It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Thomas "Toivi" Blatt. He died October 31 at his daughter's home in Santa Barbara, CA.
Thomas was a true inspiration -- a survivor of Sobibor death camp who dedicated his life to Holocaust education. Having lived for many years in the Seattle/Bellevue area, Thomas shared his incredible story with countless schools and community groups in the region.
His funeral will be held on Wednesday, November 4 at 12:30pm in Santa Barbara, CA. His family has made it possible to access a live video feed of the service at Congregation B'nai B'rith here: http://cbbsb.org/our-community-2/media/live-video-stream/
Thomas "Toivi" Blatt was born in Izbica, a small town near Lublin, Poland. After the Nazi occupation of his town in 1939, Blatt escaped from the ghetto in Izbica, but was caught and imprisoned at the age of 15. He managed to escape from the prison and return to Izbica.
On April 28, 1943, Blatt and his family were deported to the Sobibor extermination camp, one of the "Operation Reinhard" camps in Poland. There, his father, mother, and little brother were separated from him and gassed. One of the SS officers picked Blatt out and said, "You will be my shoeshine boy." This meant that Blatt joined the group of slave laborers who ran the camp.
In Sobibor, Blatt became a member of the camp's Jewish resistance group. He was designated to run messages to different members of the revolt. On October 14, 1943, he participated in the revolt that resulted in the killing of nearly all the Nazi staff and allowing over 300 (out of the 600 who attempted escape) fellow slave laborers to break free. Unfortunately, many of these escapees lost their lives on the minefields surrounding the camp. Of the 300 who escaped, only 54 survived to the end of the war.
Blatt and two young fellow prisoners were among those who successfully escaped. They found refuge with a farmer who agreed to hide them for the money they had. However, the three boys were eventually betrayed and mercilessly shot. Blatt, left for dead with a bullet in his chin, managed to escape.
Blatt's story is told in his two books: Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt and From the Ashes of Sobibor.
Blatt dedicated his life to accurately preserving the memory of the more than 250,000 Jews whom the Nazis murdered at the Sobibor death camp. He regularly returned to Europe to appear on talk shows, give lectures, and continue his research. He was depicted by an actor in the award-winning made-for-television movie called "Escape from Sobibor," and acted as chief adviser for the film.
Blatt traveled to Munich in 2011, in spite of his failing heath, to testify in the trial of former Sobibor SS guard Ivan (John) Demjanjuk. His compelling courtroom testimony helped prosecutors in Munich win Demjanjuk's conviction on more than 28,000 counts of serving as an accessory to murder.
When the revolt took place in Sobibor, the leader had said: "Those of you who may survive, bear witness. Let the world know what has happened here." Blatt spent his life fulfilling that mission.
Blatt was proud to be a member of the Holocaust Center's Speakers Bureau when he lived in Seattle. He returned to Seattle often after he moved in Santa Barbara to live with his daughter.
The Holocaust Center, students, teachers, and all who heard him will remember his courage and perseverance.
Tributes in memory of Thomas Blatt can be made to the
Holocaust Center for Humanity (2045 Second Ave, Seattle, WA 98121)