The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/aktion.reinhard/belzec/press/belzec-largely-forgotten

Archive/File: camps/aktion-reinhard/belzec/press/belzec-largely-forgotten
Last-Modified: 1998/08/03
Copyright (c) CNN 1998

Part of Poland's Nazi history under threat

July 19, 1998
Web posted at: 2:49 p.m. EDT (1849 GMT)

BELZEC, Poland (CNN) -- While the names Auschwitz and Birkenau are generally
known as infamous Nazi death camps, there are fears that other less
well-known sites, such as the former camp at Belzec in southeastern Poland,
are becoming forgotten and rotting away into oblivion.

At Belzec these days, a simple metal gate with the dates 1942-1943 marks the
entrance to what seems little more than an overgrown field. But just over 50
years ago, the site was a death camp where the Nazis first used gas chambers
and where at least 600,000 Jews were murdered.

Despite its significance, the camp has been left to rot. Archaeologists and
historians have been carrying out excavations and research at the site for
the past year. They believe Belzec has had less attention than better-known
camps because of its remote location next to the Ukrainian border.

Belzec was in the middle of nowhere. No one came through Belzec. There were
almost no visitors here unless someone had a special reason for coming. And
slowly it just became totally forgotten," said Michael Tregenza, an amateur

The camp is unprotected by fences, and locals can bicycle across it,
damaging what little remains.

The only real monument at the camp is a stern Soviet memorial that barely
mentions what happened here. However, a few visitors do make the trip to
"I was shocked by the current condition of the camp, but I also expected it
because I know the camp is not well-known. There are more famous camps and
the lesser-known ones receive less care. So I was not surprised but still
shaken," said Johannes Piskorz, a visitor from Germany.

However, there may be hope for a change. Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek
said during a visit in Washington this month that a proper memorial would be
set up.

The Polish government says that avoiding talk of the Holocaust is an
unfortunate legacy of communism.

"For years in communist Poland you couldn't speak about the truth of what
really happened in these camps. There was a different philosophy about how
to commemorate such places. It was guided by narrow political interests.
Today this has changed. Today we can speak impartially and freely about
these matters," a government spokesman said.

Those who live in Belzec would welcome a new memorial at the camp. Nearly
everyone who lived here during the war was associated with the camp in one
way or another.

Many were used as forced laborers, like 78-year old Bronislaw Czachur, a
carpenter who helped make barracks at the camp.

"There should be a memorial to commemorate what happened there. Now, it is
in ruins. Nothing is there to remind people what happened," he said.

For the time being, the grassy field remains the final resting place for
hundreds of thousands of victims of the Holocaust.


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