Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Introduction to the Holocaust Trials
The IMT Series
Interrogation of Mikhail Affanaseivitch Razgonayev
Sobibor Death Camp Wachman
MINUTES OF THE INTERROGATION
September 20 1948 – The City of Dniepropetrowsk
We, the Deputy Director of the Department of Investigations at the Ministry of State Security in the District of Dniepropetrowsk, Major Nitchayew, and the Director of the Department of Investigations Captain Ribalka, interrogated the accused:
Mikhail Affanaseivitch Razgonayev
The interrogation began at 21.30 hours.
The interrogation ended at 02 on September 22 1948
The interrogation was interrupted from 01 to 10 on September 20 and from 17 to 20 September on September 21 1948.
During the investigation you testified to the effect that from May 1942 until July 1943 you served as a Wachman and then Oberwachman in a mass extermination camp. State the exact location of the camp.
As I testified in the previous interrogations, after I had completed in May 1942 the school of SS forces at Trawniki and received the title of Wachman (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 the area of Poland, about 50 kilometres from the town of Chelm and about 100 – 150 kilometres from the township of Trawniki where I had undergone training as a Wachman.
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 to the camp.
About the designation of this railway line, I shall tell below.
What was the camp called?
I don’t know what the Germans called the camp. I personally knew the camp as Sobibor camp, named after the rail junction near which it was located. It is possible that the Germans had a special name for the camp, but I do not know about it.
Describe the Sobibor camp?
I have already testified above that the Sobibor camp was located near the Sobibor rail junction. 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 metres – 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 wood gates,that were opened only when a train was arriving at the camp, and a second entrance – alongside the first, for the passage of the staff to the camp and for carts.
This entrance was also operated through wooden gates. Both entrances to the camp were carefully guarded by Wachman’s 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 entrance 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 the area of the camp, through which people arrived directly to 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 store-rooms, 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 in the camp.
Not far from the entrance to the camp were located a number of buildings in which we stayed- we, the Wachman, Germans – among 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 located within the camp, but not far from the exit of the camp about which I have testified already above. The work detail comprised over 100 persons. I will tell later about the composition and designation of the work detail.
What was the designation of the camp that was located in the Sobibor township?
It must be noted that the definition camp was not accurate in this case because, as a rule, the prisoners were not held in it and the camp was not constructed to hold detainees.
If one does not take into account the work details and the staff of Germans and Wachman’s, no-one was held in the camp. The Sobibor camp was a death camp. This was a factory especially equipped for the mass destruction of Jews.
In accordance with the designation of the camp, as a place for the mass destruction of people, it was guarded in a greater way by Germans and by us the Wachman’s.
To this end it was located in a remote forest. All the inside buildings were isolated from each other by a system of barbed wire, all the passageways through the barbed wire were carefully guarded. Gas chambers were operated for the purpose of the mass destruction of people at the camp.
When was the Sobibor camp set up?
I cannot say exactly when the Sobibor camp was set up because I do not know that. I personally arrived for service at Sobibor 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 building for dressing rooms and clothes stores and in July 1943 I was sent from the Sobibor camp to the area of Russkaya, in order to prepare building materials for the camp.
Under the management of which German body was the Sobibor camp?
Sobibor death camp, at which the mass destruction of people took place, was managed by the German Penal Institutions – the SS forces.
The whole administration that provided services at the camp among the Germans was in the service of the SS forces. We the Wachman, who performed destruction activities at the Sobibor camp, together with the Germans, we also served in the German Penal forces, the SS.
Who was the Commandant of the Sobibor camp for mass destruction?
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 Oberltnt. Niemann, also an officer in the SS forces.
All the activity of the camp for mass destruction was performed under their direct command.
Tell about the structure and system of main power of the management and service details of the camp?
As I have testified above, the camp commander, or as he was called in the camp – commandant - oversaw all the activity of the camp. He had subordinates – his deputy and a number of SS officers who belonged to the management staff of the camp. I am not able to recall at present what the number was of the officers or their rank, but I well remember that those who belonged to the command administration of the camp personally ran the operations for mass destruction of the people at the camp.
What the concrete role of the officers was – I cannot say. The service staff of the camp consisted of German NCO’s and soldiers, the number of whom at the camp was about 30. The camp staff also comprised Wachman’s from among the Volkdeutsche whose status at the camp was higher than ours – of the Wachman’s and was equivalent to German soldiers.
