Seequent, whose 3D geological visualization software we (Alastair McClymont, Colin Miazga, Eric Johnson, Paul Bauman, Chris Slater) used for our 2017 water exploration program in the Rohingya Refugee Camps of Bangladesh, wrote a short piece looking back at the project for World Water Day. What is particularly nice about the article, though, is that they embedded some of the 3D visualization interfaces so anyone can take a spin and not only get a sense of the process, but take a look at some of the geology, geophysics data, existing water wells, and aerial drone imagery as well. The link to the article is:
Of course Alastair, Colin, Chris, and myself are hurriedly preparing for our departure to Lithuania and Poland this Saturday, July 6. And Eric is girding himself to do all the work that we will be avoiding while we are in Europe.
Our Geoscientists Without Borders project has expanded beyond the mass grave mapping in Lithuania to a few truly iconic sites within the boundaries of what was the Warsaw Ghetto. Poland is planning to begin building a Warsaw Ghetto Museum in September, and is scheduled to complete the museum by 2023, 80 years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The very fact that the museum is being built within the perimeter of what was the largest Jewish Ghetto in Europe at a time that is now a very politically sensitive period in Poland has placed the project under great scrutiny. As such, we will be investigating the grounds in a pre-construction survey to find what "features" may still exist before excavations begin.
I have not seen the plans of the museum, but after taking in a wonderful Canada Day Klezmer concert in Invermere with Frank Rackow and Frank Rackow and The Black Sea, one early suggestion would be for the Warsaw Ghetto Museum to expand their three language explanations (Polish, Hebrew, and English) to four, by including Yiddish of course.
The Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the Foundation Geoscientists Without Borders also made a trailer for the Kakuma podcast. Many of the photographs are by Josie Bauman from Quest University Canada who was half of the documentary film crew.
Besides the podcast being released on June 20, World Refugee Day, I was a Keynote speaker on the same day (serendipity or fate) at the geoscience conference in Vancouver RFG, Resources for Future Generations 2018. I had the great honor of speaking on Water Constraints with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology - Caltech, and now the University of Saskatchewan; Dr. Jason Gurdak from San Francisco State University who spoke about the groundwater situation in California; and Nalaine Morin, of the Tahltan First Nation, who gave a water perspective from both her engineering and aboriginal perspectives. My talk was titled Looking for "Good Water in Bad Places".
While I found the talks of all the co-presenters powerful and engaging, I found the presentation of Jay Famiglietti profound....very, very important stuff. Dr. Famigilietti presented an overview of the 15 years of data collection and interpretation of NASA's GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment). With no fanfare or hyperbole, he simply went through the results which show conclusively, on a world scale, in an irrefutable fashion....our groundwater resources are being depleted worldwide, the depletion of groundwater resources is where we grow most of the food in the world, the ice caps are melting, and sea level is rising in an inverse manner. We all know this, more or less, but it is too easy to ignore until you see the big picture with factual support.
Dr. Famiglietti will now be a Canada 150 Research Chair in Hydrology and Remote Sensing. Great catch for Canada.
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.
...from a November 7, 2017 short interview interview I had on the Calgary eyeopener.
An October 26 interview with CBC Radio and TV about our upcoming water exploration program in the Rohingya Refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. As of today, there are about 830,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled from Myanmar, with 620,000 having arrived only since August 25. The monsoon rains are ending, and they will need to move to yet undeveloped groundwater supplies.
Calgarians helping Rohingya refugeeshttp://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/calgary-eyeopener
On October 29th, Alastair McClymont, Colin Miazga, Eric Johnson, Chris Slater, and Paul Bauman left Calgary and Vancouver with 24 pieces of baggage, most weighing 32 kg, for a two week water exploration program for the Rohingya Refugees in southeast Bangladesh. We left before the sun rose on Thursday, arrived in Dhaka after midnight on Saturday (minus three boxes of cables), and were menage a trois with UNHCR and Oxfam logisticians and WASH (WAter, Sanitation, and Hygiene) officers by Sunday afternoon. There was a lot to sort out – where would we go, how would we get there, and what exactly would we do.
Jet lagged with the 12 hour time difference and the stress of moving 560 kg of baggage from Calgary to Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh, and none of us speaking a word of Bengali or Bangla as they often call the language, we worked in the more bucolic areas near, but outside the Nayapara and Leda Camps on Monday and Tuesday. Today, November 3, we began exploring for water on the edges of the camps themselves, beginning with Leda.
