A Voice for the Dead: Recovering the Lost History of Sobibór
By Claus Hecking
Freshly uncovered foundations and remains of the walls can be seen in a clearing, the suspected remnants of four gas chambers. Each measures five by seven meters (16 feet by 23 feet) and served as death cells for 70 to 100 people at a time.
"This is where they forced the Jews in," says Yoram Haimi, pointing to the gap between the red bricks. "And that's probably where the motor was placed that fed exhaust fumes into the chambers, says Wojciech Mazurek. The two archeologists, from Israel and Poland, constantly interrupt each other out of excitement over the historical importance of their discovery.
In recent days, excavation work led by Haimi, 53, and Mazurek, 54, uncovered the remains of the gas chambers of Sobibór some 71 years after the Nazis destroyed the extermination camp where between 170,000 and 250,000 people were murdered. Haimi and Mazurek have found what the Nazis sought to cover up. Their find will help to make the atrocities committed at Sobibór become a more tangible reality.
Direct link here.http://www.spiegel.de/video/sobibor-arc ... 24019.html
The murderous apparatus proved extremely efficient. Around 30 SS officers and 120 Eastern Europeans "volunteers," including John Demjankuk, the man convicted in Germany in 2011 for serving as a guard at the camp, were sufficient for the murder of 170,000 to 250,000 Jews in Sobibór. The only people who survived the war from the camp were 50 who broke out during an insurgency. In Treblinka, close to 800,000 people were murdered, with only 60 survivors. In Belzec, where more than 430,000 people were killed, a mere eight survived.
Previously, they excavated the remains of the platform where the deported Jews arrived. They also discovered an escape tunnel that had been started as well as a Himmelfahrtsstrasse, or "road to heaven," as the perpetrators cynically referred to the 230-meter long path that naked Jews were told to take after getting their hair cut, allegedly to the place where they were to take a shower.'I Always Suspected They Were Here'
The archeologists have now laid open the sites of the gas chambers, located just a few steps away from the old memorial to the victims, hidden under a thick layer of asphalt. "I always suspected they were here," Haimi says.
Asphalt Covers Mass Graves
For two decades, it was mostly farmers and lumberjacks who used the property. During the 1960s, officials erected a memorial and a symbolic mausoleum and the site was tarred over. "It was a very fortunate development," Mazurek says, "Because it protected the foundations of the gas chambers."
In 2010, the archeologists discovered remains of a double fence that encircled the camp and, one year later, the Himmelfahrtsstrasse. "It was pretty clear to us that the gas chambers would be at the end of it," Haimi says. But they hadn't found them yet. The memorial was then faced with closure because of a lack of funding. All the visitor facilities had to be closed temporarily until the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation and the State Museum at Majdanek stepped in to take over responsibility for the site.
Haimi and Mazurek resumed their excavations and found the remains of fences, barracks and crematoriums as well as several skeletons. They began to narrow down the search area. Finally, the rabbi of Warsaw gave permission for the removal of the asphalt above the suspected grave.
They finally reached their goal on Sept. 8, when the archeologists uncovered the remains of a red brick wall and, soon after, the next ones. "Both of us looked at it at the same time and smiled," Mazurek says. "We knew we had succeeded."
The archeologists still don't have final proof that these are the gas chamber foundations, but everything suggests that they are -- the position between the Himmelfahrtstrasse, the crematorium and the remains of the barracks of the Sonderkommando -- the mostly-Jewish prisoners responsible for removing the bodies -- as well as a water hole. Last Wednesday, experts from Auschwitz visited the site. "They immediately said, 'That's it'," says Haimi.
A map of the Sobibór death camp created by the archeologists
An aerial view of the site of the gas chambers
An Open Field of Bodies
A few dozen steps away from the excavations, the archeologists kneels down to the ground and lifts small white fragments filled with holes. "These are all bone fragments -- there was a crematorium here," he says. "When they are entirely white, it shows the fire was especially hot." Even today, Sobibór remains an open field of bodies.
Next year, construction is slated to begin here on a new, €7 million memorial surrounding the foundations. After an extended tug of war, the governments of Poland, the Netherlands and Germany will be providing financing. Under Germany's previous government, there had been a debate about whether to participate, but Chancellor Angela Merkel's new administration recently gave the green light -- and none too soon. Last year, a statement made by a senior official in the German Foreign Ministry underscored just how little is known about Sobibór, despite the scale of war crimes committed here. The official said that no Germans had been among the prisoners at the death camp, but in truth several thousand German Jews were murdered there.