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Earlier Belzec Investigations

(1) First Investigation 10.10.1945. The Polish War Crimes Commission of the Zamosc District Court, dated 11 April, 1946.[1] investigation was lead by Judge Czeslaw Godzieszewski from the District Court in Zamosc.

On that day, Judge Godzieszewski and his team of investigators entered Belzec camp and began their investigations. Nine pits were opened up which confirmed the existence of mass graves, some still containing human remains, and the fact that thousands of corpses had been cremated and the bones crushed into small pieces. The human remains unearthed were re-interred in a specially built concrete crypt near the NE corner of the camp.

Second Investigation The Main Commission of Enquiry, 1946[2]

The Main Commission report opens its conclusions by stating that Belzec was the second camp to be built by the Nazis for the extermination of Jews. The report cites the first camp where extermination took place between 1941-1943 as Chelmno-on-the -Nev, which began functioning on 8 December, 1941,[3] followed by Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.

The Main Commission had at their disposal the evidence provided on occasions by the German staff, and from the personal observations of witnesses who had either temporarily been employed in the camp and had the opportunity to see what was going on around them.[4]

The Commission drew attention to the systematic raising of the ghettos, the transports from towns and the set-up of transit camps at Izbica and Piaski. The Commission further outlined the resettlement transports from eastern Europe to Belzec, and the inclusion in these transports of Polish non Jews who had been engaged in anti Nazi activities.

The author of this paper was present in the course of a further investigation at Belzec, to establish the locations of mass graves.[5] All work was carried out under the auspices of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, and the Polish government. The archaeological investigation conducted by representatives from the Nicholas Copernicus University of Torun led by Dr. Mieczyslaw Gora located 33 mass graves were located:

1.  40m x 11m x 6m deep naked mummified corpses/black fat/hair
2.  15m x 5m x 2m deep unburned corpses/carbonised wood/
3.  20m x 15m x 5m deep unburned corpses/hair/bone/black fat
4.  20m x 8m 5m deep unburned corpses/hair/bone/black fat
5.  35m x 15m x 5m deep bones so dense - drill could not penetrate
6.  33m x 14m x 5m deep burnt bone/remains/wood/
7.  30m x 14m x 5m deep burnt bone/remains/wood/dark grey ash
8.  30m x 14m-extending 90m x 12m - sw burnt bone/remains/wood
9.  10m x 10m x 5m deep burnt human remains/wood/grey sand
10.  25m x 90m x 4m 80cm deep large bone/fat tissue/greasy lime
11.  11m x 9m x 1.90 deep burnt bone/remains/wood
12.  L shape - 20m x 28m x 3 - 5m deep unburned bone/remains/g/sand/burnt wood
13.  5m x 5m x 4.80cm deep (smallest) burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
14.  65-70m x 30m x - 8m x 4m deep (largest) burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
15.  12m x 7m burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
16.  20m x 8m x 4.10cm deep burnt bone/remains/wood
17.  16m x 8m x 3.50m deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
18.  15m x 10m x 3.50m deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
19.  14m x 8m x 3.50m deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
20.  30-35m x 10m (extends outside wire) burnt bone/wood/dental bridge-4 f/t.
21.  7m x7m 1.70m deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
22.  27m x 10m x 3.60 deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
23.  10m x 7m x 4.20m deep burnt bone/remains
24.  Narrow Trench 10m x 2m x 4.80cm deep burnt bone/remains
25.  14m x 8m x 3m deep waxy fat/greasy lime/burnt bone/corpses
26.  9m x 9m x 4.20m deep burnt bone/remains/wood
27.  10m x 4m x 4+ deep burnt bone/wood/grey waxy lime/remains
28.  6m x 6m x 4.90m deep burnt bone/remains/fat greasy lime
29.  30m x 10m x 4m + deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
30.  10m x 4m x 3.80cm deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
31.  10m x 6m x 3.80cm deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand
32.  15m x 5m x 4.10cm deep unburned corpses/burnt bone/remains/lime
33.  5m x 5m x 2.80m deep burnt bone/remains/wood/grey sand/lime

