Posts Tagged With: death camp

Help in the search for a lost twin…..


The story which moved everyone: sixty-eight years after leaving Auschwitz, Menachem Bodner is using social media to search for his twin brother who he now knows also survived. Despite the lack of memories from a war-marred childhood, Bodner says that throughout his life he’s felt a deep connection with his twin—and is positive he’s still alive and out there. But where? Share the photo of Menachem, repost the story, join his search for the long lost brother on Facebook A7734. Menachem, we are with you! http://ow.ly/iY1n9

The story which moved everyone: sixty-eight years after leaving Auschwitz, Menachem Bodner is using social media to search for his twin brother who he now knows also survived. Despite the lack of memories from a war-marred childhood, Bodner says that throughout his life he’s felt a deep connection with his twin—and is positive he’s still alive and out there. But where? Share the photo of Menachem, repost the story, join his search for the long lost brother on Facebook A7734. Menachem, we are with you! http://ow.ly/iY1n9

Categories: Politics, Strange News | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poland hopes to identify remains of Auschwitz hero…..



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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — It could hardly have been a riskier mission: infiltrate Auschwitz to chronicle Nazi atrocities. Witold Pilecki survived nearly three years as an inmate in the death camp, managing to smuggle out word of executions before making a daring escape. But the Polish resistance hero was crushed by the post-war communist regime — tried on trumped-up charges and executed.

Six decades on, Poland hopes Pilecki’s remains will be identified among the entangled skeletons and shattered skulls of resistance fighters being excavated from a mass grave on the edge of Warsaw’s Powazki Military Cemetery. The exhumations are part of a movement in the resurgent, democratic nation to officially recognize its war-time heroes and 20th century tragedies.

“He was unique in the world,” said Zofia Pilecka-Optulowicz, paying tribute to her father’s 1940 decision to walk straight into a Nazi street roundup with the aim of getting inside the extermination camp. “I would like to have a place where I can light a candle for him.”

More than 100 skeletons, mostly of men, have been dug up this summer. On one recent day, forensic workers and archaeologists wearing blue plastic gloves and masks were carefully scraping away at the soil and piecing together bones as if working on a jigsaw puzzle. The front of one skull had been blown away by bullets; another had apparently been bludgeoned; a skeleton showed evidence of multiple gunshot wounds.

Near the pit where the bodies were dumped under cover of night stand the well-tended tombstones of the very judges and prosecutors who sent these World War II heroes to their deaths under orders from Moscow, which was fearful that the Polish patriots might use their seasoned underground skills to turn the nation against its new pro-Soviet rulers.

“The perpetrators have not been punished and the bodies of the victims have not been found,” said Krzysztof Szwagrzyk, a historian in charge of the dig. “Those times will be coming back to us until we find the bodies and bury them with due honors.

“We are doing them justice.”

Pilecki’s son Andrzej and dozens of other relatives of victims have been swabbed in the hope their DNA will be a match for the skeletons. Initial work is being carried out to determine age, sex, height and injuries of the victims. It will take several months to determine if Pilecki, who was killed by a bullet to the back of his head, is among them. Thousands of resistance fighters were killed across Poland; the remains of up to 400 are believed to have been dumped in the Powazki mass grave.

Pilecki was 38 when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, triggering the start of World War II. He helped organize a resistance campaign during which many fellow fighters were caught and sent to Auschwitz, which in the early war years served more as a camp for Polish resistance fighters than Jews. That inspired him to hatch an audacious plan: He told other resistance commanders that he wanted to become an Auschwitz inmate to check on rumors of atrocities.

Carrying documents bearing the alias Tomasz Serafinski, the Catholic cavalry officer walked into the German SS street roundup in Warsaw in September 1940, and was put on a train transport to Auschwitz, where he was given prisoner number 4859.

He was “exceptionally courageous,” said Jacek Pawlowicz, a historian with Warsaw’s Institute of National Remembrance.

Pilecki is the only person known to have volunteered for Auschwitz. His terse dispatches to the outside world were slips of thin paper stitched inside clothes of inmates leaving the camp or left in nearby fields for others to collect. They included only code names for inmates who were beaten to death, executed by gunfire or gassed. As sketchy as they were, they were the first eyewitness account of the Nazi death machine at Auschwitz.

