One of eight living participants of the 1943 revolt at the infamous Sobibor extermination camp shared his story of escape and survival with locals at the Chabad-Lubavitch Center of Sudbury, Mass.

Coming almost one week after the May 12 conviction of Sobibor guard John Demjanjuk, the presentation by 85-year-old Phillip Bialowitz, who testified at Demjanjuk’s trial, shed a personal light on the successful revolt of 40 Jewish inmates at the camp. All told, around 200 prisoners escaped, leading to the closure and dismantling of the facility by Nazi officials. During the camp’s operation, up to 250,000 people lost their lives there.

“My story is a very unique story that will go in the annals of history,” Bialowitz, who was 14-years-old when he was deported to Sobibor, said in an interview before the event. “We all made a promise that whoever survived the revolt would share the story, and it’s especially important that the young generation should know about this experience of the Jewish people.”

For Galit Kronengold of Sudbury, attending the lecture with her children was of utmost significance.

“It’s so important for me that my kids hear this story firsthand,” said Kronengold, who has family members who perished in the Holocaust. “I think it’s extremely important to hear these stories from someone who has been there, so that it’s not just left to the imagination.”

Ed Brookmyer, who planned to attend the event with some 150 others, emphasized the need to educate the community at large about the Holocaust’s atrocities.

Bialowitz as a partisan in 1943
Bialowitz as a partisan in 1943

“It’s important that all of us remember and are aware that there’re still people among us who lived through the Holocaust. As a community we have to stand together and learn from them,” said Brookmyer, who lives in Sudbury. “We must not take our securities in America for granted. In this area especially, we have active Holocaust deniers, so it’s important for our entire community to hear this story together and support the survivors. Those who don’t know can be more influenced by those who deny.”

Rabbi Yisroel Freeman, director of Chabad of Sudbury, said that Bialowitz’s unwavering faith throughout the trials of the Holocaust is profound.

“His connection to Judaism was never severed, no matter what situation he was in,” said Freeman. “He went through courageously in the face of adversity and continued his connection to Judaism even after the war. People will connect with his meaningful and uplifting message.”

And for Bialowitz, who published a book on his experiences, A Promise at Sobibor, Sudbury is just one more location across the world to be impacted by his powerful story.

“We must fight genocide and eliminate discrimination today. Unfortunately, the world has not learned the lesson of evil; the world is still profoundly broken,” said Bialowitz, who has traveled to Europe, Africa, Israel and across the United States to speak. “I hope we can succeed to build a better world, one without genocide.”