Last known survivor of Sobibor Nazi death camp dies

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Semion Rosenfeld, the "last known survivor" of the Nazi death camp Sobibor, has died aged 96, the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency said Monday.

The head of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, said he was "very sad" about the death of Rosenfeld, who he described as a "true hero".

"Semion fought the Nazis as part of the Red Army and was then sent to the Sobibor death camp as a prisoner of war, where he encountered death every day until the famous rebellion," Herzog said in a statement.

Rosenfeld had been a resident of Jewish Agency-supported assisted living for the past 20 years, Herzog said.

Born in Ukraine, the Jewish soldier was one of over 50 camp prisoners who survived World War II according to Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre.

Some 250,000 Jews mainly from eastern Poland but also from the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Slovakia died in Sobibor camp, which was in Nazi-occupied Poland, between May 1942 and the summer of 1943.

Rosenfeld managed to escape death even though his entire family was murdered by the Nazis, according to media reports.

In the most famous revolt from a Nazi camp, nearly 300 Sobibor captives including Rosenfeld escaped through the camp's barbed wire in October 1943.

"I wasn't afraid. I didn't have time to think about it. I wanted to survive," Rosenfeld said later of the escape.

- 'Heroic deeds' -

Nearly 170 of the escaped prisoners were captured and shot dead, while Rosenfeld remained hidden in the woods until the spring of 1944, when he returned to the Red Army to fight the Nazis from its ranks.

Rosenfeld went back to live in Ukraine after the war and immigrated to Israel in 1990.

The Nazis demolished Sobibor to destroy any trace of the camp.

About 50 detainees from the camp survived after the war, according to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

"With the last witnesses disappearing, it is our responsibility to tell their heroic deeds," Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences to Rosenfeld's family.

"Rosenfeld fought in the Red Army, was taken prisoner by the Nazis, managed to escape the death camp and continued to fight Nazism. May his memory be blessed," he said, according to the public broadcaster KAN.

Rosenfeld, who leaves behind two sons and five grandchildren, was to be buried on Tuesday in the central town of Bnei Ayish, according to Israeli media.

More than six million predominantly European Jews were killed during the Nazi genocide in World War II, many of them by poisonous gas.

Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics said in 2017 that more than 212,000 people living in Israel were Holocaust survivors, in a country with a population of 8.7 million.