The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Operation Reinhard:
Geographic Location: Belzec

The first camp, Belzec, was located on the Lublin-Lvov railroad line, and built between November 1941 and March of 1942. The killing, of Jews from Krakow and Lvov districts, began on March 17, 1942. (Note: Breitman states that the first SS men showed up at Belzec in October of 1941, to begin recruitment of laborers for construction. (Request Yad_Vashem yvs16.03 for construction details.)

Breitman says:

Belzec was the first pure extermination camp to begin operations in the region. There were only a few hundred worker Jews there (at a time), most used in the killing facilities or in the recovery of clothing and items of value from the dead. The first SS men showed up at Belzec in October 1941 to recruit construction workers to build the facilities. Himmler's office had reported Globocnik's progress to Oswald Pohl, head of what soon became the SS Economic-Administrative Main Office (WVHA), preparing Pohl for cooperation with Globocnik. Pohl's office had reported to Himmler that it could no longer obtain sufficient clothing or textiles for the Waffen-SS and the concentration camps. Himmler replied that he could make available a large mass of raw materials for clothing, and he gave Globocnik responsibility for delivering them.
[On Belzec, see Adalbert Rückerl, ed., NS Vernichtungslager im Spiegel deutscher Strafprozesse (Munich, 1978), 132-45; Hilberg, Destruction, III, 875-76. Brandt's daily log, with telephone calls 15 Oct., to Pohl, report on Globocnik; 17 Oct., to Pohl, report on Globocnik; 20 Oct., to Pohl, work with Globocnik, all NA RG 242, T-581/R 39A. On the nature of the cooperation and the textiles, interrogation of Georg Loener, 20 Sept. 1947, NA RG 238, M-1019/R 42/946. Loener dated these events "approximately 1941." Brandt's log notations (see above) pin this down to Oct. 1941. Arad Belzec, 24-25.]

Their owners were not likely to object. The gassing at Belzec began in March 1942 under the supervision of its first commandant, Christian Wirth. Ninety-one others from the Führer Chancellery who had worked with him on euthanasia gassings ended up at Belzec, Sobibor, or Treblinka--all of which were designed to gas Jews and were under Globocnik's supervision. The gassing experts lived separately from the other SS and police, and they were not carried on the list of Globocnik's regular troops. (Arad, Belzec, 24-25, 17. Interrogation of Johann Sporrenberg, 2 Sept. 1945, Globocnik file, U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, obtained through Freedom of Information Act.)

Before gas chambers were constructed, there was plenty that Globocnik could do with more traditional methods of killing. In October 1941 Captain Kleinschmidt, the company leader of a transport unit, came to the barracks in Lublin and ordered fifteen men to go with him. Each of the fifteen was given a truck and had to drive it to the concentration camp nearby. There they loaded about thirty on each of the fifteen trucks--a total of about 450 Jews--and carried them to an abandoned airport located approximately twenty-five miles from Lublin. The prisoners had to dig ditches six cubic meters in size.

After finishing the ditches, ten of the victims took off their clothes and were given corrugated-paper shirts reaching halfway down the thighs. The bottoms of the ditches were lined with straw. The victims were ordered, ten at a time, to lie in the ditches, alternately head to foot.

Then Globocnik's men threw hand grenades into the ditches, and heads, arms, and legs quickly filled the air. The troops shot anyone still moving after the explosion. Then they spread lime over the remains, and a new layer of straw was spread on top of the lime. Three or four layers of bodies, ten in each layer, were placed in such a grave. During the executions the other victims had to watch and await their turn.

Women were kicked in the stomach and breasts, children smashed against rocks. According to an eyewitness to this particular episode, Globocnik's men killed approximately seventy-five thousand Jews in this general manner (Commanding General, Eighth Service Command, ASF Dallas, to Provost Marshal, 21 May 1945, account of Willi Kempf, POW, NA RG 153, entry 143, box 571, folder 19-99.) Apart from the sadistic killings by hand, it was about as far as one could go in streamlining the process of mass murder without more advanced technology. (Breitman, 198-201).

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