerski, who singled out the sick and infirm at the ramp and supervised the guard units, and Gustav Franz Wagner, who oversaw the cremation of victims’ bodies and also selected working prisoners at the ramp. In total there were no more than about 20–30 SS men in charge of the operation of Sobibór, assisted by a good hundred Trawniki guards.
  
The prisoners with the best chances of staying alive were those who managed to attune to the camp system well, learned to avoid the worst of the guards’ and SS men’s brutality and establish little privileges and even risked stealing extra food and some of the victims’ valuables. Sometimes these were traded with the Ukrainian guards who in turn traded with local Poles outside the camp.
  
An underground organization amongst the prisoners was established that began hatching escape plans, led especially by Leon Felhendler. When in the summer of 1943 the transports stopped arriving with their previous regularity, the prisoners knew that their time was running out. Especially when Bełżec was liquidated in August 1943 its remaining prisoners were brought to Sobibór to be killed there, the clock was clearly ticking for those still alive at Sobibór. They knew that the Nazis would not spare any Jewish eyewitnesses.
  
It then so happened that in September that year a transport arrived from a camp in Minsk with mainly Soviet POWs of Jewish descent. One of these was lieutenant Alexander “Sasha” Pechersky. He had been in German camps since October 1941 and, like his fellow Russians of this transport, had battle experience. This was recognized by Felhendler as a crucial asset if their plan to stage a revolt was to succeed. He had also seen that Pechersky had cleverly managed to stand up to Frenzl. So he put Pechersky in charge of working out the details of the escape plan.
  
This was made more difficult by the fact that two individual prisoners had managed to run away while on an out-of-camp assignment, and more importantly, by the discovery of an escape tunnel that those prisoners in Camp III had begun digging. After that, the Nazis surrounded the camp grounds with minefields (except at the Vorlager).
  
So the escape attempt would be risky and it was clear that many would not make it. Yet on 14 October 1943 the carefully choreographed revolt began. First deputy commandant Niemann (commandant Reichleitner was on leave at the time) was lured into one of the warehouses under some pretext, where he was killed by Russian prisoners with axes. The same fate awaited ten other SS men, who were killed in a similar manner one after the other. Meanwhile the telephone lines had been cut and one prisoner, Stanisław “Shlomo” Szmajzner, managed to obtain some rifles. Then the collective revolt began. However, one SS man found one of his dead colleagues and raised the alarm, triggering chaos amongst the prisoners. Some headed straight for the main gate, others used wire cutters to get through the barbed wire fences – other sections of the fencing came down under the weight of hundreds of people trying to clamber over it. Guards opened fire and shot some of the escaping prisoners. Others fell victim to the landmines. Yet out of the ca. 600 inmates about 300 managed to get away.
   
The Nazis soon started hunting down the escapees and many were captured and killed. Others managed to go into hiding. Sasha Pechersky and his group of Russians headed straight for the Bug River to make their way towards the partisans and the Red Army. Some Poles, including Shlomo Szmajzner also joined partisan groups. Others had to hold out in hiding until liberation by the Red Army. This included Thomas “Toivi” Blatt who later emigrated to the USA and subsequently became one of the key campaigners for the commemoration of Sobibór and the other death camps – see also under Holocaust Museum LA!
   
Tragically and shamefully some Sobibór escapees were killed by their fellow Poles. The area had long been known for its anti-Semitism, but Sobibór escapees who had money and gold from the camp became targets of sheer greed too. There were, however, also Poles who helped some of the escapees. Leon Felhendler managed to hide until liberation and settled in Lublin, there in April 1945 he was shot in his flat – some say it was Polish Nationalists but it may also have been just a robbery that went wrong; the exact circumstances are not known. Felhendler made it to a hospital but died the next day.
  
The total death toll of Sobibór including all those murdered in the gas chambers has long been estimated to be at around a quarter of a million (i.e. significantly fewer than at Treblinka or Bełżec, but still horrific enough). More recently this has been lowered to under 200,000. A pretty incomprehensible number nonetheless. This figure also includes those who did not manage to escape on 14 October 1943, such as all the members of the Sonderkommando in Camp III (the idea of including them in the escape plans had been abandoned early on as impossible).
  