Pilecki survived hard labor, beatings, cold and typhoid fever thanks to support from a clandestine resistance network that he managed to organize inside the camp. Some of its members had access to food, others to clothes or medicines.

He plotted a revolt that was to release inmates with the help of an outside attack by resistance fighters; it was never attempted because considered too risky, Pawlowicz said.

Pilecki escaped in April 1943 when he realized that the SS might uncover his work. With two other men he ran from a night shift at a bakery that was outside the death camp’s barbed wire fence.

After his escape, Pilecki wrote three detailed reports on the extermination camp.

One describes how his transport was met by yelling SS men and attacking dogs: “They told one of us to run to a post away from the road, and immediately sent a machine gun round after him. Killed him. Ten random colleagues were taken out of the group and shot, as they were walking, as ‘collective responsibility’ for the ‘escape’ that the SS-men arranged themselves.”

Pilecki’s heroics were for the most part in vain. Even though his accounts of gas chambers made it all the way to Poland’s government-in-exile in London and to other Western capitals, few believed what they were reading.

After escaping, Pilecki rejoined Poland’s Home Army resistance force and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the city’s ill-fated revolt against the Nazis. In 1947, he was arrested by the secret security of the communist regime, imposed on Poland after the war, and falsely accused of planning to assassinate dignitaries.

The Soviet plan after World War II was to subdue the Poles by crushing resistance and erasing any sense of Polish identity or history. Today, more than two decades into Poland’s democracy, however, enough documentation and funds have been gathered to restore the banned past and try to find and identify the heroes’ bodies.

In addition to Pilecki, the search is on for the remains of other wartime resistance heroes, including Brig. Gen. August Emil Fieldorf, a top clandestine Home Army commander who once served as emissary to Poland of the country’s government-in-exile. He was accused of ordering killings of Soviet soldiers — charges that Poland’s communist authorities later admitted were fabricated — and hanged in 1953.

Szwagrzyk is not sure if Pilecki will be found at Powazki cemetery because it is not the only such clandestine site in Warsaw or the rest of Poland.

But his place in history is gradually being restored. A street in Warsaw is now named after him, as are some schools across the country.

He found communist prison harder to endure than Auschwitz. A fellow inmate described seeing him in prison slumped, unable to raise his head because his collar bones had been broken. At his show trial, he was hiding his hands because his fingernails had been ripped out during torture.

At one court session, he told his wife Maria that the secret security torture had sapped his will to go on.

“I can live no longer,” he said.

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Israeli archaeologist digs into Nazi death camp…Sobibor



The most touching find thus far, he said, has been an engraved metal identification tag bearing the name of Lea Judith de la Penha, a 6-year-old Jewish girl from Holland who Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial confirmed was murdered at the camp.

Haimi calls her the “symbol of Sobibor.”

KIRYAT MALACHI, Israel (AP) — When Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi decided to investigate his family’s unknown Holocaust history, he turned to the skill he knew best: He began to dig.

After learning that two of his uncles were murdered in the infamous Sobibor death camp, he embarked on a landmark excavation project that is shining new light on the workings of one of the most notorious Nazi killing machines, including pinpointing the location of the gas chambers where hundreds of thousands were killed.

Sobibor, in eastern Poland, marks perhaps the most vivid example of the “Final Solution,” the Nazi plot to wipe out European Jewry. Unlike other camps that had at least a facade of being prison or labor camps, Sobibor and the neighboring camps Belzec and Treblinka were designed specifically for exterminating Jews. Victims were transported there in cattle cars and gassed to death almost immediately.

But researching Sobibor has been difficult. After an October 1943 uprising at the camp, the Nazis shut it down and leveled it to the ground, replanting over it to cover their tracks.

Today, tall trees cover most of the former camp grounds. Because there were so few survivors — only 64 were known — there has never been an authentic layout of the camp, where the Nazis are believed to have murdered some 250,000 Jews over an 18-month period. From those few survivors’ memories and partial German documentation, researchers had only limited understanding of how the camp operated.

“I feel like I am an investigator in a criminal forensic laboratory,” Haimi, 51, said near his home in southern Israel this week, a day before departing for another dig in Poland. “After all, it is a murder scene.”

