Report on archaeological works carried out in Sobibor during Autumn/Winter 2017 – by Israeli archaeologist nad representative of Yad Vashem, Mr. Yoram Haimi
THE FIRST STAGE OF THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE SOBIBOR MUSEUM IS COMPLETED – SUMMARY OF WORKS IN 2017
On the grounds of the former German Nazi death camp in Sobibor the construction works planned in 2017 related to the creation of the Museum – Memorial Site in Sobibor, a branch of the State Museum at Majdanek, came to an end.
The building, consisting of the office of the new institution and an outbuilding, has reached the open shell phase. The site of mass graves containing ashes of the camp victims was protected with layers of geotextiles and white marble aggregates.
The investment will be continued in spring 2018. Further works include construction of a parking lot, water supply and sewage disposal system. The opening of the museum is planned in autumn 2019.
2017 – summary of archaeological works commissioned by the international Steering Committee and financed by the Foundation for „Polish-German Reconciliation”
– archaeological supervision on 6.03 – 14.05.2017 during works related to protecting the site of mass graves, ie. covering the site with layers of geotextile and white marble aggregates and rescue excavations in the place of the eastern fence of Lager III / camp III.
– rabbinic supervision in connection with protecting the site of mass graves, ie. covering the site with layers of geotextile and white marble aggregates carried out on 6 – 10.03.2017, 14 –17.03.2017,21 – 24.03.2017, 27 – 30.03.2017 and 24.04.2017.
SPRING / SUMMER 2017
– archaeological supervision and supplementary archaeological excavations carried out from 18.05 – 30.06.2017 at the site of future museum and its outbuilding (9 acres).
SUMMER 2017 / AUTUMN 2017
– archaeological supervision during construction works, carried out from 17.07.2017 – 30.11.2017.
AUTUMN / WINTER 2017
– excavations carried out from 03.10.2017 – 30.12.2017 in the area of parking lots for buses, along district road no 1727L (in total 23 acres examined), in the area of geothermal drilling and heat transfer installations for museum buildings (10.75 acres), in the area of water supply and power supply (7.75 acres), in the area of sewage system and sanitary tanks (1 acre), in the area of rainwater drainage (0.5 acre) and in the area of telecommunications lines (1 acre). Within three months, the area of 44 acres had been examined.
The final report of the 2017 archaeological works carried out at Sobibor shall be released on March 31, 2018.
International review of Permanent Exhibition in Sobibor Interpretation
Participated by historians, researchers, representatives of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (Minister Jaroslaw Sellin), countries composing the International Steering Committee and the Foundation for „Polish-German Reconciliation”, a debate on the permanent exhibition relating to the history of the German Nazi death camp in Sobibór took place on the 17th October.
Statement regarding the new Museum-Memorial Site within the area of the former Nazi German extermination camp Sobibor
International Steering Committee of the project regarding the establishment of the new Museum–the Memorial Site in the area of the former German extermination camp in Sobibór, composed of the representatives from Poland, Israel, the Netherlands and Slovakia, unanimously decided to continue and smoothly finalize the project with the initial participants in composition that lasts for 10 years. These works are currently in advanced stage. It was therefore decided not to include further partners in the Steering Committee. The decision of all Steering Committee members does not deny Russia’s participation in the project, as the involvement is foreseen, e.g. during the upcoming celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Sobibor Uprising. Mr. Jarosław Sellin, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland informed the Ambassador of the Russian Federation about the SC stand on this matter in an official letter.
The protection of mass graves in Sobibor and beginning of construction works
The area of the mass graves in the former Nazi German death camp containing the ashes of victims was covered with a layer of permeable fabric known as geotextile. After completing this process, the area then was covered with crushed white marble from Polish dolomite rock, known as “white Mary”. This work took place under the supervision of Poland’s rabbinical commission for Jewish cemeteries and under international archaeological supervision.
This was the first stage of the international project in accordance with the architectural and artistic vision by a team of architects – Marcin Urbanek, Piotr Michalewicz, Łukasz Mieszkowski and Mateusz Tański to create a memorial on the grounds of Sobibor. The shell of the museum are set to be completed by the end of 2017. The construction works have begun on the 2nd of August.
The future museum building will have usable area of some 760 square meters, about 8000 sq. ft. According to the project, the museum building will consist of the exhibition hall with a permanent historical exhibition documenting the history of the extermination camp in Sobibor, as well as a lecture hall, a room for collections, a reception area and a service point for visitors.
Press release: Steering Committee of the international project of establishing the new Museum-Memorial Site within the area of the former Nazi German extermination camp Sobibor.
The 10th meeting of the Steering Committee of the project of establishing the new Museum-Memorial Site within the area of the former Nazi German extermination camp Sobibor is taking place in Warsaw on 12-13 June, 2017. Among the members of the Committee are the representatives of the Netherlands, Israel, Slovakia and Poland. The meeting is headed by Mr Jarosław Sellin, Secretary of State in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Republic of Poland.