From preliminary research it is estimated that the total cubic capacity of the above mentioned graves is in excess of 2,500,000 cubic metres.[6]

Number of Victims (Part 1)[7]

According to the report of Alois Berezow, the Polish stationmaster at Belzec, the camp opened mid-March 1942, and ran continuously (except during re-building in May and June) until October 1942. it was phased out between October and December, 1942. From March until October 1942, one to three transports arrived in Belzec daily, averaging forty cars per transport and 100 persons per car. From October to December, 1942, the transports were cut to two per week.[8]The commission estimated that not fewer than 600, 000 persons were gassed in Belzec,[9] including 1000 to 1500 non Jewish Poles.[10]

In its attempt to establish the total number of victims, the Polish War Crimes Commission had to rely on the evidence of witnesses, mostly Polish railway workers, among them the station master at Belzec, Alojzy Bereszowski. The Commission had no other evidence at their disposal so were only able to give an approximate estimate. They had also taken into account that after the camp ceased to exist, the Germans had taken considerable care to obliterate the evidence and all trace of their crimes. All the railway documents that undoubtedly would have been of the most authoritative source as well as that of the victims had been completely destroyed.[11]

The Commission then began the task of coming to some kind of conclusions as to the number of Jews murdered in Belzec. This was not easy on the available evidence: The Commission accepted that the greatest time of exterminations took place in July, August and September, 1942. However, the evidence of Rudolf Reder, a survivor and witness to Belzec,[12] and subsequent research, shows that the height of the extermination took place in the months of August, September and October (See summary p, 16). Reder: ` From August up to the end of November 1942, they came every day, without interruption, three times daily. Each train numbered fifty cars, with hundreds of people in each one of them`.[13]

According to statements of witnesses (available to them at the time), the number of transports which arrived at Belzec during the first month (March) of the camp`s existence, and during the three summer months mentioned above - varied from 1-3 transports daily. Each transport consisted from -15 - 60 wagons; the average being about 40. Some of the wagons had the No. of victims inside marked on them in chalk; generally it varied from 100 - 130. The railway employee, Brzezowski stated to the Commission that the railway documents were, as a rule, handed over directly by the escort police guard leader to Rudolf Gockel, the German station master.[14] However, it sometimes happened that they were given to a member of the Polish Staff, so that it was occasionally possible to obtain accurate information about the number of people brought to Belzec. The result of the Commissions calculations concluded that between 17 March and end of May, 1942 (133 days), one transport each day of 4, 000 (40 wagons x 100 people = 4000) arrived at Belzec. Between October and December, 1942, two transports arrived weekly. The Commission concluded the total number of people exterminated in Belzec to be not less than 600, 000.

Although these findings fit very nicely into a well balanced conclusion, I am very dubious that the Commissions conclusions are founded in fact. The expert`s conclusions of 100 per wagon arriving at Belzec is, if anything, not too high, but too low. We have a number of transports that were filled with between 150-200 people per wagon.[15] Taking into account the witness evidence (from all sides), we arrive at a much larger average of persons per wagon, i.e., 120-150. Another important factor here, of course, was the European Jews were brought to Belzec in wagons and passenger coaches, not like the Galician Jews who only knew the inside of wagons.[16] Transportation facts, numbers of victims are further obscured by the receiving camp`s policy of not recording numbers. SS-Unterschafuhrer Robert Juhrs when questioned at a later Belzec trial concerning numbers of victims, replied: `in connection with this I may emphasise that we strictly had to avoid the mention of numbers....[17]

The final part of the Belzec Commission report dealt with the winding down activities: the cremations, the destruction of evidence, dismantling of the gas chambers,[18] the fences removed and the ground ploughed up and planted with firs and lupines.[19] A final inspection was carried out by a special SD Commission who satisfied themselves that everything had been done to cover up the crimes of the `Action Reinhardt` period in Belzec.[20]

The concluding estimates of Jews murdered in Belzec has always registered in the region of 600, 000. In the following reassessment my conclusions challenge this figure which are wholly derived from collective and other miscellaneous sources. I have also stepped into 1943 (outside of the Belzec period) in order to tidy up the remaining expulsions from the Galician district.

