Holocaust survivors working in conjunction with an Israeli archaeologist in Lublin, Poland have found jewelry and other artifacts that were apparently hastily buried by prisoners at the Majdanek death camp.
By Mark Hoerrner
Majdanek is one of the most complete WWII concentration camps still in existence. Despite the large expanse of land, it smells heavily of the pitch and tar on the buildings that once held Polish Jews and captured Soviet soldiers. It's the smell of death. From the small museum to the giant pile of ash and bone recovered from the no-longer working ovens, the camp is filled with the ghosts of its dark history. Now, an excavation taking place at the former death camp is writing a new chapter in Holocaust history.
Four Holocaust survivors have unearthed jewelry, coins and other heirlooms which were buried by hand, hidden by desperate camp prisoners over 60 years ago. The four survivors who took part in the archaeological dig traveled from Australia for the making of a documentary about the Majdanek death camp.
The survivors brought forth amazingly clear memories, including pointing out a place where more than 2000 prisoners were forced to stand for more than a day before Nazi officials herded most of them into the gas chambers. It was during that day that the prisoners most likely buried the treasures. An Israeli archaeologist coordinated the initial three-day dig and hopes to resume digging next month.
"An archaeological dig allowed us to find, around 35 centimeters below the surface, some 50 objects: rings, wedding rings, watches, earrings, and coins, including a 10 dollar coin minted in 1894," Majdanek Museum Director Edward Balawajder said in an interview with foreign news agencies.
An interview with Abraham Lewent, a former prisoner at Majdanek, describes his experience when his family was taken from the Warsaw ghetto and delivered to the camp.
"Where we're going, we don't know," he said in an archival interview conducted by the United States Holocaust Museum. "They put us on trains. I was together with my father, and with this man, and his wife, or his sister, was it? And they took us to Majdanek. Majdanek was a camp near Lublin, and over there was five fields. That means every field had eight or nine hundred people and it was barracks and there's nothing to do."
Lewent was among many Jews forced into hard labor at the camp.
"The only thing you were Majdanek you did, you sit sometimes all day long, and sometimes they took you out to work and a half of them never came back," he recalls. "They make you sit all day long and breaking up from big stones to make little stones, or digging holes, digging ditches, and covering the ditches up. That was the work. That's what you call, uh, a camp what actually is annihilation...they annihilate people, actually."
More than 360,000 people were murdered at Majdanek by the Nazi regime between 1941 and 1944. More than half were Jews. Jews from Poland made up nearly half of the over 6 million Jews exterminated during World War II. Overall, Nazis conducted a campaign of slaughter that saw the deaths of more than 11 million people.
Balawajder called the find significant not just because of the value of the items found, but as additional evidence of the Holocaust that can be preserved for future generations. Some of the found items, including a gold wedding band, are being shipped to various memorials around the world including Yad Vashem in Israel, the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Center in Melbourne, Australia.