Thursday, March 22, 2012

BELZEC Extermination Camp part 3

In the first phase of the camp, it seemed that the gas chambers door seals were not tight and people were still alive when the doors were opened. They were then driven to the mass graves and shot. (44) Also, the elderly, infirm, unconscious and small children who were not able to run on their own without the help of their parents to the undressing barracks and gas chambers. were executed at the mass graves. The commando that was responsible for the ramp, did carry these people from the unloading ramp through a specific passage in the fence that separated the camp area, directly towards the pits. Here, the Sonderkommando took the prisoners from them, and brought them to the edge of mass graves where they were undressed. After that, Wirth had selected specific SS-or Trawniki men, who shot the defenseless. Most frequently he used the most brutal of SS men of the camp for the execution: Lorenz Hackenbolt, Reinhold Feix, Heinrich Gley, Ernst Zierke, and Karl Schluch (45)
Ref: 44, statement Edward Luczynski, 15/10/1945, in APMM photocopies, Sign.1284, OKBL, DS 1604/45.
Ref: 45, Robert J. statements, 10/11/1961, 23/11/1961 and Henry G., BArc in Ludwigsburg, B 162/208, the trial against Josef Oberhauser, Vol.8, page 1479 and 1552ff. The latter claimed that every SS man of the Camp Administration received orders from Wirth,  to shoot those, that were not in a position and not able on their own strength to go into the Gas-chambers.
Each member of the SS garrison had a function that was described in the post-war period as a "general supervision service over the camp".(Allgemeiner Aufsichtsdienst über das gesamte Lager)For specific tasks the Trawniki men were in charge as well as selected prisoners from incoming Transports.
Every morning  a roll call was attended by all prisoners (Appell),  commandant Wirth as a rule appeared in person or his deputy, Gottfried Schwarz. Both gave orders to the assembled prisoners. Wirth also personally assigned tasks to his SS- subordinate. Each had his allotted duties to run, so that the extermination process(Vernichtungsprozess) was not disturbed. This principle was a basic rule during the whole period of existence of the camp at Belzec.
Even as the Jews were in the undressing barracks and were herded into the gas chambers, a Jewish prisoner commando under the supervision of an SS member, principally led by Rudolf Kammm (later Henry Unverhau) collected the baggage of the deportees from the ramp. Thereafter, the personal belongings of the deportees from the undressing barracks were brought down on special railway tipping cars (Loren) into the former locomotive shed. This building outside of the camp served as a magazine for the stolen property of the victims. Here,  Jewish prisoners assorted, also under the direction of the SS-man Kamm, the baggage, and removed the Star of David patch which would have been the identity and evidence of a previous owner from their clothing, and searched luggage and belongings for hidden money and valuables.

Remnants of the storage shed outside of Belzec
Clothing, shoes, bags were not registered at Belzec, they were packed in special railway wagons and shipped to Lublin, probably into the camp, called "Old Airport" the main magazine of the "Aktion Reinhardt" and all items were sorted a second time. In Belzec there  was no time for the registration and re-sorting of items, since the next part of the transport was already waiting to be led into the camp. Valuables and money and pulled gold teeth on the other hand, were brought to the headquarters building(Kommandanturgebäude). They were stored at the Administration Building within the compound(Hof) in a container, the Germans called the "Pavilion". Erwin Fichtner was responsible for these treasurers, the crew members of the camp called him the "accountant" or "cashier". A former railway worker of the Belzec station reported that cash and valuables were twice a week in a specially sealed box and attached by a chain inside the railway wagon transported under escort of German soldiers by a fast train(Eilzug) to Lublin.
The first phase of the deportation to Belzec took place on 17 March 1942 to April 1942. During this time parts of the Jewish population from Galicia and the district of Lublin was deported to the camp. Every day there were two, sometimes three transports that arrived. The largest groups of Jews came from the ghettos of Lublin and Lemberg (Lvov). From these cities, until March 31, 1942 transports arrived on a daily basis at Belzec. Also trains coming from other towns of the Lublin district like (Piski, Izbica, Lubartow and Zamosc) and Galicia.[I did not indicate other places as they are too numerous sic] According to current calculations, between mid-March and mid-April 1942 about 63,000 Jews were murdered at Belzec. (50) Although the average size for a transport according to the coordinator of "Operation Reinhardt", SS Captain Hermann Höfle, was from 1000 to 1500 people, although he admitted that during this period transports with 2000 passengers such as from Piaski near Lublin or Izbica did arrive periodically. (51) From the district of Galicia there were significantly larger shipments, for example, 4000 people from Stanislawow on 31 March 1942. (52) Smaller shipments for example, came from Zhovkva with only 700. (53)
Ref: 50 These numbers, however, should be seen as a preliminary to the memorial at Belzec, who are currently working to develop on an overview of all the transports to the extermination camp of Belzec. This current summary includes the date of shipment and the number of deportees who may be in many cases, unfortunately, only one approximation of the value based on survivor reports from the respective sites.
Ref: 51, During the first "action" in the ghetto of Piaski on 23 March 1942, about 3,400 people were taken to the Belzec extermination camp, including all the Jews from neighbouring towns of Biskupice and Trawniki:see BArch Ludwigsburg, B162/208, investigation of Karl Strebel, Michael Janczak, Erwin Mittrach and others, Vol.6, page 31.
Ref: 52, Dieter Pohl, Nazi persecution of Jews in East Galicia, 1941-1944. Organisation and implementation of a national mass crime, Munich 1997, pages 190-195, Kruglov, holocosta Chronicles, page 91. The latter indicates that on 31 March 1942, 2,500 Jews were deported to Belzec from Stanislawow.
Ref: 53 Gerszon Taffet, Zaglada Zydow zolkiewskiego [The Destruction of the Jews from Zhovkva], Lodz, 1946, page 28.
The knowledge of the killings at Belzec spread quickly under both, the Polish and among the Jewish population in the vicinity of the camp. The transports stopped at the public train station of Belzec, where the regular trains halted and was therefore used by ordinary passengers. A source of information were the Polish railway workers, who drove the transports, as well as the security guards that plied in some houses at Belzec.  Soon the first escapee's appeared from the camp as well. Janusz Peter reported and wrote: "It was common news of the events in the Belzec camp which spread like the flight of birds to the surrounding villages and by the railway workers across the country. The death camp at Belzec was an open secret and was confirmed by the fact that the food supply never increased for them. They only drew just as much bread as was necessary for the camp personal, although there should have been a considerable increase in demand due to the daily arrivals of a few thousand prisoners. In a vain attempt the Germans tried to condense and improve the fence surrounding the camp with spruce, because right at the beginning the planted trees started to yellow and the needles fell off, and through the withered branches you could see inside the camp. Everyone knew what was happening inside, and now there were no more guesses, because the Askaris and SS men, who drank themselves out of their minds and were gossiping (verplapperten) every bit now and again. [.. .]
Some Christians from the neighbourhood who were caught with too much loquacity, were also brought to the camp. Almost every transport of the condemned dropped through a window or a door crack cards and letters in which they warned those who remained at home and informed them, where and under what conditions they were going. First, a certain proportion of them reached the addressee, as the finder felt obliged to put the cards into a mailbox or even stamp it. Later, the head of the German post office  instructed to destroy all non-paid letters, and even prepaid ones if the addressee appeared to be a Jew ". Ref: 54, Peter W. Belzcu, page189f

