Obituaries

Thomas Blatt, at 88; survivor of escape from Sobibor

WARSAW — Thomas Toivi Blatt, who was among a small number of Jews to survive a mass escape from the Nazi death camp of Sobibor in 1943 and who decades later served as a prominent witness at the trial of the alleged camp guard John Demjanjuk, died Saturday. He was 88.

Polish-born, Mr. Blatt, who lost his parents and a younger brother in the gas chambers of Sobibor, died at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., a Warsaw-based friend, Alan Heath, said.

Heath remembered Mr. Blatt as a ‘‘quiet and modest person’’ who suffered nightmares and depression until the end of his life, yet never wanted vengeance either on the Germans for the murder of the Jews or for the complicity of many of his anti-Semitic Polish countrymen.

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‘‘He constantly repeated that one should not hate and he certainly bore no malice toward Germans — and urged others to do the same,’’ Heath said.

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Mr. Blatt lectured about the Holocaust, wrote two books, and campaigned to preserve the site of the death camp to remember one of the few uprisings by Jewish inmates against Nazi guards.

Mr. Blatt was born in Izbica, a town that was largely Jewish and Yiddish-speaking before the war although his family wasn’t devout.

He was 12 when Germany invaded Poland at the start of World War II in 1939 and was 15 when the Germans created a ghetto in the town in 1942.

When the family was taken to the camp in April 1943, he was pulled out to do odd jobs at the camp, fixing a fence and sorting documents. His parents and brother Henryk were murdered immediately.

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Six months after his arrival, Mr. Blatt took part in the camp’s successful uprising, in which most of the Nazis were killed and 300 prisoners escaped. Most who escaped ended up being hunted down and killed, but Mr. Blatt was among about 60 who survived the war. He eventually immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Santa Barbara and owned and ran three electronics stores in the area.

In the 1980s, Mr. Blatt returned often to the camp to check on its condition, regularly finding human bones among tall grass and weeds.

‘‘I’ve practically cleaned up one-quarter of the place myself, picking up the bones, burying them,’’ he said in 1987.

He was a witness in the trial of Demjanjuk, which ran from 2009 to 2011. Demjanjuk was convicted as an accessory to murder but he died in 2012 before his appeal could be heard.