On the agenda of the meeting are the issues concerning the architectural design of the Memorial Site, the construction of which has already begun. In June, the forest glade on which the mass-graves are located will be secured and by the end of 2017, the first stage of the construction of the museum building is to be completed.
One of the issues being discussed during the meeting is the question of financing the project. The Committee took into consideration a proposal of Germany and welcomes a financial contribution to the project.
The meeting of the Steering Committee takes place in the year of the 75th anniversary of the “Aktion Reinhardt” which led to the planned and conducted by Nazi Germany extermination of 2 million of Polish Jews.
Sobibor was one of the most notorious Nazi German death camps within “Aktion Reinhardt”. Aside from Jewish citizens of Poland Jews from Netherlands, Slovakia and other countries were murdered there as well.
Preliminary Report of Archaeological Excavations in the Sobibór Extermination Camp, 2016 by Yoram Haimi.
The excavation season commenced in the autumn of 2016 in wake of the decision of the Steering Committee concerning the construction of the new visitors center in Sobibór. Archaeological excavations were deemed necessary in order to reconstruct the map of the camp and also to integrate finds discovered in excavations into displays that will be part of the new center. The excavation was initiated by the Polish-German Foundation with the goal of examining a number of areas where the new visitor’s center may be built. The excavation was directed by Wojciech Mazurek on behalf of the Sub Terra company, Yoram Haimi on behalf of Yad Vashem and Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Ivar Schute, the Dutch representative. The excavation was carried out in two separate areas in Camps II and III. Prior to the excavation, the Gepro company from Włodawa surveyed the site and produced an excavation grid. The Zakład Uslug Lesnych from Stulno cut down trees in the areas to be excavated. The Area of Camp II In the 2011 season we uncovered the „Road to Heaven” (Himmelfahrtsstrasse) along which the Nazis led Jews from Camp II to Camp III. Southeast of the northern section of the road, we excavated an area covering ca. 3000 sq.m. The excavations uncovered the remains of the building where victims undressed and their heads were shaved as well as other areas bearing traces oriented north to south that may be attributed to the work of mechanical equipment used to dismantle the camp. In one specific location are imprints left in the ground where trees were planted in order to conceal evidence of the existence of the camp and its function. The personal items found in the foundations of the building appear to have fallen through the floorboards and remained buried in the ground until they were discovered this past fall. Among the personal items found in the area were a Star of David necklace, a woman’s watch and a metal amulet covered in glass with an etching of the image of Moses holding the Ten Commandments. On the reverse side of the amulet is the inscription of the essential Jewish prayer „Shema”. Women’s hair pins were also uncovered that appear to have been deposited when the heads of the victims were shaved prior to their being led to the gas chambers. Also found was a unique pendant, probably belonging to a child from Frankfurt born on July 3, 1929, which bears the words „Mazal Tov” written in Hebrew on one side and on the other side the Hebrew letter „ה” (God’s name).Three Star of David pendants were also discovered. Through the use of Yad Vashem’s online pan-European Deportation Database „Transports to Extinction,” it has been determined that the pendant may have belonged to a girl by the name of Karoline Cohn. Dr. Joel Zissenwein, Director of the Deportations Database Project, discovered that Cohn, born on July 3, 1929, was deported from Frankfurt to Minsk on November 11, 1941, together with her family: her father Richard Cohn, her mother Elsa, and her sister Gita. While it is not known if Cohn survived the harsh conditions in the Minsk ghetto, her pendant reached Sobibór sometime between November 1941 and September 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated and the 2,000 Jewish prisoners interned there were deported to the death camp. There, along the path to the gas chambers of Sobibór, the pendant belonging to 14-year-old Karoline Cohn was taken, dropped, and remained buried in the ground for over 70 years. During the last few weeks after the press release, additional information concerning the origin of the pendants was uncovered and it appears that for children born in the Jewish community in Frankfurt we now have seven more pendants.
The Area of Camp III
East of the asphalt surface, the remains of the barracks of the Jewish prisoners was revealed in 2013. These remains cover an area of 10 x 15 meters of the floor of the barracks. In addition, the remains of low pillars supporting the floor and pieces of barbed wire were found along the exterior where the walls of the barrack stood. A surprising discovery was traces of an escape tunnel, located 1.60 m. below the floor of the barrack oriented eastwards toward the exterior of Camp III. One of the aims of the 2016 excavation was to continue to expose the escape channel. The excavation results show that there is continuation of the escape channel, but the section that proceeds beyond the wire trench was truncated. Due to the sandy soil present in the Sobibór camp, the Jewish prisoners who dug the escape channel supported it with wooden beams. East of the escape channel and the barracks of the Sonderkommando, we found many artifacts that was belonged to the prisoners of Camp III. These include an aluminum cup engraved with Hebrew letters and a Star of David. The letters were engraved using a sharp knife. As of yet, we do not know the meaning of the letters. In this area we also found fragments of dentures, teeth and personal artifacts that were apparently used by the prisoners. These finds points to a high probability of uncovering more barracks further to the east.
