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Newsgroups: alt.revisionism
Subject: Yad Vashem Studies XVI:  Operation Reinhard (6/11)
Summary: Belzec, from March 17 til June 1942
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Nizkor Project, Vancouver Island, CANADA
Keywords: Yad Vashem,belzec,sobibor,treblinka
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X-FAQ: http://www.nizkor.org/faqs/reinhard/
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Archive/File: orgs/israeli/yad-vashem/yvs16.06
Last-modified: 1993/03/29
XRef: yad_vashem index

                       YAD VASHEM STUDIES
                              XVI
                     Edited by Aharon Weiss

                          YAD VASHEM
           MARTYR'S AND HEROES' REMEMBRANCE AUTHORITY
                        JERUSALEM 1984

                     "Operation Reinhard": 
       Extermination Camps of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka

                          Yitzhak Arad 
               Belzec -- from March 17 till June 1942 

   Organized mass extermination began with the deportation of the Jews
   of Lublin on March 17,1942.  This date marks the actual onset of
   Operation Reinhard.

   When the train entered Belzec station, its 40-60 freight cars were
   rearranged into several separate transports because the reception
   capacity inside the camp was 20 cars at the most.  Only after a set
   of cars had been unloaded and sent back empty was another section of
   the transport driven into the camp.  The accompanying security guards
   as well as the German and Polish railroad personnel were forbidden to
   enter the camp.  (See note 6 )

   The train was brought into the camp by a specially selected and
   reliable team of railroad workers.  According to the concept of the
   extermination process, the procedure was as follows:

   The camp looked "peaceful." The victims were unable to discern either
   graves, ditches or gas chambers.  They were led to believe that they
   had arrived at a transit camp.  An SS-man strengthened this belief by
   announcing that they were to undress and go to the baths in order to
   wash and be disinfected.  They were also told that afterwards they
   would receive clean clothes and be sent on to a work camp.

   Separation of the sexes, undressing, and even the cropping of the
   women's hair could not but reinforce the impression that they were on
   their way to the baths.  First the men were led into the gas
   chambers, before they were able to guess what was going on; then it
   was the turn of the women and children.  (StA Munich 1, AZ. 22 Js
   68/61, pp. 2625 f.)

   The gas chambers resembled baths.  A group of young and strong Jews,
   a few dozen, occasionally even a hundred, was usually selected during
   the unloading of a transport.  Most of them were taken to Camp II.
   They were forced to drag the corpses from the gas chambers and to
   carry them to the open ditches.  Several prisoners were employed in
   collecting the victims' clothes and belongings and carrying them to
   the sorting point. Others had to remove from the train those who had
   died during the transport and to take those unable to walk to the
   ditches in Camp II.  These Jews were organized into work teams with
   their own Capos.  They did this work for a few days or weeks.  Each
   day some of them were killed and replaced by new arrivals.

   SS-man Karl Alfred Schluch, a former "Euthanasia" worker, who spent
   ca. sixteen months in Belzec from the very beginning, described what
   else happened to the transports inside the camp: 

      The unloading of the freight cars was carried out by a Jewish work
      commando, headed by a Capo. Two to three members of the German
      camp personnel supervised it. It was one of my duties to
      supervise here.  After the unloading, those Jews able to walk had
      to make their way to the assembly site. During the unloading the
      Jews were told that they had come for resettlement but that first
      they had to be bathed and disinfected. The address was given by
      Wirth, and also by his interpreter, a Jewish Capo. Immediately
      after this, the Jews were led to the undressing huts. In one hut
      the men had to undress and in the other the women and children.
      After they had stripped, the Jews, the men having been separated
      from the women and children, were led through the tube. I cannot
      recall with certainty who supervised the undressing huts... Since
      I was never on duty there I am unable to provide precise details
      about the stripping process. I just seem to remember that in the
      undressing hut some articles of clothing had to be left in one
      place, others in a different one, and in a third place valuables
      had to be handed over...  

