It has been just under one year since we launched this exhibition, and what a year it has been! We have been overwhelmed by the interest in our material, both the permanent exhibition material as well as the monthly blogs, which have added brilliant contextual information. We are incredibly grateful to the SWWDTP for agreeing to fund our exhibition for another year, so watch this space for further posts and updates!
One of our proudest achievements this year has been the opportunity to interview five actors involved in the 1987 film Escape from Sobibór. Talking to esteemed individuals across the world about the impact of this production on their future career and life has been a humbling experience and has reminded us of our dedication to telling the story of Sobibór.
This has included an interview with Hartmut Becker, who played SS Gustav Wagner, who noted that “It was not very hard to be in this decoration of a camp, it was much more difficult to slip every day into the uniform and stand opposite hundreds of extras in KZ-uniforms.” One of our most-read blog posts was an interview with Rena Smith, daughter of Sobibór survivor Thomas Blatt, who reflected on her father’s time at Sobibór and involvement with commemorative activities such as the 1987 film.
Much has happened in the last year at the site of Sobibór itself. The permanent exhibition finally opened its doors at the newly established Museum and Memorial in Sobibór (under the branch of the State Museum at Majdanek), entitled “SS-Sonderkommando Sobibór, German Death Camp 1942-1943. While the memorial on site is still being finished, the exhibition opens with a broader discussion of the “Extermination of Jews in German-Occupied Europe”. The museum space is then dedicated to “Deportations to Sobibor”, “The Camp – Organisation and Operation”, “Prisoners’ Resistance and Struggle for Survival”, and finally “Crime scene – memorial site”. Video testimonies of several survivors are included as part of the visual aesthetic, including recordings of Selma and Chaim Engel, Esther Raab and Philip Bialowitz.
Yet, the most significant aspect of the exhibition is the large display cabinet, which houses a collection of the artefacts uncovered during the large period of archaeological excavations on site, conducted by Wojciech Mazurek, Yoram Haimi, Ivar Schute and their team of skilled workers. Of around 11,000 objects that were recovered on site, the museum now shows a selection of these, which demonstrate camp life for both victim and perpetrator, and features the incredible biographical items found by the archaeologists, for whom living relatives have been found. Needless to say, their incredible work has greatly impacted the future legacy of the camp, and how we can engage with its memory.
Unfortunately, one major consequence of the new memorial development at the site of Sobibór has been the removal of the Memorial Lane: a commemorative path aligned with stones and trees planted in memory of victims of the camp. Initiated by the organisation Bildungswerk Stanisław Hantz e.V. in cooperation with Stichting Sobibor in the Netherlands, the lane was opened in 2003 in the presence of several Sobibór survivors. In terms of impact, the Memorial Lane was the first commemorative monument on site dedicated to the individual memory of Sobibór victims, restoring anonymity and which allowed for living relatives to lay a stone in an act of remembrance of those lost – a vital step in public understanding of the camp, and the enormity of the killing that took place there. Around 300 stones were placed during the project’s duration, until the construction of the museum and memorial began in 2011. While those responsible for the Memorial Lane were excluded from the decision-making process, Bildunsgwerk Bildungswerk Stanisław Hantz posted the following statement concerning the future of the project: “The memorial stones will be relocated to another place in the memorial site once the redesign is complete, creating a dignified new place for these victims who were wrenched from anonymity. After the memorial stones have been relocated, it should also be possible to place new stones again. The European citizens' project Memorial Avenue will be continued with the name Memorial Stones.” Let’s hope that once the stones find their new resting place, this meaningful commemorative project can continue.
In the meantime, you can look forward to future blog contributions and interviews - keep an eye on our social media pages for these updates. - Curators: Isabel Sawkins and Hannah Wilson