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Belzec - Extermination camp



New arrivals at the extermination camp Belzec

       In September of 1939, following the partition of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Polish town of Belzec became part of the German occupied territory. It was subsequently referred to as General-Gouvernment, and incorporated into the Lublin District. The first forced labor camp for Polish Jews was established at this site in early 1940. By the autumn of that year there were three camps in the village itself and a number of satellite camps in surrounding areas accommodating more than eleven thousand prisoners at a time. The first transport of Jews from Lublin and surrounding area reached Belzec on 29 May 1940 well before accommodation or food was prepared for them. In the following months additional transports with more than seven thousand Jews arrived from Lublin, Warsaw, Radom, and adjacent areas. By the middle of August 1940 the number of forced laborers had reached eleven thousand. Thousands died from overwork, starvation, disease, execution, or simply brutal living conditions in general. The work camp was liquidated in December 1940 to be reactivated as an extermination center within two years.

Camp I - Reception and Administration Area

1.  Entrance gate
2.  Guard's house
3.  Ukranian living quarters
4.  Barber, clinic, dentist for the SS and Ukrainian
5.  Ukrainian kitchen
6.  Railway ramp
7.  Garage
8.  Tailor's and shoemaker's workshop for the SS and Ukrainians
9.  Living quarters for Jewish prisoners
10. Kitchen and laundry for Jewish prisoners
11. Storeroom for belongings taken from victims 12. Gallows
13. Undressing barracks
14. Room in which women's hair was cut
15. ourtyard enclosed by a wooden fence leading to the "tube"

Camp II - Extermination Area

16. Gas chambers
17. Gas engine
18. Burial pits
19. Anti-tank trench used as a burial pit.
20. Shelves for cremating the bodies
21. Living quarters for Jewish prisoners
22. Kitchen for Jewish prisoners

Outside the camp

23. The SS living quarters and offices
24. Warehouses for the belongings taken
from the victims - former locomotive




Source: Arad, Yitzhak; Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, p. 437

       Richard Breitman, the author of the book  "The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution," New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991 writes: "Belzec was the first pure extermination camp to begin operations in the region. There were only a few hundred worker Jews there (at a time), most used in the killing facilities or in the recovery of clothing and items of value from the dead. The first SS'ers showed up at Belzec in October 1941 to recruit construction workers to build the facilities. Himmler's office had reported the progress of the SS- und Polizeiführer für den Distrikt Lublin - SS- and Police Chief for the district of Lublin, Globocnik to SS Obergruppenführer - SS Lt. General Oswald Pohl, head of what soon became the SS Economic-Administrative Main Office (WVHA), preparing Pohl for cooperation with Globocnik. Pohl's office had reported to Himmler that it could no longer obtain sufficient clothing or textiles for the Waffen-SS and for the concentration camps. Himmler replied that he was able to make available a large mass of raw materials for clothing, and he gave Globocnik the responsibility for delivering them."

 

SS'ers falling in behind commandant Wirth's villa at Belzec extermination camp. From right to left are: SS Rottenführer Heinrich Barbl, Artur Dachsel; Lorenz Hackenholt, Ernst Zierke, Max Gringers, unidentified, Reinholt Feis, Karl Schluch and Fritz Tauscher. Photo taken in 1942. These men either volunteered, or they had been drafted into the ranks.

       SS-Sturmbannführer - SS Major Christian Wirth (from December 1941 to August 1942) was the first commandant appointed to Belzec. SS-Obersturmführer - SS 1st Lieutenant Gottlieb Hering (from August 1942 to December 1942) succeeded him. Christian Wirth, a former police officer who had played a leading role in implementing the T4 "euthanasia program," developed his own ideas on the basis of the experience he had gained in the "Euthanasia" program and decided to supply the fixed gas chamber with gas produced by the internal-combustion engine of a motorcar. Later, exhaust gasses from an internal-combustion engine would make way for the more deadly, faster working Zyklon B. SS Hauptscharführer - SS Master Sergeant Lorenz Hackenholt was responsible for the extermination procedure and crematoria.

       The first time Belzec is referred to as an extermination camp is in an official German document dated 17 March 1942. In this document it was stated that "the camp was capable of handling four to five transports of one thousand Jews in one day, of whom none will ever return to the General-Gouvernment." Deportation from Poland and later from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania began at this time. At first victims were exterminated in cells which were filled with diesel fumes, but in August 1942 Zyklon-B, the quick-acting hydrogen cyanide gas, was first demonstrated at Belzec. The camp was closed in the spring of 1943 and all traces were obliterated. Probably more than six hundred thousand people died at Belzec, including two thousand non-Jews. Only a few inmates succeeded in escaping from Belzec. It took little more than a year, from March 1942 to the spring of 1943, for the SS to kill off their Belzec victims.