Last survivor of Sobibor death camp uprising dies, aged 97

Semyon Rosenfeld took part in famous revolt, in which Jewish prisoners turned on their Nazi guards; later moved to Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Near 'the ramp' at the former Nazi death camp Sobibor, in Poland, September 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)
Near 'the ramp' at the former Nazi death camp Sobibor, in Poland, September 2017 (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

Semyon Rosenfeld, who was the last living Holocaust survivor who participated in the revolt and escape from the Sobibor death camp, died Monday at the age of 97 in a hospital in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv.

Rosenfeld, who moved to Israel from the Ukraine in 1990, was survived by his two sons and five grandchildren. He had been living in a retirement community in Yad Binyamin in central Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted an obituary on his  Facebook page.

“Seymon Rosenfeld, Holocaust survivor and the last from Sobibor, has passed away,” Netanyahu wrote. “Semyon was born in 1922 in a small village in Ukraine. He joined the Red Army, was taken captive by the Nazis, but managed to escape the death camp and continue to fight the Nazis. May his memory be blessed.”

סמיון רוזנפלד, ניצול השואה והשורד האחרון מסוביבור, הלך לעולמו.סמיון רוזנפלד נולד בשנת 1922 בכפר קטן באוקראינה. הוא…

Posted by ‎Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו‎ on Monday, June 3, 2019

Blue and White party No. 2 MK Yair Lapid tweeted, “I salute the memory of Semyon Rosenfeld, a Holocaust survivor who participated in the revolt in the Sobibor death camp where a quarter of a million Jews were murdered. May his memory be blessed, may we be worthy of his death with our lives.”

Jewish agency chairman Isaac Herzog tweeted of his “great sadness” at Rosenfeld’s death. “A true hero, it is our duty to transmit from generation to generation the story of his life and all those of his generation. Condolences to his family and to all those who knew him.”

Rosenfeld was born in the small town of Ternivka in 1922, and in 1940 joined the Red Army. While he was away fighting the Germans, his entire family was killed by the Nazis and buried in a mass grave near the town.

According to Channel 12, Rosenfeld once said that before the war there was no anti-Semitism where he lived.

He was captured by the Germans in 1941 after being seriously injured in the leg and sent to a labor camp in Minsk, Belarus, with over 200 other Jewish prisoners from the Red Army.

From Minsk he was sent in 1943 to Sobibor in Poland, a notorious extermination camp where over 250,000 Jews were murdered between April 1942 and October 1943.

Rosenfeld once recalled that when he arrived he lied to the Nazis about having a profession, a tactic that saved his life. While he was sent to work in the carpentry shop, others were quickly murdered, Channel 12 reported.

A few weeks after his arrival at Sobibor, he asked a German officer about the whereabouts of all the other prisoners who had arrived with him. The officer pointed to the smoke coming from the crematorium and said, “Your friends are there.”

At the former Nazi death camp Sobibor in Poland, the commandant’s Holocaust-era house has been preserved, September 2017 (Matt Lebovic/Times of Israel)

In October 1943, a group of prisoners, led by Red Army officer Aleksandr “Sasha” Pechersky, revolted in a bold attempt to liberate all of the camp’s inmates. They succeeded in killing 11 Nazi camp officers before the plan was discovered and guards opened fire. Some 300 prisoners tried to flee the camp, but most were either killed immediately or in the following days as the Nazis rounded them up.

Shortly after the revolt and escape, the Nazis dismantled the camp and tried to hide its existence by planting trees over it.

Rosenfeld survived by hiding in the woods with a handful of other prisoners until 1944, when he rejoined the Red Army and participated in the capture of Berlin. He was demobilized in 1945 and returned to his homeland, later moving to Israel.
Some of his family now lives in the US.

The prison camp revolt was the subject of the 1987 film “Escape from Sobibor” staring Rutger Hauer as Pechersky, who also survived the escape.

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