Semyon Rosenfeld died Monday at 97. He expired in a small hospital in Israel – but that may be the last reason to note he is with us no more.
Rosenfeld, a Jew, was born in 1922 in Ternivka, a village in Ukraine. In 1940, he joined the Red Army and went off to fight the Germans. The Germans meanwhile overran Ternivka, killed all of his family and buried them with other villagers in a mass grave nearby.
In 1941, Rosenfeld was wounded, captured by the Germans and sent to a labor camp in Belarus with other Red Army Jewish prisoners. Then he was sent to Poland, to the Sobibor camp, where a quarter of a million Jews were killed between 1942 and 1943.
A few weeks after his arrival, he asked a German officer about the other prisoners who had arrived with him, according to an obituary in The Times of Israel. “The officer pointed to the smoke coming from the crematorium and said, ‘Your friends are there.’”
In 1943, Rosenfeld and other prisoners decided not to go without a fight. They killed 11 German camp officials. Their plan was to kill all of them and walk out the main gate, but the Germans regained the upper hand and killed more than 100 of them. Some escaped under fire, which led the Nazis to finally dismantle the camp and try to hide its former existence by planting it over with trees.
Rosenfeld was one of the escapees. He hid in a forest until he could rejoin the Red Army – and then he helped capture Berlin.
Today, there is a memorial at Sobibor, among the trees. But like the men and women who fought on D-Day, and the Navajo code talkers, Holocaust survivors are slipping away.
Rosenfeld was the last living link to the Sobibor uprising.