More than 6 months before Adolf Eichmann, Reinhard Heydrich, and other SS and Nazi government officials met in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on January 20, 1942, to formulate the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question," the Polish journalist Sakowicz was already witnessing and secretly documenting the extermination of the Jews of Lithuania in the forest of Ponary. Besides likely being the largest of the killing pits, Soviet Plan Pit 1 (as we call it) was also the first pit, it is believed, to be used as a mass murder site at Ponary. On Sunday and Monday, June 12 and 13, Alastair and I felt we had mapped in Pit 1 to a sufficient extent where the archaeologists could be confident of its size and location, and so the the Poneriai Memorial could properly protect the area.
Excavations in any of the killing pits, even for forensic studies, will not happen. Yet, one goal of the historians and archaeologists working at Ponary, and at other Holocaust sites, is to give identities and even names to the victims. At Pit 1, the Nazis expanded the trenches originally built by the Russians to route fuel oil from the tanks. In their experiments to efficiently handle and execute as many people as fast as possible, the Nazis first used these trenches to funnel the victims into these killing pits. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we used topographic mapping from drones, a 1942 hand drawn German map of Pit 1, a German air photo shot by German intelligence over Poneriai during the 1944 Battle of Vilnius, visual observation,and more geophysics to pinpoint the axes of the trenches, specifically, the trench leading to Pit 1. We were hoping to identify bits of metal in the trenches that could direct the archaeologists to dig where, as the victims approached the gun shots that they could surely hear (but not see, as they were marched shirtless into the pits with their tops wrapped around their heads) in front of them, they disposed of their last and most treasured personal possessions of watches, jewelry, house keys, personal momentos, etc.... and along with these, perhaps identity cards, photographs, letters, and other records of the moment.
We do have targets along the trench leading to Pit 1, and at the proper depth that would place these bits of metal on the floor of the trench. What exactly these objects are, and what other artifacts may they be associated with, will have to wait until some future archaeological excavation work.
Blogging by Paul Bauman