Reconstruction of Belzec

4.3 The Ramp and the Receiving Area

The receiving area was the first section of Belzec to be constructed. A group of Poles from Belzec Village were impressed by the Germans to begin construction. One of them, Stanislaw Kolzec, testified after the war:

In October of the year 1941 three SS-men came to Belzec and demanded 20 men for the work from the municipal administration. The local council chose 20 workers from among the inhabitants of Belzec, and I was one of them. The Germans selected the terrain to the southeast of the railroad station, which adjoined a siding. The railway line to Lvov runs along this sidetrack. We began to work on November 1,1941, with the construction of huts on the plot adjoining the siding. One of the huts which stood right next to the siding was 50 m. long and 12.5 m. wide. The second hut, which was 25 m. long and 12.5 m. wide, was intended for the Jews who went to the baths. Next to this hut we built a third hut, which was 12 m. long and 8 m. wide. This hut was divided into three sections by wooden walls, so that each section was 4 m. wide and 8 m. long.................. The first hut which I mentioned was at a distance of approximately 20 m. from the siding and 100 m. from the southern border. At that time when we Poles were building the huts, the "blacks" put up the fence around the extermination camp; it consisted of posts with closely spaced barbed wire. After we had built the three huts described above, the Germans dismissed us Poles from work on December 22, 1941. See References - Internet Resources I2

The “third hut” was the gas chamber and Kolzec described it in detail how it was built, its dimensions, and the materials used.

Kola (Reference 16) discussed the configuration of Belzec as it existed in its early and late state In his study he includes two maps drawn by E. Sztroijt: the first showing the earliest, and the second the latest configuration of the camp. The map depicting the early camp state has been redrawn here as Figure 4.3.1. It appears to follow the description of the buildings put up by Kolzec in November of 1941. There are three huts 50, 25, and 12.5 meters in length. Since Kolzec did not state the orientation of the structures, it is assumed that the way they are shown is based on other testimony. The map appears to agree with aerial photographic evidence.

This consonance can be seen in the following sections. Figure 4.3.2 presents a frame of photography flown in May of 1944. In it the light toned parts (indicated by the arrows or outlined in gray fill) are clear expressions of the footprints of buildings that once occupied the site. The regularity and the large size of the area is indicates that several structures were originally present and of some system of fencing. A comparison of figures 4.3.1 and 4.3.2 leads to the supposition that the 50 meter hut Kolzec helped build fits in the very large footprint. Also of great significance, is the fact that the small footprint to the north is about 25 meters in length. It however, is not oriented as Kola’s map showed. If this correlation were all that the data provided, one would have to leave the subject in speculation. However, there are several additional pieces of evidence that add up to the strong conclusion that this portion of Belzec is where the undressing barracks, the early gas chamber, and storage barracks were built.

In order of presentation, the additional evidence lies in:

Micro-relief obtained from stereoscopic study,

Ground photos taken by the SS staff,

Pattern of tree removal,

access road servicing the buildings

Archeological Findings and Kolzec’s Testimony

Stereoscopic Micro-relief

All the available German Luftwaffe photography was studied in detail. Table 3.0.1 presents the frames which afforded stereoscopic viewing. Note that in the table, stereo models were obtained from frames belonging to different missions. The use of stereoscopic viewing allowed the detection of many minute elevation features which otherwise cannot be detected. Figure 4.3.3 presents the result of such viewing in which form lines have been drawn.

The absolute elevations shown were taken from a topographic map. The 270 meter elevation assigned to one of the form lines is a visual transference. The small parapets, or scarps, are man-made and were probably composed of earth over logs. The uppermost one, at the center of the figure, was also photographed from the ground (see Figure 4.1.4),
where It occupies a part of the background of well known picture taken of a Jewish work commando. The scarp was probably created from soil excavated from the sloped terrain in order get more level the section in which the barracks were to be built.

The scarp appears to be about 2 meters high. When viewed stereoscopically, the other scarps have less height, and seem to have magnitudes on the order of 1/2 to 1 meters in height. In Figure 4.3.4, a correlation of the aerial imagery and of ground photos taken in 1944, shows another view of the overall camp, as well as the reception area. This is a very interesting picture. The pair of photographs seem to have been taken from the roof or upper story of farm site across the highway from the camp. One can see the scarp, and the location of the receiving area. The building and vehicles visible on the aerial cover are missing from the ground shots, showing that the date was probably early winter, after the Red Army overran Belzec.

