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Archaeological Investigations



At the time, the investigation at Belzec by leading archaeologists was historically unique, as no similar investigations had been carried out at the other two designated pure death camps of Sobibór and Treblinka.[1] The magnitude of what occurred in Belzec has never been fully described in the historical literature until now. According to previous studies, which have always been inhibited by lack of eye-witness evidence, several hundred thousand Jews perished in Belzec.[2] The archaeological investigations confirm by overwhelming evidence that mass murder was committed here on an unprecedented scale and that there was a determined attempt to conceal the enormity of the crime. The material unearthed at Belzec not only confirmed the crime but enabled the historians, by scientific analysis, to reconstruct for the first time the probable layout of the camp in the first and second phases.

Initially, the archaeological investigations at Belzec were handled under an agreement among the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom (Rada Ochrony Pamieci Walk I Meczenstwa – ROPWiM) in Warsaw in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The administration of the Belzec Memorial project was later taken over by The American Jewish Committee.

How Belzec was to be commemorated was the subject of a wide-ranging competition among artists who placed their suggestions before a selecting committee. The successful contributors was a team of architects and artists led by Marcin Roszczyk, who intended “to honor the earth that harbored the ashes of the victims.” The Memorial site was finally completed and dedicated on June 3, 2004. It was within this definition that the archaeological investigations were started, the purpose being to examine the topography of the former camp and locate mass grave areas before the erection of a suitable memorial commemorating the victims murdered in Belzec.

As a result of the work carried out by the archaeological team from Torun University and an historical assessment of the findings by the author, a clearer picture emerged of how the camp was constructed and organized and how it functioned in both phases of its existence. Before looking at the most recent survey, some background to previous investigations may be helpful.

First Investigation

Very shortly after the end of the war, several War Crimes Investigation Commissions were established in Poland by the Soviet-backed civil authorities. At all locations in Eastern Europe where Nazi atrocities had taken place, teams of specialist investigators descended to set up officially constituted boards of enquiry with powers to summon local people to attend and give evidence.[3]On October 10, 1945, an Investigation Commission team lead by Judge Czeslaw Godzieszewski from the District Court in Zamosc entered Belzec and began investigations. In addition to hearing oral testimony from many inhabitants of Belzec village and its environs, the team of investigators carried out an on-site investigation at the camp. Nine pits were opened to confirm the existence of mass graves. The evidence found indicated that thousands of corpses had been cremated and any remaining bones crushed into small pieces. The human remains unearthed were re-interred in a specially built concrete crypt near the northeast corner of the camp.[4] Within hours of this simple ceremony to commemorate the victims, local villagers ransacked the grave area looking for 'treasure.' This desecration of mass graves by local inhabitants continues to this day. Immediately after completion of the 1998 excavations, overnight the excavation sites were penetrated and damaged by searches. Similar acts of malicious damage have been recorded at Sobibór and Treblinka.

Second investigation

The second investigation, in 1946, was a continuation of the earlier one during which certain witnesses were re-interrogated.

In view of the findings at Belzec, the Investigation Commission published a report on April 11, 1946,[5] which concluded that Belzec was the second death camp to have been built or adapted by the Nazis for the specific purpose of murdering Jews. The report cites the first camp in which the mass murder took place as Chelmno, which operated between December 1941 and early 1943.[6] The Investigation Commission relied on the testimonies of eyewitnesses who had been employed in the construction of these camps, or who lived locally and had observed what was taking place.[7] One of the Belzc witnesses, Chaim Herszman (mentioned earlier), had escaped from the transport taking the last few members of Jewish 'death brigade' from Belzec to Sobibór, where they were shot. He testified before a Lublin Court on March 19,1946 and was due to continue his testimony in court the following day, when he was murdered, either by Polish anti-Semites, or because of his connections to the NKVD ( predecessor of the Russian Secret Service – KGB) Political enemies.

The Investigation Commission drew attention to the systematic destruction of the ghettos and the 'resettlement' transports to the transit ghettos in Izbica and Piaski from towns within the Nazi-occupied territory of Poland then known as the General Government. The Commission further noted 'resettlement' transports from Western Europe to Belzec and the inclusion in these transports of Polish Christians who had been engaged either in anti-Nazi activities or accused of assisting or hiding Jews. The Commission concluded that 1,000-1,500 Polish Christians were murdered in Belzec.[8] The final part of the Report by the Belzec Investigation Commission dealt with winding-down activities: cremations, destruction of evidence, dismantling of the gas chambers, removal of fences, ground being ploughed-up and planted with fir trees and lupins. The Commission verified from the evidence that a final inspection had been carried out at Belzec by a special SS Commission to ensure that everything had been done to cover up the enormity of the crimes perpetrated in the name of Reinhardt.[9]

Third Investigation

The Council declared that the former death camp at Belzec should be commemorated as a place of martyrdom and remembrance. In order to preserve the site as a memorial, extensive excavations were carried out. Approximately six hectares were levelled and fenced off (a reduction in the actual size of the original camp area) and marked out as the memorial site. A monument was erected above the crypt where the human remains found in the first investigation in 1945 had been interred.[10] Immediately behind the monument, four symbolic tombs cast in concrete were placed where the mass graves were believed (incorrectly) to be located.[11] On the north side of the camp, six large urns intended for eternal flames were positioned on a series of elevated terraces. Over the years, further landscaping has been carried out on parts of the former camp area adjoining the timber yard.

