by Peretz Landesman
I was young when the war between the Soviet Union and Germany broke out in 1941. After the Germans conquered our town Skalat, they forced all the Jews to do hard labor. My father, Moshe Landesman, worked at cleaning machines. On the first day, everything went peacefully. The next day, they needed everyone to return to their work. The Germans threatened punishment on anyone who did not return. My father returned to work, and met with an accident. A truck driven by a German ran over his foot. His Jewish companions took him to the hospital. On the way, they passed some other Germans, who asked for an explanation of the matter. They explained to the Germans that an accident had occurred. Since crippled Jews were not urgently required, the Germans took him together with his companions to the cemetery, shot him, and ordered his companions to dig a grave and bury him.
We waited for my father all night. We didn't close an eye. Everyone else had returned, but he had not. The next day, they told us that my father had been murdered. Only my mother remained, and she had just been widowed with six children.
During the days of the first Aktion, I managed to escape from the surrounded ghetto to a village in the vicinity of our town. A gentile woman lived there who was a friend of the family. I thought that I would find my mother there. The gentile woman looked at me and didn't recognize me. I was very dirty. After much persuasion, she agreed that I could sleep over. Several hours passed. Her son, who was a Ukrainian policeman, returned from his post. She told him about my arrival and when the son heard this, he wanted to hand me over to the Germans. The gentile woman and her husband pleaded with him and asked him not to hand me over. I slept under a bench and the next day I fled. I went around in the fields, an entire 24 hour day, and I returned to the ghetto. Here I was told about the death of my mother, my sister Rivka, and my younger five-year-old brother David.
Several months passed, and a new Aktion was visited upon the ghetto. We entered hiding places in which we were able to secret ourselves, but the Germans found us with the aid of search dogs. They took us out. Our clothes were ragged, and outside much snow had fallen. A terrible wintery cold had taken hold. They brought us to the city of Tarnopol, and there they wanted to load us on a train, and to transport us to death camps. For some reason, they loaded us onto a trailer pulled by a tractor. My brother and I decided to escape at any cost.
We jumped and escaped. We turned toward the town of Skalat. The cold was fierce. We followed the road and sank into the mud. We were unable to walk on the road because the German traffic on it was so great.
We reached the town and sought refuge with one of the gentiles. But he did not consent to take us in.
Another household agreed to harbor us after we promised to give them our money and our possessions, which remained in the ghetto.
In the morning, we left the house. We wandered about in the fields, and at evening returned to the ghetto.
Aktion followed Aktion, until the final Aktion came. The Germans made announcements about making the area Judenrein, Jew free. Every Jew who survived was obligated to present himself before the Gestapo. My brother Yaakov and I wandered around among the gentiles in villages whose inhabitants threatened to turn us over. Edible grasses and wheat, which had not yet ripened, were our food. We found nighttime lodgings in heaps of straw.
One morning we awakened and heard voices in German. It became clear that German soldiers had set an ambush for the partisans, who were accustomed to hiding here. To our good luck, the partisans did not appear that night. Had they come, we would have been burned up in the straw along with them. When the Germans were convinced that the partisans had not come, they left the place.
Our hunger grew from day to day. We were dirty, weary and scratched by grasses. We decided to stay away from the town, so that they would not recognize us, and instead we went to the villages such as Piznanka. At the approach to the village, I met a peasant riding a horse. I stopped him and asked him whether he needed a young helper. He was not in need of such a lad, but suggested that I go with him, and maybe others would have need of me. On the way, the gentile asked me about my place of origin. Following the advice of a friend, I told him that I was from Tomaszew Lubelski. And my name was Iwan Kovalchuk. I told him that my widowed mother lived with her many children in Tomaszew Lubelski, and that I was fleeing from a master with whom I had worked because he had been cruel to me.
When we reached the village, night had already fallen. To our luck, we met a peasant who was in need of a helper. He asked me details about myself and my family. I told him the same story I had told the previous peasant. He was convinced by my words and took me in for work. I would help him with farm work. The peasant's mother was from my birth city, Skalat, and she owned many fields. He would cultivate them and bring her a portion of the yield. When the harvest days arrived, the gentile asked me to join him on his way to Skalat. Fear overcame me. I was afraid someone would recognize me, but I was forced to travel with him.
What I feared, came to pass. Near the bridge, at the entrance to the city, stood two youths, gentiles, who recognized me and shouted that I was a Jew from Skalat. The gentile looked at me and continued to gallop. When he reached his mother's house, he told her what had occurred. They called for me, and interrogated me, asking if I was truly a Jew. I denied it. Even the peasant confirmed that I behaved like a gentile. They believed me. When we returned to the village, the peasant urged me to tell the truth and not be afraid. I revealed to him that I was Jewish.
For two weeks, he continued to behave decently toward me. Afterwards, things changed, and he did not give me enough food, and even began beating me. I wanted to run away, but the fall season was a bad time to leave. The cold was fierce. Eventually, the peasant himself decided to push me out.
I turned to other villages until I found a peasant who agreed to take me in, but on condition that the first peasant, with whom I had worked, would provide me with clothes. For lack of an alternative, I returned to him. To my surprise, he suggested to me that I continue to stay with him. I agreed, and remained with him, but only because the season was so severely cold. However, I lacked warm clothing. My clothes were torn, and my feet bare.
In the village, a widow would visit, who earned a living selling various articles. She
was in need of a young helper like me. I told her about my bad situation. She took me to her village, which was located 30 kilometers from Skalat, the village of Kozivka. I worked very hard. In exchange, she gave me only scanty food and drink. Every day, I went to bring milk. On my way, I would meet young gentiles my age. There I met a youth with whom I became friendly. He told me that his uncle was in need of a worker like me. Maybe there would be a better place for me, I thought in my heart, except the uncle refused to give me work because, according to him, I was too thin. After struggling to persuade him, he consented to accept me. My condition improved, and I remained with him until the arrival of the Red Army.
from I Never Saw Another Butterfly
|Heavy wheels pass and travel on our foreheads
And engrave marks and pierce our brains
Only hunger dances around us silently
Children steal bread, ask troubling questions
And everyone desires just to sleep wrapped in silence
Heavy wheels pass and travel on our foreheads
by Hinda Kornweitz
When the battles between Germany and Soviet Russia broke out, many individuals fled eastward. I remained in Skalat, not because of any confidence I placed in the Germans, but because being the mother of two little girls, with a third daughter on the way, I was afraid that bread would be scarce in a foreign land. My firstborn daughter, Matilda, was 4 years old, a good and happy girl. However, on the first day of the conquest of the city, the Germans perpetrated horrors against the Jews who lacked defense. They killed without distinction, whether infants or the elderly. On that bitter and wild day, they killed my brother Hersh Tzvi Fisher. I was scared for my girls. I hid in the cellar of the Shapira family home, along with their neighbors and their children. The infants kept absolutely silent and did not cry, as if they understood what was happening around them.
