|1. Unloading platform. 2. Red brick walls faced with concrete.
3. Doors to gas chamber. 4. Concrete roof covered in tar paper.
5. Gas engines. 6. Gas pipe. 7. Shower heads. 8. Locking bar.
9. Wooden unloading doors. 10. Entrance and steps to corridor
The newly built gas chambers, measuring 15 m long x 10m wide, contained six gassing rooms of approximately 4 m x 8 m capable of holding 750 people simultaneously in each chamber. Similar modifications were also made at Sobibór, where Stangl was also experiencing problems. To keep the transports moving, Stangl's new gassing barrack was also increased to six chambers and built next to the original gas chambers which were kept commissioned during the re-building operation. These improvements in capacity now opened the way to the maximum 'resettlement' period in all three-death camps. Reder states that on both sides of the building, grave pits had been dug and that the dead bodies were manhandled to the pits. There is no reference to a narrow gauge railway for the second phase gas chambers.
When SS-Scharführer Hans Girtzig arrived at Belzec he was appointed Quartermaster (procured provisions). It was only after his posting that he became fully aware of Belzec's purpose. When Wirth ordered him to the Ramp to unload Jewish 'resettlement' transports, he refused. Wirth detained him, locked him under guard in his quarters, and threatened to send him to a KZ. Girtzig maintained his position and invited the KZ option. What Wirth would have eventually decided to do with Girtzig is not known, but the situation was saved for both men with the arrival at the camp of the T4 managing director, Dieter Allers. Allers calmed the situation by advising Girtzig to hold-on, as Wirth would be leaving the camp very shortly. Wirth did in fact leave two days later, when he was appointed Inspector of Reinhardt camps. The interesting point here, is that Girtzig, having won the moral argument with Wirth, was very soon after integrated into the full extermination process by Hering, Wirth's successor. Therefore, despite efforts to maintain the so-called moral high ground, the individual soon succumbed to involvement in daily mass murder.
Even Wirth's protégé, the guard/cook, SS-Scharführer Kurt Franz (see chapter 5), could not escape vindictive attention. During the early spring gassings (1942) the pits overflowed and Wirth ordered his favored NCOs, Franz and Hackenholt, to clear the pile olf decomposing corpses. When they refused, Wirth attacked them with his whip and beat them into submission. For some months, Franz had become very friendly with his batman, the Ukrainian guard Piotr Alexejew. According to Franz, they thought alike and had the same views; much of their off-duty time was spent playing chess together.
When Franz returned from home leave in late July 1942, he learned that Hering had executed Alexejew, allegedly for involvement in partisan activities. Franz had strong words with Wirth and Hering and suggested that if Alexejew was a partisan, so was he. When Wirth decided to remove Franz from kitchen duties to take command of Camp II, the gassing area, Franz refused. Wirth immediately sent him to Treblinka as deputy commandant and replaced him with SS-Scharführer Reinhold Feix from the Trawniki training camp. The true reason for Alexejew's death was probably that the friendship had been viewed as a security risk by the leadership. Similar incidents occurred at Sobibór and Treblinka when SS men were entangled with Jews or Ukrainians.
A high-level conference convened between SS-Obergruppenführer Wolff (Himmler's chief-of-staff) and Dr. Ganzenmüller (Transport Minister) had the required result. Beginning July 22, 5,000 Jews would leave Warsaw twice weekly for Treblinka and another transport of 5,000 Jews would be deported on a similar schedule from Przemyl to Belzec. The euphoria of the SS was short-lived as other delays clogged up the works. This threatened to throw Himmler's calculations off course, particularly in December 1942, but by this time Belzec had ceased resettlement operations and the bulk of East Galician Jews were no more.
On July 19, 1942, an order issued by the HHE and personally signed by Himmler ordered the resettlement of all Jews in the General Government and that the expulsions should be completed by December 31,1942. The only dissenting voices to be heard came from the military, who argued successfully that losing all Jews would compromise urgent war production and present critical labor problems. Himmler's answer came in a memorandum to General von Gienanth on October 9,1942, amending his previous order but stipulating certain conditions be adhered to without exception. As the result of this turn-about, there was a flurry of communications between the military and the SS trying to substantiate their claims for Jewish labor. For the Galician Jews, this was a respite, but only a temporary one.