Fourth Investigation

All three phases of this most recent investigation were headed by Professor Andrzej Kola, director of Archaeological Research at the University of Torun, Poland.[12] The principal Investigating officers on site were Dr. Mieczyslaw Gora, Senior Curator of the Museum of Ethnology in Lodz Poland, assisted by Dr. Wojciech Szulta and Dr. Ryszard Kazmierczak. Unemployed males from Belzec village were engaged in all three investigations to assist with the labor.

The methodology for all these recent investigations was similar: marking out the area to be examined to a fixed grid system at 5 m. intervals (knots). Exploratory boreholes to depth of 6 m were made,[13] obtaining core samples of the geological strata.[14] 2,001 archaeological exploratory drillings were done and were instrumental in locating 33 mass graves of varying sizes. From these exploratory drillings, many graves were found to contain naked bodies in wax-fat transformation (complete) and carbonized human remains and ashes were identified. The investigating personnel were divided into three teams, each working at a table to record data as soil samples were withdrawn and examined. Using a map of the area to a scale of 1: 1,000 prepared by the District Cartographic Office in Zamosc, a Central Bench Mark (BM 2007) was used as the reference point from which the archaeologists worked. Positive data and negative findings were recorded before replacing the soil samples in the boreholes. The most significant and unexpected facts to emerge as a result of the 1997-99 investigations are the large number of mass graves located and the large number of camp structures found scattered throughout the area of the former death camp.[14]

Several of the structures correspond approximately in position with known buildings in the camp area: the undressing and barbers' barracks, workshops, warehouse, and bunker for the electricity generator; and in Camp II, barracks and kitchen for the Jewish 'death brigade.' The first priority of the archaeologists was to locate and map the mass graves.

During its first phase, Belzec was a temporary and experimental camp in which the procedures and logistics of mass extermination by gas and the burial of corpses were tried and tested. The camp structures and mass graves of the first phase in Belzec were concentrated along the northern fence, leaving the majority of the camp area unused but ready for use and expansion at a later date. The primitive experimental gassing barrack and undressing barracks were also temporary structures replaced later by bigger and more solidly constructed buildings to accommodate the increased number of victims for the second and final phase in August 1942.

The two phases of the gassing operations may be identified by the arrangement of the mass graves and camp structures between the graves. Thus, the apparent proliferation of small wooden structures between the graves of the first phase may have been temporary barracks for the Jews of the 'death brigade' employed in digging the mass graves and shelters for the guards. Three of the smallest wooden structures arranged at intervals around the west and south part of the grave field from the first period suggest watchtowers overlooking the grave-digging area. The structures in the southern half of the camp area date from the second period.

Area of Mass Graves

The mass graves numbered as they appear on the plan above are located looking into the camp from the main gate, with the forester's property on the right. On the right, the graves marked 1-6 are grouped together. These were the graves located by investigators in the first phase (1997) and believed to be the last series of graves dug in late 1942. At the time of writing this account in 2003, the site of the former death camp at Belzec has been flattened and a new memorial area built and installed. See maps of the former death camp stages 1 and 2 for location of the mass graves.

Graves 12 and 14 – 20, situated along the north fence, are in accordance with statements by witnesses for the period February May 1942.[15] These graves probably contain the remains of the Jews from the Lublin and Lvov Districts deported to Belzec camp between mid-March and mid-April 1942, and the remains of early transports from the Lvov ghetto and transit ghettos at Izbica and Piaski. It is also very probable that the remains of German Jews deported from the Reich in April/May 1942 are located here.

Graves 10, 25, 27, 28, 32, and 33, all contain a layer of lime covering decomposed human remains. It is probable that these graves also date from these early transports when the local authorities complained about the health hazard caused by smell of decomposing corpses in open graves. Chloride of lime was spread over the six still open mass graves identified above in an effort to avoid epidemics breaking out. Evidence of the subsequent failed attempt at cremating corpses in graves may be found in the small graves near the north fence-- 27, 28 and 32-- in each of which a layer of burnt human remains and pieces of carbonized wood were found. The bottom of each of these graves is lined with a layer of burnt human fat.

