On 23 August 1939 the Ribentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact was signed, presaging the beginning of WWII. The treaty freed Hitler to satisfy German expansionist aims without having to worry about Soviet Russia, while Stalin looked on the western powers as unreliable allies, and did not want to be pulled into a war for which he was not yet ready. A secret protocol to the treaty carved up Poland between the two dictatorships. This secret protocol specified the spheres of interest of the two powers and Poland was to disappear into in two occupied parts.
After the defeat of the Polish Army, the demarcation line agreed upon in the secret protocol was shifted further to the east by mutual consent. Part of the boundary in Poland between the Soviet Union and Germany became the Bug River.
That the border between the two powers was marked by the Bug River was a geographic fact which proved of moment. It led to the construction of death camps along that river two years later. After Germany’s conquest of Poland in 1939, Poland was dismembered.
The Belzec extermination camp was built in the east central part of the former Polish state in what was called the General Government (Figure 2.0.1). The General Government was a German controlled rump state. Western and northern portions of Poland were annexed into Greater Germany, while the eastern parts were administered as parts of the other conquered territories and administered as the Reichkommissariats Ostland and Ukraine.
The German revised map of eastern Europe is shown in more detail in Figure 2.0.2. The map reflects the results of implementing German Racial policies: Six notorious camps were constructed whose names have come to represent the essence of Nazi policies: Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Of these Auschwitz and Majdanek were both killing centers and slave labor camps. Chelmno was a pure killing site, as were Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka: the so called Aktion Reinhard camps.
The Belzec was located in the county of Lubelskie along with Sobibor and Majdanek. Lubelskie is shown in green in Figure 2.0.2. The Bug River forms the eastern border of the county (Figure 2.0.3). All Reinhard camps were located near the river in a region characterized by sandy soils and mixed agricultural land interspersed with large forested areas. Belzec was sited in Lubelskie County in an upland, where the terrain was characterized by low hills as well as sandy soil, and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests (figure 2.0.4 and 2.0.5). Agriculture around Belzec was and is productive and extensive forests then as now ranged the western portions of the county.
The site taken by the Germans for the death camp is shown in outline on an aerial photo flown in 1940 by the Luftwaffe (Figure 2.0.6 and an enlargement in Figure 2.0.7). At that time, much of the camp site was covered with a dense cover of coniferous trees mixed with birch. The demarcation line for the partition of Poland Agreed upon in the Molotov-Ribbentop Pact is visible as indicated by “B“ in Figure 2.0.7 (the result of clearing along the demarcation line). The terrain consists of flat to gently rolling hills through which runs a highway, annotation “D”, connecting Lvov (Lemberg) and Lublin. The rail line serving the area is at “C”. The cultivated fields are densely subdivided, the result of the absence of primogeniture laws.
Although the terrain seems flat viewed from the air, this is only partly true. The railroad runs in a valley whose floor is flat, but within a half kilometer on either side , low hills rise 10 to 15 meters above the valley floor. Further back the hills rise even higher by some 50 meters. At the Belzec camp site itself, the terrain rises gently to the north until the camp's north boundary, whereupon a sharp drop off occurs. On the estern edge of the camp boundary is a small oval hill. One of the guard towers was erected there since it provided an excellent overlook.
Last modified: May 18, 2003