After the pogrom, when we came back to our apartment, we saw destruction in every corner. Matilda's eyes reflected her fear. Her joy of life, joie-de-vivre, disappeared. Suddenly, she became an adult. She knew that it was forbidden to play in the street, and that it was incumbent upon her to be in close proximity to me.
Pala Tzipporah was one year old and did not understand anything of what was happening. My younger daughter Pala grew up quickly, because of our abnormal conditions, but she was very understanding and perceptive. When she was 3 years old, she understood the situation. At night, before the Aktion in April, we entered the apartment, and I said that I felt an Aktion was about to occur, and that we had to awaken the girls. Suddenly Pala answered that she was not asleep, but someone would have to awaken Matilda, It's forbidden to forget her. Fate willed that in this Aktion, the Germans discovered our bunker and brought us to the Great Synagogue. There, they gathered us together before the violence and killing.
In my childhood, I saw the synagogue as a holy place, and now it had become a scene of horror. People, half-wild and frantic, alternately prayed and cried. In their grief, they begged that the earth would swallow them up. In the women's gallery, I discovered an attic, and I decided to hide in it. In the absence of a ladder, I asked Moshe Katzlov for help, and I went up with the girls, and with other tens of people. I had to work hard to pacify the adults among them, who feared that my girls would endanger our hiding place with their crying. I promised them that my girls would be quiet and would preserve our safety. The girls lay down day and night, and did not utter a sound.
From Abraham Weissbrod's Death of a Shtetl
The order is given, Strip! Arrange the clothes in a heap! The Jewish policemen press and urge the people to move quickly. Anyone who disobeys is beaten with murderous blows. On the ground we spread a colored paper rug. There are paper money notes that the people have torn into pieces so they would not fall into the hands of the murderers. Children weeping, the cries of the Shema, Hear O Israel, mingle with shouts of Hurry! Hurry! And the heap of clothing gets higher and higher! Men, women and their children stand as naked as the day they were born.
Berel, the Rabbi's son, was stubborn and refused to strip. A German landed him a blow on his head, and he fell to his knees bleeding. He further absorbed several kicks in his belly. He cried Shema Hear!," groaned, and died upon a heap of gloves which were drenched with blood. The German rolled the corpse to the mouth of the grave.
(second from left)
And already there are rising the muted throes of death. Berel, the Rabbi's son, the first of the martyrs from Skalat, lay in the grave, dressed in shrouds of red and, in his bosom, a tefillin bag, which he did not let go of.
And suddenly Roza Pikholz, a teacher in the high school, arose and faced the naked crowd, I call upon you to be brave. We are innocent people! The Stormführer interrupts her, You are not human beings! and slaps her on the cheek, and now continue to speak, whore! And she pours out her anguish and rage upon the heads of the murderers, Your end is near, forests of hangings are awaiting you! The German was already unable to bear this, and he shot the naked woman in the heart. Just like that, she was lying dead on the ground.
All the people of Skalat who were seized in the 'contingent,' and in the days of the first and second Aktions, were sent on freight trains to an unknown forest. Only at the conclusion of the war did we hear the name Belzec, a concentration camp, one of the most awful in the Nazi Satanic Kingdom.
Here our dear ones were put to death.
From the camp of horrors only a few lone individuals were left alive. Here is the testimony of one of these sufferers, as was recorded by the Jewish Historical Commission in Poland, in 1946, and it was transcribed from the book From the Chapter of the Holocaust, published by Reuven Mas.
This is the only testimony of a man who was in the Belzec death camp, escaped, survived and reported reliably about everything that he saw. Rudolph Rader was born in 1881. He worked in the manufacture of soap. Before the war, he resided in Lvov, and remained there until August 16, 1942.
There was not yet a special ghetto in Lvov. A few streets were set aside only for Jews. It was, therefore, the Jewish quarter in which there were several streets included from the Third Quarter, like Panienska Street, Wanska, Ogrodnicka, Salonczna and others. Here we lived an unquiet life with constant oppression. Already two weeks before the expulsion from the ghetto, everyone spoke about the approaching catastrophe. We were in despair. We already understood the real meaning of the word 'expulsion.' We had heard that a prisoner who had worked in a destruction team in Belzec had escaped. He had worked at the time of the establishment of the death factory, in the construction of the gas chambers. He told of the 'bathhouse,' which was truthfully only a building designated for gassing victims. He said that, of the people who would be brought there, none would return.
It was also rumored that a Ukrainian, who had worked in the destruction of Jews, told his girlfriend what was being done at Belzec. The girlfriend was alarmed and saw an obligation to secretly make this information known in order to warn those who were about to be put to death. In this way, stories about Belzec reached us.
These reports concerning Belzec were about to turn into facts on the ground. They were the cause of great anxiety and fear. In the streets of the Jewish Quarter, several days before the roundup, people were already terrified, and without guidance or leadership, they asked one another What can one do? What can one do?
Early in the morning of August 10th, patrols surrounded all the entrances of the streets of the quarter. Gestapo, S.S., Sonderdienst Special Services, moved in groups of six. Each group of six circulated several steps into the streets.
Many Ukrainian military men were there to assist these Germans. Already two weeks earlier, Major General Katzmann, the chief executioner of Lvov and Eastern Lesser Poland, had distributed
sealed documents containing genocidal plans to the labor camps. There were a number of Jews, too, who had received the documents at the Commisarium, an official office near the Smulka Square Plaza. There were not many 'lucky ones' like these. The majority of Jews looked with deadly fear for some sort of refuge, a hiding place, a place to escape to, but not one of them knew what could be done to save him or herself.
Meanwhile, patrols circulated for several days, going from house to house, from corner to corner. For a small number of people, the Gestapo examined their documents and left them in place. For others, there was no mercy. Those who did not have documents, and those whose documents had been confiscated, were forcibly expelled from their houses. The Germans did not allow them to take any clothing or food with them. Instead, they gathered the Jews together, and anyone who resisted was shot to death on the spot.
I was in my workshop, but I didn't have any documents, so I locked the door and didn't answer when I heard them knocking. The Gestapo men broke down my door, and they found me hiding. They hit me on the head with a whip, and took me away with them. They pushed us into electric trolley cars. The crowding was so great that it was impossible to move or breathe. They transported us to the Janowian Camp.