The preparation and digging of these graves would appear to have been made on an ad hoc basis with the early graves located in the northeastern part of the camp. Many graves were close together and when the exhumation and cremation work commenced, the sides of the graves would have collapsed, thereby rendering any accurate record of grave sizes difficult. This suggests a hurried sealing of the ground and destruction of any identifiable border, which in turn made the archaeologist's work more difficult and their findings less precise. In addition, a mechanical excavator was used to remove the top layer of soil and remove the corpses, and then refill the pits with the cremated human remains and ash.

It has been suggested that some of the smallest graves (e.g., Numbers 13, 27, 28, 32, and 33) could have been the execution pits in which the old, sick and infirm Jews were shot during the first phase, while graves 2, 21 and 23 could be the execution pits from the second phase.[16] The smaller graves correspond with sketches and written descriptions of the camp layout during the second phase (July December 1942) by members of the former SS garrison.[17]

From the evidence uncovered by these recent investigations it was clear that the camp SS were not able to destroy all traces of mass murder. The purpose of the SS was to disguise the enormity of the crime: the numbers buried in Belzec. In the clear-up operation after burning the corpses, the cremated human remains, as well as the remnants of the burnt-down wooden barracks and demolished solid structures, were simply dumped into the pits and covered over. Solidly constructed cellars beneath certain buildings were also used as refuse pits into which were thrown glass and metal objects, which could not be completely destroyed by fire. The cellars, just like the graves, were filled-in with soil.

Mass graves are numbered 1-33 in the order of their discovery.

Location and first period 1997: Graves 1- 6[18]

Grave pit No. 1: Located in northwestern part of the camp. Dimensions of the grave determined as 40 m x 12 m and over 4.80 m deep, filled with bodies in wax-fat transformation and a mixture of burnt human bones and charcoal. Under this deep strata lay a several centimeters-thick layer of foul-smelling water, beneath which were found unburned corpses compressed by the weight of soil to a layer 20 cm thick. The drill core brought to the surface putrid pieces of human remains, including pieces of skull with skin and tufts of hair attached, and unidentifiable lumps of greyish, fatty, human tissue. The bottom of the grave was lined with a layer of evil smelling black (burnt) human fat, resembling black soap. As no evidence of fabric was brought to the surface, it may be assumed that the corpses were naked. The conclusion was drawn that the preservation of the corpses was due to the fact that they lay virtually hermetically sealed between the layer of the water above and the layer of solidified fat below, underneath which the natural, dry and compressed sand, through which no air could penetrate, resulted in their partial mummification. Area: 1,500 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 2: Located in northeastern part of the camp. Dimensions of the grave determined as 14 m x 6 m x 2 m deep, containing a layer of unburned corpses and a mixture of cremated substances. Area: 170 sq m.

Grave pit No. 3: Located in southern part of the camp. This was the first mass grave the location of which was positively identified from a Luftwaffe aerial photograph taken in 1944, where it appears as a T-shaped white patch and is seemingly the largest grave in the camp. Dimensions of the grave determined as 16 m x 15 m x 5 m deep. Contained a mixture of carbonized wood, fragments of burnt human bones, pieces of skulls with skin and tufts of hair still attached, lumps of greyish human fat, and fragments of unburned human bones. The bottom layer consisted of putrid, waxy human fat. Area: 960 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 4: Located immediately to the south of the camp. Dimensions of the grave determined as 16 m x 6 m. At a depth of 2.30 m drilling was suspended due to contact with bodies in wax-fat transformation. Contained cremated remains. From below the water layer, the drill core brought to the surface pieces of unburned human bones, including pieces of skulls with skin and hair still adhering and lumps of foul smelling greasy fat, indicating the presence of unburned corpses. Area: 250 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 5: Located in the southwestern part of the camp and formed from the left-hand bar of the T-shaped arrangement of graves 3, 5 and 6. Dimensions of the grave determined as 32 m x 10 m x 4.50 m deep. Contained pieces of burnt human bones so densely packed together that the drill could not penetrate further. Area: 1,350 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 6: Located in south-central part of the camp. Dimensions determined as 30 m x 10 m x 4 m deep. Containing carbonized wood and fragments of burnt human bones. At the east end of the grave, the ground is covered with grey sand containing a mixture of crushed pieces of burnt and unburned pieces of human bones. Area: 1,200 sq. m.[19]

Investigations at the Ramp

The focus of the investigation moved away from the grave area to where the resettlement transports had terminated inside the camp - the 'Ramp.' Here the Jews disembarked from the wagons to be addressed by the camp command before moving on to the undressing barracks and the gas chambers. The archaeological team carried out four excavations and located what is believed to be the end of the railway spur line. The investigating team selected a 75 m. long section at the southwestern end where the former railway siding(s) emerged between two earth banks 8 – 10 m. apart. The terrain at this location is forested and uneven, rising steeply to the east.

