Mikhail Razgonayev

Mikhail Razgonayev

September 20, 1948

City of Dniepropetrowsk

After I had completed in May 1942, the school of SS Forces at Trawniki and received the title of Wachmann (Guard in the SS forces), I was sent for practical work to a special camp that was located in the township of Sobibor. The camp was in an area of Poland, about 50 kilometers from the town of Chelm, and about 100-150 kilometers from the township of Trawniki, where I had undergone training as a Wachmann.

 The Sobibor camp was located in a forest, on an area that had been specially prepared. Not far from the Sobibor junction were the railway lines that passed the junction of the camp. There were no other residential buildings or populated areas in the proximity of the camp. The camp was located within a forest clearing, in an area from which the trees had been removed. The area of the camp was 2-3 square kilometres.

 The whole area of the camp was fenced with one row of barbed -wire to a height of 2 meters – there were no other fences around the camp, beyond the barbed- wire fence was forest. In the barbed -wire fence in the direction of the railway junction, there were two openings: one for the passage of trains, which was closed off with wooden gates, that were opened only when a train was arriving at the camp, and a second entrance – alongside the first, for the passage of staff to the camp and for carts. This entrance was also operated through wooden gates. Both entrances to the camp were carefully guarded by Wachmanner, from among the Volksdeutsche. By the camp entrances, inside the camp, there was a guard post in which was located the detail of duty guards in charge of the entrances to the camp. There were no other entrances.

Alongside the railway line that was located within the camp, a wooden hut was built that was intended for disembarkation of people from the carriages. The unloading site was separated from the area of the camp by a barbed- wire fence. From the unloading site, a special passageway of barbed- wire fed to an area of the camp. Two wooden huts had been put up in the camp, termed ‘dressing rooms.’ The ‘dressing rooms’ were also fenced off with barbed-wire, in which were special passageways from each hut that led to a large stone building that was termed ‘bath-house,’ and it was not possible to see through them what was happening by the ‘bath-house.’ In the part of the camp where the ‘bath-house’ was located – a wooden hut had been put up, at which the work detail that was specially allocated for work in the gas chambers stayed.

 In the other part of the camp, where the ‘dressing rooms’ were located a number of wooden huts, cut off from them, were built and used as storerooms, where the effects and clothes of the people who arrived at the camp, were sorted and kept. At the same place there were huts for a second ‘work detail’ that engaged in the sorting of the clothes of the people who had been exterminated at the camp. Not far from the entrance to the camp were located a number of buildings in which we stayed – we the Wachmanner, Germans –among them the ‘work detail’ in the camp: apart from that there were also other buildings – a dining room, hairdresser, laundry and others. All these buildings were also located within the camp, but not far from the entrance of the camp. The ‘work –detail comprised over 100 people.

I personally arrived for service at the Sobibor camp in May 1942; at that time most of the camp was built and functioning, that is to say – mass exterminations of people had already been implemented there. However, during the period of my service at the Sobibor camp from May 1942, to July 1943, - the construction work at the camp continued. I, among others, took part in the construction of buildings for ‘dressing rooms,’ and clothes stores, and in July 1943, I was sent from the Sobibor camp to the area of Rawa Ruska, in order to prepare building materials for the camp.

 The Commander of the Sobibor death camp was a German officer of the SS forces. I do not know his rank or surname. His deputy was Oberleutnant Niemann, also an officer in the SS forces. All the activity of the camp for mass destruction was performed under their direct command.

 The service staff of the camp consisted of German NCO’s, the number of whom at the camp was about 30. The camp staff also comprised Wachmanner from among the Volksdeutsche, whose status at the camp was higher than ours – of the Wachmanner and was equivalent to German soldiers. I personally during my service at the camp belonged to a group of Wachmanner, comprising 70 -80 persons. The group of Wachmanner was divided into a number of platoons, about 20 per platoon. Each platoon was headed by a Wachmann or Oberwachmann, from the Volksdeutsche, who had a good mastery of German.

 At the Sobibor camp there were two ‘work –details,’ as I have testified above. One detail, comprising 50 people worked in the part of the camp where the building of the gas chamber was built; a second work-detail of 10 people, mostly women, worked at the clothing stores on the sorting of effects and clothes of the people who had been exterminated at the camp.

 The work of the two details was commanded by Germans of the rank of NCO’s whose surnames I do not recall. Apart from this a service detail of the camp also included a Kapo. To the position of Kapo, people were appointed from among the civilians arriving at the extermination camp. These were in effect ‘policemen’ who supervised the work and the order within the work-detail and that was also made up of civilians, who had been brought to the camp for extermination purposes, but were not exterminated, because they were used for work.

