Friday, August 24, 2012

Archaeology Is The Latest Tool For Revealing What Happened At Nazi Death Camps

"I think the use of archaeology offers the possibility of giving us information that we didn’t have before...It gives us another perspective when we are at the stage when we have very few people who can speak in the first person singular."
Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent American Holocaust historian from Emory University

The Washington Post has an article about Yoram Haimi, the Israeli archaeologist who has uncovered the secrets of Sobibor death camp the Nazis tried to hide. Haimi is motivated in part by the fact 2 of his uncles were killed at Sobibor.

Unlike the other Nazi concentration camps that had the facade of being prison or labor camps, Sobibor -- like Belzec and Treblinka -- were specifically built for the purpose of exterminating Jews. Once transported there, the victims were gassed to death almost immediately.

Doing research on Sobibor has been difficult, because after the October 1943 uprising the Nazis shut the camp down, leveled it to the ground, and planted over it to hide what happened there.

Haimi's results so far:
Over five years of excavations, Haimi has been able to remap the camp and has unearthed thousands of items. He hasn’t found anything about his family, but amid the teeth, bone shards and ashes through which he has sifted, he has recovered jewelry, keys and coins that have helped identify some of Sobibor’s formerly nameless victims.

The heavy concentration of ashes led him to estimate that far more than 250,000 Jews were actually killed at Sobibor.

“Because of the lack of information about Sobibor, every little piece of information is significant,” said Haimi. “No one knew where the gas chambers were. The Germans didn’t want anyone to find out what was there. But thanks to what we have done, they didn’t succeed.”
This could be the next level of scholarship into the Holocaust, uncovering and examining facts from an archaeological angle. The same methodology is used as when searching for antiquities, cutting out squares of earth and sifting it through a filter. Due to the sensitive nature of his research at Sobibor, Haimi also uses non-invasive, high-tech tools such as ground-penetrating radar and global positioning satellite imaging.

After his work at Sobibor is done, Haimi will not be finished.
He plans on continuing his research at Treblinka and other Nazi death camps.
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