This was already evening. They gathered all of us together in a wide field, in a closed circle. We were about 6,000 people. They commanded us to sit down, and it was forbidden to get up to move, or to extend a hand or foot. From a tower, they directed a floodlight upon us. It was as bright as noon. We sat very crowded, while we were surrounded by armed murderers. We all sat together, young and old, men, women and children of various ages. If someone got up, it was probably because that person preferred to be put out of their misery quickly. A few shots were heard, and then there was silence.
We sat like that all night. A deadly silence prevailed. No one cried, neither the women nor the children. At six in the morning, they ordered us to rise up from the wet grass, and to arrange ourselves in rows of four. Then a procession of the condemned began moving to the Klifarovian Station. The Gestapo and the Ukrainians surrounded us in a thick ring. Not a person was able to escape. They brought us to a plaza at the train station. There was a long freight train already waiting for us. The train had 50 cars. Loading us into the cars began as soon as they opened the doors. The Gestapo men stood on both sides. In their hands, they held whips, and they struck everyone, as they passed, on the face and the head. Every one of us had marks on the face and bruises on the head. The women cried bitterly, as did the children while clinging to their mothers. There were mothers with infants near their breasts among us. There were smaller and bigger children, young women and old women. We were knocked about by the Gestapo men, who hit us without mercy. People pushed one another. The train car doors were high up, so it was necessary to climb to go up. One person would make another fall. We hurried because we wanted this part to be over quickly. A Gestapo man with a machine gun sat on the roof of every car. The Gestapo men counted up to a hundred in every car. All of this was done at great speed, so that the loading of thousands of people on the cars took less than an hour.
In our shipment, there were many men who had worked and had all kinds of work documents. These were seemingly 'safe' documents.
Eventually, the Germans sealed the train cars. Pressed into the other bodies of trembling people, we stood
crowded almost one on top of another. Suffocated and hot, we were close to madness. Not a drop of water, not a crumb of bread. The train finally moved at eight in the morning. I knew that in the locomotive, there were only two Germans working, a mechanic/engineer and a worker who kept the fire burning. The train traveled quickly, but to us it seemed that it was traveling forever. The train stopped three times, at Kolikova, at Zolkiev, and at Rawa-Ruska. These stops were required, it seemed, for arranging the route of the trains and the changing of the track. At the time of these stops, the Gestapo men would come down from the roofs of the cars but would not allow anyone to approach the train. They did not allow people who wanted to offer water through the small, screened-in windows, to the people faint with thirst, to come near the train.
As we traveled, no one uttered a word. We knew that we were traveling toward death, that there was no chance of being saved. At first, complete equanimity prevailed. No weeping was heard. All of us were thinking about only one thing - how to escape. But there wasn't any opportunity. I noticed that the car, in which we were traveling, was entirely new. The window was so narrow, that I wasn't able to squeeze through it. In other cars, it seemed as though it might be possible to break through the doors because we heard several moments of shots fired at escapees. Not one person spoke to another. No one tried to calm the women who had begun to cry. No one stopped the children who were now crying bitterly. We all knew we were traveling to certain and awful death. We wanted that certainty to be over. Perhaps some had escaped, I don't know. Perhaps it was possible to attempt to run away from the train.
Near the afternoon, the train reached Belzec Station. This was a small station. Around it stood small houses. The houses contained the living quarters for the Gestapo men and the Ukrainian railroad workers. There was a small post office there. Belzec is located on the Lublin-Tomaszow railroad line. It was 15 kilometers from Rawa-Ruska. At the Belzec Station, the train was moved to a side track, which led one kilometer further, straight to the death camp. The side track passed through fields. On both sides of the fields, the area was totally clear. There wasn't one building.
The entire area around Belzec was occupied by S.S. men. It was forbidden for anyone to appear here. The Germans would shoot any civilians who mistakenly entered the area. The train would enter a courtyard whose length and breadth was approximately one kilometer, surrounded by barbed wire fencing and iron nets, which were placed, one upon another, at a height of two meters. The wire was not electrified. When the train entered the gate, the guard would close it and then enter the tower.
Then the 'reception of the train' would begin. Several tens of S.S. men would open the cars with shouts of 'Raus von hier! Get out! Raus! Out!' Just as the S.S. did when the people boarded the trains, they would drive the people out of the cars with whips and curses. They would force the people to jump, all of them, old and young. They had to jump a meter's height down to the ground. People would break arms and legs. Children would be wounded. Everyone fell from the car, all of them dirty, weary and frightened.
The German engineer who drove the train would get down out of the locomotive and 'assist' with hard blows and shouts, expelling people from the train cars. Afterwards, he would personally enter every car and inspect it to see whether anyone remained. He especially knew every trick that people might do under the circumstances. When the train was empty and had been secured, he signaled with a small flag and drove the train out of the camp.
An elderly German with a thick black moustache I don't know what his name was, but I would recognize him immediately would appear. His look was that of an executioner. He was in charge of moving us into the camp. The road from the station to the camp was a two-minute walk. For four months, I always saw this murderer perform the same ritual. The people would enter the courtyard through a wooden gate, covered with barbed wire. A tower stood nearby. Inside there was a guard with a telephone. There were always several S.S. men with dogs.
Aside from the S.S. men, there were also Zugsführers, platoon leaders to greet the trains These were the overseers of the Jewish workers in the death camp. They were dressed without any insignia of the camps, so it was impossible to tell to whom or what service they were accountable or belonged. The sick, elderly and small children, those who were unable to walk on their own, would be placed on stretchers, and were made to sit on the edge of deep graves which had been dug. There, the S.S. agent named Fritz Ihrmann would shoot them, and afterwards push them into the grave with a club. Ihrmann was an expert in the murder of old people and small children. He was a high Gestapo agent who had black hair and an expressionless face. Like the others, he lived in Belzec, near the station, in a small house, entirely alone, and, like the others, with no family or wife.
Early in the morning, Ihrmann would appear in the camp. He would remain there throughout the day and receive the death transports. Immediately, after taking the victims out of the cars, some guards would herd them into a square, which was surrounded by other guards. Here Ihrmann would speak. There was a deadly silence. He would stand near the crowd. Everyone waited to hear. Suddenly, hope would arise in us If they speak to us, perhaps we will live, and perhaps there will be some work. Perhaps despite this...
