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Blatt, Thomas "Toivi"

BLATT, Thomas "Toivi"

Nationality: American (originally Polish: immigrated to the United States, 1959). Born: Izbica, 15 April 1927. Education: Studied journalism in Szczecin. Family: Married Dana Blatt. Career: Prisoner, Sobibor, World War II. Moved to Santa Barbara, California, and established an electronics business. Lecturer on the Holocaust. Produced two documentary films on the Holocaust. Lives in Bellevue, Washington. E-mail Address: [email protected].

Publications

Memoir

From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival. 1997.

Other

Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt (historical account). 1995.

Nur Die Schatten Bleiben. 2000.

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Film Adaptations:

Escape from Sobibor, 1987.

Theatrical Activities:

Actor: FilmsEscape from Sobibor, 1987.

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At Sobibor in Poland at least 250,000 Jews lost their lives. Few survived to tell of the camp; the SS officers and guards who ran it; the men, women, and children who died there; and the heroic revolt of some 500 prisoners—the single most successful revolt staged in any of the camps. Thomas "Toivi" Blatt is one of those few.

In two books, the memoir From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival (1997) and the historical account Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt (1996), Blatt chronicles the inhuman ordeal of imprisonment within the confines of a death camp—seeing the trains arrive daily with their human cargo destined for the gas chambers, and always wondering if he might be next. Blatt survived because of his remarkable will, ingenuity, and courage, and, quite simply, because he was lucky. Survival endowed him with a staggering responsibility to tell the story that no words can adequately describe. As he writes in the preface to Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt "witnessing genocide is overwhelming: writing about it is soul shattering." Reading these two books is also soul shattering because Blatt brings us inside the deepest circle of hell.

While Sobibor is an historical exposition of the camp, describing its construction, the executioners who ran it, and the planning and events of the revolt on 14 October 1943, From the Ashes of Sobibor records many of these same events, from the unique perspective of a sixteen-year-old boy who watches his father, mother, and younger brother taken to their deaths.

Blatt's memoir tells of his family's life in Izbica, a small town in eastern Poland, the majority of whose population were Jews. From a quiet town, Izbica is transformed into an over-populated transit center. The Blatt family endures hardship and deprivation. Blatt must grow up quickly. During numerous Aktions (Nazi roundups of Jews to be sent to the death camps), Blatt has the responsibility of concealing the family hiding place, a small space built into the attic, before running to seek his own refuge. Eventually his family cannot escape the dragnet. They, too, are seized and sent to Sobibor. If Izbica is purgatory, Sobibor is hell itself.

With luck and ingenuity, Blatt manages to survive, vowing that he will speak on behalf of those who perished. On several occasions he narrowly escapes death. During the revolt, luck alone saves him. But Blatt's luck nearly runs out during his months of hiding. Concealed in a barn under a table covered with hay, Blatt and his two friends spend months in the most wretched of conditions. In the end, the farmer who has harbored them decides that they are a liability. When smothering the boys fails, he shoots them. Wounded in the jaw, Blatt is left for dead. Dazed and bleeding, he escapes when the farmer decides to postpone digging his grave until morning.

In his memoir Blatt tells a remarkable story of survival in terse and restrained language. Witnessing the death of his family and countless others, he refuses to allow himself to be overwhelmed by emotion, knowing that it will cost him his life. The memoir's language bears witness to that decision; feelings are concealed beneath the text. For Blatt, survival required shutting down his emotions, moving through the days without feeling, so that he might endure. In the end, he not only endures but triumphs, fulfilling his vow to witness for his family and the many others who became the ashes of Sobibor.

—Marilyn J. Harran

See the essay on From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival.

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