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The Sobibór trial was a judicial trial directly concerning the Sobibór extermination camp personnel. The trial was held in 1965–66 in Hagen,[1] West Germany.[2] It was one of a series of similar war crime trials held during the early 1960s, such as the Jerusalem Adolf Eichmann trial of 1961 and the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963–65, as a result of which the general public came to realize the extent of the crimes that some twenty years earlier had been perpetrated in occupied Poland by Nazi bureaucrats and their executioners. In the same and in subsequent years, separate trials dealt with personnel of the Belzec (1963–65), Treblinka (1964–65), and Majdanek (1975–81) extermination camps. Opening of the Sobibor trial at the District Court in Hagen on 9 June 1965. Photo: City Archives, Hagen, Germany

The trial

Investigator Dietrich Zeug from Ludvigsburg, in charge of preparing the documents to be put before the court at the trial, studied old files and in the process stumbled upon a vast selection of individuals never before investigated. Some key SS officers who had served at Sobibór were tried over a decade earlier, such as SS-Oberscharführer Hubert Gomerski acquitted in the euthanasia trials of 1947, but sentenced again in 1950 and serving at Butzbach.[3][4] Zeug asked the authorities for help, and by spring 1960 had identified three dozen men directly involved in Action T4 and in Operation Reinhard. He contacted the World Jewish Congress and Yad Vashem in the following months, and on 23 June 1960 filed his first letter of recommendations at the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations,[5] requiring judicial action against 19 suspects.[1][6] Ludwigsburg officials learned for the first time about the whereabouts of some of the suspects in August 1960. Kurt Bolender lived under a false name in Hamburg and was indetified in 1961. Karl Frenzel was caught in March 1962 in Göttingen. Heinrich Unverhau was arrested along with Franz Wolf no earlier than in March 1964.[7] Meanwhile, Tel Aviv named twenty-two Sobibor survivors living in Israel, and the list of suspects grew into one hundred names.[8] At this point the Federal Republic had determined that Zeug's reports were politically sensitive and classified them as secret.[9]

The German court in Hagen initiated proceedings on 6 September 1965 against twelve former members of the SS camp personnel (about a quarter of the SS men employed at Sobibór ), accusing them of crimes against humanity. The verdicts were pronounced on 20 December 1966,[10][11] based on evidence provided by German historian, Professor Wolfgang Scheffler as well as Dutch historian and Holocaust survivor Jules Schelvis.[2]


In the 1965–66 trial, the defendants claimed that once assigned to serve at a death camp, they saw no possibility to refuse their orders, citing the statement made by Christian Wirth to the personnel at Sobibór: "If you do not like it here, you can leave, but under the earth, not over it." However, SS-Untersturmführer Johann Klier, who asked to be transferred from Sobibór on moral grounds was not punished but allowed to leave, which proved that the contrary was true.[4]

One of the worst murderers in Sobibór was SS-Oberscharführer Erich Bauer, the gas chamber "meister". He was recognised on the streets of Berlin by survivor Samuel Lerner. On 8 May 1950 Bauer was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life in prison, as the death penalty had been abolished in West Germany. Bauer died in the Tegel prison in Berlin in 1980.

A few of the Ukrainian guards who served at Sobibór were brought to trial in the Soviet Union, including B. Bielakow, M. Matwijenko, I. Nikifor, W. Podienko, F. Tichonowski, Emanuel Schultz, and J. Zajcew. They were found guilty of war-crimes and executed. In April 1963, at a court in Kiev where Sasha Pechersky was the chief prosecution witness, ten former Ukrainian guards were found guilty and executed. One was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

A third trial was held in Kiev in June 1965, where three former death camp guards from Sobibór and Belzec were executed by firing squad.


