On 23 August 1939 the Ribentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact was signed, presaging the beginning of WWII. The treaty freed Hitler to satisfy German expansionist aims without having to worry about Soviet Russia, while Stalin looked on the western powers as unreliable allies, and did not want to be pulled into a war for which he was not yet ready. A secret protocol to the treaty carved up Poland between the two dictatorships. This secret protocol specified the spheres of interest of the two powers and Poland was to disappear into in two occupied parts.
After the defeat of the Polish Army, the demarcation line agreed upon in the secret protocol was shifted further to the east by mutual consent. Part of the boundary in Poland between the Soviet Union and Germany became the Bug River.
That the border between the two powers was marked by the Bug River was a geographic fact which proved of moment. It led to the construction of death camps along that river two years later. After Germany's conquest of Poland in 1939, Poland was dismembered.
The Belzec extermination camp was built in the east central part of the former Polish state in what was called the General Government (Figure 2.0.1).
The German revised map of eastern Europe is shown in more detail in Figure 2.2.
The Belzec was located in the county of Lubelskie along with Sobibor and Majdanek. Lubelskie is shown in green in Figure 2.0.2. The Bug River forms the eastern border of the county (Figure 2.0.3).
The site taken by the Germans for the death camp is shown in outline on an aerial photo flown in 1940 by the Luftwaffe (Figure 2.0.6).
Although the terrain seems flat in the pictures, this is only partly true. the railroad runs in a valley whose floor is flat, but within a half kilometer on either side, low hills rise 10 to 15 meters above the valley floor. Further back the hills rise even higher by some 50 meters.