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July 25, 2015

Photographs of the human hair in the Auschwitz Museum are no longer allowed

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:03 am

From a news article, which you can read in full here, I have learned that photographs of the hair, cut from the heads of the Jews at Auschwitz, are no longer allowed. Is this because the hair might be harmed by the flash of cameras? No, I think it is to prevent tourists from being trampled to death.

This quote is from the news article:

Knowing what was behind the glass [display cases] made it all so surreal.

Kevin Wagner of Carlisle was told heading into the [museum] room that no photography was allowed; that the contents [of the display cases] were considered holy by Jews.

There piled high from floor to ceiling [in a display case] was a mound of human hair shaved from the heads of men, women and children doomed to suffer an untimely death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

It was a co-mingled mass of strands colored black, brown and red with some even done up in braids. It was way too much to process…way too much to take in at once. Overwhelmed, Wagner broke down and cried while two others in the group left the room unsettled by the sight of so much lost humanity.

“How could another human being do this to somebody?” recalled Wagner, social studies program chair for the Carlisle Area School District.

“It was methodically efficient,” he added. “You can’t wrap your head around how someone can come up with that.”

Wait a minute! Was the hair cut from the heads of the Jews before or after they went into the gas chamber?  It would have been difficult to cut the hair from the dead bodies AFTER the Jews were gassed, so the hair must have been cut BEFORE the gassing. So why does the hair show the effects of gassing?

Personally, I think that the reason that photographs of the hair at Auschwitz are no longer allowed, is because there were, in the past, so many tourists crowding around the hair exhibit, trying to take photos, that there was a serious danger of someone being trampled to death.

When I first visited the exhibits in the main Auschwitz camp in 1998, there were so many people trying to take photos of the hair that I could not get close enough to take a photo. I had to be satisfied with taking a photo of a small amount of human hair.

 Cloth made from human hair is displayed in Auschwitz Museum

Cloth made from human hair is displayed in Auschwitz Museum (click to enlarge photo)

I took the photo above in the Auschwitz Museum in 1998.  I have borrowed the photo below, which was taken by a Polish photographer in 2004.

Auschwitz  28.12.2004 Human hair in display case at Auschwitz Photo Credit: Lukasz Trzcinski

Auschwitz 28.12.2004
Human hair in display case at Auschwitz
Photo Credit: Lukasz Trzcinski

Hungarian Jewish women head to their baracks aftr their heads were shaved

Hungarian Jewish women walking to their barracks after their heads have been shaved, and they have been given uniforms to wear

The photo above shows that the hair of the women at Auschwitz was cut before they were sent to the gas chamber.  In fact, these women look as if they have been selected to work at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Why was their hair shaved?  The hair must have been shaved to prevent typhus, which is spread by lice that hides in the hair. Their public hair was also shaved — by a man.

This quote is also from the news article, cited above:

As World War II in Europe drew to a close, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was advancing rapidly from the east. Eager to hide evidence of the Holocaust, the Nazis burned to the ground the death camp at Belzec.

Wagner [who visited Belzec] described that memorial as a lunar landscape on a slope with a center path where visitors walk down a ramp to a wall carved with hundreds of Jewish surnames. The further Wagner descended, the more confining the space until he felt as though he was about to suffocate.

On my trips to Poland, many years ago, I did not visit Belzec because my tour guide told me that there was absolutely nothing there to see, except an empty field; the memorial had not yet been built. The Holocaust allegedly started with the gassing of Jews at Belzec, so why did Belzec get no respect for many years?

