The story of the hidden Holocaust at Sobibor to be told at Fairfield University



Image: R FreudOn October 14, 1943, 300 Jewish prisoners at the Sobibor Extermination Camp in Poland staged an escape. About 50 of them survived.

The humiliated Nazis responded by burning to the ground all buildings, burying the entire camp and gas chamber with dirt and planting over it with trees.

On Thursday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m., world-renowned archeologist Richard Freund, Ph.D., will share his remarkable story of using cutting edge technologies to find the camp when he delivers Fairfield University's Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Lecture in Judaic Studies.

Call it a 21st Century approach to combating Holocaust deniers. Free and open to the public, the event, entitled, "Archeology and Re-Discovery of the Sobibor Death Camp," is presented by the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies and will take place in the Dolan School of Business Dining Room. It is made possible by a gift from the Adolph and Ruth Schnurmacher Foundation.

"After the revolt, the Nazis closed the camp and buried the evidence," said Dr. Freund, the director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies and professor of Jewish History at the University of Hartford. "With each passing day, Holocaust survivors are dying off and the question is how will we document in the future this tragic event when there are no more living witnesses? One way is using carefully planned geophysical surveys like ours that allow pinpoint archaeology."

The Sobibor Documentation Project: Unearthing the Secrets of Sobibor, as the research project is known, combines state-of-the-art technology, including ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity tomography, as well as global positioning system mapping. These tools allow archaeologists to map out the subsurface of the camp in a non-invasive way to prove its existence. It is a delicate operation as the site is essentially a mass grave, where 250,000 Jews were murdered. The exploration needs to be done "while preserving the dignity of the dead," said Freund, who is a rabbi.

WorleyParsons, a large energy company in Canada, has loaned cutting edge tools to an international group of archaeologists, historians and geophysicists at work to reveal the camp. Prisoners who survived the escape, as well as local Polish residents, have tried to pinpoint its specific location. Time is becoming more precious as many of these helpful individuals are nearing the end of their lives. "The story behind the Hidden Holocaust can be revealed thanks to modern science," said Freund, author of "Digging through the Bible: Modern Archaeology and Ancient Bible" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009).  

Yoram Haimi, an archeologist with the Antiquities Authority of Israel and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, leads the archeological project. After learning about Freund's work with geophysical techniques on Israeli archeological sites, Haimi invited him to join the Sobibor project. Visiting the site for just one week in July, he joined a team using advanced technology to make some significant discoveries that will help create the most accurate post-war map of a site deliberately hidden by the Nazis.

A documentary is being made of the search for the camp. A trailer of it will be shown at the lecture. Viewers of PBS's NOVA program might be familiar with Freund's  archeological expedition to the Cave of Letters.

Funding provided by the Schnurmacher Foundation has helped to make a variety of Judaic Studies programs possible to Fairfield University students and the community at large. Seating is limited. For reservations, call the Bennett Center at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2066. For more information, visit www.fairfield.edu/judaic.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 4, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 105