Ihrmann would speak in a loud, clear voice. You are now going to get bathed. Afterwards, you will be sent to work. That was all. The people were joyous, happy that they were going to work, and there was handclapping. I remember these words of his, which used to be repeated every day, in most instances three times a day, during the four months I was in the camp. That was the moment of hope and illusion. The people would momentarily sigh with relief. Complete silence prevailed, and the entire crowd advanced in silence. The males went straight through the courtyard to the building on which a sign in large letters said, 'Bade und Inhalationsraume,' Bath and Inhalation Rooms. The females went about twenty meters further, to a large bunk that occupied an area of 15 by 30 meters. In this bunk, the women and girls had their hair shaved. They would enter without knowing what the room's purpose was. Again, a quiet moment prevailed. I knew afterwards that when a few moments passed, they would have the females sit on wooden benches in the middle of the bunk and eight Jewish barbers, automatons who were as silent as a tomb, would approach in order to shave their hair completely to the scalp. Little girls who had long hair would go first, before the others, to have their hair shaved. At that moment, the women would grasp the entire truth, and not one of them, nor any of the men, who had already gone to the chambers, had any doubts. Small girls who had a little bit of hair went with the men directly to the gas chamber. All of them, young and old, men, women and children, went to their death, all of them, except for a few men chosen as essential professionals in the camp.
Suddenly, in a transition from hope to absolute despair, the females would break out into wailing and shouting.
Many women would become irrational, seemingly deranged. Others would go silently to their death, particularly the young women. In our transport, there were thousands of educated people, many young men, but the majority were women. It was this way in every transport that came afterwards.
I stood at the side, in the courtyard, along with a small group of people who were left for the digging of graves. I looked at my brothers, my sisters, my acquaintances, and my friends who were being led to their death. At the same time, they led the women, naked, shaved, like cattle to slaughter, without counting, moving them quickly. They were already destroying the men in one of the chambers. Shaving the women took approximately two hours. The preparations for murder and the murder itself took a similar amount of time.
More than ten S.S. men would urge the women on, with whips and sharp pikes, to go forward to the building in which the gas chambers were located, and then up three steps to the vestibule. And the policemen would count the people, up to 750, for each chamber. The policemen would then stab the women who resisted entering the chamber with pikes, and blood was spilled. Then they would push them into the killing room. I could hear the locking of the doors, the screams and shouts, the cries of despair, in Polish, in Yiddish, bloodcurdling crying from the mouths of women and children, and, afterwards, one awful joint scream. This horror lasted 15 minutes. The motor worked for 20 minutes. Then there was silence. The guards would open the doors from the outside and I, along with the other workers like me, who were left from previous transports, would approach the work without any expression on our faces.
The fate of every transport was like the fate of the transport in which I had arrived. The people were ordered to strip their clothes. They would leave the clothes in the courtyard. Ihrmann would always speak craftily and always say the same thing. The people were always happy at that moment. I saw the same spark of hope in the eyes of every new arrival. It was the hope that they were being sent for labor. However, in a moment, the Germans would begin to grab small children from their mothers' arms. The elderly and sick would be thrown on stretchers. The men and the small girls would be lead by shouts and curses, further and further from the rest of the people, straight to the gas chamber. The naked women would be cruelly directed to another bunk where they had their hair shaved. I knew exactly the moment at which all of them would finally understand what awaited them, the fear, the despair, the screams, the awful wails all mingled with the sound of the orchestra. The men, who were prodded with pikes or stabbed, would come to the chambers first. Meanwhile, there were people in the first chamber who had been waiting and suffering this torture for two hours. There was such great overcrowding that it was difficult to close the doors. Only after all six chambers were full did they activate the machine.
The machine was large, a meter and a half by a meter. It was an engine with wheels. The engine roared with a great whine while operating at high speed - so quickly that it was impossible to distinguish between the spokes of the wheels. Two guards operated the machine. It worked exactly 20 minutes by the clock. After 20 minutes, they would stop it. Immediately, they would open the doors of the chambers from the outside, from the side that led to the plaza, and there they would throw the bodies on the ground. In this way, they accumulated a huge pile of bodies, several meters high. The guards were not particularly careful at the time of the opening of the doors. We did not notice any odor. We did not even once see any tanks of gas. I only saw cans of benzene. Every day, they would consume from 80 to 100 liters of benzene.
After the people were asphyxiated, the policemen emptied the chambers of all the bodies. Most victims were in a standing position, looking as if they were asleep. They were not yet blue, but blood would spew here and there from the wounds that had been caused by the guards with pikes. Their mouths would be slightly opened, their arms contracted, sometimes pressed around their chests. The bodies, which were located near the doors, would fall out automatically like puppets when the doors were opened. Behind the gas chambers was a road of sand that absorbed blood and liquids from the corpses. We dragged the bodies along this road.
When the machine once malfunctioned, they called me in, since I was known as 'the expert of ovens.' I looked in it and saw glass pipes leading to every single chamber. The machine produced a vacuum that drew the air out of the chambers. Then the benzene produced carbon monoxide, which asphyxiated the victims. The cries for help, the shouts and screams of despair of those enclosed and being suffocated in the chambers would continue for 10 to 15 minutes, at first with loud and penetrating sounds. I heard awful screams and cries in all kinds of languages, because there were Jews there not only from Poland, but there were also transports of Jews from outside of Poland. Afterwards, the screams would become quieter until the chambers would become entirely silent. We would drag the bodies of people who had been alive just a short time before, with the aid of leather straps, to huge common graves, which were ready. The leather straps had buckles, which we would place on the hands of a corpse. Its head would often be stuck in the sand, and so we would pull. The guards ordered us to place the bodies of small children on our shoulders and carry them to the mass graves. When we were dragging the bodies, we would interrupt our work of digging graves. When we were digging the graves, we knew that in the chambers, thousands of our brethren were being murdered. In this way, we were compelled to work from early in the morning until evening. At dark, our workday was completed because the 'work' was only done by the light of day. The orchestra, too, would be playing from the morning to the evening.
After a while, I already knew the entire area pretty well. It was located in the midst of a young pine forest. The trees here grew close to one another. In order to minimize the penetration of light, the Germans tied these trees to one another, and in this way multiplied the density of the trees in the place where the chambers were located.
The Germans stretched wire over the roofs and placed vegetation upon them, with the intention of hiding the area from surveillance by airplanes. Near the bunks was a small courtyard surrounded by a wall of boards three meters high, between which not even a crack was left. The boarded walkway led to the chambers in such a way that it obstructed anything the victims might see, other than straight ahead. The building in which the gas chambers were located was low, broad and long, constructed of gray concrete. Its roof was flat and covered with tarred material. Above the roof, there was yet another roof of netting, which was covered with vegetation.
the building there was a large flowerpot with multicolored flowers. Side doors led to the gas chambers. These doors were made of wood. Their width was a meter each, and pushed to the sides using handles. Without windows, the chambers were very dark. The ceilings of the vestibule and chambers were lower than ordinary rooms. Their height was no greater than two meters. On the wall opposite the entrance of the chamber were two doors which opened by pushing them outward. They were two meters in width. These were the doors, through which we would take the bodies out, after asphyxiation.
