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Dictionnaire testimonial et mémoriel

Archaeology of the Holocaust

Archéologie de la Shoah
Archeologie van de Holocaust
Isaac Gilead
p. 172-173

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1The archaeology of the Holocaust is the study of the material remains – sites and artifacts – that were associated with the persecution and mass murder of five to six million Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. In fact, the locales of each of the hundreds of the Ghettos are potential targets for archaeological investigations, but the greatest attention is paid to the Nazi extermination centers in Poland where the archaeological research is most intensive.

2The extermination centers of Chełmno, Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka have been, and are, subjected to archaeological research more than other sites. One of the significant results of the archaeological research is that although the Nazis levelled these sites, mostly in late 1943, remains of structures were found immediately below surface, accompanied by a profusion of artifacts from the surface and sub-surface. Mass graves have been identified in all the above sites; the exact locations of the Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka gas chambers have not been discovered yet. In general terms, excavations of Holocaust sites started relatively recently and the volume of the research carried out up to now remains limited, the publications are rare, the results preliminary and the conclusions tentative.

Excavation of the Castle “Schlosslager” in Chełmno.

Excavation of the Castle “Schlosslager” in Chełmno.

© I. Gilead.

3One of the premises formulated by archaeologists and supported by the media is that archaeology can assert by excavations the truth of the Holocaust. However, the reality of the extermination has already been established by the historical research and local and international courts. The above premise, coupled with the pressure of the media to produce instant results in front of the cameras while in the field, is a threat to the integrity and credibility of Holocaust archaeology. More than once were archaeologists tempted to declare in the field that they stand in front of the remains of gas chambers, while the evidence they uncovered did not support such claims.

4Archaeology cannot establish, or refute, the truth of the Holocaust; it can support it and illustrate it with the physical evidence that was preserved and can be revealed by archaeological methods. Archaeology is important in illuminating the topography of the concentration and extermination centers, as well as in revealing the artifacts of both the victims and the perpetrators, which are essential for the teaching of the Holocaust and creating museum collections that help preserve its memory.

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List of illustrations

Title Excavation of the Castle “Schlosslager” in Chełmno.
Credits © I. Gilead.
File image/jpeg, 150k
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Bibliographical reference

Isaac Gilead, Archaeology of the HolocaustTémoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire, 119 | 2014, 172-173.

Electronic reference

Isaac Gilead, Archaeology of the HolocaustTémoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire [Online], 119 | 2014, Online since 01 January 2016, connection on 01 March 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Isaac Gilead

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel.

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