Belzec where more than 600,000 Jews alone were Slaughtered is a place I will remember for the extraordinary detail of its siting. It is my wish to merely give an overview of those Death Camps to which I have chosen to visit. It is essential for me, in order to provide my work’s effort with a wider perspective of how these Death Camp sites appeared, I add a newer dimension to that which I had formerly perceived. There is not the space nor time to give more than this overview, though I will return to give a more in depth analysis of all these Death Camps, at some stage. The Belzec Death Camp was located in the Lublin district of South East Poland, a district of Galicia.
“..Upon our arrival in Belzec ..met Friedel Schwarz and ..other SS men. They supervised ..construction of barracks that would serve as a gas chamber. Wirth told us that in Belzec all the Jews will be struck down. For this purpose barracks were built as gas chambers ..I installed shower heads in ..gas chambers. ..nozzles were not connected to any water pipes ..would serve as camouflage for ..gas chamber. For ..Jews who were gassed it would seem as if they were being taken to baths and for disinfection.” SS Unterscharfuhrer Erich Fuchs.
Though Belzec was initially a slave labour camp where People still died, it will gain in importance matched only by Treblinka in terms of the Catastrophic account, and Auschwitz-Birkenau in terms of duration and a likewise deadly account. Here at Belzec, what was achieved and in both the other Extermination Camps which had a longer period of operations to digest its human cargo, was an atrocity the world had never envisaged. Belzec was a primitive place where destruction was so swiftly accomplished. The construction of Belzec, an ‘Aktion Reinhard’ Death Camp, began on November 1st. 1941.
“..beginning ..August 1942 until ..camp ..closed ..September 1943 I was in Belzec. ..gassing stopped ..end ..1942 ..snow ..already falling. ..unearthing ..cremation of ..corpses began. ..lasted ..November 1942 until March 1943. ..cremation ..day and night without interruption. At first ..burning took place at one site ..later on at two. One cremating site had ..capacity to burn 2,000 corpses in 24 hours. About four weeks after ..beginning of ..cremation operation ..second burning site ..erected. On ..average ..during 5 months ..about 300,000 corpses ..cremated and ..4 months at ..second burning site ..240,000 corpses. ..these are average estimations.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Heinrich Gley.
Belzec extermination camp was operated from March 17th. 1942, and more than 80,000 Jews were murdered in this first month of operations. What remained was to convince the Nazi hierarchy that an even more methodical approach was required. The haphazard murders, though methodical, did not take account of the removal of the physical evidence of the destruction. This sees for an emergence of a Death Camp the like of which Birkenau became. This disregard for the final obliteration of the evidence continued right up until the exterminations at Belzec ended in December 1942. Carbon Monoxide was the poisonous gas used, among other means of extermination. For all those who managed to survive the journey to Belzec, what awaited the Jews here could not have been contemplated by those who believed in the goodness of all human beings.
While Chelmno was to be the first Death Camp to function solely as an Extermination Centre, it was here at Belzec, the second such facility to function solely as a killing centre, Belzec was the first camp to have permanent and static gas chambers. For that very reason, Belzec must be given a position of primary importance in the Death Camp set up, purely as the purveyor of a scale of escalation toward Hitler’s Final Solution which was harnessed here. The destructive capacity was so immense, Belzec has been wrongly overlooked as the most destructive force in the Death Camp system.
“..SS Sturmbannfuhrer Hering accused me of being a saboteur because of ..fact that during ..sorting of ..clothes that were sent for utilisation in Germany ..a yellow Jewish star was found. Some money was also found there. These clothes belonged to Jews who were killed in Belzec.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Heinrich Unverhau.
Belzec Death Camp was quite a small area in spatial terms and was divided into two sections. One section contained the administration buildings and the reception area while the other sector contained the gas chambers. The camp itself was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and camouflaged with interwoven branches to hide the activities from those outside. During the short period of its existence, The Death Camp Belzec with an SS cadre of about 37, none of whom were rank and file SS, and these were ably assisted by more than 100 Ukrainian collaborators, achieved the phenomenal account of 600,000 Murdered Jewish People. Though the system involved was basic and bestial, these Jews were murdered in the space of 8 months. Though mainly involved in the destruction of Jews, there were also Gypsies and perhaps even Polish civilians murdered here.
“..transports to Belzec ..gassing operations ..stopped ..suddenly. ..staff members of ..Belzec camp ..informed ..place would be rebuilt completely. ..group of Jews ..in charge of ..demolition work. ..March ..April 1943 ..cremation of ..corpses ..terminated and ..graves ..levelled. ..camp ..emptied entirely and levelled. ..some planting ..done there. ..Jewish work commando ..to Sobibor. I remained in Belzec for two more days ..clearing ..loading. ..I was in Sobibor ..heard during ..transport of ..Jewish work commando ..Belzec to Sobibor ..mutiny ..shooting took place which led to some deaths.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Werner Dubois.