The whole question of labor versus destruction was manifested in different guises. Intercepted radio decodes for October 1942 indicate that Hoess in Auschwitz was so concerned that his source of suitable labor was being hijacked from deportation trains (en route for extermination) from 'Polo-Czech-Neiderländischen' that he complained to Eichmann. Hoess requested that the deportation trains not stop at Kosel (Kozle) but rather proceed directly to Auschwitz. The fight for supremacy over 'labor' was a constant source of infighting and common during this period. Apparently, SS- Brigadeführer Albrecht Schmelt (Kattowitz), encouraged by Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and Munitions, was intercepting deportation transports and removing fit Jews to work in the steel and coal industries.
On August 22,1942, British Intelligence intercepted German radio transmissions regarding invitations sent from the WVHA to selected officers to attend a conference on August 28 at the RSHA Berlin (Kurfürstenstrasse 116). This was Eichmann's address - IV B4, Jewish Affairs Dept. of the RSHA in Berlin. Those who attended included Eichmann, Hoess (Auschwitz), Pister (Buchenwald), et al. On August 24, radio decodes show Globocnik contacting SS-Sturmbannführer Rolf Günther (Eichmann's deputy 1V B4) about the evacuation of Romanian Jews, and that all deportation trains should be directed to Trawniki, from where further distribution would take place (to Belzec). A further conference on the deportation logistics did not take place until September 26-28, 1942, a month later. So, even here, plans for resettlements were being sealed in advance. However, on this occasion, unfortunately for Eichmann, at the last minute the Romanian rail representatives failed to attend the conference and the deportations never took place.
In September 1942, further deportations from areas previously targeted - Tarnopol, Zloczów, Sambor, Drohobycz, Czortków, Stanislawów, Styj and Kolomyja - rolled on continuously until the end of the year. The train timetable for the Kolomyja transport on September 10,1942 shows a number of intermediary stations between Kolomyja and Belzec. Each station en route was notified of all Jewish transports: 'PKR' (death train), showing the number of pieces (passengers). A further indication of the size of the transport was also shown by the entry: '50G - fünfzig Güterwagen' (50 goods wagons). After reaching Belzec, where the train was unloaded and readied for return, it was annotated on the railway documents as a 'Leerzug' (empty train). All scheduled times of arrival and departure for the incoming and return journey were shown. All 'special trains' were costed on the basis of so many pfennings per track-kilometer. On present day rail-line maps, the distance in kilometers is shown between stopping points (Lvóv - Rawa-Ruska, 137 km, Rawa-Ruska Belzec, 36 km, etc.). By the very nature of these special transports there were, of course, exceptional problems and costs. The policy of spreading lime in wagons before departure was a contributory factor to the number of deaths en route. As previously noted, 25% (2,000) of the Kolomyja transport of September 10 was dead on arrival at Belzec due to over-crowding and suffocation, and many Jews broke out of the wagons, causing serious damage to railway property. The cost of cleaning and repairing these wagons before the return journey was taken into account in the final reckoning invoiced to the RSHA in Berlin despite all this. When Claude Lanzmann interviewed Walter Stier, head of Abteilung 33 of the Reichsbahn (Dept. 33 0f the Reichsbahn) and the organizer of these transports for his documentary film Shoah, Stier stated that he had no idea of the purpose of these transports.
The SD, under the direct command of SS- Obersturmbannführer- Kriminalkommissar Peter Leideritz, received orders (probably by phone or personal contact with Krüger) and immediately instructed the district Arbeitsamt, the labor office in Kolomyja to draw up lists of the numbers to be 'resettled.' A large group of Jews, numbers to be confirmed, were booked for 'resettlement', leaving Kolomyja at 20:50 on the September 10, 1942. Leideritz also contacted his Sipo-SD counterparts in the adjoining districts of Kosów, Horodenka, Kuty, Obertyn, and Sniatyn, where the sweep would extend, and placed them on stand-by.
