Archaeologists working at the site of the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor in eastern Poland have uncovered previously-hidden gas chambers in which an estimated 250,000 Jews were killed.
This notorious death camp was completely leveled in October 1943 by the Nazis following an unsuccessful and bloody uprising. The Germans closed the camp, bulldozed the earth, and planted trees to conceal its location. Consequently, historians have have had difficulty documenting the horrors that went on there in the 17 months it was operational. But that's where archaeologists are starting to help; in 2012, excavations at Sobibor began to reveal what the Nazis tries to hide.
But the latest discovery at the site is particularly disturbing, even if it was expected.
Excavations beneath the road revealed lines of bricks, laid four deep, where the archaeologists believe the walls of the gas chambers once stood. The size of the chambers was also established by the team — information they say could build a more precise picture of how many people were murdered at the camp.
"Finally, we have reached our goal — the discovery of the gas chambers," noted archaeologist Yoram Haimi in a Reuters release. "We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls."
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Historians say that because the Germans razed the camp, and because so few of those detained there came out alive to give testimony, there is less information about how Sobibor operated and the scale of the killing than there is for some other concentration camps.
Polish archaeologist Wojciech Mazurek, who has also been involved in uncovering the site, said the excavations revealed there were eight gas chambers.
"The extermination of people took place there; murder by smoke from an engine that killed everyone within 15 minutes in these gas chambers, in torment, shouting," he told Reuters Television.
"It is said that ... the Nazis even bred geese in order to drown out these shouts so that prisoners could not have heard these shouts, these torments."
This discovery aside, it will be tremendously difficult to pinpoint the exact number of people killed. Estimates range as "low" as 167,000 and as high as 300,000. The best estimate comes from Wolfgang Scheffler, who claims a minimum of 250,000 Jews killed.
Images: Kacper Pempel/Reuters.