At the beginning of May two members of staff participated in March of the Living, a week-long educational programme in Poland culminating in a 3km walk from Auschwitz I to Birkenau in commemoration of people murdered in the Holocaust. As part of the programme participants also had the opportunity to visit a number of sites including Bełżec, one of the six Nazi Killing Centres built during the Holocaust. In this week’s blog we take time to look at the history of Bełżec and how the site has been memorialised since.

Image: The entrance to the Belzec museum-memorial. Source: The National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

In November 1941 construction of a Nazi Killing Centre began just outside the Polish town of Bełżec. Completed in March 1942, during its operation approximately 434,500 Jewish people and an undetermined number of Poles and Roma (Gypsies) were murdered in Bełżec. The camp functioned as part of Operation Reinhard, the aim of which was to murder the entire Jewish population of the Generalgouvernement (also known as the General Government, was the part of Poland that was under the jurisdiction of Germany following the German-Soviet agreements in August and September 1939).

Bełżec was chosen because of its rail links and proximity to Jewish communities in Poland including Krakow and Lvov. However, during its operation Bełżec also took deportations of people from a number of other countries including Germany, Austria and former Czechoslovakia. At the end of its operation the site was ploughed over and a manor house was built on the site, along with the planting of trees and crops in an attempt to conceal what had happened. Today the site is quite different as Bełżec is marked by a striking memorial.

Image: Belzec museum-memorial is now covered by an expanse of clinker. Source: The National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

Upon first glance the memorial might look like charred earth. In fact, the memorial consists of a large expanse of clinker, its meaning and significance left open to the individual. This area is split into two by what is known as the ‘Crevasse’, symbolising a substantial crack in the ground. The ‘Crevasse’ not only divides the area into two but also reveals the concealed depth of the ground, thus highlighting the scale of the crimes. As one walks down the ‘Crevasse’ the walls become higher and higher, oppressive, giving one a sensation of descending down into the ground, arguably symbolic of the journey down the ramp to gas chamber. 

Image: The memorial at Belzec is split into two by the 'Crevasse'. Source: The National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

The museum-memorial was founded at Bełżec in 2004 not only to document what happened but also to commemorate and remember the victims of this extermination camp. The memorial goes some way to achieving this through names of the villages, towns and cities that sent transportations of Jewish people, Poles and Roma (Gypsies) to Bełżec. Some of these locations include Kozłów and Zamość in Poland, Krystynopol and Kuty in present Ukraine, Olomouc in present Czech Republic and Oberhausen in Germany. Although the work to document and remember those who were murdered at Bełżec continues the establishment of the museum-memorial marks a significant step and offers space for all to learn and reflect.

Image: Individual villages, towns and cities who suffered deportations to Belzec are remembered in the Belzec museum-memorial. Source: The National Holocaust Centre and Museum.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, ‘German Administration of Poland,’ USHMM [Online]. Available at: (accessed 23 May, 2016).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, ‘Belzec,’ USHMM [Online]. Available at: (accessed 23 May, 2016).

Yad Vashem, ‘The Holocaust,’ Yad Vashem [Online]. Available at: (accessed 23 May, 2016).