The entire camp that was Belzec has been covered with rocks

The entire camp Belzec camp has been covered with rocks and no one is allowed to dig there Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris (Click to enlarge)

The Belzec Memorial includes a very deep path (Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris)

The Belzec Memorial includes a very deep path (Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris)

The deep path through the Belzec Memorial (Photo credit: Bonnie M. Harris)

The very deep path that was cut through the Belzec Memorial site  (Photo credit: Bonnie M. Harris)

The entire Belzec Camp is now a field of broken concrete Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris

The entire Belzec Camp is now a field of broken concrete Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris

You can read all about Belzec on my website at

April 4, 2013

Belzec, the little-known extermination camp where half a million Jews died in less than a year

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 1:44 pm
The entire site of the former Belzec camp was turned into a memorial

The entire site of the Belzec camp has been turned into a memorial  Photo Credit: Bonnie Harris

The photo above shows a path that leads up a 120 ft. slope to a granite wall.  This huge field of randomly sized concrete rubble covers the entire camp area of Belzec, with the center path through the site symbolizing “Die Schleuse,” (The Sluice) a camouflaged barbed wire path that led from the undressing and barber barracks straight to the gas chambers, which were also camouflaged with netting over raised poles. (The “barber barrack” was where the victims had their heads shaved to get rid of any lice that could spread typhus in the hereafter.)

Close-up of the rocks which cover the entire Belzec camp

Close-up of the concrete rubble which covers the entire Belzec camp  Photo Credit: Bonnie Harris

The following quote is from an article about Belzec, written by Alan Elsner and published on April 3, 2013, which you can read in full here:

These are the facts about Belzec: 47 miles north of the major city of Lvov, on the railway line to Lublin, the gas chambers were installed in the winter of 1941, and the camp received its first shipment of Jews on March 13, 1942. Within a week or two of coming online, it was handling 5,000 victims a day.  […]

There were four primitive extermination cells. Carbon monoxide gas was pumped in to kill the victims. SS Lt. Kurt Gerstein left a rare description of a gassing. He described how the Jews were packed into the gas chamber so tight they could not move. When the doors closed, the diesel engine would not work. Finally after three hours, it stuttered to life. “Up till then people were alive in these chambers — four times 750 people in four times 45 cubic meters. Another 25 minutes went by. True, many were now dead. After 28 minutes, only a few were still alive. At last after 32 minutes, everyone was dead,” Gerstein wrote. “Finally, all were dead like pillars of basalt, still erect, not having any place to fall.”

On the specific point of whether children died at Belzec, we have the testimony of Edward Luczynski from a 1964 trial of German officers: “After the doors were opened, it was often ascertained that some of the children and adults were still alive. Children on the floor and adults with their faces pressed against cracks sometimes managed to survive. The survivors were killed by the Ukrainians,” he said.

Despite its phenomenal killing record, the Germans liquidated Belzec early in 1943. One problem was the lack of efficient facilities for the disposal of bodies, which were dumped in nearby anti-tank ditches. By then, a much more sophisticated killing facility was available at Auschwitz to take up the slack. When the Germans closed Belzec, they tried to erase all telltale signs. Bodies were removed from their mass graves, their bones were crushed with a special machine, the remains were burnt and the ashes scattered. Ethnic Germans were settled on a farm established on the site. Only two Jews survived Belzec, and both were dead by 1954. Few of the Germans who operated the camp were identified or brought to justice.

According to Wikipedia, the Belzec camp was in operation from March 17, 1942 until December 1942.  Only 9 months, but in that short time, according to Wikipedia: “Between 430,000 and 500,000 Jews are believed to have been killed by German Nazis at Bełżec…”  Note that Wikipedia says that “Jews are believed to have been killed…” The Nazis were careful to destroy all the evidence of mass murder.

Among those killed at Belzec were the grandparents of Alan Elser, who wrote the quote at the top of this blog post.  In 1993, Elser went to visit the site of the camp in order to pay his respect to the dead.  This quote is from his article:

As we pulled in, we saw a rusty sign, half hidden by trees, next to another larger placard advertising agricultural vehicles. There was no car park. We pulled up next to the gate, outside a private house from which pop music was blaring on the radio. A child was puttering around in the backyard. We were the only visitors.

As we got out of the car, a woman came out of the house to talk to us. “It’s not true they killed children here,” she told us. “They just put up that sign to get people to give money.” To be confronted by a Holocaust denier actually living beside a death camp is a highly disconcerting experience. But when she saw the flowers in our hands, she went into the house and brought us two vases with water to put them in.  […]

There was little to see at the site of the camp. The Nazis removed most of the evidence when they evacuated the camp, and the Poles had made little effort to maintain the site. A block of granite near the entrance, engraved in Polish, noted that 600,000 Jews, and 1,500 Poles who helped Jews, died horrible deaths here. (Historians later adjusted the figure to 500,000.)

