The Reconstruction of Belzec

Belzec: Reconstruction of the Death Camp

Reconstruction of Belzec

4.1 The Camp's Earliest Phases

1940-1941

Figure 4.1.1, a Luftwaffe photograph flown in 1940, shows the major components of the future death camp. They are: the rail repair and maintenance facility, consisting of a locomotive roundhouse,
a repair shop, and a water tower; the Belzec Passenger rail station; the site of the future SS billets; and the rail sidings which in 1940 were still under construction. Of greatest interest are the sidings. They are not complete but bulwarks have been emplaced to raise the bed level above the surrounding low spot in which they sit, but no actual rails or sleepers have been laid. When the death camp was built later in 1941-42, the siding work was completed and the rails laid.

The Railroad repair facility was the site of a forced labor camp. where Jewish laborers were engaged in the construction of fortifications intended to defend against the Soviets. Two of the buildings were subsequently converted to use for the death camp. The roundhouse as a warehouse for victims belongings, and the water tower to house an electrical generator for the camp.

An enlargement of Figure 4.1.1 is presented in Figure 4.1.2. Here one can see a security fence,
indicated by the white arrows, erected around the locomotive round house and repair shed. Note that the fence encloses part of the wye. This is the site of the forced labor camp, the precursor to the Belzec extermination camp. As of 1940, the date of the aerial photo in these first two figures, the defenses were not yet constructed. In later photography, an antitank ditch dug 1941, can be seen. A part of it was enclosed in the death camp. In Figure 4..12, the dark line just below the turntable is the secondary rail line connecting Lublin and Lvov. The latter are major cities served by main line railroads. The improved road connecting Tomaszow-Lubelski to the north of Belzec with Rawa Ruska to the south is in the lower righthand corner.

In Figure 4.1.2, annotation A indicates the locomotive round house, B the repair shed, and C a water tower (These buildings still exist and are shown as they appear today on the ground in the color insets).

That the rail repair facility was being used to house the impressed labor force indicates that the camp was intended to be temporary. The onset of Reinhard in 1941, however prolonged the diversion of these facilities. The roundhouse continued to be appropriated by the Germans, this time to warehouse the belongings and clothing of the Jews murdered in the camp, while the water tower was converted to house the electrical generating plant for the camp, as is demonstrated in Figure 4.1.3, a photograph taken in 1944.

On the site of the future death camp, work on the sidings was completed sometime in 1941. Figure 4.1.4 shows a ground shot of a Jewish work commando posed before the embankment on which the sidings were laid. It was taken some time in 1941. The exact date is unknown which is unfortunate. The commando was completing the construction on the sidings begun by the Poles before the war in 1939.
The construction of the first buildings of the death camp began in November-December 1941. They were erected just over the embankment out of sight. If the snapshot of the commando were taken earlier than this, it would imply that preparations for the murder of the Polish Jews was being made as early as the summer of 1941.

Finally, Figure 4.1.5 is presented showing the state of the repair facility and its environs in 1944-45, after the death camp had been dismantled and after the arrival of the Red Army.

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