Over five years of excavations, Haimi has been able to remap the camp and has unearthed thousands of items. He hasn’t found anything about his family, but amid the teeth, bone shards and ashes through which he has sifted, he has recovered jewelry, keys and coins that have helped identify some of Sobibor’s formerly nameless victims.

The heavy concentration of ashes led him to estimate that far more than 250,000 Jews were actually killed at Sobibor.

“Because of the lack of information about Sobibor, every little piece of information is significant,” said Haimi. “No one knew where the gas chambers were. The Germans didn’t want anyone to find out what was there. But thanks to what we have done, they didn’t succeed.”

The most touching find thus far, he said, has been an engraved metal identification tag bearing the name of Lea Judith de la Penha, a 6-year-old Jewish girl from Holland who Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial confirmed was murdered at the camp.

Haimi calls her the “symbol of Sobibor.”

“The Germans didn’t discriminate. They killed little girls too,” he said. “This thing (the tag) has been waiting for 70 years for someone to find it.”

Haimi’s digs, backed by Yad Vashem, could serve as a template for future scholarship into the Holocaust, in which the Nazis and their collaborators killed about 6 million Jews.

“I think the use of archaeology offers the possibility of giving us information that we didn’t have before,” Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent American Holocaust historian from Emory University, said. “It gives us another perspective when we are at the stage when we have very few people who can speak in the first person singular.”

She said that if the archaeological evidence points to a higher death toll at Sobibor than previously thought, “it is not out of sync with other research that has been done.”

Haimi’s basic method is similar to what he does at home, where he does digs for Israel’s antiquites authority in the south of the country — cutting out squares of land and sifting the earth through a filter. Because of the difficult conditions at Sobibor and the sensitive nature of the effort, he is also relying on more non-invasive, high-tech aids such as ground-penetrating radar and global positioning satellite imaging.

Based on debris collected and patterns in the soil, he has been able to figure out where the Nazis placed poles to hold up the camp’s barbed wire fences.

That led him to his major breakthrough — the mapping of what the Germans called the Himmelfahrsstrasse, or the “Road to Heaven,” a path upon which the inmates were marched naked into the gas chambers. He determined its route by the poles that marked the path. From that, he determined where the gas chambers would have been located.

He also discovered that another encampment was not located where originally thought and uncovered an internal train route within Sobibor. He dug up mounds of bullets at killing sites, utensils from where he believes the camp kitchen was located and a swastika insignia of a Nazi officer.

Along the way, he and his Polish partner Wojciech Mazurek, along with some 20 laborers, have stumbled on thousands of personal items belonging to the victims: eye glasses, perfume bottles, dentures, rings, watches, a child’s Mickey Mouse pin, a diamond-studded gold chain, a pair of gold earrings inscribed ER — apparently the owner’s initials — a silver medallion engraved with the name “Hanna.”

He also uncovered a unique version of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis, made out of metal instead of cloth, which researchers determined to have originated in Slovakia.

Marek Bem, a former director of the museum at Sobibor, said the first excavations began at the site in 2001, with several stages before he invited Haimi to join in 2007. He said the mapping of the 200-meter (yard) long Himmelfahrsstrasse opens the door for looking for the actual gas chambers.

“We are nearer the truth,” he said. “It tells us where to look for the gas chambers.”

Haimi is not allowed to take any of the items out of Poland, but he consults regularly with Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research, which helps him interpret his findings and gives them historical perspective.

Dan Michman, head of the institute, said Haimi’s research helps shed light on the “technical aspects” of the Holocaust. It also grants insight, for example, on what people chose to take with them in their final moments.

“His details are exact and that is an important tool against Holocaust denial. It’s not memories, it’s based on facts. It’s hard evidence,” he said.

But the accurate layout is Haimi’s greatest contribution, allowing researchers to learn more about how it functioned, said Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

She said some critics have suggested that the sites of former death camps are “sacred” and “should remain untouched.” But she said she believes the excavation is justified. “I feel that our need for knowledge outweighs those concerns.”

Once his work in Sobibor is done, Haimi hopes to move on to research at Treblinka and other destroyed death camps.

Though archaeology is usually identified with the study of ancient history, Haimi thinks that with survivors rapidly dying it could soon become a key element in understanding the Holocaust.

“This is the future research tool of the Holocaust,” he said.

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