Video: Sobibor Survivor Testifying In Demjanjuk Trial


blatt[Video below.] When Thomas Toivi Blatt was a prisoner at Sobibor, assigned to sort clothes and destroy documents of fellow Jews after their corpses were incinerated, it was said that the only way out of the death camp would be “with the smoke, traveling with the wind.”

But Blatt made it out alive in a mass escape, and 66 years later he is heading to Munich to testify at the trial of John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio autoworker who is charged with being a Ukrainian guard at Sobibor and an accessory to the murder of 27,900 people killed there.

Demjanjuk insists he is innocent, and Blatt – who testifies Tuesday – doesn’t claim he can identify him. He just wants to tell the story that has overshadowed his life ever since his parents and brother were gassed when the family arrived at the camp in occupied Poland in 1943.

He ended up settling in Santa Barbara, California, and owned and ran three electronics stores in the area. But a part of him stayed behind.

“I never escaped from Sobibor. I’m still there – in my dreams, in everything,” said Blatt, 82, who has also written two books about his Holocaust experiences. “My point of reference is always Sobibor.”

The longer he lives, the more he thinks of his beloved younger brother Henryk, a highly intelligent and gifted boy who Blatt is certain would have grown into a great man if he had lived. And he has suffered depression, with a profound sadness overcoming him each time he lectures or gives interviews on the Holocaust.

Demjanjuk, 89, allegedly was one of the camp’s 100 to 150 Ukrainian guards, prisoners of war who agreed to assist the SS, but there are no witnesses, including Blatt, who can identify him from the camp.

“I can’t say a lie; I must say the truth,” he said. “I don’t remember the faces of my parents right now. How could I remember him?”

But he welcomes the trial as perhaps a last chance to remind the world of what kind of atrocities were committed at death camps like Sobibor by the Nazis and their helpers.

Blatt, who visited Warsaw this week, is scheduled to testify for three days starting Jan. 19.

He did not, however, testify when Demjanjuk was tried in Israel over accusations that he was the notorious “Ivan the Terrible” at the Treblinka death camp in Poland. Demjanjuk was found guilty in 1988 of war crimes and crimes against humanity but the conviction was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court, which ruled that the evidence pointed to someone else being “Ivan the Terrible.”

The guards were “participants in killing. They were accomplices,” Blatt said. “The Nazis wouldn’t have been able to do anything without the guards.”

He spent six months in Sobibor as a teenager until the prisoners staged their breakout. About half of an estimated 500 to 600 prisoners escaped in what was one of only two partially successful revolts in Nazi death camps during World War II. However, most who escaped ended up being hunted down and killed by the Nazis. Blatt is one of only 66 Sobibor prisoners to survive the war, according to research gathered by Marek Bem, a historian who heads a museum about Sobibor.

Blatt said the leader of the revolt, a Soviet POW named Sasha Pechersky, told them just before it started that anyone who survived should tell the world what happened there.

“At that point I prayed, and I said: ‘God, if you will allow me to survive this escape in the revolt, to survive the war, I will never forget to tell the world about Sobibor,'” Blatt said. “And that is what I’m doing.”

Click below to see a video of Blatt describing the horrific circumstances in Sobibor:

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{Miami Herald/Noam Newscenter}