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Nazi Death Camp Gives Up Its Grim Secrets at Sobibor

Image: Archeologist and historian Zalewska digs inside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor
Archaeologist and historian Anna Zalewska digs inside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor on Sept. 18. The excavation has revealed the location of gas chambers under a road at the Sobibor death camp, the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research said. KACPER PEMPEL / Reuters

Archaeologists working at the site of the Nazi concentration camp at Sobibor in eastern Poland say they have uncovered previously hidden gas chambers in which an estimated quarter of a million Jews were killed.

German forces tried to erase all traces of the camp when they closed it down following an uprising there on Oct. 14, 1943. The Nazis demolished the gas chambers, and an asphalt road was later built over the top.

Archaeologists excavated beneath the road and found lines of bricks, laid four deep, where they believe the walls of the gas chambers used to stand.

Image: Recently uncovered bricks
Recently uncovered bricks of a former gas chamber are seen inside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland, on Sept. 18. Kacper Pempel / Reuters

They have been able to establish how big the chambers were, information they said would help build up 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. We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls," said Yoram Haimi, one of the archaeologists.

Haimi said two of his own uncles, who had been living in Paris during the war and were rounded up by the Germans, were among those who were killed at Sobibor.

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. (A different team of archaeologists recently excavated the ruins of the Treblinka death camp, also in eastern Poland.)

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."

— Kacper Pempel, Reuters