Landscapes of Memory:
Recording the Archaelogical Remains of the Holocaust
28 February 2012
Lecture in the MA Research Architecture, Centre for Research Architecture (London)
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.