The geology has already pulled a few surprises, but so have the Teknaf Peninsula of Bangladesh and the people that live there, including the Rohingya refugees. We are just beginning to figure out the geology; and, we are just beginning to comprehend what has happened in Myanmar since August 25th, and what is now going on within the now 850,000 person Rohingya refugee population in the southeastern most corner of Bangladesh.
This is an "immersive" virtual reality experience created by NOVA regarding the Ponar Extermination Site. Watch it on your phone to fully enjoy the experience!
click here to experience!
PBS SCIENCE SERIES NOVA AND INTERNATIONAL EXPEDITION TEAM MAKE EXTRAORDINARY DISCOVERY ON MISSION TO REVEAL HIDDEN SECRETS OF THE HOLOCAUST
NOVA: HOLOCAUST ESCAPE TUNNEL
Premieres Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 9PM/8c on PBS
(check local listings)
BOSTON, MA – In the heart of Lithuania, what is now a peaceful forest called Ponar was once Ground Zero for Hitler’s Final Solution. Here, before death camps and gas chambers, the Nazis shot as many as 100,000 people, mostly Jews, in systematic executions, and then hid the evidence of the mass murder. In June 2016, the PBS science series NOVA—produced by WGBH Boston—joined an international team of archeologists on an expedition to locate the last traces of a vanished people: the Jews of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, known in colloquial Yiddish as Vilna. In the process, they made an extraordinary find—a hidden escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners at the Ponar death pits. In a powerful new film, HOLOCAUST ESCAPE TUNNEL, NOVA reveals the dramatic discovery and shares incredible stories from the descendants of this unique group of Holocaust survivors. The documentary takes viewers on a scientific quest to unveil the secret history of Vilna and shed light on a nearly forgotten chapter of the Holocaust.
NOVA: HOLOCAUST ESCAPE TUNNEL premieres Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 9PM ET/8C on PBS--just before International Holocaust Remembrance Day (check local listings).
Once known as “the Jerusalem of the North,” Vilna was a thriving epicenter of Jewish culture and learning before the Nazis invaded more than 70 years ago. Ten days after the invasion in June of 1941, the Nazis brought the first groups of Jews to the Ponar Forest, where they lined them up and shot them. Eventually, with the help of a Lithuanian riflery unit, they wiped out 70,000 Jews, along with 30,000 other suspected “undesirables.”
Historians now generally agree that the use of bullets to annihilate Vilna’s Jews in Ponar Forest was part of a critical tipping point that convinced the Nazis that genocide was actually possible and led to the industrial scale extermination in the concentration camps that followed. “This ‘Holocaust by bullets,’ as it's called, is by far the most important part of the Holocaust,” said Timothy Snyder, Professor of History, Yale University. “It’s how it starts. It's how half of the victims die. But it’s also the decisive moment when it is realized that something like this is possible.”
As the Soviets approached to retake Lithuania from the Nazis in 1944, the Germans ordered a so-called “burning brigade” of 80 Jewish prisoners (76 men, 4 women) to exhume and incinerate the corpses in an attempt to hide the evidence. Over the course of several months, as the job was completed, the prisoners knew they lived on borrowed time and would be the next victims. Fearing that if they did not survive, the story of the horrors perpetrated in Ponar would never be told, they devised a plan: to dig a tunnel, beginning with a single 70 x 65 centimeter hole that the prisoners painstakingly excavated each night.
They dug for 76 nights, using only their hands, spoons and crude improvised tools. On April 15, 1944, the last night of Passover, the shackled prisoners attempted an audacious escape through the narrow, 100-foot-long tunnel. Right below the feet of their Nazi jailors, 12 of them made it out, and 11 survived the war to share their horrific tale among themselves and their families.
Until now, only the tunnel entrance had been located—found by Lithuanian archeologists in 2004 within the burial pit where the prisoners had been housed. Despite efforts, no other evidence of the tunnel’s existence or whether it had been completed had ever been found—and its path remained a mystery—until the expedition team working with NOVA made the stunning find.
