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Concentration Camp Bełżec

Below you can see photographs taken at the Bełżec concentration camp. next >>

Photographs courtesy of the USHMM.


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 Government.


SS guards stand in formation outside
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 Jewish
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 April 1940....

Five Jewish prisoners pose outside a row of
barracks at the Belzec concentration camp




The 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, etc.).

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 the camp.

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.


Text adapted from Wikipedia.


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