Gone but not forgotten: Archaeological approaches to the site of the former Treblinka Extermination Camp in Poland – Lecture by Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls

Gone but not forgotten: Archaeological approaches to the site of the former Treblinka Extermination Camp in Poland – Lecture by Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls

‘Gone but not forgotten: Archaeological approaches to the site of the former Treblinka Extermination Camp in Poland’.

Lecture by Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls, followed by presentation by Eyal Weizman and Susan Schuppli on the field-work of Forensic Architecture in Serbia and Bosnia.

Tuesday – 28 FEB – CRA Studio, 2pm.

Treblinka in Poland was the massacre site of over 800,000 Jews, Poles and gypsies during the Holocaust. Following the erection of the camp in Spring 1942, the extermination of such a vast number of victims was facilitated by the complex of gas chambers, barracks, mass graves and, later, cremation pyres. Survivor Richard Glazar (2005) noted that, ‘it was normal that for everyone behind whom the gate of Treblinka closed, there was Death, had to be Death, for no one was supposed to be left to bear witness’. The small number of survivors, coupled with the Nazis’ attempts to hide their crimes meant that knowledge of the site’s former function was limited and there had been no attempts since the 1940s to locate the burial sites at the camp. The lack of mapping and information at the site itself is also indicative of how little is understood about its extent and layout. Although a symbolic memorial, railway platform and boundary are present at the site, questions still remained over the spatial layout of the camp, whether traces of the structures survive and where the mass graves and cremation sites were located. Recent non-invasive archaeological survey, remote sensing and archival research have allowed these questions to be addressed and have facilitated a greater understanding of the suffering of the victims and the actions of the perpetrators at Treblinka. This paper discusses the unique non-invasive multidisciplinary approach which was devised to allow the scientific and historic significance of the site to be understood, whilst respecting its religious and commemorative importance. The key results of the project will be outlined and the impact that this research is having upon future plans for memorialisation will be discussed.

resource links:
Any doubts about the existence of mass graves at the Treblinka death camp in Poland are being laid to rest by the first survey of the site using tools that see below the ground, writes forensic archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls.

BBC News – Treblinka: Revealing the hidden graves of the Holocaust
BBC – BBC Radio 4 Programmes – The Hidden Graves of the Holocaust


Following Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls’lecture, Eyal and Susan will present materials related to the upcoming research trip to Serbia and Bosnia (which includes the PhDs) and is centred upon an investigation into the Living Death Camp. This project is undertaken with Grupa Spomenik and the Four Faces of Omarska.

The Living Death Camp refers to sites of genocidal violence, specifically former concentration camps, that have been variously re-invented as dark tourism destinations, used as film-sets, staging grounds for artworks and in the case of Omarska now operates as a factory. Our investigative approach hopes to use some of the technological systems that Caroline Sturdy Colls has employed in her conceptually ground-breaking archaeological work on Treblinka, in which systems for the non-invasive examination of sub-terranean matter were deployed to search for human remains.


Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls,
Lecturer in Forensic InvestigationForensic and Crime Science
Staffordshire University

BIO: I am a Lecturer in Forensic Investigation at Staffordshire University, specialising in the fields of Holocaust and forensic archaeology. My PhD thesis was entitled ‘Holocaust Archaeology: Archaeological Approaches to Landscapes of Nazi Genocide and Persecution’ and centred on the development of a non-invasive methodology which allows the scientific, ethical and religious aspects associated with studies of this period to be upheld. I advocate the development of a sub-discipline of Holocaust Archaeology and I am currently managing ongoing research projects in this field at Treblinka extermination camp in Poland and at the complex of labour camps in Alderney. I am a member of the Scientific Advisory Council for Concentration Camps in The Netherlands, the Atlantik Wall Research Group and the Institute for Archaeologists Expert Panel in Forensic Archaeology. I also possess a BA (Hons) Archaeology and Ancient History (1st class) and an MPhil(B) in Archaeological Practice from the University of Birmingham.

As a practicing forensic archaeologist, I also undertake consultancy for UK Police forces with regards the search and recovery of buried remains. My particular interests in this field include the application of forensic archaeological methods to the investigation of cold cases and socio-historic conflicts. I am a co-author of a forthcoming book entitled ‘Forensic Approaches to Buried Remains’ and have a number of forthcoming publications in the field of Holocaust Archaeology. My interests in archaeology also go beyond the recent past and I have undertaken fieldwork in Greece, the Western Isles of Scotland and a number of sites in England.

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