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Greenberg Center to Preview “Deadly Deception at Sobibor” Film on 70th Anniversary of the Uprising


Posted 09/19/2013
Posted by David Isgur

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The University of Hartford’s Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies will host a sneak preview showing of Deadly Deception at Sobibor in Wilde Auditorium, at 7 p.m., on Monday, Oct. 14, which is the 70th anniversary of the successful revolt and mass escape from this Nazi death camp. Those attending this program, which is free and open to the public, will see a first cut of a new documentary that follows a dramatic investigation in Poland to locate the remains of secret World War II Nazi extermination camp that was destroyed and concealed by the Germans following the successful revolt.

In the program, science meets history in a tale of detection that unfolds through Moroccan-Israeli archeologist Yoram Haimi and his colleague, Polish archeologist Wojtek Mazurek. Haimi and Mazurek teamed up to lead a series of excavations with local Polish workers from the area.  It is an unprecedented collaboration in Holocaust research, in cooperation with the State Museum at Majdanek, the Sobibor Museum,  the Foundation for German-Polish Cooperation,  and the Sobibor Steering Committee representing Poland, Israel, The Netherlands, and the Czech Republic.

Beginning in 2008, Haimi and Mazurek launched a geophysical survey with high tech electronics to map the area with historians Richard Freund and Avi Patt from the University of Hartford’s Greenberg Center, geoscientists Paul Bauman and Brad Hansen from Worley Parsons in Canada, and geographer Phil Reeder from Duquesne University.  Their unique sub-surface mapping detected the first hidden clues – electronic signatures of manmade “objects” and trenches – indicating prime areas to begin excavating in the dense woods.    

With the electronic maps as a guide, Haimi and Mazurek lead the Polish workers as they conduct a series of systematic excavations beginning in 2009 to the present.  The documentary traces the excavations as they happen – as clues to key features of the death camp are revealed: the gas chamber, a walled corridor snaking through the camp called the Himmelfahrstrasse (Road to Heaven), and barracks.

Much of the story portrayed in Deadly Deception at Sobibor takes place in a secluded forest in eastern Poland.  But it’s no ordinary forest.  It’s the scene of one of the greatest crimes in modern history – a killing factory for the Nazi’s infamous Final Solution.  Shrouded in secrecy, it was set up along a remote railroad line, far from the preying eyes of the public.  Sobibor’s sole purpose was extermination.  In just 18 horrifying months, more than 250,000 Jews and other undesirables were brought here by train and killed in gas chambers. 

But on October 14, 1943, the murders came to an abrupt end.  Prisoners launched a daring revolt, luring 11 guards into barracks and slaying them.  Then, more than 300 Jews fled in a mass escape.  Only 52 survived.  Today, eight remain.

In an attempt to keep the revolt a secret, the Nazis dismantled Sobibor, erasing all trace of the camp.  Trees were planted – and today, a forest covers the Nazi’s crimes.  For nearly 70 years, the victims of Sobibor have remained nameless.  But now, a team of scientists and historians are uncovering what the Nazis tried to wipe from history.

As the team’s archaeological digs progress, we see hundreds of artifacts reveal a dramatic and tragic story through personal belongings – a Star of David, a pendant inscribed with Shema Yisrael, glasses, coins from across Europe, shoes, and children’s items. 

The most extraordinary discovery reveals the first positive identity of a Sobibor victim – a six year old girl from Amsterdam named Lea Judith de la Penha. 

Haimi has a personal stake in revealing the scene of the crime, as he lost two uncles at Sobibor. On a visit to pay his respects, he realized that the decades old forest likely preserved whatever evidence the Nazis left behind. 

In a parallel story, survivor Philip Bialowitz returns to Sobibor to testify about his experiences as a teenager and witness to the Nazi brutality.  On the anniversary of the revolt, Bialowitz has a stunning encounter with an unexpected guest – a relative of a Sobibor guard.

The film is a production of Changing Minds Productions, produced, directed and taped by Gary Hochman, along with videographers Slawomir Grunberg and Scott Shelley and editor Alex Moscu. 

This sneak peek screening is a documentary in-progress that has been specially edited to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Sobibor revolt. The excavations, production, and editing will continue during 2014 with the goal of creating a broadcast version of the documentary. Additional fundraising is underway to bring the excavations and program to completion.

To learn more about the project or to make a contribution to bring the project to completion, please contact the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford at mgcjs@hartford.edu or 860.768.4963. For more information on the film, contact: Gary Hochman at ghochman1@unl.edu or 402.417.5751