Reconstruction of Belzec
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.
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
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
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).
Last modified: February 12, 2008