The Arty Semite

Uncovering the Remains of Treblinka

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls is a British forensic archeologist. Much of her work is with police departments, often literally digging up missing persons — so she’s used to uncovering remains.

Still, what she discovered during her research at the Treblinka death camp was so emotionally wrenching, it forced her to tears. A riveting account of her work there, “Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine,” airs March 29 at 8 pm on the Smithsonian Channel.

Treblinka was actually two camps. Treblinka 1 was supposedly a labor camp. Treblinka 2 was almost certainly the most efficient murder operation in the history of mankind. About 900,000 people fell victim there in a little more than a year. Camp commanders bragged about their efficiency.

But, facing an oncoming Soviet army, the Germans destroyed the buildings, dug up mass graves and burned the bodies, forced local people to spread the ash and planted trees to cover over what had been the camp.

They couldn’t make it completely disappear, but the absence of physical evidence allowed Holocaust deniers to maintain that Treblinka 2 was a transit, not death, camp.

Enter Dr. Sturdy Colls and her team. Working with the cooperation of the Treblinka Museum and Polish authorities, and with the blessing of the Chief Rabbi of Poland, they used 21st-century technology to find what the Nazis tried to obscure 70 years ago.

Nothing remained on the grounds except the museum and the forest planted by the Germans. Utilizing a system called lidar — an acronym for “light and radar” — they were able to see through the foliage and found faint imprints they thought might be the camp’s original foundation.

The team first set up several digs at Treblinka 1, the so-called work camp. In relatively short order they uncovered human remains that underscored the contention that Treblinka 1 was more than just a work camp. The team was visibly moved by their discoveries and it was heartwarming to see the reverence with which they treated the remains, which were subsequently reburied under the rabbi’s supervision.

It took a little longer to make discoveries in Treblinka 2, but eventually the team uncovered the location of a gas chamber as well as more body parts, personal effects and, most interesting, a Magen David on a tile. The last confirms eyewitness accounts that said the Nazis had designed the gas chamber to look as though it was a bath house, in order to suggest that this was merely a transit camp.

Sturdy Colls work is increasingly important as the number of survivors shrink and all that’s left are distant memories. This is a show worth watching.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Treblinka, Film, Television, Caroline Sturdy Colls, Documentaries

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.