Four excavations were carried out

1. At right angles to the line of the Ramp, which concluded that the rail-link did not extend this far.

2. Located 15 m northwest of excavation No. 1, measured 14 m. x 1 m. and 1 m. deep. There were positive findings: traces of a standard gauge railway track-bed and a layer of crushed brick and cinders (ballast) covered with black grease. A second track-bed was found running parallel and to the east of the first. Six samples of oil were taken for analysis.

3. Excavations were carried out parallel to excavations 1 and 2, and 30 m northwest of excavation 2. Further indications of track-beds in parallel were found. (These findings are crucial to our understanding of the modus operandi during the second phase of the camp, from August 1942.)

4. The fourth excavation was located 15 m northwest of excavation 3 and measured 8.5 m. x 1 m. x 2 m. deep. Further evidence of the twin track system was found.

Investigations with Metal Detector

With the use of a metal detector, a sweep was made of the Ramp area which produced important results.[20] The most significant find was the lid of a silver cigarette case bearing on the inside the inscription: Max Munk, Wien 27.[21] In all probability, the cigarette case belonged to a Max Munk, born in Vienna in 1892, and deported to Theresienstadt via Prague on December 17, 1941 on transport 'N'. From Theresienstadt, a Max Munk was deported on transport Ag to the transit ghetto in Piaski, near Lublin, on April 1,1942.[22] Max Munk would have been one of the early victims of Belzec. His cigarette case is possibly the first evidence that Jews from Vienna had ended up in Belzec.[23]

Second period 1998 and location of Mass Graves

The second archaeological investigation at Belzec to locate mass graves began on April 28,1998, and continued without interruption until June 4,1998. The author was present throughout and each day made a video and photographic record of proceedings and findings. The procedures during the survey were the same as in the October investigation. During the period April-June 1998, further exploratory boreholes were made which located 27 mass graves whose dimensions and contents were determined. A number of camp structures were also located, recorded, and excavated.

The location and number of graves found corroborate both the testimonies and plans made by Rudolf Reder in 1945, Chaim Hirszman in 1946, and the Report of the Polish War Crimes Investigation Commission of 1945-46

In Tel Aviv the author interviewed Joseph Bau, a survivor from the Plaszów concentration camp.   Belzec was of secondary interest at that time but during the interview, Bau related to the author how he he [Bau] drafted plans of Belzec showing the location of mass graves, gas chambers, and other buildings.

Even before work started, a cursory examination beyond the outer perimeter of the northeastern part of the camp showed the presence of human bone fragments on an exposed sand escarpment.[24]

At the conclusion of the investigations, it was established that the camp was one large patchwork of mass graves and camp structures. By determining the size, position, and soil content of these graves, the investigators were able to establish the probable configuration of the camp buildings in both phases of the camps' operations. Graves numbered 12 and 14, which appear to be the largest and probably those identified by the Polish War Crimes Investigation Commission in 1945, enabled the historians to pinpoint details of the early transports into the camp during phase one.[25] There is no way of determining with certainty exactly where the first victims had come from, only that they were probably from the transit ghettos in Piaski, Izbica, Lvov, and Lublin.[26] It was also difficult to determine where exactly the first graves were dug in the first phase of the camp's existence, only that they were in the north- western part of the camp. Max Munk from Vienna probably lays here.

The finding of lime in the sample soil cores extracted from graves 9, 12, 14, 15, 17, 22, 24, 25, 29, 31, 3,2 and 33, located towards the top left corner (i.e., NW corner) may corroborate the description by Franz Stangl when the pits were overflowing with corpses. The unusually warm spring of 1942 necessitated lorry loads of lime being brought into the camp to avoid a possible epidemic.

The sizes of graves, particularly in the northwestern corner, indicate hurriedly excavated pits to deal with dug-up corpses during the second phase where extensive attempts were made to destroy the evidence. In graves 13, 27, 28, 32, and 33 this was particularly evident.[27] It was also seen that some graves had not been opened and the contents burned. Here, the team found evidence of unburned, mummified bodies. It was established that six graves probably from the first phase and three graves probably from the second phase had not been emptied. It was concluded that the nature of this task was so gruesome, and had become so unacceptable, that collusion to cover up and not complete the task as ordered was probably (without authorization) agreed to by both the SS and members of the Jewish 'death brigade' engaged in this task.

