Reconstruction of Belzec

5.0 Epilogue

When the Belzec’s liquidation was completed in March of 1943, an SS commission arrived from the Lublin SS headquarters to inspect the camp and ensure that the task of hiding the crimes committed had been properly carried out. It was not until the spring of 1944 that aerial photography, now archived in the US National Archives photography, was flown recording the state of the extermination camp. The earliest photography (Mission GX8084) that the Luftwaffe flew was dated sometime in early May: The exact date of this photography was not recorded, but since the mission number precedes that of GX8095 flown 13 May, 1944, we know that 8084 is earlier. The appearance of the terrain in terms of foliation and cropping, appears identical to 8095, so its dating can be placed with assurance in the period of late April to early May. In GX8084, Belzec was covered at small scale and with photography of poor quality. Nevertheless, given the good pictures obtained from GX8095 for comparison it is possible to identify all the salient activity retrospectively.
This can be illustrated by Figures 5.0.1, 5.02 and 5.0.3. In 5.0.1, the components present at the erstwhile SS garage site are identifiable in coverage dated May 13, 1944. The long building in the center of the scene was built on the foundations of the garage, torn down during the camp‘s liquidation. the size of the later building is significantly smaller than the structure it replaced: 5.5 x 18.3 m versus 12 x 26 meters. Alongside it is a truck whose dimensions put it in the 3 ton class - possibly an Opal Blitz, one of the standard Wehrmach vehicles of WW II. To the right of the building are four, vehicles, possibly trailers. They are parked on a white colored hardstand. Figure 5.0.2 is a second mage of the building and vehicle park acquired on the same mission. In it, the images of the vehicles is significantly different:. This is due to the change in viewing angle. A three axle trailer in use by the Deutsche Reichsbahn in the WW II time period is presented in Figure 5.0.3. Note that when uncovered, the low sides would cast shadows like those in Figure 5.0.2.

Looking back to the early coverage afforded by GX8084, One can confidently identify the same building and parked vehicles. This image is shown in Figure 5.0.4. However, of greater interest, it is clear that there are two railcars present on one of the old sidings. This sighting conclusively shows
that at last a portion of the rails were left in place after the rest of the Belzec camp was razed. From the sum of these observations, one can conclude that the camp was taken over by the Reichsbahn. No security fencing is in evidence to indicate that the facility was military in nature. Possibly, the railroad used this site for small transshipments forward to the combat zone, because by May 1944 the front lines between the German and Soviet forces was less than 200 miles away, and air attack may have made rail transport problematic (by the middle of June, the Red Army was only 75 miles from Belzec, and was about to launch Operation Bagration which destroyed the German Army Group Center - a bigger disaster than at Stalingrad).

On 23 June 1944, the Soviets launched Bagration, and sometime between the 16th and the 27th of July, the 1st Guards Tank Army overran Belzec. An air attack by the Red Air Force in this period caught a Reichsbahn ammunition train on the tracks in front of the Belzec Station. The explosion leveled the station house. Figure 5.0.5 was taken in September, 1944 when the area around Belzec was firmly under Soviet control. One
can see the bomb craters left by the attack. Also visible is an Soviet armored company parked across the highway from the ruins of the station. None of the extermination camp’s facilities were damaged. In the Figure, the SS compound, the roundhouse area and the camp itself are unmarked.

In the next year, the new Polish regime, backed by the Soviet civil authorities, opened a series of investigations into the crimes committed by the Germans in Poland. At Belzec, a commission set up the fall of 1945 set up boards of enquiry before which testimony was taken from local residents. The board also conducted on site investigations, including the opening of graves to verify that they contained human remains. In April of 1946, a second commission was formed. This body established more completely the history of all the Reinhhard camps, and their precursor at Chelmno. The commission described the steps to mass murder: the ghettoization of the Jewish population, and the transport of these peoples to the various death camps. One of the witnesses before the commission was Chaim Herszman. Herszmen had escaped from the transport taking the last Jewish workers from Belzec to Sobibór where they were to be shot. Hirszman had completed part of his deposition and was to return the next day to complete his testimony. He never made it. He was murdered by Polish anti-Semites before he could.

The second Commission had verified that a final inspection by the SS had occurred at Belzec to ensure that the evidence of the heinous crimes committed at Belzec had been removed. The several investigations at Belzec since 1945 have shown that the SS commission failed. The original investigations at Belzec unequivocally showed what the nature of the camp had been. Kola’s excavations in the period from 1998 to 1999 provided a scientific measure of the magnitude of the crimes. It is also a great irony that the German WW II Luftwaffe proved to be another agent providing an invaluable source of information for delimiting of the scope of the murders.

All the Aktion Reinhard staff was transferred as a group to duty in Trieste. They were formed into three SS/Police units with Wirth as commanding officer whose headquarters was an old rice mill in San Sabba, a suburb of Trieste. The Wirth Einsatz was an extension of the work carried out in Poland with the additional task of combating the partisans, which in Trieste were particularly effective. Several of the T-4 personnel were killed in action against them. Wirth was killed at Erpelle on the 26th May 1944. Franz Stangl, Treblinka’s Commandant told Sereny:

I saw him dead They said partisans killed him but we thought his own men had taken care of him. Sereny, Reference 22, pp 262.

In the 1960s, the Federal Republic of Germany brought to trial a number of the Belzec SS contingent who survived the war. Some of them were convicted and sentenced to various terms in prison. Lorenz Hackenholt, who ran the gas chambers and designed the improved installations at all three Reinard camps, was never found. Although he was suspected of being alive and had been seen alive in the years immediately after the war ended. He was the object of a search by the German Police. But it was to no avail and he may have escaped being brought to justice (for a comprehensive account of this see (See M. Tregenza, References: Internet Resources I3).

Index