Life of Alexander Pecherski
Pecherski was born in Kremenchug in the Ukraine in 1909. Since 1915 he lived in Rostov-on-Don, where he went to elementary school. His father was a clerk in the law department and did not earn much in this position, so that Alexander had to leave school and go to work at the age of 16. At the same time he attended a music school, which he found completely engrossing. Besides working as a civil servant, he was active as an amateur actor and producer in a collective lead by a pupil of the famous theatre director Meyerhold. Pecherski wrote one-act plays and composed music for such productions as ‘The Front is Everywhere’ and ‘The Walrus’, all besides his everyday work. On the evening that the war broke out he was directing the amateur theatrical company of the financial-economic department of his institute. They acted the play to the end; the following day he left for the front.
In 1941 he was made a lieutenant in the Red Army. In October of that year he was taken prisoner of war. He contracted typhus, which he managed to hide from the Nazis, who had all sick people immediately shot. Miraculously, he survived. In May 1942 he tried to escape, but was caught along with four other people and put in a punishment camp. In the autumn on 1942 he ended up in Minsk, where they discovered that he was Jewish during a medical inspection. As punishment he was sent to the SS camp in Szerokastreet, where he was held until September 18. From there he was sent with thousands of Jews from Minsk to Sobibor, where they arrived on September 22 1942.
They were given nothing to eat or drink during the whole journey.
He was selected as a ‘Work Jew’, along with roughly 80 other prisoners, mostly soldiers. In Sobibor he had to work with others in Camp IV, where trees had to be felled to make room for new barracks.
Because of his personality and military knowledge, he was approached by Leo Feldhendler to help organise the revolt. He adhered strictly to the hierarchic structure in his unit to ensure that the preparations would proceed in a disciplined way. In order to organise successfully, he insisted on the greatest secrecy about the plans.
Three weeks after his arrival he organised and led the revolt. He fled the camp with a large number of people, splitting off from the main group with the Russian soldiers. They succeeded in crossing the river Bug to the Soviet Union and joined the Russian partisans. Later he enlisted with the regular army. After the war and a long stay in military hospitals he returned to Rostov-on-Don where he went on with his former work and theatrical and musical activities. He remarried with Olga. Pecherski gave lectures in many Russian schools about his experiences in the camp and during the revolt. In 1957 he wrote a 55-page article ‘The Revolt in Sobibor’ for the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. This article was translated into Dutch for the RIOD (State Institute for War Documentation). He was chairman of the local veterans’ committee in Rostov-on-Don.
In 1963, he appeared as a witness during the Soviet trial of 11 former Ukrainian guards at Sobibor; all of whom were convicted.
He has a gentle character and has integrated his experiences in a balanced way. He had not lost his faith in humanity. His poor health prevented his attendance of the premiere of the film in September 1989. Unfortunately he never saw our documentary because he passed away in 1990.