In 1943, a group of Russian girls were brought to the Sobibor camp. Soviet citizens, who performed at the camp laundry work and cleaning. They would launder the clothes of the Germans and ourselves – the Wachmanner – and cleaned the rooms in which the Germans lived. These girls, of whom there were about 20, also belonged to the service administration of the camp.

 Outside the camp, beyond the barbed-wire fence were placed Guard posts – 2 Wachmanner every 200 meters, such that the whole area of the camp from the outside world was surrounded by Wachmanner, who kept between them visual and audio contact. The role of the guards was to carefully supervise , so that none of the foreigners would come close to the camp and also to prevent escape attempts from the camp through the barbed-wire. So that the guarding of the barbed-wire and the camp area would be more effective, permanent Guard Towers were built at the corners of the camp, and there too, Wachmanner stood on guard day and night.

 In order to go from one part of the camp to the other, one had to cross special passageways, fenced with barbed-wire, that were also carefully guarded by Wachmanner and Germans. Apart from the wire fenced passageways, all the buildings within the camp were guarded – the residential huts of the Wachmanner ‘s huts, where the work details stayed, and the residential buildings of the Germans and other buildings.

 Very rarely were Wachmanner sent outside the camp, and then only on the condition that someone from the Volksdeutsche accompanied them. With regard to the civilians who were brought to the camp for extermination, no regime was determined with respect to them, for they were not held at the camp, and as a rule, were exterminated on their day of arrival at the camp. Only civilians of Jewish nationality would arrive for extermination at the Sobibor camp; Men, women, old people and children of various ages would arrive.

The unloading of the trains was not undertaken in one go, but in stages. At one time, people were taken out of approximately 10 wagons, and then another 10. The arriving civilians were told they had been brought to a camp, to a transit camp, at which they would undergo sanitary treatment and a medical board, and afterwards they would receive a referral as to exactly where to travel. Soldiers who used to accompany the train with the people were not workers at the Sobibor camp. Therefore, immediately after the unloading of the train, they would depart with empty wagons, to bring new victims. On average, two trains a day would arrive at the camp – approximately 2,000 people, who were exterminated the same day.

 Immediately after the people who were brought to the camp , were taken off the train, they were sorted according to the following criteria: all the men who were capable of moving on their own, were referred to a separate hut, that was isolated from the other huts, by a barbed-wire fence….. women with children, who were also capable of moving on their own, were referred to another isolated hut – a ‘dressing room.’ Earlier in the description of the camp and the buildings that were in the area of the camp, I forgot to mention that ….. at a distance from the huts – ‘dressing rooms,’ there was a small building, that was called the ‘clinic.’

 During the sorting and separation of the men and women and their referral to the huts, that were cut off from each other, sick and weak persons were found, who were unable to move on their own. People from the ‘work-detail’ would lead or carry these sick and weak civilians to the ‘clinic’ where apparently they would receive medical aid – but in fact, they, as the others were exterminated.

It had to be added that the Germans also thought about other details that also served as camouflage for the true reason for which the people were brought to the Sobibor camp. Thus, for example, in the ‘dressing room’ there were train timetables, all sorts of posters, appealing to people to maintain order. When the people were invited to the ‘bath-house,’ each one was given a piece of soap. The lie would end only when the people went into the gas-chambers, where they would discover that there was no ‘bath-house,’ and that they had been taken there to be destroyed.

 The people who were brought to the camp were destroyed in two ways: through suffocating gas in special gas chambers and by shooting in the area of the camp itself. The gas chambers, or as they were termed for camouflage – ‘bath-house,’ was a stone building punctiliosly isolated by a system of barbed-wire fences from other parts of the camp and hidden by young trees, saplings in particular, from the view of the huts – ‘dressing rooms,’ so that the people who were in the ‘dressing rooms,’ would not be able to see what was happening by the ‘bath-house.’ The ‘bath-house,’ was distant from the ‘dressing rooms,’ so that the cries emerging from the gas chambers, when the people realized that they had been tricked and were persuaded that they had been brought there not to bathe, but for their destruction, could not be heard.

 In the building with gas chambers, there was a wide corridor, on one side of which there were four chambers, the floor, ceiling and walls were of concrete. They had four special shower-heads that were intended not to supply water, but for the entry of exhaust gases through which the people in the chambers were killed.

 Each chamber had two doors, internal on the corridor side, through which the people would enter the chamber , and external, that opened outwards, and through which the bodies would be removed. The doors – the internal and external – were closed hermetically and fitted with rubber strips that did not allow the gas to escape from the chamber.

