To Survive Sobibor
By Dov Freiberg
Gefen Publishing House: Jerusalem and New York, (2007 / 5767) www.israelbooks.com
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 16, 2007
Sobibor was a Nazi death camp located in the Lublin district, near Wlodawa, Poland. Numbers vary, but it is believed that upwards to 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor between 1942 and 1943. In October of 1943, Sobibor was the site of one of the most successful revolts by concentration camp prisoners, with somewhere around 300-500 inmates escaping. Only about 50-60 survived the war. As a direct result of this revolt, the extermination center at the camp was dismantled. The camp itself continued in operation until it was liberated in 1944.
Based on its title, Dov Freiberg's book To Survive Sobibor may appear to be a Holocaust memoir about his experiences in Sobibor. It is, but it is also so much more!
Born in Warsaw Poland in 1927, Dov Freiberg was destined to live though one of the most trying periods of Jewish history. In his autobiography, To Survive Sobibor, Freiberg explores what his, and his family's life was like before the Holocaust, their experiences during this dreadful period, and what came after. Freiberg details his journey to Israel aboard the 'illegal' immigrant ship, the Exodus 1947 which gained so much fame in such books as Leon Uris' fictional account titled simply Exodus, and Ruth Gruber's first hand account in Destination Palestine: The Story of the Haganah Ship "Exodus 1947". This book concludes with Freiberg's arrival in Israel in 1948. Although not detailed in this book, after his arrival in Israel, Frieberg fought in the the War of Independence, the 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He also testified at the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, in Jerusalem.
To Survive Sobibor is a gripping account of one man's life and struggle for survival against unimaginable odds. As one of the few survivors of the Sobibor revolt, Freiberg is able to talk about this event with unprecedented knowledge and understanding. His account of living in the forest after the revolt is as riveting as is his account of the actual revolt. In addition, his reminiscences of trying to survive in Poland, and dealing with the still palpable antisemitism, is fascinating. It also serves as a vivid reminder that even after the war, many Jews were murdered by those who did not want to return property to returning Jews - or simply because they felt that they could still get away with it! This is also an intimate and at times painful account of a young man coming of age at a horrible time, of his having to deal with being Jewish at a time when being Jewish was often a death sentence, and about how he dealt with coming to terms with the fate his family suffered (he was the only member of his family to survive), and learning to make a life for himself.
Freiberg writes primarily in Hebrew, and this is his first book (of many I hope) to be translated into English. Other books by Freiberg include: A Journey to the Past with Dekel Shibolim, A Man as Any Other, and Two Worlds. Freiberg continues to lecture about his experiences both during and after the war. This book offers an edifying insights into the life of this amazing man, and the unbelievable ordeals that he went through, ordeals that, while defying belief, were all too real!
I highly recommend To Survive Sobibor to anyone interested in reading an inspiring autobiography, as well as to general readers and scholars interested in Holocaust studies, Israeli history, the events surrounding the Aliyah Bet movement (the attempt to bring, by ship, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust into British Palestine, which necessitated running a British naval blockade), as well as anyone interested in learning more about this tumultuous period in Jewish history.
To learn more about Sobibor, visit these online resources (they are listed in no particular order):
The Jews' Secret Fleet, by Joseph M. Hochstein and Murray S. Greenfield.
The Untold Story of North American Volunteers who Smashed the British Blockade. An overview of the post-World War II actions of the Aliyah Bet movement and their use of eleven 'secret' ships to transport Holocaust survivors to Israel.
Silent Rebels, by Marion Schreiber
The true story of the raid on the twentieth train that left the Mechelen transit camp carrying 1,618 Belgium Jews to Auschwitz.