I personally during my service at the camp belonged to a group of Wachman’s comprising 70-80 persons. The group of Wachman’s was divided into a number of platoons, the exact number of which I do not recall, about 20 per platoon.
Each platoon was headed by a Wachman or an Oberwachman from the Volksdeutsche who had good mastery of German. The role of the Germans at the Sobibor camp was mainly expressed in that they directly managed our work – of the Wachman’s and of the work detail.
The camp staff also included the “work detail” that was set up from among the civilians arriving at the destruction camp – the healthiest and the youngest.
At the Sobibor camp there were 2 work details, as I have testified above. One detail comprising of 50 people worked in that part of the camp where the building with the gas chambers were built, that a second detail of about 10 people mostly women serviced, working by the clothing stores on the sorting of the 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, 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 destruction camp. These were in effect policemen who supervised the work and the order within the “work detail” 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.
I shall testify below as to the role of the Kapo when people arrived at the camp and at the time of the extermination. In previous interrogations, I have testified to the effect that in 1943 a group of Russian girls was brought to the Sobibor camp, Soviet citizens, who performed at the camp work of laundresses and cleaners.
They would launder the clothes of the Germans and ourselves – the Wachman’s 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.
I have enumerated all the categories comprising the management and service staff of the Sobibor death camp. Other people were not held at the camp. All the people who arrived at the camp were exterminated in gas chambers, especially equipped for the purpose.
What guarding and what regime were at the camp?
The guard duty at the camp was undertaken mainly by Wachman’s under the command and management of the Germans and the Wachman’s from the Volksdeutsche.
The guard duty at the camp was undertaken in the following way:
Outside the camp, beyond the barbed wire fence were placed guard posts – 2 Wachman’s every 200 meters, such that the whole area of the camp was surrounded by Wachman’s 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 Wachman’s stood on guard day and night. Apart from that, the camp was also guarded from the inside.
In all parts of the camp that were separated from each other, which I testified above, there were also guards who supervised that none of the civilians who had been brought to the extermination camp or those from the “work details” would escape from the camp through the barbed wire.
This guarding prevented all possibility of escape from the camp. One of the steps to prevent escape attempts from the camp on the part of those sentenced to death was increased guarding over the entrance to the camp by the Wachman’s under the supervision of the Volksdeutsche.
In addition to this, close to the exit from the camp there was a guard station where Wachman’s who had posted for the guard shift over the exit from the camp, stayed.
Alongside a Wachman who stood on guard at the camp exit was always a Wachman or an Oberwachman from the Volksdeutsche. 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 Wachman’s and German soldiers.
Apart from the wire-fenced passageways, all the buildings within the camp were guarded – the residential huts of the Wachman’s huts where the work details stayed and the residential buildings of the Germans and other buildings.
Wachman’s who were posted to various positions used gradually to change their places. The role of the Wachman’s and German soldiers was expressed in increasing guarding of the camp, preventing the possibility of the escape of people who had been brought to the camp for extermination purposes. The regime for the camp service staff was particularly harsh.
Very rarely were Wachman’s sent outside the camp, and then only on 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 the day of their arrival at the camp.
What contingent of people would arrive at the camp for extermination?
Only civilians of Jewish nationality would arrive for extermination at the Sobibor camp. Men, women, old people and children of various ages would arrive.
Exactly from which places these people came – I cannot say, because I do not know that.
How would these civilians arrive at the Sobibor camp?
I have testified above that a railway line passed through the area of the camp. On this railway, straight into the camp, civilians of Jewish nationality would arrive for extermination at the Sobibor camp
The people were brought in closed cargo wagons under the guard of German soldiers. The civilians were brought to the camp on the pretext that they were being transferred to the area of the Ukraine for settlement. Thus they travelled with the whole family, with their private property, together with the children.
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 etc.
The arriving civilians were told that they have been brought to the camp as 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.
All this was done in order to conceal the true objectives for which the The arriving civilians were told that they have been brought to the camp. After the disembarkation from the train, the people continued to be deceived by all sorts of methods, of which I shall tell below.
After the disembarkation from the train, the people continued to be deceived by all sorts of methods, of which I shall tell below. People came to realise that they had been tricked only when instead of the promised bath-house they were put into the gas chambers for destruction.
Soldiers who used to accompany the train with the people were not workers at the Sobibor camp. Therefore, immediately after 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 two thousand people, who were exterminated the same day.
