Thomas Blatt, one of the few survivors of a rare revolt and mass escape from a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland during World War II, died on Saturday at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 88.
The cause was complications of dementia, his daughter Rena Smith said.
Mr. Blatt was 16 on Oct. 14, 1943, when he and several hundred other prisoners staged an uprising against Nazi SS officers and the Ukrainian guards at the Sobibor extermination camp. His parents and younger brother had been gassed there six months earlier.
Searchers captured and killed about 150 of the escapees. Mr. Blatt, who was shot in the jaw by a Polish farmer after his escape, was one of only about 50 who survived for nearly a year, until advancing Russian troops routed the Germans.
A half-century later, he testified in Germany at the war crimes trial of John Demjanjuk, a retired Ohio autoworker who was prosecuted as a former death camp guard, accused of willingly participating in the killing of Jews at the Treblinka, Majdanek and Sobibor camps.
He was convicted in 2011 as an accessory to murder, but insisted that he had never been a camp guard. He died in 2012 before his appeal was resolved.
At the trial, Mr. Blatt bore witness to the brutal behavior of the 150 or so Ukrainian guards at Sobibor who reported to about 30 German SS officers. But he said he was unable to identify Mr. Demjanjuk specifically. “I don’t remember the faces of my parents right now,” he told The Associated Press at the time. “How could I remember him?”
Tomasz Toivi Blatt was born in Izbica, a largely Jewish shtetl in the Lublin district of Poland, on April 15, 1927, the son of Leon and Masha Felicia Blatt.
His family was sent to a ghetto in 1942 after the Germans invaded, then deported to Sobibor, southeast of Warsaw, where his parents and 10-year-old brother, Henryk, were immediately killed.
“There were our last steps in life,” he wrote in a memoir, “Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt — A Survivor’s Report.” “The sun was still high in the sky, birds were singing. It was such a beautiful spring day. I didn’t want to die.”
Exactly why he was singled out for survival by a guard was unclear. He was fair and blue-eyed, energetic and determined, and he was put to work fixing fences, burning documents, sorting victims’ belongings, cutting women’s hair before they were herded into the gas chamber, and sorting victims’ belongings.
“I recognized my mother’s clothes, and I realized my parents were no longer alive,” he said. “Sobibor was a death factory.”
He moved to Israel in 1958 and then to the United States a year later, eventually settling in Santa Barbara, where he owned several electronics stores.
He wrote two books (the second was “From the Ashes of Sobibor: A Story of Survival,” with Christopher R. Browning) and a manuscript that became the basis for a television film, “Escape From Sobibor,” starring Alan Arkin and Rutger Hauer.
Mr. Blatt interviewed the former camp commander as part of his research, working with Richard Rashke, an author, to find other survivors in a campaign to preserve the Sobibor site as a memorial to the Jews from Poland, the Soviet Union and the Netherlands who died there. He frequently traveled to Poland to visit a daughter, Hanna Stankiewicz, from a second marriage.
In addition to Ms. Stankiewicz and Ms. Smith, he is survived by a son, Leonard; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
“Witnessing genocide is overwhelming; writing about it is soul shattering,” Mr. Blatt said.
But a friend from Warsaw, Alan Heath, told The Associated Press that while Mr. Blatt had suffered from nightmares and depression, he never harbored feelings of revenge.
“Despite what had happened to his family,” Mr. Heath said, “he constantly repeated that one should not hate, and he certainly bore no malice toward Germans — and urged others to do the same.”