Semyon Rozenfeld, among the leaders of the rebellion at the Sobibor death camp, died in Israel at age 96. Rozenfeld is believed to be the last Israeli survivor of the uprising at the camp.
Sobibor was founded in 1942 in occupied Poland, alongside Treblinka and Belzec. The insurgency at the camp erupted on October 14, 1943. The rebels, led by Ukrainian Jew Alexander Pechersky, killed a number of SS officers with knives and axes and led a mass escape. They broke through the fencing and fled into the forest around the camp.
Many were caught and executed by the Germans; some were captured and turned over by local villagers. Ultimately about 300 of the 600 prisoners in the camp escaped but only 50 would survive the Holocaust. Rozenfeld was one.
“Not everyone can be a hero. I became a hero against my will,” Rozenfeld told Kan news in 2018.
Rozenfeld was born in Ukraine in 1922. In 1940, at age 18, he was drafted into the Red Army and fought against the German invasion. His family was murdered and interred in a mass grave by the village of his birth. In 1941, he was injured in the leg and taken captive by the Germans. Taken with other Red Army prisoners of war to a camp in Minsk, he starved for two years – and in September 1943 he was taken to his next stop, Sobibor in occupied Poland.
During the selection process, Rozenfeld lied and said that he was a professional carpenter. Thus was spared the gas chambers, unlike most newcomers to Sobibor. “Some weeks after we got to Sobibor I asked an officer at the carpentry shop where were my army comrades who came to the camp with me from Minsk. He pointed at the crematorium chimney and said, ‘You see that smoke? That’s your friends,'” Rozenfeld recounted later.
He made friends at the camp with Pechersky, a Jewish officer in the Red Army. They concocted the escape plan together. At a cursory glance, it seemed impossible.
“From the start, when we got to the camp, Sasha [Alexander] said he couldn’t take what they were doing to us and wanted to kill all the Nazis and go free. But we constantly heard stories about people trying to escape and dying en route because the Nazis were too strong,” Rozenfeld said. “That’s how Pechersky began thinking about the plan for insurgency and escape.”
After the war, Rozenfeld returned to Ukraine and started a family. Then in 1990 he moved with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to Israel.