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
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),
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
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
In Figure 4.3.7, contains one of the terrestrial photographs alluded to above.
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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).
Last modified: February 12, 2008