Thomas "Toivi" Blatt, an 82 year-old resident of California, has made the long journey to Munich, where he will testify in the trial of former Nazi SS guard John Demjanjuk. Blatt is one of the last living survivors of Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp located in Poland. German and Ukrainian SS soldiers were responsible for the murders of over 250,000 European Jews and Soviet Jewish prisoners of war.
Blatt was 15 years old at the time of the famous prisoner-led escape, in which inmates – primarily members of the Red Army – murdered Nazis and staged a daring escape into the surrounding woods. Of the 500 Jews at Sobibor on that fateful October 14, 1943, less than half survived the escape. Many Jews were killed in minefields surrounding the camp, and some were recaptured and slaughtered by the Nazis. Ultimately, only 66 Sobibor Jews survived the war.
In an interview for British newspaper The Independent, Blatt said he has come to testify about his experiences at Sobibor, but does not remember Demjanjuk – the survivor says the nearly 67 years since his getaway have turned even the faces of his parents hazy in his memory. His parents and his 10 year-old brother were murdered at Sobibor.
'Blood on the boots'
Demjanuk, who was extradited from the United States for trial in Germany is facing 27,500 murder charges for his part as a guard at Sobibor in the spring and summer of 1943. The Jews who were slaughtered during his tenure were primarily Dutch, and were gassed or beaten to death. According to Blatt, Ukrianian guards were a key component of the framework of Sobibor, even more terrifying than their German compatriots.
Sobibor guards shot the old and sick new arrivals at the camp, and drove people into the gas chambers with their bayonets, returning with blood on their boots, according to Blatt.
Blatt survived in the camp by polishing the boots of SS men, sorting clothes, and shaving the hair off female prisoners prior to their mass extermination in gas chambers. He took part in the uprising, helping to kill 12 SS officers by individually tricking them into believing a fine leather coat once belonging to a Jew had been saved for them. Once lured to retrieve it, prisoners with axes and knives killed the soldiers.
Demjanjuk was deported to Israel in 1986, and convicted in Israeli court in 1988 of war crimes after being identified as the cruel Treblinka and Sobibor guard "Ivan the Terrible". He was sentenced to death. However, in 1993, new evidence came to light leading to his exoneration. He subsequently returned to the United States.