- The first of the Aktion Reinhard death camps was situated in the southeastern part of the Lublin district near the Belzec railroad station. Construction of the camp began in November 1941, and it became operational in March 1942. Belzec was utilized as an exterminating center for the Jews arriving from the ghettos of Poland. Under the supervision of Christian Wirth, Jews were gassed with carbon monoxide from the exhaust fumes of an internal combustion engine. The engine was installed in a shed outside the gas chamber from which gas was piped into the enclosed space. Wirth camouflaged the killing process in a manner that caught the prisoners unaware that they were being sent to their death. His intention was to convey to the victims the impression that they had arrived at a work or transit camp. Wirth’s strategy of deception entailed speeding up every step of the process, so that the victims would have no chance to grasp the precarious situation that they found themselves in. The objective was to mentally paralyze the victims so as to minimize the possibility of escape or acts of resistance.Wirth’s deceptive practices were also applied to the incoming convoys, whose “passengers” were exterminated on arrival. The train depot was composed of a railroad ramp, which had room for 20 freight cars, and two barracks for the arrivals. The victims were brought to the first barrack to undress, and their clothes and other personal items were stored in the second barrack. From this area of the camp, the victims were sent to the extermination sector of Belzec, which consisted of the gas chambers and the mass graves. A path known as “the tube” (Schlauch) was fenced in with barbed wire and partitioned off by a wooden fence that separated the reception area from the extermination sector. Estimates of Jews exterminated at Belzec range from a low figure of 500,000 to a high estimate of 600,000.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.