Unless you have particular knowledge of the Holocaust, you may not know this obscure town and rail junction about 100km (62 miles) south of Lublin. Yet it was here that the Nazis first launched their "Operation Reinhard," the code name of their plan for the mass extermination the Jewish population of the Generalgouvernement, the name the Germans gave to Nazi-occupied Poland. Bezec (pronounced bayo-zhets) was chosen because it was small and little known, yet not far from major Jewish populations in the cities of Lublin and Lwów.
The Nazis used Bezec to refine the techniques of mass killing that would later be applied at other death camps, including the use of poison gas in gas chambers and forcing the Jewish prisoners themselves to carry out much of the work, including burying and later burning the bodies.
Bezec operated from March 1942 until the end of that year. In the relatively short period of 8 months, some 450,000 people were put to their deaths here. The process was horrific and sickening. Unlike as with other camps, such as Majdanek or Auschwitz-Birkenau, there was no elaborate system of selections and work routines, and no chance of survival. Instead, victims would arrive by train at one part of the camp and then be forced through a small tunnel to gas chambers at another part within the span of a few hours. Initially, the bodies were buried in mass graves, but by late 1942, the decomposition process became so bad that the bodies had to be dug up again and burned on enormous pyres.
Bezec was dismantled by the Nazis in 1943, and much of the killing apparatus was destroyed to hide the evidence of what went on. Throughout much of the postwar period, Bezec remained simply a fenced-off mass grave. With growing interest in the Holocaust in the post-Communist period, however, officials later built a monument with a small visitor center and permanent exhibition to tell the story of what happened here.