The tunnel discovery jointly announced by NOVA and PBS with the international expedition team in June of 2016 immediately generated news headlines around the world, and the find was designated a top science story of 2016. When children of the tunnel diggers living in the U.S. and Israel saw the stories, they reached out to NOVA. As a result, NOVA interviewed more than a half-dozen descendants of the 11 Holocaust survivors who escaped the Ponar killing pits—including Abe Gol, son of Schlomo Gol, and Hana Amir, daughter of Motke Zaidel, the youngest of the 80 Jewish prisoners. NOVA also spoke with Nikita Farber, the grandson of Yuli Farber, the engineer who helped design the escape tunnel.
Viewers also meet several Holocaust survivors who lived in Vilna, such as internationally known artist Samuel Bak and Esia Friedman, who vividly recollect life in the beautiful city before the war, while also sharing brutal accounts of the unspeakable horrors and dangers in Vilna’s ghettos, where the city’s remaining Jews were forced after the Nazi invasion.
Led by Dr. Richard Freund, professor of Jewish History, University of Hartford, and Dr. Jon Seligman, of the Antiquities Authority of Israel, the team used non-invasive archeological identification methods and sub-surface geophysical mapping technology—including drone technology, Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT), Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Lidar and advanced software analysis—in order to protect the sanctity of the resting places at the massacre site. They found four other segments on subsequent days, culminating in confirmation of the contours and direction of the escape tunnel.
“Following a unique group of archeologists whose advanced scientific tools revealed an escape tunnel buried for more than 70 years allowed NOVA to take viewers straight into the heart of the story to learn the truth of what really happened to a vibrant culture that vanished,” said Paula S. Apsell, Senior Executive Producer, NOVA. “While memories may fade as more survivors of this dark era leave us, we now have hard evidence to preserve the historical record for future generations and ensure these tragedies will never be forgotten.”
For Freund and Seligman, the journey to Vilna has been a personal one. Both archeologists had Lithuanian relatives, and several members of Seligman’s family were victims of the Holocaust there. Also on the team are geophysicists Paul Bauman and Alastair McClymont, from Worley Parsons, Inc.'s Advisian Division in Canada; The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum and Tolerance Center of Lithuania; Harry Jol, geoscientist at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; and leading cartographer Philip Reeder (Duquesne University,) as well as students and staff.
In addition to the Ponar Escape Tunnel, NOVA investigates other key excavations in an effort to piece together the story of Vilna’s lost civilization. These include:
Mass Burial Pits:
NOVA begins the search where Vilna ended—at the brutal Nazi execution camp known as Ponar. To this day, mass graves containing the remains of Vilna’s people are still missing. NOVA’s cameras follow the research team as they use Lidar analysis to successfully identify and locate at least one previously unknown, unmarked mass burial pit in the forest adjacent to the site, which may hold the remains of as many as 10,000 people. Freund believes there may be as many as five other mass graves still undiscovered in this area.
The Great Synagogue of Vilna:
The NOVA film follows the excavation in the heart of the vanished city of the destroyed Great Synagogue, a complex dating back to the 16th century, which once housed the largest Jewish library in the world, kosher meat butchers and a communal well. Destroyed by the Nazis, the ruins were then leveled and erased by the Soviets, who
sealed it away by building a school on top of it. Only fragments of its magnificent religious artifacts survive in museums today. In 2011, an excavation had uncovered pieces of the main worship area, including a column base and steps leading to the “bema,” where the sacred Torah is kept. But since most of the worship area is covered by the school building, Seligman, Freund and the team decide to dig a bit further away in the schoolyard. With the help of GPR, they discover a preserved portion of what they believe to be the “mikveh,” the ritual bath where observant Jews carried out purification rites and where the expedition team also found tiles from the large heating stoves, coins and pottery.
Following WWII, the Soviets made a concerted effort to crush the last remnants of Jewish Vilna. The 50-year Soviet period is remembered as one of the darkest chapters of Lithuania’s history. For the tiny community of Jews who remained, it proved to be a second destruction of Vilna as the Soviets began a campaign to erase Jewish history, culture and religion from the city. Other minorities also suffered, but only traces of the once vibrant Jewish Vilna were left.
As time passes, memories of Vilna and its people may fade, but the truth of what happened here has not been forgotten and now, through the proof that science has given us, it will never be erased.
HOLOCAUST ESCAPE TUNNEL is a NOVA production by Lone Wolf Media for WGBH Boston. Written and directed by Kirk Wolfinger. Co-director is Paula S. Apsell. Writer/producer is Owen Palmquist. Senior producer is Chris Schmidt. Senior executive producer for NOVA is Paula S. Apsell.
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