Of the ca. 300 who did manage to escape, about 60 survived the war. Most settled in other countries. Several have told their story, including Sasha Pechersky and Thomas Blatt.
   
And the 1983 book “Escape from Sobibor” by Richard Rashke is based on these accounts and interviews with key survivors. It is probably the single best source for getting a good insight into Sobibór – from the survivors’ perspective. In 1987 the book was turned into a British TV drama production under the same title as the book, starring Rutger Hauer, Alan Arkin and Joanna Pacula. The story was turned into a movie again, this time a Russian production, in English also called “Escape from Sobibor” and released in 2018. The depiction of the Nazis’ brutality in this movie is even more heavy-handed than in the earlier film, so it’s not for the faint of heart.
   
One question we haven’t addressed yet is: did the outside world know about Sobibór (or the other death camps) at the time? Well, some locals did – they didn’t have to speculate too wildly to work out what the nature of the place was. Railway workers or people using the train line that passed the camp would see trains full of people going into the camp but nobody ever coming out. At night the cremation pyres would emit an orange glow and by day the smoke would be visible for miles. It didn’t take too much to put two and two together. The trade with Ukrainian guards also helped spread some snippets of information.
   
But what about the Western Allies? Indeed they were informed of what was going on at these camps through espionage and eyewitness reports from the Jewish underground. But the Western leadership either dismissed the information as unbelievable or chose to ignore it. Their focus was on winning WWII, not on helping the doomed Jews …
  
Of the perpetrators that were not killed in the revolt many were sent on to a theatre of WWII where their chances of survival were low, namely fighting against Yugoslav partisans in the Italian-held territory east of Trieste. Of those mentioned above Christian Wirth and Franz Reichleitner were both killed there, but a few also survived and at least for a while got away with their crimes. Franz Stangl and Gustav Franz Wagner fled and settled in Brazil. Stangl was recognized, extradited to West Germany in 1970 and put on trial; sentenced to life he died in prison the following year. Wagner was also recognized but not extradited and died in prison in 1978. Karl Frenzl, Hubert Gomerski and Kurt Bolender were all tried in Germany in the 1950s and 60s. Bolender committed suicide before he could be sentenced, Frenzl and Gomerski were sentenced to life but were later released and died a natural death in old age.
   
And what happened to the site where it had all happened? After the October 1943 revolt the Nazis dismantled Sobibór, destroyed the gas chambers and most other buildings and ploughed over the rest of the camp, planted trees and thus basically erased the whole facility and covered up every trace of the crimes committed here (or so it seemed – see below!), just as they did at Bełżec and Treblinka.
   
After WWII the site was long neglected, despite the accounts by the surviving escapees. It wasn’t until the 1960s that a memorial monument was erected, joined by an evocative statue. The area of the mass graves and cremation pyres was shaped into a low symbolic Dome of Ashes. Much later a small museum was added, housed in a wooden building that – believe it or not – previously had been a kindergarten (at such a site!!). The Avenue of Remembrance was another later addition.
   
Then in the second decade of the new millennium things started to change. The old museum was closed, the memorial site was fenced off and extensive archaeological research was undertaken. The digs unearthed a surprising number of artefacts and rediscovered the outlines of the gas chambers, the Schlauch and the unsuccessful escape tunnel of Camp III (see above).
   
Now placed under the administration of the Majdanek memorial, the biggest change was the announcement that an all-new museum would be constructed. I remember attending a presentation in Vienna, which is where I live, in which the previous museum curator outlined the plans for the new memorial and museum.
  
Finally, in October 2020, the new museum opened. The open-air parts of the memorial site have also been remodelled – see below. Then at the time of my long overdue revisit to Sobibór in mid-August 2021, it was announced that more archaeological research would begin and that it was estimated to take about a year, during which the outdoor parts of the site would again be out of bounds to visitors. So I will probably have to visit the site again in a couple of years’ time.
 
 
What there is to see: I’ve so far visited Sobibór twice, the first time in March 2008, when I found the site deserted (my wife and I were the only people there) and with very little to see. The old museum was back then open from May to September only, so I could not visit that part.
  
When I returned in August 2021 to see the new museum and other changes I was surprised to find the new car park half full and lots of people about in the open-air parts and queuing outside the museum (due to pandemic restrictions only so many visitors were allowed in at any one time).
  
