CLOSURE OF THE CAMP
Until mid-December 1942 transports still arrived in Belzec. The exact date of the last arrivals is not known. Probably it was a consignment of about 5,000 people from Rawa Ruska, who was cleared on 11 December 1942. Why the National Socialists stopped the transports to Belzec in December 1942 has never been established. At this time there were still many Jews in ghettos and forced labour camps in the districts of Galiuzien, Krakau and Lublin. From 5 to 7 January 1943, the Lemberg ghetto held at that time appropriately 10,000 Jews who were due for another "Aktion" instead: One part was deported to the Sobibor extermination camp, the others killed in the ghetto. The only rail connection from Lemberg to Sobibor was through Belsec, so that all transports went through the village first. The camp was closed by that date. On the camp grounds, the SS executed Jews who had jumped out of the passing transports. Eustachy Ukrainski, then an inhabitants of Belzec, recalls:.. "After ending the cremations in Belzec of the dead, transports with naked Jews went through the train-station of Belzec They came from the direction of Rawa Rustka and went to Sobibor. It often happened that some naked Jews jumped from these trains to escape.They were caught, taken to the former camp and buried there after being shot.
A possible reason for the closure of the camp could be that Belzec was intended as a holding centre for transports from Romania. In Sommer1942 the Government of Germany and Romania had negotiated and agreed the deportation of 200,000 Jews from the Altreich, the "Regat" . These should have been accommodated at Belzec, a precise timetable had been drawn up. However, the Romanian government as from September 1942 did not meet the agreed transportation of Jews.
Another reason for the termination of transports to Belzec was the lack of space for more mass graves in the camp area. Belzec was one of the smallest extermination camps of "Aktion Reinhardt" by area. The whole camp was over seven hectares, the camp zone II with the gas chambers and the burial grounds took a little over four hectares. On this site had also 33 mass graves in late 1942 with hundreds of thousands dead. (104) There was no possible way to increase the camp. In the South it was bounded by the ramp and the railway line. In the West at a distance of 150-200 meters, were the first residential buildings. In the North it bordered on high and steep slopes of the Kozelsk-Hill. A little more space was to the East, but there was also slopes and swampy forests which made the site unsuitable and furthermore the village of Lubycza Krolewska was not far away. Maybe the contributing and unresolved question of what should happen with the thousand of additional dead bodies, to close at Belzec, was the main reason.
Ref :104-33 mass graves reported by Rudolf Reder, page 68 This has been confirmed by archaeological work in the years 1997-2000, see: Andrzej Kola, Belzec. The Nazi Camp for Jews in the Light of Archaeological Sources.Excavations 1997-1999, Warsaw /Washington, 2000, page 37[this claim is disputed by other writers and historians, see Thomas Kues: http://www.codoh.com/newrevoices/nrtkreder.html
|Reder’s map of Belzec, as reproduced by A. Kola.|
|Portion of a Polish map of the Tomaszow-Lubelski area, drawn in 1937. The approximate perimeter of the future camp has been marked in red, courtesy Thomas Kues|
INCINERATION OF THE DEAD
From mid-December 1942 to March 1943 corpses were exhumed on the former grounds of the camp and burned. In addition to the first funeral pyre, which was burning since November 1942, probably another two more were built which could also burn 2,000 bodies per day. The responsibility for the exhumation of the dead was that of the Jewish prisoners from the Sonderkommando and the Trawniki men. The fire burned for three months, day and night and poisoned with the stench the environment by dozens of Kilometres away. In the settlement of Tomaszow Lubelski-the smell was so strong that the people there at that time used handkerchiefs soaked in eau de cologne held against their noses when venturing outside.(105) [eau de cologne (4711) was hardly available in Germany, but in remote Poland, an unlikely story sic.] In Rawa Ruska,which was 14 Kilometres away from Belzec, at night time you could see the glow of the bonfire. Also, depending on the weather conditions the stench of burnt corpses in Belzec was evident, sometimes the wind drove even human hair into their direction (106). Stanislaw Kozak, who was involved in the construction of the first barracks at Belzec, recalls: "At the end of autumn they did not bring any more Jews to Belzec. Then they brought in large cranes into the death camp to take out the buried human bodies of the murdered Jews out of the pits. The broken corpses were piled on a pyre and they doused them with a liquid. Two or three fires burned simultaneously. Belzec was at this time a place of a terrible smell of rotting corpses, and burnt human remains. The stench and smell was terrible and this was 15 Kilometres away. The cremation lasted for three months without a break".(107)
Ref :105-Statement Wladyslawa G. 17/12/1959 in BArch Ludwigsburg, B 162/208 Vol.3 page 404
Ref: 107- Testimony of Stanislaw Kozak, in APMM, photocopies, Sign 1284, OKBL, Ds. 1604/45
Bones that had not completely incinerated were ground with a bone mill, [this looked like a concrete mixer and had ball bearings inside and crushed the bones.sic] which the Germans had received from the labour camp at Janowska Sraße in Lemberg. To this end, they also confiscated small flour mills from prosperous farmers around Belzec and environment.
