Memorial honours Belzec camp victims

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The Independent Online

A vast new memorial to victims of the Belzec death camp was inaugurated yesterday, ending decades of neglect at the site where 500,000 Jews perished in 1942.

A vast new memorial to victims of the Belzec death camp was inaugurated yesterday, ending decades of neglect at the site where 500,000 Jews perished in 1942.

For years, the former camp where the Nazis buried their victims' remains was strewn with rubbish, and used as a short cut by local people. Bone shards were washed up by rain, violating Jewish laws that the dead remain undisturbed.

The new memorial, a sprawling field covered by artificial rocks resembling ash, is meant to protect the remains and give dignity to the victims. Large walls are inscribed with the names of some of the victims gassed at Belzec between March and December 1942.

"This whole Jewish universe of Galicia was wiped off the map and buried in this grave," the Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said in a speech, before lighting a candle in memory of the victims.

"I trust that as of today the memory of what happened here will not be only Jewish or Polish alone. We should spare no effort to make it part of the collective memory of the whole of Europe and the world at large."

Mr Kwasniewski hailed the memorial - which cost nearly $5m (£2.7m) and was paid for by the Polish government and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) - as "an important step in the process of Polish-Jewish reconciliation."

The new memorial includes a museum about Belzec, one of six death camps set up in occupied Poland as part of the Nazi "final solution" to exterminate Europe's Jews. It was the first to use gas chambers, according to the AJC.

After closing the camp, the Nazis dug up the bodies, burnt and crushed them, then reburied the remains in mass graves to try to hide their crimes as the Soviet army approached.

The field is encircled by a path, with an inscription every few steps of European cities whose Jewish communities suffered in the Holocaust.

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