Jews were transported by railway in Cattle Wagons, usually numbering up to 20 Wagons at a time. This continued until a second ramp was constructed and 40 Cattle Wagons could be accommodated. This could mean in excess of 4,000 Jewish Men, Women and Their Children arriving at any given time. For some, while the journey often lasted a number of days and these victims were packed into the Wagons without adequate ventilation, food or water, many never made it to the destructive processes which awaited the majority of these Jews at Belzec. Indeed for the many who died on their journey to the Death Camp, they were indeed spared what others met with increasing ferocity, those 600,000 Jews, Slaughtered without a morsel of consideration.
“..I can relate that I saw ..gas chambers in ..euthanasia institutions and I was shown ..gas chamber in Belzec. These were each about 4 x 8 metres. They had a friendly ..bright appearance. Whether ..colour was yellow or gray ..I don’t remember. Maybe ..walls were painted with oil colours. In any case ..floor and part of ..walls were made so that cleaning would be easy. ..newly arriving Jews must not guess ..purpose ..room served ..they should believe that it was a bath. ..I remember that there were shower heads on ..ceiling.” SS Scharfuhrer Karl Schluch.
On arrival at Belzec, the victims were told they had arrived at a transit camp. Men and women were separated and ordered to undress, supposedly for disinfection and showering and before entering the main camp. After undressing and handing over all their possessions and valuables, they were forced to run toward the gas chambers by their Ukrainian guards. The process was to ensure the speedy progress of those Jews toward destruction, limiting their time for any considered refusal or resistance. The time taken from disembarkation to the Gas Chamber was in the region of 20 minutes.
“..After those first gassing operations ..Wirth ..Schwarz and all ..German personnel disappeared from Belzec. As his final official act ..Wirth had ..gassed or shot ..fifty working Jews ..including their Kapos. When Wirth and his people departed ..I was in Lublin. I had a big transport of material to bring. When I came again to Belzec ..nobody was there. In ..camp there were about twenty Ukrainian guards. They were under ..command of SS Scarfuhrer Feiks. Curiously enough ..SS and Police Leader Globocnik had no knowledge of ..departure of Wirth and his men. He sent me to Belzec to find out in which direction Wirth had gone. I found out that he had left for Berlin via Lvov and Cracow ..without reporting to Globocnik.” SS Oberscharfuhrer Josef Oberhauser.
Up to a thousand Jewish men were kept alive at any one time, merely to carry out the forced labour at the camp, and the work of ensuring the murder process was a functioning, well-oiled system. One group of young Jewish men worked at unloading and cleaning the trains while another group of men sorted the property of victims. A further group was responsible for the removal of the bodies from the gas chambers. These were the men of the Belzec Sonderkommando. All of these men were subjected to that same selection process and they themselves remained in danger of being sent eventually to the gas chambers.
“..Liquidation ..Warsaw Ghetto ..taking place. ..all Jews ..irrespective of age ..sex ..removed ..shot. ..mass executions ..in especially prepared camps ..Belzec. ..Jews deported ..to be butchered.” Myron C. Taylor.
The camp finally ceased its murderous operations in December 1942 and from then until the spring of 1943, the mass graves were opened up and the corpses cremated. This was all in order that the very evidence of Hitler’s Final Solution should be destroyed, the evidence of the mass extermination, eradicated, wiped from the map. Belzec Death Camp was then closed, while the site was turned into a farm and given to a former Ukrainian guard. The remaining 600 or so prisoners of the Sonderkommando were then sent to Sobibor. The arrival of this Belzec Sonderkommando gave the surviving Sonderkommando of Sobibor the incentive it needed to revolt against their Nazi masters. For certain, the same fate awaited the Sobibor Sonderkommando whose role had become superfluous to the secretion of the evidence they were a witness to.
With Blobel’s Sk 1005 called upon to achieve the final exhumation and eradication of the physical evidence of what occurred here, Hitler would ensure History a difficult search for the wounds that had been inflicted upon innocent Jews. Those wounds extended far beyond those 600,000 Jewish lives so brutally taken. For every one of these now victims, there were those who would not know the final fate of Family members, relatives and friends swept into oblivion. Through time though they would come to know that those Jews who entered Hitler’s realm had met with a Catastrophic end. However, many are still unaware how it was for those Jews or if they were the Jews who were removed to Belzec. Here we do not need to be poets to find poignancy in words, but we are left with the words of a Poet who consigns a depth of meaning to words which speak for those Jews of Belzec and all other places where the Jews of The Holocaust were Murdered.
“..Here in this carload
with my son Abel.
If you see my older boy,
Cain, the son of man,
Tell him that I..” Dan Pagis.