On both sides of the gas chamber building there were graves, full or empty. I saw a complete row of graves, which were filled and covered with sand. After a while, the graves would sink. An empty grave always had to be ready.
There were two bunks for the extermination workers of the camp, one bunk for general workers, and the second bunk for 'professionals.' The two bunks were similar to one another. Each bunk contained 250 workers. Platforms inside were built in two levels. The platforms were constructed of boards, with a small board at a slant, sort of like a pillow for the heads of the workers. Near the bunks were kitchens. A little further was the storehouse, the administration area, a laundry, a sewing shop and, at the end, well-ordered bunks for the guards.
I was in the Belzec death camp for four months, from August until the end of November 1942, during the period of mass asphyxiation of Jews. My few companions in calamity, those few who were in the camp longer, told me that there were more killings during this time than before. The trains arrived every day without interruption. In most instances, there were three trains per day. In every train, there were fifty cars, and in every car about a hundred souls. In the event that the transports would arrive at night, the victims would wait in the sealed cars until six in the morning. Usually, at Belzec, between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews would be killed every day.
Sometimes, the transports were larger and they would arrive more frequently. Jews came from many places - and only Jews. At no time did another type of transport come. Belzec served as a place of extermination exclusively for Jews. Only the Gestapo guards and Zugsführers surrounded the area during the time that the victims were exiting the train cars. There were Jewish workers several steps further into the courtyard, ready for helping the victims strip off their clothes. Those workers would ask in whispers, Where are you from? The answers were whispered back, From Lvov, from Krakow, from Weiliczka, Jaslo, Tarnow, etc. I observed this scene every day, twice, three times a day.
In the transports that came from outside of Poland, there were principally Jews from France. There were also Jews from Holland, Greece and even from Norway. I do not remember a transport of Jews from Germany. On the other hand, there were Jews from Czechoslovakia. They would come on cars similar to those in which they brought the Jews of Poland, but the Czechs came with baggage, and they had been allowed to bring food with them. Our transports from Poland were usually full of women and children. In the transports from outside the country, there were primarily men and very few children. The parents were apparently able to leave their children in the care of their countrymen, and to save them from their own awful fate. The Jews from outside would come to Belzec without any knowledge of what was about to happen to them. They were certain that some form of labor was awaiting them. They were dressed like cultured people. They were well-prepared for the journey. Yet the attitude of the German murderers towards these people was the same as it was towards people in the other transports, with the same system of murder. They were exterminated with the same cruelty and died in the same state of hopelessness. Approximately one hundred thousand Jews from outside the country arrived during the time that I was in the camp. Almost all of them were exterminated.
They would shave all the women before murdering them. They would not put them into a bunk. The rest of the women would wait in front of the bunk, naked, barefoot, even in the winter, and in the snow. The women would be crying with despair. At that moment, shouts and pleas would begin. The mothers would embrace their children. I would be horrified every time I saw this spectacle. They would lead a group of women who had been shaved out, and others would come and tread upon the multicolored hair, which would cover the entire floor of the bunk like a soft and high rug. After the shaving of all the women from the transport, four workers would sweep all the hair with brooms made of poplar wood and collect it in one big pile, up to a half meter in height. Then they would put the hair, into sacks of simple cloth, and place them in storage.
The storehouse of the victims' hair, underwear, and clothing was located in a special bunk, not large, approximately seven by eight meters. There they would collect the clothes and the hair for 10 days, and then they would separately load sacks with clothes and hair, and a freight train would come to take the spoils. People who worked in the office told us that the hair was sent to Budapest. A certain Jew, the attorney Schreiber, who was from the Sudetenland, worked in the office, and he would pass along this information. He was a decent man. Ihrmann promised Schreiber that he would take him along when he traveled during his furlough. One time, Ihrmann went away for a brief vacation. I heard Schreiber ask Ihrmann Are you taking me with you? Ihrmann answered not yet. In this manner, Irhmann would deceive Schreiber, who was later exterminated just like all the rest of the people. Schreiber told me that every several days, they sent an entire trainload of sacks filled with hair to Budapest. Aside from the hair, the Germans also took sacks filled with gold teeth.
On the road, which led from the gas chambers to the graves, in an area of several hundred meters, stood a few 'dentists' with forceps. They would stop every worker who dragged a body. They would open the mouth of the corpse, check for and remove any gold. Afterwards they would throw the gold into a sack. There were eight dentists. These were usually young men, who were
left over from transports, just for the purpose of this work. I knew one of them close up. His name was Zucker. He was from Rzeszew, Poland. The dentists lived in a special small bunk together, along with the doctor and the pharmacist. At dark, they would bring the sacks filled with gold teeth to the bunk, and there they would refine the gold, and melt it into the shape of bars. A Gestapo man, Schmidt, would guard them. He would beat them when their work was done too slowly. They had to complete every transport within two hours. The gold bars were one centimeter thick, a half centimeter wide, and twenty centimeters long.
Each day, they would bring valuable articles, such as money, dollars and jewelry out of the storehouse. S.S. men would collect this plunder personally, and put it in suitcases, which workers would carry to the Belzec Station Command Post, guarded by one of the Gestapo men.
The station was not far. Twenty minutes by foot. The concentration camp, that is, the place of killing in Belzec, was subject to the authority of this Command Post. Jews, who worked in Administration, would tell us that they would transfer every shipment of gold, valuable articles, and money to Lublin, where the Head Command was located, and whose authority the Command at Belzec was subject to.
The clothing, which they removed from the unfortunate victims, would be collected and transferred to a storehouse. There, ten workers were required to undo the seams of every garment with particular meticulousness, under the supervision of S.S. men, with the threat of a whip. The S.S. men would divide the money, which was found in the clothing, among themselves. Special S.S. men, always the same ones, were sent in for this inspection. The Jewish workers who arranged the clothes, and the undoing of seams, were not able to take any money for themselves, nor did they want to. What interest was there for us in money or jewelry? We were not able to buy anything, and we had no hope of remaining alive. Not one of us believed in a miracle. The Germans would conduct an exacting inspection of every worker. Frequently, we stepped on dollars that were thrown down on the floor, but we did not pay attention to them. We didn't even touch them. There was no benefit in this. Once, a shoemaker took five dollars intentionally and openly. They shot him and his son dead immediately. He went to death willingly. He wanted his life to be over. Death was certain. Why suffer more torture for an extended period of time? The dollars at Belzec served us in the event we were ready to die such an easier, instantaneous death.