Mass Grave locations 7 – 33

Grave pit No. 7: initially located in October 1997, it is located in the vicinity of symbolic tomb No. 4 at the east-central part of the camp. Dimension of the grave (in a shape closely resembling a trapezoid) was determined as 13 m x 14 m., and a height of 27m.at a depth of 4. 50m. The symbolic tomb lay just to the right (south) of the grave. It contained carbonized pieces of wood and fragments of burnt human bones mixed with dark grey ash. Area: 1,600 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 8: located at the southwestern part of the camp. Dimensions were determined as 28 m x 10 m x 4 m. and contained burnt pieces of human bones and fragments of carbonized wood. Area: 850 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 9: located immediately behind symbolic tomb No. 1, next to the northeast fence. Dimensions determined as 10 m x 8 m x 3, 80 m. and contained burnt human remains and pieces of carbonized wood mixed with grey sand. Area: 280 sq. m.

(Surface soil/s in the vicinity of graves 7, 8 and 9 grey, suggesting large quantities of crushed pieces of human bone)

Grave pit No. 10: one of the biggest graves; located in the north-central part of the camp. Dimension determined as 24 m x 18 m x 5 m. Contained a thick layer of human fat, unburned human remains, and pieces of large unburned human bones. The drill core brought to the surface several lumps of foul smelling fatty tissue still in a state of decomposition, mixed with greasy lime. Area: 2,100 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 11: located at northeastern corner of the camp. Dimension determined as 9 m x 5 m x 1 90 m; contained a few fragments of burnt human bones mixed with innumerable small pieces of carbonized wood. Area: 80 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 12: located immediately to the north of grave No. 10; an L-shaped grave with the foot measuring 20 m lying to the west. The stem was 28 m in length, pointing north. A small number of pieces of unburned human bones were found at a depth of 3 m, mixed with grey sand and innumerable small fragments of carbonized wood. This layer extended to a depth of 4.40 m. Area: 400 sq. m

Grave pit No. 13: located next to the western fence. Dimensions of the trapezoid-shaped grave determined as 12.50 m x 11.00 m x at a height of 17 m, 4.80 m. deep. Contained a mixture of burnt human remains and pieces of carbonized wood mixed with grey sand. Area: 920 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 14: the largest grave basin in the camp that extended beyond the north fence into the area of the adjacent timber yard. The section within the fence is an irregular zigzag on the south side, measuring 37 m x 10 m at its widest point east to west, and 8 m at its narrowest, and 5 m deep. It contained burnt pieces of human bones and fragments of carbonized wood mixed with grey, sandy soil to a depth of 5 m. Originally grave No. 14 could have measured about 70 m. x 30 m. Area: 1,850 sq. m.

According to witnesses, the first and largest mass grave,No. 14, was dug by members of the Soviet guard unit while the camp was under construction. It took six weeks to complete the task).[28]

Grave pit No. 15: another small grave measuring 13.50 m x 6.50 m, with a depth of 4.50 m, it was situated adjacent to the south side of grave No. 14, and contained a mixture of pieces of burnt human bones fragments of carbonized wood and grey sand. Area: 400 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 16: located adjacent to grave No. 14 and immediately east of grave No. 15. Measuring 18.50 m x 9.50 m, it contained a mixture of burnt fragments of human bones and carbonized wood to a depth of 4.00 m. Area: 700 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 17: situated next to and south of graves 12 and 16, measures 17 m x 7 m 50 m x 4 m. Contained a mixture of pieces of burnt human bones, carbonized wood, and grey sand. Area: 500 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 18: situated next to the southern edge of grave No. 15 and measuring 16 m x 9 m x 4 m. Contained the same mixture of burnt pieces of human bones, carbonized wood, and grey sand. Area: 570 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 19: located within the area formed by graves 14, 15, 18 and 20, and close to the southwestern corner of grave 14, measuring 12 m x 12 m and containing a mixture of grey sand, burnt pieces of human bones, and carbonized wood to a depth of 4 m. Area: 500 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 20: in the form of a long trench at the western end of grave No. 14, it is the last one at the northern end of the group of 18 graves along the north fence. Like its neighbor, grave No. 14, it also extends beyond the north fence into the area of the adjacent timber yard. The section within the fence measures 26 m. x 11 m x 5 m. At a depth of 4 m. a dental bridge with four false teeth was found. Area: 1,150 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 21: located centrally. Dimensions determined as 5 m sq and situated in the forested southern part of the memorial area, midway between graves 5 and 7. It is also unexpectedly shallow, being only 1.70 m deep and containing pieces of burnt human bones and fragments of carbonized wood mixed with grey sand. Area: 35 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 22: located in the eastern part of the camp in the shape of an inverted 'L,' close to grave No. 6. Measuring 27 m on the long (east) side and 10 m on the south side, containing pieces of burnt human bones and fragments of carbonized wood mixed with grey sand to a depth of 3.50 m. Area: 200 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 23: one of the smaller graves, measuring 16 m x 8 50 m x 4 20 m and located between graves 6 and 21. Contained burnt human remains. Area: 550 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 24: a narrow trench measuring 20 m x 5 50 m x 5 m., located at the north fence and next to the eastern corner of grave No. 14. Contained burnt human remains. Area: 520 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 25: located immediately to the east of graves 12 and 14. Dimension determined as 12 m x 5 m. Contained a mixture of burnt human remains, including corpses and skeletons, to a depth of 4 m. Below this level, there was a 1 m deep layer of waxy fat and greasy lime. A foul odor was released when the drill penetrated the layer of corpses and the drill core withdrew lumps of decaying fatty tissue and large pieces of bone. Area: 250 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 26: another small grave, measuring 13 m x 7 m x 4.20 m, and located immediately next to the eastern edge of grave No. 25. Contained a mixture of burnt human remains. Area: 320 sq. m.