I was still able to explore the outside parts of the site freely, except that the old monument was fenced off (it’s the former site of the gas chambers). The former symbolic Dome of Ash that used to be the main element of the old memorial was now covered with white stones, like a large area around it too. Signs also prohibited access to this field of white stones.
  
Still in place was the Avenue of Remembrance. This is a path along which stones on the ground are marked with names of victims, mostly Dutch. The victims whose names are not on record (including most of the Polish Jews killed here) are honoured by a stone simply marked “For the unknown”. Each stone comes with a tree that was planted here as a sapling at the time this path was established. By now they have grown into proper trees. Other older trees, on the other hand, have been felled, especially around the old stone monument from 1965. The iconic red stone statue of a mother and child that used to stand next to the main stone memorial was not there when I visited in August 2021, but I later found in the yard behind the museum where it was awaiting refurbishment. What the memorial site will eventually look like when all the still ongoing archaeological research and remodelling work is completed is not quite clear yet.
  
New were two sets of open-air text-and-photo panels, both bilingual in Polish and English. One was a special exhibition of sketches and notes made by Józef Richter at the time that document the persecution and murder of Jews in the region. The accompanying text provides an overview of that dark chapter of history, including Operation Reinhard.
   
The other row of panels concentrates on Sobibór and presents the camp layout, the transports, the gassings, the plunder of victims’ possessions and some of the key figures on the part of the perpetrators as well as the prisoners (such as Sasha Pechersky who led the revolt of 14 October 1943 – see above). It’s like an abridged version of the indoor museum exhibition minus the original artefacts. It’s good for an overview but cannot replace visiting the museum.
   
The old wooden museum building has disappeared and in its stead there is now a large car park and of course the main new element here: the museum that opened in October 2020. The modern oblong single-storey building houses a cleverly laid-out exhibition (again with all texts in Polish and English) that is arranged around one central element: a long backlit display case that runs through almost the entire length of the building. You get access to look in at several separate points along the exhibition, both from the left and the right.
  
Inside are displayed artefacts unearthed in the extensive archaeological digs around the site of the former camp. This includes many astounding items, despite the Nazis’ efforts to leave no trace of Sobibór. But the researchers found plenty of objects still buried in the ground, such as bottles, spectacles, belt fragments, toothbrushes and other personal belongings, as well as coins and even plenty of jewellery, including several wedding rings. Nominally all such items had to be handed over to the SS, but apparently quite a few items were not. Presumably these were taken by worker prisoners who sorted through the gassed victims’ belongings and then hidden from the Nazis. But I would not have thought so many such objects could still be found buried in the ground today.
   
Other objects included items belonging to the Nazis such as a rusty steel helmet, an Iron Cross and pendants with swastikas on them. Plenty of bullets and bullet casings were also dug up – some of these may well have been used in the shooting of prisoners. A piece of the narrow-gauge railway that carted dead and ill arriving victims from the ramp to Camp III is also on display along with stretches of rusty barbed wire. The very grimmest object displayed here is a long metal hook. These hooks were used by the Sonderkommando prisoners to remove corpses from the gas chambers. These bodies would often be heavily intertwined so such hooks were needed to separate them. It is beyond unimaginable what it must have been like to perform such a task.
   
Thematically the museum exhibition is subdivided into five broad sections. The first one provides the wider context of the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. The second section concentrates on the deportations to Sobibór in particular. The third section is about how the camp was laid out and how its operation was organized. The fourth section focuses on the prisoners, resistance, struggle for survival and the revolt of 14 October 1943 (see above). The fifth and final section deals with the aftermath and memorialization of Sobibór.
   
Most of the information is conveyed by traditional text-and-photo panels, which strike a very good balance between being detailed enough and not overburdening visitors with too much text. Amongst the photos are reproductions of some of those private photographs Johann Niemann’s widow inherited. They came to light only in January 2020. They are an extraordinary documentation, the only actual photos showing Sobibór and the perpetrators. They are all the more remarkable because everybody involved in Operation Reinhard had to sign a document in which they were sworn to secrecy, and explicitly stipulated that all photography at the camps was strictly forbidden. Apparently the SS men at Sobibór didn’t heed even their own Nazi-imposed rules. After their discovery, the originals of these photos were handed over to the USHMM.
   
