Belzec, Polish spelling
Bełżec, was the first of the Nazi German
extermination camps created for implementing
Operation Reinhard during the Holocaust.
Operating in 1942, the camp was situated in
occupied Poland about half a mile south of
the local railroad station of
Bełżec in the Lublin district of the General
SS guards stand in
the commandant's house near the
Belzec concentration camp.
At least 434,500 Jews were
killed at Bełżec, along with an unknown number of
Poles and Roma; only one
or two Jews
are known to have survived Bełżec: Rudolf Reder and
Chaim Hirszman. The lack of survivors may be the
reason why this camp is so little known despite its
number of victims.
Group portrait of
forced laborers at the Belzec camp.
Belzec was situated
in the Lublin district forty-seven miles north of
the major city of Lwow (Lviv, Lvov), conveniently
between the large Jewish populations of south east
Poland and eastern Galicia. Belzec extermination
camp, the model for two others in the 'Aktion
Reinhard' murder program, started as a labor camp in
Five Jewish prisoners pose outside a row of
barracks at the Belzec concentration camp.
wooden gas chambers were disguised as the barracks
and showers of a labor camp, so that the victims
would not realize the true purpose of the site, and
the process was conducted as quickly as possible:
people were forced to run from the trains to the gas
chambers, leaving them no time to absorb where they
were or to plan a revolt.
Finally, a handful of Jews were selected to perform
all the manual work involved with extermination
(removing the bodies from the gas chambers, burying
them, sorting and repairing the victims' clothing,
The extermination process itself was
conducted by Hackenholt, guards, and a Jewish aide.
The Jewish Sonderkommandos were killed periodically
and replaced by new arrivals, so that they would
neither organize a revolt nor survive to tell about
A sign in Polish
from the Belzec killing center that reads,
"Attention! All belongings must be handed in at the
counter except for money, documents and other
valuables, which you must keep with you.
In the 1960s the area of the former camp was
fenced off, and a few small monuments were
placed on the site. The fenced area did not
correspond to the actual area of the camp
during its operation, and so some commercial
development took place on areas formerly
belonging to it. Due to the isolated
location on Poland's eastern border, only a
very small number of people visited the
former camp before 1988. The site was
largely forgotten and poorly maintained.
Following the collapse of communism in 1989,
the situation slowly changed. As the number
of visitors to Poland interested in
Holocaust sites increased, more of them came
to Bełżec. Many reacted negatively to the
unkempt state of the grounds. In the late
1990s extensive investigations were carried
out on the camp grounds to determine
precisely the camp's extent and provide
greater understanding of its operation.
Buildings constructed after the war on the
camp grounds were removed. In 2004, a large
new monument commemorating the camp's
victims was unveiled.
Due to Nazi efforts to erase evidence of the camp's
existence near the war's end, almost all traces of
the camp disappeared from the surface of the site.
The mass graves of the camp's victims remained,
however, and in the postwar years some people,
possibly local inhabitants, disturbed them to look
for any valuables buried with the victims. Pursuit
of the perpetrators continued into the second half
of the 1950s.