Most field days, this geophysical gig feels like a theatrical rendition of Louis Sachar’s YA novel “Holes”. If you have not read it, “Holes” follows the epic wrongful punishment of Stanley Yelnats who is sent to a youth incarceration site in the Texas desert where all the teenage internees endlessly and pointlessly dig holes in the desert pavement. For us, most days involve painstakingly and often with great effort and sometimes disappointing results, pounding hundreds of sensors into the ground, and then taking them out. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
If the United Nations deems that access to “Clean Water and Sanitation” is a human right, who in Zimba is considered human enough to have that right? OK, I am paraphrasing the late and very great Dr. Paul Farmer speaking about access to medical care, but the notion is equally valid, if not more so regarding water. How can one see young children and young mothers with infants walking kilometers with filthy buckets to gather water from mud puddles, yet be so close to Lake Kariba, the world’s largest manmade reservoir?! How can one travel for so many days and not see a trace of electrification, yet be so close to the Kariba Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world?! The World Bank, who financed the Kariba Dam, has the mandate of providing “long-term economic development and poverty reduction by providing… such as building schools, providing water and electricity…”.
It is 4 AM and the roosters are already rocking this hilltop. Given the depths of poverty in Zimba District, the quantity of livestock is remarkable. As it has been explained to me, livestock are only rarely to be eaten. They are four-legged bank accounts. Should the rains not come in November, livestock can be sold, and food purchased. Successive seasons of drought are then a calamity, of course
Without exception we have found the Tonga people to be gentle, generous, and grateful for our efforts. As greetings are an act carrying great import in any Tonga interaction, the four of us from BGC have all learned the basic greetings of mwabuka buti (good morning), mwayusa buti (good afternoon), kwasiya buti (good evening), twalumba (thank you), and a few others. Any greeting is usually accompanied by a right hand over the heart, and a gentle and silent clapping of cupped hands
Beep! Beep! Beep! That is the sound the gas monitor in my waist pocket made indicating that there was no oxygen as I descended into the pre-1945 sewer manhole on the Muranowska street side of the Mila 18 command bunker in Warsaw. My legs kept stepping downward, but the three Warsaw municipal sewer workers, each of whom stepped on the scale at a few weight classes above me, cranked me up to surface as if they were master puppeteers.
Today, 28 July 2021, amongst bikini clad sunbathers, families kicking soccer balls, stylish and tattooed young Polish women with their yoga mats, a multitude of dog walkers, and a few tourists, we searched for one of the most important archives left undiscovered in human history. And most bizarrely, we had an address of where to look, and where many others had searched for 75 years, 34 Świętojerska Street in downtown Warsaw, Poland.
It is nearly impossible to find any uplifting message out of our July 23rd day of field work at the Rumbula killing site on the outskirts of Riga. The killing, exhumation, and burning of 25,000 Jews on a sandy hilltop in a small pine forest has little material for the documentary film that will be the outcome of Resistance Project.
If one bikes or runs about 9 kilometers southeast of the Old City of Riga, along the banks of the wide and slow moving Daugava River, one comes to a 200 hectare area of open field and forest, known to most as Mazjumprava Manor. It is here, amongst the ruins of the manor house and outbuildings of an 18th and 19th Century leading Riga family, that well dressed couples from Riga will come to walk their dogs, sit on a bench holding hands and kissing next to the mill pond, or bike along the river or through the open fields. It is also here in late November 1941, before the United States had even declared war on Germany, that the Nazis began transporting Jews to this same site that was known as Konzentrationslager Jungfernhof (Jungfernhof Concentration Camp).
Earlier this year, the New York-based science magazine Nautilus Magazine wrote an article about our 2019 Geoscientists Without Borders (GWB) project “Geophysical Investigations at Holocaust Sites in Lithuania and Warsaw” https://seg.org/.../Geoscientis.../Projects/detail/lithuania The article, found in the following link, https://nautil.us/.../digging-deeper-into-holocaust-history discusses our use of technology to assist in locating and mapping mass graves. Most importantly, though, the article describes why mass grave mapping matters.
Clearly the author was particularly moved by our use of soil phosphorus as an attempted proxy for identifying human burials in our determination not to physically disturb any such burials. We thank Lisa Neville at AGAT Laboratories in Calgary for their much appreciated help with the phosphorus analyses.
Colin Miazga and I, now from BGC Engineering Inc in Calgary, are back in the Baltics. We are here to carry on our pro bono work in assisting historians and archaeologists in understanding the Holocaust through continued exploration and mapping of these now seemingly featureless sites. But we are also here to make a documentary movie that defies the too often used Biblical phrase that Jews accepted their deaths “like sheep to the slaughter.” The working title of the documentary project is The Resistance Project, and the working film title is “They Fought Back.”
We flew out of Calgary the 18th of July, landed in Riga, Latvia in the afternoon of the 19th, and began our field program on the morning of the 20th at the little known Concentration Camp of Jungfernhof a short bicycle ride from the wonderful Old City of Riga, on the south bank of the Daugauva River. Primo Levi described Auschwitz as a place where “Here there is no why.” As we began today to unravel the history and landscape of Jungerfernhof, it was clearly built by the Nazis with the same spirit of insanity as were the later industrialized mass execution camps.
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. January 27, 2020, memorializes the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp where one million Jews were murdered. Less well known, in the Baltics and other Eastern European countries, is that about 2 million Jews were shot in open air massacres. Most victims were killed before the establishment of the Nazi industrial extermination camps, and most of these slaughters occurred in small Jewish villages or shtetls that few of us have heard of and many of which no longer exist.