Archeology

International archeological research in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór.

IMG_7702

Archeological research in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór was an important step of the international project to establish the Museum- Memorial Site. The excavation research was organized in 2011 by the Łęczyńsko- Włodawskie Lakeland Museum on behalf of the Steering Group represented by the Foundation for the Polish-German Reconciliation. The research was coordinated by Mr. Wojciech Mazurek (SUB TERRA) who was cooperating with Mr. Yoram Haimi, archeologist from Israel (“YAD VASHEM Institute). Moreover, in the research took part, as scientific consultants, Prof. Barbara Kutyłowska and Prof. Andrzej Kola.

Archeological works – aerial photos 2011-2012-2013

The full recognition of the course of so called “Himmelfahrtstrasse” [route to heaven], that led  from Lager II/Camp II to the gas chambers, was the greatest success of two expeditions conducted in the season 2011,. In addition, in the course of the works conducted in the area to the south from the mass graves (discovered in the years 2000-2001), another four crematory graves were discovered and secured. In this area,  the course of the line was determined by double holes, that are probably relicts after the fence poles once standing here. Complete information about the course of research conducted in 2011 is to find in the reports prepared by Mr. Wojciech Mazurek (Report from research, W. Mazurek [spring 2011] and W. Mazurek [autumn 2011]) and in the written consultation results given by Mr. Yoram Haimi (Y. Haimi [spring 2011] and Y.Haimi [autumn 2011]).

In 2012 the project entered the phase of determining the conditions, that were to be the basis for organizing the contest for creating the new concept of arrangement of the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór. The inspection of the area where the current museum building is located and where the objects for providing the service for visitors are to be located, became necessary. For this purpose, the Foundation for Polish- German Reconciliation in the arrangement with the State Museum at Majdanek and on behalf of the Steering Group organized in the summer of 2012 the third expedition of archeological works. The works were carried out by the SUB TERRA Archeological Research company that cooperated with Mr. Yoram Haimi, archeologist from Israel and Prof. Andrzej Kola. During the research conducted in the summer of 2012, the area intended for localization of visitors’ service building facilities was cleaned from the artifacts. Among several thousands of objects discovered during this expedition, the identification plate belonged to Lea Judith de la Penha, born on11 May 1937 in Amsterdam was found. This finding, discovered in the area between the railway ramp and the wooden building (currently used), i.e. where the victims began their way to execution, is of particular importance as for the first time was encountered the object, which owner is known and that confirms the tragic history of the concrete person – the tragic history of a child, who was murdered in the German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór. Complete information about the course of research is to find in the report from research conducted in the summer of 2012, prepared by Mr. Wojciech Mazurek (Report from research W. Mazurek [summer 2012]), in the written consultation results given by Mr. Yoram Haimi (Report by Y. Haimi [summer 2012]).

