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ALEXANDER KIMEL - HOLOCAUST UNDERSTANDING & PREVENTION

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THE BELZEC DEATH CAMP

by Alexander Kimel - Holocaust Survivor

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In the summer of 1942, at the height of the extermination, the Germans had the following Death Camps operating in Poland:

  • Belzec in Galicia, capacity 15,000 per day
  • Sobibor close to Vilno, capacity 20,000 per day.
  • Treblinka near Warsaw, capacity 15,000 per day.
  • Majdanek near Lublin, under construction, at that time.

The next improvement in the Nazi death camp technology came to life in Belzec. There Captain Wirth the specialist of the euthanasia plan, constructed static gas chambers, masqueraded as bath houses, with flower pots, and even a Star of David painted on the roof. The exhaust from a diesel engine was piped into the gas chamber.

There are many survivors of Auschwitz, some from Tremblinka and Sobibor, but only one known survivor of Belzec. The only information available about the operations of those camps are coming from Kurt Gerstein a German chemical engineer, an Anti-Nazi who joined the SS with the hope of sabotaging the Nazi extermination operations from within. As an chemical expert he visited the Belzec Camp. He tried to alert the world about the atrocities; he sent notes to the Swedish Government, tried to contact the Papal Nuncio in Berlin, to no avail, nobody wanted to get involved. After the war, while imprisoned by the French, he furnished the following eyewitness account:

In January 1942 I was named chief of the Waffen -SS technical disinfection services, including section for the extremely toxic gases. On June 8, 1942, SS Sturmfuhrer Gunther of the RSHA came to see me. He was dresses in civilian clothing. I had never met him before. He ordered me to get him prussic acid and to bring for him immediately 100 kilograms of prussic acid and to bring it to a place known only to the truck driver. He said he needed the acid for a top secret mission . . . As soon as the truck was loaded we left for Lublin. There, SS Gruppenfuhrer (Globocnik) was waiting for us . . . "This is one of the top secret matters there are, even the most secret. Anyone who talks will be shot immediately. Only yesterday two who talked were shot " Globocnik explained to us. " You will have to disinfect large piles of clothing coming from the Jews, Poles Czechs, etc. Your other duty will be to improve the workings of our gas chambers, which operate on the exhaust from a Diesel engine. We need a more toxic and faster working gas, something like the prussic acid. The Fuhrer and Himmler -they were here the day before yesterday, August 15- and ordered me to accompany anybody who has to see the installation." Professor Pfannenstiel asked him," but what does the Fuhrer say? Globocnik answered": Fuhrer has ordered more speed. Dr. Herbert Lidner, who was here yesterday, asked him, 'Wouldn't it be more prudent to burn the bodies instead of burying them? Another generation make take a different view of these things.' I answered: 'Gentlemen, if there is ever a generation after us so cowardly, so soft, that it would not understand our work as good and necessary, then gentlemen, National Socialism will have been for nothing. On the contrary, we should bury bronze tablets saying that it was we, who had the courage to carry out this gigantic task!" Then the Fuhrer said: "Yes, my brave Globocnik, you are quite right.'"

The next day we left for Belzec. Globocnik introduced me to the SS man who took me around the plant. We saw no dead bodies that day, but a pestilential odor hung over the whole area. Alongside the station there was a "dressing hut" with window for "valuables." Further on, a room with a hundred chairs- the Barber room. Then a corridor 150 meter long in the open air, barbed wire on both sides, with signs: "To the baths and inhalants." In front of us a building like a bath house; to the left and right, large concrete pots of geraniums or other flowers. On the roof, the Star of David. On the building a sign: "Heckenholts Foundation."

The following morning, a little before seven there was announcement: "The first train will arrive in ten minutes!" A few minutes later a train arrived from Lemberg (Lwow): 45 cars with more than 6,000 people. Two hundred Ukrainians assigned to this work flung open the doors and drove the Jews out of the cars with leather whips. A loud speaker gave instructions: Strip, even artificial limbs and glasses. Hand all money and valuables in at the 'valuables window'. Women and young girls are to have their hair cut in the `barbers hut'.

Then the march began. Barbed wire on both sides, in the rear two dozen Ukrainians with riffles. They drew near, Wirth and I found ourselves in front of the death chambers. Stark naked men, women, children, and cripples passed by. A tall SS man in the corner called to the unfortunates in a loud minister's voice: "Nothing is going to hurt you! Just breathe deep and it will strengthen your lungs. It's a way to prevent contagious diseases. It's a good disinfectant! "They asked him what was going to happen and he answered": The men will have to work, build houses and streets, The women wont have to do that, they will be busy with the housework and the kitchen. " This was the last hope for some of these poor people, enough to make them march toward the death chambers without resistance. The majority knew everything; the smell betrayed it! They climbed the little wooden stairs and entered the gas chambers, most of them silently, pushed by those behind them. A Jewess of about forty with eyes like fire cursed the murderer's; she disappeared into the gas chamber after being struck several times by Captain Wirth's whip. Many prayed . . . SS men pushed the men into the chambers. "Fill it up," Wirth ordered; 700-800 people in 93 square meters. The door closed. Then I understood the reason for the "Heckenholt" sign. Heckenholt was the driver of the Diesel, whose exhaust was to kill these poor unfortunates. SS Undersharfuhrer Heckenholt tried to start the motor. It wouldn't start! ...My stopwatch clocked it all: 50 minutes, 70 minutes and the Diesel still would not start. The men were waiting in the gas chambers. You could hear them weeping "as though in a synagogue" said Professor Pfannenstiel, his eyes glued to the window in the wooden door. Captain Whirt, furious, struck with his whip the Ukrainian who helped Heckenholt. The Diesel started after two hours and 49 minutes, by my stopwatch. Twenty minutes later passed. You could see through the window that many were already dead after thirty minutes! Jewish workers on the other side opened the wooden doors. They had been promised their lives in return for doing this horrible job, plus as small percentage of the money and valuables collected. The men were still standing, like columns of stones, with no room to fall or to lean. Even in the death you could tell the families, all holding hands. It was difficult to separate them while emptying the rooms for the next batch. The bodies were tossed out, bluer, wet with sweat and urine, the legs smeared with excrement and menstrual blood. Two dozen workers were busy checking mouths which they opened with iron hooks. "Gold tot he left, no gold to the right." Others checked anus and genitals, looking for money, diamonds, gold, etc. Dentists knocked out gold teeth, bridges, and crowns, with hammers.

Captain Wirth stood in the middle of them. He was in his element, and showing me a big gem box filled with teeth, said. "See the weight of the gold? Just from yesterday and the day before! You can't imagine what we find everyday, dollars, diamonds, gold! You'll see!" He took me over to a jeweler responsible for the all the valuables. They also pointed to me one of the heads of the big Berlin store Kaufhaus des Westen, and the little man whom they forced to play the violin, the chief of the Jewish workers' commandos. "He is a captain of the Imperial Austrian Army, Chevalier of the German Iron cross" Wirth told me.

The bodies were thrown into big ditches near the gas chamber, about 100 by 20 by 12 meters. After a few days the bodies swelled and the whole mass rose up 2-3 yards because of the gas in the bodies. When the swelling went down several days later, the bodies matted down again. They told me that later they poured Diesel oil over the bodies and burned them on railroad ties to make them disappear.

But even the improved version of gas chamber could not kill the millions of victims, in the short time allotted, and the Germans built Auschwitz.

Testimony of Kurt Gersten, Nuremberg Tribunal PS 1553. redbar1.gif

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