Belzec station entrance
Goeckel - stationn master belzec
Some managed to escape at this phase of the extermination camp, for example, three young men from Lublin. One of them, the 21-year-old Szmirer reported after his escape in the Lublin ghetto what was going on inside the  Belzec extermination camp. The 13-year-old  Lejb Wosztejn, who was deported from Zamosc to Belzec, did tell his story as well. Also known are the names of two women, who escaped and were transported to Belzec from Zolkiew: Mina Astman and Malka Thalenfeld. None of these experienced the end of the war.
Their reports were initially received in general with scepticism. In their home-towns at this time anyone could hardly imagine  that the National Socialists were able to such monstrous crimes.
The Polish underground movement in Lublin learned relatively quickly about the death camp at Belzec. Mid-April 1942, they were preparing a report to do so. In it they tried to estimate the number of those murdered at Belzec: "From March 17 to 13 April fifty-two transports (18 to 35 freight cars with an average of 1,500 persons) have arrived in the camp". The authors had detailed information about what was happening in the camp and the conduct of the camp staff. They knew, among other things, that the guards of the camp stole the property of the murdered in exchange in the villages to procure alcohol. However, they did not know, how and what facilities were used to eliminate people in the camp: "In what method the death of the Jews died in the camp is not known, there are three assumptions: 1.) With electricity, 2) gas, 3) by means of rarefied air, a suction pump.
To 1 - There is no suitable power source.
To 2-There was neither a supply of gas nor the interaction of gas residues by ventilation of the gasification chamber observed. Belzec angewandt wurden. kamen durch sie auch in Sobibor zum Tragen. Belzec angewandt wurden,
To 3- This assumption is contrary to anything. However, it is confirmed that the construction of walls and floors, a barrack, was covered with a thick sheet metal (probably for a particular purpose ") (57)
Ref :57-This report also gives a hint that a track of a narrow gauge railway did lead from the building of the so-called laundry room to the graves, with which the bodies were brought into the mass graves which existed indeed during the first phase of exterminations. This was dismantled in the summer of 1942. The Polish underground also knew the name and rank of the camp commandant Wirth. The report shows that the members of the underground movement gathered their Information also among the railway workers and inhabitants of Belzec. They have had also contact with the first builders on the camp site. Compare also: Explorers of the death camps at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and by the secret government agency in the country and the Home Army in: Zeszyty Majdanka 14 (1992), page 39-60.
The first phase of the extermination in the Belzec camp ended on 16 April 1942. On this day, the camp commandant Christian Wirth went with some of his men for six weeks to Berlin to report to the Chancellery of the Führer(i.e Adolf Hitler sic) to report of the work at Belzec. A week before his departure, Victor Brack from the Chancellery of the Führer, who had previously significantly  co-ordinated the euthanasia campaign, had visited Belzec. The SS men and staff were on military matters reporting and responsible to the SS and Police Leader in Lublín, Odilo Globocnik. In personnel matters, however, the Chancellery of the Führer retained the responsibility for the former employees of Aktion T4. Some men of the camp staff were transferred during Wirth's absence to the Sobibor extermination camp, which was built at this time in Wlodawa. The building methods and lay-out which were applied in March and April 1942 in Belzec came through and had a bearing at Sobibor. The establishment of the locally improved gas chambers were essentially based on the involvement of SS-men from Belzec with Lorenz Hackenbolt at the top. Until the second half of May 1942 no transports to Belzec took place, the camp was only guarded by a detachment of Trawniki men.

                                                                                                                                continued under Part 4

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