Belzec Extermination Camp

Bełżec, Poland

Bełżec was a Nazi German extermination camp built by the SS for the purpose of implementing the secretive Operation Reinhard, the plan to eradicate Polish Jewry, a key part of the 'Final Solution' which entailed the murder of some 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. The camp operated from 17 March 1942 to the end of December 1942. The burning of exhumed corpses on five open-air grids and bone crushing continued until March 1943.

Between 430,000 and 500,000 Jews are believed to have been murdered by the SS at Bełżec. This makes it the third worst extermination camp, exceeded only by Treblinka and Auschwitz. Only seven Jews performing slave labour with the camp's Sonderkommando survived World War II; and only one of them became known, thanks to his postwar testimony submitted officially. The lack of viable witnesses who could testify about the camp's operation is the primary reason why Bełżec is so little known despite the enormous number of victims.

The physical evidence of the camp's existence was almost entirely erased before the war's end as a result of the German prolonged cleanup efforts. In the late 1990s extensive investigations were carried out on the camp grounds to determine precisely the camp's extent and provide greater understanding of its operation. Buildings constructed after the war on the camp grounds were removed. In 2004, Bełżec became a new branch of the Majdanek State Museum. New official monuments commemorating the camp's victims were unveiled.

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