BELZEC, The Nazi Death Camp
Immediately following the decision of the Nazi authorities to implement "Aktion Reinhard," the Germans began construction of three death camps in Poland, designed for the purpose of exterminating the Jews living in the region known as the "Generalgouvernement."
On November 1, 1941, Belzec, the first of the three death camps, the others being Treblinka and Sobibor, was the first death camp in which the Nazis used stationary gas chambers for killing their victims. The annihilation of the Jews at Belzec lasted for only nine months, between March and December of 1942, but in that time about a million exterminations took place, mostly Polish and foreign Jews, and small groups of non-Jewish Poles and Gypsies.
Corpses were buried in about 30 mass graves located within the perimeter of the camp site, which was at most 400 meters square. It was this practice of mass burials within the camp area itself that caused the Germans to abandon the camp when the Fall and Winter weather caused the bodies of the buried to swell and literally push themselves up out of the ground. This presented great health dangers for the perpetrators.
Between December 1942 and April 1943, transports no longer arrived at the camp and during these months, Jewish prisoners had to open the mass graves and burn the bodies of the gassed victims on huge pyres of layered railroad ties. In June 1943, the camp was totally liquidated and all the buildings were destroyed. No significant physical evidence of the victims was ever to be found at the site and the transport lists were also destroyed. The victims of Belzec died in an anonymous mass and only two official survivors of the camp lived to provide post-war testimonies of life and death at Belzec.