The Reconstruction of Belzec

Belzec: Reconstruction of the Recieving Camp

Reconstruction of Belzec

4.0 Summary and Overviews

The Belzec death camp went through an evolutionary process of growth. This process was the result of experimentation as the methods for implementing mass murder were refined. The physical manifestations of this process - the structures which were built - has been over simplified by defining it as consisting of two configurations. Between 1939 and 1941, even before the actual death camp came into existence, the Germans created a forced labor camp, requisitioning buildings and land occupied by the Polish railroad for a forced labor camp. A locomotive round house and some other associated buildings were taken over and fences erected to house and contain a temporary work force of Jewish men. Following these first activities, the actual initial configuration as a death camp began in mid 1941. By March 1942, Belzec, in its first incarnation, was comprised of just a few structures hastily thrown up in freshly cleared forest areas. It included a small primitive gas chamber made of wood. Belzec in its second and final state represented the culmination of an evolutionary process in which the physical and procedural methodology for mass murder had been fully perfected. The camp was well organized and contained a new, enlarged gas chamber, and housing, recreation, and medical facilities for the SS and Ukrainian staff, as well as storage and processing buildings where the belongings of the victims. were kept and sorted. An elaborate system of fencing had been erected which provided control of the victims and hid the mechanics of their fate.

The Early Configuration

Belzecís first configuration lasted only a few months, beginning with the start of construction December 1, 1941 and ending in March of 1942 when mass murder operations started. In this period the camp underwent a rapid expansion. Forest cover was removed, barracks erected, and experiments conducted to establish the best killing methods. By early 1943 the state of the camp was approximately as presented in Figure 4.0.1.
The photograph is a photo-montage of a 1941 and 1944 frame so as to show features common to both periods: the forestation of 1940 and the antitank ditches dug in 1941. Undoubtedly there were more buildings erected by this time, for instance, barracks to house the contingent of Ukrainian guards must have been put up. However, Given the paucity of information, there is no way to know more than what is shown in the figure about other structures than what are shown in the figure. The fencing shown is an educated guess based on what can be extrapolated backwards from aerial photography of 1944 and ground pictures of 1942. Descriptions by local poles who were set to work on the first buildings, or who observed activity at the camp mention a narrow gauge railroad used to carry the gassing victims to burial sites on the northern corner. The three buildings shown were constructed by a Polish labor gang between November 1, and December 22, 1941. At the same time, the Ukrainian guard force was set to work on the first burial pit. The full system of fencing was undoubtedly started at this time also.

The Later Configuration

Figure 4.0.2 contains the annotated image of Belzec as it existed before its razing in 1943. This mapping of the various parts of the camp is the result of an exhaustive analysis of all aerial and ground photography, as well as commonly available testimony. A detailed description of the analytical methods on which this figure is based can be found in subsequent sections.

Figure 4.0.2 shows that the northeast part of the area of Camp II had no graves sites. In actuality, the archeological explorations did not extend to this part, and it is believed that it is highly likely that this part of the camp may also contains mass graves (see section 4.6 for a more comprehensive analysis of this conclusion). Supporting this tentative conclusion, is the fact that efforts were made to expand the burial area sometime in 1942, implying that the available ara for graves was full. This can be understood by referring again to Figure 4.0.2. One may note that there were two guard tower sites in the northeast corner, and a length of fencing that appears to enclose nothing. As is shown below in Section 4.2 - Fencing and Security, this is strong evidence for a process of expansion. The effort was evidently cancelled and the camp liquidated before the enlargement was completed. One can appreciate that the expansion would require first, the extending of the fencing, and secondly a relocation of the guard tower. One cannot tell from the aerial photography if there were at some time two towers simultaneously, or if one was moved.

Belzec was scattered among three separate sites: the most important as the main camp where the killing took place and the Ukrainian guards were housed. Two satellite sites also existed: one was a former railroad maintenance and repair facility which the SS used to warehouse victimís belongings, and as a power generating plant for the main camp. The second satellite site was an SS billeting area containing living, administrative, and recreational facilities. The main camp was divided into Camp I and Camp II. The former contained the receiving area, consisting of two rail sidings, undressiing barracks, and a number of structures devoted to housing, and service. Camp II was the killing and burial area and contained all the mass graves. Those annotated in the figure were discovered by a team headed by Andrezej Kola during archeological excavations conducted from 1998 to 1999.

In this study, several important details of Belzecís layout were determined. The system of fencing was discovered in the extermination area which are seen to be a complex method of controlling the prospective victims as they went from debarkation on the ramp, through the undressing barracks, and then fed into the gas chambers. Considering that Kola found that there were two sidings instead of the single track thought previously, it is clear that Belzecís daily killing capacity was significantly greater than that of Treblinka or Sobibor, because two 20 car trains could be brought in simultaneously. This capacity needed a buffering system if the gas chambers malfunctioned, or if the number of people in a transport was simply too great to be processed at once. The buffering system consisted of holding pens: one in Camp I at the end of the sidings, and at least three in Camp II, on either side of the tube. All reports of the Reinhard camps describe the use of evergreen branches woven into the wiring for purposes of preventing seeing beyond. Undoubtedly, the interior fencing in Belzec was similarly constructed so that the masses of people could not see who or what was transpiring within earshot.

Also shown is the fact that the camp was entirely double fenced in all parts where the victims were present, first alive and then dead. From the moment that the transport passed by the second of two gates, the chances of a ďforce de mainĒ escape were nearly non existent. Despite the giveaway of the dreadful stench of death that all reports give of Belzec, the fencing restricted an individualís horizon to a few meters, so that all that was left was to hope for the best.