Combining the data as presented to this point is done in Figure 4.3.5, it was evident that the large
50 meter barracks would fit nicely in the level area with its northeastern end abutting one of the scarps. Its southwestern end would lie about 25 meters from the nearest siding, and about 100 meters from the original southern boundary of the camp - distances that agree with the estimates given by Kolzec in his post war testimony as cited in the beginning of this section.

SS Ground Photos

Figure 4.3.6 presents the aerial photographic image of a row of buildings that can be detected on the May 1944 coverage. The footprints of six buildings can
be detected. The first one (arrows in the inset enlargement) is quite evident. The next two are more indistinct, and the last three are merely dark smudges. It would have been impossible to have identified all six marks, but for several photographs which survive of storage buildings, photographs which can be determined as being taken in this southwest part of Belzec.

In Figure 4.3.7, contains one of the terrestrial photographs alluded to above.
The figure of the SS officer in the foreground is that of the infamous Kurt Franz. Franz was transferred from Belzec to Treblinka as Deputy Commandant of about June or July 1942, so his presence in the picture fixes the date of the picture as sometime in the late spring or early summer of 1942. The shadows seen in the ground shot show that the sun was high in the sky - between 50 and 60 degrees of elevation. At Belzec’s latitude, and at the time of the year in question, that range of sun elevations occurs at azimuths of between 140 and 170 degrees at about 10 to 12AM local sun time.

This range of azimuth angles, when plotted on a the aerial photograph serves to confirm the interpretation that the dark areas, noted in Figure 4.3.6, are the traces of a row of buildings. This follows because the solar azimuth illumination relative to the long axis of the barracks forms an angle of 30 to 45 degrees, which conforms to the angle formed by the shadows cast and the long axis of the building row seen in the ground picture. Furthermore, the line of power poles also conforms to post war sketches of the camp.

However, the question can be raised: why are the trees, visible beyond the security fence on the ground photo, absent in the aerial shot? The answer to that question lies in a comparison to the pre-war coverage of the Camp, as shown in Figure 4.3.8. In that figure,
the right hand picture is overlaid in dark green with the forestation as it existed in 1940. In the later aerial frame, the light green region identifies the forest cut to accommodate the camp. The bright, pea green color is the wooded area remaining in 1942, and includes that still visible in 1944 from the air and a long, thin strip along the rail sidings that evidently was left from the original stand of trees when the picture of Franz was snapped before the storage barracks. Some time after the summer of 1942, this narrow strip was must also have been removed.

In 1940 photograph in Figure 4.3.8 is annotated with a pair of white arrows. These point to the cut made along the demarcation line between the German and Soviet zones of occupation agreed upon in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty. The cut next to the sidings, would have been the logical place where the construction of the camp began. One can envision that the first trees felled would have made an opening parallel to the demarcation line, and thus the construction of the 50 meter barracks (the first building that Kolzec and his fellow Poles began work on) would be aligned with that feature.

Access Road servicing the Buildings

Clearly, the six buildings were built to meet the immediate need for a site to sort and store the belongings of the victims near the undressing barracks. In the longer term, it evidently was found necessary to warehouse them in the roundhouse outside the camp boundary, possibly because the volume of clothing and other items required greater warehouse space. At any rate, it is known that the roundhouse was used as the final storage and shipment site. Thus, there was a requirement for a means of transporting the goods from inside the camp to the roundhouse site. This need was met by a road on which trucks could operate. Traces of the road (annotated in Figures 4.3.11, and 4.3.13 through 4.3.15) can be seen on the 1944 aerial pictures leading from the roundhouse into the north west end of the camp, through the Ukrainian barracks, ending at the fence line behind the storage barracks. The only place one cannot trace the road is just above the end of the 50 meter barracks where the razing of the buildings in this area evidently erased the signs of its location.

Just above the road is a dark line, this is interpreted to be the residue of dead needles and other vegetative detritus fallen from the branches woven into the wire fencing as screening.