(Note: The soil above and around graves 25 and 26 was covered with a layer of innumerable small fragments of burnt human bones and small pieces of carbonized wood)

Grave pit No. 27: measuring 18.50 m x 6 m x 6 m, and situated close to the north end of grave No. 25. Contained burnt and unburned human remain: the top layer consists of burnt human bones and carbonized wood beneath which there is a layer of grey, waxy lime. The bottom of the grave contains completely decomposed human remains mixed with putrid smelling greasy human fat. Area: 450 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 28: one of the smallest graves measuring 6 m x 6 m x 5 m, located between grave 27 and the north fence. Containing burnt human remains beneath which there is a layer of grey greasy lime. The bottom of the grave is lined with putrid smelling, greasy human fat. Area: 70 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 29: measuring 25 m x 9 m x 4.50 in the form of a long trench and located just to the northeast of grave 26; its eastern corner is immediately in front of symbolic tomb No. 1. Contained pieces of burnt human bones mixed with fragments of carbonized wood and grey sand. Area: 900 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 30: located in the north angle between graves 26 and 29, it measured 5 m x 6 m. Contained pieces of burnt human bones and fragments of carbonized wood mixed with grey sand to a depth of 2 70 m. Area: 75 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 31: similar in size to grave No. 30, measuring 9 m x 4 m x 2 60 m. Situated next to the north fence between graves 28 and 29, this grave also contained a mixture of burnt pieces of human bones, fragments of carbonized wood, and grey sand. Area: 90 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 32: situated close to the north corner of the memorial site between graves 9 and 13, measuring 15 m x 5 m. Contained a mixture of burnt human bones and carbonized wood mixed with grey sand, beneath which there is a layer of grey, greasy lime and a foul smelling layer of human fat containing decomposing human remains. The drill core brought to the surface pieces of skull with skin and tufts of hair still attached. At the bottom of the grave at a depth of 4.10 m. lay a large number of unburned human bones. The path to the small gate near the north corner of the memorial area passes over the southern end of the grave. Area: 400 sq. m.

Grave pit No. 33: a small, shallow grave measuring only 9 m x 5 m x 3 m, located in the extreme northeastern corner of the memorial site. Contained tiny fragments of burnt human bones mixed with small pieces of carbonized wood and grey sand: 120 sq. m.

The total surface of the mass graves is estimated at 21,000 square meters.[29] At least a dozen graves still contain today unburned, partially mummified or decomposing corpses. Exactly why the SS did not empty all the graves and destroy their contents is not known; they were in no hurry to leave the area as the entire SS garrison was redistributed to other camps in the Lublin District for at least five months after the liquidation of Belzec.

Further investigations with Metal Detector

Carried out by the author, it produced a miscellaneous collection of enamel kitchenware and assorted scrap metal. Further sweeps of the area located a metal door to a kitchen stove and assorted pre-war Polish coins. The only item of interest was another silver cigarette case with no inscription.

Ramp Area

Continued investigations at the Ramp were carried over from the 1997 investigation. Analyzing the1940 and 1944 aerial maps, the two rail tracks are clearly shown entering the death camp.[30]These tracks were not built specifically for operations within the camp but were there because the area on which the camp was built ha been a pre-war logging area.[31] This was undoubtedly one of the main reasons why the death camp was built at this location. This evidence also confirms that the 'Otto line' was built subsequent to May 1940, as there is no photographic evidence to show its existence before that date.[32]

In the first phase of Belzec only a limited number of wagons (20) at a time could be accommodated because the uneven ground rises steeply at the southern end, which made any further extension of the tracks impossible. The second ramp, constructed initially to handle the bigger transports from Kraków, which started on June 3, was the same length and could also only accommodate only 20 wagons at a time.

Close examination of the 1944 aerial photograph and the ground scarring clearly indicate this. The Luftwaffe aerial photo taken in May 1944 shows that the spur line had been partly removed, probably when the camp was decommissioned and destroyed.[33] The archaeologists corroborate the extent and termination of the rail tracks into the camp but came to their conclusions from a different direction.

