Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps

Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps


Between the years 1942 and 1943, under the code name Operation Reinhard, more than one and a half million Jews were gassed in the concentration camps. This is the story of Operation Reinhard, recording the history of the death camps from their construction in 1941 to their destruction in 1943.


Concentration camps and death camps were an integral component of Nazi Germany’s governing system and a tool for achieving its political aims. These camps were part of the so-called SS-State, headed by the Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. The concentration camps were spread all over Nazi-occupied Europe. They served as places of detention and torture, centers of forced labor, and instruments for the physical elimination of those elements—Jews and non-Jews alike— whom Nazi Germany considered its political opponents. The death camps, all of them erected in Nazi-occupied Poland, served one purpose: the physical and total extermination of the Jewish people. The crimes, cruelties, and murders committed by Nazi Germany against the Jews reached their peak in these death camps, the last station for millions of men, women, and children whose only “guilt” was being Jewish.

There were five death camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Auschwitz-Birkenau was, simultaneously, also a concentration camp. This book is a study of the death camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka, which were established to expedite “Operation Reinhard”—the extermination of the Jews who lived in the General Government of Poland. However, in addition to the Jews of Poland, Jews from Holland, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and the Soviet Union were also murdered in the three camps.

The book discusses primarily the tragic and cruel events that transpired within these camps; it relates the complete story—from the preparations for construction of the camps at the end of 1941 until their final razing in the autumn of 1943. The physical layout of the camps, the transports to the camps and the deaths they claimed, the process and technique of the extermination, the deeds of the SS men who commanded and activated the camps and of the Ukrainian guards, who made up the majority of the armed forces in the camps, are all fully described.

Moreover, the book tells the tale of the hundreds of thousands of victims who were brought for extermination—although their stay in the camps usually lasted no more than a few hours—from the time they disembarked onto the railway platform until their corpses were removed from the gas chambers, buried in mass graves, and later cremated.

In each camp, a few hundred Jews were removed from the transports to do the physical work involved in the extermination process, as well as some service jobs. Most survived for only a short time, from a few days to several months, and were ultimately murdered, as were those who were sent directly from the transports for extermination. The book describes the daily life and work of these Jews, their Underground organization, the revolts and escapes from the camps. The number of victims in each camp, grouped by location of residence on the eve of deportation, and the timetables for the transports and murder are also included.

Nazi criminals who served in these camps stood trial in West Germany. The trial of the SS men who had served in Belzec was held in Munich in January 1965.

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