Archeological Findings, Kolzec’s Testimony and the First Gas Chamber

From 1997 through 1999, three archeological investigations were conducted under the direction of Andrzej Kola, the director of the Archeological and Ethnological Institute of the University of Torun, Poland. The results of this work is documented in a report (Reference 16) and contains several sections describing the sizes and locations of the mass graves, the excavations of building sites, and the recovery of artifacts. In the section on the killing and burial area (see Section 4.6), Kola’s findings are used and comprise a comprehensive and overwhelming view of the scope of the tragedy which took place at Belzec. In the receiving camp, although his discoveries are less dramatic, the archeological findings have added significantly to the confidence of the observations made from the aerial photos and provided the data to locate the first gas chamber with confidence.

One of Kola’s excavations was of a small concrete and brick footing, shown in Figure 4.3.9.
In size, it is about 1.4 by 1.5 meters. Its location is where one would expect to find the first gas chamber. Kolzac’s description of this building made no mention of a motor mount or house. However, it is known that the method of killing was not fixed until early 1942, after Kolzec‘s stint of labor was completed. Wirth had experimented with bottled gas and gas vans, and had settled on carbon monoxide generated by an internal combustion engine only a couple of months after the gas chamber building was completed in December 1941. In Figure 4.3.10,
the site of the small foundation as excavated by Kola has been plotted to scale on the aerial photograph. It falls precisely alongside the gas chamber as described by Kolzec:

Next to this hut (the 25 meter long undressing barracks) we built a third hut, which was 12 m. long and 8 m. wide. This hut was divided into three sections by walls, to a height of 1.10 m. [were covered] with sheet- zinc........................................A 3 m. broad avenue, fenced in with barbed wire, which was also 3 m. high, led from the first to the second of the above-mentioned huts. A part of this fence, facing the siding and beyond it, was covered with pines and firs which had been specially felled, in order to conceal the siding. From the second hut a covered passage, ca. 2m. wide, 2 m. high, and ca. 10 m. long, led to the third hut. By way of this passage one reached the passage of the third hut, from which three doors led to its three sections. Each section of this hut had a door on its northern side, approximately 1.80 m. high and 1.10 m. wide. These doors, like the doors to the passage, were closely fitted with wooden walls, so that each section was 4 m. wide and 8 m. long. These sections were 2 m. high. The interior walls of these huts were built such that we nailed the boards to them, filling in the empty space with sand. Inside the hut the walls were covered with cardboard; in addition the floors and the rubber. All the doors in this hut opened toward the outside. The doors were very strongly built of three-inch thick planks and were secured against pressure from inside by a wooden bolt that was pushed inside two iron hooks specially fitted for this purpose. See References - Internet Resources I2

It is notable that since the doors mentioned by Kolzec opened to the north (i.e. - at the rear of the building), any facility for generating the killing gas must have had to be located along the side of the structure - just where the small foundation unearthed by Kola is found. Figure 4.3.11
is the result of amending the previous maps to reflect Reder’s descriptions of the various types of fencing and screening used. Also included were observations and interpretations of these features made from the air and ground photos. This figure now represents how the site looked towards the end of the first two or three months as best as can be determined. The upper portion of the wire fencing is drawn on the basis of the clear traces which can be seen on the aerial photography of 1944. The sections of the wire fencing closest to the sidings are the estimated alignment based on the ground pictures, such as Figure 4.3.7. Later, the fence line would have to have been expanded to include buildings to house the slave Jewish work force employed in sorting and other tasks.

Summary Reconstruction of the Early Receiving Camp

Figure 4.3.12 is an artist’s rendering of the early Belzec. To derive it, the aerial photography was warped so as to emulate
an oblique view, and then the structures and features presented in the previous figures inserted correctly scaled in the horizontal plane, but exaggerated in the vertical dimension. The storage buildings are shown in the drawing, even though they were erected after Kolzec’s team constructed the initial three buildings. So, Figures 4.3.11 and 4.3.12 have to represent the camp after November 1941, but before March of 1943, when the first gas chamber was torn down and replace by a newer, enlarged one. This conclusion allows one to infer that the original purpose of the largest of the three original buildings was probably to store the belongings of the murdered. It must have become clear that this arrangement was unsatisfactory, and led to the addition of the six storage barracks just to the south, and the construction of the road to allow truck traffic to move goods from the six barracks to the roundhouse. Finally, one can then also infer that this large building was then used as a second undressing barracks. This conclusion is given support by the conflicting pictures of the camp given in post war testimony by the former SS staff (see Girzig, Juhrs, Gley, et al: References - Internet Resources - I1).