Examination of the 1944 aerial photographs indicate the presence of freight wagons on a siding just outside the former camp entrance. Further examination and measurement show that it was possible to accommodate 20 wagons plus the locomotive on Ramp 'A' (first phase) and at least 20 wagons on the secon ramp (constructed for phase 2 in August 1942). This confirms that it was possible to accommodate at least 40 wagons inside the camp: 20 on Ramp A' with another 20 on Ramp 'B,' waiting while the victims on Ramp 'A' were being dealt with.

By August 1942, the handling of 'goods' (Jews) was a well-organized killing machine. Thus, I would suggest, the reason Belzec in its short life span -compared with Treblinka and Sobibór - managed to murder so many people is that a maximum number of wagons could be accommodated simultaneously on the ramps with less shunting back and forth between station and camp, as in the other two death camps.

Camp Structures

A number of sites within the memorial area were recorded as positive for camp structures of various sizes, the majority of which were found between the mass graves along the northern fence, and diagonally across the area between grave 20 and grave 8, a distance of 190 m. The largest structures appear to be three barracks next to one another in a rectangular area between graves 28, 27, 25 and 24, and to the eastern end of grave 14, which straddled the camouflaged fence dividing Camps I and II.

The number of watchtowers around the camp perimeter was probably larger than claimed by witnesses. The original number of three towers at the corners (with the exception of the northwest corner by the main gate) and one in the camp itself, must have been increased during the reorganization/rebuilding of the camp in June July 1942, prior to the increased extermination activity which began on August 1 and the employment of 1,000 'work Jews' in the camp. Evidence of three small wooden structures at 55 m. intervals along the eastern fence indicates the probable position of such additional watchtowers.

The location of the gas chamber building during the second phase was probably in the central-eastern part of the former camp where exploratory drillings failed to locate evidence of any mass graves. Reder reports that on either side of the unloading platforms which extended along the length of the building there were burial pits filled with corpses, or empty graves prepared to receive them. The bodies were transported from the platform manually, which indicates the pits were in close proximity to the gas chambers. The investigators were unable to identify totally this structure as the second phase gas chamber: the traces of a wooden building in the central part of the camp can be hypothetically regarded as the remains of the 2nd stage gas chamber.

However, the author and other camp experts have concluded that findings were in all probability traces of the second phase gas chambers. The tarpaper mentioned by Reder, which covered the flat roof of the gas chamber building in the second phase is archaeologically proved by substances found on-site, corroborating Reder's testimony.[34]


  1. In May 2003, the author met Dr. Gora at Sobibór, where he was engaged in a similar examination of the area of Camp III, the extermination compound. Return

  2. Edited by the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland (Glówna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce) and The Council of Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom (Rada Ochrony Pamieci Walk i Meczenstwa - ROPWiM), an encyclopaedic information book: - Obozy hitlerowskie na ziemiach polskich 1939-45, Warsaw 1979, p. 94 - the number of victims of Belzec camp is estimated at about 600,000. Return

  3. See 'The Council of Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom (ROPWiM)' in Warsaw: (a) Reports of the investigation at the site of the former death camp in Belzec between 10-13 October 1945; (b) excavations within the cemetery area of the former death camp; reports of findings by the medical team in attendance during the course of these investigations. See: Kola, Belzec, 6, n. 3. Return

  4. Believed to be the site of the second phase Gas chambers. Return

  5. The Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland (Warsaw, 1947). Return

  6. Chelmno, in central Poland near Lódz (Warthegau), was not specially built but adapted at an abandoned country mansion which was utilised as a receiving establishment for Jews. The gassings that in Chelmno were carried out in gas vans which collected the Jews from the mansion, drove them to the Rzuchów forest (4 km away) during which time 90 people were killed per journey with the exhaust fumes pumped into the sealed rear compartments of the vehicles. Return

  7. The same evidence that was available to the Investigation Commission has been referred to in this research. All relevant statements kindly made available by TAL/OKBZ. Return

  8. TAL/OKBZ: Testimonies of: Stefan Kirsz, 20 February, 1946: 'On eight occasions wagonloads of Poles were brought into Belzec. They told me that they had been arrested because of their anti-German political activities, or for assisting Jews.' Kirsz was a train driver from Rawa Ruska station engaged in bringing transports into the camp from the direction of Lvóv, and on occasions saw what was going on inside the camp. Return

  9. The camp officially closed on 8 May 1943, when the SS-garrison was dispersed to other camps. (* The majority had been dispersed before this date. The last few SS-men left Belzec on that date Schwarz, Tauscher and Dubois). See: TAL/OKBZ: Statement of Tadeusz Misiewicz, the booking clerk at Belzec railway station, 15 October 1945. Return

