The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Operation Reinhard
The Extermination Camps
of
Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka

The Liquidation of the Camps


Himmler's order of July 19, 1942, stipulated that the deportations from the General Government were to be concluded by December 31, 1942. A limited number of Jews were to be kept back for work in the assembly camps (Sammellager). On November 10, 1942, Kruger, the Supreme SS- and Police Chief of the General Government, decreed the places where the employed Jews and their families were to remain in the ghettoes and camps. By the end of 1942, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish population in the General Government had been annihilated. The continued operation of the three special extermination camps was therefore no longer required. At the time Auschwitz-Birkenau increased its extermination capacity, taking in

Belzec was the first camp where the exterminations were stopped -- at the beginning of December 1942. The camp continued to operate till March 1943, and in this final phase the mass graves were opened and the corpses incinerated. During this period the gas chambers and other buildings were destroyed. The Jewish prisoners were taken from

The dismantlement of Treblinka began after Himmler's visit to the headquarters of Operation Reinhard and to the death camps at the end of February--beginning of March 1943. Prior to that 800,000 victims still had to be exhumed and incinerated and also other work still needed to be done in order to obliterate all traces. In March and April 1943 several transports continued to arrive from the destroyed Warsaw ghetto, from Yugoslavia and from Greece, but this hardly delayed the razing of the camp.

The revolt of the Jewish prisoners in Treblinka on August 2, 1943, occurred in the final phase of the camp's existence and speeded up its liquidation. On August 18 and 19 the last two transports from the ghetto of Bialystok, with 8,000 victims, arrived in Treblinka.

On July 5, 1943, shortly before the dispatch of the last transports of Dutch Jews, Himmler decreed that the Sobibor extermination camp was to be converted into a concentration camp where captured arms

were to be stored and processed. While the exterminations continued there on a smaller scale, and in September 1943 transports still arrived from the East, a start was made on the construction of munitions' camps. However, even before the conversion from extermination to concentration camp was completed, the revolt of the Jewish prisoners on October 14, 1943, put an end to the Sobibor camp.

At the end of August 1943, Globocnik was appointed Supreme SS- and Police Chief of Istria, in the region of Trieste. Wirth, Stangl, and the majority of the German personnel from the extermination camps were transferred there together with him. With Globocnik's departure, Operation Reinhard came to an end, as he confirmed in a letter to Himrnler from Trieste dated November 4, 1943: On October 10, 1943, I concluded Operation Reinhard which I had conducted in the General Goverment and have liquidated all camps. (Nuremberg Document 4042-PS.) A few SS-men and Ukrainians remained in the extermination camps. In Treblinka even a group of Jewish prisoners was left behind in order to dismantle the huts, fences, and other camp installations. After completion of this work, on November 17, 1943, the last group of Jewish prisoners was shot in Treblinka.

The terrain of the former extermination camps was ploughed up, trees were planted, and peaceful-looking farm steads constructed. A number of Ukrainians from the camp commandos settled there. No traces whatsoever were to remain which might bear witness to the atrocities committed in Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, and to which, according to a conservative estimate, ca. 1,700,000 human beings had fallen victim. Written records had been extensively destroyed as early as the end of 1943. (See note 3.)

Nevertheless, in the postwar interrogations initiated by the German Federal Republic in order to investigate and criminally prosecute former members of the German personnel of these extermination camps, all the people questioned in these proceedings, without exception, irrespective of whether they had at the time spent a prolonged or only a short period in or near one of the camps, testified to the existence and the operation of the gas chambers installed there for the purpose of killing people. In isolated cases, those accused of direct involvement in the mass murders denied their participation in especially extreme acts. However, they did not deny the extermination of Jews and Gypsies in the gas chambers. Moreover, quite independently of one another, they invariably gave detailed descriptions of the purpose of the camps and of the murderous procedures which had been practiced there.

According to Polish official publications based on the data of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland and the trials of Nazi war crimminals, the total number of victims killed in Treblinka was 850,000, (Yitzhak Arad, Treblinka, Hell and Revolt <Hebrew>, Tel Aviv, 1983, pp 261-265.) in Belzec -- 600,000 and in Sobibor -- 250,000. (Glowna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce, 'Obozy hitlerowskie na ziemlach polskich 1939-1945', Warszawa, 1979, p. 94 <Belzec>, p. 462 <Sobibor>)

This completes the Operation Reinhard section of the Yad Vashem Studies (XVI). To obtain the complete volume, contact Rubin Mass Ltd. P.O.B. 990, Jerusalem 91009, Israel. The 1991 price, in $US, for Yad Vashem Studies XVI, was $20.00 - this price may no longer be accurate, so I advise you to contact them first.


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