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.
How does one find and map mass graves from more than 75 years ago? As with Daesh (aka IS or ISIS or the Islamic State) and the Yazidis, the Nazis were both thorough and secretive. In many of the shtetls (small Jewish villages of Eastern Europe) of Lithuania, there were simply no survivors to provide eyewitness accounts. 174 Holocaust mass graves have been documented in Lithuania by the Catholic Priest Patrick Desbois, more than 200 by the Jewish community in Lithuania, and there are likely many more undocumented mass burials. What survivors that may still be alive today would certainly have been very young in the period of 1941 through 1944. Similar to the situation of the marooned astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) faced on Mars, we are simply “going to have to science the shit out of this.”
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.