Where were the people referred to after their arrival at the camp on the train?
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 other huts by a barbed wire fence. As I have testified above, a number of huts, isolated from each other, were allocated to dressing rooms.
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, in the area of the camp, at a distance from the huts – “dressing rooms,” there was a not-large building that was called “clinic.”
As I testified above, during the sorting and separation of 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.
What were the reasons for this sorting of the people who were arriving at the camp?
The separation of the people who were brought to the camp for extermination was undertaken for camouflage purposes and to prevent a rebellion.
To this end, the men were separated from the women, as it were to receive sanitary treatment. While the selection of the sick and their referral to the “clinic” for medical care was also done in order to camouflage the reasons for the people having been brought to this camp.
It has to be added that 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 etc. 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. .
What was the length of stay of the civilians at the camp?
As I have testified above, Sobibor camp did not serve as a place where one could keep people for a long time. This was not the purpose of the camp and it was not intended or equipped for that.
It was a place for mass destruction using means that had been specially prepared for this. So all the people who were brought to the camp, were exterminated the same day. The length of their stay at the camp would depend on the speed with which they moved through the gas chambers and were exterminated.
This would not take more than a day. If on the same day a number of wagons would arrive (on one day- and there was no possibility of exterminating them all that day, the train with the people would not enter the camp area – it would wait at the Sobibor rail crossing under guard of German soldiers who accompanied the train until the next day.)
What methods and means were taken for the destruction of the people who were brought to the camp?
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 punctiliously 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,” 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 realised that they had been brought there not to bath but for their destruction, could not be heard.
In the building with gas chambers there was a wide corridor on one side of which were 4 chambers. in the four chambers the floor, ceiling and walls were of concrete they had 4 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 the 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 bath-houses for the supply of water. Through this system the exhaust gases from the motor would be led into the chamber.
Who managed the mass destruction at the Sobibor camp?
All the activity of the camp for mass destruction of people was run by a German commandant, about whom I testified above, by his deputy and a group of officers in the SS forces that were included on the managerial staff of the camp and directly ran the operation for mass destruction of people.
Who from among the Germans was personally called to participate in these operations?
The whole administration of the German soldiers who served at the Sobibor death camp participated in implementation of the operations for mass destruction.
Their activity was expressed in that they managed and supervised the work of the Wachman’s and the “work details.” Apart from this, they personally participated in the destruction of people in gas chambers and implemented executions by shooting together with the Wachman’s.
What role in the mass destruction did other people who served at the camp play?
Apart from the Germans we – the Wachman’s, former soldiers in the Soviet army who betrayed the homeland and went to serve fascist Germany, took part in the mass destruction of people at the camp.
Apart from that, people from the “work details” also took part in the operations for mass destruction. The Germans would put together the “work details” from among the people of Jewish nationality who were brought to the camp for destruction – those who were physically the most healthy and fit for work.
These people saw that all the Jews who were brought to the camp were exterminated. The Germans would tell the people from the “work detail” that they would use them for work at the camp and would promise them to keep them alive.
Under threat of death and in the hope that they would remain alive, the people who were chosen for the “work detail” undertook all the work at the camp under the supervision of the Germans and the Wachman’s. The Germans and the Wachman’s did not enter behind the barbed wire fences to the “dressing rooms” where people were prepared for extermination.
Only the people from the “work detail” worked there – “Kapo”, because in the case of a rebellion, the Germans and the Wachman’s might have been killed.
The “work detail” dealt with clearing of the chambers after the people who had been put into them had been killed and they would bring the bodies to the pits in carts. People from the “work detail” dealt with arranging and sorting clothes of those who had been killed at the camp, they arranged them in special storerooms.
What work of preparation was done for the destruction of people by the details who participated directly in this operation?
The work of preparation for destruction of the people began, in effect, from the moment the train entered the area of the camp. Before arrival of the train, the Germans would hold a briefing for the Wachman’s 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.
Particularly because the people who were brought there would show suspiciousness, because among the people rumours had already spread that the Germans had camps in 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.
The people from the “work detail” who were termed “Kapo” would approach the carriages and would conduct propaganda among those who had arrived to the effect that they had been brought to the camp as a sort of transit camp and that, after sanitary treatment and a bath-house, they would be sent to the Ukraine for settlement or work in industry.