From experience gained in other 'resettled' localities, and precise knowledge of the number of Jews involved, Hans Krüger in Stanislawow ordered reinforcements of the Orpo (Ordnungspolizei) into the Kolomyja ghetto to assist his SD and resident Schupo in this particularly large resettlement operation. Thirty-five men of the Vienna Orpo arrived in Kolomyja on September 6 to augment the local security forces.Additional forces, including Reserve Police Regiment 7/24, arrived in Kolomyja on the September 6 with orders to sweep the district. The operation began on the morning of September 7 and lasted until the time of departure at 20:50 three days later.
Several groups of the security forces were involved in the big operation in Kolomyja, including two police detachments brought in from outside as back-up; and on August 31, Police Regiment 24 received orders from the Commander of the Orpo to assist with the Kolomyja transport. The local Schupo, operating in Kolomyja since about October 1941, and whose dutiessuch as policing in the town-- until now had been mundane, were also suitably placed to assist with the 'resettlement' operation. With the onset of the mass murder policies in the General Government, police duties widened to include ghetto operations, escorting victims to killing sites, and eventually personal involvement in the shooting of victims in other localities.
The majority of Jews marked down for this transport were already in the Kolomyja ghetto, where comprehensive lists of residents were kept. The officials of the labor office, who had a copy of the resident list, issued instructions to all Jews in the ghetto to report to the assembly area in the town square at 05:30 hours on September 7 for registration. At the designated time, 5,300 Jews reported as ordered; a further 600 were added, however, after an additional search of the ghetto, bringing the total to 5,900. The old and the sick were shot immediately after a brief selection, which reduced the total to 4,769. They were then marched to the station guarded by detachments of Jewish police and auxiliary personnel. With shouts of 'Jüdische Schweine!' ('Jewish Pigs!)' and with the help of horse whips, they loaded the Jews onto the transport waiting on a branch line away from the main traffic area. The number of Jews in each wagon was then chalked on the outside and the train finally sealed prior to departure.
In Germany and Czechoslovakia, in particular, many 'resettlement' transports left from regular Reichsbahn mainline railway stations; isolation of the transports was not unusual, however, as there are many reports of transports parked in out of the way locations, especially in the larger cities. In Kraków, for example, transports left from the suburban station at Plaszòw on a specially designated platform, well out of the way of the prying eyes of the local population. In East and West Galicia, the SD was not so sensitive and made whatever arrangements were available to them. During sweeps in the outer districts of Kolomyja, all manner of transport was used: third class railway carriages, motor and horse drawn transport, and even on foot, as we shall see.
Simultaneous to the Kolomyja round-ups, other selections were carried out in the towns of Horodenka and Sniatyn; thus, on September 10, a further 20 freight wagons loaded with several thousand Jews arrived in Kolomyja from these districts and were coupled to the transport already loaded and waiting in the siding. In addition, 1,500 Jews were force-marched through the streets Kosów, 35 km away, and from Kuty 50 km distant, in full view of the local population, to be added to the main transport. Several hundred others who were considered unfit to travel on the transport, or who had faltered on the marches, were taken out of line and shot.
The final loading and sealing of the transport was now complete and the average designated 100 Jews per wagon well exceeded. According to the official report of the supervising officer, 180-200 were crammed into each wagon. In his report of September 14, the officer commanding the escort guard unit refers to his loss of understanding as to how so many Jews could have been crammed into the 20 wagons from Horodenka and Sniatyn. He also refers to the great heat on that final day, the suffering the Jews must have experienced, the lack of provisions, the days of waiting in the airless wagons. It was a catastrophe, he remarked. Everything considered, it was indeed a catastrophe.
