The Belzec death camp was located in the southeastern part of the Lublin District, near Belzec, a small village on the Lublin - Lwow railway line. In early 1940 the Germans set up a number of labour camps in the Belzec district, housing workers building the "Otto-Line", a series of fortifications on the border with the Soviet Union. These Jewish labour camps were disbanded in October 1940. The death camp was not part of, or converted from any other recognised camp facility. It was built in connection with Aktion Reinhard, specifically for the murder of Jews.
Belzec was chosen as a death camp solely for logistical reasons. Belzec railway station was connected with the railway centre in Rawa Ruska (a town situated today in Ukraine), located 14 km from Belzec. The main railway lines from Lwow and Stanislawow in the east and from Rzeszow, Przemysl, Tarnow, and Krakow in the southwest, were concentrated in Rawa Ruska.
The site chosen for the camp was on a railway siding, at a distance of about 400 meters from the Belzec railway station, and only 50 meters east of the main Lublin - Lwow railway line. Richard Thomalla of the SS-Zentralbauleitung Zamosc supervised the construction works.
The on-site supervisor was an unidentified red haired SS officer, known as "the Master" (der Meister). Skilled manual Polish workers from Belzec and the surrounding area built the gas chambers and barracks, having been "well paid" They were later replaced by Jews from the nearby villages of Lubycza Krolewska and Mosty Maly. Following the clearing of trees from the northern half of a hill, construction began on 1 November 1941 and was completed by the end of February 1942.
The entire camp occupied a relatively small, almost square area. Three sides measured 275 m; the fourth, southern side measured 265 meters. An adjoining timber yard was incorporated into the camp, which was itself surrounded by a double fence of chicken wire and barbed wire. The outer fence was camouflaged with tree branches. During the later reorganisation of the camp, the space between the two fences was filled with rolls of barbed wire. On the eastern side, another barrier was erected on a steep slope by the fixing of tree trunks to wooden planks. During the second phase of the camp's existence, a wooden fence was built along the side of the road at the foot of the steep eastern slope. A line of trees was planted between the western outer fence and the Lublin – Lwow railway line.
Four watchtowers were constructed: on the northeast and northwest sides, at the southwest corner and at the most westerly point of the camp. The northeastern tower was constructed on top of a concrete bunker at the highest point of the Belzec terrain, providing an excellent vantage point over the entire camp. A fifth tower in the centre of the camp overlooked the entire length of "the Sluice" (also known as "the Tube"), the camouflaged barbed wire pathway to the gas chambers. The corner watchtowers were manned by Trawnikimänner (Ukrainian Volksdeutsche from the Trawniki Labour Camp), armed with rifles. The central tower was equipped with a heavy machine gun and searchlight. In the camp's second phase, further watchtowers were erected, including one positioned at the far end of the ramp.
The guardhouse, permanently manned by SS men and Ukrainians, was located close to the entrance gate on the west side of the camp. There was a separate compound for the Trawnikimänner to the east of the main gate. The Ukrainian area included three barracks, comprising two large huts and one smaller structure. The first large hut was used as housing for the Trawnikimänner. The second large hut housed the sickbay, a dentist and a barber. The third and smallest of the structures was used as the kitchen and canteen (mess hall).
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The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team