I belonged to the fixed group of workers at the camp. In all, we were 500 men. Of the professionals there were about 250. Another 200 worked at jobs in which there was no need for professionals in digging graves, and dragging bodies. We dug pits and common giant graves and dragged bodies. Professionals, too, were forced to participate in this work, after the completion of work in their profession. We dug with implements. There was also a machine, which dug and removed sand from the soil. That machine was used to heap sand next to the graves. A mountain of sand would be created, which would be used to cover a mass grave after it had been filled with bodies.
Approximately 450 men worked regularly in the digging of one mass grave, which usually took an entire week. The most awful thing for me was the order to leave bodies at a height of a meter over the full grave and to cover the victims with sand. Thick black blood poured from the graves and flooded the entire area like a lake. We were forced to climb over these mass graves, in order to reach the next mass grave. Our feet wallowed in the blood of our brethren. We walked over the graves full of bodies, and that was the most evil and awful thing.
At the time of this work, Schmidt, the murderer, guarded us. He hit and kicked us if any of us did not, in his opinion, work quickly enough. He would order the worker to lie down, and would lash him with a whip. Schmidt would order the person being beaten to count the blows, and if the victim made a mistake, he would give him an additional twenty five to fifty blows. The person being whipped was usually not able to bear 50 blows. The victim would reach the bunk with difficulty and, the next day, he would expire. This scene would be repeated several times a day.
Every day they would kill up to 40 workers by shooting them. The doctor would present a list of people who were weakened, or the Oberzugsführer, the main supervisor of the prisoners, would present a list of 'offenders,' such that every day 30 or 40 prisoners were exterminated. At lunch hour, they would be led to the grave and shot. Every day, the Germans would supplement the list with the same number of people from a transport. The administration office created a list of previous and new workers, and calculated how many they needed for the number of working prisoners to remain at 500.
We knew, for example, that Jewish slave laborers had built the camp and installed the asphyxiation machine. Not one of that group remained alive. It was a miracle if some of the workers at Belzec remained alive after five or six months.
The same two guards always worked at the machine. When I entered the camp, I found them occupied in this work, and when I left the camp, they remained in the same place. The Jewish workers had no contact with them, or with the other guards. When people from the transport would ask for a drop of water, the guards would shoot Jewish workers for offering it.
Already at three-thirty in the morning, the officer of the guard would pass by the bunk at night, knock on the door, and shout: Get up! Get out! Before we were able to get up, the murderer Schmidt would burst in and chase us out with a whip. We would run out with one shoe
in hand or barefoot. In most cases, we would not take off all our clothes before sleep. We would lie down even with our shoes on, because in the morning we didn't have a chance to get dressed.
It was still dark in the morning, when they would awaken us. To create light was forbidden. Schmidt would move around in the bunk and would hit right and left. We would get up, unfortunate and weary, to the point of exhaustion, just the same as when we lay down to sleep. Each one of us received a thin blanket. We could cover ourselves with it, or spread it out on the platform. At the storehouse, they chose old rumpled rags for us to wear. If someone complained, he would receive a slap in the face.
In the evening, they would turn on the light for half an hour. Afterwards, they would put out the light. The Oberzugsführer would circulate with a whip in his hand and would not permit us to converse. He would speak with us in a low voice.
The workers in the camp were mostly men, whose wives, children and parents had been exterminated by gassing. Many had obtained a tallit, a prayer shawl, and tefillin, phylacteries, from the storehouse, and when the Germans locked the bunk at night, we would hear from the platforms the whispers of prayer. We prayed the Kaddish in memory of the victims. Afterwards, there was complete silence. We did not complain. We were completely depressed. The fifteen Zugsführers lived with illusions, but not us.
All of us were people devoid of will. We were one body. I remember a few names, but very few. There was no value to knowing who a person was or what he was called. I knew that the doctor was a young man who had lived beforehand near Przemysl. His name was Jakobuwitz. I also knew a merchant from Krakow. His name was Schlissel, he and his son. A Jew from Czechoslovakia, his name Elbogen, who had owned a bicycle shop. The butcher, Goldschmidt, was known from the restaurant at Karlsbad called the Hanika Brothers. One was not interested in the other. Life had passed us by when we were working mechanically.
At noon, we would get lunch. We would approach two windows. At the first one, we would get gravy, and at the other, a half liter of soup with grits, that is to say, water. Sometimes there were potatoes in the soup. Before the meal, we were required to sing songs, and again in the evening, before drinking coffee. At that time, we could hear the screams of those being asphyxiated in the gas chambers, while the orchestra played.
The S.S. men lived in Belzec and, in this place of killing, without wives. Even at a time of a feast, there were only men. This is how it was until October, when a transport arrived from Zamoszcz, with Jewish women from Czechoslovakia. In this shipment there were several dozen women whose husbands worked in the death camp. It was decided to keep many of them as workers. Forty were designated to work in the kitchen, in the laundry and in the sewing shop. It was forbidden for them to see their husbands. They peeled potatoes in the kitchen, washed pots, carried water. I do not know what their fate was. Certainly their lot was like that of all those confined to the camp. These women were all educated. They had come with their baggage. Some had a little bit of butter. They gave us what they had. They helped the men who worked in the kitchen or in its vicinity. They lived in a special small bunk.
A Zugsführerin supervised them. During work hours, I would see these women conversing among themselves. I would repair the ovens everywhere and see them as I would go around the entire camp. They were not beaten like the Germans beat us. Their work would be finished toward evening, and they would arrange themselves two in a row and stand in line to get soup or coffee. As with us, the Germans did not take the women's clothes from them and did not give them striped clothing. It was not worth their while to institute a uniform costume for such a short period.
They sent the women straight from the cars, with their clothes, and without shaving their heads, to work in the shops and in the kitchen. Through the kitchen windows, they were able to observe the death transports which arrived at the camp every day.
Slaughter of the victims filled the camp space each day, and it was usual to see mass fear and mass murder daily. But aside from this, there were isolated instances of personal torment. At Belzec, there never were appells, or appeals. There was no necessity for them. The awful scenes took place without any advance notice.
It was near the 11th of November, and already cold, with mud covering the ground. During a storm, a transport arrived from Zamoszcz, one of many. In this transport were all the members of the Council of Elders, the Judenrat. When they already stood naked, according to the usual procedure, the men were led to the chambers, and the women to the bunk for the shaving of hair. The chairman of the Council of Elders was ordered to remain in the courtyard.
