Operation Reinhard was the code name given to the Nazi plan to murder Polish Jews in the General Government. Operation Reinhard marked the most deadly phase of the Holocaust, the use of death camps.
By 1942, the Nazis had decided to undertake “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. They set up more camps – at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka – which had one purpose: to kill thousands of people quickly and efficiently. By the summer of 1942, Operation Reinhard began the systematic extermination of the Jews, although hundreds of thousands already had been killed by death squads and in mass pogroms.
The first extermination camp was created at Belzec in October 1941. The construction of camps at Sobibor and Treblinka followed in 1942. More than 1.5 million Jews and non-Jews (mostly from Poland but also from Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands and the Soviet Union) were murdered there.
The structure of all the camps were similar. The victims were lined on the ramp, then guards asked everyone to voluntarily hand over their valuables. Then Sonderkomando led prisoners to the undressing barracks and to a narrow, camouflaged pipe, which led to the place of extermination. The way that led to gas chambers was called Way to Heaven. For the effective operation the Nazis used the ruse. Victims were told they are infected with a disease. The unsuspecting prisoners were then moved to a killing center for “special treatment”.
The number of camp inmates remained relatively low. There were only a small number of prisoners (mostly from the Soviet Union) used to assist arriving transport or for clearing away bodies. From time to time, these groups called Sonderkommando, were also killed and replaced in order to remove any potential witnesses to mass murder.
At the begging of the Operation Reinhard, corpses were simply thrown into mass graves and covered with lime. But in 1943 in order to hide the evidence of this war crime, the bodies were exhumed and burned in open air grids constructed of rails.
Nowadays three death camps at: Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka function as museums and places of memory of the Holocaust victims.