  10. The area of remembrance was designed by Henryk Jabluszewski, The main monument was later adorned with sculpture by S. Strzyzynski and J. Olejnicki which depicts two emaciated human figure, one sup [porting the other. Return

  11. The Polish investigations showed that only two of these symbolic tombs were near mass graves. (Nos. 7 and 8). Return

  12. Kola, Belzec, All technical date as recorded by Dr Mieczyslaw Góra, on-site leader of the 1997-99 investigations. Return

  13. The Kola team had knowledge of similar findings in Miednoje (Belarus), Kharkov (Ukraine) and Katyn (Russia), using the same drilling methods. Return

  14. Each drill-hole was given a consecutive identification reference number. Return

  15. Collated from material formed on-site, and from the Kola Report. Return

  16. The early transports consisted of 8-15 wagons with an average of 100 Jews with their luggage per wagon. (TAL: Statement Heinrich Gley, 7 January 1963). Return

  17. This is the opinion of Tregenza. I take the view that no special grave was used for this purpose and that the first available open pit was utilised for these executions. Return

  18. See: TAL/ZStL, File No.: AR Z 252/59: The Case against Josef Oberhauser et al. Statements of Heinrich Gley, 10 May 1961; Heinrich Unverhau, 10 July 1961; Hans Girtzig, 18 July 1961; Kurt Franz, 14 September 1961; Robert Jührs, 11 October 1961; Karl Schluch, 11 November 1961. Return

  19. The author was not present at these 1997 investigations and is grateful to Dr Mieczyslaw Góra and my colleague Michael Tregenza for imparting the results of this period. Return

  20. Additional exploratory drillings were made near the four symbolic tombs close to the east fence in an area where the Luftwaffe aerial photograph also indicated the presence of mass graves. Because several of the mass graves located and investigated in October 1997 were found to be deeper than 5 m, the length of drills in the 1998 investigation were increased from 5 m to 6 m. The location of three graves was confirmed in the area of symbolic tombs l, 3 and 4. Their dimensions and depths were not determined at this time. Return

  21. Items found: 1 paraffin fuelled railway signalling lamp, metal parts of a gas mask, 2 metal spoons, 1 pre-war Polish coin (10 groszy, minted 1923), 1 live round of rifle ammunition, 4 spent rifle cartridge cases, I small aluminium screw, 1 cylindrical aluminium tube (length: 4.5 cm, diameter: 1.8 cm, with a label in Polish listing the pharmaceutical ingredients), a piece of metal pipe (length; 45 cm, diameter: 1.8 cm), a needle from a hypodermic syringe, lower part of a round aluminium tin (diameter: 8 cm). 3 iron keys, 3 iron railway staples, several lengths of barbed wire, 3 large nails, a round copper identity disc, and 1 brass hook for a railway wagon locking bar. Return

  22. Ibid., 76 Return

  23. Peter Witte, who had read my account, sent this information to the author. Return

  24. In addition to the possible movements of a Jew named Munk, the author has traced Rabbi Schlesinger in Stamford Hill, London, who knew a Max Munk in Vienna and may be related to him. Return

  25. Collected by the author on site. Return

  26. TAL/OKBZ: Statements by Belzec villagers 1945 46. Return

  27. See: Appendix. See also: Leni Yahil, Holocaust, 323-9 for overview. Return

  28. By the time it was decided to exhume and burn the corpses some considerable time had elapsed. This allowed the corpses to settle and compact. With the exhumations, and despite the cremations, the considerable amount of cremated human remains together with material from the demolished camp structures was perhaps too much to be buried in the opened graves. This is probably why small graves were hurriedly dug for disposal purposes. Return

  29. TAL/OKBZ, File No.: Ds. 1604/45: Zamosc (The Death Camp in Belzec). Statements by Belzec's villagers 1945 46). Return

  30. Earlier reports by the author (East European Jewish Affairs) concerning the total cubic capacity were unfortunately erroneous through mistranslation and misinformation. Return

  31. Ibid., 65. See also: Hilberg, Documents, 209: notes by a German non-commissioned officer, Wilhelm Cornides, diary entry for 31 August 1942: 'A double track led into the camp. One track branched off from the main line; the other ran over a turntable from the camp to a row of sheds'. The second track was probably the line used by the Jewish work brigades for removing property from the unloading area in Camp I the property sheds. Wagons were used for this purpose and pushed by the Jews. Return

  32. The logging path and rail tracks can be seen in the 1940 and 1944 Luftwaffe aerial photographs. See also: Kola, Belzec, 42. Return

  33. See: Kola, Belzec, 6 and 8. Return

  34. Ibid., 42-3, 65 Return

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