“Kapo” was a member of the Jewish nationality – he would invite the people who had arrived on the train to go to the dressing rooms and from there to the “bath-house.”
After unloading of the train and referral of the women with children to one hut and the men to another, in each hut there was also a “Kapo” who would explain to the civilians that they must hand in their jewellery and their money to a kitty, strip off and ready themselves for the “bath-house,” and that, after bathing, the valuables would be returned to them.
Here, everyone would be given a piece of soap. This preparatory work was done in order to camouflage the true intention of the camp and to ensure security in performance of the extermination.
The Wachman’s were posted behind the barbed wire fences in all the passageways of the camp from the “dressing rooms” to the “bath-house” in order to prevent attempts at escaping by the civilians who were being referred to the gas chambers.
How in fact was the destruction of people undertaken at the Sobibor death camp?
The people were destroyed at Sobibor the following way:
The main method that made it possible to destroy such a large number of people in a short time was, at the Sobibor camp, the method of suffocation in the gas chambers using engine exhaust fumes were piped into the chambers. During the time of my services as a Wachman and afterwards as an Oberwachman at the Sobibor camp, I saw the process of people with my own eyes.
In the first stage, the men were exterminated. 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, a 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 say how that 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 on clearing the chambers.
The bodies from the chambers were taken by cart to the pits, were thrown into them, and after all the people who had arrived in the camp that day had been exterminated, the pits would be covered with soil. So it would continue until all the people who were brought to the camp were dead.
As I testified above, apart from suffocation by gas, the people at the Sobibor camp were also exterminated through shooting. Those civilians who were unable to move on their own, in particular, were shot. As a rule immediately after unloading of the train, they would be taken by the “work detail” to a separate hut, called “clinic” and they stayed there until those who could move on their own had been exterminated in the gas chambers.
The number of the sick from one train would come to 30 -50 people, depending on the number of trains that would arrive on 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 – the Wachman’s 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 the work. Thus in practice was the mass destruction performed of civilians of Jewish nationality at the Sobibor death camp, at which I served as a Wachman from May 1942 to July 1943.
How exactly was your personal participation in the destruction of civilians of Jewish nationality at the Sobibor camp expressed?
As I have testified in the course of the interrogation, I served at the Sobibor camp as a Wachman from May 1942 to July 1943. From May to June 1942, i.e. for a month or two, I served guarding the camp and the people brought there for extermination, inter alia I stood on guard behind a barbed wire fence.
I have testified above that all the Wachman’s who (illegible text) commandant Nieman about whom I testified above. He personally would give the orders as to who, from among the Wachman’s, would take part that day in the executions by shooting.
I have already testified to the fact that all the sick stayed at the “clinic” and when all the civilians had been exterminated in gas chambers, members of a “work detail” would undress the sick and bring them to the pits where they would be shot at short range by us, Wachman’s and by the Germans.
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 Wachman’s, I among them. At the execution by shooting, a group of Wachman’s 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.
It did not work out for me to take part in other extermination operations on a personal basis. 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 good work as a carpenter, I was promoted to the rank of Oberwachman.
How many civilians were exterminated at Sobibor camp during your service there?
I cannot say because I don’t know. On average at Sobibor 1,500 innocent civilians were exterminated each day.
Until when did you serve at the Sobibor camp?
I served at the Sobibor camp until July 1943 and afterwards I was sent by the camp command to the area of Rawa Russkaya for preparation of building materials for the camp. I injured myself there by chance and in November – December 1943 I was dismissed from service in the SS forces.
What do you have to add to your testimony regarding your activity at the Sobibor death camp?
I have nothing to add. My activity at the Sobibor death camp during my service there has been described by me in full. The minutes have been read out before me.
Recorded according to what I said correctly.
The interrogation was conducted by:
Deputy Director of the Investigations Department of the State Ministry of Defence, Major Nichayev.
Investigator of the Investigations Department of the State Ministry of Defence, Lt Ribleka
Senior Investigator of the Investigations Department of the State Ministry of Defence, Lt. Chernov
Confirmation – The original of the minutes of the interrogation is in Criminal File No 5828 versus Razgoneiv M.A.
Director of the State Attorney’s Office of the Soviet Union A.P. Vladimorov
* photos added to enhance the text
Investigations Department of the State Ministry of Defence - Dniepropetrowsk
Map: Yitzhak Arad; The Pictorial History of the Holocaust, p. 294
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