In addition to the panels and the display cabinet with smaller archaeological items there are also some bigger pieces, such as tree trunks that formed part of the outer barbed-wire fence, some with markings left by the barbed wire, some with bits of actual barbed wire still attached. Another iconic piece on display is one of the old rusty railway station signs, such as were still in place when I first visited Sobibór in March 2008.
   
In addition there are also some interactive elements, on regular screens and on one large wide screen that comes with a control panel where you can press buttons to make the screen show the different routes deportation trains took from e.g. Drancy or Westerbork all the way to Sobibór. However I found that the controls did not always work properly and only parts of the initial journey were displayed. Another rather odd interactive element is a set of metal rods suspended from wires that when you touch them start to play audio recordings.
   
In section three there is a large monochrome (black – of course) scale model of the Sobibór death camp based on plans drawn by survivors and interviews with them and some of the perpetrators (e.g. Franz Stangl during his trial – see above). At the far end of sections three and five, blinds cover large floor-to-ceiling windows and if you stand at the correct angle you see the reproductions of victims’ photos printed on to them, thus giving some of the victims a face.
   
At the end of the exhibition is a large screen with various talking heads you can activate on an audio-guide machine (or just read the bilingual subtitles); these include various Sobibór survivors such as Chaim Engel, Esther Raab or Kurt Ticho.
   
As you head for the exit at the end of the exhibition, the final words are given to Alexander “Sasha” Pechersky, the Soviet POW who planned and co-led the revolt of 14 October 1943, taken from an address he delivered to his fellow prisoners just before the escape: “Those of you who survive, should bear witness to this. Let the world know what happened here.” He himself did exactly that after the war, as did others, in particular Thomas Blatt (see above).
   
Before I went to see this new museum I had been wondering to what degree the involvement of the Soviet POWs and Pechersky in particular would be acknowledged or whether there would be an overemphasis on the role played by Poles. Such thoughts were triggered by recent interventions I had witnessed in the new WWII Museum in Gdańsk, where politicians of the conservative ruling party demanded that the exhibition be made more ‘patriotic’. So I was glad to see that the new Sobibór museum was able to avoid such distortions and fully values Pechersky’s outstanding role and even gives him the final word.
   
Back in the foyer you can take a look at the items on sale at the main counter, including a richly illustrated and well-written Permanent Exhibition Catalogue. I read it in its entirety after my August 2021 visit and it was very useful when I was drafting this chapter. The photos of the museum exhibits are excellent. Overall it’s one of the best such catalogues I’ve ever owned.
   
Back outside you should also go and see some more elements in the open air. First and foremost this includes the railway spur and ramp – the only original structures of the Sobibór camp that are still in place. The final 20 yards or so of the railway spur have been cleared, the rest is overgrown. Standing on this ramp it’s hard to imagine all those unfortunate souls who disembarked here full of false hopes and then were sent straight to the gas chambers. Together with the ramp at Auschwitz this must surely be the darkest stretch of railway in the world.
  
Not a former part of the Sobibór camp, but also still an original structure is the railway station on the other side of the dual main railway line a bit further south from the camp’s ramp. The sign at the station is a new one, though.
   
Opposite the station and train line and just south of the new museum stand a cluster of five or six houses – a small local village. One of the buildings, a prominent two-storey green red-roofed wooden edifice is a pre-war structure that used to house the forestry inspectorate and a post office, but was requisitioned by the Nazis when the camp was set up. It then functioned as the residence of the camp commandant Franz Stangl! After the war the forestry inspectorate initially moved back in and then in the 1970s it was sold into private hands. This fact lends weight to the memorial administration’s desire to stop it being a private residence and rather have it integrated into the memorial. As I was told by one of the museum staff, their aim is to buy the premises when the latest construction work and archaeological research have been completed.
   
Finally, my guide also pointed out some more relics of the camp perimeter, foundations of fence poles mainly, south of the little village opposite the level crossing over the railway line. Apparently there are more of these deeper in the forest too.
   
