By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN (Reuters) – Historians in Germany have released previously unseen photos of the Sobibor extermination camp, including pictures of John Demjanjuk, who was convicted in 2011 for his role in the murder of around 28,000 people.
Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who was number 1 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Most Wanted Nazi War Criminals” list, was deported from the United States to Germany in 2009, where he had spent much of his life as an auto worker. to bring to justice.
The photos, which historian Martin Cueppers described as “a quantum leap in the visual record of the Holocaust in occupied Poland”, belonged to Johann Niemann, the former deputy commander of Sobibor.
Between March 1942 and November 1943, 1.8 million Jews were murdered as part of the “Aktion Reinhard”, mainly in the extermination camps Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.
Only a few photos of Sobibor, which were destroyed before the end of the Second World War, have been preserved, so the pictures offer new insights into the functioning of the camp and the people involved.
“It was a breathtaking experience for me to see these pictures of Sobibor,” said the Dutchman Jetje Manheim (72), whose grandparents were murdered in the camp where Jews were killed in gas chambers with exhaust gases.
“For the first time, I saw what my grandparents saw at the end of their strenuous 72-hour train journey. That day, their lives ended,” she said during a presentation in a museum on the site of the former SS and the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin ,
The newly discovered photos provided by Niemann’s descendants have helped keep memories of their relatives alive.
Some pictures showed Niemann himself, including one who posed on a horse on the ramp, on which deportation trains arrived.
Others are from Trawnikis, non-Germans, who often work as guards in the camp. Two prints probably show Demjanjuk, who was transported to Sobibor in March 1943, said Cueppers.
Historians turned to the police to identify Demjanjuk. “The conclusion that it was probably John Demjanjuk was a combination of the latest police methods and historical research,” said Cueppers.
Demjanjuk was found guilty of being involved in the murder of about 28,000 Jews in Sobibor, although he denied having been there.
He died in 2012, but the groundbreaking verdict in Germany opened the way for further legal proceedings because it could be assumed that the presence in a camp alone was sufficient evidence of the guilt.
Sobibor was razed to the ground after a prisoner uprising in October 1943, in which Niemann was killed.
The collection was given to the archive of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Alexandra Hudson)