Cartographer views Auschwitz from the air

On the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Israel Air Force veteran and cartographer Pavel Belsky will do an aerial review of the camp's layout and function.

 An aerial view of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which Belsky will use in his illustrated talk (photo credit: Pavel Belsky)
An aerial view of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which Belsky will use in his illustrated talk
(photo credit: Pavel Belsky)

In the years following World War II, historians and many others have examined the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps.

Now, on the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 – Pavel Belsky will turn his attention to the layout and function of the camps from his unique perspective as an Israel Air Force veteran and cartographer.

His virtual talk is being hosted by Holocaust Museum LA, the oldest survivor-founded museum in the United States, and will take place on January 27 at 6 p.m. (4 a.m. Israel time) in partnership with the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles. It will also feature remarks by Dr. Hillel Newman, Israeli Consul General to the Pacific Southwest Region of the US.

To register for the virtual talk, visit: https://www.holocaustmuseumla.org/event-details/international-holocaust-remembrance-day-1

Belsky, 34, an expert in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), specializes in planning and architecture. He first became familiar with aerial imagery while serving in the Israel Air Force from 2006-2010. He received a B.A. degree in Geography from Bar-Ilan University.

A ONCE-DEADLY electrified barbed wire fence surrounds the site of the former Nazi Auschwitz death camp in Poland. (credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)A ONCE-DEADLY electrified barbed wire fence surrounds the site of the former Nazi Auschwitz death camp in Poland. (credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

In 1995, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Belsky made aliyah with his family from Uzbekistan, where he lived in Tashkent, the capital. He now lives in Seattle, Washington.

Belsky was first influenced in his study of Auschwitz-Birkenau by aerial films shot by the Allies between the years 1944-1945. There were “eight or nine” of these films, he noted, which were given to Israel by the US government.

“These films made a very big impact on me,” he said, “realizing that the images capture hundreds and thousands of innocent souls being tortured and killed, raising their exhausted eyes to the sky only to be ignored. It was, and in some ways still is, very emotional to me.” Visiting Auschwitz in 2015, he added, was a “huge, huge thing” for him.

Belsky believes that a physical, aerial documentation of the camps helps to understand “the scale of what was going on there.”

He plans to show carefully-selected images that cover the three main Auschwitz camps: Auschwitz (1), Birkenau (2), and Buna (3), as well as some additional images of the bombardment that followed.

“I will guide the audience through the history of the construction of the camps, their operation, and eventual destruction,” he said. “Last, I plan to show current aerial imagery of what remains today.

“One of the things will be to understand… how huge the area is, how huge the camps were, and for example, how far the prisoners had to walk to their forced labor.”

Belsky pointed out that the aerial imagery also illustrates the fact that the camps “were always changing.” As an example, he discussed the railroad tracks, which are always pictured as leading up to the concentration camp gates.

But these tracks, he said, were put in toward the end of the war in 1944 to help facilitate the rushed extermination of Hungary’s Jews. Prior to this time, he explained, the tracks ended about one or two kilometers from the entrance.

“Another intriguing fact,” he said, “is, for example, the subject of the crematoria. These had multiple revisions, until the final look and function that we know of today. This changed with time, according to the reality of the war on the Eastern Front.”

Founded in 1961, Holocaust Museum LA is the only free cultural institution in Los Angeles with a sole focus on the horrific impact and the enormity of the Holocaust. More information about the museum is available at https://holocaustmuseumla.org