1. Okregowa Komisja Badania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemo/Instytut Pamiece Narodowej, Lublin (hereafter OKBZ), file No.: Ds. 1604/45 - Zamosc.

2. The Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland (hereafter MGIC), Warsaw, 1947.

3. Chelmno in central Poland near Lodz (Warthegau) was not built. It was a former agricultural building adapted as a receiving establishment for Jews. The gassings that occurred in Chelmno were by the use of gas vans which collected the Jews, drove them to the forest during which time they were killed on the journey with the exhaust fumes from the vehicles. In a secret directive from the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) in Berlin dated 8.6.1942, recommended 9-10 Jews per sq. m. in the gassing vans at Chelmno (Kulmhof) in the Warthegau.

4. I have used this same evidence that was available to the Commission for my own research purposes.

5. East European Jewish Affairs, vol., no. 2, 1998-9/1350-1674/49-62

6. For the purposes of cubic capacity calculations, all depths should read 6m. The varying depths shown represent where the investigation proved positive of human remains All mass graves of whatever dimensions were excavated to a depth of 6m (the Berlin order). We must remind ourselves that, all these graves were exhumed, the bodies burnt and crushed, and then re-interred resulting in the findings of the investigation team

7. YVA, TR-10/517, Belzec-Oberhauser, Landgericht Munchen, also ZStL, file No.: AR-Z 252/59: Oberhauser, 2887: Gley, 6.2.1962/Munster. During the Belzec Trial in Munich 1963-4, Gley originally stated that at least 660,000 corpses had been cremated. He later changed this to 600, 000, and then to at least 540,000. Other witnesses have made their own calculations: Alojzy Berezowski, the Belzec station master states that the final death toll may be one million victims, OKBZm file No.: Ds. 1604/45-Zamosc: Berezowski, 12.4.1946. It may be possible during future investigations at Belzec to estimate an approximate number of corpses once contained in the 33 mass graves, based on the known number of corpses exhumed from mass graves at other sites: Bergen-Belsen, Katyn, Kharkov and Miednoje, etc., and the contents and cubic capacity of these graves. The mass graves in Belzec have a capacity in excess of 2, 500,000 cu. m. (Dr. Gora).

8. Although there were quiet times due to re-construction and transport difficulties, Belzec still managed to feed the gas chambers.

9. See Eugene Szrojt, `The Belzec Extermination Camp`, German Crimes in Poland, ed., Central Commission for War Crimes. Warsaw: 1946-1947, vol. 11.

10. Ibid. Testimonies of: Stefan Kirsz, dated 20.2.1946. Kirsz was a train driver engaged in bringing transports into the camp from Rawa Ruska to Belzec and on occasions saw what was going on inside the camp.

11. We know about the victims. The railway documents were all destroyed on July 4 1944, when a lone Russian bomber dropped one solitary bomb over Belzec which just happened to hit an ammunition train standing in the station. The Belzec railway station was completely destroyed together with all the records.

12. Rudolf Reder, `Belzec`, Central Zydowski Komisja Historyczna (hereafter Reder), Krakow, 1946, 42-44.

13. Ibid. See also YA, documentation, 126.

14. After Belzec closed down, Gockel was transferred to Treblinka.

15. See the Kolomyja transport of 10. 9. 1942.

16. It was a practice by the transport organisers to attach a passenger coaches to the front and rear of wagon transports for the guard detachments.

17. YA, 126.

18. No trace of the gas chambers has been found (to date).

19. Lupines were still evident 1997/8/9.

20. The camp officially closed on 8 May, 1943, when the SS-garrison were dispersed to other camps. See testimony of Tadeusz Misiewicz, the booking clerk at Belzec railway station dated 15 October, 1945/Belzec-OKBZ, file No. Ds. 1604/45 - Zamosc.

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