At 20:50, a second special unit of the Schupo led by Leutnant der Reserve Westermann! arrived and joined the Jewish resettlement transport for its journey to Belzec. Five were accommodated in a single passenger carriage at the front of the train and a further five in a carriage at the rear. The supervising officer, anticipating a potential security problem, ordered the guards to deploy along the whole length of the train and to take up positions on the roof and in the brake car. This procedure was adopted for the entire journey to deal with breakouts and, as it turned out, this was well advised:
On 9th September 1942 I received orders to take over command of the Jewish resettlement train, which was leaving Kolomyja for Belzec on 10th September 1942. On 10th September 1942 at 1930 hours in accordance with my orders, I took over command of the train together with an escort unit consisting of one officer and nine men at the railway yard in Kolomyja. The resettlement train was handed over to me by Hptw.d Schp (Schutzpolizei Hauptwachtmeister) Zitzmann. When it was handed over to me the train was already in a highly unsatisfactory state. Zitzmann had informed me of this fact when he handed it over to me. As the train had to depart to schedule and there was no other person who could take responsibility for loading on the Jews, there was nothing left for me to do but to take charge of the transport train in its unsatisfactory state. The condition of the train notwithstanding, the insufficient number of guards i.e. one officer to nine men in the escort unit would have been reason enough for me to refuse to take over command of the train. However, in accordance with my orders, I had to take over the train with the escort manpower I had. Hptw. Zitzmann stayed at the station with his guard unit until the train departed. Both units had their hands full preventing Jews escaping from the cars, since it had meanwhile become so dark that it was not possible to see the next car properly. It was not possible to establish how many Jews escaped from the train before its departure alone, however it is probable that almost all were eliminated during their escape attempts.
At 20.50 the train departed from Kolomyja on schedule. Shortly before its departure I divided up my escort squad, as had been planned beforehand, putting five men at the front and five men at the rear of the train. As the train was, however, very long fifty-one cars with a total load of 8,200 Jews this distribution of manpower turned out to be wrong and the next time we stopped I ordered the guards to post themselves right along the length of the train. The guards had to stay on the brake housing for the entire journey. We had only been travelling a short time when the Jews attempted to break out of the wagons on both sides and even through the roof. Some of them succeeded in doing so, with the result that five stations before Stanislawow I phoned the stationmaster in Stanislawow and asked him to have nails and boards ready so that we could board up the damaged cars temporarily and to put some of his Bahnschutz (track guards) at my disposal to guard the train. When the train reached Stanislawow the workers from Stanislawow station as well as the Bahnschutz were at the station waiting for our train. As soon as the train stopped work began. An hour and a half later I considered it adequately repaired and ordered departure.
However, all of this was of very little help, for only a few stations later when the train was stationary I established that a number of very large holes had been made and all the (barbed) wire on the ventilation windows had been ripped out. As the train was departing I even established that in one of the cars someone was using a hammer and pliers.
At 11.15 hours the train arrived in Lemberg (Lvóv). As there was no replacement escort squad, my squad had to continue guarding the train to Belzec. After a short stop at Lemberg station the train went to the suburban station at Kleparow where I handed over nine wagons to SS-Obersturmführer Schulz which had been marked with an 'L' and had been designated for Lemberg compulsory labor camp. SS-Obersturmführer Schulz then loaded on about 1,000 more Jews and at about 13.30 hours the transport departed again. At Lemberg the engine was replaced and an old engine was attached which was not powerful enough for the weight of the train. The train driver never managed to reach top speed with his engine so that the train, particularly when travelling uphill, moved slowly that the Jews could jump off without any risk of injury. I ordered the train driver on numerous occasions to drive faster but this was impossible. It was particularly unfortunate that the train frequently stopped in open country.
The escort squad meanwhile used up all the ammunition that had been brought with us as well as extra 200 bullets that I had obtained from some soldiers, with the result that we had to rely on stones when the train was moving and fixed bayonets when the train was stationary.
The ever increasing panic among the Jews caused by the intense heat, the overcrowding in the wagons the stink of the dead bodies when the wagons were unloaded there were about 2,000 dead in the train made the transport impossible.
At 18.45 the transport arrived in Belzec and I handed it over to the SS-Obersturmführer and head of the camp at 19.30 hours.
Towards 22.00 hours the transport was unloaded. I had to be present during unloading. I was not able to establish the number of Jews that had escaped.
