Politicians pay homage to Sobibór uprising heroes

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Deputy Prime Minister, Culture Minister Piotr Gliński commemorated the heroes of the uprising in the German Nazi death camp Sobibór in eastern Poland, on Sunday.

I bow my head before the heroes of the uprising, who defended human freedom, President Andrzej Duda wrote in a letter read out at a Saturday ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of a prisoner uprising in the German Nazi death camp Sobibór in eastern Poland.

"You are gathered on a site that is testimony to a terrible crime, and at the same time to proud resistance, a heroic fight for freedom and dignity. Here, where hell was created on earth, where humanity was taken away and trodden upon (...)," Duda wrote in the letter, read by presidential aide Wojciech Kolarski.

The head of state recalled that the armed rebellion of Sobibór prisoners, which broke out on October 14 1943, was one of the greatest Jewish uprisings in World War II.

In his letter, Duda paid homage to all the heroic participants of the uprising. According to the president, the rebellion had huge importance because it enabled around 300 prisoners to break free from the camp.

"I bow my head in respect to the heroes of the Sobibór uprising, to all those who steadfastly defended human freedom at that time (...) I pay homage to all victims of the Holocaust," the Polish president wrote.

Culture Minister Piotr Gliński recalled that the rebellion in Sobibór "became a symbol of heroic strivings to maintain dignity in a time of contempt." The minister also greeted the relatives and descendants of prisoners.

"From 170,000 to 180,000 Jews were murdered in the Sonderkommando Sobibór camp. The biggest number of Jews was from Poland (90,000), from the Netherlands (34,000) and from Slovakia (24,000) (...)," he said.

Culture Minister noted that "today is a day of remembrance about the victims and heroes from Sobibór, but not only, it is also to remind us about the threat of racism, criminal hatred and prejudice against others."

Lejb Feldhendler, the late participant and leading organiser of the uprising, was posthumously awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. The distinction was given to his relative.

During the commemorations, an exhibition titled "extracted from ashes" was presented, showing the personal belongings of victims murdered in the camp, excavated during archaeological works, such as wedding rings, glasses, cigarette cases, toiletry products, combs, hairpins, and medicine packagings.

In September 2008, Poland, the Netherlands, Israel and Slovakia decided to establish a new memorial museum in Sobibór. The objectives of the project have been set by an international Steering Group of representatives from countries involved in the project. The architectural and artistic concept of the new memorial site was selected in 2013 through an international competition.

The Sobibór Nazi German death camp was one of three main sites of the extermination of Jews alongside Bełżec and Treblinka, where 170,000 died as part of the Operation Reinhardt plan conducted by Nazi Germany in the so-called General Government area of Poland from March 1942 to November 1943.

During the 1943 revolt about 600 prisoners tried to escape the camp, around 50 succeeded. Shortly afterwards the Germans closed down the camp, bulldozed the site and planted pine trees on it to hide its location. Today, it houses the Sobibór Museum, which displays a pyramid of the camp's inmates' ashes and crushed bones collected from the cremation pits.