Reconstruction of the Late Camp

As far as is possible to determine, the receiving camp did not change greatly as Belzec matured from the reconstruction depicted in Figure 4.3.11. The first gas chamber was torn down, and a number of smaller buildings were erected. One of these, denoted by the pink color, is shown in Figure 4.3.13. The
identification of this building is based on Kola’s work, but is an educated guess. Kola’s had first used probing drills to identify likely areas for digging. In one site to the north east of the largest barracks, his probes brought up a number of cultural artifacts in layers up to 190cm in thickness and an excavation was undertaken in a small area of 4 by 4.5 meters, where he found a clearly expressed the remains of a small wooden building of about 2.4 by 3 meters buried 1.6 meters in the sandy soil. Kola thought that the building must have had a cellar due to its depth. The unrelated study of the micro contours showed that there was a notch-like depression in the soils near the parapet identified (see Figure 4.3.13). This location is the same as the site of Kola’s excavation. On the basis of the artifacts that Kola unearthed (injection ampoules, bottles and plastic boxes for medicines, a syringe needle, etc., It is believed that what Kola unearthed was the infirmary for the Jews who formed the commandos at the receiving site (This is lent credence by the discovery of arm bands marked with the star of David in the excavations), and that this small structure found by Kola must have been a part of a larger living barracks for the Jewish worker commandos assigned to meet the convoys, and sort their belongings (Reference 16, pp58-59).

The sites of Three other buildings could be identified on the aerial photography on the western and to the northern sides of the receiving area. Two of these, coded in yellow, are quite easily seem on the photography. They consist of a pair of cellar-like rectangular holes. The buildings which had been built over the cellars covered a greater area, judging from the disturbed light-toned soils around the underground parts. The third building was a small cellar about 5 by 5 meters, just to the south lies another small building discovered by Kola. The former building may be the tailor’s shop which one of the Belzec SS staff included in a sketch map of the camp. (Juhrs: References Internet I1).

Figure 4.3.14 and 4.3.15 are the registered images of May and September aerial covers. The results of a comprehensive study is shown in the form of coded
overlays. Table 4.3.1 contains the key to the annotations. These figures are shown to clarify the basis of the analysis and to show interior fencing. In Figure 4.3.14, the May photography serves to identify the footprints of a number of buildings. Two cellars can be seen - annotations 2 and 7. One of the structures unearthed by Kola can be identified at “C” in the form of a light toned circular area surrounding a very small shadow cast by tone of the inside walls of the 3 x 2.7 meter foundation. It could not have been detected without guidance from the Kola report (Reference 16, pp52-54). The September photography is much poorer in resolution than the earlier picture. However, it has the great advantage of being taken at a low sun elevation angle, resulting in good shadow definition. In addition the vegetative cover in the early fall state clearly reveals patterns attributable to roads and fencing which are nearly invisible on the earlier photography.

Neither the May of the September imagery provides enough information to confidently map the interior fence lines. Those that are shown are based on drawing inferences from context and tonal discontinuities which are most likely to be the result of fencing rather than building structures. For instance, at Treblinka it was known that the commando barracks for the workers outside the extermination area was fenced so that the Jewish labor force could be locked in at night. It was assumed that this practice preceded it at Belzec. The three buildings annotated 1,2 and 3 were the only logical sites for the Belzec work force, and therefore the fencing was drawn along tonal boundaries around them.

Similar logic was used to map the probable road in blue. Since the six barracks at “4” were used to sort the victims belongings, but that the locomotive roundhouse (see photographs in Figure 4.1.2 in Section 4.1) was used as a warehouse and shipping facility, some means of transport the masses of clothing and other items was needed between the roundhouse and the sorting barracks. Given the topography mapped earlier, the only route was between two scarps just to the north of the 50 meter long undressing barracks (see Figure 4.3.13 above).

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