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the Final Solution & the Massacres of the Jews

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Sarah
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« on: February 09, 2007, 10:42:50 pm »

Belzec extermination camp

Bełżec was the first of the Nazi German extermination camps created for implementing Operation Reinhard during the Holocaust. Operating in 1942, the camp was situated in occupied Poland about half a mile south of the local railroad station Belzec in the Lublin district of the General Government. At least 434,508 Jews died at Belzec, and only two Jews are known to have survived Belzec: Rudolf Reder and Chaim Herszman. The lack of survivors may be the reason why this camp is so little known despite its huge number of victims.

The wooden gas chambers were disguised as the barracks and showers of a labor camp, so that the victims would not realize the true purpose of the site, and the process was conducted as quickly as possible: people were forced to run from the trains to the gas chambers, leaving them no time to absorb where they were or to plan a revolt. Finally, a handful of Jews were selected to perform all the manual work involved with extermination (removing the bodies from the gas chambers, burying them, sorting and repairing the victims' clothing, etc.). The extermination process itself was conducted by Hackenholt, Ukrainian guards, and a Jewish aide. The Jewish Sonderkommandos were killed periodically and replaced by new arrivals, so that they would not organize in a revolt either.

There were many technical difficulties in this first attempt at mass extermination. The gas chamber mechanisms were problematic, and usually only one or two were working at any given time, causing a backlog. Furthermore, the corpses were buried in pits covered with only a narrow layer of earth. The bodies often swelled in the heat as a result of putrefaction and the escape of gases, and the covering of earth split. This latter problem was corrected in other death camps with the introduction of crematoria.

It was soon realized that the original three gas chambers were insufficient for completing the task at hand, especially with the growing number of arrivals from Kraków and Lvov. A new complex with six gas chambers made of concrete, each 4 x 4 or 5 meters, was erected, the wooden gas chambers were dismantled. The new facility, which could handle over 1,000 victims at a time, was imitated by the other two Operation Reinhard extermination camps: Sobibór and Treblinka. In December 1942, the last shipment of Jews arrived in Belzec. By that time, the Jews in the area served by Belzec had been almost entirely exterminated, and it was felt that the new facilities under construction at Auschwitz-Birkenau could handle the rest.

Death toll

After the war, Eugeniusz Strojt in an article in the Bulletin of the Main Commission for Investigation of the German Crimes in Poland, estimated the people murdered in Belzec as 600,000. This number became widely accepted in literature. Raul Hilberg gave a figure of 550,000. Y. Arad accepted 600,000 as minimum, and the sum in his table of Belzec deportations exceeded 500,000. J. Marszalek calculated 500,000. Robin O'Neil once gave an estimate of about 800,000. Dieter Pohl and Peter Witte gave estimate of 480,000 to 540,000. Michael Tregenza wrote of possible 1,000,000 victims.

The crucial piece of evidence in the debate was published in 2001 by Stephen Tyas and Peter Witte. It was a telegram sent by Hermann Hoefle, Operation Reinhard's Chief of Staff, which indicates that 434,508 Jews were killed in Belzec through December 31, 1942.

The difference between this "low-end" figure and other estimates can be explained by the lack of exact and detailed sources on the deportations statisics. Thus, Y. Arad writes, that he had to rely, in part, on Yizkor books, which were not guaranteed to give the exact estimates of the numbers of deportees. He also had to rely on partial German railway documentation, from the numbers of trains could be gleaned. But here also assumptions had to be made about the number of persons per train. Considering the vagueness of primary sources, many old scholarly estimates are not far off the mark.

It should also be noted that it is not completely clear whether the Jews who died in transit are included in the final sum. Considering the aim of compiling such a statistic (which was to know the overall number of the victims of the "Final Solution" - Hoefle's numbers were used in Korherr's report) they probably were included. Also, the sources like Westermann's report[1] contain the exact data about the number of deported persons, but only estimates of the numbers of those who died in transit, the fact which also hints that they were included in the final sum, because it would be hard for the authorities in Belzec to learn the exact number of those murdered, exlucing the dead in transport. Nevertheless, there is no final clarity in this question.

Remains of the camp
As was the case in all of the extermination camps, the Nazis tried to hide or destroy evidence at the end of the war. Bodies were dug up and then crushed and cremated, and the camp was systematically dismantled. From late 1997 until early 1998, a thorough archaelogical survey of the site was conducted as there was no memorial yet at the site. The survey was headed by Andrzej Kola, director of the Underwater Archaeological Department at the University of Torun, and Mieczyslaw Gora, senior curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Lodz. The team identified the railway sidings and remains of a number of buildings. They also found 33 mass graves, the largest of which were 210 by 60 feet. The team estimated that they had found 15,000 unburned bodies, and "The largest mass graves ... contained unburned human remains (parts and pieces of skulls with hair and skin attached). The bottom layer of the graves consisted of several inches thick of black human fat. One grave contained uncrushed human bones so closely packed that the drill could not penetrate." (Archeologists reveal new secrets of Holocaust, Reuters News, 21 July 1998)

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belzec_extermination_camp
« Last Edit: February 09, 2007, 10:59:08 pm by Sarah » Report Spam   Logged

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