Defendant Photograph Rank Indictment Conviction Sentence
Frenzel, KarlKarl Frenzel File:Frenzel, Karl August.jpg SS-Oberscharführer Personally killing 42 Jews and participating in the murder of approximately 250,000 Jews Personally killing 6 Jews and participating in the mass murder of approximately 150,000 Jews Life imprisonment-served 16 years and died 1996
Bolender, KurtKurt Bolender Heinz Kurt Bolender.jpg SS-Oberscharführer Personally killing approximately 360 Jews and participating in the mass murder of approximately 86,000 Jews Committed suicide in prison custody before sentencing
Wolf, FranzFranz Wolf Franz Wolf (Nazi).jpg SS-Oberscharführer Personally killing one Jew and participating in the mass murder of 115,000 Jews Participating in the mass murder of at least 39,000 Jews 8 years imprisonment
Ittner, AlfredAlfred Ittner SS-Oberscharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 57,000 Jews Participating in the murder of approximately 68,000 Jews 4 years imprisonment-died 3 November 1976
Dubois, WernerWerner Dubois SS-Oberscharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 43,000 Jews Participating in the murder of at least 15,000 Jews 3 years imprisonment-died 22 October 1971
Fuchs, ErichErich Fuchs Erich Fuchs.jpg SS-Scharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 3,600 Jews Participating in the murder of at least 79,000 Jews 4 years imprisonment; died 1980
Lachmann, ErichErich Lachmann Erich Gustav Wili Lachmann.jpg SS-Scharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 150,000 Jews Acquitted Acquitted-died 23 January 1972
Schütt, Hans-HeinzHans-Heinz Schütt SS-Scharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 86,000 Jews Acquitted Acquitted
Unverhau, HeinrichHeinrich Unverhau SS-Unterscharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 72,000 Jews Acquitted Acquitted
Jührs, RobertRobert Jührs SS-Unterscharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 30 Jews Acquitted Acquitted
Zierke, ErnstErnst Zierke SS-Unterscharführer Participating in the mass murder of approximately 30 Jews Acquitted Acquitted; reportedly died 1972
Lambert, ErwinErwin Lambert Lambert, Erwin.jpg SS-Unterscharführer Participating in the mass murder of an unknown number of Jews Acquitted Acquitted; died 1976

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Michael Bryant (2014), Eyewitness to Genocide: The Operation Reinhard Death Camp Trials, 1955-1966 Chapter: The Hunt for Wittnesses, pp.36–132 University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 1621900495.
  2. 2.0 2.1 J. Harrison, R. Muehlenkamp, J. Myers, S. Romanov, N. Terry (December 2011) (PDF file, direct download 5.30 MB). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Holocaust Controversies, First Edition. pp. 459–460 (PDF, 460–461) / 571. Retrieved 9 October 2014. "Source: Urteil LG Hagen, 20.12.1966, 11 Ks 1/64. The Hagen Court expressly pointed out that the total figure it arrived at, made no claim to historical completeness, but was merely a minimum number established for judicial purposes." 
  3. Bryant (2014), p. 133.
  4. 4.0 4.1 ARC (24 January 2006), Sobibor Trials Aktion Reinhard Camps.
  5. Dietrich Zeug (9 June 1960), "Operation Reinhard." Concise Summary of Current Results of Investigations by the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations, BA 162/3168 (in) Bryant (2014), pp. 250–251.
  6. Michael Bryant, "West German Prosecution of Operation Reinhard Crimes, 1958–1966" (PDF file, direct download), pp. 6–21/49. Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review, 339 (2012).
  7. Bryant (2014), p. 160.
  8. Bryant (2014), p. 140.
  9. Ruth Bettina Birn. "Fifty Years After: A Critical Look At The Eichmann Trial" (PDF file, direct download). pp. 5–6, 7, 13, 27/31. 
  10. Sobibor - The Forgotten Revolt: Murderers. 2014 Thomas T. Blatt.
  11. Chris Webb, Carmelo Lisciotto, Victor Smart (2009), The Sobibor Death Camp. H.E.A.R.T. - Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team. See: Sobibor Trial.

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