 Behind the rear wall of the building was located on a base, under an awning, a strong motor that would begin to work the moment the chambers were full and the doors were closed hermetically. From the motor led a pipe that went through the ceiling of the building corridor with the gas chambers. From the pipe would emerge into each chamber a metal pipe, ending with a shower-head, that was used in the bath-houses for the supply of water. Through this system the exhaust gasses from the motor would be led into the chamber. The ‘work-detail’ dealt with the clearing of the chambers after the people who had been put in them had been killed and they would bring the bodies to the pits in carts.

 Before the arrival of the train, the Germans would hold a briefing for the Wachmanner, who participated that day in the guarding of the trains and the barbed-wire fenced passageways in the area of the camp, so as to prevent any act that might disclose the purpose for which the people had been brought to the camp… because among the people, rumours had already spread that the Germans had camps where the extermination of civilians of Jewish nationality was performed. The Germans feared a rebellion on the part of the people who were brought to the camp and they took all measures to prevent this, because in the event of a rebellion, it would be impossible to overcome it, despite all the means of the camp staff. 

During the time of my service as a Wachmann and afterwards as an Oberwachmann at the Sobibor camp I saw the process of extermination of people with my own eyes. In the first stage, the men were exterminated naked. Accompanied by a Kapo, completely naked people, about 150 -200 were referred through the barbed-wire passageways from the ‘dressing rooms’ to the gas chambers, without knowing they were going to die. After a certain time, when this group of 150-200 people would enter one of the gas chambers (each chamber contained 200 people), the same Kapo would return and accompany a new group of the same number of people, who would be put into a second chamber, and so it would continue until all 4 chambers were full.

 When the last chamber was full of people, an engine of great power would be operated and for 15-20 minutes the exhaust fumes were piped into the chambers. This time was sufficient to kill the people who had been put into the chambers. After the chambers were filled with people, a sign would be given by the Germans who serviced the gas chambers, according to which an engine of great power was operated. I cannot see how the engine was built, because I do not know.

 After 15-20 minutes, the people in the chambers suffocated, the doors would be opened, the gas from the chambers would leave and the ‘work-detail’ would start clearing the chambers. The bodies from the chambers were taken by carts to the pits, were thrown into them and, after all the people who had arrived at the camp that day had been exterminated, the pits would be covered by soil.

 Those civilians who were unable to move on their own were shot. As a rule, immediately after the unloading of the train, they would be taken by the ‘work-detail ‘ to a separate hut, called the ‘clinic’ and they stayed there until those who could move on their own, had been exterminated in the gas chambers. The number of sick from one train would come to 30-50 people, depending on the number of trains that would arrive in one day. All the sick who had stayed at the ‘clinic’ were brought by a ‘work-detail,’ undressed to the pits and were shot by us – Wachmanner and the Germans at short range.

 Until December 1942, the bodies used to be buried in pits in the area of the camp. From December 1942, they began to burn the bodies in large bonfires, with the help of bulldozers, that began to remove the bodies of those who had been exterminated previously and burn them in bonfires. Members of the ‘work-detail’ performed this work.

 During May –June 1942, I twice took part personally in the shooting of two groups of people. The first time, a group of 50 sick and infirm were shot by the Wachmanner, I among them. At the execution by shooting, a group of Wachmanner and Germans, about 10 in number, took part. I personally shot with a rifle and killed on this occasion not more than 5 people.

 The second time, also in June 1942, I participated in an execution by shooting of a group of civilians that consisted of about 25 persons. I personally killed on that occasion , not more than 3 people.

 In June 1942, I was appointed by the camp command to work inside the camp as a carpenter. I built ‘dressing rooms,’ huts, for the storage of effects and clothes of the people who were being destroyed at the camp. Apart from that, watch-towers around the camp were built with my participation. In December 1942, for my loyal service in the German SS forces and for my good work as a carpenter, I was promoted to the rank of Oberwachmann.

 On average at the Sobibor camp, 1500 innocent civilians were exterminated each day. I served at the Sobibor camp until July 1943, and afterwards I was sent by the camp command to the area of Rawa Ruska for the preparation of building materials for the camp. I injured myself there by chance and in November –December 1942, I was dismissed from service in the SS forces.

 The minutes have been read out before me; recorded according to what I said correctly.

Mikhail Razgonyev


Chris Webb, Sobibor, ibidem-verlag, Stuttgart, 2017

© Holocaust Historical Society 2017