The Hidden Holocaust At Sobibor

Submitted by JessicaW on November 21, 2010

On November 18th in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business Dining Room, Dr. Richard Freund, the director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies and professor of Jewish History at the University of Hartford, delivered a lecture entitled “Archeology and Re-Discovery of the Sobibor Death Camp.” This Judaic Studies Lecture was made possible by a gift from the Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation.

The Sobibor Extermination Camp in Poland, as well as the methods used to excavate it, have been highly controversial – especially in the Jewish community. Dr. Freund explained his own feelings towards the site, the new archaeological methods used at it, and the background on this gruesome camp.

Sobibor opened as an extermination camp by the Nazis in 1942. By the time it shut down a year later, over 250,000 Jews had been murdered at the site. On October 14, 1943 the prisoners at Sobibor rebelled and murdered 11 guards, frightening Nazi leaders into immediately ordering the death of the rest of the inmates before burying all traces of the camp and erasing it from the landscape. Of the 350 prisoners that escaped, the 50 that survived were the only sources of information that we had to understand what happened there until archaeologists came along.

The “Sobibor Documentation Project: Unearthing the Secrets of Sobibor,” was conceived when Dr. Freund was approached by an Israeli archeologist named Yoram Haimi. Haimi originally set out to find the camp to discover what happened to his two uncles who died there so many years ago. Together, the two and their teams began the research project using new non-invasive technology including geophysics, ground penetrating radar, and electrical resistivity tomography. These new techniques are major breakthroughs in the archaeological world because they, unlike older processes, do not desecrate sites where the dead are buried. This helped archaelogists unravel the story behind what happened in the secret camp at Sobibor.

Dr. Freund pointed out that in 20 years we will no longer have survivors to tell us their first-hand experiences of the Holocaust, so the time to do everything we possibly can is now. “Knowing the story of one can help us to unravel the story of millions,” he said. This was one of the most interesting talks I have been to during my first semester at Fairfield, and important to me personally because I have relatives in Poland. Even though my family is not Jewish, the Holocaust at Sobibor was still a major event in the history of my heritage.

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