(Signed) Jäcklein Zugwachtm. D. Schutzpol
On September 9, SD officers entered the Jewish Orphans' Home in the Kolomyja ghetto which housed approximately 400 children whose parents had already been murdered or were waiting at that very moment in the wagons destined for Belzec. The orphanage was located in Ghetto 'B,' and had been spared when the ghetto was liquidated. Although moving the children into Ghetto 'A' had been planned, this never happened. The night before the transfer took place, Leutnant der Schupo Hertl arrived at the orphanage with several Schupo men and shot all the children. The wife of SS-Peter Leideritz was present and assisted in this massacre.
The Kolomyja transport was typical of many hundreds of resettlement transports carried out in the General Government. It is known that between March - December 1942, over 400 Jewish communities were subjected to 'resettlement' operations in the Galician District and their Jews transported to Belzec. There are first-hand accounts of the agonies endured by the Jews during the course of these death transports to Belzec.
Inside the wagons of the Kolomyja transport, which had been standing idle for three days, a layer of quicklime had been spread on the floor. There were no sanitary facilities whatsoever; therefore, urination on the lime spread on the floor produced acidic steam, which would burn and peel away skin on contact. There was also the psychological shame of being stripped naked and performing bodily functions in the presence of othersfamily and mixed sexes; this was more than many could endure. The longer the journey, and in many cases they lasted for several days, the more perilous it became and the impetus to escape was unavoidable, whatever the risk. As a last resort, messages scribbled in haste to family and friends (or to anyone), were thrown from the small ventilating window in the very distant hope that some one might find and read them. Jewelery, shredded zloty banknotes, Reichsmarks ,and dollars were strewn along the tracks. Was this not an attempt at defiance and resistance?
Once the train was on the move, the first shunting failed to dislodge the tightly-packed wagon and almost immediately work began to start on a breakout. Artisans used their tools to tear up the floorboards and remove the window bars, mesh and barbed wire that sealed them in. Women removed hairpins and fasteners and used their nails to bore and scratch between the boards to allow the smallest amount of air to enter the wagons. As the train gathered speed, decisions were made as to the best time to escape. The hours of darkness were the preferred time, especially when the train was laboring up-hill, or rounding a curve. The occupants of the wagons were aware that the armed guard would show no mercy from these sharpshooters. The most desperate concern was the decision whether to leave and be separated from one's family, and everyone realized that the consequences of escape were unpredictable. Very often, the mothers urged their children to jump; fathers would not give advice one way or the other for fear of making the wrong decision; the elderly suffered most because they considered themselves a burden to everyone else, their will to survive had diminished, and they largely accepted the fate that awaited them. We can be sure that most of the Jews from the Kolomyja district knew they were on a death transport. Some, however, refused to accept this and suffered the illusion that not all was lost. Others had gone mad in their despair.
After a two-hour delay in Stanislawow for repairs, the transport departed for the suburban station of Kleparow -Janowska in Lvóv. Several stations along the line, another mass breakout was attempted; several holes appeared in the sides of the wagons and the barbed wire securing the small ventilation windows was torn away again. En route to Lvóv, the train was forced to stop at each station for emergency repairs until it eventually arrived at Klaparow station at 11:15 on September 11. A total of 1,000 Jews in nine of the freight wagons, each marked with an 'L,' were designated forced labor for KZ Janowska and were taken off the transport, to be immediately replaced by another 1,000 naked Jews brought from Janowska who had been tagged for 'special treatment' at Belzec.
At 13:30 on September 11, the 'resettlement' train eventually left Kleparow for Belzec. The Jews, now in complete panic, knew that time was running out. Consequently, even more desperate and repeated attempts to break out occurred between Lvóv-Rawa Ruska and Belzec. As stated in Jäcklen's report, the guard escort, who had run out of ammunition despite being given 200 rounds each by the Wehrmacht in Lvóv, had resorted to throwing stones at the escapees while the train was moving and using fixed bayonets during stops.
As already noted, September 1942 was an exceptionally hot month and the majority of Jews had been imprisoned in the wagons since the early morning of September 7th. Only one station, Rawa Ruska, now separated the 8,250 Jews, men, women and children, packed into 51 wagons, from death. From there it was only a 30-minute journey along a single track to the death camp. Which begs the question: If the Jews knew the purpose of their deportation, how were they so deceived on arrival in Belzec?
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Belzec, Poland Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2017 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 13 Feb 2008 by LA