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.
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.
From 1941 to 1944, about 45,000 Jews were shot and buried alive in fourteen 100 m long trenches here at Fort IX in Kaunas (or Kovno in Yiddish), Lithuania. The killing continued until 75 years ago, almost to the day, as the Kovno Ghetto was liquidated from July 8 through 13, 1944. Even after three years of mass murder and deportations, there were still 30,000 or so Jews living in the Ghetto. About 400 survived the liquidation.
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.
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
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