Belzec was a death camp in the strictest sense of the term. It had
essentially no features of a concentration camp, but was used instead
exclusively for the purposes of extermination. Established on the
eastern fringe of the Generalgouvernement, near the village of Belzec in
the forest along the road and railway line from Lublin and Zamosc to
Lwow. The camp existed only a short time-from March to December 1942.
During those ten months, however, the Nazis killed over 600,000 people
there. These were almost exclusively Jews, but also Roma and Poles who
had been helping Jews.
Very few direct sources exist, and most of these are the rare
testimonies of witnesses in the area, aerial photographs and just one
survivor testimony. After the war, excavations were carried out at the
site of the former camp, followed by more recent excavations in
1997-1999. The camp had barracks for Nazi functionaries (Germans and
Ukrainians) as well as barracks for a small number of prisoners who were
working for the extermination machine and six gas chambers, where
people were killed with exhaust fumes. In the beginning, the bodies were
buried, but the large number of victims forced the Nazis to burn the
From the fragments of the camp that remain today, the transcribed
witness testimonies and architectural details, one can conclude that the
process of extermination there was not unlike that occurring at similar
sites. The prisoners were brought to a ramp that was constructed at the
siding leading from the main Lublin-Lwow rail line. Then, the victims'
baggage was taken and they were herded to the changing room, and then to
the gas chambers.
In 1943, the Germans dismantled the camp and planted a forest in its
place. In 1944, a detachment of the Home Army took the area around
Belzec and held it until the Red Army arrived.
After the war, although a memorial was
erected at the site, the infrastructure supporting such commemorative
activities soon disintegrated. Moreoever, the plaques dating back to
the communist period contain erroneous information. Part of the camp
For these and other reasons, a decision was made to renew efforts to
commemorate the camp at Belzec. In 1997, as the result of cooperation
between an organization committed to preserving the memory of past
victims of wars and persecution (Rada Ochrony Pamieci Walk i Meczenstwa)
and the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, a jury was formed to
select the design of the new memorial. The necessary excavations were
carried out before actual construction work began. The American Jewish
Committee was also involved on the American side. The new memorial
consists of one enormous slab with a crack in it, through which the
visitors pass. At the end of the crack is a wall with the names of the
people who were killed there.
There are rail connections to Zamosc, Krakow and Wroclaw, and bus connections to Przemysl and Lublin.
Today, Belzec is a small town having with just over three thousand
residents. There is a wooden Orthodox church there dating back to the
nineteenth century, which has some elements from the eighteenth century.
The town has not much in the way of shops or restaurants. The nearest
town with such amenities is Tomaszow Lubelski, which is five kilometers
away. The town of Narol is less than twenty kilometers from Belzec, and
has an eighteenth century palace that serves as a conference center and
is in the process of being renovated.
The closest functioning Jewish Community is the branch of the Warsaw
Community located in Lublin. Even closer, just on the other side of the
border, are the Jews of Lwow (about ninety kilometers).