We carried out geophysical and drone imagery surveys at Fort 9 in Kaunas last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, July 10 through 12. But we drove the 90 minutes back to Kaunas and Fort 9 on the Sunday for the commemoration of the liquidation of the Kaunas (Kovno in Yiddish) Ghetto 75 years ago.
On June 22, 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union and entered Lithuania. One day later, on June 23, the Germans entered Kovno, leaving no time for the City’s Jewish population of 35,000 to flee. On July 10, the mayor and military commander of Kovno declared the establishment of a Jewish Ghetto in the impoverished suburb of Slobodka on the north side of the Neris river from Kovno. The Jewish population of Slobodka swelled from 6,000 to 35,000.
As a ghetto, the Jews were sequestered as slave labour in horrendously overcrowded conditions. In late October of 1943, the conditions became much worse when the Germans transformed the Ghetto into a concentration camp. As a concentration camp, any fantastical Nazi pretenses of cloistering Jews for their own protection were discarded. The very young and elderly were transported to Auschwitz and gassed. 2,800 young men and women were deported to slave labour camps Estonia. Only Jews capable of working, were kept alive in the Ghetto.
At the same time of the transformation of the Kovno Ghetto into a concentration camp, the Nazis used 64 Jews from the Ghetto, from Jewish POWs in the Red Army, and fromJewish partisan groups, to begin to exhume the 50,000 or so mass burials at Fort 9, to burn the bodies, to crush the bones, and to bury or scatter the ashes.
As Soviet forces approached Kaunas, and being intent on not leaving a single Jew alive of the surviving 8,000, the Germans found resources to deport remaining Jews to the Dachau and Stutthof concentration camps. On July 11, the Germans began to systematically destroy Kovno, shooting anyone that tried to flee the Ghetto. On July 12, they set Kovno on fire. Each of the approximate 400 survivors had stories of hiding themselves in secret spaces (malinas) dug below the floors or in basements, smuggling themselves out of the Ghetto, or simply fleeing on foot. The Red Army entered Kovno on August 1, 1944.
At the ceremony, a few survivors of the Kovno Ghetto, largely from Israel, returned to the killing site at Ninth Fort where we have been working, and where the ceremony was held. There were also a few hundred children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of these survivors. Many Lithuanians, including from Kaunas, from the Fort 9 Museum, and from the government were also present.
Of all the speeches…and of course we understood none of the Lithuanian, very little of the Yiddish, most of the Hebrew…the most powerful for me was from the first resident Ambassador from Israel to Lithuania, Amir Maimon. Besides speaking in English, Maimon also gave a personal anecdote which clearly explained why we were carrying out geophysical surveys at this place of death. Some time earlier Maimon had come to Fort 9 with his son. “I saw with my very own eyes a newly married couple coming here to take pictures. How can it be that a couple, on the happiest day of their lives, come to this place of tragedy. The answer is very simple; they simply do not know.” And so here we are, trying to better understand, if not why, at least exactly where these mass murders and burials occurred, so that they can be demarcated, protected, memorialized, and perhaps serve as a cautionary narrative.
PBS/NOVA has picked up the film "The Good Nazi" for viewing on all Public Broadcasting Stations in the United States. My understanding is that NOVA, being a science documentary series, will expand the science portion a bit. In Canada, the original production of "The Good Nazi", will show on Vision One. Dates and times have yet to be announced.
The trailer is riveting! I have not seen the film, but my understanding is that the cinematography is exquisite, and the personal story lines of child survivor Sidney Handler, author Michael Good, and Major Plagge are very powerful....and some good geophysics of course.
When the sun sets tomorrow, the evening of Wednesday April 11, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) will begin and continue until the evening of April 12. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is truly solemn, most dramatically illustrated by the 10 AM siren where everything stops for 2 minutes, and even the highways are quiet with thousands of people standing outside their vehicles in silence and pensive thought.
At 9:30 PM on April 11th in Israel, on KAN Channel 11, a movie my colleague Alastair McClymont and I worked on will premier, “The Good Nazi.” The movie will depict the war time efforts of a Nazi and Wermacht officer, Major Karl Plagge, to save Jews from the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania by issuing them work permits to labor in the motor vehicle workshop HKP unite 562. He even had a famous list of the Jews he tried to keep alive, like Oskar Schindler's List. You will have to see the movie, though, to decide for yourself if he really was a good Nazi.