While the guards led the transport to extermination, the entire entourage of the S.S. men gathered around the chairman. I don't remember what his name was, but I saw that he was a middle aged man, pale as a corpse, and totally quiet.
The S.S. men ordered the musicians in the orchestra to go over to the courtyard and to wait for instructions. The orchestra, in which six musicians took part, would usually play in the area between the gas chambers and the graves. They would play without interruption on instruments, which had been taken from prior victims. I was then working as a plasterer close by, and I saw the entire episode. The S.S. men ordered the musicians to play. They played the violin, the trumpet and the accordion. The music lasted a while. After a short time, the S.S. men stood the chairman of The Council of Elders of Zamoszcz near a wall and beat him until blood flowed. They used whips whose tips were lead. They intentionally hit him on the head and in the face. Ihrmann, the fat S.S. man, Schwarz, Schmidt and several guards took part in the violence. They ordered the victim to dance and jump during the beating, with the accompaniment of the music. After a time, they brought him a crust of bread and forced him to eat during the blows. He stood, covered in blood, somber and serious. I didn't hear him make a sound. The torture of this man lasted seven hours. The S.S. men stood and laughed. This is a more important man, the chairman of The Council of the Jews! they shouted loudly and fanatically. Only at six in the evening did Schmidt lead him to the grave. After all the torture, they shot him in the head, and pushed him by his leg into the pit of bodies that had already been asphyxiated.
There were also other unusual instances. A short time after my coming to Belzec, they chose a young man from a transport. He was a specimen of health, power and youth. He amazed us with his quiet spirit.
He looked around and asked almost with jocularity Does anyone escape from here? That was enough for one of the Germans. This young man, almost a boy, was then tortured until he was almost dead. They then stripped off his clothes, and hanged him upside down on a scaffold. He was left hanging for three hours. He was powerful and continued to live. They took him down, placed him on the sand, and with clubs stuffed sand down his throat. That was how he died.
Sometimes, transports larger than usual would arrive. There were occasions when instead of fifty cars, sixty or more would pull in. One time, not long before my escape, in November, they forced 100 of the new arrivals, who were already naked, to labor in the burial of the corpses. The Gestapo men realized that the designated workers who were in the camp were not sufficient to place all of the many corpses into the graves. They chose only the young men from the transport. During the entire day, these youngsters dragged the corpses to the graves, and were prodded on with whips. They were not given even one drop of water. They were naked in the snow and cold. In the evening, the murderer Schmidt, led them to a grave and shot them with a pistol, one after the other, to the last one. I did not hear cries. I only saw how they tried to be the first in line for death, these remnants of the living and anonymous, devoid of deliverance.
The camp was entirely under the watch of armed guards and more than ten S.S. men. Not many of them were active, but a few stood out at every step for their special cruelty. They were really wild beasts. Some murdered and beat 'in cold blood,' but others still enjoyed the murder, which they committed. Their faces looked overjoyed. I saw them happy during the time that they looked at people, naked and pierced with pikes, who were led to the chambers. They looked with pleasure at the despairing human apparitions, particularly at the young men.
In the most lovely small house near the Belzec Station, the head commander of the camp lived. That was the Obersturmführer, whose surname I do not remember. The name was short. He came to the camp infrequently. He would appear in connection with some incident. He was a murderer, tall in stature, broad-shouldered, forty years old or more, with a simple facial expression. His appearance was that of a murderer from birth. A beast in human form.
Once, the death machine malfunctioned. When informed about it, he came riding on a horse. He gave orders to repair the machine, but did not allow the removal of the people from the gas chambers. They would choke and expire for several hours more. His legs were bent, shaking in anger as he shouted. Even though he would appear infrequently, he instilled fear in the S.S. men. He lived alone, with a guard attendant who served him. The guard would transmit reports to him daily. This head commander, and many of the Gestapo, did not have a fixed connection to the camp.
The Gestapo had a dining hall of their own, with a cook who was brought from Germany to cook for all of them. Their families never came to visit them, so each of them lived alone. They raised goats and ducks.
People reported that, in the spring, they were sent baskets full of cherries, and received wines and liquor daily. At one time, I repaired an oven there. Two young Jewish women worked in cleaning feathers off the slaughtered geese. They threw me an onion and a radish. I also saw a village girl who worked there. Aside from them, only guardsmen-attendants were there.
Every Sunday, they would bring the orchestra and arrange a feast. Only the Gestapo men would assemble there. They ate greedily and drank. They would toss remnants of their food to the musicians. When the commander would appear in the camp, on a few occasions, I saw the Gestapo men and the policemen trembling with fear.
Aside from the head commander, four other murderers were in charge of the Gestapo men, and supervised and directed the entire murder operation. It is difficult to describe greater murderers. One of them, Fritz Ihrmann, was approximately thirty years old. Scharführer Schtab, the supply director of the camp, was an expert in the murder of children and elderly by shooting. He committed the most cruel deeds quietly, as if he were made of stone. He would be silent and behave with secrecy. Yet every day he would speak in front of the victims to tell them they were going to a bathhouse and to labor. He was a person with complete criminal consciousness.
The Oberscharführer, Reinhold Faix, would commit his deeds of cruelty in a different manner. He was from Gabluntz on the river Niese. He was married, and the father of two children. His manner of speech was like that of an educated person. He spoke rapidly. If someone did not understand his words immediately, he would hit that person and would shout at the sky like a madman. Once he ordered the kitchen to be whitewashed. A Doctor of Chemistry, a certain Jew, worked at this. The whitewasher stood above, on the edge of a ladder, near the ceiling. Faix ordered him to go up and down every instant, struck him with a whip in the face until blood poured from it, and it became swollen. This was how he did his work. Faix gave an impression of being mentally unbalanced. He played the violin. He ordered the orchestra to play the tune, Goralu, Czy Ci Nie Zal, without letup. He would order people to sing, to dance, and would torment and strike them for his enjoyment. He was a mad beast.
I don't know which of them was the crueler, and more fearsome whether Faix or the Fat Murderer, or the short swarthy Schwartz who was from the interior of Germany. He would examine the guards to see if they were cruel enough towards us, and if they were hitting us hard enough. He supervised us at grave digging. He did not allow a moment of rest. With a roar, he would chase the men from the graves and prod them to go to the chambers, to the place where the piles of corpses waited for their trip to the deep graves. There he would gather us, and then run us again to the graves. The men waited at the edge of the graves, and with looks of madness upon noticing the children, the elderly, and the sick in the pits, waited for death. Schwartz would force them to look at the corpses and the blood, and to breathe the odors of decay. They wished for the instant the bloodthirsty Ihrmann would finish them off with gun shots. Hands down! he would shout, and derive much enjoyment from these acts of cruelty.
