Thomas Blatt grew up in the Polish village of Izbica, which was used by the Geman Nazis as a transit ghetto for Jews on their way to the extermination camps in Eastern Poland. He was sixteen years old when he arrived at Sobibor with his parents and his brother. All three were immediately sent to the gas chambers, but Thomas himself was selected for forced labour. He had to cut women's hair before they were driven into the gas chambers. Thus he recollects how Dutch women would ask the "hairdressers" not to cut their hair too short.
Thomas managed to survive in Sobibor for six months and was involved in the October 14, 1943 revolt. Until the end of the war he hid in Poland, which was by then afflicted by anti-Semitism. He returned to Sobibor in search of any remnants. After the war, during the 'fifties, Thomas Blatt emigrated to Israel, where he met his future wife, an American with whom he left for the United States. After remarriage and the divorce from his second wife he returned to Poland. He has children, grandchildren, and grand-grandchildren.
Thomas Blatt still visits his place of birth, Izbica, and the site of the Sobibor extermination camp every year. For a large part of his life he has been working to save Sobibor from oblivion. To this end, he has written several books about his war experiences and the Sobibor revolt. In the eighties he acted as a witness during the trial of the former SS man, Karl Frenzel, in the German city of Hagen. In this period he also had a four-hour interview with Karl Frenzel.
Selma Leydesdorff on Thomas Blatt
I watched the interview with Thomas Blatt again. It was an interrupted interview and the camera had to be turned off time and again. He ate cookies and asked for coffee because he was nervous and tried so hard. It's my fault the interview was so difficult, because I caused the first meeting to go wrong. This made him nervous; we ended up chasing each other by taxis through an ice-cold Warsaw. He was much younger and livelier in a 2007 television interview; he was tired now. He complained of giving lectures and being interviewed too often. My empathy brought the two of us in touch, we spent a good day together.
The registration consists of small fragments, some of them are very moving. Everything got mixed up. Most important for him now was his shtetl Izbica (2,000 Jews); this was his link to the past, that got disrupted when he was still too young. “I never left Sobibor," he said at the end of the interview, late in the afternoon. By preparing him a great dinner I tried to give him proof that he was in another place now. We enjoyed the meal, it was as if he had not been eating all day, that's how tense he had been.
This is not the story of a life, but Toivi gave as much as he could handle at the time, he moved me all day long, despite the phone ringing in the middle of his story, despite his unwillingness to switch the thing off. He was checking his mail during the interview, and most of all concerned not to miss his evening train to Lublin. This was very revealing about the meaning of Sobibor.
• ThB: Are you Jewish?
• SL: Yes.
• ThB: How come you have such light eyes?
• SL: Born that way.
• ThB: But didn't Jews have beards?
• SL: Well, then I suppose I am not.