Also showing in Israel the evening of the 11th, for the first time, is the Hebrew language version of “Holocaust Escape Tunnel.” This movie will also show on NOVA l PBS, at 9 PM, on all PBS stations across the United States. Holocaust Escape Tunnel, which premiered a year ago, describes the end of Jewish life in Lithuania, the beginning of the Holocaust, and the truly unbelievable escape of the “Burning Brigade” from the Ponar extermination site.
Sponsored by Dr. Richard Freund and the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at University of Hartford, Alastair and I worked at both sites. As the movie “Holocaust Escape Tunnel” describes, at Ponar, we discovered the then near mythical escape tunnel. I have not seen “The Good Nazi” as it is premiering in Israel, but at HKP 562, we used some of our techniques honed in Colombia from “Finding Escobar’s Millions” to search for the “malinas,” or hiding places the Jews built to conceal themselves from the SS when the Germans retreated from Vilna.
At HKP 562, Alastair and I had an enthusiastic geophysics crew of Merav David from the University of Harford, Josie Bauman from Quest University Canada, Abe Gol (the son of Shlomo Gol, one of the leaders of the Ponar tunnel diggers), and Abe’s cousin Johny. I know we are all very proud to have played some part in telling these stories, and are very grateful that NOVA and Associated Producers supported the high quality production that these two movies surely manifest.
Alastair McClymont and I arrived in Lithuania on July 19. We are here once again to continue to support Lithuanian, Israeli, and American archaeologists and their students who are investigating Holocaust related sites in Vilnius and Kaunas. On Thursday July 20 and Friday July 21 we carried on from our June 2016 work at the Great Synagogue site, using electrical resistivity tomography and drone photography to try to discover the remaining subsurface architecture of the Synagogue and the bath house.
The Great Synagogue was the largest and most important of the 140 synagogues and prayer houses that stood in Vilnius before 1941. Only a single synagogue, the Choral Synagogue, survived the War. The Great Synagogue was ransacked in 1941 by the Nazis, and levelled to the ground by the Soviets in 1957. In 1964, the Soviets built an elementary school over the site.
As described in the NOVA documentary Holocaust Escape Tunnel, last year we somewhat speculated that we were in the mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath house. However the archaeologists are now 100% confident – they have excavated two actual mikvehs (Hebrew plural mikvaot), likely one for men and one for women. Which is which? There is no way to tell, as they are identical, and as bathing suits are not worn in the mikveh, there will be no telltale bathing garments left behind.
Hover for captions
This article appeared in today's issue of the Times of Israel, announcing NOVA's April 19 premier of "Holocaust Escape Tunnel" on all PBS stations in the United States.
Besides locating the Escape Tunnel from Pit 6 (where the "Burning Brigade" was confined, and what we call "Soviet Pit 1" (the first and largest of the extermination pits), we better pinpointed what we believe is the trench in the photograph. Alastair McClymont and Paul Bauman used electrical imaging to identify the fill material in the trench. We created a very high resolution digital elevation model (DEM) with contours of about 2 centimeters so as to see the subtle but distinct linear subsidence of the earth associated with the trench. And we used induced polarization to identify metal objects in the trench.
The victims were blindfolded, and marched through the trench into Soviet Pit 1. The archaeologists believed that as the victims heard gunshots from the Pit, and knew that they were being marched to their deaths, they would have emptied their pockets of their few remaining and most personal belongings, hoping that some day they would be found. As such, small metal objects identified in the geophysical surveys may provide more information about who these people were, and what was of greatest importance to them during their last few living moments.
Later, the Nazis and collaborating Lithuanians abandoned the use of the trench, and simply marched Jews directly into the pits, or up to the edge of the pits, and usually shot them in groups of tens.
The Jewish holiday of Passover, being celebrated now by Jews everywhere, commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in ancient Egypt, as described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible. A conundrum for archaeologists and historians of this period was the near complete lack of any physical or documented evidence for such a mass movement of people from one of the greatest empires in world history. And one thing for sure, agreed upon by all serious archaeologists and historians, is that Mount Sinai in the Southern Sinai Desert certainly is not Mount Sinai of the Bible where Moses received the Ten Commandments.....there is not even a single pottery sherd there that could be dated to within even a few hundreds of years when these tens of thousands of Jewish slaves may have camped there.
In 1954, the Italian archaeologist Dr. Emmauel Anati first came to a mountain in the Negev Desert of Israel, attracted by the spectacularly plentiful presence of ancient rock art in the area. In 1980, Anati returned, and would continue to return for the next 30 years and beyond, convinced that Har Karkom was in fact Mount Sinai.
