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Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/aktion.reinhard/yvs16.03

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Yad Vashem Studies XVI:  Operation Reinhard (3/11)
Summary: The Construction of Belzec
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Nizkor Project -
Keywords: Yad Vashem,treblinka,sobibor,belzec

Archive/File: orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs16.03
Last-modified: 1993/03/29
XRef: yad_vashem index

                       YAD VASHEM STUDIES
                     Edited by Aharon Weiss

                          YAD VASHEM
                        JERUSALEM 1984

                    "Operation Reinhard": 
       Extermination Camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka

                         Yitzhak Arad 

         The Construction of the Belzec Extermination Camp 

   Belzec, a small town in the southeast of the district of Lublin,
   close to the border of the district of Lvov and on the Lublin-
   Zamosc-Rawa Ruska-Lvov railroad line, was selected as the locality
   for the first extermination camp.  The area specified for the camp
   was a railroad siding half a kilometer from the Belzec railroad

   The Pole Stanislaw Kozak described the beginning of its construction:

      In October of the year 1941 three SS-men came to Belzec and
      demanded 20 men for the work from the municipal administrauon.
      The local council chose 20 workers from among the inhabitants of
      Belzec, and I was one of them.  The Germans selected the terrain
      to the southeast of the railroad station, which adjoined a siding.
      The railway line to Lvov runs along this sidetrack.  We began to
      work on November 1,1941, with the construction of huts on the plot
      adjoining the siding.  One of the huts which stood right next to
      the siding was 50 m.  Iong and 12.5 m.  wide.  The second hut,
      which was 25 m.  Iong and 12.5 m.  wide, was intended for the Jews
      who went to the baths.  Next to this hut we built a third hut,
      which was 12 m.  long and 8 m.  wide.  This hut was divided into
      three sections by wooden walls, so that each section was 4 m.
      wide and 8 m.  Iong.  These sections were 2 m.  high.  The
      interior walls of these huts were built such that we nailed the
      boards to them, filling in the empty space with sand.  Inside the
      hut the walls were covered with cardboard; in addition the floors
      and the walls, to a height of 1.10 m.  [were covered] with sheet-
      zinc.  A 3 m.  broad avenue, fenced in with barbed wire, which was
      also 3 m.  high, led from the first to the second of the
      above-mentioned huts.  A part of this fence, facing the siding and
      beyond it, was covered with pines and firs which had been
      specially felled, in order to conceal the siding.  From the second
      hut a covered passage, ca.  2m.  wide, 2 m.  high, and ca.  10 m.
      Iong, led to the third hut.  By way of this passage one reached
      the passage of the third hut, from which three doors led to its
      three sections.  Each section of this hut had a door on its
      northern side, approximately 1.80 m.  high and 1.10 m.  wide.
      These doors, like the doors to the passage, were closely fitted
      with rubber.  All the doors in this hut opened toward the outside.
      The doors were very strongly built of three-inch thick planks and
      were secured against pressure from inside by a wooden bolt that
      was pushed inside two iron hooks specially fitted for this
      purpose.  In each of the three sections of this hut water pipes
      were fixed at a height of 10 cm.  from the floor.  In addition, on
      the western wall of each section of this hut water pipes branched
      off at an angle to a height of 1 m.  from the floor, ending in an
      opening directed toward the middle of the hut.  The elbow-plpes
      were connected to pipes which ran along the walls and under the
      floor...  The trench has been dl.g by 70 "blacks," that is to say,
      by former Soviet soldiers who worked with the Germans.  It was 6
      m.  deep, 20 m.  wide, and 50 m.  long.  This was the first ditch
      in which the Jews, killed in the extermination camp, were buried.
      The "blacks" dug this ditch in six weeks, at the time when we
      built the huts.  This ditch was later continued as far as the
      middle of the northern border.  That was already at a time when we
      no longer worked on building the huts.  The first hut which I
      mentioned was at a distance of approximately 20 m.  from the
      siding and 100 m.  from the southern border.  At that time when we
      Poles were building the huts, the "blacks" put up the fence around
      the extermination camp; it consisted of posts with closely spaced
      barbed wire.  After we had built the three huts described above,
      the Germans dismissed us Poles from work on December 22, 1941.
      (StA Munich 1, AZ:32Js 64-83-61 .) 

   In the second half of December, Christian Wirth was appointed Camp
   Commandant of Belzec, with Josef Oberhauser as his adjutant.
   SS-Scharfu"hrer Erich Fuchs reported on Wirth's arrival in Belzec:

      One day in the winter of 1941, Wirth put together a transport to
      Poland.  I was selected along with ca.  eight to ten others and
      transferred to Belzec in three motorcars...  Upon our arrival in
      Belzec we met Friedel Schwarz and two other SS-men whose names I
      do not remember.  They served as guards during the building of a
      hut which we were to fit out as a gas chamber.  