Another research expedition, organized by the Foundation for Polish- German Reconciliation on behalf of the Steering Group, in cooperation with the State Museum at Majdanek was launched in the autumn of 2013 and completed in the spring of 2013. One of the main aims of the excavation research conducted in autumn 2013 was the verification of the functions of mass graves 1, 2 and 7 that were determined during the research conducted in 2001. Moreover, the subject of discovery was also the further course of the traces of the fence inside the camp III and in the part of the area to the east from the asphalt square on which the monument of a Woman prisoner with a child has been erected. The expedition was conducted under the direction of Mr. Wojciech Mazurek who was cooperating with Mr Yoram Haimi. During the research were also present: Mr. Aleksander Schwarz -representative of the Chief Rabbi of Poland and Prof. Andrzej Kola as scientific consultant. During the works in the area of the graves a significant number of burnt human remains of the victims of the extermination camp in Sobibór. The size and scope of the findings prompted the scientists to verify the previous arrangements as to the areas of the mass graves marked as 1 and 2. Similar results were obtained in the area of the mass graves no. 7  in which  the traces indicating that in this site the corpses of the victims of the mass murder could be burned, were discovered (probable locations of the crematorium). Another result of the realized research plan was the determination of the final (northern) fence section. Its beginning is located by the terminal part of so called Himmelfahrtstrasse. The excavations exposed that approximately 15 meters to the north from the Memorial Mound the fence splits to the west and east direction, determining the probable northern border of the camp III. For the first time, in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp, two skeletal graves were discovered. They were located approximately 10 meters to the north  from the Memorial Mound. In the graves seven corpses were found. A few personal belongings and items of clothing were discovered. The third skeleton grave in which one person was  buried was found during the research of the area of the mass grave no. 7. Some unusual artefacts like brass plate with two small holes with professional engraving were discovered (in the area of the grave no.7) during this expedition.  We can learn from the inscription that the plate belonged to David Zak, called diminutively “Deddie” who was born on 23 February 1935. On the plate the address of the place of his domicile in Amsterdam is visible. This is only the second finding of this type discovered in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór. The place of finding this artefact and the traces of fire that are visible on the plate are also of special kind. They may indicate that the owner was holding his identification plate until the last moments of his life. In addition, during the last stage of the autumn-winter expedition (2012/2013) the traces after the barrack were found, in which probably lived Sonderkommando, who was responsible for operating the gas chambers. In the ground remained only two rows of small pole holes on which rested the prisoners’ bunks. Around this site the traces after three rows of barbed wire (dug in the ground to a depth of about 1 meter from the current ground level ) were discovered. Further research works showed that despite taken preventive measures, the prisoners attempted to escape from the camp. Just by the southern barrack’s wall the backfill of a trench, that begins more or less in the middle of the southern wall and runs to the east, was uncovered. Complete information about the course of research is to find in the report from excavations research conducted in the autumn and winter of 2012/2013, prepared by Mr. Wojciech Mazurek (Report from  research W. Mazurek [autumn, winter 2012/2013]) and in the written consultation results given by Mr. Yoram Haimi (Report by Y. Haimi [autumn, winter 2012/2013]).

After analysis of the results of the research which was completed in the spring of 2013, the Steering Group decided to conduct the fifth expedition of the archeological research. It was considered that the effective protection and dignified commemoration of the burial place of the thousands of victims requires, before the start of investment works, the knowledge enhancement about the camp’s area. It was decided to re-conduct the excavations in the area where the mass graves are located. The archeological research was conducted in the autumn of 2013 under the direction of Mr. Wojciech Mazurek who was cooperating with the Israeli archaeologist, Mr Yoram Haimi. During the research were also present: Mr. Aleksander Schwarz -representative of the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Dr. Ivar Schute – Dutch archeologist and Prof. Andrzej Kola.  Besides verification (i.e. confirmation of the grave function) of the further areas of the mass graves, one of the important achievements of this expedition was the discovery of the north-eastern  corner of the fence (that determines the range of the camp) as well as the discovery of the further grave, in which there are complete skeletons of  at least two people. Furthermore, the archeologists discovered the identification plate belonged to Anna Kapper from Amsterdam, who was born in 1931. Complete information about the course of research conducted in 2011 is to find in the report from excavations research conducted in the autumn of 2013, prepared by Mr. Wojciech Mazurek (Report from  research W. Mazurek [autumn 2013]), in the written consultation results given by Mr. Yoram Haimi (Report by Y. Haimi [autumn 2013]) and in the report from works conducted by Mr. Ivar Schute (Report by I. Schute [autumn 2013]).

On behalf of the Steering Group, the research team and on its own, the organizer of the research would like to thank the State Museum at Majdanek  and the Łęczyńsko- Włodawskie Lakeland Museum for the opportunity to conduct archeological research. Furthermore, the organizer would like to thank the Museum Conservator, delegacy in Chełm, Chief Rabbi of Poland and all employees of aforementioned institutions as well as private persons for the support given during the archeological research.

Archeological reserch – December 2013

In 2012 the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation together with the Wlodawa district governor’s office, Dutch province of Gelderland and the Łęczyńsko- Włodawskie Lakeland Museum organized a scientific conference during which were presented the results of the archeological works conducted in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór. During the conference was presented the book publication ,,Sobibór. Archeological research conducted in the years 2000-2011 in the area of the former extermination camp in Sobibór”, compiled by Marek Bem and Wojciech Mazurek and published by the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation.

Summary of the realization of the archeological research program:

Plan of the objects’ location