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Under a Green Carpet, a Death Factory

Malkie Schulman

With some trees, lush grass, and a few structures, the Nazis thought they could bury the horrors of the Treblinka death camp forever. What they didn’t know was that one day, a young, idealistic forensic archaeologist would use noninvasive tools to virtually strip away those trees and document the gas chambers and mass graves below.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

When the Nazis paved and planted trees over the razed remains of the Treblinka death camp following a prisoner revolt in 1943, they thought they were forever burying the evidence of one of the most horrifying chapters of the Final Solution. But an archaeological researcher has discovered a way to employ noninvasive forensic methods to uncover the hidden evidence under the killing fields. During its year of operation between July 1942 and September 1943, 900,000 Jewish men, women, and children were murdered at the Treblinka death camp east of Warsaw. Besides Auschwitz, more Jews were murdered at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp. In 1943, as the tide of World War II began to turn against Nazi Germany, Reich Commissioner Heinrich Himmler ordered that the camp be dismantled. Many feared that the SS would soon liquidate the camp and kill the remaining prisoners in order to destroy all evidence of their crimes, and so a group of Jewish prisoners began planning an uprising and mass escape. Following the revolt, in which about 300 escaped and 100 survived the subsequent chase, gassing operations were halted, and the camp was dismantled ahead of the Soviet advance. To completely cover their tracks, the Germans plowed over the area, erected a farmhouse, and stationed a Ukrainian guard to live on the property. With all the evidence removed, had Treblinka become nothing more than a legend, a figment of overactive Holocaust imaginations and fodder for Holocaust deniers? For over half a century, the only confirmation of the site’s atrocities came from testimonies of Nazi SS men who had served in the camp and a few Jewish survivors who were willing to share their stories.

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