Thursday, May 8, 2014

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps

Yitzhak Arad’s book Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, is an historical survey of the three death camps listed in the title, as well as some sub-camps in different locations.

Operation Reinhard was the final solution for the Jewish problem in what Germany called “The General Government,” or Poland. 

Unlike Auschwitz, which was a death camp and concentration camp, a vast area the size of lower Manhattan, where slave labor and extermination existed side by side, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka simply to murdered Jews.  Any Jews kept alive in the camps were dedicated expediting this process.  

Arad’s book is excellent and informative history.  He shows how the Nazis exterminated two million Jews with simple methods at hand, using a relatively small  staff, and keeping it largely a secret.  

Even the camps themselves were unimpressive.  Again, unlike Auschwitz, with its iconic ramp and gate, a place like Belzec had improvised barracks and wooden buildings all on a small plot of land no more than 18 acres.  There, 500,000 Jews were murdered and buried in mass graves on the site in less than a year.  

All Operation Reinhard camps were destroyed by 1943, and places like Belzec, in a very remote part of Poland, were largely forgotten.  At Belzec, what is essentially a mass grave was used as a public park by local Poles; it was not until the 2003 that steps were taken to create a memorial and museum at the site.  The report of the condition of the camp before it was preserved can be read here.

This book shows how banal mass killing can become; it can be performed on a shoe string budget and with a small staff.  And its results are staggering.

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