When the Nazis abandoned Treblinka in 1943 they destroyed the buildings and leveled the ground. The bricks from the gas chambers were used to build a farmhouse where one of the guards was installed as a farmer with his family. A facsimile of agrarian life. Pine trees were planted and lupins were sown1
A lot of effort went in to constructing a landscape to conceal the history of this place.
In Lanzmann’s Shoah (filmed between 1974 and 80) Henrik Gawkowski takes us back to the camp along a dark track through the forest. Through the trees planted 30 years earlier.
This newly constructed landscape effectively concealed any evidence of mass graves and so, despite witness testimony, controversy has raged for nearly 70 years as to whether Treblinka was a death camp or a transit camp.
That is until a recent study by forensic archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls. Her team have used geophysical surveys to reveal traces of the burial pits and gas chambers beneath the featureless landscape at Treblinka. I am thinking about them crossing and re-crossing the neatly trimmed grass as they painstakingly map what lies beneath the surface of the ground. Its like divining. With the aid of science the landscape reveals its past.
Footnote: Of course I’m also thinking about the lupins. They seem like such an incongruous thing to plant. In England they are synonymous with cottage gardens, but by the 1940s scientists in Germany were secretly breeding a new strain of lupin as an animal feed crop2
1 Arad, Yitzhak (1987). Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p373
2 Kurlovich, Boguslav S. (2002) Lupins: geography, classification, genetic resources, and breeding. p154