Bełżec is located in southeastern Poland near the Ukrainian border. Following the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the annihilation of the Jews of Europe (an action that had been decided upon the previous year) proceeded apace. Aktion Reinhard, named for Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Security Main Office, was the operation designed to kill and plunder the nearly 2,000,000 Jews living in what the Nazis called the General Government, which comprised the eastern portion of present-day Poland. Bełżec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were constructed to achieve this end. These camps, which operated from mid-1942 through 1943 before being destroyed by the Nazi’s, were killing centers rather than concentration camps. The vast majority of those sent there were Jews who were murdered within hours of their arrival by carbon monoxide gas. It is estimated that more than 450,000 were killed at Bełżec. Several hundred to several thousand Roma and non-Jewish Poles were also murdered here.
Bełżec is perhaps the least known of the major killing centers because there were only a handful of survivors. Until 2003 the camp was infrequently visited and exuded a sense of dereliction, with no museum and a few small, deteriorating monuments. In the renovation of the site all traces of the former camps and landscape were obliterated and the hillside was covered with sterile soil and stones with a long path, cut directly into the hill, leading to a memorial wall. A small, well-designed museum was added, one end of which includes a long, dark, empty echo chamber.