The gas chambers at the Sobibor death camp, where some 250,000 Jews perished between April 1942 and October 1943, have been uncovered in an archaeological dig, bringing to a close an eight-year search, Yad Vashem announced on Wednesday.
“Finally, we have reached our goal – the discovery of the gas chambers. We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls,” Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi, whose two uncles were killed in the camp, was quoted as saying in a press release.
In addition to the thousands of personal effects belonging to the Jewish inmates that have been unearthed in past years, last week the archaeological team found a water well used by the Jewish prisoners, which the Nazis filled with waste while dismantling the camp.
A wedding band bearing the Hebrew inscription “Behold, you are consecrated unto me” was also recently located near the gas chambers in what Haimi described as the “most poignant moment.”
The find buttresses the accounts of the survivors of the extermination camp, and constitutes “a very important finding in Holocaust research,” said Yad Vashem scholar Dr. David Silberklang.
“It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, 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,” he said.
“We will now be able to know more precisely what the process of murder was in the camp, and what the Jews went through until they were murdered. Additionally, finding the gas chambers and their capacity will enable us to estimate more precisely the number of people murdered in Sobibór.”
The discovery follows nearly eight years of excavations at the site — conducted by Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research, the German-Polish Foundation and the Majdanek State Museum — during which various personal items belonging to its victims such as jewelry, medicine, and food utensils were retrieved. Haimi has worked on the excavation since 2007, along with a Polish archaeologist Wojciech Mazure. In 2013 Dr. Ivar Schute, a Dutch archaeologist, joined the team.
In 2012, Haimi discovered the areas where poles were planted in the soil, which mapped out the Himmelfahrsstrasse, or the “Road to Heaven, where the Jews were marched naked to the gas chambers,” according to the Associated Press. That find ultimately led him to the location of the gas chambers.
The excavations were complicated by the extensive Nazi efforts to destroy all evidence of the Sobibor death camp. In October 1943, following an uprising of the camp’s 600 remaining inmates, of whom approximately half successfully escaped, the Nazis leveled the camp. They later planted crops over the site to hide the evidence.
Thousands of Jews from Lublin, German-occupied Soviet territory, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Bohemia and Moravia, the Netherlands, and France were deported to Sobibor during the year-and-a-half that it was operational, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Like Belzec and Treblinka, which were established at around the same time, Sobibor was designed as a death camp, and Jews were gassed almost immediately upon their arrival.