In late February / early March 1943, there was a mass escape of Trawniki men from the camp. A group of 15 guards, led by Ivan Woloszyn fled from their barracks and took weapons and ammunition with them. The group joined a Soviet partisan unit that operated in the vicinity. In response to the escape, and set an example [this was a typical measure of the SS.sic] the Germans shot 17 "askaris" who most likely were completely innocent. The other, most of whom had served right from the beginning at Belzec, were sent back to the SS training camp of Trawniki, only the leaders remained. In their place came a new group of security guards which was made up mainly of Ukrainians from the district of Galicia, who were especially loyal towards the Germans and readily accepted the national socialistic dogma. Earlier on, there had been other desertions from Belzec. In the summer of 1942 six security guards who had just come to Belzec made an attempt to flee after a week of service duties. They probably had informed and invited one of the Jewish prisoners and offered him to escape with the group, however, they were betrayed and shot in July 1942 on the camp grounds. Ivan Woloszyn survived the war and gave evidence1965/1966 in the Ukraine during the proceedings against guards from Belzec..His escape was well known to the inhabitants of Belzec and apparently was celebrated with glee.
End of March to June 1943 the Belzec camp was entirely dismantled. The gas chambers were completely destroyed, the barracks and other usable parts removed and sent to Lublin. The site was levelled and young pine trees were planted, so that no trace remained of the crimes committed here.
By the end of June 1943, the Germans, put the last prisoners of the Sonderkommando into a freight train in the direction of Sobibor. Former members of the SS camp personnel testified after the war, they had not intended to shoot the last inmates there at Belsec, because they anticipated an uprising of the prisoners and afraid of this as soon as the first shot would have been fired. The Jewish prisoners were fully aware of their fate and what was in store for them and tried to save themselves by jumping out of the wagons. As early as Zwierzyniec near Belzec the Germans were shooting at fleeing prisoners. However, some managed to escape, for example, Chaim Hirszman,, the second Belsec inmate who survived the war. Also Sylko Herc who was from Krakau fled from this Transport. From his time as a Capo in Belzec he knew some of the inhabitants of the village and therefore went back first to Belzec. Then he went on his way to Krakau, where his wife and children were hiding. Whether he ever got there is unknown. The prisoners who had not attempted to flee on their way, threw themselves upon arrival in Sobibor, onto the Germans or fled respectively in different directions. All of them were apprehended and shot. The Germans had as a precautionary measure no other prisoner at the ramp to assist during disembarking. The Sobibor prisoners learned only during the sorting of the clothes from the victims by hidden messages, that the Jewish prisoners had come from Belzec.(112) [Chaim Hirszman survived the war but was killed in 1946 by Polish anti-Semites.sic]
Ref.:112-Thomas Toivi Blatt, From the Ashes of Sobibor, A Story of Survival, Evanston 1997, page 113
The abandoned camp area was now a magnet for residents of Belzec and the surrounding area who were digging there for valuables and gold. Upon learning this after the evacuation the SS garrison went back to Belzec and levelled the terrain again. To further secure and make it impossible for the civilian population to enter the old camp site, the SS had created a farm on which an ethnic German (Volksdeutscher) was managing. He lived there until July 1944 and then fled before the Red Army.
One part of the transport documents remained at the Belzec train station. These were mainly track documents that most likely contained information about the size of transports and number of persons that went into the camp. They were destroyed, as well as the Station Building at the beginning of July 1944, when a German ammunition train was bombed by a Soviet aircraft.
NUMBER OF VICTIMS
Since there are no contemporary documents regarding the extermination camp at Belzec, to date, the exact number of victims that died can not be established. Also the identity of some victims' groups can only be discussed as there were a number of different nationalities. The Germans set up the camp, originally and especially for the killing of Jews. There is some evidence that there were non-Jewish Poles,and Roma that have been eliminated. The first estimates of the casualties had been used from the investigation of the Lublin District Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in the years 1945 and 1946 under the Chairmanship of Judge Eugeniusz Szrojt. He mentioned a figure of about 600,000 people murdered at Belzec, which has been quoted in historical literature for many years. (115) In the 60s and 70s there were two studies on the number of deaths in the camps of "Aktion Reihardt". These studies were based solely on estimates alone. Wolfgang Scheffler calculated as a consultant for the West German criminal process in 1971, the number of deported people to extermination camps of "Aktion Reihardt". He came to the conclusion that 447442 people, mostly Jews from Poland, but also from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, were deported to Belzec. According to his calculation this included around 30710 non-Polish Jews who were mostly in transit ghettos in the Lublin district that perished in Belzec. (116) In many other ghettos, especially in major cities such as Krakau, Lemberg, Stanislawow Tarnopol, Rzeszow or Lublin, lived large groups of Jewish refugees who were from the German Reich who had fled prior to1939 via Czechoslovakia. Their number can now only be found with difficulty. In and around Stanislawow lived several thousand Hungarian Jews who were expelled in 1941 from the Carpathian-Ukraine, some of them certainly died in Belzec, we will never know.
