We are saddened to learn of the recent passing of Arkadii Vaispapir, one of few people ever to have survived the Sobibór death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Holocaust. He was 96.
Vaispapir, a Jew who died in Kiev, Ukraine on Jan. 11 – and whose testimony is in the Visual History Archive – was a member of the armed uprising at the camp in 1943.
He was born in the village of Bobrovyi Kut in southern Ukraine, where his family lived for generations. In 1940 he was drafted into the Soviet Red Army and fought the Nazi enemy from the first day of the war, after Nazi Germany broke the military alliance with the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.
For three days Vaispapir defended the Soviet-occupied Polish territory on the Bug River, where he was wounded for the first time. Then his unit joined in the defense of Kiev. He was gravely wounded in the ferocious battles for the capital of Ukraine; only in the military hospital did he find out that the battle was lost.
The German occupation force transferred him and the other hospital inmates from Kiev to Minsk, where Jewish doctors and patients were removed and sent to a separate prison camp in the nearby woods. The few surviving Jews were later moved to the slave labor camp in Minsk.
From there, Vaispapir’s group was deported to the Sobibór death camp. Aware of the fate that awaited, the Soviet POWs joined the civilian prisoner resistance and coordinated preparations for an uprising.
Vaispapir took active part in the key moments of the Oct. 14, 1943 revolt, killing several armed SS-men with a prisoner-made axe. Approximately half of the prisoners left alive in the death camp succeeded in breaking out of the killing center that day. Just 58 known Sobibór survivors lived to see the end of World War II. Vaispapir’s Russian-language testimony was recorded on June 28, 1995 in Kiev.