In early April, 2007, under the direction of Dr. Richard Freund now of the University of Hartford, myself and my colleague, Chris Slater, used geophysics and aerial photography from weather balloons and kites to assist Dr. Anati in his explorations. In fact, we spent Passover and enjoyed our Passover meals beneath the shadow of Har Karkom, partaking heavily of Italian wines and foods - no pasta of course - brought by the Italian archaeologists.
There is a great deal of evidence to support Anati's hypothesis; in fact, in 2010 the Vatican accepted his ideas. I will try to lay out some of the pieces of the puzzle during this Passover holiday.
Some of the more astounding of our finds were geoglyphs - giant rock art visible only from the air, created by removing the overlying weathered rock and revealing the underlying white, unweathered rock. The best preserved of these geoglyphs was that of a wild boar, pictured here.
Now this geoglyph pictures neither an animal that would be in any way considered Kosher, not could be dated any closer to the present then, say, 40,000 to 100,000 years ago. This would be at least more than 35,000 years before the Exodus. But this rich collection of rock art and geoglyphs clearly tells us that ancient peoples have been migrating across this area for tens of thousands of year; and, it is likely that the Israelites would have crossed the Sinai Desert along an established and more secure route such as this one. Geoglyphs, rock art, sacrificial altars, and various monuments all indicate that the environment of Har Karkom has been held in reverence for as long as perhaps 200,000 years.
Of course there were other more recent artifacts that certainly were evocative of the Biblical period, for instance, the pictured rock drawing that could be interpreted as a map of Har Karkom, divided into 12 areas suggesting the twelve Tribes. And even Har Karkom itself, seen in the distance beyond Chris Slater and the magnetometer, eerily evokes the image of the Sphinx, from where the Israelites fled. I will show pull out other images of geoglyphs rock art, artifacts, and intriguing geophysical data over the Passover period.
The NOVA trailer for the work done in Vilinus has finally been relief. Read the teaser published by NOVA, and click on the link below to watch the trailer!
In the heart of Lithuania, a Holocaust secret lies buried. A team of archaeologists probes the ruins of a Nazi death camp to find the truth behind tales of a tunnel dug by desperate Jewish prisoners and their daring escape.
The Holocaust’s Great Escape
A remarkable discovery in Lithuania brings a legendary tale of survival back to life
(click image for article)
We are featured as one of the New York Times' top news stories of 2016! Take a look!
Copy and paste this URL into your browser: http://nyti.ms/2hWADwe
New York Times Science writers have picked the discovery of the Holocaust period escape tunnel, dug by the “Burning Brigade” in the Ponar forest of Lithuania, as one of the top science stories of 2016. The 34 meter tunnel was dug by hand over 76 nights by Jewish slaves assigned to burn 100,000 bodies at the Ponar extermination site (see earlier Facebook posts). The pro bono geophysical work was done by Dr. Alastair McClymont and Paul Bauman from the near surface geophysics group in Calgary, Alberta, under the direction of archaeologists from the University of Hartford, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the Gaon Museum in Lithuania.
Besides the tunnel, we also identified the original Soviet fuel storage pit used for the mass burial of the initial 25,000 victims, the intact sub-levels of the “Great Synagogue” in Vilnius ransacked by the Nazis and later razed to the ground by the Soviets, and an individual and likely very significant grave inside the Rasu Prison that only 3 weeks ago was excavated and the tooth of a skeleton was removed, and is presently undergoing DNA analysis (more to come!).
Below is a link to an earlier interview with Paul Bauman by the National Post, the link to the original New York Times Science Section article, and the link to the recent top 2016 science article retrospective. Paul and Alastair will be back in Lithuania in July doing pro bono investigations at other mass burial sites, particularly in Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania during the period between World War I and World War II.
Unfortunately, and even tragically, the even more impressive and important water exploration pro bono work that 7 geophysicists (Erin Ernst, Randy Shinduke, Doug MacLean, Paul Bauman, Landon Woods, Coln Miazga, and Franklin Koch) from the Calgary office carried out in the Kakuma Refugee Camp and the Turkana Desert of northwest Kenya did not receive similar international media attention – though perhaps it will this year as the ongoing regional refugee crises become a worldwide calamity.
For the NY Times "Science News that Stuck with us in 2016", copy and paste this URL into your browser:
Trudeau's visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp on Sunday July 10, and Canada's Supreme Court ruling in favor of Helmut Oberlander, the roving death squad Einsatzkommando member, all seem good reasons to post this interview on As It Happens between Laura Lynch and Paul Bauman.