Staffordshire University and Centre of Archaeology
Based within Staffordshire University’s £30 million Science Centre, the Centre of Archaeology is committed to undertaking pioneering work in the fields of Holocaust Archaeology and forensic approaches to buried remains. Through the research of Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls and her interdisciplinary team, the first archaeological surveys have been completed at the extermination and labour camps at Treblinka (Poland), the sites pertaining to the slave labour programme in Alderney (the Channel Islands), the former Semlin camp (Serbia), killing sites in Adampol (Poland) and Bergen-Belsen (Germany). The Centre is also leading on a number of new international research projects focused on interdisciplinary approaches to the investigation of genocide and conflict. The Centre has developed a unique approach to the investigation of the Holocaust which draws upon techniques from archaeology, forensic investigation, history, geography, games technology and the digital humanities, amongst others. This approach allows Holocaust camps and killing sites to be examined in a way that respects their historic, religious and commemorative significance by employing a predominantly non-invasive approach. Staff at the Centre continue to work closely with a number of international organisations, including the Matzevah Foundation, Fundacja Zampomniane, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, the Wiener Library and Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, as well staff at a wide range of Holocaust memorial sites and museums throughout Europe and the United States.
The Matzevah Foundation
The Matzevah Foundation, Inc. is 501(C)(3) nonprofit corporation established in 2010. Since 2005, a group of Baptist Christians has been working with the Jewish Community of Poland in caring for restoring Jewish cemeteries. The Matzevah Foundation, Inc. grew out of this relationship, advancing it today as a public charity. The Matzevah Foundation primarily serves the Jewish community of Poland and cooperates with the global Jewish Community to care for and restore Jewish Cemeteries in Poland. The name “matzevah” (מצבה) is derived from a Hebrew word meaning a memorial stone or monument that is erected in memory of a significant event or placed at the head of a grave. In Jewish cemeteries, the stone or matzevah signifies remembering and honoring the deceased and so that the grave will not be desecrated. This understanding eloquently captures the vision and mission of The Matzevah Foundation.
The Matzevah Foundation seeks to remember and honor the Jewish heritage of Poland by restoring Jewish cemeteries and reconciling Jews and Christians through participating in a common mitzvah. Stated simply we remember, restore and reconcile.
The mission of the Matzevah Foundation is twofold. Firstly, it will mobilize human and financial resources to care for and preserve the Jewish heritage of Poland by restoring Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Secondly, it will educate the public regarding the history of Polish Jews during and following the Shoah (Holocaust) in Poland.
The Matzevah Foundation cooperates closely with the Rabbinical Commission for Matters of Jewish Cemeteries and the Jewish Community of Poland; TMF partners directly with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage (FODZ), Fundacja Zapomniane, Staffordshire University, and the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
Fundacja Zapomniane was created in June 2014 by the members of the Rabbinical Commission for Jewish Cemeteries in Poland, supervised by the Chief Rabbi of Poland. The prime framework of reference, within which the Foundation operates is the Halacha – Jewish Religious Law. Not only it imposes specific obligations and restrictions, but also defines the Foundation’s main priorities. According to the Halacha the remains of the deceased person are bound intrinsically with their soul. Therefore whatever disturbance of the bones means the disturbance of the soul. One of the statutory tasks of the Fundacja Zapomniane is a search for the forgotten graves of Holocaust victims, delineating the borders of a grave as precisely as possible and restoration of identity taken away by their tormentors.
Commonly, our work focuses on the graves of Jews who were not sent to death camps, but were murdered, when the ghettos still existed, during Aktion Reinhardt and after; Jews who lay buried in nameless graves scattered in the woods, roadside ditches, arable fields etc. In most cases their number and exact location are unknown, both to researchers and descendants of victims, although they often exist in memories of the last living witnesses of the Holocaust and broadly defined local communities. To achieve this goal various tools are being used, for example ground penetrating radar (GPR), airborne laser scanning, and comparative analysis of contemporary and archival aerial pictures, and historical documents. Nonetheless all those sophisticated methods would be of no merit had we first not heard a testimony of an eyewitness indicating the area for us to investigate. Once again it is worth underlining the importance that “human factor” plays in our work, which confirms the thesis that for seventy years the local communities have kept the memory about the fate that had befallen their Jewish neighbors.