Archaeologists have uncovered the long-buried remains of gas chambers, and jewelry and other personal items belonging to Jewish prisoners at the site of the Sobibor Nazi death camp in Poland.
"We uncovered four chambers," Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi, who has coordinated excavations at the site during the past eight years, told the Israeli publication Haaretz
"Apparently, there were eight. We are in the midst of the excavations and we're now digging up the second part of the structure."
The discovery was the first time walls and cells of a building have been found on the site, which the Nazis demolished and buried in 1943 following a bloody prisoner uprising and escape, said Haimi.
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Haimi said he and his Polish partner, archaeologist Wojciech Mazurek, also found jewelry
belonging to the Jewish inmates in an area near the chambers.
"We found earrings, gold wedding rings and a ring with the inscription, 'with this ring you are consecrated to me,' in Hebrew letters," said Haimi. "We also found a large Magen David and a coin dated 1927 from Palestine," he said. Perfume and medicine bottles were also discovered among the artifacts.
Haimi said some of the items were found in a well, which the Germans had plugged while demolishing the camp.
"We were able to pull hundreds of items out of there," Haimi told Haaretz. "We’re very excited. We haven’t even had a chance to clean them."
A new visitors center is planned for the site, so Haimi's team is rushing to excavate the area in the hope of saving the Holocaust-era artifacts before construction starts.
Haimi's team has also uncovered the remains of the Sobibor crematorium and what is thought to be a tunnel that prisoners tried to use as an escape route.
The gas chamber's discovery is important for Holocaust studies, said Dr. David Silberklang, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem.
"These findings are all that is left of those who were murdered,” Silberklang said. “A small window has been opened to their daily suffering. This is the first time that we will be able to better understand what the murder process in the camp was, and what the Jews went through until they were murdered.”
The gas chambers were used to slaughter an estimated quarter of a million Jews, mainly from Poland, the Netherlands, and Slovakia between April 1942 and October 1943, and determining the gas chamber size could help researchers re-evaluate how many Jews lost their lives.
The camp opened in March 1942, at the same time as death camps at Treblinka and Belzec. It was demolished after prisoners rebelled in October 1943, when half of them escaped. Nothing remains above ground but the commander's house and a railroad track leading to the camp.
The camp is the same one where John Demjanjuk
, who had ended up living in Cleveland, had served as a guard. A German court sentenced him to prison in 2011 for being an accessory to the murder of thousands of Jews, but he died at 91 before serving his sentence.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library
, the camp was small, only extending 1,300 by 2,000 feet, and consisted of administration buildings, barracks and gas chambers, which used carbon monoxide to kill the prisoners.
The camp was almost exclusively a death camp, reports The Washington Post
According to one German officer's testimony
, when Jews arrived, they were told by an officer wearing a white coat and appearing to be a doctor that they had to be bathed and disinfected, and then they would be put to work. Instead, they were taken into the gas chambers and murdered by the thousands.
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