Prisoner 88

Prisoner 88
Fecha de publicación: 
22 May 2023
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Sigmund Sobolewski, the Holocaust survivor identified as prisoner 88, would have turned 100 years old this month, according to the records of his first imprisonment in Auschwitz, the most famous concentration and extermination camp of Nazi Germany in the Polish territories occupied during the World War II, where over a million people were killed.

Like almost everyone, Sigmund was unjustly imprisoned just after the start of the war that took the lives of 2% of the world's population at the time (this figure varies, depending on the source, but the balance is undoubtedly scandalous). He was one of the first to enter that prison, in June 1940, a few days after its inauguration, and he experienced the worst moments of his life there, for almost five years.

Born in Poland on May 11, 1923, Sigmund was only 17 years old when Nazis took him by force at dawn, perhaps because when the German soldiers came to his house looking for his father, a worker union leader, and they did not find him, they decided not to leave empty-handed and lashed out at his son. They fought with him and dragged him to lead him to his next destination, without explanations.

So, for the sake of it, Sigmund had his spirit changed; he had to modify his social behavior, harden his character so as not to stand out and go unnoticed. He was abused both physically and psychologically in Auschwitz. He underwent medical experiments on his own body, endured torture and hard labor of various kinds. In addition, he saw many people who gave up and die. It was a tough experience for him, hard to overcome, and the aftermath accompanied him until the last of his days.

Although he was still very young when he managed to leave the camp, he never fully got over it. He could not hear out of one ear and could barely move his left leg. He also endured terrible pain in his muscles and bones as a result of the beatings he was subjected to. However, the most significant damage was psychological, and also the most complicated to treat.

He could never get over seeing large numbers of corpses. According to what he told in interviews, that image accompanied him awake and asleep throughout his existence. Likewise, he remembered with great horror the constant stench of burned human flesh, it was unbearable —as he himself said— the smell of suffering all over the place.

Fortunately, he was one of the few people to survive to recount his ordeal and devoted himself to raising his voice against fascism, modern neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism. Since his release in 1945, he was a tireless activist for human rights and against any philosophy close to Nazism, that extreme right-wing ideology that marked him profoundly forever.

With a history filled with anguish, Sigmund reported endlessly on the atrocities of the Holocaust and its aftermath, and fought for West Germany to offer compensation to prisoners like him and his family. Thanks to his experience, told by himself, the world was able to learn about testimonies of what it was like to survive more than 1,500 days of imprisonment in one of the bloodiest totalitarian regimes that have ever existed.

After his release, early in 1945, he lived in Canada for over half a century, and died in Cuba, at the age of 94, in August 2017. Despite traumas, he started a family with a Cuban woman and had three children.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz / CubaSí Translation Staff

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