The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/aktion.reinhard/belzec/press/memorial-museum-planned

Archive/File: camps/aktion-reinhard/belzec/press/memorial-museum-planned
Last-Modified: 1998/07/10

[Attributed to Reuters - distributed via mailing list]

Poland plans to build Holocaust museum at site of former Nazi death camp
    WASHINGTON (July 9, 1998 8:27 p.m.  EDT ) - Polish Prime Minister Jerzy
Buzek toured the U.S. Holocaust Museum Thursday and said a new memorial
would be built on the site of a Nazi extermination camp in Poland which was
crumbling and neglected.
       Buzek, who will meet President Clinton at the White House Friday,
handed two silver spoons as a symbolic gift to museum chairman Miles
Lerman. The spoons were found this year at the site of the Belzec
extermination camp during part of an unprecedented archeological survey.
      Belzec, in eastern Poland near the Ukrainian border, was the first
camp in which the Nazis erected permanent gas chambers. At least 600,000
Jews were murdered there.
      The Polish government and the Holocaust Museum quietly signed an
agreement last year to build a new memorial there to replace a sculpture
that was erected in the 1960s by the former Communist authorities of Poland.
      Jewish visitors to the site had complained that it was badly
neglected, overgrown with weeds and strewn with garbage. They also said the
existing memorial was inappropriate and was falling apart.
      "Construction will begin in the near future. Archeological work is
going on at that site and new discoveries are being made systematically,"
Buzek told reporters.
      Lerman said Belzec was a place of great personal significance to him.
      "My entire family, my mother, perished in Belzec," he said. "We are
underway ... I am convinced in the near future practical work (on a new
memorial) will begin."
      A Polish team recently carried out the most comprehensive
archeological survey ever conducted on a major Holocaust site and located
33 previously unknown mass graves.
      "This was the first archeological survey on this scale done
systematically on a grid system and we have learned many new things," said
Jacek Nowakowski, associate director of the Holocaust Museum, coordinating
the project from the U.S. side.
      According to a report by Robin O'Neill, a British scholar who took
part in the survey, the team bored holes to a depth of some 18 feet at
15-yard intervals throughout the site.
      "The largest mass graves ... contained unburned human remains (parts
and pieces of skulls with hair and skin attached). The bottom layer of the
graves consisted of several inches thick of black human fat. One grave
contained uncrushed human bones so closely packed that the drill could not
penetrate," O'Neill wrote.
      Belzec was one of six extermination camps erected by the Nazis. The
other five were Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Chelmno.
      The camp began operating in March 1942. Victims were packed tightly
into four gas chambers and killed by carbon monoxide generated from a huge
aircraft engine, with some taking as long as 35 minutes to die. Their naked
bodies were dumped in trenches. There were only five recorded survivors,
none of whom is still alive.
      The Nazis had built Belzec to destroy the centuries-old Jewish
communities of southern and eastern Poland. In 1942, that job done, they
closed the camp. They later tried to hide their crime, burning the bodies
and grinding up the bones.
      Nowakowski said the unburned bodies that had been discovered this
year numbered in the thousands and were probably the remains of Jews
brought to the site to burn the remains of victims of the gas chambers.

      "The fact that there were many more people employed in burning the
bodies than we thought suggests they had many more bodies to burn. We may
have to revise upward the estimate of the number who died at Belzec and
that only increases the huge significance of the site," he said.
  By ALAN ELSNER, Reuters


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