Sorry, I missed the anniversary by 4 days (it happened on October 14) due to other breaking stories. But this year marks the 75th Anniversary of the Sobibor Escape! As many people know, the Polish railway station of Sobibór housed a Nazi extermination camp where Jews from Western European countries and the Soviet Union were brought to be gassed. Soviet POWs were also taken there, and some of them were put to work inside the camp. (Even death camps need some workers.) Reputable historians reckon that up to 250,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis at Sobibor, more than at any other death camp except for Bełżec, Treblinka and Auschwitz. As wiki points out (because some Nazi apologists still deny that their heroes gassed anybody) a team of archaeologists in 2014 unearthed remains of the gas chambers under the asphalt road. Deniers also have to explain the numbers: Why so few Jews left in Europe after the war? Did everybody really just die from natural causes? The numbers tell the story. And one also has to keep in mind, that the vast majority of these Jews were just regular people, ordinary civilians. But, at the bottom line, this is what fascism is really all about — both then and now — it is about the hounding and dominance of the elites over ordinary people.
Having said that, this particular story is about a not-so-ordinary man. A Jew who was also a Soviet officer. His name was Alexander Aronovich Pechersky, and he was the leader of the Sobibor uprising.
To commemorate this event, a Russian film recently came out starring Konstantin Khabensky, who also directed. [Disclosure: I have not seen the film yet, but I heard it’s good.]
Lieutenant Pechersky of the Soviet Army was taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to Sobibor. He was given a job inside the camp. In his spare time he organized and led the escape. Dozens of people, including Pechersky himself, actually made it out and survived. Pechersky was a true hero, in every sense of the word: He risked his life to save others. But, as the writer of this piece, Vladimir Veretennikov notes, the Soviet government did not make a big deal out of this event and even, sort of, played it down. For reasons I have tried to explain before, which included an unwillingness on the part of Soviet leaders to air dirty historical laundry featuring people who are now considered friends and allies, e.g., East Germans, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Poles, and Ukrainians. (I am not implying there were no Russian collaborationists; there were enough of them as well to fill up a goodly sized city.)
Soviet proto-dissident intellectuals like Yevtushenko and Shostakovich attributed a possibly more sinister motive, like a latent Soviet anti-Semitism, an unwillingness to accept the proposition that Jews were the “special victims” of Nazi bestiality. While there may be a grain of truth in that accusation, I don’t really buy it. In my opinion, it was the thing I mentioned before: After the war, former victims and former perps now lived side by side as common citizens of the broader Soviet Empire, so it is best to let bygones be bygones. It’s like when your mother organizes a dinner party that includes some distant relatives, and she warns you not to mention certain things when Uncle Mo is sitting at the table. Hence, the use of the word “Nazi” instead of “German”, and the downplaying of Jewish special-victim status. As in “All Soviet people, regardless of ethnicity, were victims of the fascists.” Which is true enough, and yet obviously it is ludicrous to forget, that Jews were the special targets of Nazi racial ideology.
I would also mention that the Soviet dissidents, for their part, tended to downplay the “special victim” status of the Soviet people. If the Soviet government just wanted to forget about Babiy Yar, it wasn’t because they did Babiy Yar. No, the Nazis and the Ukrainian Nationalists did Babiy Yar. But the dissidents miss this little subtlety, which is why they would not make good homicide detectives. They miss the subtle distinction between murderers and those who don’t want to talk about the murder. In their eyes, Stalin and Hitler were pretty much the same person, so what does it matter, who did what and who killed whom? It was all just a blur anyhow. And if you think I am exaggerating the views of the dissidents, you are wrong. They really are that dumb. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was assured by a kreakle intellectual who lives in Moscow, that Stalin and Hitler were great friends who got together and decided to carve up Europe and kill all the Jews. How can one even reason with such people?
Anyhow, Khabensky’s movie is a big deal in Russia, precisely because it addresses these issues that were, sort of, swept under the rug in Soviet times. And nowadays Russians are much freer to openly name the various collaborationists and their ethnicity, since those people are not fellow citizens of the Empire any more. Nowadays, all masks are off, and everybody is free to point at the naked faces.
Next we move along to the personality of Pechersky himself. What kind of man was he, and how did he build his Resistance Cell?
[to be continued]