THE only survivor in Australia to have been part of the Sobibor uprising of October 1943 will speak at an event in Adelaide commemorating the 70th anniversary of the historic revolt.
The commemoration, run by Jewish Community Services Inc (JCS) at the National Wine Centre next Monday, will pay tribute to Regina Zielinski, 88, of Adelaide, who fled the Sobibor extermination camp in what has been regarded as one of the largest mass-escapes from a Nazi internment and death camp during the Shoah.
Born in Siedliszcze, Poland, Mrs Zielinksi was 17-years-old when she was deported from the Siedliszcze ghetto to Sobibor in easter Poland in 1942, where her family were among the 250,000 prisoners who perished. She managed to escape selection for the gas chamber when her mother volunteered her to knit socks and gloves for the SS in the camp and later to sort ammunition.
On October 14, 1943, under the most adverse conditions, prisoners in Sobibor killed 11 SS guards and police auxiliaries and set the camp on fire — an act of defiance that prompted the Nazis to destroy the camp soon after.
Mrs Zielinksi was one of hundreds to escape into the forest but only among a few who survived. A large number of escapees were either recaptured and shot, or killed in the minefield surrounding the camp.
“Once we were outside the camp and close to the forest, I remember, I stopped for a second and I took a deep breath. I thought I’m breathing free air and the rest doesn’t matter anymore,” she told The AJN.
Mrs Zielinski survived the remainder of the war by obtaining false identity papers which allowed her to go to Germany as a volunteer worker; she found a job as a housekeeper for a family in Frankfurt. In 1949, she moved with her husband and son to Sydney where she had her second child, and years later, she moved to Adelaide.
One of the few living survivors of the Sobibor uprising worldwide, Mrs Zielinski has lectured for over two decades on her own story and on the values of tolerance to school and university students across around Australia.
She said a phrase uttered by Aleksander Pechersky, leader of the underground group in Sobibor during the outbreak of the uprising, has inspired her to share her story with others: “When we were escaping, Pechersky said if one person survives from that escape, the escape will be a success, because that person will tell the world what happened here. I am not going to forget that. I speak for the friends who are still alive and I speak for the ones who didn’t manage to survive. That’s why I am here.”
Author Elliot Perlman will be the patron for the commemoration, which will feature an exhibition devised and curated by JCS and based on the book about Mrs Zielinski’s life, Conversations with Regina, authored by her son, Andrew Zielinski.
JCS chair Rob Nachum said the exhibition’s focus on an individual survivor will provide a contrast to the more traditional Shoah commemorations held in Melbourne and Sydney.
Regina Zielinski. Photo: Meg Hansen Photography.