A few yards behind that marker was another memorial, a statue of an emaciated figure supporting another skeletal figure. Its Polish inscription read: “In memory of the victims of Hitler’s terror murdered from 1942 to 1943.”

Behind that, birch trees had grown up. Among them stood a row of concrete blocks, perhaps intended to symbolize the gas chambers. Adjacent to that was a row of giant urns. The overwhelming effect was of neglect. There was not a single Jewish emblem — not a Hebrew word, not a Star of David — although we saw a small statue of the Virgin Mary among the trees. The place was overgrown with weeds, and the symbolic structures were crumbling. I saw two women with shopping bags taking a shortcut home through the camp.

In 1993, I didn’t know anything about the Belzec camp, except that it was one of the three Operation Reinhard camps, which were set up following the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942.

In July 2006, Bonnie Harris visited the Memorial Site that had been constructed in July 2004; she wrote the following history of the camp, which she had learned on her visit:

BELZEC, The Nazi Death Camp

Immediately following the decision of the Nazi authorities to implement “Aktion Reinhard,” the Germans began construction of three death camps in Poland, designed for the purpose of exterminating the Jews living in the region known as the “Generalgouvernement.”

On November 1, 1941, Belzec, the first of the three death camps, the others being Treblinka and Sobibor, was the first death camp in which the Nazis used stationary gas chambers for killing their victims. The annihilation of the Jews at Belzec lasted for only nine months, between March and December of 1942, but in that time about a million exterminations took place, mostly Polish and foreign Jews, and small groups of non-Jewish Poles and Gypsies.

Corpses were buried in about 30 mass graves located within the perimeter of the camp site, which was at most 400 meters square. It was this practice of mass burials within the camp area itself that caused the Germans to abandon the camp when the Fall and Winter weather caused the bodies of the buried to swell and literally push themselves up out of the ground. This presented great health dangers for the perpetrators.

Between December 1942 and April 1943, transports no longer arrived at the camp and during these months, Jewish prisoners had to open the mass graves and burn the bodies of the gassed victims on huge pyres of layered railroad ties. In June 1943, the camp was totally liquidated and all the buildings were destroyed. No significant physical evidence of the victims was ever to be found at the site and the transport lists were also destroyed. The victims of Belzec died in an anonymous mass and only two official survivors of the camp lived to provide post-war testimonies of life and death at Belzec.

The memorial path that completely encircles the entire site bears the names of all the communities of the Jewish victims that were murdered at Belzec. The path is shown in the photo below.

Path around the entire site of the former Belzec camp

Path around the entire site of the former Belzec camp  Photo Credit: Bonnie Harris

Between 1997 and 1999, a team of archeologists from Nicolas Copernicus University of Torun, led by Professor Andrzej Kola, drilled down into the earth at Belzec and found the locations of 33 mass graves. In the center of the photo above, the darkly colored area of concrete rubble indicates the locations of these mass graves.

The remains of thousands of unburned bodies were found. Out of respect for the dead, the graves were not opened and the bodies were not exhumed, so no identification was made, but according to the USHMM, these were the bodies of the Jews who were forced to dig up the mass graves at Belzec and burn the bodies on pyres, such as the reconstructed pyre shown in the photo below.

Memorial in the shape of a pyre like those on which the exhumed bodies of Jews were burned

Memorial in the shape of a pyre like those on which the exhumed bodies of Jews were burned  Photo Credit:  Bonnie Harris

In the area of the rail ramps, where the train cars stopped to unload their human cargo, stands a memorial shown in the photo above. It is fashioned after the pyres that were constructed for the burning of the corpses from the mass graves.

The photo below shows the entrance into the Memorial with the end of the Memorial pyre on the left.

Entrance into Belzec Memorial Site

Entrance into Belzec Memorial Site  Photo Credit: Bonnie Harris