All in all, I must say that Sobibór really has closed the gap that used to gape between the former scant memorialization here and the much enhanced efforts made at Bełżec sixteen years earlier. Now Sobibór is at least on a par. The redesign of the outdoor memorial elements is still not complete but it is already a great improvement over what I had found there in 2008. But it’s the new museum that is really excellent and already sets Sobibór apart from many other Holocaust sites in Poland. Now Treblinka should also receive a similar memorialization update, and Chełmno could do with one too. Sobibór remains remote and not so easy to get to, but now there is much more reason to make the effort than ever before. Highly recommended!
 
 
Location: in a very remote spot in the forest in far eastern Poland not far from the Bug border river with Ukraine and Belarus, 10 miles by  road south of Włodawa and 70 miles (110 km) east from the nearest hub, Lublin.
  
Google Maps locators:
  
  
main open-air memorial: [51.4481, 23.5929]
  
Avenue of Remembrance: [51.4469, 23.5941]
   
railway spur and ramp: [51.4459, 23.5967]
  
former commandant's house: [51.4449, 23.5962]
  
historic train station: [51.4443, 23.5972]
  
camp perimeter relics: [51.4435, 23.5956]
  
turn-off from the main road: [51.4762, 23.5143]
  
 
Access and costs: very remote, but accessible by car independently or by guided tour; free admission.
 
Details: the Operation Reinhard camps were all deliberately built in remote locations away from dense populations; and so these locations remain. Sobibór lies in a forest close to the river Bug that forms the border with Belarus and Ukraine. There’s a tiny settlement adjacent to the new museum, but otherwise the area has next to no inhabitants or infrastructure, except for the train line between Włodawa and Chełm. But with only two connections in either direction per day, and given the fact that the Włodawa station is way out of town, this is pretty much useless for tourists wishing to visit the Sobibór site. There are no overland bus connections, so the only feasible access is by car.
  
The first time I visited, back in March 2008, I had a rental car and drove the distance from Lublin in ca. two hours (with a little delay en route – see this anecdote). The return drive was a little faster. In today’s age of sat-nav (GPS), navigation should not be a problem. But I’d advise approaching from the west via the 812 route between Włodawa and Chełm and not the 816 route closer to the border river (see, again, this anecdote). There’s a small sign saying “Muzeum Sobibór” by the turn-off to the access road through the forest.
  
An alternative to driving your own (hire) car, if you are using Lublin as your base (strongly recommended!), is to get an overland bus to Włodawa (these are dirt cheap but may be a bit of a challenge for some foreign tourists), and then a taxi to the site. Taxi drivers should all know it, it’s only a good ten miles (16.5 km) taking about 20 minutes, and taxis are quite cheap in these parts. You probably have to pay the same driver to wait for you while you explore rather than hoping that the museum staff will be able to phone a taxi locally for the return journey (they’d probably have to call one from Włodawa, which could turn out more expensive). The tourist information office in Lublin can help you find bus connections and could also prepare some notes in Polish for the taxi driver, as you cannot rely on finding drivers speaking enough English out here.
  
Another option is to go to Sobibór with a proper guide who also provides car transport. Such tours are offered locally (one even combining Sobibór with Bełżec in one long day!). When I was last in Lublin my car hire arrangement fell through (long story) so that I set about having a tour arranged at short notice, and after a few online exchanges over the course of the day in the end the incoming tour operator Poland Travel was able to find me a guide for the following day (at my request the tour combined Sobibór with Izbica). Obviously this is the most expensive way of getting there. You’re looking at around 1000 PLN for this. But I found it a worthwhile investment, it was a comfortable ride and the guide was very pleasant and knowledgable (especially for Izbica even more so than for Sobibór). Such tours are available in English, German and Russian (in addition to Polish, of course).
  
Opening times of the museum: daily except Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. between April and October, only to 4 p.m. for the rest of the year. The open-air memorial is open an hour longer in summer.
  
NOTE that from August 2021 to approximately August 2022, much of the open-air site will undergo another round of archaeological digging and will thus be closed to visitors. But the museum remains open.
  
Admission free.
 
 
Time required: You’ll probably need much more time getting there and back than actually at the site itself. From Lublin driving time is ca. 1.5 hours each way; going by bus and taxi will take longer and make it a long all-day excursion.
  
At the Sobibór memorial site you’ll need around half an hour for the open-air parts, possibly a little longer, and the museum exhibition should take between one and two hours.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: see under Lublin – which also makes the ideal base for exploring this whole part of Poland, including another memorial site of a death camp of Operation Reinhard, namely Bełżec. En route Izbica and Trawniki are possible stopovers.
  