      Wirth told us that in Belzec "all Jews were to be bumped off.  "
      For this purpose the huts were fitted out as gas chambers.  I
      installed shower nozzles in the gas chambers.  The nozzles were
      not connected to a water pipe because they were only meant to
      serve as camouflage for the gas chambers.  The Jews who were to be
      gassed were untruthfully informed that they were to be bathed and
      disinfected.  (StA Dortmund AZ: 45Js 27-61 ) 

   Wirth developed his own ideas on the basis of the experience he had
   gained in the "Euthanasia" program.  Thus, in Belzec he decided to
   supply the fixed gas chamber with gas produced by the
   internal-combustion engine of a motorcar.  Wirth rejected Cyanide B
   which was later used at Auschwitz.  This gas was produced by private
   firms and its extensive use in Belzec might have aroused suspicion
   and led to problems of supply.  He therefore preferred a system of
   extermination based on ordinary, universally available gasoline and
   diesel fuel.

   At the end of Febraury 1942 the installations for mass extermination
   were completed.  The first two or three transports, each consisting
   of four to six freight cars fully loaded with a hundred or more Jews,
   were used for trial killings in order to test the capacity and
   efficiency of the gas chambers and the technique of the extermination
   process.  The tests lasted several days.  The last group to be killed
   consisted of the Jewish prisoners who had taken part in building the
   camp.  (See note 6 )

   Bottled carbon monoxide was used for these experiments.  However, a
   short while later the gassings were carried out with carbon monoxide
   from the exhaust fumes a of motorcar engine.  The engine from an
   armored vehicle ("250 h.p.") was installed in a shed outside the gas
   chamber, whence the gas was piped into the gas chamber.  Wirth
   continued to experiment in his search for the most effective method
   of handling the transports of Jews, from their arrival at the camp to
   their extermination and the subsequent removal of the corpses.
   Everything was arranged in such a way that the victims should remain
   unaware of their impending doom.  The intention was to convey to them
   the impression that they had arrived at a work or transit camp from
   which they would be sent on to another camp.

   In addition, everything was to proceed at top speed so that the
   victims would have no chance to grasp what was going on.  Their
   reactions were to be paralyzed to prevent escape attempts or acts of

   The speedy process was to increase the camp's extermination capacity.
   In this way, several transports could be received and liquidated on
   one and the same day.

   The entire camp covered a relatively small, flat, rectangular area.
   Its southern side measured 265 m., the other sides ca.  275 m.  It
   was surrounded by a high wire fence, with barbed wire attached at the
   top and camouflaged with branches.  Young trees were pianted along
   the fence so that no one would be able to look into the camp from the
   outside.  There were three watchtowers in the corners, two of them on
   the eastern perimeter and the third on the southwestern one.  There
   was an additional watch tower in the center of the camp, near the gas
   chambers.  A railroad track some 500 m.  in length led from the
   Belzec railroad station into the camp through the gate on its
   northern side.  The southern and eastern boundaries were lined with

   Belzec was divided into two areas.  Camp I, in the northwest, was the
   reception and administrative sector; Camp II, in the eastern section,
   was the extermination sector.

   The reception sector comprised the railroad ramp, which had room for
   twenty freight cars, and two huts for the arrivals -- one for
   undressing and the other for storing clothes and baggage.  Camp II,
   the extermination sector, comprised the gas chambers and the mass
   graves which were located in the eastern and northeastern part.  The
   gas chambers were surrounded by trees and a camouflage net was spread
   over their roof to prevent observation from the air.  There were also
   two huts in this sector for the Jewish prisoners working here: one
   served as their living quarters, the other as the kitchen.  Camp II
   was completely separated from the other sector by a strictly guarded

   A low path, 2 m.  wide and 50-70m.  Iong, known as the "tube," fenced
   in on both sides with barbed wire and partly partitioned off by a
   wooden fence, connected the hut in Camp I where the arrivals
   undressed with the gas chambers in Camp II.  The living quarters of
   the SS-men were at a distance of ca.  500 m.  from the camp, near the
   Belzec railroad station.  All the SS-men were employed in the camp
   administration.  Each SS- man had his specific job and some of them
   were assigned more than one task.  From time to time there was an
   exchange in the spheres of responsibility.  (Ibid., vol.  VII, pp.
   1288,1384; vol VIII, p.  1465)

   SS-Oberscharfu"hrer Gottfried Schwarz was the Deputy Camp Commandant,
   SS-Oberscharfu"hrer Niemann was in charge of the extermination sector
   of Camp II, and SS-Oberscharfu"hrer Josef Oberhauser, Wirth's
   adjutant, held responsibility for the con- struction of the camp.
   SS-Oberscharfu"hrer Lorenz Hackenholt, together with two Ukrainians
   working under him, was respon- sible for the operation of the gas

   The Ukrainian unit numbered 60-80 men, divided into two groups.  The
   Ukrainians served as security guards inside the camp, at the entrance
   gate, and on the four watch towers; they also carried out several
   patrols.  Some of them assisted in operat- ing the gas chambers.
   Before the arrival of a transport, the Ukrainians were deployed as
   guards around the ramp, at the hut for undressing and along the
   "tube," as iar as the gas chambers.  During the experimental killings
   they had to remove the corpses from the gas chambers and bury them.
   Later on,Jewish prisoners were forced to do this work.  

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