Finding Treblinka: Forensic and Archaeological Approaches to Nazi Camps

Harper Center, 3rd Floor, Room 3023

Tuesday, April 4, 2017 @ 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm

“Finding Trelinka: Forensic and Archaeological Approaches to Nazi Camps”
by Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls, Staffordshire University

This public lecture is co-sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America Lincoln-Omaha chapter and the Department of Fine and Performing Arts and the McCormick Fund, the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, the Department of History, and the Kripke Center at Creighton University.

As one of the three Operation Reinhard death camps located in Poland, the name Treblinka is fairly well known. Described as the most ‘perfected’ of the camps, Treblinka gained notoriety for being and extermination camp where it is estimated that between 800,000 and 1,000,000 European Jews, Poles and Romani were killed during the Holocaust. However, before this camp was built in the summer of 1942, Treblinka also housed a labour camp where it is estimated that a further 10,000 people perished as a result of the Nazi ‘death through work’ policy, poor living conditions and executions. Although a broad historical narrative exists, there has been little clarity concerning the appearance of the camps and the physical evidence pertaining to them has received little attention; thus the layout of the camps, the extent and nature of the mass graves and cremation pits, and the processes of killing were poorly understood.  Additionally, the relationship between the extermination camp, Treblinka II, and the labour camp, Treblinka I, has rarely been considered. In fact, the latter is rarely mentioned in the historical narratives of Treblinka as anything more than a predecessor to the extermination site.

Therefore, in 2007 a forensic archaeological investigation was launched which sought to locate, record and interpret the physical evidence that survived at Treblinka in association with the body of evidence that could be derived from archives, witness testimonies and modern digital data. I will provide a summary of this research to date and will demonstrate how a considerable amount of physical evidence survives at both camps which has lain un-investigated for more than seventy years. This evidence includes the gas chambers and previously unmarked mass graves.  I will discuss the various different experiences of inmates sent to Treblinka and how the architecture of the camps influenced living and working conditions, and the ability of individuals to engage in acts of resistance. I will also describe and advocate the unique, interdisciplinary approach taken to the investigation at Treblinka which has permitted a wide range of different evidence types to be recorded, allowed the sensitivities surrounding its investigation to be accounted for and facilitated the development of a variety of materials for use in commemoration, conservation and education.

Professor Colls is an Associate Professor in Forensic Archaeology and Genocide Investigation at Staffordshire University specializing in Holocaust studies, and is also the Research Lead at the Centre of Archaeology. She graduated from the University of Birmingham with a BA(Hons) Archaeology and Ancient History in 2007 and an MPhil(B) in Archaeological Practice in 2008, and took her PhD at the University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on the application of interdisciplinary approaches to the investigation of Holocaust landscapes. As part of this research, she completed the first archaeological surveys of the former extermination camp at Treblinka (Poland), the sites pertaining to the slave labour program in Alderney (the Channel Islands), the former Semlin Judenlager and Anhaltlager (Serbia) and killing sites in Adampol (Poland). Recently, she has also worked on a pilot project with the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation (UKHMF) to map the terrain of Bergen-Belsen (Germany) and is a member of the UKHMF Education Advisory Group, appointed by the UK Government. In August 2015, she installed a new permanent exhibition entitled “Finding Treblinka” at the Museum of Struggle and Martyrdom in Treblinka. She has published extensively in Holocaust and forensic archaeology, notably her book Holocaust Archaeologies: Approaches and Future Directions, and she has held visiting fellowships at Goldsmiths College, London (Forensic Architecture Project) and Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies (Terrorscapes Project).

Contact Info

Erin Averett
(402) 280-2261

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