Polish researchers also came up in the 70s to the realisation that in Belzec less than 600,000 people had been murdered. In their publications, the number of 500,000 victims appeared (117) in the early 90s, the Polish historian Josef Marszalek published a new estimate on the basis that 141 transports were sent to Belzec with an average of 3425 persons in them. He arrived at a total of 483 000 victims (118)
Fresh impetus for a more precise calculations of the number of victims was the discovery of a decrypted British secret radio message from Hermann Höfle, who reported valid information on January 11, 1943, to Adolf Eichmann in the Jewish Section of the Reich Security Main Office on the transports of Jews during the activities of "Aktion Reinhardt". This document had been preserved in the Public Record Office in Kew, England, and only released in the year 2000. In this (Höfle) indicates that until 31 December 1942 a total of 434 508 Jews were deported to Belzec. (119) The accuracy of the number in this document (including in relation to the camps at Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek) is astonishing. It can be assumed that the Germans had a system were data was transmitted on the basis of these exact numbers. Maybe there was a web of inter-connecting sections that collated documents or reports from local police departments that reported the number of deportees into each extermination camp.
Little is known about the number of Polish and Roma victims. The first calculations of researcher Eugenisz Szrojt contained the information that about 1,500 Poles had been killed at Belzec, most of them, because they had helped persecuted Jews. His calculations are founded solely on the testimony of the rail-road worker Stefan Kisz from Rawa Ruska, who also gave varied statements during several months of investigations between 1945 and 1946 (120) Other witnesses from Belzec were cautious with their statements. They said that there had been individual Poles in the transports, and that few people had been shot in the camp grounds who were very interested in what happens behind the barbed wire. No one tried to estimate the number of victims. (121)
It was rumoured that during the night when no combustion reactions was taking place in the gas chamber, trucks were brought in with Polish prisoners and shot at the camp grounds. (122) This was neither confirmed by the German perpetrators nor the members of the Trawniki guards, who after the war had been convicted in the Soviet Union. (123) One can therefore assume that Poles died in Belzec, but certainly not in numerical large groups.
Even less is known about the Roma. Only a security guard testified that he had witnessed during the first phase of the camp two groups of Roma who had been shot comprising of eight to ten people in the camp by SS Sergeant Kurt Franz and the platoon commander of the Trawniki men Schmidt. (124) The other investigation of 1945 and 1946 showed only a statement of a women resident, who mentioned an arrival of Roma's at Belzec: "In 1942 I went along the road of Rawa Ruska to Belzec and watched as the Germans in two cars with Gypsies in them drove into the camp, they begged on their knees to be released". (125) This source of information is dubious and gives no other indication as to the number of people involved, thus a figure of how many Roma died at Belzec can not be ascertained.
Ref: 115 - Eugeniusz Szrojt, the extermination camp at Belzec Vol.3 (1947), page 43f. Upon Szrojts this figure is quoted in writings by: Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, page 127.The number 600 000 deaths was used also as a basis in a Munich court during the trial against Josef Oberhauser.
Ref :116-BArch Ludwigsburg, B 162/208, page investigation of Karl Streibel, Michael Janczek, Erwin Mittrach, Theodor Penziok, Kurt Reinberger and Joseph Napieralle, Vol.4 page 43
Ref :117-Czeslaw Madajczyk, The Politics of the Third Reich in occupied Polen.Vol 2 page 343
Ref :118-Josef Marszalek, the system of death camps in the General Government and its functions, page 33
Ref: 119 - Peter Witte/Stephen Tyas, A New Document on the Deportation and Murder of Jews during "Operation Reinhardt" 1942 page 469f
Ref :120- Statements by Stefan Kirsz on 15.10.1945 and 20/02/1946: APMM, photocopies Sign 1284
Ref :121-Eustachy Ukrainski statement, on 11.101945: APMM, photocopies, Sign 1284
Ref: 122 - Interview with Wladyslaw Brogowski 29.4.2007 in AMMPB
Ref: 123 -Statement Nikita Mamczur 03/10/1966 in: StA Munich, StanW 33033/32. Statements of Trawniki-guards and their activities at Belzec, Page 263
Ref :124-statement Mitrofan Klöz, 07/09/1965, in ibid, page 105
Ref :125-statement Mary Daniel, 10/11/1945, in APMM, Fotocopy, Sign 1284, OKBL, Ds. 1604/45
continued under PART 7