The young Volksdeutscher, an ethnic German, Henni Schmidt, was also apparently a Latvian. He derived even greater enjoyment from his cruel work. He spoke German in a strange manner, instead of s he pronounced a t, not was but wat.
|In the Belzec Death Camp|
With the guards, Schmidt spoke Russian. He did not want to leave the camp even for one day. Flexible, nimble, thin, with the mouth of a robber, always drunk, he moved around from four in the morning to the evening, all over the camp. He beat his prisoners, looked on with attentiveness at the tortures of the victims, and enjoyed this spectacle. This one is the worst murderer, the prisoners would whisper among themselves, and immediately they would reply to one another all of them are the worst. In a place where they would go out of their way to torture the people, there he would appear the first. He was always present at the time of putting unfortunate victims in the chambers. He would listen to the penetrating cries, which would arise from the awful chambers at the time of the asphyxiation of the women. He was 'the living spirit' of the camp, the most depraved and bloodthirsty beast. He would look at the profoundly weary and sad faces of those returning in the evening to their bunks with delight. He honored each one with a blow to the head with his whip. If one of us would slip away, he would chase after him and beat him. These Gestapo men, and the others who did not stand out, were some 'species of strange beasts.' Not one of them was human even for an instant.
From seven o'clock in the morning until dark, they would beat the people in all kinds of ways. At dark, they would return to the small houses, which were near the station. The guards stood during the nights on watch with their machine guns. By day, the Gestapo men would go out to receive the death transports with festivity.
The greatest holiday for the murderers was Himmler's visit. That was in the middle of October. From the morning, we saw that the murderous Gestapo men were working in a manner shrouded in secrecy. On that day, the entire process of the murder of thousands of people lasted less time. Everything was done very quickly. Ihrmann announced, A high-ranking personality is about to come. There must be order! They did not say who was about to come, but everyone knew, and the guards whispered among themselves about this.
Near three o'clock in the afternoon, Himmler came with Major General Katzmann, the head murderer of Lvov and the region, along with a subordinate and ten Gestapo men. Ihrmann and the others accompanied them, and showed the guests the chambers. The workers were occupied in taking the dead to the graves where they gradually accumulated an awful heap of young and entirely small corpses, the bodies of children. While the prisoners dragged the corpses, Himmler watched for half an hour and then left. I saw these Gestapo men happy, in a blissful state, from a successful visit. They were very satisfied and were laughing. I heard them talking about advance payments.
I am unable to define the mood in which we lived neither my own mood, nor that of the prisoners who were condemned to death, nor what we felt when we heard the cries of the children or the awful screams of the people being asphyxiated every day. Three times a day, we saw thousands of people who were close to derangement. We too were near madness. Day after day passed upon us. We ourselves did not know how, but we did not live even a moment with illusions. We perished a little bit every day, together with all the transports of people who had another moment of the torture of illusion. Complacent and despairing,
we did not even feel hunger or cold. Everyone awaited his or her turn, and knew that we would be subjected to torments that were beyond human strength, and would then perish. Only when we heard the cries of the children Mommy, I was a good boy! Darkness! Darkness! would our hearts be torn to pieces. And afterwards, we would again stop feeling.
At the end of November, I had already concluded four months of my stay in the killing place, Belzec. The murderer, Ihrmann, notified me one morning that much tin was required in the camp. I was by then swollen and covered with bruises, the pus flowing from the wounds. The Gestapo man, Schmidt, had struck me on both sides of my face with a club. With a mocking laugh, Ihrmann said that I would travel under guard to Lvov to bring the tin. Don't escape! he told me.
I traveled by auto with an escort of four Gestapo men and a guard. In Lvov, I remained in the auto, after a day of loading tin, under the guard of a certain murderer. The rest went to spend some time in the town. I sat for several hours without interest and without movement. I noticed by chance that my guard had fallen asleep and that he was snoring. With a spontaneous movement, without thinking about it even for a moment, I leaped from the auto. The murderer was still sleeping. I went up to the sidewalk and pretended for a moment that I was searching for something near the tin. Then very slowly, I walked away. On Legions Street, there was a great deal of traffic. I covered my face with my hat. It was dark in the streets, so no one could see me. I remembered where a Polish woman, my landlady, had lived. I went to her. She hid me. It took twenty months for the wounds, which were over my entire body, to heal. Not only the wounds. I had witnessed horrifying events, which made even my rest incredibly tense. In dreams and while awake, I heard the screams of the tortured victims, and the cries of the children. I kept hearing the roaring of the motor. I was unable to tear the awful facial expressions of every one of the murderous Gestapo men from my mind. I remained in this condition until the moment of Liberation.
When the Red Army expelled the German murderers from Lvov, I was able to go out into the world to look around me without fear. I could breathe pure air freely, and, this time, the first time since my German captivity, I could think about what had happened, and I began to experience feelings. There awakened in me a strong desire to see the place in which the Germans had asphyxiated two and a half million human beings who wanted very much to live. To live!
After the passage of some time, I was able to travel back to Belzec. I spoke with people who lived in the area. They told me that in 1943, the transports had gradually decreased. The center of the extermination of the Jews had been transferred to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In 1944, they dug open the pits, poured benzene on the corpses, and incinerated them. Black smoke blew over tens of kilometers around the huge bonfires. The wind carried the stench great distances, for long days and nights, for long weeks.
And afterwards, people who lived there said the Germans had ground up the bones and the wind scattered the dust over fields and forests. The machine for grinding the bones of the victims was put together by Shpilka, the prisoner from Janowska Street, who was brought to Belzec
for that sole purpose. He told me that he had already found the mounds of bones. But all the buildings had disappeared. He succeeded in escaping and surviving afterwards. He now lives in Hungary. He recounted this information to me shortly after the liberation of Lvov by the Red Army.
When the production of 'Chemical Fertilizer' from the bones of millions of people was finished, they covered the excavated graves with earth. The Germans then very diligently straightened up the area of the grounds, which was drenched with blood. The German predatory beast covered the Jewish graves of the millions in the Valley of Killing in Belzec with verdant greenery.
I soon parted from the people who had reported this information, and went on the road, which had been known to me as 'the side track.' The track did not exist any longer. The field led me to a fragrant living pine forest. A deep silence prevailed there. Amidst the forest was a large, bright forest field.
|The Command of Murderers at the Belzec Camp|
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