The 2016 excavations in the Sobibór camp uncovered the barracks where victims undressed and the hair of the women was shaved. These barracks were located 35 meters southeast of the gas chambers. During the excavation, we found several personal artifacts that belonged to the victims. One of the most significant finds was that of a special silver pendant that belonged to Karoline Cohn. The pendant has prompted us to search for information about the Jewish community in Frankfurt. Part of this community was sent to extermination camps in Poland. A former resident of Frankfurt, Sara Yakir (b. 3/12/1928), who now lives in Israel, has a pendant identical to that of Karoline Cohn. Sarah described her life in Frankfurt and said that the pendant was given to baby girls by the Jewish community in Frankfurt. Girls received pendant and boys were received Kiddush cup. At this stage, we have information about seven other pendants. Research into the origin of the pendent has led to research about the culture and customs of the Jewish community in Frankfurt. The findings in this sensitive area are particularly important, because in their final minutes, the women and children who were transported to Sobibór were crammed into the barracks where they were forced to undress and shave their hair. After this process they were gassed and murdered.
The next expedition of archeological research has begun
At the beginning of August 2014 started the sixth expedition of archaeological excavation research in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibor. The expedition is implemented on the basis of financial means of the INERNATIONAL PROJECT TO ESTABLISH THE NEW MUSEUM-MEMORIAL SITE IN THE AREA OF THE FORMER GERMAN-NAZI EXTERMINATION CAMP IN SOBIBOR. The excavation works are of pre-emptive character, i.e. they are conducted in strictly designated areas, where investment actions connected with the new commemoration concept will be realized. The scope of the planned excavations includes inter alia: the full recognition of the areas where commemoration facilities will be located: ,,Himmelfahrtstraße” (“Road to Heaven”), gas chambers, mass graves and the place where the uprising broke out. The scope of the research also covered the area where the museum building together with the auxiliary infrastructure will be placed. The organizer of the research – the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation acting in cooperation with the area owner –the State Museum at Majdanek, commissioned the conduction of excavations to the company SUB TERRA Archeological Research WojciechMazurek and entrusted WojciechMazurek the function of research director. YoramHaimi from Israel, Dr. Ivar Schute from the Netherlands and Dr. Anna Zalewska from the Maria Curie Skłodowska University in Lublin and Prof. Andrzej Kola from the Nicolaus Copernicus Universityin Toruń were also invited to participate in the research.
Historical discovery in Sobibor
The team of archaeologists under the supervision of Wojciech Mazurek that is conducting the foresight excavation research in Sobibor at the turn of August and September 2014, discovered the remains of the gas chambers. Despite knowledge about the likely localization of this tool of mass destruction from the time of existence of the German-Nazi camp, no documented evidence of its existence has been discovered. This wasmainlybecause the post-camp documentation did not survive, none of the prisoners, forced to operate the gas chambers and to burn the bodies of the murdered, survived and the building itself-afterthe successful uprisingof prisoners, whichbroke outin the autumnof 1943. –was blown up. The present research revealed under the asphalt square numerous remains of the foundation of the bricked-up building that constitutes since the 60s the element of commemoration of the place where gas chambers were located. Currently, documentation works on the discovered relicts are underway.
Dutch royal couple saw the presentation of the international project to establish the new museum- Memorial Site in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibor
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima who were on official visit in Poland in the period of 24-25 June 2014, became acquainted with the international project to establish the new museum- Memorial Site in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibor. The Secretary of State at the Ministry ofCulture and National Heritage, Piotr Żuchowski, who directs the project on behalf of the Polish Government, acquainted the royal couple with the history of the camp and concept of commemoration of the victims. Presentation of the project took place in the library of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, where a small, one-time exhibition of illustrations and artefacts that were acquired during the project’s realization, was arranged. It was one of the first points of the programme of visit in Poland of the Dutch King.
Foundation Laetitia supports the Sobibór project
On 14 January 2014 the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation, which is a co-organizer of the international project to establish the Museum-Memorial Site in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór, entered into an agreement with the Foundation Laetitia, represented by its Chairman – counsellor Marian Mazurek. The object of the agreement is by the Foundation Laetitia to provide organizational and financial support for the project. According to the intention of the donor fund will be allocated to the acquisition and integration of the property to the Memorial Site which during the time of the extermination camp was a camp’s railway platform. That was a vestibule of hell, the beginning of the way to the gas chamber for thousands of Jews from the occupied Europe. At the time being there is a working loading platform at the site that serves loading of wood and the area is held at perpetual lease by the Polish State Railways.
