Our stop for the day was at Belzec, one of the killing centers that was part of Operation Reinhard. Operation Reinhard was not devised by Reinhard Heydrich, but it was eventually named in "honor" of him after he died (by wounds suffered after an assassination attempt). Over 400,000 Jews were killed at Belzec in a span of only six months. Operation Reinhard camps were established for one purpose - to destroy Polish Jews. The "buildings" that were constructed at this camp were made out of tin, making it obvious that this was not meant to be a permanent camp (unlike a camp like Auschwitz, which had many brick and mortar buildings).
Elaine, the program director, shared a little of her father's story. He is a survivor of Mauthasen, but his family was killed at Belzec. His mother was pregnant and, after delivering her baby in a hospital, was taken to Belzec. Along with her went Elaine's father's two younger siblings and the new baby. Not knowing her name, Elaine's father and his brother eventually named her Sarah (after the war). What is devastating is that people who came to this camp never even had a chance. They got off the train right in front of the camp, dropped their belongings, and were sent to the gas chambers. The only people who were kept alive were those replacing other slave laborers.
Again, I thought about those who never even had a chance; those men, women, and children whose lives were taken from them. One thing that has been stressed on this trip is focusing on remembering the lives lost. People who were murdered had traditions, families, and lives that were destroyed. One woman at Auschwitz found a muddy puddle and washed her face with the water because that is what humans do - they keep clean. Another woman in a ghetto paid a rabbi with food she was supposed to be eating so that her son could have a bar mitzvah. Chess sets have been found during excavations of camps. People wanted to hold on to their humanity.
Tomorrow will bring a short tour of Lublin and then we are visiting Majdanek. It is hard to believe that I am here for only four more days.
|Wall of names of those who were killed at Belzec.|
|Lublin. Unfortunately, we are only here for one night.|