Archaeologists in Poland have finally found the gas chambers used to kill a quarter of a million Jews at Nazi death camp Sobibor after excavations began in 2007.
The grim discovery was made earlier this week, with those leading the search surprised by the extent of the find.
“We have been amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls,” said archaeologist Yoram Haimi.
The camp operated between April 1942 and October 1943, but after an uprising, the Germans decided to dismantle the camp, bulldozing it entirely, leaving no survivors.
“This is a very important finding in Holocaust research,” said David Silberklang, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research and editor in chief of Yad Vashem Studies.
“These findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people.”
Since 2007, teams have been looking for the gas chambers have found thousands of inmates’ personal items, such as rings, pendants, earrings, jewelry, perfume bottles, medicine cases and food utensils.
The search has been long and painstaking in part because the Nazis concealed the site by planting pine trees across the area, after 600 Jewish prisoners revolted and briefly escaped on 14 October 1943. Up to 120 of those prisoners survived the revolt, half of whom subsequently survived the war.
This week archaeologists revealed that they had found wedding rings near the gas chambers with the inscription in Hebrew ‘Hare at mekudeshet li’ (Behold, thou art consecrated to me).
“There were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers,” explained Silberklang, who said that the recollections of survivors from elsewhere in the camp had helped lead to the discovery.
“Finding the exact size of the gas chambers will enable us to understand what their capacity was and from there we can determine a more precise estimation of the number of people killed here.”
The 8-year search was conducted by Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research, the German-Polish Foundation and the Majdanek State Museum, with Dutch archaeologist Dr. Ivar Schute joining Haimi and Polish expert Wojciech Mazure last year.