      My location in the tube was in the immediate vicinity of the
      undressing hut. Wirth had stationed me there because he thought
      me capable of having a calming effect on the Jews.  After the Jews
      left the undressing hut I had to direct them to the gas chamber.
      I believe that I eased the way there for the Jews because they
      must have been convinced by my words or gestures that they really
      were going to be bathed.  After the Jews had entered the gas
      chambers the doors were securely locked by Hackenholt himself or
      by the Ukrainians assigned to him.  Thereupon Hackenholt started
      the engine with which the gassing was carried out. After 5 - 7
      minutes -- and I merely estimate this interval of time -- someone
      looked through a peephole into the gas chamber to ascertain
      whether death had overtaken them all. Only then were the outside
      gates opened and the gas chambers aired. Who did the checking,
      that is to say, who looked through the peephole? I can no longer
      say with any certainty...  In my view, probably everyone had
      occasion to look through the peephole.  After the gas chambers had
      been aired, a Jewish work commando headed by a Capo, arrived and
      removed the coryses.  Occasionally, I also had to supervise in
      this place.  I can therefore give an exact description of what
      happened, because I myself wimessed and experienced it all.  The
      Jews had been very tightly squeezed into the gas chambers.  For
      this reason the corpses did not lie on the floor but were caught
      this way and that, one bent forward, another one backward, one lay
      on his side another kneeled, all depending on the space.  At least
      some of the corpses were soiled with feces and urine, others
      partly with saliva.  I could see that the lips and tips of the
      noses of some of the corpses had taken on a bluish tint.  Some had
      their eyes closed, with others the eyes were turned up.  The
      corpses were pulled out of the chambers and immediately examined
      by a dentist.  The dentist removed rings and extracted gold teeth
      when there were any.  He threw the objects of value obtained in
      this manner into a cardboard box which stood there.  After this
      procedure the corpses were thrown into the large graves there.
      (See note 6 )

   It is difficult to establish exactly how many of the gas chambers
   were in operation during the first three months of the mass
   extermination in Belzec.  At times not all three gas chambers
   functioned because of technical problems or actual defects.  

   Problems also arose with the burial of the victims.  When a ditch was
   filled with corpses, it was covered with a thin layer of soil.  As a
   result of the heat, the decomposition process, and sometimes also
   because water seeped into the ditches, the bodies swelled up and the
   thin layer of soil burst open.

   Those no longer able to walk were led directly to the ditch where
   they were shot.  Robert Juhrs, an SS-man who started his service in
   Belzec in the summer of 1942, described how such shootings were
   conducted: 

      At the beginning of the autumn of 1942, upon the arrival of a
      largish transport, I was assigned to the unloading site.

      On this transport the freight cars had been seriously overcrowded,
      and many Jews were unable to walk.  It is Possible that in the
      confusion a number of Jews had been pushed onto the floor and
      trampled on.  In any case, there were Jews who could not possibly
      have walked via the undressing huts.  As usual, Hering also turned
      up here for the unloading.  He ordered me to shoot these Jews...

      The Jews in question were taken to the gate by the Jewish work
      commando and from there conveyed to the ditch by other working
      Jews.  As I recall, there were seven Jews, both men and women, who
      were laid inside the ditch.

      At this point I should like to stress that the victims concerned
      were those persons who had suffered most severely from the
      transport.  I would say that they were more dead than alive.  It
      is hard to describe the condition of these people after the long
      journey in the indescribably overcrowded freight cars.  I looked
      upon killing these people in that manner as a kindness and a
      release.  (See note 6 )

   The first large Jewish community taken to Belzec for extermination
   came from Lublin.  Within four weeks, from March 17 to April 14,
   close to 30,000 of the 37,000 inhabitants of the ghetto were deported
   to Belzec.  Within the same period of time an additional 18,000 -
   20,000 Jews from the Lublin Bezirk were sent to Belzec.  

   The first Jewish transport from the Lvov Bezirk came from Zolkiew, a
   town 50 km.  southwest of Belzec.  This transport consisted of
   approximately 700 Jews and reached Belzec on March 25 or 26,1942.
   Subsequently, within the two weeks up to April 6, 1942, some 30,000
   other Jews from the Lvov Bezirk arrived in Belzec.

   After 80,000 Jews had been murdered in a major operation, which
   lasted about four weeks, the transports were discontinued.  Toward
   the end of April or the beginning of May 1942, Wirth and his SS-men
   left the camp.

   At the beginning of May 1942 SS-Oberfuehrer Brack from Berlin visited
   Globocnik in Lublin.  Globocnik requested the return of Wirth and his
   staff, and also asked for additional personnel from the "Euthanasia"
   program.

   In mid-May 1942 Wirth returned to Belzec.  Until the end of June more
   transports arrived from the Lublin and Krakow districts with about
   22,000 Jews.

   With the onset of the deportations from the Bezirks of Cracow, Lvov,
   and Lublin, Wirth realized that the wooden gas chambers could not
   cope with the arrival of the increasing number of victirns.
   Deportations to Belzec therefore ceased in mid-June 1942, while new
   gas chambers were being built there.  This concluded the first period
   of the operation in Belzec.  


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