In accordance with the guidelines of the Steering Group and the opinions of experts the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation for several months has worked towards winning the platform and integrating it with the Memorial Site area. Thanks to the Foundation Laetitia the acquisition of the railway platform and the commencement of the works became possible in 2014.
On behalf of all project partners, social environments and private persons that are involved in preserving the memory of the victims of the Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation would like to thank the Foundation Laetitia for this unprecedented gesture. It is the first time that the Sobibór project received the support from the private donor.
The Foundation Laetitia is a Polish foundation whose aim is to promote reconciliation and to bring nations closer, conflict prevention through mutual learning of history, culture, folk customs and traditions.
The works on the architectural project of the new Memorial Site have begun
On 8 January 2014 the State Museum at Majdanek – the owner of the area after the former Nazi extermination camp and organizer of the museum in Sobibór – concluded an agreement for the drawing up the project documentation for the new Memorial Site. The project will be based on the concept of land arrangement that received the first prize in the recent international contest. The order will be performed by the authors of the selected concept, the winners of above mentioned contest – Mr. Marcin Urbanek and Mr. Łukasz Mieszkowski and the company RE S.C. Piotr Michalewicz Mateusz Tański.
Another scientific expedition of archeological research in Sobibór completed
On 4 December 2014 the 5th archeological expedition that was conducted within the scientific research carried out in the area of the former German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór was completed. The scientific research was organized by the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation on behalf of the group steering the international project for establishing the new Museum-Memorial Site.
For the second time the research was conducted in the area of burial sites of thousands of Jewish victims murdered during the II World War. The research aims to acquire the necessary knowledge about the area of the extermination camp prior to the start of investment works that are conducted to preserve and commemorate this place. Archeological research was conducted under the guidance of Wojciech Mazurek (SUBTERRA Archeological research). During the research there were the following persons present as well: Israeli archeologist Yoram Haimi, Dutch archeologist Ivar Schute and Prof Andrzej Kola from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.
The Organizer of the research would like to thank the State Museum at Majdanek and the Lubelski Provincial Monument Conservator (delegation in Chełm) for allowing and supporting the conduction of scientific research.
We commemorated the memory of the victims of the exermination camp in Sobibór
On 14 October 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the revolt and mass escape of the Nazi extermination camp prisoners, there were held official celebrations in Sobibór organized by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The camp prisoners took part in the commemoration: Filip Białowicz, Tomasz Blatt and Jules Schelvis.
The ceremony was attended by representatives of states whose nationals were murdered in Sobibór, u.a.: Shai Mose Piron – Israel’s Minister of Education, Maarten Johannes van Rijn – Secretary of State at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Zvi Rav-ner – Israeli Ambassador, Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch – Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Paul Bekkers – Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Vasil Grivna – Ambassador of the Slovak Republic, Marek Lisansky – General Consul of Slovak Republic in Poland, Tauras Shpokyavichyus – First Counsellor of the Embassy of Russia, Philippe Cers – First Counsellor of the Embassy of France, Marcel Floor – Head of Department of Victims and Remembrance WWII at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Martin Salm – Chairman of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, and many other distinguished guests.
Polish authorities were represented by the Head of the Chancellery of the President of Poland – Jacek Michałowski. The ceremony was hosted by Piotr Żuchowski – the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, who chairs the Steering Group in the international project to establish a new Museum-Memorial Site in the area of the former Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór.
By order of the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski, for bravery and heroic attitude displayed during the uprising and for distinguished merits in the activities for the preservation of memory and dissemination of knowledge about Holocaust, were awarded:
With the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland
- citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands – Jules SCHELVIS,
- citizens of the United States of America – Filip BIALOWITZ, Thomas BLATT, Estera RAAB,
- citizen of Ukraine – Arkadii WEISSPAPIER
With the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland
- citizens of the State of Israel – Simcha BILOWIC, Semion ROZENFELD,
- citizen of the United States of America – Samuel LERER,
- female citizen of the Commonwealth of Australia –Regina ZIELINSKI
For courage and heroic attitude displayed during the Uprising in the German-Nazi extermination camp in Sobibór the prisoners leader was awarded posthumously with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland:
- Aleksander PECZERSKI
Besides the high official representatives of the countries whose citizens were exterminated in the camp in Sobibór, around half thousand children and youth from Israel and Poland took part in the anniversary ceremony. The ceremony was also attended by the participants of educational workshops conducted at that time in Sobibór by the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation – youth from Poland, Israel, Germany, Austria, Russia, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Serbia and Armenia.
A new commemoration architectural-artistic project was presented on this special day in Sobibór, chosen in the international contest. Its presentation was also an invitation for other countries, their governmental and non-governmental authorities to the co-financing and substantive cooperation.