Some 70 years after the Nazis tried to cover their tracks, Israeli archeologist uncovers open-air cremation pits, escape tunnel • In 2012, he pinpointed the exact location of gas chambers, walkway that led prisoners to their death • New museum underway.
An identity tag bearing the name of 8-year-old Deddie Zak
Photo credit: Yoram Haimi
The Nazis and their collaborators systematically exterminated some 250,000 Jews in the Sobibor death camp in Poland between April 1942 and Oct. 1943. A recent excavation has recently provided a silent testimony to the mass killing, some 70 years after the perpetrators tried to cover their tracks by razing the site to its core and planting what was to become a thick forest. Their decision was prompted by a prisoners' revolt.
Archeologists Yoram Haimi and Wojciech Mazurek, from Israel and Poland respectively, have recently discovered nine open-air cremation pits as well as a cabin that housed Jews who were used for slave labor. Some 1.6 meters (about 5 feet) below the floor, a man-made tunnel was unearthed. As it led toward the barbed wire surrounding the camp, the excavators believe it was used as an escape route.
Footage: Yoram Haimi, Peter Bacon
In 2012, Israel Hayom reported that Haimi and his team had successfully uncovered the "road to heaven," a cynical name Nazis used for the walkway thousands of naked Jews took to the gas chambers. The two archaeologists also discovered the exact location of the gas chambers.
"The excavations took place in an area called Camp III, the site of multiple mass graves," Haimi told Israel Hayom. "The excavations were monitored by Poland's chief rabbi. At one of the pits we found a child's ID tag bearing the name 'Deddie Zak,' who was eight when he arrived at the site from the Netherlands. His niece, Liz, survived the war and attended the memorial marking the 70th anniversary of the uprising. Another ID was found near the ramp used by the prisoners who descended the transport trains. It bears the name Lea Judith de la Penha, a girl of Portuguese descent who was transported to the camp with her father David and her mother Judith in July 1943, also from the Netherlands."
Haimi said that some of the human bones in the mass graves did not undergo cremation. "During our recent excavations, we found a grave with six skeletons of people who had been shot in the head. They were buried with their clothes on. Over time, only their buttons and their boots would remain." He said he believes these were Jews who had been transferred from Treblinka, another death camp, and then executed. Nearby, excavators found hair that had been sheared from women before they were gassed.
"For me, it is important to make sure the story of Sobibor is not forgotten. Unfortunately, the survivors are getting older, no one is around to tell their story," Haimi said.
The construction on a new museum focusing on Sobibor is scheduled to commence in 2015.