See also under Poland in general.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: unless remote and empty forests rock your boat, not much at all, although Chełm (not to be confused with Chełmno!) to the south of Sobibór has its charms. It also features an unusual attraction: the underground chalk chambers, a system of tunnels and caverns that were dug out of the chalk under the town in the past (these days chalk is mined by open-cast strip-mining to the east of Chełm). Part of this underground system has now been turned into a visitor attraction. Visitation is by guided tour past some exhibits relating to the history of, and legends about, the chalk chambers, and at one point the lights go out and a “ghost” appears … well, a member of staff wearing a white sheet which is illuminated by black light while he recites some folklore story (in Polish, so I didn’t understand a word when I was there in 2008).
  
The nearest proper tourist-worthy place, however, is Lublin.
 
 
 
  • Sobibor 01 - main memorial site in August 2021Sobibor 01 - main memorial site in August 2021
  • Sobibor 02 - main memorial site back in March 2008Sobibor 02 - main memorial site back in March 2008
  • Sobibor 03 - symbolic mound of ash back in 2008Sobibor 03 - symbolic mound of ash back in 2008
  • Sobibor 04 - now the whole area is covered with white stonesSobibor 04 - now the whole area is covered with white stones
  • Sobibor 05 - one of the new no-entry signsSobibor 05 - one of the new no-entry signs
  • Sobibor 06 - wilted flowersSobibor 06 - wilted flowers
  • Sobibor 07 - Avenue of RemembranceSobibor 07 - Avenue of Remembrance
  • Sobibor 08 - not all are namedSobibor 08 - not all are named
  • Sobibor 09 - new car park and sign next to the old villageSobibor 09 - new car park and sign next to the old village
  • Sobibor 10 - brand new museumSobibor 10 - brand new museum
  • Sobibor 11 - inside the museumSobibor 11 - inside the museum
  • Sobibor 12 - central display case with archaeological findsSobibor 12 - central display case with archaeological finds
  • Sobibor 13 - personal belongings of victimsSobibor 13 - personal belongings of victims
  • Sobibor 14 - including jewellery and wedding ringsSobibor 14 - including jewellery and wedding rings
  • Sobibor 15 - perpetrator itemsSobibor 15 - perpetrator items
  • Sobibor 16 - bullets and casingsSobibor 16 - bullets and casings
  • Sobibor 17 - the very grimmerst exhibit is this corpse hookSobibor 17 - the very grimmerst exhibit is this corpse hook
  • Sobibor 18 - railway route screenSobibor 18 - railway route screen
  • Sobibor 19 - model of the camp with the SchlauchSobibor 19 - model of the camp with the Schlauch
  • Sobibor 20 - barbed-wire fence remnantsSobibor 20 - barbed-wire fence remnants
  • Sobibor 21 - old station signSobibor 21 - old station sign
  • Sobibor 22 - audio stationSobibor 22 - audio station
  • Sobibor 23 - facesSobibor 23 - faces
  • Sobibor 23b - information desk and book shopSobibor 23b - information desk and book shop
  • Sobibor 24 - mother-and-child statue in the back yard awaiting refurbishmentSobibor 24 - mother-and-child statue in the back yard awaiting refurbishment
  • Sobibor 25 - the original spur and ramp where the deportation trains arrivedSobibor 25 - the original spur and ramp where the deportation trains arrived
  • Sobibor 26 - still active train line and overgrown spur and rampSobibor 26 - still active train line and overgrown spur and ramp
  • Sobibor 27 - original station buildingSobibor 27 - original station building
  • Sobibor 28 - old rusty sign in 2008Sobibor 28 - old rusty sign in 2008
  • Sobibor 29 - new museum and car park seen from the rampSobibor 29 - new museum and car park seen from the ramp
  • Sobibor 30 - old village with the house that the camp commandant once lived inSobibor 30 - old village with the house that the camp commandant once lived in
  • Sobibor 31 - sign marking the outer perimeter of the former campSobibor 31 - sign marking the outer perimeter of the former camp
  • Sobibor 32 - remnants in the undergrowthSobibor 32 - remnants in the undergrowth

   

  

  

  

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