Staffordshire University lecturer throws new light on events of the Holocaust

“I’m in discussions with a view to doing further work at the site. Hopefully I’ll be involved in a pilot this summer as the first survey is really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information that can be gleaned about Treblinka using archaeological methods.”

Caroline Sturdy Colls, Lecturer in Forensic Investigation

A groundbreaking forensic study by a Staffordshire University academic has uncovered new evidence of events at a former death camp where more than 800,000 Jews perished during the Holocaust.

It was widely believed that evidence of the extermination camp at Treblinka, in north-east Poland, was destroyed by the Nazis before they abandoned it in August 1943.

However, research carried out by Forensic Investigation lecturer Caroline Sturdy Colls used non-invasive geophysics, topographic surveys and advanced GPS to reveal the location of deep pits – potential graves – and structural remains that tie in with witness accounts of where gas chambers were located.

Caroline, who’s work at Treblinka is the subject of Radio 4 documentary, said: “When this information was compared with archival material, such as aerial photographs and witness maps, the boundaries of the camp were identified and below-ground features were characterised.

“These initial findings indicate that we still have a great deal to learn about the history of Treblinka. Traces of the camp clearly do survive below the ground and the use of archaeological methods has revealed structures, pits and other subtle traces of the camp’s existence and layout. Most importantly, these findings can contribute to our knowledge about the nature of Nazi persecution and the treatment of the victims sent there.”

Because Jewish Halacha law prohibits disturbance of human remains, Caroline and her colleagues were forced to employ alternative survey methods in the first scientific examination of the death camp.

However Caroline is hoping that her work with the Treblinka museum authorities and the Chief Rabbi of Poland will enable her to continue her research.

“I really hope that the results of the survey can be used by the museum for commemoration, heritage management and education, and that this is part of a long term collaborative project at Treblinka.

"I’m in discussions with a view to doing further work at the site. Hopefully I’ll be involved in a pilot this summer as the first survey is really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information that can be gleaned about Treblinka using archaeological methods.”

The application of forensic techniques to Holocaust sites was the subject of Caroline’s PhD which she undertook at the University of Birmingham.

Caroline’s research will be explored further in a forthcoming BBC Radio 4 documentary, The Hidden Graves of the Holocaust on Monday 23 January at 8pm.

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